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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“One can only hope,” Noah said with a lecherous wink that compelled his sister to cluck her tongue at him and roll her eyes in exasperation.
“You are incorrigible! And you wonder where your nieces and nephews get it from?”
Noah laughed, shaking his head. He realized then that Legna had once more found a way to turn the conversation away from herself and onto something entirely different. It had been her habit for as long as he could remember. Legna never discussed herself, her empathic nature always urging her to put her needs and emotions aside in order to assist others.
“Your point is well taken, sweet. I am beyond redemption and it is no wonder none will have me. In any event, I myself am far too busy to run around trying to find a Demon or Druid who suits me, no matter how tempting the rewards. Besides, all the courting nonsense, the emotions and sensitivity… We shall leave such things to the Enforcers. Simpering and sonnets suit them far better than they do me.”
Legna elbowed her brother in the ribs as punishment for his irreverent referral to Jacob and Isabella. Before Isabella, Jacob had been a lonely man, his soul aching to be accepted and cared for to balance out the stigma of his position as the one who enforced the laws on his own kind. So used to being held in contempt, as a necessary evil, Jacob had only discovered true happiness the day he had literally caught his Isabella up in his arms. Noah liked to tease Jacob for being “ruined” and “besotted,” but Legna knew her brother was happy for the Enforcers. Happier still, now that they would provide an addition to their race within a year, the first child born of a Druid and Demon mating in over a millennium.
Sometimes, though, Legna could not escape the feeling that Noah teased too brightly and tried too hard for wit with his disparagements of the Imprinting. She was an empath, she was his sister, and she had eyes in her head. Legna could see what he did not think she did, what he thought he guarded so carefully from her. She had seen the many times when the Enforcers were guests in their home, when Bella and Jacob sat with their dark heads bent together with so much love and sensuality of need for each other, and how gray-green eyes so like her own had watched them covetously.
“Well, I for one would be well pleased to see you so ‘afflicted’ as Jacob is,” she teased with warm neutrality, giving him a classic smile of beautiful mischief. “But for now, you have reminded me of an appointment I am late for.” Legna stood on her toes to buss her brother on the cheek. “You look tired and ought to nap.”
“I am not an old man in need of naps in the middle of the night,” Noah retorted indignantly. “The moon is only just come high.”
“Suit yourself, Noah. It was only a suggestion. Forgive me for bruising your delicate ego.” She was mocking him, stepping several feet back and spreading her arms wide as she curtsied low and reverently, with all the grace she had earned through her Demon genetics. The next moment, with a flourish of a wrist, she exploded into a soft cloud of smoke and sulfur, teleporting away before Noah had any hope of retorting to her impish behavior.
“Brat!” he shouted to the high ceilings after her, even though he was pretty certain she couldn’t hear him.
He stepped toward the fireplace, starting a blaze within it with the merest whisper of thought, and sat down in his favorite chair.
“A nap indeed,” he muttered under his breath. “I can give or take energy with the snap of a finger!” he announced proudly to the empty room. “I do not require sleep in the middle of the night like some babe. I will teach that girl a lesson in respect one of these days.”
The thought was interrupted when he yawned ferociously. Catching himself doing so, he loosed a sheepish laugh. Glancing around quickly, sealing off his home with a few spare thoughts, he settled back deeper into his chair and allowed himself the luxury of closing his eyes.
Isabella turned and looked over her shoulder when she felt the air pressure in the room change with a distinct pop. She instantly knew who her guest was, even before the smoke had cleared. Bella cried out happily, dropping her watering can onto the window shelf and flinging herself through the remaining mist of sulfur to hug her newly arrived friend.
“Bella, it is so good to see you,” Legna greeted her happily, hugging the petite Druid carefully in order to avoid squashing her rounded belly. They were acting as though they had not seen each other in ages, rather than a week. It was probably because Bella was so happy to see another woman that she was projecting it enough to affect the sensitive empath. Sometimes Legna got swept up in others’ enthusiasms, and she did not mind. It was one of the better emotions to get caught up in.
Isabella laughed, pulling back to look at her friend, tossing back her heavy head of pitch-black hair, the tresses gleaming like raven’s feathers as they immediately snaked down the length of the Druid’s spine. Isabella barely reached Legna’s shoulder, so petite compared to the empath, who was very close to being six feet tall. All Demons were tall. Bella often complained that talking to them gave her a crick in her neck, but Legna had noticed Bella’s neck never seemed to hurt when she had to reach for her mate’s kiss.
“You are such a liar,” Bella accused without zeal. “I look like I am carrying a small basketball under my dress. I’m only five months pregnant and I’m already tired of waddling around.”
“Well, far be it from me to remind you, but that baby is half Demon. Five months is only a little bit over first trimester, by Demon standards.”
“Okay, just for reminding me of that, you are no longer my friend. Poof yourself out of here right this minute,” Isabella commanded, her hands on her hips in mock indignity as she glared at the beautiful woman across from her. Magdelegna chuckled, moving with her fluid grace in order to circle the little Druid’s shoulders with a comforting arm. “And,” Bella sighed wistfully as her arm circled Legna’s waist, “you have to go and have a perfect figure on top of it.”
“Now, now,” Legna soothed and scolded her. “How is Jacob?” she asked, guiding Bella to a comfortable couch in a cozy conversation area near a beautiful window of stained glass picturing the wilds and wildlife of a forest. The empath felt the care that had gone into the piece, saw the detail, and it was all very breathtaking. Moonlight struck through it, sending silvered colors over them as they sat on couches close to but opposite one another.
“Busy.” Isabella exhaled hard, trying to shove her heavy hair behind her ear with impatient fingers. “I should be helping him. I am supposed to be his partner. It says so in black and white… or… well, actually it’s kind of a grayish beige scroll with little red—” Bella gasped, then growled in frustration at herself because she had found a tangent. “The point is, I am destined by this wondrous lost Demon prophecy I discovered to be the one that changes all of Demon destiny by working at his side. Instead, I’m stuck here, sitting on the couch, watching and feeling everything that happens to him from a distance. It really bites.” Bella pulled up her legs, crossing them in a meditation position. “I’ll tell you this, if he gives me one more order with that W word again, I’m going to divorce him before we even finish the wedding.”
“The W… ? Okay, Bella, as usual you have lost me. W word?”
“Yeah. W,… as in Wife. Ugh! He’s always saying or thinking things in this high and mighty way and tacking the word ‘wife’ onto the end like it’s some kind of password that lets him order me around.” Bella noted her friend’s still perplexed expression, so she screwed up her face, attitude, and voice into an uncanny approximation of Jacob. “‘I do not want you hunting in your condition, wife. It is too dangerous for you and the babe to accompany me, wife. I have told Elijah that there are to be no more training lessons until after the birth, and do not argue with me about this, wife, because my mind is set.’” Isabella sagged back with a frustrated sigh. “Oy! It’s just so obnoxious and so… high-handed! You know the honeymoon is over when you go from ‘my love,’ ‘my little flower,’ and ‘my heart’ and become simply ‘wife.’”
Legna smothered the urge to chuckle. Her little friend’s famous sarcasm always tickled her, and it was meant to tickle. Bella had a way of hiding behind her wit and humor. She was stating things that clearly disturbed her, but she mocked them in such a way that anyone who did not know her would treat it as little more than a comedy routine.
Legna knew her better.
“Now, Bella, you know Jacob adores you. He naturally wants to protect you. He literally worships the ground you walk on.”
“Ha ha,” Bella said dryly. “Earth Demon. Worship the ground. Cute. Really cute.”
“Well, come on now. Seriously. As a Demon of the Earth, Jacob has a great affinity with nature. Of all of us, he is the one who knows the most about life and death and the way nature replenishes and selects her perpetuation. He has a respect for it that transcends every feeling he has with perhaps the exception of his love for you. But he is also a hunter, born with the ability to capture any prey by using the senses of the most skilled predatory animals. Knowing the nature of such beasts, carrying their insight with him always, it is part of him to understand the dangers that lurk in the tall grasses.
“Like it or not, Bella, you are vulnerable right now. I know you are powerful and becoming quite skilled in your own right, but what position would Jacob be in if in the course of your work, in a dire circumstance, you should come into danger, be held hostage, or even become mortally injured? I can come up with dozens of scenarios, and Jacob can imagine far more with four centuries of experience as Enforcer to draw on. You have been Enforcer for five months; he has four hundred years behind him of this, the Vampire wars for a century, the Lycanthropes for three… There is unusual peace now, save for the necromancers, but there are many variables and you are very precious to him.
“And anyway, what self-respecting male would not be anxious for a beloved mate who is carrying his child—a child who by being born will represent the first of its kind? Human and Demon DNA have never combined in any way before. Yes, you are half Druid as well, but still… I could understand why Jacob would be a little concerned… and a little overcautious.”
“Well.” Isabella nibbled on a nail, a sure sign of her own state of nerves. “Maybe I wouldn’t mind so much if I were really his wife.” She laughed wryly because she knew that the Imprinting went far deeper than ceremonial words could reach. She knew that Legna was aware of this as well. “We still have about a month to go before we can finish our rudely interrupted wedding ceremony. If my sister teases me one more time about being the ‘out-of-wedlock, impregnated tramp’ of the family, I am going to have to murder her and dump her body in a cornfield somewhere.”
“Bella,” Legna scolded, giggling softly at her friend’s pique. “Your sister Corrine is no paragon of virtue since she and Kane Imprinted, I assure you. She and Kane came to our home for a meditation training session with me, and I was occupied a few minutes longer than I expected. Well, by the time I got to the parlor, I could sense… ” Legna’s head dipped and she blushed softly. “Let us say it would have been imprudent of me to walk in.”
“You’re kidding!” Bella gaped at the empath for a moment. “In Noah’s home? A governing seat where Demons come and go all day long?”
“At least they closed the parlor doors.” Legna chuckled. “She’s chafing at the bit for Beltane just as much as you are, believe me.” Legna rubbed her friend’s knee in a very effective gesture of comfort. “Besides, you know that you are Jacob’s lifetime partner in all the ways that matter. To him, you were his wife the moment you first touched.”
“Well, I’m thinking someone is going to have to do something about that Demon law about weddings only taking place on Beltane and Samhain,” the Druid groused. “It is seriously cramping my reputation. Say”—she snapped her fingers in inspiration, her violet eyes sparkling with mischief—“I seem to recall you being the King’s… uh… cousin? No, no, that’s not it.” Bella made a great show of tapping a finger to her chin in thought. “Um, oh yes! His sister!” she said, as if she hadn’t remembered all along. “Surely you could encourage him to discuss the matter with the Great Council.”
“Bella, you goose.” Legna laughed. “I wish I had that kind of power over my dear brother. However, I do not. No more than you have over Mother Nature and her plans for the duration of your pregnancy.”
“You mentioned it again!” Bella scolded with a dramatic screech of exasperation, making Legna sigh and smile with amused patience. “Well, at this point I would be happy if we ended up with an average between the time required for a human gestation and the Demon gestation of thirteen months. Anything is better than thirteen months.”
“What has Gideon told you?” Legna asked, unable to resist avoiding Bella’s violet gaze as she mentioned the powerful medic’s name. She turned her attention to smoothing out the aqua silk of her gown’s long skirt, her fingers tracing the rich golden embroidery swirling over it in a repetitive pattern. “Is he still personally monitoring you?”
“Yes, he is. Actually, that alone is enough to make me a little nervous.” Bella exhaled a little shakily. “I was talking to Hannah and she said that in all six of her pregnancies, she was never monitored so closely. And certainly not by the most Ancient and highly skilled medic in all of Demon history. They say that Gideon has forgotten more about healing than all the other medics combined will ever know.”