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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“It feels reckless, Legna, I know. It is not normally in you to want to expose yourself in such ways to a male who, for all intents and purposes, seems a total stranger to you. You forget to take into account, Nelissuna, that this is no normal binding between us. The nature of the Imprinting is older than time, meant to drive those who are genetically compatible together in order to perpetuate the species’s evolution and continuation. It is what drives the wolves to make hierarchy in the pack where only the alphas are allowed to reproduce. The bucks of a hundred different types of animals are propelled do battle until the strongest and most magnificent of the males is chosen to lead and propagate the herd. Like these long-lived examples, we are also compelled to perform these rituals of joining.
“The difference is that we have a special intelligence that sometimes attempts to countermand nature’s plans for us. It is perhaps just one more battle that needs overcoming in order to satisfy Nature herself that we are as compatible as she would have us be. You and I are two of the finest examples of our people, Legna, so it is no surprise that we are biologically compatible. However, it is our vast intellects, our abilities, and our consciences that also dictate whether or not we should carry the privilege of Imprinting between us. This is why it is my belief that we are not so much unacquainted as you may think.”
“In what ways?” she asked, moving to the fireplace to warm herself, coming closer to him in the process.
“Well, in Demon ways, for one. I may have come from a more barbaric age than everyone else around me, but who do you think pioneered the strong ethical and moral codes the youth that came after me would follow? The laws that govern you and the respects you hold in your moral code are of my origination and my making. Your beliefs, and mine, are the same. So in this way we already know one another at the heart.”
He paused then, a tangible cloud of troubled emotion skidding over him suddenly. It was powerful enough to make him turn his face away from her, as if he were ashamed of what he was feeling. She could feel him struggling with something very dark and extraordinarily heavy inside of himself, but as usual he held it tightly concealed within himself, even her special access into his mind proving not strong enough to see behind the walls he erected against the world around him.
“I never wanted to see a repeat of the Druidic Wars in my lifetime, Legna. I had to do everything in my power to change what we were. How could any being of conscience, however late in coming that awareness may have been, do any less? The way the Druids were massacred, locked up from their Demon mates by those of us who were unattached… it was a cruelty I pray you will never see the like of. We who knew nothing of how it felt to be Imprinted could not even begin to understand what a horrific hell it was to sentence both halves of the mated pair to such an inconceivable torture. The Druids were left to starve to death from the deprivation of the energies of their Imprinted Demon mates, and the Demons were driven completely insane because—” Gideon broke off, this time turning his back to her as if he wanted to look out the window she had just abandoned. But this time, it was futile for him to even bother trying to cover his emotions with actions. The guilt and the shame washing through him were almost suffocating.
He started when her hands suddenly were on his back, stroking him in a gesture of comfort. The soothing heat she was sending into him like soft pulses of compassion steadied his pounding heart and provided a balm to ease its ache. It was such an overwhelming gift in the face of what he was telling her, and he felt as if he should not accept it. But he had hurt for so long…
Then Gideon recalled that it was just that he should hurt. He deserved to live this long with the weight of his sins upon him. He could never allow himself to forget how he had allowed the passions of hatred and prejudice, anger and fear, to cloud his judgment once. For him, it was not stories of people long dead told in detached history lessons in Demon classrooms or a lesson taught to instill moral belief in the young. For him the names and faces involved had been alive and touchable. He had been the fosterling of the Demon King, Jonas, who had been so brutally murdered by the deceptive and demented hand of the Druid monarch, Isere. And in just a single moment of trust extended in an undeserving direction, it had all come to an end. It was a moment that had started a war; an instant that had given birth to a millennium of regret and guilt, and, as of last Samhain, he had come to realize it had caused ages of suffering for all the Demons who had so desperately needed their obliterated Druid mates. What would she think of him, his beauteous mate, if she knew he had been one of the loudest voices screaming for Druid heads? Sensitive and sweet as she was, how could she ever forgive him for that?
“Tell me the rest,” Legna requested, unaware of the questions haunting him but, nonetheless, using her voice as a coaxing instrument of absolution. She knew what he needed, even if she didn’t understand exactly why.
“You tell me the rest, Legna,” he said hoarsely. “The irony of it is astounding. Here I stand, Imprinted on a mate of unparalleled beauty, compassion, and strength, after all these centuries. Would that I could believe I deserved such a treasure, but whether I believe it or not… ”
“It is what it is?” she said in soft echo of his earlier words.
Legna moved around Gideon until she was standing in front of him, looking up into the face he tried to avert from her. She caught his head between her soft hands, making him look down into her compassionate expression and forgiving eyes.
“The problem is,” he said in a rush of soft words, “aside from my trouble reconciling myself to the idea that I actually deserve you, Nelissuna, I am quite rusty in matters of affection and romantic emotion. I am afraid I have no idea how to go about earning your trust and your good opinion, never mind being what you need… beyond that.”
“Well, you can put your mind at ease on one score, Gideon. You already have my good opinion. I know”—she stopped his protest with a raised hand—“I know I was very hostile to you this past decade, but we both know that was wounded pride. Now that I understand your thinking in your behavior toward me, I can look on you much more fairly. For instance, now I can see that it takes a good and honorable man to sacrifice such a genetically empowered urge for the sake of someone else’s feelings and needs, as you did for me… and, I believe, for Noah. You were protecting his relationship with you in as much as you were protecting me, Gideon.
“You even faced great condemnation and shame because of your efforts to protect me, and I can find many reasons to find you worthy of my good opinion in those actions alone. Add to that the way you give so selflessly to those I love when they are so traumatically injured, saving them from death as no other can, and it is a very firm step on the road of one day becoming my savior. My knight in shining armor… roguish garb aside.” She smiled, a dimple in her cheek flashing as she did so. “But we shall not tell Noah about that because it would devastate him to think he had been unhorsed from his position as my one true hero in life.”
“I swear to you he will not hear of it from me,” he promised her, his eyes shining with bright, starlit hope as he looked down on her, drinking in the curves of her luminous face. He followed the touch of his eyes with the touch of his fingertips. “Legna, I have lived so long, and there is so much you do not know about me. You may find yourself faced with a desire to change your opinion of me once more.”
“Before I make such a rash choice as I did nine years ago, I promise we will discuss the matter together before forming a judgment.”
The promise comforted him greatly; she could both see and feel it as he relaxed just a little bit more. She was aware that anyone as long-lived as he was had to have made quite a share of errors, but the atrocities of war belonged where they had taken place, far in the past. Gideon was clearly capable of punishing himself much worse than anyone’s outside retribution could.
“Now,” she continued, reaching for his hand and folding it between hers as she tangled their fingers together, “I think it would be nice to walk in the gardens. Afterward, I might enjoy a game of chess, if you are so inclined.”
“Hmm.” Gideon smiled as he followed her firm lead. “I have always been curious as to where you got your penchant for gardening,” he mused. “I will have to turn the sun patio into an arboretum. It does not get use because of the sheet glass and it will provide a great space to work in.”
Legna felt her heart dip and flutter at the insinuation that they would one day be living together. She knew, of course, that it was inevitable and that was why Gideon spoke of it that way, but still it turned her flighty stomach over with immediate anxiety.
“I hear your thoughts, my beauty,” he whispered into her ear suddenly, making her stop at the threshold to the back porch in order to meet his eyes. “I cannot console you on this point. You will be mine one day soon, and you will join my household. I know it. You know it. Fear me if you must, but do not fear the inevitable. You will make a home with me long before you will feel you have come to understand me. Perhaps even before you trust me.”
Legna knew he was right, and immediately the logic settled her ruffled nerves. She moistened her lips with the soft slip of her tongue.
“I am sorry. You are right, of course.” She fiercely protected the boomerang thought she had, a worry over Noah being left alone, over leaving her childhood home and all that it would mean. It could mean so much happiness for her, and so much pain for others. She regretted that pain already.
“I can oblige you your walk in the gardens,” Gideon was saying as he led her into the vast wilderness of his half-tamed gardens. “But chess is such a rudimentary skill for you. In fact, it will be impossible to play fairly with each of us able to read the other’s intentions.”
“Ah, but therein lies the challenge, Gideon. He or she who learns how to master the blocking of the other’s thoughts will soon become the victor.” She smiled, but Gideon did not feel the irony she felt behind it. “I say it is an excellent challenge.”
“Since you put it like that, I find myself inclined to agree.”
Gideon stopped his progress abruptly, the ripple of it moving up their joined arms, tugging her to a halt that reversed her momentum and sent her bumping into his tall frame with a little grunt of surprise. She blinked to clear her disoriented sense of direction, looking up into his determined gaze as his hands came to cradle her face once more. He lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her with timeless tenderness, the usual lust for one another that sprang between them being held firmly at bay.
He wanted to her to know that the only part of his body engaged in this moment was his grateful heart, and this was the only way he could tell her.
Legna was awakened the next evening by the wild tromping of well-known little feet that echoed through the stone corridors of the castle. Of course, the exasperated female voice scolding after the retreating army of children was also quite familiar.
Legna yawned and stretched between the warmth of her covers. She started in surprise when her hand hit a solid wall of flesh. She sat up in sudden shock, looking straight into Gideon’s eyes.
“Are you insane?” she hissed, yanking up her covers to make sure she was well concealed while at the same time flicking worried looks at the two doors leading into her room. “Noah will sense that you are here!”
“Good eve to you, too, Neliss,” he countered casually, as if he had no cares in the world. When she continued to glare at him, he chuckled and sat up to face her. “I am in astral form, sweet. I felt you beginning to wake and wanted my face to be the first you saw when you opened your eyes.” Gideon reached out to brush back her mussed hair, a tender smile crossing his lips.
“That is terribly sweet of you, Gideon,” she whispered with continued agitation, “but what makes you think Noah cannot sense your energy even in this form?”
“He will most likely mistake it for that part of you that has become me. And if he does not, should you desire it, I can leave the moment you feel his approach. Personally, I am not so intimidated by your brother as you seem to be.”
“Gideon, this is not about intimidation. This is about respect for my brother’s house… not to mention his feelings. I want this to cause as little pain to him as possible. I was hoping you would understand that.”
“I do understand, Neliss. However, your brother is quite mature enough to realize that I will come to visit with you here until you come to live in my home. I suspect he will tolerate it if it means putting off that eventuality.”
“I understand your perspective, Gideon, but this is still news to Noah. You must give it some—”
“Time?” he finished for her.
She sighed, understanding what an annoyance that word must be becoming to him. She was equally frustrated that all these troubles stood between them.
“I am willing to take the time to sort them out with you, Legna. Stop fretting. You attribute me with a temper I do not have. A man who has lived as long as I have has learned much more patience than you are giving him credit for. Now kiss me so I may leave and settle your worried mind.”
Legna smiled, tossing her hair back over her shoulder as she leaned across to him, her mouth turned up invitingly to his. He reached to hold the back of her head with one large hand, drawing her firmly to his mouth.
Kissing him in this form was a new and entirely different experience. Since he was made up of pure mental energy, solidified only by the power of thought, there was a tinge of feedback that rushed over her damp lips and the warm, wet interior of her mouth as he explored it for a long, stunning minute. The only thing she could liken it to was the sensation received when licking a battery… only it was ten times as strong in effect. He laughed against her lips when she began to giggle at both the thought and the ticklish feeling.