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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Legna’s hair hung down the far side of her head, leaving the nearer side of her lovely face and throat exposed as she concentrated completely on performing her task with an efficiency worthy of trusting his life to. With his special sight, Gideon’s eyes focused on the thrum of her strong pulse even as he shared it with her already in his own body and his own spirit. She secured the second strap of his weapon and straightened, her steel-colored eyes reflecting the female warrior within her that saw to his preparation with meticulousness.
She unsnapped the hard piece of leather that kept the knife in its sheath and pulled the weapon free. The sharp metal of the nine-inch blade sang shortly as it slid over the metal rim of its holder. Legna held the blade in the light. She turned it over, inspecting it carefully for a moment before being satisfied enough with its quality and razor readiness to return it to its home, nimbly securing the snap over it once more.
Finished with that task, she inspected her mate from head to toe, carefully judging his readiness. When she finally met his burning eyes, Gideon allowed himself to take a breath.
“I never knew the short dagger was your expertise,” she mentioned softly.
“It is one of them. One who lives a life of my length would be foolish to not take the advantage to become an expert at all combat weapons.” He watched her expression carefully, searching for her thoughts.
“Yes. I know. I suppose in a sense we can count ourselves lucky that our innate powers outstrip the destructive capabilities even the most advanced technology can produce. We have little need for the weaponry of that ilk, even if we were compatible with such things.”
She moved a step closer, her elegant hands reaching for the warmth of his chest beneath the gap in the leather coat, her nails pulling ever so slightly at the cotton fabric of his shirt. He slipped his hands around her slender waist, the possessiveness in the grip hard to mistake as he drew her even nearer. He said nothing, but he reached to kiss her within the span of the next beat of his heart. As their warm lips meshed, so did their intent. The exchange was part tenderness, part desperation, and a large portion of unspoken feelings and desires twisted up too tightly in the worries of the moment to find any clearer expression.
“Will you be here when I return?” he asked, his words warm and more than a little urgent against her mouth.
“Yes,” she promised him, sealing it with the fiery longing that came through in the sworn oath of her lips.
Not wanting to distract him any more than she already had, she broke away from their kiss, leaving his grasp with a definitive backward breaking movement that took her a sufficient distance away from him, and him away from her hunger and frightened needs. If not totally, at least from the physical manifestations of them.
He understood her actions completely and was grateful for them. He needed his wits about him, and she had the ability to rob him of them with such ease when she engaged him in the artwork of her mouth and the complexity of her emerging needs and thoughts.
“Hang on,” she murmured, taking a deep breath as she closed her eyes and, extending her slender arms out to either side of her body, splayed her hands in a focusing movement.
The last thing Gideon saw was the silk of her shawl snaking off of her smooth skin, pooling on the floor around her feet. In a flash, he found himself reappearing in the hall of the Great Council with a nearly silent pop and no other sign of smoke or mirrors.
Jacob was the first to rise out of his chair after the Great Council had finally convened.
“As you all may or may not know,” he began, “our female Enforcer was brutally attacked a couple of nights ago.” The announcement elicited several surprised murmurs from those who had not been updated through the flow of gossip. “She was finally strong enough this evening to begin to tell us what had happened to her. Once we combine her information with Elijah’s”—Jacob gestured to the enormous blond warrior sitting on one of the sides of the triangular table, rocking back on the rear legs of his chair—“and then further combine their information with that of the medic who healed her, I think we will all be updated and informed enough to make secure conclusions and begin to take action. Since Noah, myself, and Elijah have already processed this information between ourselves, we will also provide suggestions for courses of action we feel are appropriate.
“For obvious reasons, I will be the one the retell my mate’s story. She is not strong enough yet to venture from her bed, and I believe you all can agree that her safety and the well-being of the child she carries must be attended to above all other courses of action.”
Councillor Ruth made a derogatory sound under her breath that was par for the course for the female Mind Demon. However, tonight, Jacob was not in his usual tolerant frame of mind. Normally, he managed Ruth’s tart remarks and jockeying for power and position with the forbearance shown a mouthy child, but Ruth’s disparagements against Jacob’s wife had grown too bold to continue to pass without acknowledgement. It did not help matters that Ruth should pick so unwise a moment to taunt him.
When the Enforcer’s fist came down on the table hard enough to send a horrendous crack through the solid wood, Councillors and King alike were startled in their chairs. However, it was nothing compared to the dangerous vocalization that poured out of the Earth Demon’s throat as he narrowed cold, bitter eyes on the vindictive Ruth.
“You will refrain from expressing your negative sounds and opinions about my wife to this Council, Ruth,” he growled his warning, his tone so low and dangerous that many of the Councillors experienced a deathly chill. “If you do not, you will find yourself answering to me. Do I make myself perfectly clear to you, woman?”
“You dare to threaten me?” she retaliated, gaining her feet as she faced off with the Enforcer in what had to be the most unwise action in Council history since the decision to go to war with the Druids.
“Ruth, sit down,” Noah warned with a hiss. “If you do not, you will find yourself removed from this Council for the rest of your days. Do I make myself clear?”
“You do not have the power to do that!” Ruth declared, her obstinace so complete she simply did not understand the hole she had been blindly digging for herself. Perhaps in those first months of her daughter’s loss this could be understood, but she had been spewing ill will and hostility toward the Enforcers continuously. However, the Council understood that the Enforcers were not to blame for the damage to her family, and her tirades and animosity had left her very few friends on the uneasy Council.
“I do,” Noah countered with the cool confidence of his omniscient position. “If the Council supports me in majority, you will find yourself excommunicated from this gathering. And I think you need to realize, Councillor Ruth, that the woman you treat with such contempt, who sits by Jacob’s side in this Council, will hold in her hands the deciding vote of the majority I need once she is well enough to sit with us once more. Now sit down.”
Ruth paled under the clear threat, her entire body shaking with her pent-up outrage and impotent position. But she somehow managed the wisdom to hold her tongue, tossing the blond mass of her hair in a gesture of silent defiance as she finally regained her seat. There was no mistaking the hatred in her eyes as she glared at the Enforcer.
“Continue, Jacob. I apologize for the interruption,” Noah urged him gently.
Gideon flicked an aluminum gaze of curiosity at Ruth as Jacob took a minute to compose himself. He understood Ruth’s unchecked emotions. Her daughter had lost the most valuable treasure a Demon could earn. She had lost the Druid mate who, without a doubt, would have become Imprinted upon the young Demon female for all time, earning her a place in the emerging history of a new era for all of Demon culture. This was the very type of Destiny that a being who craved power like Ruth did would have exulted in. To be mother of such a daughter, what a wondrous thing that would have been.
But Gideon’s compassion was entirely for Ruth’s daughter, Mary. The death of her male Druid had deprived the young Demon of ever knowing what it was that he and Legna were just beginning to discover and had already grown a healthy awe and respect for.
Then Gideon abruptly felt the weight of his realization that, had it not been for Isabella and her remarkable abilities, he too would have been cursed to this fate. The thought made his entire body run cold despite his efforts to control the ebb and surge of the thick emotion. To lead a life without Legna, and without ever knowing what he was missing, was unthinkable. When had he begun to feel as if all his long years had been a labor leading him up to this point, so he could draw her to his side? When he thought back over the past nine years, time he had wasted and left her unprotected when, instead, he should have been keeping her close and safe…
Gideon tightened both hands into fists, the soft creak of stressed leather lost under the voices of the Council. He glanced around the table at those who could sense his thoughts and feelings, if they dared, including the avaricious Ruth, and he struggled for control.
Easy, dearest. Focus on the moment, and remember how close I am now.
Her comforting voice was nothing compared to the powerful effect her use of an endearment had on him. His fingers moved to silently grip the arms of his chair, almost as though he had to hold himself down lest he soar with the simple pleasure. He couldn’t explain the ridiculous effect, but there was no way to deny it.
If I had known it would be so easy to please you, I would have done it sooner, she sent to him, her laughter lightening his heart as it moved through his body and soul.
When have I ever given you the impression that you did not please me, Neliss?
Hush, flatterer. Pay attention to Jacob.
Gideon smiled with a corner of his mouth and turned his attention to do just that.
“… originally thought it was the attack of a necromancer,” the Enforcer was saying. “She had been struck by several charges of what looked like their signature use of electrical abilities. What we could not immediately understand was why she had not been able to dampen that type of power as she has done in the past.”
Jacob paused, rubbing his hands together as if they were chilled. It was no wonder, Gideon mused. He would have felt just as cold if it had been him before the Council describing an attack on Legna… and being forced to relive the fact that he had failed to protect her, whether it was avoidable or not.
“The reason why Bella could not dampen her attacker’s power is because the majority of it came from a handheld, Taser-like weapon. It was technology, not supernatural ability, that initially injured her. She opened the door and had no chance to protect herself. She was fired upon immediately. The only thing she remembers clearly after the original shock was that one of her attackers came up to her as she lay stunned and wounded on the floor and proceeded to—” He broke off, his throat working as his fingers curled to clench into fists. It was as if the inconceivable words had lodged themselves in Jacob’s throat, strangling off his very breath in the process.
To Legna’s clear relief, which Gideon felt as if it were his own, Elijah stood up and laid a hand on Jacob’s shoulder, urging the Enforcer to take a seat. The warrior turned to the Council and picked up the story.
“Bella remembers vividly that one of the assaulters purposely began to traumatize her about the abdominal area. Kicking her… even going so far as to use blunt weapons like bats or long sticks. She is not certain which. Her injuries were consistent with a beating, were they not, Gideon?”
Gideon gave the warrior a single nod.
“It was as with hounds on a fox,” Gideon informed softly. “She lay in the center of a pack as it attacked her all at once. The primary target was Bella’s unborn child. Secondary was Bella herself. It is clear that her assaulters intended her to die. Had that happened, we would have had no first-person account of the incident. Luckily, my—Magdelegna,” he corrected himself quickly, feeling the sudden weight of the Demon King’s eyes on him and wishing above all else not to disturb Legna any more than she already was, “Magdelegna,” he continued, “found Bella within minutes of the end of the assault.”
Speaking it out loud made Gideon realize just how close she had come to danger that day. Had she not been under his compulsion to sleep, she might have risen sooner and been with Bella at the time of the attack. Gideon felt something dark pour a stain over his soul like black ink on paper. Again, so close to losing her, and never having truly had her to begin with. The understanding was awful enough, but the feelings writhing beneath it seemed to want to rise up and choke him, just as they had Jacob. He fought for control of it all, but it was Legna who made the most impact.
Shh… Ease your heart, my mate, she soothed him. You are mine now and there will be no harm to either of us that can ever change that.
“It is clear that outside of Isabella’s injuries, everything else in that room was staged,” Elijah continued, his straightforward warrior’s voice stark in the middle of Gideon’s suddenly heartened spirits. “It was made to look like necromancers, but I am not convinced of that. Why destroy the place and leave obvious signs? Clearly there was no battle. Why sign their names to it with such senseless destruction?”
“Not necromancers?” Ruth asked. “But can you be sure?”
“No, actually, we can’t,” Elijah agreed. “Necromancers are still humans, and they can still use technological weapons. These are the requirements of fact. An enemy with motive,” Elijah ticked off his facts on his fingers, “one who can use technology, and one who knows we despise the necromancers, thereby the attempt to frame them. Sans the necromancers themselves, of course, who might still be a possibility. More importantly, they had to know of Jacob, Bella, and the significance of their unborn child.”