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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Damien’s head lifted suddenly as he caught a powerful and familiar scent wafting on the mountain breeze. He turned his head quickly even as he crouched down low, the long braid of his black hair whipping like a flagellum with the abrupt movement.
The Demon stepped out into a shaft of moonlight, the exposure bold enough to relax the Prince. Damien regained his height and the elegance of his more human composure, dismissing the wary beast of moments ago with an easy thought.
“Damien,” Gideon greeted with a respectful nod.
“Come to hunt me down in my own hunting grounds?” Damien asked.
Legna had never seen a Vampire as old and as potent as Damien, the Prince of Vampires. Through Gideon’s eyes, she was astounded by what she saw. He was as powerful and broad in build as the warrior Elijah, except where Elijah was blond and always seemed to be enjoying a good joke, this creature was dark in dramatic ways.
He had blue eyes so dark that they almost appeared to be black, the pupils nearly indistinguishable from the irises. His hair was raven black, with that blue-black sheen that often tinged the feathers of those cunning birds. Unlike those she had seen of his ilk previously, this Vampire sported a closely barbered beard and mustache. There were lines and grace to his face that made him naturally handsome, but Vampires had a glamour of sensuality that enhanced the effect even further. His features, from cheekbones to generous lips, were highly seductive as they broke into an amused smile.
“Gideon, you old dog, you have taken a mate,” the Prince accused with humor sparkling from those fathomless eyes. “And I believe she finds me quite attractive.”
Gideon heard Legna gasp in shock and tried to repress a feral smile as he became aware of the burning blush she sprouted.
“I would not cross that particular line even as a joke, Damien,” Gideon warned him smoothly.
“My apologies. I could not resist.” Damien looked steadily into Gideon’s eyes for a moment. “She must be young, not to realize I would be able to read her presence within your mind.”
“She is young, but I would not underestimate her if I were you.”
Gideon’s confidence, which radiated throughout the statement, helped Legna regain her perspective and balance. She blew the image of a gentle kiss to him, making him smile.
“No, indeed,” the Vampire agreed. “You have come to ask me if I have betrayed your confidence, have you not?”
“I have. Outside of my people, you are the only one who knows the significance of the female Druid who is mated with our Enforcer. You know because I told you myself. I want you to tell me you had nothing to do with the brutal attack that was visited upon that same female. An attack that nearly resulted in the deaths of her and her unborn child.”
Damien’s entire countenance changed. The seductive humor and handsomeness faded just enough to allow fangs and animalistic ferocity to reflect in his blackening eyes.
“Who would commit such an atrocity?”
Legna felt the relief that ricocheted through Gideon. She knew, in that second, exactly what Gideon did. The Vampire had done nothing to harm Isabella.
“I am sorry I had to ask, Damien,” Gideon apologized with a heartfelt bow to his acquaintance.
The Vampire blew the apology aside with the wave of an elegant, long-fingered hand.
“Understandable, considering. You will be asking Siena about this, I take it?”
“Of course. Though this is not her style, it could be rebels from amongst her people. What of yours? Anything I should know?”
“Not really,” Damien mused, thinking on it a minute longer. “We have our outlaws, those who kill indiscriminately for the perversion of the pleasure death-fear gives them. But I believe they are too busy running from justice, avoiding the sun, and making their kills to be bothered with your politics and propagation.”
“I agree. I did not think there were Vampires present at the altercation site, but it does not hurt to be thorough.”
“Would you like me to speak with Tristan?”
Gideon shook his head negatively at the mention of the Shadowdwellers’ monarch.
“The attack was at sunset. Far too much daylight to have anything to do with them. But thank you for the offer.”
“I tell you what I will do, Gideon, as a return favor for your warning about the necromancers. I will get my Vanguard to scour the dens of the human Vampire hunters and see if they hear anything.”
“Thank you. That will be a help. Elijah is on a similar task. But I believe your intelligence on these people is much more complex and thorough than ours.”
“That is because you do not normally have anything to fear from normal humans who are without dark magic. You are too strong for that. However, while we are strong, we Vampires have that one weakness that humans can exploit far too easily. Being forced to sleep in paralyzed weakness during daylight makes the average human far more of a threat to the average Vampire, requiring us to have a deeper knowledge of their ways. At least you can fight your lethargy, can hear the approach of enemies, and can use your abilities at near full strength in spite of your sleep under the sun. Very few of my people can claim the power to do the same.”
“I understand that quite well,” Gideon reminded him.
“I was reiterating for your young female,” Damien said, showing a fanged smile and mischievous wink.
“You are never happy unless you are flirting with danger. A frightening quality in a leader of an entire species,” Gideon returned dryly.
“Nonsense. I am merely pleased with your good fortune. Enjoy her well, my friend. You have earned her.”
Gideon thanked the Vampire once more, then each gave a short bow to the other before the Vampire took to the sky with an enormously powerful leap. The Demon felt his mate watch the departure through his eyes with significant awe.
I have led a life far too sheltered, I am realizing, she mused to him.
One would think otherwise, having lived at the hub of our court all of your life. I am surprised you have not met Damien before this.
Well, as you previously noted, Noah has a way of making certain I am not present for volatile situations. I would say the Prince of the Vampires making a sojourn to the court of the King of the Demons would no doubt qualify.
I believe you are correct. Now, my beauty, we are ready for one more stop.
By all means, dearest.
Have I mentioned I love it when you say that?
As a matter of fact, you have.
Jacob moved slowly up the stairs, feeling weighted and tired. It was a struggle for the Enforcer to leave matters so close to his home and heart to others, but he trusted Elijah with every ounce of breath he drew, as well as with the life of his wife. The warrior simply adored Bella. How could he not? Jacob’s “little flower” had broken the warrior’s nose the very same instant she had met him. To Elijah, that was the ultimate quality in a good woman.
Jacob chuckled with that thought, feeling somehow lighter for it. He also realized he was changing his feelings about Gideon lately as well. The medic had never truly done anything outsiders would see as a great offense, but because he had earned Bella’s hostility at the start it had naturally gravitated into Jacob’s own heart.
Funnily enough, it was Bella who had begun to act with civility and honest appreciation toward the medic first. It was so like her to be that changeable, that forgiving and tolerant. It would have been impossible for her to trust the Ancient with the care of her health and the health of their baby otherwise. She had genuinely formed a sense of humor about the medic’s eccentricity of manners. It simply was not in Bella to hold grudges, especially when she understood the great gift Gideon was bestowing on them by lending his formidable skills to aid her pregnancy.
Jacob had wondered why that particular outlook had not rubbed off on him as easily as the irritation had. However, if he were to be honest with himself, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that Gideon constantly had his hands all over his mate. It was necessary, of course, but that did not change the instinctual hostility it created. Perhaps it was because Gideon was now Imprinted himself that there was a distinctive easing of his negative perspective toward him. There was comfort in the idea that they were now on equal footing, each understanding what the other was forced to feel, from a firsthand perspective.
Gideon had also performed a miracle saving the lives of his family, and Jacob was keenly aware of it. No one else would have been able to save both mother and child. This task alone indebted Jacob to Gideon and ingratiated Gideon to Jacob for the rest of their days.
Jacob entered his borrowed bedroom in Noah’s home, not bothering with the lights when he could see with perfect clarity without them. Bella was sleeping lightly, already stirring when she sensed him coming near. With a smile, Jacob began to whip up a surprise for her.
When Bella opened her eyes, it was because she was suddenly overwhelmed with the aroma of roses. She sat up, feeling rose petals cascading off of her torso as she did so. She laughed, scooping up handfuls of the luxuriant petals, rubbing them over her face and throat as she inhaled their potent fragrance.
“Jacob,” she murmured with pleasure.
Jacob scooped up more of the silky-soft flower parts, dumping them over her head as he took a seat beside her. She giggled, the first expression of her old humor he had heard since the attack. She had been so sad, so depressed, that it made his heart hurt. The simple parlor trick of the flowers was worth gold if it made her laugh.
“Hello, little flower,” he greeted her, leaning forward to kiss her gently, the scent of roses lifting up from her warm skin and all around them.
“I love you,” she whispered, her hands cradling his face as she kissed him once more. “I love that you stay with me even though I know your heart aches to hunt for those who hurt me.”
“There will come a time, little love, when I will not be able to stay,” he said gently, touching her soft features in the dark with exquisite care.
“I wouldn’t expect you to, Jacob. Remember, there is a lioness in my heart as well. She will not be satisfied until she is a part of the destruction of those who tried to murder her young. And the only way I will achieve that now is by residing within your heart and your thoughts as you seek revenge for us both.”
Jacob nodded, utterly speechless as emotion choked him into silence. There was so much to feel, he couldn’t sort through it all. Love and hate, satisfaction and discontent, joy and rage. It all but destroyed him to hear words like “revenge” and “destruction” coming out of his sweet-natured mate’s mouth. She had been born to be a peacekeeper, an Enforcer of great laws, and an impressive warrior in her own right, but that she had reason to hate and to fear… Jacob felt even more keenly the sense that he had let her down. Darkness was his to deal with, his to protect her from, and he had failed. It stirred a red haze through his mind when he thought of it, when he felt it. She was there almost instantly, trying to soothe him and ease his frustration, but even her touch in his mind was weak and clearly exhausted. It was as if she was merely a shadow within him, and it simply should not be that way. She should be vibrant and overwhelming him with her energy and love, not this soft-spoken fragility that scraped at the interior of his heart.
“Oh, Jacob,” she sobbed softly, her weak body leaning against his as she wrapped slim arms around him. “Please,” she begged him, “please don’t let this destroy you. I need you so much. I need you here and at peace.”
“I will be here, little love,” he murmured into her hair, his voice aching with the tragic pain her tears caused within him. “But I will buy my peace with battle, Bella. For both of us. Once done, I will put it behind me.”
“Swear it to me, Jacob, because I know you can’t break your word. Especially not to me.”
“I swear it, Bella. I will bring us to our enemies, and then leave them on the ground behind us. I will not bring that darkness into our bed, near our child, or anywhere where it will fester. I will come to you with a clear mind, heart, and soul. I swear it to you with all of my love.”
“I love you, Jacob,” she said softly, hugging him tightly, knowing full well that the only thing that would clear his mind, heart, and soul would be their retribution.
Gideon sat crouched in the shadow of a large boulder, his breath white and hard on the freezing air of the bare start of a Siberian spring. He was not dressed for such weather, but it did not matter. He regulated his body temperature as a secondary thought, a shimmer of warmth visible as it lifted away from the exposed skin around his face and neck. He absently tugged a glove tighter into place on his hand as he watched the activity of the village below him. He easily sensed the pulses of about a hundred creatures, all upright, bipedal and fourlegged varieties. He did not dare to skulk for long because he would be spotted and a point of suspicion if he did. He was able to track the mammalian forms of the Lycanthropes around him well enough, but it became more difficult when they took cold-blooded or avian forms. Any animal around him could Lycanthrope, and he would not sense them all.
A true Lycanthrope could exist in three stages. A single animal of any species imaginable was the first. There was a human form for the second, indistinguishable from any normal mortal who could not see beneath the skin and into their genetic make-up. Most Demons could tell just by their scent that they were not truly human. Gideon suspected this was probably true of other Nightwalkers as well. The third and final form was the Lycanthropic form, a combination of the first and second, the specific animal and the specific human usually as large as a human but sporting the specific attributes of the Lycanthrope’s animal form, like the fur and claws if it was a bear, or fangs and wings if it was a bat.