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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“When this disturbance is resolved,” Noah said, “send her to me. Legna will give you her own decision about becoming your ambassador after I request it of her.” Noah rose to his feet. “I think I also should tell you that a part of our justice system, which you spoke of earlier, consists of an absolution for true acts of self-defense when they are called for.” Noah crossed to a near window and pressed his fist to the glass. “I tell you this because there may come a call for you to take part in destroying this corrupted Demon female should she pose a threat to you or Legna, and I must have you understand that we will not seek atonement from you if you are forced to destroy her.
“I would be responsible if you hesitated because of my failure to tell you these things, Siena, and were injured or killed as a result. It was your ascension that stopped the war between our peoples, and I will not forget that this peace means as much to you as it does to me. I know that were I faced with a hostile Lycanthrope right now, I might hesitate to defend myself for fear of it rending our tenuous hold on this time of tolerance.”
“I understand,” Siena said softly, making no secret of her remarkable respect for his thorough forethought. “The information is happily received. However, I don’t see attacks or battles as a part of this mission. This is an extremely large group. We would be outnumbered in a battle.”
“We will not be far,” Noah said. “Gideon, Elijah, and I will be monitoring you. We will back you up immediately if needed.”
“And we will make all efforts not to cause trouble,” Siena agreed. “There will be a time for battle. Unfortunately, it seems to be a recurring theme in history.” Siena paused a long moment. “May I speak freely, Noah?”
Noah turned at the question, looking at the woman who was sliding a thoughtful hand over the spines of the books on one of the shelves of his personal library.
“By all means,” he invited her.
Siena gave him a tiny smile and continued to meander the room as she spoke. Her movements, matched with her mellow speech patterns, were soothing in an enigmatic way. It seemed as though the only sound she made as she traveled was the soft brush of fur on fur. The lazy swing of her tail was practically hypnotic. Even in this hybrid form, she was an incredibly lovely creature.
“One does not need to be a telepath or an empath to know you are preoccupied with your sister’s relationship with Gideon.”
Siena stopped to pick up a glass globe that had been etched with maps of the world. The piece was clearly an antique of tremendous age and value. The borders of the countries were misrepresented, and other areas were missing completely.
“Yes. It is a complicated event.”
“I see. I had thought Gideon was highly respected amongst your people.”
“He is. Of course he is.”
“Yes, he is quite old and quite empowered.”
Siena rested the globe back into its display holder, turning it until the Russian territory was facing forward. Strangely, it amused the King. Lycanthrope history was deeply rooted in that land, the accent of which could be heard in the Queen’s warm speech. Her action was almost like a subliminal need to leave a declaration of her presence behind. He supposed that living half of her existence as an animal was bound to leave her with unavoidable instincts, such as marking territory. His own people were affected with similar needs.
But Noah was actually more curious about her current line of questioning. He had never doubted Siena’s intelligence or perceptive abilities, not to mention the strength it had taken to hand down a decree to her people only three days after her ascension to the throne that the war with the Demons was to end immediately.
Also, she had paid careful and quiet attention to Elijah during the meeting. Though she had said nothing, done nothing to indicate it, Noah had a feeling she knew that it had been Elijah who had led the team of warriors who had finally defeated her father thirteen years ago. The battle had been the last of the war, her father’s resulting death giving Siena the key to her throne. Noah was forced to wonder what effect it would have on a woman like Siena to come face-to-face with her father’s executioner.
“I was always curious,” the Queen continued after a distinct silence, “as to how a Demon of such ability had managed to be captured by my father. I realize now, as I come to know your people, that you sent him to make that sacrifice.”
“I sent him, but the idea was all Gideon’s,” Noah credited quietly.
Siena’s gold eyes flicked up to meet his. Her eyes were incomprehensibly beautiful, but it was not nearly as startling a feature as her keen intellect. Noah was quite impressed but simply returned her gaze as he locked his hands behind his back.
“Gideon was the only Demon by both type and wisdom who could have done such a thing,” Noah continued. “As a Demon of the Body, he has no natural abilities for escape, such as teleporting, so he gambled on the idea that your father would be pacified enough to let him remain imprisoned. Knowing this, your sire had no fear of Gideon slipping away with intelligences that might benefit us. It stood to reason he would thrive on the idea of the advantage holding Gideon over our heads might give him.”
“My father was a bit of a fool,” Siena remarked without humor. “He never bothered to find out that Gideon could astral project. It was when I discovered this that I realized you all could have had all the information you needed to destroy us in a genocidal fashion, but you were not acting on it. It was the beginning of the change in my perspective about your people.”
“Gideon is a veteran of war and its ramifications. It has always been his highest priority to find wise and logical ways out of conflict. He put a great deal of faith in the reports of your remarkable intelligence and your outspoken displeasure with the warring ways of your father. Without these important factors, Gideon would never have suggested the assignment, not to mention embark on it himself.”
“It was still a very dangerous chance to take.”
“With your father away at battle, leaving you in charge of the court, we expected you might speak to your captive once or twice. It was our hope that with those slight opportunities, Gideon could find a common enough ground to begin the processes of understanding and tolerance between you. A mandatory factor when trying to achieve peace.”
“Yes. I know. It was for the best. The five years Gideon spent at Our court made an impact, I believe, on both sides.” Siena moved to run fingers over a nearby desk. “But I am forced to wonder something, Noah. It is clear from this information that you trust Gideon. Enough to trust him with the future of both our races. That you hold him in high regard and enormous esteem even on a personal level is also apparent.” She turned that pinning gaze back on him. “Why would you be against having such a man as mate to your sister and a member of your family?”
“It is not so much that I do not trust him or do not want him—” Noah broke off and looked back out the window he had been gazing out of before the conversation had begun. “It is a complicated situation. There are things involved in this type of union that could be painful for my sister.” Noah looked back to the Lycanthrope woman. “What brother of any substance would greet the idea of his sister’s potential hurt with open arms?”
“One who did not love his sister as much as you clearly do,” she agreed graciously. “It is almost… almost uncanny how alike we are after all. I was raised on stories of Demon savagery, told how uncouth and barbaric you were. Stories that included the Druidic Wars and a long list of other opinions from other races holding other grudges.” Siena paused to shake her head, the motion of expressed regret accented by a twitch of her ears. “When I got to know Gideon and began to see the depth of your morals and the culture that surrounded them, I realized how untrue it was. It was wise of you to trust him with the task. You should not lose your wisdom now, Noah.”
Noah drew in a deep breath, and then released it in a long sigh.
“You are correct, Siena. And I have said the same thing to myself many times. Perhaps, soon, I will actually begin to listen to myself.” Noah gave her a charming smile and with it changed the focus of the conversation. “For the moment, I should like for us to complete the details of the ambassadorial exchange.”
“I have been considering something else first,” she announced. “I believe we should have a social gathering before the exchange of our diplomats. Perhaps it will relax everyone to begin the integration in the same casual style we began ours.”
“An excellent idea. I propose Beltane. There will be weddings, a festival, and we will have sporting competitions.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea. Perhaps I can suggest some of the things we do on Beltane to make it a truly blended occasion?”
“Of course. Please,” Noah indicated two plush chairs that faced each other next to one of the shelves. “Let us discuss it.”
Gideon approached Legna quietly, not wanting to make any distracting sounds as she sat deeply entrenched in her meditation. He sensed clearly the order she was putting her mind into, the thoroughness she used to catalog the new infusion of his power she had been adjusting to ever since they had become fully Imprinted.
By meditating as she was, she was helping to keep at bay anything other than the focus on her approaching foray into enemy territory. A visitor in her mind so regularly, Gideon had a renewed respect for the strength and mental discipline it took to manage her empathy. Without that impressive will, she would have been driven insane by the sheer amount of random emotion people were constantly projecting every minute of every day. Her control was perfect and kept everything about her neatly restrained.
Everything, perhaps, except how beautiful she looked to him. Better yet, she was being beautiful in his home, the place where he had spent so many solitary centuries never truly realizing what he had been missing. She sat centered on an antique Persian rug, the design unfolding all around her as she maintained her cross-legged position. Gideon realized then how much his passion for her seemed to be growing with every day and every minute they spent together. Even this separate togetherness, when she was deep into her own tasks and he was in his, was a prime example. Of course, his task at the moment consisted mainly of looking at her and admiring all the details of her beauty, both inner and outer. She had the most perfect skin in the world, luminous even though she was clearly a little tired. Her coffee-colored hair snaked all around her body, just a happenstance of how it had settled around her, and he could not help following the winding path as it traveled her breathtaking figure. It was like a spark to tinder, and the heat for her that was always only banked within him flared to new life.
“You are distracting me,” she whispered, opening one eye to look at him.
“I am sorry,” he said, grinning in a way that belied his apology. “I will attempt to refrain.”
“You do that,” she giggled, closing her eyes again.
He didn’t leave, but he did try to keep from thinking in less than seemly ways. It was not an easy task. His gaze kept wandering over to her, drinking her in. He noticed she had a beauty mark on the bottom of her left foot and it made him smile. He had somehow missed that one in his methodical task of learning every inch of her body.
“Gideon!” she hissed softly.
He laughed, covering his irrepressible smile with a hand movement. Her thoughts might have been kept distant from him, but it was clear she was very aware of his. He began to contemplate having a little fun.
As he mused over the possibilities, Gideon felt an eerie change in the room. He went still, trying to name the source of the strange sensation he was feeling. It was cold, paralyzed, and bearing a level of emotion that was far too deep to belong to him.
That left Legna as the most likely source. Her eyes suddenly opened and she looked up at him, but she did not seem to focus on him. Gideon’s brow furrowed as he tried to see what she was thinking, but barriers had flown up around her mind that, combined with the distancing of meditation, kept him in the dark.
“Legna?” he asked softly, crouching down to come eye to eye with her.
He became aware of the fine vibration that was humming through her. He reached to analyze her body chemistry and physiological reactions for a definition of what she was feeling.
It was fear.
Not just any fear, he realized as he reached deeper, but a solidifying terror unlike anything either of them could have conceived. Adrenaline was racing through her, causing chaos in her biorhythms to the point that Gideon hardly knew where to start to help calm her. Whatever this was, it was probably the worst thing that could happen so close to her undercover assignment.
“Legna, what is it?” He used a firmer voice, demanding an answer from her.
The single word completely obliterated the Ancient Demon.
Stunned, he fell back onto the floor, wiping an unsteady hand down over his shocked expression. He tried to think, but he couldn’t. Now it was his fear that was rising. Gideon had no idea how she was recalling that day. He had no access to her mind the one time he needed it the most. All he could do was feel the painful wrenching of his own terrified heart as he watched her eyes grow wider and wider.
He didn’t need new power and new skill levels to remember that day. It was clear as crystal for him. That day. That terrible day when Gideon had looked up from his position over Legna’s mother to see the equally wide eyes of a four-year-old girl who was seeing something no child should ever see.
She was seeing her mother’s mutilated body, and a male Demon who was drenched in her blood from silver hair to booted feet, clutching the dead woman to his chest as he leaned over her.