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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Nothing compares to the scream a babe makes in a moment like that. There was no way to explain to her that there was only so much a healer could accomplish. No way to explain how a beautiful and beloved mother could end up looking like she had looked in that instant. He had been over seven hundred years old at the time, and there was no explaining it to him either. And knowing that had been the first time the child that was Legna had ever laid eyes on him had haunted him for the next two hundred and fifty years. It was that moment alone that had kept him at a distance from her when they had actually belonged together all this time. That child was the child he had seen for so many decades every time he had looked at her. Looked at her looking at him as she was subconsciously trying to remember what it was they had decided to take away from her in order to preserve her precious mind.
Gideon turned his face to the heavens, tears of pure agony burning in his eyes as he prayed for a miracle he couldn’t even begin to guess at the nature of. All he knew was that he would be destroyed the moment she stopped loving him, the moment she rightfully began to blame him for his inadequacies, for his failure to save that life, for his failure to protect her young eyes by having the forethought to seal off the room. The thought alone was enough to stop his heart from beating. He heard her begin to weep, but he could not bring himself to look at her. He felt his soul shredding, flayed away from him bit by bit, seemingly with every tear she shed. When she was suddenly on him, wrapping herself around his throat, he was pretty much expecting it. He didn’t fight her. He had no right to.
It took him a long minute to realize she was hugging him, not throttling him. Numb with incomprehensible shock, he dared to allow himself enough hope to lay a hand on her back. It was at that moment he realized he had expected never to touch her again, making the contact feel like a miracle cure.
“Legna,” he whispered hoarsely. “I am so sorry.”
She said nothing, instead sobbing as if her heart were breaking. He let her go on, thinking to himself that she could cry until next Samhain if she wanted to and he would be the last to gainsay her. This moment was almost three centuries in coming, and she deserved to mourn.
Noah had lived not only with the weight of his mother’s murder and the responsibility of raising his sister after his father’s Summoning, but he had lived with the knowledge that he had made a decision for his sister that he’d never found the courage to reverse. He had always dreaded this moment, just as Gideon had.
Gideon wanted to ask her a hundred questions, but this was not about him, so he did not. He enclosed her in his embrace, soothing her as best he could with his presence and his warm touch. He brushed her hair from her damp, flushed face, gently tucking it behind her ear over and over again, a rhythmic stroking that carried with it silent words of love and understanding. Her cheek was nestled into his shoulder, her tears soaking through his shirt, her sobs held deeply in her chest so that they sounded like the painful cries of a small animal.
It was almost an hour before she spent herself completely, an occasional shudder wracking her as she drifted into an exhausted sleep. Gideon still did not move in any way. He let her rest, ignoring his own comfort completely. Nothing could make him more comfortable than the feel of her arms around him, even limp with sleep as they were.
She made a sound, jerking slightly as she woke some time later. She lifted her head, searching for his eyes. He obliged her, not even trying to hide the uncertainty within himself. She reached to touch his face, drawing her lip between her teeth as she moved her fingers over him in a strange pattern.
“You were crying,” she said at last, her voice hoarse from emotion.
He instantly understood that she was not talking about the here and now, but about that tragic day so far in the past.
“Yes, love,” he said simply.
“Why would you cry for my mother?”
“Because no one should have to die like that,” he said. “Because for all my ability, I could do nothing for her. As I was for your brother, I had been her Siddah, and it destroyed me to think I had done so poorly by her that she had not known how to properly defend herself.”
“That is not true. It is because you were Siddah to my brother that he was able to become both the man and King that he is. No one could do better than that, and I know you did just as much for Mama.”
“I was older when I fostered Noah. It was different.”
“Mama was a Body Demon. Female Body Demons are the least powerful of our society.”
“I know. And that was why she was chosen by her murderer. He knew she had no hope of… but if I had taught her… something. Anything.”
“You were the one who found her?”
“Just before you did, sweet. I thought I would turn to stone when I looked up and saw you there, looking at me as if I were something straight out of hell.”
“And you and Noah had my memory altered.”
“Why did you not tell me sooner?” she asked at last, the one question he had been truly dreading.
“I made a promise. A promise I have kept your entire lifetime, Neliss.”
“A promise to Noah.”
“Yes. But you cannot blame him for that.”
“No. I would not. Noah has protected me all of his life. This is no different. I would not be the soul I am if not for his choices in this. I understand now why he was so upset to find out we were Imprinted. Both he and Hannah must have suspected this would happen. You must have as well.”
“Yes.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I did not know what to hope for… that you would find out before we made love… or after. I was terrified you would feel abused in some fashion. Or worse, would turn away from me before even learning who I am.”
“I see.” Legna reached to push back his hair, pressing her forehead to his, putting them eye to eye and nose to nose. “I know you,” she said in a whisper. “Just as I know myself. How could you ever be afraid that I would think you capable of such a monstrous act?”
“Because I am afraid of anything that might mean I will lose you,” he confessed.
“I told you, my love, I am not going anywhere. I am here, right where I belong. My heart lives with your heart, my soul with your soul. I love you, Gideon. You have to start believing that, and believing that you deserve it.”
“I will never deserve it,” he said roughly. “But I will endeavor to do so for the rest of my days. I love you, Neliss, as I have never loved in the whole of my life. You are my heart, my breath, my every thought and every aspiration. You are the true source of my power, because without you I am utterly powerless.”
“Love,” she whispered softly, setting his heart to flight as she pressed her mouth to his tenderly. “I need to know only one thing, and then we will never need to discuss this again.”
“I know,” he agreed hoarsely. It took him some time before he began to tell her what she wanted to know. “He was the only Demon besides you to ever be retrieved from a Summoning pentagram. We thought we had saved him in time. By the time we realized how wrong we were, four females, including Sarah, your mother, were dead. Jacob executed him eventually, but it was a poor compensation. There was a time I thought Noah might never recover. He could not do for himself what he and your father had done for you.”
“No wonder he has been almost maniacal in his protection these past months. The Summoning must have brought up so much in his mind. I think I finally understand why he could never discuss it with me. I think he was afraid that if he did it would give him away, that it would dredge up enough emotional memory to trigger what everyone had repressed within me.” Legna reached up and stroked her fingers along the line of his jaw. “And then he was forced to let me go to you, knowing so much that I did not. He even tried to warn me. It makes sense now, when before it seemed so irrational. And Hannah. She knew also and was so afraid for me.”
“They love you, sweet. So many of us love you. Even that acerbic little Druid you insist on being friends with.” He winked, softening the remark enough to make her laugh. She reached to hug him with all of her strength, and he basked in it gratefully.
“Well, I am going to protect that little Druid because she is my friend, and she once did the same for me.”
“Which definitely elevates her in my esteem,” he said, kissing the top of her head through the depths of her hair. He reached up and touched the silky mass with both affection and purpose, closing his eyes and concentrating as he stroked it. Then he lifted the entire mass of it into his hand.
Legna felt a twinge of feedback along her scalp and pulled back from him to look at her hair in his hand. She gasped when she saw the black tresses, a full three feet shorter than they normally were, and the cropped coffee-colored remains fluttering down over their close bodies like dozens of feathers.
“Tell me you can fix that later,” she said nervously.
“Love, I once regrew your hair from scratch after it had been burned off. I can do anything.”
“Show-off,” she said dryly, touching the alien locks. “How did you change the color?”
“Just a rudimentary tweak of pigmentation chemistry. Straightening it was even easier. But this is not the end of my tricks. If you are up to it, we can find a mirror so I can show you.”
“I am fine. Puffy eyes aside, as long as I have you, I am fine.”
“You have me,” he assured her, helping her to her feet. “And as for puffy eyes, you will not have them by the time I am done.”
“Remind me to stop if you catch me touching my face,” Legna whispered to the Lycanthrope Queen.
“I don’t blame you if you do. I never suspected Gideon was capable of such an alteration. It is remarkable.”
“He said it was easy. He always says that. He explained that it was simply a matter of changing musculature structure and bone malleability. So now, I have a whole new face.”
“I think choosing an Asian appearance was a brilliant touch,” Siena whispered, glancing up at a woman who passed their table. “That’s the second time she passed us.”
“I noticed. She is feeling a little nervous, but it does not seem to be directed at us.”
“Well, so long as she doesn’t jump us the minute we leave the restaurant.”
“No. No hostility or negative intent,” Legna remarked.
“Ah, there’s Anya,” Siena said suddenly, reaching to wave to an exotic-looking young woman with hair that, if just a few shades lighter, would be as fiery red as Corrine’s.
It was wrapped into an intricate chignon, but it was clearly held in place by only a single long hairpin made of heavy silver, or what looked like silver.
Legna noted that the Queen had also bound up her hair, and by the way she repeatedly gave it a covert touch, it was clear she wasn’t used to it. That was when Legna realized Lycanthropes were actually uncomfortable with their hair up. Their enemies might potentially know this, and so the Lycanthrope women had indulged in the extreme to further throw off suspicion. The sense she was feeling from them told her it was akin to a near strangulation for them. She had lived so far removed from the war, again by Noah’s design, that she had not learned this interesting detail.
The Queen cast Legna a look, seemingly knowing what she was thinking, because she leaned over and enlightened her a little.
“When you see one of us change form, you will understand better. You will also understand that, when bound, our hair represents peaceful intentions.”
It was an enigmatic statement, but it was enough for the moment.
The half-breed female moved directly to them, greeting them as if they were old friends, their manner warm and as boisterous as that of any girlfriends meeting for a night out.
“Anya, this is Maggie. Maggie, Anya,” Siena said, using Legna’s altered nickname to keep them in character.
“Hi. Ready to go?”
“No time like the present,” Anya said, rising to her feet right away.
Legna took a deep breath and followed the two Lycanthropes, letting their powerful confidence soothe the last of her nerves.
In less than half an hour, they were entering a dance club. They blended in perfectly with the mostly female clientele. Anya led the other two women directly to the back of the club, taking them through a door that, when closed behind them, dimmed the pulse of the music they’d left behind. She turned and gave a slight hand signal, alerting them that they were about to cross the magical ward set up to filter those who came that far. If anything was going to go wrong, it would be right then.
Siena and Anya had both passed the ward before with success. They could sense its energy and its sickly resource of evil magic, but they only knew that it was an alarm… not what the alarm was geared toward filtering out. Siena suspected males were obviously key on the list, and Legna dreaded the logic that Demons were, too. Especially with the high likelihood that Corrine was imprisoned within the magic-users’ secret sanctuary.
But Legna felt Gideon’s mind strongly in hers, reassuring her that he was in complete control of his protective alterations of her bio-signs. He was very close, probably just outside the club itself by then. Legna could even sense that Kane and Elijah were nearby. Her brother was the only one still out of her range.
All it would take was her faith in Gideon’s power.
With deep breaths, all three women advanced. When Anya exhaled with relief at the end of the corridor, they all did.
Legna paused to listen to the voice murmuring praise and reassurance in her mind as they hurried down a flight of stairs that suddenly spat the three women out into an overlit underground chamber, apparently directly beneath the club they had first entered. Legna reached for the males lying in reserve once more, finding them all to be close. She focused, making sure she was ready to teleport them all to safety in a moment’s notice. It would probably wipe her out to do so, but she no longer doubted she could do it.