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|Gideon(Nightwalkers #2) by Jacquelyn Frank|
From that moment on, it was pretty much all about magic and mayhem. Natural versus unnatural. Evil versus the Just. Jacob left Legna at the paws of the mountain lion who had circled back around to get out of the line of battle. She lay down over Legna’s arm, lazily licking the wounds that were scattered over her golden coat as her intelligent gold eyes reassured the Demon that she would protect Legna now.
Jacob turned back. He had some Transformed Demons to take care of now that he was returned to his senses. He was positive that Legna’s little manipulations of their warped minds could not last much longer, if indeed the barely conscious woman still had hold of them. This was his duty, to punish his own for their wrongdoings and perversions, even if it was a byproduct of being manipulated by black magic. They were beyond redemption now, beyond hope of reclamation. The only mercy he could show them would be their swift deaths. For the first time he wished Bella were there with him. This was where she excelled; this was where she would have been his relief. She was like an angel of mercy to the poor souls, and she would have swept the field with her inborn skills to bring them peace from such torment. This, he realized, would have been her best revenge: to deprive these depraved bitches of the power of the Demons they had captured, stealing away their prizes and their access to even more power names with which to make more unfortunate, deadly monsters.
Iron bolts were flying with more accuracy now that the fog had thinned, and Demons began to take both injuries and casualties. The necromancers were headed full bore into the fight, dragging fresh hunters with them. This was not the small army they had heard of in the meeting. Noah began to suspect there had been a tipped hand somewhere along the line. With so many people involved, it was always a possibility. He suspected, however, that Corrine’s rescue had been the cause of the additional human influx. The Demon King believed that, when this battle ended, the Demon race would have struck a mighty blow into the ranks of necromancers. Female ones, at least. The questioned that remained was, did Mary realize she had been caught? And what of Ruth? Would they now have to hunt them both down before delivering them to the justice of the Enforcer?
The Demons followed the example of the Ancients among them, changing to hand-to-hand combat in order to dive past the magical shields meant to fend off elemental attacks. It was at this point that the Lycanthrope half-breed made her appearance. She might have been the weakest of them all in a certain sense, but she was a remarkable fighter. It was clear that, had she been a full Lycanthrope, she would have been some form of fox or vixen. She displayed sharp tearing teeth, small black claws, and a sinuous speed that left her little more than a streak of black leather clothing and auburn hair. When she stopped, victims suddenly began to fall like dominos, their throats laid open with those tiny but lethal claws. She paused to lick one of the little black blades, then smiled and was once more a blur.
The tide of battle was always meant to be in the favor of the Demons. They were the more skilled and experienced fighters. The one saving grace of all the wars they had lived through had to be the skills they had gained, now to be used in defense. It was all a tragedy of terrible proportions. The hunters thought they could win with the human version of great fighting skills, blind motivation, and following this cause whose true purpose was honestly unknown to them. No one enjoyed the idea of harming these misguided souls, but they would be foolish to let them go and survive to perpetuate more of this awful discontent.
As the humans began to fall back and retreat from the Demons’ battle skills, the Demons felt little victory. As with all such clashes, there would be ramifications from this. The fighting had been cloaked from the curious mainstream human populace with the isolation of Jacob’s home and the fog and storms of the Wind Demons blanketing the area. Bodies would be buried and destroyed. The field of battle would be returned to its flawless nature without so much as a speck of blood to show for the evening’s work.
And yet there was a permanent stain flowing over all the surviving souls of that battle. The waste of lives, both human and Demon, all because of the need for revenge, could never be compensated for.
Finally the fighting came to an end. There was little ceremony, and less rejoicing. The only befouled humans who remained were the dead and the wounded. Very few had fled any farther than the beach below, and it was only a matter of minutes before warriors caught up with them. They began to gather prisoners. Gideon displayed his remarkable ability by casting out a powerful stasis energy across the field, helping to maintain wounded until warrior Body Demons could reach them. He held this extension of enormous energy as he turned to find his mate.
An adult Demon had aided her briefly, enough to stem the tide of blood that had gushed from her. Gideon knelt beside her pale figure, glancing at the Lycanthropic animal beside her for only a second. He reached to stroke Legna’s soil-dusted hair and a cheek streaked with blood from her own fingertips when she had scratched an itch or pushed back her hair unthinkingly. Her blood supply was dangerously low, her heart pumping valiantly to try and circulate it as fast as possible to maintain her oxygen levels.
Gideon laid a hand on her injured thigh, feeling the residual burn the fragments of iron had left behind. The adult healer had been wise to not attempt to heal this wound. It was beyond his skill and he could have done more harm than good. Gideon could heal her, working out the iron filings as he did so. She would be scarred through both sides of her thigh, but that was of little consequence considering she might have died.
He reached into her with his power, closing his eyes as he absently stroked the wound sight with incredible gentleness. He healed her nicked bone and proceeded outward. At the same time, he encircled her wrist with his other hand and fed a transfusion of his blood into her weak body. He could only give her enough to maintain her, because he was weak and still expending tremendous energy in too many directions that were required of him. He had not felt so drained in a long time. The last instance had also been during a battle of this kind. He had hoped he would never be involved in such a thing again, but it seemed the ignorant and corrupt would have their way at the expense of his wishing for a peaceful life.
She stirred, his name the first word on her lips. He smiled at that, then reached to cast a deep sleep inducement on her. He sat back, his exhaustion growing as he held the stasis field on those who had not yet received medical attention.
The Lycanthrope who had protected Legna began to shake her gleaming head, her moonstone and gold collar jingling at its links. Her hair began to peel away from her body, shaking looser and looser until it was falling in wide coils. With a majestic shudder, she went from feline sinew to human athleticism. Her hair concealed her nude figure better than a bathing suit would have, but the half-breed vixen was approaching her Queen with her clothing at that very moment. In a minute, Anya dropped a simple slip of a dress over the Queen’s head. Once it settled over her curves, both women extracted her hair from beneath it.
Gideon gave little thought to the actions taking place so close to him. What he did notice, however, was Elijah watching the Queen with a dark, brooding expression. Watching the Lycanthrope change form had disturbed him. No doubt it had brought back many memories of his battles with them. They were fierce fighters; one had to respect them or find oneself quite dead. It did not surprise Gideon that Elijah remained wary of her intentions.
Elijah moved closer as he saw Gideon sway under the strain of his exertions, even though the medic was already seated. The warrior reached Gideon a moment before the paling Demon fell back into an exhausted unconsciousness. He caught him behind the head and lowered him gingerly into a supine position. The warrior was aware of the gold eyes that were fixed on him and he looked up to meet them.
“You are uncommonly gentle for a fighter,” she mused softly, blinking and seemingly looking through him with those vivid eyes.
“You are uncommonly… peaceful, for a Lycanthrope,” he returned.
“And you doubt my sincerity.”
“I would think you an utter fool if you did not doubt me, warrior. Instead, I am forced to respect your uncommon intelligence. Now what, do you suppose, should I do from there?”
She left him hanging on the question, rising to her feet and leaving him before he could formulate an answer. He watched her go, his gaze searching and curious as he fixed it on the feline slink that she maintained in her human form just as well as she did in her form as a lioness.
All lost Demons but the Transformed would be mourned on the eve before Beltane. There would be wounded hearts, and tears to soak the timbers of the pyres. And as they burned, those fires would be tended until the Beltane torches and bonfires could be lit from them. It was the cycle of life—unfortunately not a simulated one—from death to rebirth. It was the nature of Beltane, the Rite of Spring, at its sheerest definition.
The Transformed had already been destroyed. At the moment of death, they burst into flames, pyres unto themselves. Jacob took on the task of creating a mass grave for their enemies. It was a perfunctory end to a shameful waste of life. Elijah undertook the task of organizing the prisoners for interrogation. Gideon and Legna were recovering at Gideon’s manse.
As Noah expected, Mary and Ruth were nowhere to be found. It infuriated him to realize this traitorous behavior had taken place right under his nose for months. Ruth and Mary had gathered and organized these forces against them, plotted against Jacob and Bella, even as Ruth sat week by week at his Council table in her honorable seat. It pained him greatly, leaving him depressed and weary.
However, he was playing host to a Vampire Prince and a Lycanthrope Queen. He had to push past his emotions to help prepare for the coming celebration, which had expanded from the invitation and input of the Lycanthropes to the welcoming of the same from the Vampires. Small contingents of each would be joining the Demon festival, the first such thing in known history. It was the only spirit-lifting outcome of the saddening situation. It wasn’t permanent world peace or anything so grandiose, but it was a start.
When Gideon finally woke a full two nights later, he opened his eyes to see his mate sitting at her vanity, clad only in a terry towel and the wet length of her hair. She was filling the center of her palm with a scented lotion he had given her as a gift a few days ago. It had reminded him of her scent in a way, not that it could ever be truly duplicated with any perfection. He had altered it, bringing the chemistry into a satisfactory blend between her scent and the oil of her favored spices, which he had asked Jacob to retrieve for him.
She smoothed the cream over her hands and arms and Gideon was instantly riveted. Her long fingers glided over her skin, the lotion leaving a luminescent sparkle in its wake as the special healing minerals within refracted light even in their smoothly ground-down state. Watching her touch her own skin in this highly sensual manner brought every blood cell in his body to a hot attention in only a matter of seconds. Her fingers stroked over the hollow in her collarbone that always fascinated him, the curve from neck to throat that he knew the taste of so well, and desire clenched through him, his flesh solidifying into weighted granite, the ache of brutal need impossible to bear in the confines of the clothes he’d been left in as he slept.
He craved her terribly, his body feeling starved and deprived of her presence and her unique textures even though they had undoubtedly been sleeping side by side this entire time of healing. She probably had not awoken too far ahead of him. Perhaps just long enough to take her shower.
The scent of the lotion reached him in fragrant waves, but he remained still, watching her as the cream reached the expanse of her shoulders and her upper chest. She reached beneath her arm to loosen her towel, dropping it away from her body so that she sat completely nude before her mirror. Gideon felt love and fire scorching through him in inexplicable partnership. She was beautiful and desirable, gentle and sexy. She was sitting there administering care to her already perfect body, and the pose she inadvertently struck would be branded into his memory for all time. This, he realized, was the woman he had been created to love. Somehow he had been blessed with her perfection of inner and outer beauty, her pristine soul so free of the stains that he himself carried from his unforgivable past.
Unforgivable, except for by her. This beautiful creature with her generous ways would be his absolution. Every time he would take his pleasure in her welcoming and hungry body, she would be giving him a gift of peace and reconciliation, wrapping herself around him with the touch of her complementary soul, erasing sin with her soft cries and clutching hands.
Gideon felt the burn of unexpected gratitude behind his eyes, and he wished he could look away from her long enough to give himself relief from the overwhelming emotion. But he could not, and he did not. Instead he simply let it flow over him, mingling with his pulsing need for her.
Legna continued her ministrations to her body, turning a little now and again to study her features and her perfect skin. Her hands glided down over her breasts, smoothed over her stomach, and then she turned to lift her leg onto the bench she was sitting on. It was then that she noticed him watching her. She smiled, tilting her head slightly as she tried to decipher his thoughts and emotions of the moment.
Before she really had a chance, Gideon moved at last, slipping out of bed as she rested her curious gaze on his approach. The Ancient felt her knowing eyes drifting over the very blatant message of need his body was displaying so unrepentantly. The sly smile of interest and contemplation she made sliced like a knife through his already aroused body. He took her hand as he neared her, using it to guide her into turning away from the vanity, her back to the mirror as he picked up the bottle of lotion. He filled his palm with it as he knelt on both knees before her. He propped her foot on his thigh and slowly began to administer the cream to her leg with a gentle massage of both hands.