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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Finding herself back on her feet all of a sudden, Isabella was a little dizzy and bewildered. The man had abruptly put himself at a distance, as if he’d just realized she was some sort of a plague carrier. Then again, most men were likely to be uncomfortable when a woman showed any signs of distressed emotions. Still, he stayed close enough to reach for her if she needed him, but it took only a breath or two before she was clear and steady again.
Jacob watched her guardedly as she shoved a huge handful of hair back behind an ear nowhere near large enough to keep it pinned in place. The thick, silky cloud drifted forward again the moment she released it. He found himself besieged with the urge to push it back for her, just so he could discover the texture of it. He swallowed hard, cursing to himself in his own language, his jaw clenching rigidly.
“I don’t know how to thank you, Mister… uh… ”
“Jacob,” he supplied, his growling tone making her start and back up a step.
“Mr. Jacob,” she said uneasily.
“No, just Jacob,” he corrected, forcing himself to speak more evenly, hating the idea of her fearing him just like everyone else. She was human. She had no cause to fear him.
“Well, Jacob,” she said, her lavender eyes studying him cautiously. Yet, an instant later, she was bold. “I’m Isabella Russ, and I’m extremely grateful to you for… for what you did. I can’t believe you didn’t break your neck.”
“I am much stronger than I look,” he offered in explanation.
Bella found that hard to believe. He looked every inch as powerful as he must be to catch her like that. He wasn’t built brutishly, but he was nicely broad chested, large shouldered, and definitely hiding nothing of his physical fitness under his clothes. His was a lean, athletic build, taut and tight in all the right places from what little she could see and had felt beyond the gray coat. But beyond his dark good looks, great body, and the piratical ponytail, Jacob had an air of power to him that was like nothing she’d encountered before. Yes, he was definitely stronger than he looked, and not just physically.
It was enough to make even a lukewarm librarian shiver. A total package, complete with a European accent that was rich and elegant, just like the rest of him—Hungarian or Croatian, perhaps. He was quiet, graceful, and controlled, reeking a self-assurance that was piercing and an underlying dangerousness that sent that shiver up her spine after all. A total, enticing package for certain.
One that was probably married with six kids.
Isabella sighed as she reacquainted herself with reality, the release of her breath stirring up the hair on her forehead. “Well, anyway, thanks for… well… you know.” She gestured lamely up to the window she’d fallen from. Her brows knitted together in puzzlement for a moment. How exactly had he been able to catch her without breaking his back? It looked impossible.
Suddenly Isabella felt the hair on the back of her neck rise up.
Jacob watched the little pixie’s head jerk around sharply, her pretty eyes narrowing warily. It was enough to trigger Jacob’s own instincts, and he felt out into the night for whatever it was that had disturbed her. To his shock, she had apparently picked up on the very thing he had been looking for.
Malevolence. Terror. Saul’s utter terror. Jacob could smell the fear. He could taste the acrid stain of black magic. He was nearby, just as Jacob had suspected he would be when his trail had ended abruptly in this area. Whatever had pulled Saul kicking and screaming through the miasma of the darkness was once more invoking, poisoning, and tormenting the imprisoned Demon.
Yet Jacob’s hunting senses caught no trail, found no direction.
Perplexed, Jacob’s head came back around and his gaze pinpointed the small human woman who still stood with her head cocked toward the unknown beyond. Was it possible? Could this female have retained those instincts that, a couple of hours earlier, he had been accusing her race of having bred out of themselves, sensing what even he could not seem to get a fix on? He’d never heard of such a thing.
But Jacob felt her disturbance, smelled the change in her body chemistry as her adrenaline kicked up in a classic flight-or-fight reaction. Oh, yes, she definitely had a sense of the evil nearby.
“We better get off the street,” she said quickly, reaching to take his arm.
“Why?” he countered, standing his ground against her tug.
“Because it’s not safe,” she said as if explaining to a two-year-old. “Now quit being macho and do as I say.”
Do as she says? Is this tiny little woman actually trying to protect me? The concept floored him. “I am not being macho,” he retorted, being purposely obtuse now as he watched her anxiety and reactions build to a crest. It was mesmerizing to watch color flush her face, her pulse flashing madly in her delicate throat and her full breasts swelling with her increasing breaths.
“Oy!” Isabella rolled her eyes. “Fine! Whatever. Just get off the street!”
“Why?” he persisted.
He watched in fascination as she once again blew back her hair with an exasperated sigh and planted her fists onto her round hips, her feet bracing stubbornly apart.
“Look, there’re just some places where it isn’t a wise idea to stand in the middle of the street arguing, and this is one of them! If you’re bent on staying here, that’s fine. I’m going—”
She stopped on a sharp gasp, her hand flying up to her throat and a faint gurgle of sound bubbling up. Jacob instinctively reached out to help her, not liking the wide and wild look of her startled lavender eyes.
“Isabella? What is it?” he demanded, pulling her protectively into his hold.
“Someone… oh, God, can’t you smell it?”
He could. It was all around him, faint but unmistakable. The scent of burning flesh. Sulfur as well. But he had the honed hunting senses of any predatory species he wished, and it was none of those senses that brought the scent to him. There was no trail, no path. It was obscured from him. He was perplexed, but only spent a moment being so. This was a human woman with no such abilities as his, and yet here she was, gasping for breath, behaving as if she were breathing in thick clouds of smoke and sulfur when clearly she wasn’t. Not physically.
Someone else was.
A type of clarity burned in the back of Jacob’s brain, although he was more mystified than ever. The Enforcer didn’t pause to mull over the whys, hows, and impossibilities of what was happening. He only wanted to know one thing.
“Where? Can you tell me, Isabella? Where is he?”
“Close! Inside of me!” Her hands grasped at the fabric of her shirt across her chest, as if she wanted to tear the presence out. Her eyes were tearing, fat droplets flowing down her face as they tried to wash away smoke that wasn’t even there.
“No. Listen to me.” He reached to cup her face between his hands, instantly aware of how small she was between them, how delicate, as he tilted her face up to his. “It is near but not within. Where? Look and tell me where!”
Isabella whirled out of his hold and began to run, coughing and choking on phantom smoke as she lurched and sprinted. Jacob was fast behind her as they rounded a corner and crossed the street. She took one more corner and brought them face-to-face with an imposing set of rusty corrugated steel doors.
A warehouse. Long abandoned, and yet, in an upper window there was light flashing violently. Unnatural, cold light Jacob had foolishly thought he would never see again in his lifetime. He seized his tiny guide by her shoulders, drawing her back against his body as he bent toward her ear. Despite the disparity in their heights, she came to fit against him flawlessly.
“Listen,” he murmured soothingly as she continued to struggle for her breath. “This is not your agony, Bella. Do not own it like this.” He glanced up at the ominous glow in the window, his heart pounding with the pressure to act, but he couldn’t leave her there to suffocate. If her mind believed enough to react with tears and a hoarse voice, then she could believe herself into asphyxiation. “You can see there is no smoke. Are you listening to me, Isabella?”
She was. Though she didn’t speak, she drew in her first clear, deep breath in what had felt like ages to them both.
“Good,” he whispered, his warm breath skittering down her sensitive neck. “Now stay here, out of sight, and just breathe.”
Jacob reached for the seam between the doors and wrenched them open as if he were tearing paper and not enormous pounds of steel, camouflaging the sound as a matter of second nature. Anyone inside would perceive it as merely metal creaking in the wind.
Instinctively, Isabella followed him into the dimness beyond the doors, giving no thought to his instructions. She was afraid of what was happening, but she was more afraid to be alone. She trailed him, her hands clinging to his flapping coat as he strode through the pitch and shadow. There were flares of light and then blackness, the combination blinding her painfully. Jacob walked on without hesitation, as if it were broad daylight, moving toward the light with a sense of menace that was palpable to her. Unexpectedly, she felt him rising up before her, apparently climbing a ladder. He slipped out of her grasp and she was left fumbling for the ladder on her own.
She couldn’t find it. No matter how much she felt around, she couldn’t find the means he had used to bring himself up to the loft level of the warehouse. All she could do was turn toward the light that now backlit his figure as he slowly, stealthily crept up on the source of it. Her harsh breath seemed to make too much noise as she struggled for oxygen. Jacob moved closer and closer.
Suddenly, he leapt.
Isabella might have been seeing things in all that haze of gloom and light, but she could’ve sworn the man made a lithe twenty-five-foot leap from a standing position into the fray of whatever it was that was up there.
Hell promptly broke loose.
Without warning, the smoke she’d smelled roiled out of the sickly light, spilling off the edge of the loft like a foul waterfall in green, rust, and black clouds. Then there was a massive explosion, debris and bodies hurtling out of the loft like missiles, forcing Isabella to duck and cover, her eyes burning with the flare of light.
Unbelievably, it was raining men.
Jacob crashed to the floor about ten feet to Isabella’s left with a bone-jarring thud that kicked up an enormous cloud of dust. Another body slammed into some boxes not too much farther away. A third struck the floor near the open doors, actually landing on its feet. The man absorbed the shock of his landing like a cat. Then, with a swirl of the fabric of his coat—or was it a cloak?—he turned and ran out of the open doors.
Ignoring everything else, Isabella reached for the broad shoulders of the man heaving heavily for breath on the floor.
“Isabella, get the hell out of here!” Jacob roared the command as he lurched awkwardly to his feet, grabbing her and thrusting her back and away from himself so hard that she fell over backward and landed on her bottom. She sputtered for a moment, cursed at the embarrassing and bruising pain, and had every intention of telling Mr. Jacob Macho to go to hell.
The words froze in her throat as the man who had landed in the boxes rapidly rose up above them.
Literally, rose up.
Floated right up into the air.
Isabella gasped as she witnessed this and as she realized several extremely important things. The man who was hovering above her and Jacob was not a man at all. Although bipedal and relatively humanoid, it was actually some kind of enormous creature with hellish green eyes glowing fiercely out of its misshapen head. It had long, enormous ears that pulled up and back into points, fanning out like webbing or fins rather than ears.
It had fangs.
Oh, and very, very big wings.
Isabella had a strange, hysterical urge to giggle.
Okay, when exactly, she wondered, did I fall asleep? Of course people didn’t just catch people who fell out of windows. She absolutely would never follow some strange man into an abandoned warehouse. And there were no such things as fanged, bat-faced creatures flying around the Bronx.
Then the creature focused directly on her.
Okay, time to wake up, she thought as panic rose in her throat.
The winged thing began to make a dive for her.
Like flashing lightning, Jacob flew off the floor in another incredible leap, connecting with the monster midair. Their collision was a sickening sound of flesh and bone impacting, and Isabella flinched. Jacob’s momentum sent the tangle of their bodies hurtling into more boxes well across the room.
Frantically, Isabella scanned around herself, looking for some kind of protection. The first thing she found was a heavy rod, rust flaking off in her hands and scratching at her palms as she picked it up. She scrambled to her feet, hoisting it like a Louisville Slugger, waving it threateningly in case Jacob hadn’t quite finished the job.
Suddenly the two struggling bodies leapt out of the boxes in a burst of flying cardboard. This time the slimy beast had the upper hand, its enormous wings building up speed as it hurtled Jacob helplessly upward, finally slamming him full bore into the ceiling. The sound of long metal plates buckling pinged through the shadows and Isabella watched in horror as Jacob plummeted to the ground like a weighted stone.
He hit at bone-breaking speed, the appalling impact kicking up another cloud of dust. Isabella choked, horrified as she watched a dark puddle ooze out from beneath the darkly beautiful head of her would-be savior.