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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“Pretty,” it hissed.
Okay, so the voice is worse than the hands, Isabella amended mentally.
“Yeah, well, you could use a facial or something.” Isabella slapped a rust-covered hand over her own mouth. Oh, great, Bella, antagonize the big bad creature, why don’t you?
“Pretty meat,” the creepy thing elaborated.
Well, that didn’t sound good at all, she determined.
“Um… you know, I hear vegan is the way to go these days,” she offered, her voice pitching higher as the fiend advanced on her with a step, forcing her to backpedal.
“Warm meat. Hot meat.” Then the thing made a crude speculation about the meat of a particular part of her female anatomy.
“Hey! Watch your mouth, buddy! And stay where you are, or… or… ” Isabella raised the rod threateningly, trying to think of the best way to intimidate a gargoyle. “Or you are going to get whacked in your meat!”
Well, it was a male after all, and some things just had to be universal.
Then again, she thought as it smiled wickedly and reached to fondle itself between the legs, maybe not. The look it was giving her was positively lascivious, its eyes rolling around in its head, drool dribbling down its chin.
Now if that wasn’t universal, she didn’t know what was.
Suddenly, it grew tired of toying with her and leapt forward. Isabella squealed in alarm, instinctively falling to the floor and somersaulting right out from underneath its target area. She scrambled to her feet much more easily than she would have imagined a bookworm like herself would have been able to. She turned, her heart pounding violently, just in time to see the thing regroup and lunge angrily toward her once more. This time all she could do was swing out at it with the rod in her hands, praying she made hard enough contact.
Instead, she spun around, 360 degrees. She promptly fell onto her backside.
All at once the creature was falling on her, laughing and slobbering with glee one minute…
… screaming a terrible scream of pain the next as it landed right on the rod she still held, impaling itself through the chest. Isabella blinked, momentarily shocked at how easily it seemed to slide into the creature, hardly any pressure or counterforce from her hands needed. She was next aware of powerful hands jerking her out from under the writhing monster just in time to save her from being at flashpoint as the thing burst into a conflagration of flames.
After a hot, wild burn, the creature disintegrated in a puff of smoke and ash. The overpowering stench of sulfur made Isabella gag even as she was pulled under the protection of a now-familiar overcoat and taken swiftly outside. Once she had a few gasps of fresh air and could wipe away the tears streaming down her face, she looked up into those dark, troubled eyes she had just begun to know.
“Jacob! I thought you were dead!”
“Hardly,” he assured her, reaching out to brush away the rust and tears streaking willy-nilly across her cheeks. “Just had the wind knocked out of me.”
“I should think so! You’re bleeding!”
She reached for his wounded head, but he caught her wrist in a sturdy hand before she could touch him.
“I am fine,” he insisted. “I am the one who should be worried about you. How did you manage to keep him away from you?”
“I don’t know. I grabbed the first thing I could.”
She opened her hand, realizing she still had the rusty rod clutched tightly within it. It was covered in a goo she didn’t think she wanted to identify. She held it toward Jacob, but he jerked back away from her as if she were going to set him on fire. He grasped her wrist, turned it away from himself, and gave it a little shake until the offensive rod clattered to the ground.
“Iron,” he said, his quiet tone clearly bemused. “How on earth did you know to use iron?”
“I didn’t. It was the only thing there. Just lucky, I guess.”
Somehow, Jacob doubted that. But he kept his counsel. Clearly, this chance meeting was turning into something much more complex.
“Jacob, what was that thing? I mean, was it real? Wait. Don’t answer that. Of course it was real. But how? Was it some sort of experiment gone bad? I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“That… ” Jacob hesitated, sighing once. “That used to be one of my friends.”
Jacob paced his parlor, tunneling the fingers of both hands through hair that already wore deep impressions from previous passes. Though he had not relished telling Myrrh-Ann that her husband was dead, Jacob had done his duty to completion. She had known the implications of Saul’s capture and Noah had tried to prepare her for the worst, but Myrrh-Ann had understandably reacted with a mixture of grief and fury. She had attacked Jacob with both her power and the more personal contact of her fists.
She’d had no time to cause him physical pain. Noah had reached out to touch her, draining the energy from her violent, flailing body. She had fainted into the hands of the Enforcer. Jacob had been unable to bear holding her. As her weight rested against him, he could feel the rustle of new life moving against him through her swollen belly. It had felt like a betrayal to know that sort of intimacy when the mother would never have allowed it had she been given a choice.
Myrrh-Ann did not need to know that a human had killed Saul. It was better that she cursed Jacob, hated the one justified by their laws to deliver such a sentence, rather than a vulnerable woman who barely knew what she’d done. Noah had sensed he was holding back information. The Enforcer was aware of his monarch’s perceptions, but he hadn’t seen fit to elaborate just yet. He needed time to think first. He needed to sort through the night’s implications before anyone else learned what had truly happened in that warehouse.
First and foremost was proof of the existence of a true necromancer, one born with power and skilled enough in black arts to Summon a Demon. This he had seen with his own eyes, though it shamed and infuriated him to admit it because then he also had to admit that he had allowed that stained being to escape unchecked into the world. The sudden appearance of a magic-user did not bode well for Jacob’s race. Indeed, it did not bode well for any of the Nightwalker clans. Where there was one, there was bound to be others, and Demons were not always their only victims.
And then there was…
He stopped in his tracks, looking up at the ceiling where Isabella now slept in a room above him. He had broken an herb capsule under her nose, the combination inducing sleep, allowing him to make off with her to his home in England unawares.
The woman had done the impossible. She had slain a Demon. Even more impossible, before the slaying had even taken place, she had sensed him, empathized with him, and tracked him. A human able to slay a Demon was unheard of. Not unless the human was a necromancer.
Isabella was not a magic-user. Jacob would have known instantly. There was an unnatural aura, a vile stench that clung to magic-users. The bastard who had captured Saul had reeked of it up in the loft. The putrescence still singed Jacob’s sensitive nostrils. Isabella’s scent was soft, clean, and delightfully pure. Even under all the filth of that warehouse, Jacob had still been able to smell the enticing wholesomeness of her scent. No perfumes or lotions, no dissolute habits, not even the territorial musk of a male marred her bouquet.
Nor was she any of the other immortals that walked the night. Nightwalkers who chose to walk amongst humans were nearly indistinguishable from them. However, breeds could identify each other’s “tells,” those little differences that gave them away. There was no doubt in Jacob’s mind that Isabella was human.
But a human who could kill a Demon? Even Demons had a hell of a time killing one another. That was why being the Enforcer was such a lethal job. Only the eldest of their kind were powerful enough to do mortal harm, and only Jacob was unreservedly sanctioned to do so. Capital punishment was terribly rare, and it was no easy task accomplishing such a sentence.
As was evidenced this evening.
Isabella had merely picked up a rod of iron and plunged it into Saul’s heart. Jacob couldn’t do this. No Demon could bear touching iron. Contact with it was like violent acid on the skin. If the wound was penetrating, it was excruciating agony. If it penetrated the heart or brain, it was death. Jacob looked down at his hands, his thumbs slightly burned from the rust that had mingled with Isabella’s tears. He’d not taken note of the contact until it began to act the irritant against his skin.
Regardless, the Demon skeleton was like steel, nearly impervious. How had a little thing like her pushed that rod through ribs and breastbone on the way to the heart? Besides, unlike the Lycanthrope’s vulnerability to silver, which was widely known in fiction, a Demon’s weakness to iron was not at the forefront of human knowledge. Had she somehow known this obscure detail? To assume that would be to assume she had known what Saul was, although, after transformation, Saul had appeared the epitome of a human’s ideal demon. Or had it been exactly as it seemed, a fortunate happenstance?
Jacob remembered coming to, finding himself on the warehouse floor, and shaking his hair and blood out of his eyes. This just in time to see the monstrous Saul bearing down on the small woman and to realize he could never reach her in time. His head had been ringing so badly that he couldn’t even concentrate to use his power. He’d never known such a feeling of frustration and helplessness before. He’d made unforgivable mistakes in the encounter and it had almost cost them their lives. Providence should never have needed to enter the situation. A hundred years between encounters or not, he should have remembered what dealing with the Transformed would be like.
Jacob had known what Saul’s demented brain and body were focused on when advancing on the striking little female. A Demon as far gone as Saul was in that moment had only two basic, urgent demands. The first was self-preservation. This was why it was a formidable advantage to have a Demon enslaved. Once its civilization was stripped away by the acidic spells that bound it, the captured creature would do anything for its master if it were promised life or eventual freedom, including using its elemental powers in service.
After self-preservation was satisfied, the Transformed Demon’s next thought was, of course, satisfying its rampant lust, a state especially magnified during this full moon of Samhain. It was a similar form of what Jacob enforced and punished his brethren for. It was what the red-haired woman would have experienced if he hadn’t kept Kane in check. But Kane’s treatment of that woman would have very much paled in comparison to the way Saul, Transformed and perverted as he was, would have violated Isabella. The thought of it sent revulsion crawling down his neck, stuttering his heart into a painful, rapid beat. Jacob had seen Saul’s distended phallus as he climbed on top of Isabella. Now he closed his eyes against the vile pictures stirring in his imagination, curling his hands into fierce fists as he shook the images away.
It was forbidden for a Demon to harm an innocent human being in any way. It was their golden rule, and it was the law Jacob was sworn to uphold above all else. Above even Noah’s desires, should they run contrary to it. It was especially taboo to attempt to mate with a human. They would be far too frail for such a volatile ordeal. Jacob once more thought of Isabella, so delicate and so much smaller than their species. Lovemaking between Demons was laced with an elemental ferocity that often surpassed excessive aggression. Isabella would snap like fragile little twigs under the onslaught of such passion.
This did not mean that Kane or Gideon or the many others whom Jacob had been forced to enforce over the centuries were deviants of the worst kind. They were merely victims of the curse of their race. Demons spent the entire waxing and waning of the Hallowed Samhain and Beltane moons struggling for control. Every minute of those two potent holidays was an exercise in torment as their bodies and spirits cried to the maddening moon. Somewhere in their genetic codes it was written that during these phases, the urge to mate would supersede all else. Like an animal going into heat, they suffered an all-consuming urge that even the most polished and civilized of their kind had to struggle to control. Usually, Demons would satisfy themselves with each other, but living in tandem with humans as they did, it was far too easy for the mating instinct to be misdirected.
Every year he found himself hunting down the most respected of Elders who were falling prey to this condition. It pained him terribly to see madness on those faces he held esteem for. Or, as in Kane’s case, held love for.
Jacob had never fallen victim to madness himself. Even as a fledgling he’d never weakened to the point of craving a human female. But he had been fledged hundreds of years ago, and there had not been more than six billion humans crowded onto the planet then. Even so, he’d always had a hard time figuring out what the attraction was. Though they looked alike, Demon and humankind were very different on chemical, mental, and intellectual levels. Still, asking a Demon to reason out why he’d be attracted to a weaker being while he or she was in the throes of the impulse was futile. And if he were going to be completely honest with himself, there had been a moment earlier when even he had felt the powerful draw of a soft, warm body and big, beautiful moon-lavender eyes.
Jacob swore softly, running his hand through his hair again as he moved to pour himself a drink. It wasn’t mortal alcohol he reached for, however, it was animal milk—at body warmth, preferably, but room temperature sufficed. Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and even other more exotic kinds of milk produced for the young of more unusual animals were intoxicating to Demons somewhat like alcohol was to mortals; the average pasteurized homogenized milk in stores was about as potent as a cup of grape juice, where something like giraffe’s milk would be the equivalent of a strong, exotic brandy. The rest were stronger and weaker depending on the animal and where it was raised, much as a particular winemaker or grape grower could produce something indigenous only to its breed of grapes and its region of growth.