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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“What made you think she was unusual?” Noah asked.
Jacob took a deep breath before dropping the bomb. “She killed Saul.”
The two Demons across from him sucked in air as if they were suddenly drowning for it. Jacob instinctively got to his feet and sat on the arm of the couch beside Isabella’s head, crossing an arm to the back of the sofa in a clearly protective gesture.
“That is impossible,” Noah said quietly.
“I saw it with my own eyes. Saul had completely Transformed. I miscalculated his power… his strength. It has been too long since I have fought an altered Demon. He severely injured me, but she stopped him.”
“This little human creature killed one of us? One of the Transformed?” Elijah snorted in disbelief. “He must have been unconscious. Incapacitated.”
“That same little creature broke your nose not twenty minutes ago, Elijah,” Noah reminded him dryly. “Were you unconscious or incapacitated?” The King was frowning, worry lines etching deeply across his broad forehead. “I have never heard of such a thing,” Noah informed them. “You were right to detain her, but it was wrong of you not to be forthcoming about it sooner. I do not understand why you put both of your lives in danger, Jacob. What would have kept her from possibly killing you? And then the way Elijah found you with her… ”
“I cannot explain it. Any of it. I just… I just knew she was not a danger to me. Even in spite of knowing how she has affected me, I still do not look at her as a threat or at myself as a threat to her. I cannot explain it, Noah. I have been the Enforcer for four hundred years. Never in all that time have I strayed. Never once have I entertained the slightest craving to do so. And yet, with her, there is no conscience in me. No sense of my cultural mores. She… ” Jacob paused to move a wisp of hair off her cheek. “It feels as though there is no wrong in what I did. Everything I have come to believe in my lifetime tells me that it is very wrong, but it does not feel like it.”
“That’s the madness talking,” Elijah scoffed with disgust. “You were like an animal when I arrived, Jacob. You would have torn her to pieces.”
“No!” Jacob’s fury was punctuated as he snarled at Elijah. “The urge to mate with her was not entirely that of a beast who would use any female without discrimination. It was different. I… ” He was at a loss, looking away from the stunned expressions of the other two males. “It was primitive, yes, but not just lustful instinct. It was more… deeper… something I could not resist. No, not even I.”
Noah stood up then, suddenly feeling like it would be a good idea not to be sitting so close to this woman who had somehow managed to become the fixation of the unbendable, unshakable Jacob. Jacob’s moral code was what made him the best Enforcer they’d ever had. It was what protected him. If he had succumbed to madness, there had to be something more to it than met the eye.
Who was this woman who could kill a Demon, who had beat down Elijah, the Captain of Noah’s fighting forces? Enchanting Jacob, the implacable Enforcer? And what of the way she had resisted his drain on her energy? Yes, Noah thought heavily, there was definitely more to be discovered here.
He could only hope that it was not the bad tidings he thought it was.
Isabella opened her eyes, blinking rapidly to clear away sleep and gain focus.
She sat up suddenly, the quick movement belied by the sensation that she was dredging her body through heavy water. She groaned, her head throbbing, the urge to fall back onto the couch and sleep almost irresistible.
Then she remembered. Everything. In a sudden panic, she looked around for Jacob, terrified that she had let him down and allowed the two intruders to harm him. She spotted him the length of an enormous stone room away, his tall figure standing beside a fireplace that threw him into a myriad of golden lights and dark shadows. She sighed, relieved that he seemed as healthy as ever.
Jacob felt something slither warmly up the back of his neck and into his mind. The sensation of relief was so strong he could have easily mistaken it for his own, except there was something softer about it than he was capable of. He turned his head and saw her sitting up, looking at him.
He was less shocked this time that she had shaken off another attempt at putting her to sleep, but it still impacted him, especially knowing Noah had been behind this last effort. Jacob slipped his hands into his pockets, closing them tightly. He began to walk toward her, knowing he had to face her having hurt her, regret dragging at his heart with harsh sorrow. His steps never faltered, though. He was ashamed, but he was strong enough to admit when he had erred and to face the consequences.
Isabella watched him approach, his powerful, catlike grace emanating purpose. She felt her heart leap, remembering how he had touched her, the command of his embrace and the drugging sensuality of his kisses. She recalled how shockingly easy it had been for him to hold her body in thrall, how his masculine hands had felt running the curves of her figure, and the skill of elegant fingers that had demanded a blueprint of her.
Jacob came to a halt, still half the room away from her but inexplicably besieged by her thoughts as she remembered what he had done to her. Her vivid memory cast image after image into him, everything down to sensation and scent, so real in the remembering that it was as if he held her that very instant. His entire body rippled hard in response, his pulse pounding in his throat as she recollected that primitive, aroused feel of him.
Jacob was not a telepath or an empath, so how he was receiving her thoughts was lost on him. What was more, he sensed she was equally close to his mind, making it a profoundly intimate exchange. He should have been disconcerted by that idea, but something else had caught his attention instead.
He discovered no fear in her memories. Even as she wondered at her own abandon, thought about how out of character it all had been, there was no trepidation or regret. In fact, she was frighteningly accepting. Actually, she was curious, intrigued, and entertaining thoughts of what it would be like to be touched by him again, to kiss and taste his mouth. Jacob shuddered, his entire being tuning in to that siren call of her thoughts and body.
His name was used as a warning, and it dragged him out of Isabella’s enchantment of him, bringing his attention around to the three who had entered the room. Isabella looked also, recognizing the two males as the invaders of Jacob’s house. She lurched to her feet, bristling defensively as she moved to place herself between them and Jacob.
The newest stranger was a woman. Isabella felt positive that she had never seen anyone so beautiful in all of her life. She was quite tall, wickedly long-legged, and had coffee-colored hair curling down in a beautiful cascade the entire length of her body. The white togalike gown she wore was light and flowing, except where it was bound snug beneath and between her breasts in a crisscrossed pattern with thick bands of intricate brocade. This flattered her flawless, tanned complexion and enhanced the green-gray color of her eyes. She held herself with a serene poise that reminded Isabella of a goddess, but the compassionate smile that warmed her refined features made her seem far more approachable than any of the men. She stood out like an angel amongst brooding devils.
“On behalf of my brother and myself, I welcome you to our home, Isabella,” she said, her voice captivating with its exotic accent and sophisticated modulation. “Do not be afraid,” the goddess continued, “no one here will harm you or allow you to be harmed. My name is Magdelegna. My friends call my Legna, and you may also if you wish.”
“Where am I? Who are all you people?” Then, more strongly, her voice full of warning, “Why did you attack Jacob?”
The three other Demons watched with interest as the tiny human woman took yet another protective step back toward Jacob. The idea of such a fragile creature defending the Enforcer made their mouths twitch with amusement.
“It was not so much an attack against Jacob as it was an act of protecting you. When Elijah came upon you, he feared Jacob would unwittingly hurt you,” Legna explained.
“Well,” Isabella snorted, thrusting her fists onto her hips and jutting out her chin in irritation, “I’d call that presumptive, wouldn’t you? He was just… ” She realized exactly how they’d been caught and promptly blushed to the roots of her hair. “I mean… ” She stamped her foot in frustration as they began to let their grins spread over their faces. She even heard Jacob chuckle softly behind her. “Well, what should it matter to any of you what we were doing?” she demanded belligerently.
“It does matter. It will matter to you as well once you know everything.”
Isabella was instantly washed with dread and a heart-fluttering panic. A hundred things rushed through her head as she tried to fit a logical explanation to their disquiet. She latched on to the most likely. “You’re married!” she declared, whirling around to confront Jacob.
“No. I am not married,” he countered, his dark eyes radiating no humor at this point. “Isabella, do you not find anything the least bit odd about how, exactly, I was attacked?”
The prompt made her hesitate. She remembered the wind, the vortex of power that had thrown them both about like dried leaves instead of human beings. She recollected the one called Noah stepping up to her one moment, and the next she was waking up here. She recalled being caught by Jacob after a five-story fall and fighting a horrible creature he claimed had once been a friend.
“Okay, what the hell is going on here?” she demanded. She actually wasn’t afraid. She had been born with an insatiable need for information that overrode any fear she might have felt about being caught up in these peculiarities. She was realizing that she had been completely ignoring some very odd occurrences and, if she’d had one of those huge cartoon mallets right then, she ought to be bonking herself on the head with it and saying “duh!”
“First, we wish you to remember that you are in no danger from us,” the one called Noah said, his smoky voice reaching out to reassure her.
“Hey, I broke Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nose over there, don’t forget. I’m not afraid of any of you.” Isabella indicated Elijah with a jerk of her head. Elijah’s face colored with embarrassment. She smiled inwardly. At least she had the blond’s number. Besides, she was very certain that although he was maintaining a distance, Jacob wouldn’t let a single one of them touch her.
“Isabella,” Legna said, still gentle, still reassuring. “Though we may look a lot like you and others of your species, we are… different.”
“Species? What are you, like, aliens or something?”
“No, we are indigenous to Earth,” Jacob said.
Isabella turned at the sound of his voice, suddenly feeling that whatever she was about to hear, she wanted to hear from him. “Then please explain. I’m not an idiot and I won’t freak out like some serial heroine. Stop coddling me and just give me some answers.”
“Very well.” Jacob stepped closer to her, wishing he could be touching her as he told her what he knew was going to be nearly impossible for her, with her human convictions, to comprehend. The impulse frustrated him because it came even when he was consciously trying to control it. “Human folklore is full of myths and legends about creatures that walk the night. You call them monsters. To us, they are just other species. To us they exist, just as we exist, alongside the human race. The Nightwalkers. The Dark Cultures. We who live best during the dark cycles of the Earth.”
Isabella tilted her head, seemingly taking in that bit of knowledge. He could feel her rapid thoughts as she tried to fit certain pieces of information together, discarded them, and then began anew. She was so intelligent, so sharp, and he marveled at the working of her practical mind.
“So, what are you telling me? That you guys are vampires?” The idea gave all-new implications to the encounter she’d had with Jacob, making her shiver with a feeling she blushingly refused to identify. It could explain why the others thought she would be in danger from him. Then again, weren’t these people a little too perfectly tanned to be keeping out of the sun?
“No. We are not those, though they do exist,” Legna said.
“They do? You’re pulling my leg!” Isabella snorted with disbelieving humor.
“There is much more in the universe than can be known to man.”
“Yes, but blood-sucking, undead monsters?”
Jacob chuckled softly, stepping up to her and reaching to touch gentle fingers to her face, the pads at the tips of them so clearly reverent as they glided over the soft curve of her cheek.
“Vampires take offense to those descriptions. Outside of some special abilities, weaknesses, and the need for blood, most Vampires are not too unlike anyone else you might know. You might know one or two and not even realize it.”
“Oookay! Next you’ll be telling me there is an Easter Bunny and werewolves!” Isabella exclaimed.
“Well, I cannot vouch for the Easter Bunny, but Lycanthropes are definitely to be found, though not always as wolves.”
Isabella stared at Jacob as if he had sprouted canines and fur himself. “So,” she murmured numbly, “if you aren’t any of those things, then what are you saying that you are?”
“I will tell you, Isabella,” Jacob said softly, his fingers stroking her cheek once more, soothing her frayed nerves, “but remember, just because a word has terrible implications in your mythos does not mean that is really the way it is.”
“Just tell me,” she whispered, her large eyes pleading with him.