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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Noah was fascinated by Jacob’s tender gestures with her. These were not the actions of a Demon bent solely on an act of lust. The more he watched, the more the Demon King saw that something was connecting Jacob to the little human, something he couldn’t quite fathom yet. “Isabella,” Noah addressed her, “we look on what you did as an act of mercy. Saul was far beyond our help. If you did not destroy him, Jacob would have been forced to.”
“It would have been worse for Saul to survive as a monster, harming anyone of any race he came across,” Legna pointed out gently. “Isabella, if you had evil intent, if you meant to harm any of us, I would know. I would feel it in your emotions. As it is, all I feel is honesty and remarkable courage.”
“We are telling you all of this because it is our belief that you are somehow a part of our future.” My future. Jacob fought the urge to personalize it. “You displayed some uncanny abilities last night, Bella. I believe that Destiny chose to cross our paths, even to the point of throwing you out of the window.” She laughed shakily at that as he rubbed warm hands gently over her shoulders and arms and explained himself. “Being creatures of the elements, we believe in Destiny and all things inevitable. The change of the tide, the altering face of the Earth, life and death. These are natural destinies. Individuals have special destinies, things we will do that Destiny has designed for us to do. You have joined our destiny for a reason, and we wish to find out what it is.”
“Why?” she asked, her voice hitching sensitively in the query as she tried valiantly to push back her tears. “I mean, so far all I have done to your people is kill one, beat the tar out of another, and drive you to—” She broke off, flushing. “Why the hell would you want anything to do with me after all that?”
“I wouldn’t say you beat the tar out of anyone,” Elijah spoke up, his chin jutting out belligerently.
The comment compelled Isabella to laugh through her tears. She cast a sideways look at Legna. “I see some things are a constant between the males of both our races.”
Legna chuckled and nodded in response. Elijah grumbled under his breath.
“So what do we do now? I mean, how do we find out how I fit into the whole destiny thing?”
“History inevitably repeats itself, becoming the template for the future,” Noah said. “Perhaps I am wrong when I say no human has ever killed a Demon before. Researching history may shed some light on this unique situation. Since it has been a century since we last saw a necromancer, we ought to reexamine the components of a Summoning and the recorded details of a transformation. Perhaps it will lend us a clue as to why at the same time as these magics are renewed, so did you appear. We will go to our library. It is quite vast and contains a complete history of our people.”
Isabella’s head came up sharply, her eyes gleaming with sudden avarice.
“Did you say library?”
It was a few days later when Isabella climbed the stairs from the library slowly, leaving the cool, dry environment and rubbing at the ache in the lee of her shoulders. Sunlight was pouring in through the windows set high in the stone walls of the enormous hall she found herself in as soon as she stepped out of the door leading to the underground vault of books.
Her surroundings were eerily quiet, bereft of activity and life. She wasn’t wearing a watch, but she suspected it was close to ten or eleven in the morning. It was so strange to be in full daylight in a castle that was reputed to be the center of a culture, and yet there was not even a hint of activity. Her breaths seemed to echo in the rafters of Noah’s home. Stone loomed all around, and while there were pieces of fine furniture in the Great Hall, everything was very simplistic in its way. It was the sparseness in so much space that gave the feeling of stepping back in time. That and the fact that there was no electricity. However, the important stuff was compensated for in one way or another. There was gas lighting, fairly modern facilities, and every amenity she could think of—except a phone.
The library itself was a database, most of it sectioned into its own fascinating logic of reference. The system was impressive, as was the sheer antiquity of the recorded data itself. The Demons were dedicated historians, and there were thousands and thousands of books and scrolls for every century, every era. Noah, she had discovered, was a scholar like herself. He was unspeakably proud of his library, eager to share it with someone new who appreciated its value as much as he did. The labyrinth of books, shelves, tables, and cases stretched beneath the entire foundation of the enormous castle—beyond that, even, Noah had confessed to her. There were vaults that continued on at all four compass points. These, he had told her, held the very oldest and most delicate works. There were things in those vaults, the King had told her, that even the longest-lived Demons had never seen or heard of. The library, he promised, was so vast that it would take far more than even a Demon lifetime to ever know everything it held. In the present, Demon scholars were recording as faithfully as their predecessors had done before them. The world was growing by leaps and bounds, and they were scrambling to keep up with it.
But the King, the scholars, and all other Demons were in their beds. The business of their lives hung suspended until the shadows of dusk began to fall. Isabella looked up and around herself. There were windows everywhere and the Great Hall was full of light, except none of it was plain. Every inch of glass was stained. The pictures were breathtaking, an artistry like nothing Isabella had seen before, depictions of everything from mythology to a clever reproduction of Monet’s Water Lilies. The effect was light, but in brilliant rainfalls of color.
Isabella stood in the center of the room, splashed with a kaleidoscope of warm daylight. From what she had been told, and what she had even more recently read, this was what made daylight most bearable for Demons. The direct onslaught of the sun acted like a fast-acting narcotic. Unconsciousness would come with overwhelming speed to the unprotected Demon who found himself caught out in pure daylight. Even these sprays of muted color were so powerful in effect that a Demon could do little more than curl up for a contented sleep within it. The sun, Noah had told her, did not harm them as it did most other Nightwalker species. It made them vulnerable to harm. It was nearly impossible to resist the pull to sleep, making it difficult for all but the most powerful Demons to master any semblance of function during the cycle of the sun. Isabella was pleased the sun did not actually cause harm to Demons. At least they could see the sunrise, provided they had that level of power. From her understanding, most other Nightwalker breeds would burn to a crisp if they even thought about attempting it.
Isabella suddenly sensed she was no longer alone. Jacob watched as she turned her head quickly, her fall of hair fanning out like a black, fringed shawl for a moment before settling with a silken swish against her back and shoulders. She moved her body into the turn as well, the flexible lean of her figure all curves and shapeliness, her back and waist arching as she tried to find him. He felt the throb of his own pulse, deep down the center of his body, the innate response just from watching her move.
She was a mimic, he was realizing. She picked up scents wherever she went and either made them a part of herself or became in sync with them. Mixing with her own clean scent was the odor of books and dust from the library and the soft aroma of ash from the fireplace that remained always burning in Noah’s Great Hall. She smelled enticingly of home and wisdom, earth and familiarity, and an innocence of sensuality that was deeply tantalizing. It was, he realized, the essence of nature that she wore. These were Earth’s trademarks, and to Jacob, a Demon of Earth, it was ambrosia. It tugged at him, beckoning, whispering of how very much it suited him, until every fine hair on his body was stirring with electric interest.
Jacob stepped out of the shadows of one corner of the Great Hall, his long, lean body filling the vast hall with its quiet but commanding presence. Isabella nervously rubbed her hands along the denim on her thighs, erasing the sudden moisture that coated them at the simple sight of him. Her heart doubled in beat, lurching against her ribs as if it were frustrated to be imprisoned away from him. Even knowing all that she knew, even though he himself had warned her she should have a healthy fear of him, her body practically sang for him when he entered the room. Everything about him beckoned her interest. His assured and authoritative aura was a palpable thing, his dark clothes wrapping around his fit body with sexy sophistication and telling tales about the physique they concealed. He wore expensive slacks, the material a brushed silk that matched his shirt in quality and color. The black dress shirt was worn in a relaxed manner, the first couple of buttons undone beneath his tanned throat, the cuffed sleeves rolled halfway up his fit forearms, exposing the dark dusting of hair on them. No watch or adornment of any kind, the simple silver buckle to his slim leather belt the only hint of decoration. He stood a room away, his legs braced apart as if he were rooted to that place in the marble floor, but still she felt his energy and his warmth. It was as if he stood at her back, close enough to exchange body heat, his head bowing so his breath stirred her hair.
Isabella shivered and licked her suddenly parched lips, unaware that his keen hunter’s eyesight became riveted on the action. “I need to speak with my sister,” she said after what felt like ages of silence. “I know Noah sent a male Mind Demon back to New York to ‘implant’ her with the impression that I would be gone for several days so she wouldn’t wonder where I disappeared to, but I want to talk to her on the phone just the same.”
“There is no phone here,” he replied.
Then he was moving toward her, his ground-eating stride like the stalking of a grand jaguar, graceful and calculated and a rippling symphony of muscle. It made the large room seem suddenly very small. His dark eyes were restless for the whole of the journey, moving quickly and succinctly, yet all of this rapt observation remained focused forward, limited only to the space in which she stood. When she realized that those black, bottomless eyes were fixated on her and her alone, when she could feel the rough, possessive urges behind them that he was struggling to hold in check, her heart insisted on pounding hard enough to burst her rib cage. She was practically panting for breath by the time he reached her.
Jacob stood toe-to-toe with her, disregarding all sense of personal space. He reached out, hesitating briefly as he searched her eyes. Satisfied with whatever it was he saw, he brought his fingertips to the rise of her cheek. She could feel them vibrating with his intensity. He caressed her, drifting like her own hair against her, shaping her face with a soft reverence that made her throat ache with response.
“I will take you to a phone. You can even go home if you like. I do not want you to feel that we expect you to neglect your life.”
The sentiment was in earnest, Jacob reflected, but it was followed quickly by the sensation that he should not allow her out of his sight. He could not understand this grasping need he had to keep her close, especially when he was so aware of how dangerous it could be. He was obsessed with the craving to touch her, even if it was just this simple caress he was indulging in now, the tracing and learning of her lovely pixie features. It made him feel sublimely grounded, a singular relief after the oppressive tension that he suffered whenever he was kept too far away from her.
He watched her constantly, day and night, even while the sun dragged at him and demanded his obedience in sleep. He was exhausted, yet here he was again, midday, sitting in the shadows above the library just so his senses could feel her movement below his feet and listen to the soft litany of her mind as she studied and reasoned out the information she was absorbing.
“We will take you to a phone, Isabella.”
Legna, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, delivered the correction. Isabella felt Jacob bristle instantly, a sensation of prickling discomfort skipping down the nape of her neck as she absorbed it from him. He took a slow, decided step back from her, giving her room to breathe, but somehow her breath seemed to strangle in her chest at the separation. She shook her head and glanced from one to the other. Legna’s countenance was as serene as always, though it was very obvious that she had been disturbed from her day’s rest. Jacob’s features, however, were a dark storm of energy and emotion. His forehead creased with frown lines and his brown-black eyes radiated something bordering on hostility. Isabella’s entire chest tingled with the rush of it, his prickling emotions popping like fireworks in her brain.
“Thank you, but I am sure I can manage on my own,” Isabella insisted, her feelings torn between her upset that Legna had been disturbed from her rest and that Jacob was just plain disturbed. All she wanted was for everyone to be calm and to go about their normal routines.
“Isabella.” Legna spoke again in that soft, compelling voice of a diplomat, which Bella had discovered was Legna’s role in her brother’s court. “Though we do not wish to curb your freedom, Noah has expressed great concern at the thought of you leaving our circle of protection. Please consider, knowing all that you do now, the dangers that might present themselves to you. Until we know the nature of your significance to us, and ours to you, we would feel much safer if you were to remain here or remain protected by allowing for a Demon escort when you travel.”
“Legna… ” Jacob warned, the threat in his voice coming through with sheer masculine authority. “We have no right to ask such a thing of her.”
“Actually,” Isabella spoke up, cutting off the female Demon’s retort, “I wasn’t planning on leaving. I just wanted to talk to my sister, touch base, say hi. You know, boring stuff like that. It’s a pretty mundane task and certainly not worth all this concern. Honestly,” she said, looking down at her dust-covered hands and rubbing them together, “you’ll have a pretty hard time getting me out of that library of yours. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. So complex, so… ” She looked at Jacob, meeting his eyes even though their intensity so overwhelmed her. “Your culture is fascinating. I can’t even begin to fathom how far back these records go. The dedication it must have taken to build that archive is incomprehensible. You couldn’t drag me away if you tried.”