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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Isabella took her eyes away from the compelling depth of the black gaze he had fixed on her so raptly. She was a conundrum to him, and she knew it. She could sense that his reaction to her mere presence was an overriding confusion and a moral storm within him. She felt the urge to retreat back to the library, to place herself at a safe distance from him. Not that she was afraid of him—actually, to be honest, her surprising lack of fear in the face of such fearful prospects was what disturbed her. She was not using discretion in her thoughts or the impulsive reactions of her physiology when he was near. Like all things, wisdom came with experience. She had nothing to draw on for guidance when it came to the way she felt around Jacob.
“You do not owe us so much of your time, Bella,” Jacob said, extracting her from the circle of her thoughts. “In fact, we are the ones who owe you. Why do you make our trouble your own so willingly?”
“You said it yourself,” she replied quietly, not even realizing that her feet were taking her toward him, closing the gap between them of their own volition. “I’m somehow a part of all this. Somehow my destiny has become linked with yours.”
Legna might as well have not been there for all they were aware of her in that moment. The King’s sister was overcome by a sensation of connection, an electric joining between the two of them that was blatant as well as ignorant of the forbidden borders it toyed with. As an empath, Legna was a conduit for the sexual and emotional tension in the room. She was flushed with it, her skin misting with warmth. These were permissible feelings, in spite of the fact that they were the most intoxicating collection of desires she had ever felt as an empath.
Noah had made her duty clear. She was to monitor the Enforcer. At the slightest hint of uncontrolled behavior, she was to summon the King with all due haste. But she sensed no threat, no rampant moon-fed lust. She had felt it in the past in men and women brought to face Noah by Jacob’s hand of justice. It was a wild, ferocious thing. It clawed away at common sense and respect, shredding away even the smallest thought of consideration or control. Control was the key here. The Enforcer’s emotions surged like a wild, dark tide within him, yet there was still control. Jacob practically vibrated with it, clearly using every resource he owned to manage his impulses and desires. She would not call out to Noah until she felt the first crack in that formidable mental fortress. Jacob was a proud creature. If she called for interference without cause, he would be hurt and embarrassed, and she could not bear the idea of causing him that pain.
“Believe me,” Isabella was saying softly to the Enforcer, who was paying rapt attention to her every word and movement, “I want to know the answers to these questions much as any of you do. I can feel… ” She hesitated, and Jacob watched as she clutched a small fist over her breastbone. “There is something inside of me. I can’t explain it, but it’s not all me. I mean, it’s not familiar to me. It’s as if something alien has sprung to life inside of me and this… this new life comes with a seeking sensation that overwhelms even my voracious curiosity. Can’t you feel that?”
“I can feel that,” Jacob responded sympathetically. His soulful black eyes brushed down Isabella’s small body, lingering on the way back up to her gaze. “I can feel your hunger to know. It effervesces in my brain like sparkling water. Though I did not know you before this, I know there are new places in your mind that were not there before, coming alive.”
Legna felt her heart slam still with shock. Jacob was Earth. Only a Demon of Mind could read such thoughts, feel such finely tuned empathy. Jacob’s knowledge was far too personal… too intimate. It was also more than what Legna herself could sense. It seemed as though with every progressive hour, it was harder and harder for her to sense from Isabella. She was becoming like a blank place. Jacob should have no empathic abilities whatsoever, except perhaps with his prey during a hunt, yet it was clear that the Earth Demon knew more about the workings of Bella’s mind than she did.
Jacob’s lashes lowered slowly as he took an obvious deep breath through his nose, the slight movement of his head and the concentration in his expression telling that he was analyzing the sense he was using. It was such a basic, animalistic thing to do, so clearly predatory and aggressive.
“And senses.” Jacob and Isabella spoke together, their voices pitched together perfectly. “Everything is so much more than it was before.”
The recital rattled Magdelegna to her very core. She had never seen anything like this before. Her senses were awash with emotionally charged information, forcing her to recoil and draw up her hardest defenses. Legna’s knee-jerk response to this was to call for Noah with all of her mental capabilities.
Isabella was so startled by the flash of bursting flames so close to her that she nearly fell over. Jacob reached out instinctively to steady her, but his broad wrist was caught in an iron grasp before he could touch her. Jacob jerked, his eyes slicing across Noah’s reach with vicious irritation until he met the King’s implacable gaze.
“Do not touch her, Jacob.”
“Let go of me,” the Enforcer commanded, his low voice full of volumes of outrage and threat.
“I know you would not intend to harm her, Enforcer, but we both know that intentions will be for naught the moment you touch her. She has proven to be a dangerous lure. Do not torture yourself further with her nearness.”
Isabella flushed at the Demon King’s high-handed behavior and his insulting references to her. “Uh, excuse me? I resent being treated like Typhoid Mary!”
Noah ignored her, his full attention on Jacob. The King had evidently been rousted from his bed on abrupt notice, his black hair tousled with sleep, causing the reddish highlights within to stand out in the sunlight. He was matched with Jacob in height, but it was clear by the muscles laced tightly over the whole of his broad body that he had weight and basic physical strength over the Enforcer. Isabella could see this very clearly because he wore nothing but a pair of gray shorts made of a soft cotton material that was far too revealing.
The unexpected awareness made Isabella jerk her eyes to neutral territory, and red splotches burned over her face and chest. Jacob felt the reaction sparkle across his skin like fire, felt her embarrassment and its causes like a splash of acid in his brain.
Noah heard the low predatory sound rumble up from Jacob like a fast-rising storm. The King instinctively braced himself, knowing he might be forced to deal with Jacob at his moon-fed worst. He made the mistake of thinking Jacob was going to attack him.
Jacob used his breathtaking speed to spin past the other male, breaking Noah’s hold on him at the same time he was snatching Isabella up from the floor and sweeping her a good ten feet from the other male. He swung her around to his back, placing himself between her and her line of sight to the Demon King.
Noah’s fists clenched, his body rippling in preparation as he turned to face his wild friend. Jacob greeted his clearly visible aggression with another territorial snarl. Isabella’s heart was pounding with fear and dismay. She knew what had set Jacob off. She could feel it radiating through their shared psyche. Possession, protection… and outrage. Around all of this was wrapped a sheer animalistic territoriality. Jacob was of the Earth, of nature and all of her creatures. Isabella realized then that there was no separating that from him, no matter how civilized and intelligent a man he became. With morals and instinct combining, Jacob saw Noah as an insult and a threat to his feelings of possession for her.
Stuffed back away from Noah as she was, Isabella could only find one other person to appeal to. She looked to Legna, her wide violet eyes begging the female Demon to do something, praying that the empath would understand what was happening. Legna’s gray-misted eyes, such a perfect duplicate of her elder brother’s, were averted. Because the room was filled with so much volatility, she had barricaded her mind against the storm around her. Yet the moment Isabella broadcasted her need, her desperation of emotion, the empath looked up at her quickly.
Why can’t you feel Jacob? Why can’t you understand what is happening? Isabella wondered desperately. Was she misinformed about the beautiful diplomat’s power? She was so new to this; perhaps her concept of their power was mostly imagination.
This thought was easily discarded when a billow of heat radiated off Noah, the burst hitting them like a suffocating desert wind. The Demon King’s fist uncurled, opening with an outward flicker of fingers, and a ball of fire erupted into his palm.
“Legna, get your charge to safety,” the Demon King commanded, his smoky voice rough and reeking of his threatening power.
There was an awesome rumbling sound and Isabella felt the earth shudder beneath her feet. She reached out to grab Jacob’s shirt, clutching it for balance even as the protective arm he held behind himself tightened to draw her closer.
The cry came from Legna, who braved the intense heat surrounding her antagonistic brother and grabbed the arm that he had loaded with fiery ammunition. Noah’s first reaction was to reabsorb the fireball so he would not burn her.
“Oh, thank God,” Isabella uttered on a low, relieved sigh. She buried her face into Jacob’s back as she continued to cling to him for support.
“Legna!” Noah castigated his sister with a rough growl of temper.
“Noah, it is not what you think. Stop!” She pulled harder when he tried to shake her off. Legna was well aware of how difficult it was to draw her brother back from confrontation and anger once something lit the match. It was the essence of Fire, and it wasn’t his fault. She felt his justification, felt his turbulent upset that he was being forced to face down a friend. He was angry. Angry at the Hallowed moon, which he thought was brutalizing Jacob, brutalizing all of his people and beating their honorable spirits down into shame and low beastly behavior. “Noah, listen to me,” the empath said, her voice pitching low and soft, the tone musical and sweet. Isabella felt a change go through Jacob, minor but detectable. The low rumble of sound that had been boiling up from his throat quieted to just an occasional crackle of warning. “Jacob is not maddened by the moon,” she continued, that velvet softness of words flowing over both tense men and Isabella. “Hear me, my beloved brother. I feel what he feels. I know. Trust me to know.”
“Jacob would never threaten me if he were sane,” the King argued, but he had finally looked away from his target, meeting his youngest sister’s imploring gaze.
“Unless,” she replied softly, “you did something he felt threatened Isabella. Noah, you must remember that there is something that connects them, something that draws them to each other.”
“That accursed moon is the cause,” Noah bit out.
“An amplification. It is true, and we all know it. The Hallowed moon amplifies everything we feel. In Jacob’s heart, in the very core of his being, he is a protector of innocents. Usually human innocents. That is what he will always do first and foremost. Even against you. Also, this is his greatest fear, that he would have to battle you one day for the sake of an innocent.” Legna reached out to smooth a loving hand through her brother’s hair as she continued to murmur soothingly to him. “Combine these, and the smallest perceived offense becomes like stepping into a Vampire’s territory without invitation.” The comparison made the Demon King lift his brows in understanding. The burn of battle faded from his jade eyes and he flicked a less aggressive gaze in Jacob’s direction.
Magdelegna stepped around Noah and moved in between the two powerful men fearlessly. “Jacob,” she said, again her voice pitched like honey, reaching to calm the inadvertently triggered beast within Jacob. “No one will harm Isabella. We would never do that. We could never do that when you are her protector.”
“You cannot keep me away from her.”
Isabella drew in a sudden breath when he spoke. It was the first civilized thing he had done in what seemed like ages, even though his voice was rough and devoid of all civility.
“We will not. Not unless you are going to truly harm her, as you know we are bound to do.”
Isabella peeked around Jacob’s tightly flexed biceps so she could see his expression. His tanned features were still drawn and dark, still aggressive, but there was reason entering his glistening black eyes. She felt his mind and emotions settling further down under Legna’s subtle power to coax and soothe. Isabella suddenly realized that Demon females did indeed have power that was not to be underestimated. Legna could potentially be a very dangerous woman.
“I will never harm her. I will lay down my life before I will allow myself”—his eyes glanced acidly at Noah—“or anyone else to cause Bella hurt.”
“When did I cause her hurt?” Noah protested with indignation. “I never even looked at her.”
“But she looked at you.”
Isabella gasped and ducked back behind Jacob’s back. She winced hard as her face blossomed with mortifying heat. She buried her face against his back and prayed for a sudden sinkhole to open beneath her.
Comprehension dawned on Noah’s face like a brilliant sunrise. He opened his mouth to speak but was too flabbergasted to form the words. Isabella could hear the step of his bare feet on stone as he came up to Jacob. Jacob was forced to take a step forward for balance because she was trying so hard to bury herself in his spine.
“I see,” Noah said at last, “that this is my fault after all. Isabella, you will forgive me, but you are the first human ever to be an extended guest in my home, and I was not thinking of common courtesies.”
“I never meant for this to become such a big deal,” she muttered.