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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I will be more careful in the future. I hope you can forgive Jacob and me for our aggressions. We… we are… There is a great deal of responsibility and control that must come with powers of such potential volatility as the males of my people are created with. But in the end, we are still elemental beings. I made the mistake of underestimating the true sense of guardianship Jacob felt where you are concerned.”
Noah exchanged a silent, intense look with Jacob that went further than that politely explained apology. Jacob had deemed Isabella his property, a female under his protection and possession. When the King had inadvertently embarrassed Isabella by his lack of proper clothing, it had made Jacob aware that she had been looking at him, another powerful male, and that had been absolutely unacceptable to Jacob in his unsteady state of mind. The Fire Demon had mistaken the following aggression as an attack on Bella, an attempt to kidnap her from their censured protection.
However, to be honest, Noah had no idea how to explain this peculiar connection the Enforcer seemed to have with the little human female. The entire situation was very disconcerting.
The Enforcer had not yet overcome his initial impulses to spirit Isabella away from Noah’s presence. It was important to their relationship that he gave Jacob the opportunity to regain control of himself with dignity. He knew Jacob well enough to know how he must be smarting already in the wake of having had Elijah whip him back into line. Now there was this misunderstanding on top of that. No one could be harder on the Enforcer than he was on himself, and Noah was trusting that it was that part of Jacob that would regain control.
“Excuse me while I get dressed,” Noah said politely. He glanced at his sister, knowing that she would not be afraid to be alone with them. Removing his presence was probably the best thing for him to do just then, though he would return quickly. He knew Legna understood that she was expected to gently extract Isabella from Jacob’s embrace in order to help ease the tumultuous emotions her nearness intensified. If Noah dared try such a thing, he’d likely lose a limb.
The King swirled into a sudden cloud of smoke. The cloud moved toward the stairs and the upper rooms in the north wing of the castle.
Legna had already chosen an approach.
“Bella,” she said, automatically using the nickname Jacob had given her, “how do you like the clothing I loaned you?”
Bella moved as far to one side of Jacob as the clamp of his hand on her hip and arm across her body would allow, so she could see the other woman.
“It’s very comfortable,” she said. “You must have had to hem everything a great deal.”
“Nonsense,” Legna brushed off the detail. “Clothing is easy to replace and I was glad to help.” Her eyes sparkled with warm teasing. “Besides, if we let you run around naked there would have been vine swinging, chest beating, and maybe even some marking of territory.” Legna wrinkled her nose and gave a little shudder.
“That’s quite enough of that, Magdelegna.”
Absolutely 100 percent Jacob filled that smart reprimand. It made Isabella’s heart leap happily, the flood of relieved emotion washing out of her until Jacob chuckled softly. He exhaled a long, decompressing sigh, closing his eyes briefly as all irrational impulses eased with Noah’s departure. What it left was a smarting conscience and sheen of regret as he recalled his primitive behavior. He looked at little Bella, her dark head tilted so she could see past his arm to talk with Legna. He worried what she must think of him by now. Her mind was focused solely on her relief and her amusement with Legna, so he had no hint.
Jacob’s entrapping arm lowered to his side, but his long, elegant fingers twitched slightly, as if they wanted to touch Isabella in spite of his command of them. The Enforcer’s jaw became grimly set and he swore softly in his native tongue before turning his back on Isabella and moving to put a safe distance between them. His mind working properly again, he knew Noah would be back just as quickly as he had left and that he needed to withdraw from her himself, make it his own decision, or there would be another confrontation. Even though this had been a misunderstanding, he had been unable to voice his feelings like a civilized, intelligent being, something that had never happened to him before.
This, he realized, was the wicked humor of the Hallowed moon. He had seen healthy glimpses of his more bestial half during intense battle or hunt, but even then he had maintained logic and cunning, that which ruled important skills like fighting tactics. Never had he felt such a complete shutdown of wisdom and consideration. He hardly felt any true regret for what had transpired. Prickling within his psyche was a sense of triumph, the feeling that he had defended what was his and that he wished to revel in the success. Jacob felt the surge of response within himself and he could not control the feeling, could not banish it from existence.
Isabella was still trading innocuous conversation with Legna, moving close enough so the taller beauty could reach out to gently rub Bella’s arm. There was no rush of possessiveness inside him as he watched the empath radiate her quickly growing attachment to Isabella. He knew this quickening friendship was because Legna was the only other one beside him who had met Bella and known instantly every good and noble quality within her. The female Mind Demon, he understood, would come to love Bella one day.
That was when he realized he would never be able to move far enough away from Isabella. The thought heated up his entire consciousness, making his breath come deep and swift. She was following him everywhere. Her presence clung to him like a static charge. He slowly stroked his eyes along the curving length of her, his eyes resting on her with blatant hunger reflected in their depths. He could not have hidden it under any circumstances. Not even knowing he was being so closely monitored as he was could dissuade the surge in his appetite for her.
“Jacob… ” Legna said suddenly. “Jacob, do not—”
Her eyes flicked anxiously to a point beyond his shoulder, and he realized that Noah had returned to the room. He did not need to look behind himself to know. All of his senses reflected the imposing presence of the Demon King: his smoky scent, the rustle of his now fully clothed body, and the authority that eddied off him even when he was at rest. Isabella looked at him when Legna spoke to him, the glisten of her purple eyes in the gaslight like an arrow straight through his heart. How was it possible? How could a human woman make him feel like he had sworn he was never destined to feel? She stirred him so deeply, and all she was doing, once again, was looking at him.
“Legna?” Noah queried cautiously.
“Jacob,” the Enforcer said sharply, his harsh eyes pinning the female Demon in place, his sensual mouth pressed into a severe frown, “is fine. Be aware, young one, that there is a large difference between what I feel and what I act on. My control is beyond anything any of you will ever be capable of, so do not think it is you who keeps me in line. Either of you.”
Isabella did not miss the fact that Jacob’s reference to Legna’s age was some sort of purposeful insult. The lovely female’s cheeks flared with color, her elegant hands closing into fists. Isabella sighed, rolled her eyes, and placed both of her hands on her round hips.
“All right, that’s enough. Everyone go back to your corners. Heavens. If I thought I could be responsible for setting three perfectly intelligent friends at each other’s throats, I would have never crossed that threshold.” She pointed to the large entranceway far across the Great Hall for emphasis. “Or”—she hesitated, then looked at the opposite side of the room, which also had an exit—“that threshold.”
Jacob felt a smile settle over his lips and he cleared his throat. The sound purposely drew her attention, and, again with great purpose, he looked up over his shoulder to one of the stained glass windows, which had a small hinged window in its bottom that was perpetually left open.
“That threshold?” she asked, her voice pitched high with surprise. He felt her heart miss a beat in her shock and he felt bad for the spike of laughter that tried to lance free of him. He had a feeling that if he laughed, she would be far more threatening to him than Noah had been.
Legna, however, had no such control. She giggled irrepressibly and then quickly laid a hand over her betraying smile when Bella whirled to glare at her indignantly.
“I am so very sorry,” she said behind the muffle of her hand. “It is their fault.”
The empath pointed to her brother and his Enforcer, and Bella could see that behind their forcibly stoic expressions, their eyes were bright with laughter at her expense. Isabella grinned, turning her eyes to study the pattern of the marble veins in the floor as they both began to laugh.
Jacob’s tension of the past few hours dissolved instantly with his amusement. “Go on, Bella, let Legna take you to call your sister,” he said after he had regained his composure. “But do not keep Legna out in the daylight too long. She is not so strong as I and her brother. I have a few things to do before I rest for the day.” He looked at Noah for a long minute. “I trust you have things to do here as well?”
Noah realized that Jacob was warning him that the idea of him accompanying Isabella around was not a welcome one. The King had not intended on doing anything but returning to his interrupted sleep once all was settled. In spite of the recent altercation, he was still taken aback by the possessiveness behind the veiled threat.
True, Jacob’s loyalty to him was deeply ingrained in everything he did, but Noah had no illusions to cover the fact that Jacob had somehow marked this woman in his mind as his possession. Noah knew it was inherently a dangerous and unhealthy attitude for Jacob to indulge in, simply because he had no right to do so. On the other hand, he could not escape a niggling sensation in the back of his brain that this provocation to be Isabella’s defender meant something very important. It was too curious, too deeply grooved in the remarkable to not signify something of import. He would have to mull it over while he slept. Noah hoped that when he woke he would have clearer thoughts and perspectives on the matter. Madness, necromancers, and whatever it was that allowed Isabella Russ to turn all of Noah’s most powerful friends and allies inside out in their efforts to protect her—Noah instinctively knew these were all connected. All he needed now was some sort of clarity as to why.
“I am returning to my chamber,” Noah announced, more for Jacob’s peace of mind than anything. “Legna, do not hesitate to call me if you or Isabella should need me.” He paused for all of two seconds. “Also, should your safety be threatened in any way, I suggest you call out to Jacob as well. He may be able to reach you far faster than I can.”
Noah was highly aware of the sudden release of tension from his Enforcer’s body. Noah had wanted to put Jacob’s protective instincts at ease, and he had succeeded with incredible diplomacy. The knowledge that he would not be left out of the loop seemed to relax the Earth Demon greatly. Noah used the rather boring convention of the stairs to exit the room this time.
Jacob decided that a quick exit would be the only way he could make himself put necessary distance between himself and Isabella. So, without so much as a wave, he turned in a burst of movement, becoming a shower of dust that streamed swiftly upward and out that high, narrow window of colored glass.
“That is extremely cool,” Isabella sighed.
“I suppose it is,” Magdelegna agreed with a laugh, smiling warmly as she reached to rub Bella’s shoulder in a gesture of friendly comfort. “Shall I take you to a phone?”
“Why aren’t there any phones here?” she thought to ask.
“Well, the best way I can explain it is that technologies like electricity and telephones do not always agree with Demons. We believe that because we are so rooted in nature, there is something about man-made technological objects that just does not work properly when we are too close to them. They… ‘go haywire’ I believe is the phrase. They develop glitches.”
“Oh,” Isabella said softly.
“Sometimes, nothing happens at all.” Legna shrugged. “Other times, just our nearness makes things get… haywire. It is one of the reasons Demons do not integrate fully with humans. You are very dependent on your technologies. Many of us prefer to live in isolation… in rural settings like this one.”
“In places where archaic methods of living are not so out of the ordinary,” Bella mused. “I see.” She paused for only a few beats. “One last question?”
“I doubt it will be your last,” Legna laughed. “All your questions are welcome.”
“How is it you are all awake? I thought you had a powerful compulsion to sleep in the daytime.”
“Accomplished Elders such as Noah and Jacob can put off this compulsion for sleep with effort and a lifetime of power control. Younger Demons, such as myself, are far more susceptible. This morning has been taxing for us all.” She held out her hands and Isabella noticed for the first time that they were shaking. “We do not like to show weakness. Jacob and Noah hide theirs well, although Noah may not be affected. I am never sure, but his ability to manipulate energy… I suspect he could remain awake nonstop for days if he desired it. He is of Fire, and few of us fully understand the abilities of male Fire Demons.”
“I’m sorry. I had not meant to stir everybody up. Why don’t we do this later when it becomes dark? A few hours will make no difference to me or to Corrine.”
“Are you certain?”
“Positive. No sense putting you through such an effort for something that can so easily wait.”
“I would be fine,” Legna assured her. “Just a yawn here and there.”