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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“What are we to do in the meantime, Noah? Sit and wait for the next of us to be snatched from our lives?”
“We have little choice at the moment. As you all know, there is no known protection against Summoning spells. However, you can be assured that Elijah, Jacob, and I are working on the problem.”
“And yet the Enforcer still has time for his other duties,” spoke up Councillor Simon, his thin lips pressed into a deep frown. He was referring to the fact that, the night before, Jacob had been forced to track Simon’s son down and snap him back into line.
“I have time for everything,” Jacob agreed, a feral smile sliding over his lips.
The entire Council jerked in surprise as the chamber door burst open and gave entry to Isabella, her arms loaded with scrolls, her eyes bright lavender points of information that was bursting to be freed. She stopped short when she realized she had intruded on a meeting, and swept her eyes uneasily around the room as a dozen Demon eyes focused solely on her.
“A human!” Simon whispered.
“She has sacred scrolls!” cried another, lurching to his feet.
“Noah, what is the meaning of this?” Ruth exploded, forgetting exactly whom she was addressing. Or perhaps not. Ruth was always in search of a way to jockey with Noah for the authority of a moment.
“Uh-oh… ” Isabella muttered under her breath.
“I did not even sense her presence,” someone whispered.
“Neither did I.”
Jacob rose to his feet, the sound of his chair scraping back slowly over the marble floor piercing through the room and drawing everyone’s attention. All eyes were on him as he came around the table and reached to take the human woman’s shoulder under his hand. He pulled her into the protective circle of his arm and then guided her to his chair and sat her down. Putting Isabella in what was recognized as one of the three most powerful positions of the Council table brought about a collective gasp.
“You dare, Enforcer?” Ruth hissed, moving to stand as if she would go around the table and yank the human female from the chair herself.
But the force of Jacob’s cold stare made her still midaction.
“Our most sacred law is to harm no human who does not harm us, Councillor Ruth. Would you transgress right before the eyes of the Demon who would punish you?” he asked, the calm of his voice speaking deep levels of threat. In contrast to this steely warning, Jacob’s hand slipped beneath Isabella’s heavy hair and circled her neck protectively. Noah did not think the Enforcer was even aware he had made the possessive gesture.
“She has no right here,” Ruth argued, the force of the statement well diminished by her shock as she watched the most ruthless man of their kind take the human female under his tender auspices.
“She has information vital to the very questions you have been asking,” Jacob countered smoothly, having touched on this knowledge briefly in her mind.
“Jacob, I don’t think this is a good time,” Bella whispered.
“Nonsense, human. Speak, if you have knowledge,” Simon demanded.
Isabella’s eyes narrowed on the Councillor.
“My name is Isabella,” she snapped.
Simon blinked, clearly not comprehending for a very long minute that a human had just slapped him down. When it came to him, color rushed up his neck.
Noah’s chair being pushed back caught everyone’s attention.
“You will all leave. I will hear Isabella out in private and we will reconvene tomorrow night.”
Isabella instinctively reached up and pressed her fingers to the back of the hand circling her neck. She saw the roomful of Demons stirring in discontent, casting Jacob distrusting looks. She didn’t like the way it felt. Even as they all rose to obey their monarch, Isabella could feel their displeasure.
That was when the first push slammed into her brain.
It began like cold, invading fingers crawling along the back of her scalp. Shards of ice pierced her skull, embedding themselves into her mind like dozens of needles, each strategically placed in her long– and short-term memory in order to suck the knowledge from the synapses that held it.
Isabella jerked in shock, alerting Jacob to the fact that she was in some kind of distress. As the Demons continued to rise, a second push slapped her back in her chair, causing her work to fall helter-skelter to the floor as she threw her hands up to her head. When this invasion failed, there was immediately a third. Bella became aware of the source in a frightening instant. They were trying to force from her the information that Noah would not share. It was causing her head to blossom in pain, and she keened softly in agony. Her thoughts became Jacob’s, and he knew the moment she did what was causing her distress.
“You will stop!” he roared, his voice ricocheting off every surface in the chamber, forcing everyone to fall very still under his outraged threat. “You will obey Noah and wait for your information. You will cease trying to scan Isabella this instant or you will answer to me!”
There were three Mind Demons in the Elder Council, including Ruth, who could be responsible for the attack. All three of them looked utterly shocked, along with the rest of the Elders in the room. Jacob couldn’t tell if it was from his awareness of their actions or merely the threats themselves. He was Enforcer, and there was nothing more frightening in their world than his sense of injustice. His threat was not an idle one, and everyone knew it. Feared it. Even the intractable Ruth. Isabella visibly relaxed as her pain receded and the Demons exited soundlessly.
Noah closed the door after them and instantly moved to Isabella’s side, kneeling beside her chair and taking her chin in his hand so he could turn her head and meet her eyes. It was only then that she realized how angry the silent King had become for her sake. Though there was no outward facial sign, she could see it in the stormy clouds of gray concealing the green of his eyes.
“Bella, are you well?” he asked gently.
Isabella appreciated his concern, especially after facing so much hostility from the strangers who had just left, but there was something disturbing her brain again. This was not painful, but it was familiar. Her violet gaze shifted away from Noah’s, turning to focus on the male standing on the other side of her chair just as his long fingers began to curl into a fist. Her heart began to pound in double-time as she watched Jacob close his eyes, his jaw clenching so tightly she could hear the creak of his teeth. She understood he was trying to force himself to behave with rational care, to not take such violent offense to Noah’s hands being on her, to the King’s zealous concern for her.
“I am fine,” she said softly, forcing as amiable a smile as she could manage over her lips. In truth, she was confused and exhausted. Jacob’s behaviors seemed to vacillate so strongly, so intensely in one direction and then another. She decided to simply focus on his needs of the moment.
Isabella gently extracted her chin from Noah’s grasp under the guise of gathering her discarded work from the floor. The King reached to help her, taking on some of her burden before rising to his feet. He was a good man, Isabella thought, kind and intelligent, thinking of others before himself. Marks of a man meant to be a leader. When Noah was not crossing Bella’s personal space, she could feel how very much Jacob respected him, how devoted he would always be to Noah’s every cause. All he need do was ask, and Jacob would serve him without question and without regard for his own life or safety.
It upset her greatly that she had become a point of discord within that melodic relationship. She thought of the revelations she held cradled against her chest, of how they could potentially serve up more discord, more upset and controversy. Would she be doing this society any good by revealing her new knowledge?
“I… ” She swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. Really, it’s nothing that can’t wait. Actually”—she stood up and extracted the scrolls from Noah’s hold—“all I wanted was, uh… help with some interpretation. But you are busy… ” She rounded the peculiar triangular table as casually as she could while she spoke, even turning to back out of the room while giving them a bright smile that she hoped did not look as fake as it felt. “You know, there are lots of books down there, and I bet there’s a translation.” She reached up to smack her palm into her forehead, chiding herself for not thinking properly.
Isabella reached for the door and closed it even faster than she had originally opened it.
Noah looked over at Jacob, one dark brow lifting toward his thick hairline.
“Does… ?” He raised a hand to point to the door, looking utterly perplexed. “Does she have any idea what a lousy liar she is?”
“Apparently not,” Jacob said with a long, low sigh. “I think that was my fault,” he speculated wryly.
“Yeah… it is… a long story. We better get her.”
“Relax,” Noah chuckled. “She’s leaning against the other side of the door, trying to catch her breath.”
“I know. I just thought it would be funny if we opened it behind her.”
“I never knew you actually enjoyed being cruel,” the King remarked, humor sparkling in his eyes as they both stepped up to the exit.
Noah opened the door, and Jacob reached out to catch her, scrolls and all.
It was her first trip—that she actually remembered—traveling the way Demons did. It had begun with Jacob turning her into dust and guiding her through that little window. Once they were truly airborne, Jacob altered them both back into their normal forms, only he was holding her cradled to his chest protectively.
“It is not far. Let me know if you become too cold.”
Cold? She was trying to find the courage to unbury her face from the concealing column of his neck; she did not have the presence of mind it would take to feel cold. She was also clutching him so tightly that she was sure she was tearing the expensive silk of his shirt. After a while, though, the steady feel of his firm shoulders beneath her fingertips allowed for her heartbeat to slow enough to stop choking her, and the indomitable strength of his arms holding her began to make her understand that she was safe with him.
This did not give her the courage to look around herself, but she did lift her head and focus with all of her concentration on his face. His dark brown and black eyes shifted to hers when he felt her looking at him.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured him shakily. Right up until I hit the ground.
Jacob pulled her head back down to the security of his shoulder, burying his grin in her thick hair when her humorous sarcasm flitted through his mind. She tended to forget that he could read her mind, just as she forgot she could just as easily read his if she tried more often. But she had that quirky human penchant called privacy, a custom that was not all that prevalent in the Demon culture.
“Tell me where we’re going,” she murmured next to his ear.
Her soft lips moved against his neck with her speech, her breath hot against his skin, bathing him in sensitivity. Awareness instantly shuddered through him, his body clenching with instant need. He had already realized that his good intentions wouldn’t matter before long. If he stayed near her, he would tear her apart with his harsh desire for her. It was this knowledge that had forced him to pace before Noah endlessly until the Council interrupted his self-obsessions.
The Enforcer knew, though, that he could not maintain his close connection to Noah’s home so long as Isabella was residing there. She tempted him far too deeply. So, he had paced before Noah’s desk, trying to find a way to tell the Demon King that he had to drag himself as far away from the center of Demon culture as he could. He also needed to do this without blaming it on this innocent woman. The problem was not hers. He was the one lacking in control. It had brought him very low, doing the very thing he had lectured Kane on. It had brought Jacob to the other side of the sidewalk. He now knew what it felt like to be driven to those depths of immoral action even though principles cried out to do the right thing.
His name on her lips made him realize he had not answered her question.
“To my home,” he told her, using the response as a reason to lean his face closer to her, to bury himself in her hair. She was, he realized, taking on more of his scent every day. Though she had showered and gotten herself dusty all over again since their last clash of passion, she still oozed his essence from her skin and hair. He had known she was a mimic when it came to scents, but he had never encountered a chameleon that could keep a scent that had already been washed away. It filled him with a rush of possessive joy. It reminded him that, right beneath his chin, under the soft fabric of her shirt, lay the mark he had left upon her shoulder.
They came to rest on a wide cliff, and when Isabella lifted her head at Jacob’s encouragement, the vista took her breath away. They were on the very rim of what looked to be the English coastline. The house he had taken her to originally was settled behind them grandly, with the exception of the boarded-up wall that was in need of repair. As Noah coalesced into his usual form beside them, they walked toward the house. They entered through a conventional door.
“One would think that with all you can do, you could snap your fingers and fix that wall,” she said breathlessly.
“If it were that easy to do everything, we would be able to protect ourselves from those who insist on dabbling in dark arts,” Jacob pointed out gently.
“Well, not that it is any excuse, but humans don’t realize that your kind are an actual race of people with intelligence, families, customs, and culture.” She frowned and sighed, realizing exactly how poor an excuse that was. “But that’s been our excuse over history far too many times. I’m sorry.”