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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“That was an accident!”
“‘… to walk unscented… ’ The Elders did not even know she was in my home,” Noah added, clearly astonished. “They could not smell her, could not sense her. ‘This Enforcer’s thoughts will be sealed except to Kin… ’”
“That’s ridiculous! Jacob is constantly nosing around inside my head, and I assure you I am in no way related to him!”
“‘… and Mate… ’”
Isabella heard the fateful words fall from Jacob’s lips as if they echoed.
She had known, on some level, that this connection to Jacob was beyond something so simple as a passing crush. Jacob had known it. He had taken her into his arms in spite of everything he stood for, because on some level he had known this was no mere Hallowed madness.
Only a few days ago she would never have been capable of imagining any of this, no matter how creative she might have tried to be. Facts and fantasies blurred in her mind, hazing her vision over like a suffocating fog. All the blood rushed away from the top of her body, racing to fulfill the sudden demands of her organs as she ran both hot and cold with chills, dread, and, most of all, excitement at all of the dangerous possibilities.
She dropped to the floor like a stone.
“Do you have any idea how this is going to affect everyone?”
Jacob looked up from his seat beside Isabella, his hand stilling midstroke through her hair, the pads of his fingertips nestled in the softer-than-silk strands that so attracted him. He had not moved fast enough, and she had fallen hard. His opposite hand was pressing a cloth to a cut on her forehead, trying to stem the blood that continued to seep from it.
“I know how it is going to affect you,” Noah responded from his position by the window, his gaze trained on the landscape of the ocean just outside. “I know it explains why you haven’t been able to resist her.”
“We could be wrong.” Jacob picked up a thick strand of the sleek sable hair, rubbing it between his fingers. “She is so small and so young. How can she possibly be meant to do what I do?”
“She is not even trained, and yet she tracked Saul. Killed him,” the monarch pointed out.
“More accident than anything,” Jacob retorted.
“Then explain what happened with Elijah.”
Jacob couldn’t, and Noah knew it. Elijah was a centuries-old, seasoned warrior, leader of an army of Demons who dedicated their lives to the art of war and defense. He was powerful, just as prevailing in his elected duties as Jacob was in his. And yet…
“I cannot explain it,” he admitted reluctantly.
“She was protecting you,” Noah pointed out with infuriatingly quiet wisdom and matter-of-fact calm. “Out of instinct. Just like a she-wolf will protect her mate.”
“Noah, she is a human being! Everything I have been raised to believe for hundreds of years tells me that I cannot be her mate, and she cannot be mine! I will hurt her! Hell, I already have!” Jacob curled his long fingers into her velvety hair, clenching thick strands between his knuckles in anger. Speaking the understanding aloud shredded at his conscience and heart like hundreds of superfine blades.
“Have you… ?”
“No! Of course not! I already told you, I am terrified I will hurt her. Besides, if things had gone that far, don’t you think Elijah, Legna, or you would have come crashing down on me?”
“No one interrupted your interlude in the vaults yesterday,” Noah pointed out.
Jacob narrowed dangerous eyes on the Demon King.
It was a statement, not a question. The question was unspoken, and they both knew what it was. “After the fact,” he assured him. “I trust you did the right thing, Jacob. You are Enforcer, after all.”
“I barely did the right thing, Noah.” Jacob’s voice was low and his eyes shot daggers of black fire. “I cannot explain to you the intensity… ” Jacob had to clear his throat of a hoarse hitch. “When she is close, if she so much as looks at me from below her lashes, or if she smiles… ” Noah could hear the distinct sound of the Enforcer’s back teeth grinding shortly against each other. “I no longer know myself. I no longer know what is right.”
“Well, it happens that if we are interpreting this prophecy correctly, the right thing would have been to take her.”
“Damn you, how can you be so casual about this!” Jacob roared, lurching to his feet and advancing on the King. “You would so easily use her for an experiment of such magnitude? Use me? Knowing it could very well kill her and damn me for the rest of my life?”
“Better the two of you than our entire race,” Noah countered. Then quickly, before Jacob could speak, “I say that as the ruler of a great many people, Jacob. It is the kind of choice I have been destined to make. The welfare of the many, weighed against the welfare of the one—or in this case, two. And do not glare at me with your condemnation, Enforcer. You make the very same choices every time you punish one of us for straying. You made the same choice when you told Myrrh-Ann you would seek out Saul, knowing full well that no Demon has ever been rescued from a Summoning intact and that you would be forced to kill him.”
Jacob knew Noah spoke the truth, but that didn’t make it sit any better on his conscience. Somehow, Isabella’s well-being was far more personal to him, as well as far more important. She was innocent, in so many ways, and had never asked to become a part of their politics, or their salvation.
“As well as you know our taboos, Jacob, you know our belief in Destiny. If this is hers, there is nothing any of us can do about it,” Noah reminded him, lowering his voice to a soothing level. “You rebel, but I sense that in your heart, in your very soul, you already know that she is your match. She is your mate. She is the only woman of any race to ever inspire such loyalty in the Enforcer before me. She is the only human to ever tempt you, the Hallowed moon be damned. You have lived over half a millennium, Jacob, and now, in this moment, you are drawn for the first time, even to the point of going against everything you have been raised to believe in. She is yours, Jacob,” Noah said vehemently. “It is her destiny, and she is yours.”
“I will not hurt her. I will not force our prophecies on her.” Jacob walked stiffly back to the couch, once more tending her wound and stroking his fingers through her beguiling hair.
“You have no choice. If she were not human, I would accuse you both of being in the first stages of the Imprinting. The telepathic connection, the undeniable temptation to mate—”
“She is a human, Noah, and the Imprinting does not apply to her. It barely applies to us! There has not been an Imprinting for over two centuries, and just as long again before that. No matter how much you try to mold her into our ways, no matter how you try to manipulate me into easing my conscience, I will not let you win me over to your thinking and I will not force her!”
“It may seem that you have a choice,” Noah said patiently, “but you know Destiny finds a way. You will not force her, because you will not have to. No one is saying that you do. It will just happen.”
“I should have never brought her to our world.”
“You were meant to bring her.”
“I should have… I could have… ” Jacob choked on the frustration clawing at his throat, turning his head aside so Noah could not see the distress building smartly in his eyes.
“You are half in love with her already, are you not?” Noah quizzed gently, his sharp jade and gray eyes trained firmly on his friend.
“Do not presume to tell me how I feel! It is bad enough some ancient piece of paper attempts to do so,” Jacob barked back.
“Very well, I will let it go. There are other things to focus on, in any event. The introduction of these prophecies and histories into our culture will have powerful ramifications. It will also meet with great resistance. Look how strongly you resist, even when you long to find solace in any excuse to be with her. Imagine what fanatic purists like Ruth will do.”
The very idea sent a sensation of dread down Jacob’s spine. He finally turned his eyes onto Noah. “You are telling me that my personal life is nothing compared to how this other business is about to affect me,” he stated gravely.
“You are the Enforcer. There will be much chaos, Jacob. I will make it as easy on you as I can. I will start by telling the scholars, and then, in time, the Council.”
Jacob saw the wisdom in this course and realized very acutely in that moment why Noah was destined to lead them, and the rest of them destined to do service for him. With the scholars to support him, Noah could not be logically refuted, even by the most influential of Elders. With this surety, Noah could call on the warriors and the Enforcer to back him up in the event of dissent. The idea of the potential for civil unrest made Jacob’s stomach churn. He looked down at the pale little pixie next to him. Isabella had fallen from a window and had started a chain of events of impossible magnitude.
“Look at her carefully, old friend. That,” Noah said softly, “may very well be the face that launches a thousand ships.”
Isabella’s eyes fluttered open, the violet expanding as her pupils narrowed under the light. She blinked rapidly, trying to adjust. She lifted her head slightly and groaned when a sore muscle in her neck stretched and the blood in her head began to pound uncomfortably.
She felt gentle fingers slide over her cheek from behind her, a thumb rubbing her ear gently, a soothing voice shushing her.
“Hush. Easy, Bella. You are safe.”
She felt safe. As she woke further, she was aware of being tucked up like a spoon along the length of a comforting body, a heavy leg insinuated between her own from behind, a strong arm pillowing her head. She had never woken up beside a man in all of her life, but this sense of fitting perfectly, of warmth and protection, was always the way she imagined it would feel. They were in bed together, but the realization didn’t distress her. He hadn’t left her alone. He had kept her as close as he could, no doubt watching her every moment until he’d seen her stir.
“Jacob,” she murmured, turning her cheek into his touch, nuzzling affectionately.
“None other,” he assured.
She slid her hand over the sheets until her fingers laced with his. He clasped her readily, squeezing her fingers warmly.
“I am surprised you are not beating the hell out of me,” he observed.
“I’m still waking up. I’ll kick your ass later.”
Jacob buried his face in her hair, smiling. “Thank you for the warning.”
“Actually”—she turned her body until she had scooted around to face him, brown-black eyes to violet—“I think I’ll kick Noah’s ass. That would make me feel better.”
“Please do. It would make me feel better as well.” Jacob’s hand fell to her cheek again, his fingers drifting over the silky soft skin. His thumb reached to stroke her lower lip.
“Can you answer a question?”
“Why do we feel like we have known each other for ages, when in fact it has only been a few days?”
“Cheater,” she accused.
“Sorry. You have too open a mind for me to resist.”
“Is that an apology? It sounds more like a character assassination.”
“Do you want me to answer the question or debate the semantics of who should have asked it?”
“Does the answer have anything to do with prophecies and Destiny? Because if it does, I think I’ll have a very bad headache.”
“Actually,” he said, “I was going to lean toward the old-fashioned theory of chemistry.”
“Oh. Well, that sounds normal. Practically human, in fact.”
“Bite your tongue,” he rejoined, a twinkle of mischief flashing in his eyes.
He pulled his head back, a fudge-colored brow lifting in surprise. “Isabella, are you flirting with me?”
Isabella sighed dramatically. “Not too subtle, huh?”
Jacob laughed, unable to resist pulling her forehead to his lips and kissing her. He tucked her head under his chin and hugged her small body against his.
“I cannot figure you out, Bella. Just when you have every right to vigorously wash your hands of me and all of my kind, you do not. I cannot understand your reasoning, no matter how much I sneak into your mind.”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “I think it’s because every time I get upset, my rational mind comes barreling to the forefront, banishing emotion to a back burner. I start to think. I make sense out of your motivations, and I see reason in them. It kinda takes the fight out of a person when you realize you are all just struggling for survival and peace of mind the best way you know how.”
“If you are destined to be for me, I would be the most fortunate creature on this planet.” He paused; something unpleasant was crossing his thoughts. “I do not know if you could say the same.”
Isabella lifted her head, drawing herself up on an elbow so she could look down into his face. She wondered if he realized that whenever she moved her head, his hands automatically followed, finding ways to touch her face and weave into her hair. “Why would you say such a terrible thing?”
An unreadable emotion shimmered across his pupils. She suspected he was filtering his response. She was beginning to realize he always thought very carefully before he spoke.
“I am just used to people feeling negatively toward me. I am considered a necessary evil.”
“Noah doesn’t see you that way at all,” she argued.