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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
He thought about that for a moment and then nodded. “True. But I have never had to enforce Noah or his immediate family. Over the past four hundred years, mostly recent years, there is hardly a family who has not been somehow touched by the actions of the Enforcer. Punishment is a pretty severe business, and it is never forgotten. And do not ask me to go into details about it, because I will not. Suffice it to say it does not stand me in good stead with anyone.”
“And what about you? I mean, will someone punish you because… because of me?” It was clear by the worry in her wide eyes that the thought didn’t sit well at all.
Jacob didn’t answer right away. How could he? This was such new territory to everyone, how could he speak with conviction on anything? The realization disturbed him. He had lived his life with an undoubted clarity of purpose, even if that purpose caused him some discomforts. Now there was just confusion, mystery, and speculation.
“I honestly do not know, Bella,” he said softly, his disturbance at that confession written in his eyes. “And the deeper we go into this entire situation, the more I realize how little I truly know about things I once saw with perfect conviction. It is a hard thing for a man to come to grips with.”
“For a woman too,” she added, reminding him of how much this had turned her life over as well. “One day I am a librarian, the next, I’m a Demon hunter. Go figure.” He smiled when she rolled her eyes comically, but he knew there was a great deal of disturbance behind those flip words. “After hearing how your society looks on you and your position, I’m not sure I want to find out how they will react to a human”—she mocked Ruth perfectly on the word—“Enforcer.”
“There will be shock and dissent, I will not lie to you about that, little flower.” He stroked his thumb over her cheek soothingly as he spoke. “Nonetheless, I have faith in my community. We are intelligent, devoted to the idea of fate, and structured soundly on our philosophies and prophecies, however distasteful they can be to us. We will adapt.”
It wasn’t until he said it that he realized he meant it. Felt it. He also realized that he was now talking of the prophecy as a foregone conclusion. It startled him that it felt so much more natural to him to accept it than it had felt to argue it with Noah. The conviction must have come through, because he felt her relax. She unthinkingly rubbed her lips and nose into his palm as her brows drew down in thought. It was one of the things that he enjoyed about her, the way she mulled things over thoroughly and without prejudice. It was what made her so exceptional, and he didn’t need a prophecy to tell him that.
“Why would your people need two Enforcers? From what I gather, you do a fine job all on your own. You don’t need me.”
“That is not entirely true,” he remarked, his voice quiet and compelling. He did need her. He had needed her for a very long time. It was something he was only now beginning to understand. All the same, he couldn’t say the words aloud, couldn’t pressure her with his personal desires. If she chose this path, he didn’t want to be the reason why. At least, not the only reason.
When he didn’t elaborate any further, Isabella decided to let the matter drop for the moment. She didn’t see it the way he did yet, but perhaps in time she would.
“Do you think it’s true? Do you think I’m the one from the prophecy? And if so, can you tell me why you think it?”
“I thought I already did. It caused you to take a header into the floor, as I recall.” His voice was filled with regret over that fact, his fingertip touching the bandage that covered her cut.
Bella lifted her hand to the bandage and felt around. It was a little sore but not as painful as she would have expected. She tugged at the covering, not knowing how badly she had been cut. She pulled it off before Jacob’s protest could stop her.
Instantly, the air around them changed. It started with Jacob going very, very still, tension pulling his previously relaxed body into a hard wall of muscle. His eyes were trained on her face, and he was clearly holding his breath.
“What? Is it bad?” She went to touch, instinctively.
“It was. It was a bad cut, Bella.” He could barely speak. It was as if he could not say it aloud for fear it would make it untrue. “But it has healed. Except for a fresh scar and some bruising, your cut has healed.”
“Really? Jeez, how long was I out for?”
“Only a few hours.”
“Oh.” She drew her bottom lip between her teeth, nibbling it for a long minute as she looked into his darkly unsettled eyes. “This is significant to you, isn’t it?”
“Have you always healed this fast?”
“No, of course not. I heal like an average human being.”
“No longer,” he remarked. “Now you heal like one of us.”
He didn’t say another word. Instead, he reached for the buttons of her blouse, his long, dark fingers manipulating the soft satin with such ease that she was unbuttoned to just below her breasts before she could even blink. Then he reached for her collar, sliding the seams between his fingers as he pushed the material back and exposed the whole of her shoulder.
Jacob’s eyes, so black and so clearly haunted by his feelings, fell to the place where he had so purposefully marked her the day before. His thumb reached to slide over her pale, perfect skin, seeking for even the slightest bruise or ragged irregularity in the place he made his brutish mark upon her body.
“Yes, you do,” he observed at last, letting himself look back up into her expectant eyes.
“Why? How? Are you, like… contagious or something?”
“I do not think so,” Jacob said, a small smile appearing. “We have spent prolonged periods of time around humans for centuries and this has never happened.”
“Well, then maybe I’m not your average human.”
“This much I can vouch for with all certainty,” he said softly, reaching to kiss the newly healed spot on her shoulder.
“Flatterer,” she said, closing her eyes as his lips touched and lingered on her bare skin. She felt the kiss all the way through her body, her skin flaming and her breasts instantly aching at his nearness. “What I mean is,” she managed to say with a low and breathless voice she hardly recognized, “maybe I should do a genealogy chart and see if I have any Druid ancestors.”
“It would not be something you would find advertised, considering that your ancestors were probably hiding from us. This was not one of our more glorious moments in history, to punish and make extinct an entire race.” Jacob sighed, the sound reflecting the depth of his regret.
“Well, you didn’t do it, your ancestors did. All you can do is repair the mistake to the best of your ability. If your race is going to overcome the moon madness, you have to find Druids, however watered down they may be by now, and reintroduce them into your lives and culture. At least, that’s how I read it.”
“Noah sees it the same way,” Jacob agreed. “But that will mean bringing humans into our world, because it was apparently the humans they hid behind. That they bred with. If you are any example, I mean. If indeed you are a Druidic descendant.” Jacob closed his eyes then and groaned. He rolled back away from her, lying back on his pillow and reaching to rub the bridge of his nose as if he suddenly had a bad headache.
“Bella, when this gets out… if the need for Druids is true and accepted… if humans are where the Druids hid, it is going to be like an open season on your race. Sweet Destiny, I can see it now. ‘But, Jacob, I thought she was a Druid.’ How the hell am I supposed to handle this?”
“Oh dear,” Isabella murmured, catching his drift quite clearly. Her heart ached to see him in distress. She could feel his alarm and concern for the future well-being of her race. “But, Jacob, what if nature has already compensated for that? With me.” Jacob turned his head to look at her, his fathomless eyes training on her with a mixture of slow understanding, as well as hope. “I have”—she cleared her throat of the emotions that she felt in response to those in his eyes—“I’ve come to help you, Jacob.”
Isabella felt within her spirit the powerful reaction he had to her words, to the understanding that such a truth could change him forever. She broke into a part of him she had never fully touched before, feeling the canyon of loneliness that had come with his long life. It stretched behind him, littered with the deaths of friends and family who couldn’t survive the enemies of their world, who had left him alone to the cold acceptance of being a pariah for his people. What was more, he had never fully shared his feelings about the depths of his isolation with anyone.
Isabella realized that no one knew. No one knew how lonely the Enforcer truly was, save herself, and she only because she could touch his mind. And now, as he faced what she was suggesting, he was devastated with fear for her. He did not want her to live the life he lived.
But Bella saw it differently. She felt a rush of delight and smiled at him brightly.
“Wow. I’m like… Wonder Woman!” She scrambled up onto her knees in the bed, bouncing on the mattress a little in her excitement. She placed her hands on her hips and struck a pose. “You know, fighting for truth, justice and the… the Demon way.”
“I thought that was Superman,” he noted dryly.
“Shut up.” She dismissed him with a crooked grin. “I’m having a moment here. You know, I could lose the whole hunting and killing part of this, what with the yuck factor that comes with that.” She shuddered from head to toe theatrically. “But I’m totally digging the special powers. I wonder how come they’re only showing up now?”
“I wish I could answer that. I am as baffled as you are,” he said.
“Well, the first time I noticed anything was in the library after—” She made an awkward dodge, clearly to spare him his guilt, but Jacob felt it like a smarting slap all the more. “When I could suddenly read your language.”
“No, earlier than that,” he said quietly. “Just after you fell out of the window, you were assaulted by your empathy with Saul. Remember?”
“Oh yes. Then that was the first time. Right after you caught me.” She gave a wry little laugh. “Maybe it’s you after all. Maybe you are contagious.” Isabella noticed his brow shoot up in sudden contemplation. “Oh no, you don’t. It was just a joke,” she said hastily. “I won’t listen to you say what you’re thinking.”
“It would only be guesswork,” he reminded her with a troublemaking grin tripping across his lips.
“Well, stop guessing,” she commanded, punctuating the demand by leaning across him so she could punch his shoulder.
“You certainly are a bossy little thing,” he observed, purposely reaching out to cup her shoulder in his hand, preventing her from leaving her position across his body before he wanted her to. He ached to feel her, in any way possible. There could be no harm in a little innocent exchange of body heat.
“Yeah, well, I’m regretting ever letting you catch me that night,” she huffed, taking no notice of his machinations as she blew back her hair in that charming habit she had. It was an invitation he could not resist. His hands crept into her gorgeous hair, the luxuriant strands settling between his fingers.
“Hey, sweetheart, it was either me or the concrete. One of us had to do it.”
“At this point I’m thinking the concrete would’ve been less painful… and less complicated.”
Jacob knew she was being a brat, trying to tease and be funny, but her comment struck a sore chord in him. “Has it been?” he asked, seriousness flooding his voice. “Have we been painful for you? Have… have I hurt you, Bella?”
Isabella quieted, looking down into those solemn dark eyes from her position atop him, knowing that her answer would be vital to him. As was her way, she thought carefully for a long minute about her response. He would get the truth, as he always had.
“Only once,” she admitted softly. She felt his fingers curl tightly into fists in her hair. It touched her that he was so concerned for her. “But not the way you’re thinking, Jacob. It was that time, in the library… ”
“Then it is what I am thinking. Damn, Isabella, I am so sorry.”
“Jacob, listen to me. It wasn’t what you did.” She turned her head away, a flush staining her cheeks. Unable to look in his eyes, she confessed to him, “It was what you didn’t do. It was… when you stopped.”
Her face was so hot by that point that she could imagine she was as red as a ruby, but she had needed to answer him honestly. Jacob was motionless beneath her, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him, not having the first idea of how her bold declaration would be received. She was outspoken when it came to the things she was certain of, but this was all new territory for her. She couldn’t even feel him breathing.
Then, just as suddenly, he was hurtling himself off the bed, dumping her off his body, leaving her to bounce on the mattress. Perplexed, Isabella scooped up the hair that had fallen over her face and threw it back behind her. Her sight restored, she saw Jacob pacing the length of the room, his hands running raggedly through his own hair.
“Isabella. Do not speak,” he barked.
Isabella’s feathers ruffled. She crashed both hands onto her hips. “Well, I’m sorry you find what I have to say so damn offensive! Excuse the hell out of me! I promise it won’t happen again!”
Fighting back tears, unwilling to make any more of a fool of herself, Isabella scrambled off the bed and marched for the door. She grabbed the knob and jerked, but nothing happened. She checked the lock, all too aware this was ruining an excellent exit, and tried again. The door remained stuck. Isabella couldn’t suppress the sob aching to escape her chest much longer and she stomped her foot in frustration. If she hadn’t been so furious, she might have realized Jacob had come up behind her. As it was, she jumped nearly a foot into the air when he touched her shoulder.