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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“I know,” Jacob murmured, his face turned away, his eyes on the moon outside that loomed nearly full in the window.
Jacob would never have to fear the luring temptations of that Hallowed condition again, Gideon thought. Even now the medic felt the persistent clawing of talons of compulsion along the pathways of his mind. He wondered, for a brief moment, what it would feel like to live free of that disorienting threat to one’s sanity. The Ancient had spent the past years studying ways to keep his inner peace during these holy times. It could be pushed aside, averted, ignored even, but it would never fully be expelled.
The Imprinting was the only cure.
But there was a catch. On the nights of the Samhain and Beltane full moons, an Imprinted pair would be driven to each other in single-minded sexual need, a desperation that wouldn’t be ignored. This was why, historically, an Enforcer was forced to retire if he or she ever became Imprinted. How could they be vigilant on the two worst nights of the year for Demon madness when they were obsessed with their mate on those same nights? Even now Jacob sat and didn’t move to go from his mate’s side.
Gideon had maintained his silence on this matter, keeping it from the Council, thinking that by having a mated pair both as Enforcers, this might somehow work to their advantage instead, hoping that he’d not have to be the cause of robbing Jacob of everything that he’d lived for these last four centuries of his life.
“Jacob, you must leave here.” Jacob looked at the Ancient so quickly that Gideon heard his neck crack loudly. He met the level of censure that was instantly in the Enforcer’s blackening eyes. “She does not need your constant nearness this night. She is already completely healed, and natural sleep will suffice to replenish her energy stores until you return at the showing of the sun.”
The Enforcer didn’t respond. Instead he turned away again to simply gaze at Isabella’s prettily resting face.
“Jacob… ” Gideon tried again. “Jacob, you cannot sit here until she wakes. You have other duties to perform this night.”
“The night is over,” Jacob said coldly.
“Three hours hence. You must make sure—”
“Do not presume to tell me what I must and must not do!” Jacob roared, lurching to his feet with fisted hands, kicking away his chair so violently that it was crushed against the far wall, splintering into little bits. “Do not dare tell me how and when I must perform my duties! You know well enough how I excel at my obligations, Ancient!”
Gideon’s chilled eyes didn’t even blink at the violent slapdown. The metallic gleam of his pupils drifted to the tattered remains of Jacob’s chair and then back again to its former occupant.
“You do not yet comprehend the intensity of the joining you have entered, Jacob. Fairy tales and long-ago memories of Noah’s parents cannot prepare you for knowing what it truly means to be Imprinted.”
“Really? Would you care to tell Noah that?” Jacob smiled, all teeth and no humor or friendliness. It was the smile of a predator snapping at its prey, distracting it until it frightened it into making a mistake.
“Noah knows all too well the fortunes and misfortunes of the Imprinting. Living with Imprinted parents is far different than watching it from afar. And yet, you now know more than he does, more than he may ever know, about what it feels like to be so entwined into the presence and the need of another’s existence. It is imperative that you remember I know more about the history of this than you do and that you must trust my advice. Isabella can never become more important to you than your work.”
Jacob responded with an ancient slur, one that told the Ancient medic quite clearly what he thought of his observations. “This of course coming from one who was so sensitive to this connection a millennium ago,” Jacob hissed.
This time the Enforcer’s strike made a deep impact. It was only then that it occurred to Gideon that only one so diplomatic as Jacob could possibly be so equally and adeptly cruel with words.
“There is a law, Jacob, that removes the Enforcer from his duties once he becomes Imprinted.”
Though more direct than cruel, Gideon’s information made measurable impact on the other male.
“I have never—” Jacob choked.
“Yes, and you have never heard of Druids being mated to Demons either,” Gideon said impatiently. “Jacob, we were once companions, and so I say this as one who regrets that ever had to change. I am not saying that this law will still be put into effect, nor am I saying that anyone will even discover it exists. I am hoping that it will not until enough time has passed for you… for you to prove that it no longer applies as a necessary thing.”
Jacob’s left fist uncurled, his fingers flexing and stretching in agitation.
“But if only one Demon slips past your guard now, if only one human is harmed, especially in the wake of the fast-spreading news about Druids, the ramifications will be swift and painful. Law or no, I do not think you could live with the guilt of such a thing. You have never failed, just as your brother before you never failed. Do not risk damnation when happiness is so close for you.”
“I never should have left her,” Jacob confessed in a sudden rush, his hand picking Isabella’s up blindly, clutching it against his outer thigh. “She should have been my first priority.”
“She was. Or were you and Elijah just joyriding up in the clouds when you left her?”
“Damn it, Gideon! You are really beginning to piss me off.”
“What an eloquent human phrase,” Gideon remarked. “I can see it has not taken long for her to influence you.”
“Influence me? Gideon, she is me. And every part of myself is her. But you do not get that, do you? If you had, you would have never been a part of the atrocity our people visited on the Druids.” Finally Jacob turned his eyes on Isabella, the moonlight striking his profile with power. “I pray I live to see the moment when you discover what it means to find the other half of your essence in a delicate and beautiful creature like my Isabella. I live for the moment you learn to regret the platitudes you so sanctimoniously try to inflict upon me.” Jacob tore his bottomless black eyes from his sleeping soul and looked at the medic. “Do you know what makes me Enforcer, and no other?”
“You were elected so by Noah.”
“As my brother before me was. Elected, as my grandfathers and a dozen ancestors before me were. It is said that this is the only throne in the Demon world which carries a direct biological ascension. There is something in the blood of my family that predestines us as Enforcers. When Adam was elected, I thought I would never be called. I was quite… quite different back when he lived.”
“It was a long time ago, Jacob. We were all quite different then.”
“I was two hundred years old or so.” Jacob laughed once, very softly, as he remembered that. “I was my mother’s youngest, her baby no matter how old I grew. I was spoiled, bordering on indolent, and I believe I rather had a knack for practical jokes at the time.” The recollection made him smile with a one-sided grin that took the ages out of his eyes.
“We were at war with the Vampires,” Gideon added solemnly. “You became quite an impressive bounty hunter.”
“Thrills and glory,” Jacob explained. He smiled again, looking suddenly sly. “And women,” he whispered, as if Bella might hear him. “I was not yet tired of women then.” He sighed, his humor fading. “Then Adam was suddenly gone, without explanation, and we understood that he had died… and I understood that I would be asked to take his place.” Jacob came to his point and looked at the Ancient to make it. “I have never once missed a catch. I will never, as long as I live, let a Demon transgress against another species, and I will never allow one of us who has transgressed upon another of our own race to escape justice. This is my calling. It is all I know and all I will ever be suited for. Neither law nor love can take it away. Only death. My law, current law as we know it, says only death will separate this Enforcer from his anointed position. If you ever speak of this other law to another, it will give those who hate me on the Council, which is definitely a majority, cause to remove me. Kane is not ready, Gideon. Only he has those special instincts born into our family that make us succeed as Enforcers.”
“A genetic anomaly,” Gideon mused, instantly looking into the Enforcer for the mark he spoke of.
“Yes. One that sends a sensation through my mind the instant a Demon begins to step over the line of reason in his thoughts. It is like a broadcast, and I am the only one alive who can hear it… feel it. Why do you think it is that I always know? I only use my elemental skills in the tracking and halting of the transgression. This is not commonly known, Gideon. Even you are having difficulty finding what you seek within me, though there is hardly a gene in the universe safe from your detection. If this were known, how long do you think I would live? How long do you think Bella would live, now that we have seen the same ability in her? What protects us is the idea that if one Enforcer dies, another will simply take his place. That the next will be no different than the last. There are those who would gladly assassinate me, and then my brother, to be freed of this, for we are the end of our line.
“So if I sit here for endless hours, it is because I feel no sense that I need to leave. If I stay, it is to protect the future of Demons, protect them from themselves. This woman… ” He again rubbed the hand he held against his hip. “This woman will one day give birth to my heir. The heir of my blood, the heir of my duty. So if I sit here and will her to live, to breathe, and to love me, it is because of my duty that I do so.” Jacob blinked eyes of flat, unemotional onyx at the medic. “And I do not think we will ever need to discuss this again, Gideon.”
There was no threat, and there was nothing but. Gideon understood. Jacob would feel none of the guilt he was often plagued with if he had to protect his family.
“I am grateful that you saved my life and those of the others whom I hold most dear, Gideon. I will owe you a great debt if there ever comes a time you would ask for it.”
“There is no question that I would always come to serve you, should you need me,” Gideon said quietly.
“I understand that. But”—Jacob’s mouth became grim—“I no longer understand you, my old friend. You have become a stranger to me. I always thought you a man of wisdom and benevolence, one who, like myself, could never bear to see an innocent harmed. I cannot believe that in all these years you never thought to tell Noah, who was searching unceasingly for a cure to our madness, that the cure had been obliterated with the Druids. Instead you let him hope, let us all hope. It was cruel and arrogant. Thoughtless. Unworthy of one so Ancient and revered.” Jacob shook his head in bafflement. “We have nothing in common anymore, Gideon, and I am sorry for that.”
Noah was the first to throw off Gideon’s formidable sleep suggestion, a testimony to the King’s awesome power. Still, it was a surprise to Jacob to see his monarch sitting in the quiet dark when he roused himself for the evening. Jacob went to Noah’s side, sitting himself across from the Fire Demon on top of the low coffee table.
“I did not expect to see you for another day,” he remarked, his voice clearly reflecting his relief.
“It is not in me to remain idle for long. My entire being is about manipulating energy. I would be a sorry example of our most powerful element if I could not draw energy from outside sources to replenish that which I have lost.” Noah’s expression remained bleak in spite of the effort to make the remark flippant. “Where is my sister?”
“She is here. Sleeping. Isabella as well.”
Noah seemed to stiffen suddenly, and Jacob felt a sensation of trepidation rush up under the skin of his belly.
“How long will she sleep?”
“Legna? Gideon says another day or two.”
“I meant the Druid.”
Now that definitely put Jacob on edge. Noah had always been the only one outside of himself to frequently give Isabella the respect of using her name, rather than referring to her in colder terms such as “the human” or “the Druid.”
“Noah, what happened?” Jacob asked, but suddenly he was not so eager for answers as he had been.
“I can give you no specifics. The speed at which the incident occurred was blinding. But I will tell you one thing I am positive of. Isabella nearly killed my sister and me.”
“What?” Jacob asked, his voice low and dangerous as his eyes narrowed defensively.
“We were setting up protective barriers, Legna and I. Isabella was spooked by what was happening. Naturally, she moved closer to those who were attempting to protect her. The moment she did… ” Noah paused, shaking his head in mute astonishment. “The drain on my energy was like nothing I have experienced in all of my life. It was as though someone had flicked off a light switch inside of me, shunting away every last molecule of my energy. I was… vacant, dead… blind and deaf and paralyzed toward a power I have commanded since the moment it first woke in me when I was eight years old.”
“Her dampening power awoke?”
“With a vengeance, my friend.”
“But if you and Legna were drained, how did you generate such a massive firewall?”
“I did not. Jacob, Isabella did not just dampen our abilities, she stole them from us. It was Isabella who generated the firewall. It was my energy and power she used to do it.”
“That’s impossible,” Jacob said hoarsely. He didn’t want to believe what Noah was telling him.
“Imagine, for a moment, the terror Isabella must have been feeling. I heard her cry out, saw her reacting with some kind of pain, pressing her hands to her head, and then suddenly every essence of power was sucked out of me and sent out in a massive explosion, of which she was the epicenter. I remember nothing after that. Clearly I should be thankful for it. Anything that can leave me healing for an entire day afterward should not be an experience I would enjoy remembering.”