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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
“You best go,” Abram said.
“Consider me—” There was an explosion of smoke and sulfur that left the Elder waving his magazine frantically.
“Gone,” Abram finished with an amused sigh.
Isabella scented the telltale odor of sulfur about thirty minutes later. She cocked her head, and Jacob looked up at her from his position on the bed near her sister. Bella was hovering in the doorway, unable to bear being out of sight of Corrine. Gideon had decided it would be safe enough where she stood for now.
She was confused, though, and she crinkled her eyes and shook her head at Jacob.
“Incoming,” he informed her, identifying her premonition for what it was.
Still, she wasn’t prepared for the mighty burst of smoke and sulfur that took place right behind her, suffocating her in a cloud so that she waved her hands frantically. She saw a handsome young male she’d never met before in the epicenter of the disturbance, but instantly recognized how much he looked like Jacob.
“Isabella, back away from him this instant,” Gideon said. “You are too strong for Kane. He needs his power at full strength in order to most quickly aid your sister.”
Isabella nodded, swallowing hard and feeling so terribly cold as she obeyed. To think that she was a hindrance in any way to her sister’s well-being left her chest feeling heavy with dread. She was loath to leave Corrine’s side but knew she had no choice. She allowed Jacob to take her under his arm and lead her from the room. He led her to a couch in the living room, seating himself and drawing her down into his lap. He cradled her and whispered soft, comforting thoughts into her mind. She clung to him, weeping quietly.
“Stop, Bella. I know you’re blaming yourself. I hear it.”
“I can’t help it. For so many days I’ve known the greatest happiness of my life, and while I was so selfishly enjoying it, my sister lay here alone… dying. I can’t bear it.”
“You could not have known.”
“I should’ve realized! I’m supposed to be so smart! I should’ve realized that anyone related to me was probably as much Druid as I was! How could I be so stupid?”
“All of us who heard you talk of her dozens of times over these past days ought to have realized it as well. It was an understandable oversight, Bella. How were you to know she had met a Demon the very same night that you did? Sweetheart, I was there. As soon as I realized the implications of all Gideon had told us, I should have hunted down every human I had ‘saved’ from Demons this month and made sure none were Druids. I could do nothing for those in the past, but I certainly could save those in this recent season.”
“How many, Jacob? How many are out there now, withering away like Corrine?”
“There could be none, or there could be at least a dozen.” He unexpectedly put her aside, unable to be still all of a sudden, standing up and pacing the room. “And I dread to say I hardly ever pay attention to the humans I protect. I am usually far more focused on the Demon involved. I do not know if I would even know how to go about finding them.”
Isabella stood up, reaching for his arm, stilling his frustrated pace.
“You don’t, but I bet the Demons involved in the enforcing won’t have forgotten who they had broken such sacred laws for.”
Jacob looked down into her serious violet eyes, a sensation of relief washing over him. He pulled her palm up to his lips, kissing it with the intensity of his relief.
You must go, my love, and make these things right.
You need me.
“Please, Jacob, find them and be certain no one is suffering like my sister is. They’re sisters and brothers of other people. Please, go and find them.”
He could only nod. He was so overwhelmed by her selflessness, and yet she saw herself as having been entirely selfish. He cradled the back of her head with one broad hand, pulling her to his mouth and kissing her soft and deep.
“I love you, little flower,” he whispered fiercely. “I will make this right for you.”
“I know you will,” she agreed confidently.
Kane didn’t understand what was happening as he stepped into the strange bedroom. He didn’t see his surroundings at first because his bemused eyes had followed his brother’s back out of the room. Jacob hadn’t said so much as hello but had merely pushed past him to drag a small, dark-haired woman into his arms. Kane turned to look at Gideon and took an unsteady breath. He’d never been within five feet of the Ancient before, and he couldn’t understand what he could possibly want from him. Normally, he’d have been reading minds left and right, taking the shortcut to the answers he wanted, but he had no hope of getting past the Ancient’s defenses. The dark-haired woman was a negative space, as if she weren’t even there, and Jacob would have smacked him upside his head for even thinking about trying to use his power on him.
Kane laughed softly to himself. It was strange but, despite his apprehension at meeting the Ancient Demon who stood there looking all stern and implacable, it was the most relaxed he’d felt in days. That feeling, like he was crawling to escape his own skin, was easing by quick degrees, and he sighed with the relief. “So what is it?” Kane asked at last.
“The next time you are called,” the Ancient said in a low, flat voice, his mercury eyes glittering with disapproval, “I suggest you make more haste.”
“I know, but there was this little house-arrest thing I had to deal with,” he said dryly.
Gideon’s response was to lift a brow and then take a very purposeful step to his left, revealing the woman who was lying in the bed.
Kane sucked in a stuttering breath, making himself cough. She was pale as death, even a little gray, clearly emaciated of life and energy, but there was no mistaking the wild coils of long, red hair and the shape of the face that would be burned on him forever.
“What the hell is this?” he asked hoarsely, his dark blue eyes so much like Jacob’s when glittering with outrage. His heart began to pound violently from just being in the same room with her.
“This,” Gideon introduced with a sweep of his hand, “is Corrine.”
“I know her name,” Kane snapped. He tore his eyes away from Corrine’s heart-shaped face, still beautiful in spite of her obvious illness.
“She is Isabella’s sister,” Gideon explained for his confusion. “And she will one day become your family. However, not because Isabella will wed your brother.”
Kane opened his mouth to ask for a clarification, but suddenly he knew.
He just knew.
He stepped closer to the bed, part of him still expecting Jacob to appear, to set him back on his ass as he had the first time. He could hardly breathe as he reached with shaking fingers to pick up the frail hand lying above the covers. Her fingers were long, graceful, her nails lengthy and manicured to perfection. He could see the outline of her bones through her translucent skin and his face contorted with pain to see it; his throat closed up with a rush of emotion like he was sure he’d never felt before.
“She still has a choice to make. This is not a foregone conclusion, you understand, Kane?” The lecture was soft and serious in his ear. “She will not love you until you win her. But before that can happen, my young friend, you must help her to become well. Come. Sit. Be patient. All will be revealed in time.”
Kane obeyed the great Ancient without a word.
Isabella was pacing the floor when a sudden rush of wind blew past her. There was a loud thump behind her, and she whirled around to see Elijah lying in an indignant heap on the floor.
“Damn it, that was stupid,” he muttered.
Despite her worry, Isabella could not help the giggle that escaped her as the giant gained his feet and dusted off his backside.
“I am sorry, Elijah.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s not your fault. I got too close.” He gave her a sheepish grin. “Are you okay? Jacob told me to come to you. What’s going on?”
She gave him a quick rundown of the situation. To her surprise, Elijah came closer to her and draped an arm over her shoulders.
“Don’t you worry about a thing, Bella. Gideon prides himself on having never lost a patient.”
“Elijah, how old are you?” she asked suddenly. “You don’t act like any of the other Demons I have come to know. I don’t mean this as an insult, but you act practically human. I mean, the only time I see you act with the same air of formality and reverence as the others has been during Council.”
“Actually, I am five hundred and seventy-six years old. Outside of Gideon, Jacob, Noah, and I are the eldest Demons alive.”
“What happened to your parents? Jacob’s parents?” Isabella wondered why the question had never occurred to her before. And watching the way Elijah lowered his eyes and went a little pale, she realized it was a significant query.
“Well, let’s just say that the last time there were necromancers existing en masse, they did a fair share of damage. My parents, Noah’s father, and Jacob’s father were Summoned at various stages over the past few hundred years. Jacob’s mother didn’t live very long after giving birth to Kane. I know I’m not much like the others. I guess after my parents were taken, I got a little fast and loose with all the seriousness of our culture.”
“I suppose I can understand that. Thank you for sharing this with me. I can imagine it isn’t an easy thing to talk about.”
“Made more difficult by knowing necromancers have returned. But it is my hope that having you here is a good portent. Maybe this time we won’t be so easily victimized, if we’re blessed with Druids as good in their hearts and intentions as you are.”
“I hope that is true, Elijah. But knowing humans as I do, I realize being a Druid won’t necessarily make them a good person.”
“This is true of any race, Bella. You only need to look at those like Ruth to see that,” he said with a wink.
“You’re incorrigible, Elijah.” Isabella paused for a long moment. “Elijah, tell me something. How do necromancers learn what your true names are if so few people are privy to the information?”
“Well, I’m ashamed to say that it could be considered our own fault. Before we kept the ritual secret, we used to record names and births. Somewhere along the line, the necromancers procured a list of births. The devastation won’t soon be forgotten. Gideon was the only Ancient to survive the slaughter. Jacob, Noah, and I are three out of only three dozen remaining Elders.
“I have no idea how the necromancers obtained the first Demon’s name this time around. I suspect it was Lucas, because he was Siddah to Saul and the others who are missing. No doubt in his torment he revealed their names. You see, a Siddah—”
“Jacob told me. I know what Siddah are. Was Lucas Siddah to anyone else? Did he have children whose names he might reveal?”
“Lucas has two blood daughters.” Elijah looked away, tugging at a loose thread of the couch’s fabric. “And he was considered a great teacher among us. He was Siddah to a great many others.”
“Oh no. Elijah,” Isabella breathed, “how can you possibly protect them?”
“We can’t. Each one of them realizes they may be the next to go.”
“This is horrible,” Isabella choked. “All of this time you’ve known this? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“To what end, Bella? There’s nothing you can do. All we can do is begin to hunt for the bastards.”
Isabella absorbed his words quietly, gazing at the pattern of the wooden floor for a long minute while he watched her.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I just feel so useless. I’m an enormous hindrance to anyone I come close to. I don’t like it.”
“It’s a frustration we all go through, Bella. I know exactly how you’re feeling. All of us do.”
“Elijah.” She contemplated him for a long minute, mischief lighting up her eyes. “You know, I’m forced to wonder if there isn’t a smart-mouthed Druid female out there somewhere with your name tattooed on her genes.”
She laughed when he gave her a horrified expression.
“There’s no reason to be mean,” he retorted. “I promise you this, little Enforcer, there isn’t a Demon or Druid woman anywhere on this planet who could convince me I’d be better off with her. You’d be wasting your time trying to play matchmaker for me.”
Any response Isabella would have made was cut off by the sound of the bedroom door finally opening. She hurried to broach Gideon.
“Is she okay?”
“She will be after a few days of constant exposure to Kane,” he responded. “I do not expect she will awaken until then, but she is out of danger. She has displayed a remarkable fortitude, Enforcer. Usually it takes far less time to cause this level of damage. Perhaps it is because her contact with Kane was so brief.”
Isabella bit her lip, chewing it apprehensively for a moment. “I suppose this means she and Kane… are… like Jacob and me?”
“It is no great curiosity, Druid. Jacob and Kane are of a similar genetic make-up, just as you and your sister are. It stands to reason that if Jacob and you are complementary, then your siblings are very likely complementary to one another as well.”
“She will miss the ceremony,” Isabella said regretfully.
“But she will live to see her own.”
Isabella nodded. She could very easily live with that.
Jacob filtered softly into the room, entering by the window that had spit Isabella out, tossing her into his life like a shower of precious gold. He coalesced into his natural form, looking around the sunlit room slowly until he found her. She was curled up on the couch, shivering a little in her sleep because the cold October day was seeping in through the open window just as he had. Tonight the moon would be full at last. It would be the first Hallowed moon he would be spending as an Imprinted mate and an end to the hundreds of vacant, lonely nights beforehand. Tonight he would take his mate to wife.