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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
I love you too, Jacob.
Her lashes fluttered up as the thought filled his head and heart. He smiled down into her eyes.
“I did not mean to wake you,” he murmured.
“Then you’d have to become someone else, Jacob, because I’m fairly certain I’m always aware of your presence when you’re close to me.”
“Not for the wide world, little flower. I am quite content to be exactly who I am and to be greatly blessed with exactly who you are.”
He touched his mouth to hers reverently. She smiled beneath his lips, waiting for him to pull back again so she could search his face more thoroughly.
“You look exhausted.”
“I am a Nightwalker, little flower. We were never meant to be out in the day.”
“Did you find them all? Please, tell me.”
“Yes. All from this month. Gideon said that just the past two weeks would be enough, but I would rather be thorough, considering what was at stake.”
“Were there any Druids?”
“Just one, Bella.”
She didn’t need him to tell her what had happened, it was written all over his drawn face and crushing thoughts.
“Oh no… ” Tears sprang into her eyes and she sat up and drew him into her arms as tightly as she could. “Oh, Jacob.”
He was silent and still as he let her try to comfort him. The Druid they had lost was a male, and the Demon he had ignorantly punished for finding her mate was the young daughter of none other than Councillor Ruth.
Ruth had never been considered even a neutral acquaintance, but this incident had most certainly made her a powerful enemy. As a consequence, she would now be a powerful enemy for Isabella as well. Their future wouldn’t be an easy one, and it weighed heavily on him. In his conscience he struggled with the wisdom of making her a part of his life, and thereby a target to his enemies, both abroad and domestic, but in his heart he knew that he could never deprive himself of her sweet closeness, and logically he couldn’t deprive her of his. He’d seen proof of that this very day.
Jacob didn’t often find himself afraid, but he was when he considered what would happen to Bella should something happen to him.
“Jacob,” she whispered softly in his ear, her small fingers sliding silkily through the hair on the back of his neck. “Jacob, physiology aside, how could my heart ever survive the loss of you?”
Jacob swore softly.
“So much for respecting the privacy of my thoughts,” he teased half-heartedly.
“You’re projecting, just as we both do when something affects us deeply.” She pulled her head back, seeking his dark, troubled eyes. “But you have to stop trying to hide frightening truths from me, Jacob. Don’t you trust me to be able to handle it? To be able to help you come to grips with it? I don’t just want to be your partner because it was chosen by Destiny that we be so. I want to be your other half no matter what happens, Jacob, and I will settle for nothing less. For good and evil, for joy and sadness. These are all part of life, and you can’t think to protect me from it all.”
“I can damn well try,” he said stubbornly, touching his forehead to hers as he frowned deeply. “What mate in his right mind would willingly want to expose his other half to danger and threat?”
“One who learns to trust her abilities to fight by his side if need be, just as she trusts him to be strong and protective. You once said you could accept that I was born to fight by your side. Has that changed?”
“No, Bella. I can accept it. But you have to forgive me if I find it harder to accept in some moments than in others.”
“Of course,” she said softly, brushing her mouth over his comfortingly. “I understand that. But I began to live the moment I met you in all the ways I was meant to live; it’s only fitting that this life ends the moment you leave me. I’m determined, Jacob, that this won’t happen for many, many centuries.” She smiled gently, her eyes lighting up with tender, bright humor. “It could very well be that, in those future centuries, you’ll come to be completely bored with all the things that seem so charming right now. Quite frankly, I’m a pain in the ass.”
“I assure you,” Jacob responded with a chuckle as he gathered her tightly to his chest, “I am well aware of that.”
Isabella giggled, hugging him tightly as she rubbed her face against the fabric of his shirt.
Isabella exhaled, her breath clouding on the chill of the night air. She fidgeted with the long ribbons Legna had wound down the length of her arm in a crisscross pattern, the ends at her wrist dangling in two long, silky coils.
“Stop fussing,” Legna admonished her, tapping her finger against Isabella’s absently energetic hand.
“I’m getting married in a few minutes, Legna, I think I’ve a right to fuss.” Isabella felt her heart turn over as she spoke aloud, listening to herself talk about her impending marriage.
“Well, brides are supposed to be blushing, as I understand it. At the moment you are no less than five shades of gray.” Legna continued with her interrupted weaving of more ribbons in Isabella’s hair. “And as much as it matches the silver of your dress, I think you would look better with a little natural color.” Legna reached to smooth down a portion of the shimmering silver fabric that draped off of the bride’s shoulders in a Grecian fashion. “You know,” she pressed, “there are only two nights in a year when Demons perform a joining ceremony. Samhain and Beltane. If you pass out tonight, you will have to wait until next spring.”
“Thanks for the bulletin. You’re too kind,” Isabella retorted dryly.
“Actually, purely out of kindness, I will tell you that your future husband is just shy of tossing his cookies himself, so you can take comfort in knowing he is just as nervous as you are.”
“Legna!” Bella laughed. “You’re a wretch!” She turned to look at the female Demon, briefly admiring how pretty she looked in her soft white chiffon gown. “And how would you know? You’re standing too close to me to be able to sense his emotions.”
“Because when I went to fetch the ribbons, he was seated next to Noah with his head between his knees.” Legna giggled. “I have never seen anything rattle Jacob before. I cannot help but find it amusing.”
Isabella smiled wanly, rubbing at the ache in her forehead.
“Tell me something, Legna, how do you filter through all of this?”
“All of what?”
“All this emotion. I think I can feel everything anyone is feeling in a five-mile radius.”
“Well, I am just used to it, I guess. I discard all the useless stuff and block out what disturbs me. Believe me, it took quite a few years for me to perfect the barriers I use to do so. Do you need me to move away? Will that help?”
“No, please. You are the only thing keeping me on my feet at present. It’s… It’s becoming sort of like a background music.”
“I find it interesting that my empathy affects you without any effort on your part, but when you absorb powers from the males you have to actually concentrate to use it.”
“Or be panicked,” Isabella reminded wryly. “But you’re right. Perhaps it’s because, like my abilities, the nature of yours isn’t how to bring it on, but how to shut it off. Jacob and Noah and the other males have to concentrate to use their abilities, you have to concentrate to not use yours.”
“Not all. Teleportation takes a great deal of concentration.”
“Well, then that explains why I’m still here, instead of popping up in Peru all of a sudden.”
Legna laughed at that, giving Isabella’s hair a final pat. Legna stepped back and made a sound of approval. “There, you are all finished. You look lovely, Isabella.”
“Thank you,” she replied, nervously touching her hair to feel Legna’s intricate work. “And, Legna, thank you so much for standing up with me. It should be Corrine’s place, but she’s so ill. And, anyway, you’ve always been so kind and generous toward me. This means a great deal to me.”
“It means a great deal to me too,” Legna insisted, reaching to squeeze one of Isabella’s hands. “I am honored you feel me worthy to take the place of your sister.”
“Oh, Legna, you are beyond worthy. I’m very happy that we’re becoming good friends. I was so afraid you’d never want to get within a ten-foot radius of me after what happened.”
“Trust me, if I told you some of the goof-ups I made as a youngster, you would laugh yourself silly.” She smiled warmly and gave Isabella’s hand one last squeeze. “Enough of this. Are you ready?”
“Yes. Now, tell me again why I’m freezing my ass off in the middle of the woods?”
“Because it is tradition. Your mate must find you and then carry you to the altar. Seeking you out is symbolic of his desire to let nothing come between you. Bringing you to the altar is a reflection of how it is his duty to help you over obstacles so that you may reach moments of joy together.”
“It’s very romantic,” Isabella said, “if a little chauvinistic.”
“Not in the least. The sharing of responsibility within a joining is symbolized just as strongly. The bride must tie the handfasting ribbon around her mate’s wrist. The white ribbon symbolizes honesty and love and fidelity, and by allowing himself to be so tied means the groom must provide for her at all times, as she will provide for him. The black is a promise that they will forever do all in their power to protect their union, their children, and the perpetuation of the essentials of our culture.”
“But you’ve tied a red ribbon to the end of the black, Legna. What does that mean?”
“Actually”—the Demon woman smiled—“there is no precedent for the red ribbon. However, I felt it only fair to have a physical reminder that you have a culture of your own and will have just as much right to perpetuate that within your children as Jacob does.”
“Legna,” Isabella giggled, giving her an admonishing look, “that is positively rebellious and feminist of you.”
“I never claimed to be an old-fashioned girl,” Legna confided with a wink. “Now, I must go and tell Jacob that you are ready and awaiting his arrival.” She bent to give Isabella an affectionate kiss on the cheek. “Good luck. I wish you joy.”
“Thank you so much, Legna.”
The Demon woman smiled, then turned and dashed off. After she was out of sight, the sound of her breaking through the brush disappeared altogether and a soft breeze carried the scent of sulfur to Isabella.
Relieved to be free of Legna’s empathic abilities, Isabella sat back against the large boulder that rested near the tall pines closest to her. She fussed with her dress and ribbons for a moment and then wrapped her arms around herself to conserve body heat. It was an awfully cold night, and if it were not only October, she would swear she scented snow in the air. She exhaled, playing with her breath in the cold air, making clouds of various thickness and speed with it.
“Damn it, Jacob, I’m freezing my butt off.”
“I came as fast as I could, considering I thought it would be wise to walk the last few yards.”
Isabella whirled around, her smiling face lighting up the silvery night with more ease than the fullest of moons. She leapt up into his embrace, eagerly drinking in his body heat and affection.
“I can see it now. ‘Daddy, tell me about your wedding day.’ ‘Well, son,’” she mocked, deepening her voice to his timbre and reflecting his accent uncannily, “‘The first words out of your mother’s mouth were I’m freezing my butt off!’”
“Very romantic, don’t you think?” he teased. “So, you think it will be a boy, then? Our first child?”
“Well, I’m fifty percent sure,” she laughed.
“Wise odds. Come, little flower, I intend to marry you before the hour is up.” With that, he scooped her off her feet and carried her high against his chest. “Unfortunately, we are going to have to do this hike the hard way.”
“As Legna tells it, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Yeah, well, I assure you a great many grooms have fudged that a little.” He reached to tuck her chilled face into the warm crook of his neck.
“Surely the guests would know. It takes longer to walk than it does to fly… or whatever… out of the woods.”
“This is true, little flower. But passing time in the solitude of the woods is not necessarily a difficult task for a man and woman about to be married.”
“Jacob!” she gasped, laughing.
“Some traditions are not necessarily publicized,” he teased.
“You people are outrageous.”
“Mmm, and if I had the ability to turn to dust right now, would you tell me no if I asked to… pass time with you?”
Isabella shivered, but it was the warmth of his whisper and intent, not the cold, that made her do so.
“Have I ever said no to you?”
“No, but now would be a good time to start, or we will be late to our own wedding,” he chuckled.
“How about no… for now?” she asked silkily, pressing her lips to the column of his neck beneath his long, loose hair.