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|Jacob(Nightwalkers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
putting his feet.
“If that is going to be your response, Bella, then I suggest you stop teasing me with that wicked little mouth of yours before I trip and land us both in the dirt.”
“Okay,” she agreed, her tongue touching his pulse.
“Jacob, I want to spend the entire night making love to you,” she murmured.
Jacob stopped in his tracks, taking a moment to catch his breath.
“Okay, why is it I always thought it was the groom who was supposed to be having lewd thoughts about the wedding night while the bride took the ceremony more seriously?”
“You started it,” she reminded him, laughing softly.
“I am begging you, Isabella, to allow me to leave these woods with a little of my dignity intact.” He sighed deeply, turning his head to brush his face over her hair. “It does not take much effort from you to turn me inside out and rouse my hunger for you. If there is much more of your wanton taunting, you will be flushed warm and rosy by the time we reach that altar, and our guests will not have to be Mind Demons in order to figure out why.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right.” She turned her face away from his neck.
Jacob resumed his ritual walk for all of thirty seconds before he stopped again.
“Bella… ” he warned dangerously.
“I’m sorry! It just popped into my head!”
“What am I getting myself into?” he asked aloud, sighing dramatically as he resumed his pace.
“Well, in about an hour, I hope it will be me.”
“What the hell is taking so long?” Elijah complained.
“Elijah, hush,” Legna admonished. “It is their joining. Let them be.”
Legna moved to snuggle up against her brother, allowing him to keep her warm as the three of them awaited the bride and her groom.
“Jacob! I swear if you don’t put me down this very instant I’m going to marry someone else!”
Isabella’s voice carried shrilly through the night, half annoyed, half laughing. The three waiting at the altar turned in unison to see the couple break from the tree line. Jacob had indeed carried his bride out of the woods, but he’d done so by slinging her over a shoulder, leaving her backside displayed prominently.
Elijah choked on a laugh and Legna released a horrified gasp. Noah reached to stay her from moving.
“Let it be, Legna. What did you expect from the two of them?”
Serves you right, you little tease.
Jacob, please! You’re embarrassing me!
And having me walk out of the woods in a state of arousal would not have embarrassed me?
I said I was sorry!
Was that before or after the mental striptease you sent me?
Isabella sighed with exasperation, and then giggled.
“You know, Emily Post is having heart failure right about now.”
“Good, then that makes two of us.”
Jacob approached the amused gathering standing at the outdoor altar made of a huge tree stump. With a shrug of his shoulder, he set his bride onto her feet. Isabella turned to face them, pushing back her flyaway hair, acting for all she was worth as if she’d just arrived in a limo.
“Isabella, Jacob, stand before the altar,” Noah instructed, his voice impressively official in spite of the humor dancing in his eyes. The couple did so quickly, all smiles and repressed laughter. “Isabella, take Jacob’s right hand into yours.”
Isabella extended her beribboned arm, sliding her palm warmly into her mate’s.
“Now, wind the ribbons around his wrist.”
As she did so, Isabella felt Legna step up behind her and rest both hands on her shoulders, and Elijah did the same to Jacob.
“At this point I am to ask you if you gained permission from your monarch, but… I believe that would be a little foolish, considering.”
The small gathering laughed.
“The two Demons who stand behind you hold you now to indicate their support of your union. They will not release you until your joining is complete, after which you will hold and support one another for the rest of your lives.” Noah turned to Jacob. “Jacob, the Enforcer, beloved of this female, father of her future children, guardian of her heart, her soul, and her life, kneel before her to show her your acceptance of her gift of becoming your mate, your wife, the joy and center of your destiny.”
Jacob did so quickly, kneeling in the damp grass, locking his gaze with hers.
“Isabella, you are my destiny,” he said softly, bringing their joined hands to his lips.
“Rise, Jacob.” Noah turned to Isabella as Jacob obeyed. “Isabella, the Enforcer, beloved of this male, mother to his future children, guardian of his heart, his soul, and his life, kneel before him to show him your acceptance of his gift of becoming your mate, your husband, the joy and—”
Legna released a startled gasp, cutting Noah off, the unexpected sound in the quiet reverence of the moment gaining everyone’s attention.
“Legna, you’re hurting me,” Bella complained when the female Demon’s grip tightened violently.
Isabella turned to see what had disturbed her friend and found herself looking up into the Demon female’s terror-filled eyes. Legna screamed. It was a horrific sound of fright that made the little hairs on Isabella’s arms and neck stand straight up. Instinctively, Bella reached for her friend with startled distress, grasping the biceps of the female Demon’s nearest arm with her free hand.
It was the first time Bella had ever heard Noah raise his voice in such a way, and the absolute fear she heard in his shout was alarming. It occurred to her in that moment that there was very little that creatures as powerful as the three men behind her could claim to be truly afraid of.
Isabella choked when she suddenly realized that Legna’s feet and lower legs were dissolving away. In that moment, she looked like some kind of wraith, a half-present woman floating above the ground. Legna screamed again, clearly in horrible agony, her clutch on the bride growing even tighter while at the same time Jacob tried to pull Isabella away by their joined hands.
Isabella rapidly realized what was happening, that there was a name to what she was seeing, and all the ramifications beat down upon her like a million brutal fists.
“No! No!” she cried, hurling herself at Legna, wrapping her free arm around the Demon’s increasingly fading body.
“Bella! Let go of her!” Jacob shouted.
But because of Isabella’s strength, her very presence, none of them had the power to stop her.
“Don’t go, Legna! Fight it! Don’t let them take you!” Bella cried, tears pouring down her pale, cold cheeks as Legna’s screams began to come back to back, each more bloodcurdling than the last.
All of a sudden, Isabella was awash with pain, the most breathtaking agony she had ever known.
A bright burst of orange light struck her like an atomic shock wave, blowing her body to pieces, right down to her last molecule.
Jacob howled in outrage when Isabella’s hand tore out of his, rending the ribbons that bound them into two parts, just before she and Legna disappeared completely.
“Bella!” Jacob bellowed, all of his utter joy converted into a sudden, paralyzing agony. He fell to his knees, grasping at the earth that still held the impression of where she had stood only a heartbeat ago. His fingers clawed relentlessly through the grass and loam of the sacred place. He roared out, his cry like that of a wild and tortured animal, the impossible weight of his grief echoing into the cold and the dark until all the woods ran from leaf to root with the sound. He wrenched his body aside, his fists slamming into the altar, a sharp crack resounding into the night as the wood split.
Jacob swung his arm out, striking Elijah’s hands violently away from him when he moved to touch him.
“How?” he demanded viciously of no one in particular, his eyes wide and savage, but clearly seeing nothing—nothing but the pain and fear on Isabella’s face the moment she had been torn away from him. “She is not Demon! She cannot be Summoned! Who would even know to do so, would know her value?”
No one could answer him.
Elijah started in surprise and stumbled off balance when the earth beneath his feet rumbled and rolled, billowing like a shaken blanket. The warrior grabbed the Enforcer.
“Jacob! Stop it!”
The Enforcer looked up at the Wind Demon blankly. The ground between Elijah’s feet split apart. The warrior took to the air in reflex. He glanced down and saw steam burst from the ground. A moment later the ooze of superheated molten rock began to seep from the multitude of small fissures that had opened around them.
That was when Elijah realized he was reprimanding the wrong Demon.
He reached toward the sky, grasping at the heavens until clouds coalesced and exploded. Rain burst from their underbellies, drenching the magma that was trying to escape the depths to which it should have remained confined. The area exploded in steam as Elijah shot to the ground, landing behind his monarch.
Noah was standing with his feet braced hard apart and his hands clenched into fists so tight that blood was dripping from the cut of his own fingernails. Elijah could see the Demon was trembling hard, but it had nothing to do with the rumblings of the earth beneath their feet.
Elijah was at a loss for all of a heartbeat but then reached to grab the King by the arm and jerked him hard to get his attention.
“Time,” he spat harshly. “Jacob. Noah. Time is of the essence. We three are the only ones who have a hope of correcting this. It will take all of our combined efforts, and it will need to start now. This very moment. There are no moments to waste on pain or rage or anything else, no matter how justified!”
Jacob dragged himself up to his feet, feeling as if his heart had been sucked into the same vortex that had stolen his Isabella. He flicked a cold gaze up to Elijah and the King. He saw in Noah’s hollow gaze the very same thing he was thinking. Time is nothing. No Demon, not one, had ever been saved from a Summoning intact. But Bella was not Demon, and Legna… none of them could ever give up Legna without a fight.
The trembling ground finally gave way to quiet, settling into peace, only crusted stripes of steaming rock left to pay reminder to Noah’s outrage. The Demon King took a deep breath, as if cleansing himself of his wrath with oxygen.
“Four, Elijah,” he corrected hoarsely. “We four. Go to Gideon and demand he come here this very instant.” Noah’s voice was completely unrecognizable, and Elijah could tell he was on some sort of autopilot. However, it was enough that the King was moving into action. “When we find her”—Noah looked into the eyes of his Enforcer, his cheek twitching with the clench of his jaw—“you better remember exactly who you are and what your duty is, Enforcer. If she suffers for even one second—”
“She will not suffer,” Jacob swore, his voice reflecting the ice in his veins. “I would never fail your trust in me.”
Then the Enforcer turned that rough, chilled voice to the Warrior Captain.
“Fetch Gideon. Now.”
Elijah knew the hunter in the Enforcer when he saw it, felt it surging forward, and knew that whoever had stolen Jacob’s bride was going to pay in violent, primal ways for their heartless transgressions. As for Legna… seasoned warrior such as he was, even Elijah would not contemplate that question until the reckoning of it was forced on him.
Elijah became part of the wind a fraction of a second after that thought. Jacob flicked cold, merciless eyes back to the King.
“There is hope. If Bella is with her, if she survived this magic… ” Jacob had to pause and shake off the surge of rage that came with the obliterating concept that she might not have. “So long as there is breath in Bella, there is hope. She will do anything she can to protect Legna.”
“And if there is no hope?” Noah asked with a stoicism that still seethed as the earth had moments ago. “Will your bride stand by and allow my baby sister to… ” Noah closed his eyes, his teeth clenching with a rage that made him shake and breathe with violence enough to spew fire. “Will one so green, so soft in sensibilities, ever find it within herself to give peace to Legna if we cannot reach her? Will I find my sister a monster, rushing to murder and fornicate at her every demented whim? I have protected, cared for, and nurtured Legna from the day my mother died when she was not five years old,” Noah said in a voice that must have been raked over the coals of hell. “You will forgive me if I do not trust one so callow with so precious a task. I will not stand by and allow this.”
“I swear to you, Noah, I will not allow it either. And you must trust Bella. The softness you see hides a fierce little warrior and a moral code to rival mine. Rest easy in that.”
“I will rest easy when Legna is safe. Safe from her captors… or safe from herself.”
“I know. And I will rest easy when I am wed.”
“Do everything in your power to provide me with the one, Enforcer, and I will do everything in mine to provide you with the other.”
Jacob extended his hand and Noah clasped it to seal the oath, neither realizing that Noah’s touch was swiftly burning away the torn ribbons draping over Jacob’s palm.
Isabella was falling fast and out of control.
Then in a blink, she hit the ground hard, knocking the breath from her body and sending a shower of stars across her vision.
“Holy cow, two for the price of one!” a distant male voice exclaimed.
“That’s impossible,” a second man returned.
“Well, you see it, don’t you? So I guess it isn’t all that impossible after all.”