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|Noah(Nightwalkers #5) by Jacquelyn Frank|
Everything she sensed went directly into her husband's awareness, but she ignored his shouting voice of warning in her head as she ran across the room to Corrine's meditation quarters. She threw herself at the door, which burst open with the momentum of her weight.
The room was swirling with eerie, alien energy, a fog of smoke, and a crackling web of lightning that ran along the ceiling. The rush of air the opening door sent into the room pushed the center of the cloud of smoke back in an angry swirl. The wild billows and curls parted with abrupt violence, revealing the imposing figure of the Demon King standing within.
In his arms he held the limp form of a human woman.
Isabella gasped with shock, no matter how much Jacob's thoughts had warned her she might encounter something exactly like this.
Isabella turned at the sound of her sister's voice, instantly making out Corrine's huddled figure and the fact that her daughter was clutched desperately in her arms.
"Be careful! He's gone mad!"
Isabella snapped her attention back to Noah. She instinctively braced her feet as she took note of his abrupt advance on her, the unconscious human woman still clutched in his powerful arms.
"Noah," she addressed him quickly and softly, "what are you doing?"
"Making things right," he answered as if it would explain everything. "She is mine."
"That may very well be," she said hurriedly, purposely putting herself in his path when he made the move to go around her.
He could have altered form in a blink, but he knew as well as she did what that would force her to do. If there was truly one person in all Demon society who could bring this to a quick end, it was Bella. But there was a price to pay when she snatched someone's power, so if she could avoid it, she would. She had taken of the King's power once already, with disastrous consequences that had nearly cost several lives, including her own. It wasn't something she wanted to repeat, especially with her vulnerable family in such close proximity.
"Noah," she continued, her voice pitched with calmness and gentleness. "If she is your destined mate no one will keep you from her. However, this isn't the way to bring the woman into our world. It isn't our way or the way of your laws."
Bella glanced down at the woman in question, taking a better look at her. Her head hung limply back over the King's left arm, a braid of pure white hair swinging in the smoky air. She was pale, clearly drained of most of her vital energy, a condition Isabella was familiar with enough to know who had initiated it. Since Noah had committed his crimes in Corrine's presence with apparent purpose, it was very likely that this woman was his intended mate. However, she could also be an innocent on the wrong end of the King's misdirected and volatile emotions. Either way, Noah was in no state to be in charge of the fate of a vulnerable human female.
"She looks weak," Isabella noted softly. "Let me help."
"Stand back, Enforcer. You will not take her from me."
"I didn't say I would," she agreed quickly. "But if you force us into an altercation, Noah, it could harm everyone in this room. Leah, Corrine…and this female as well. You're so powerful that I'd have to dampen your power with every ounce of my strength. There would be little room for finesse, Noah. The young woman you hold couldn't stand such a drain on her energy."
"As you say, Leah is in this room. Can so young a child bear the brunt of her mother's power?" he countered coldly.
"Perhaps not. But I can guarantee that you will not survive her father's wrath if anything happens to her or any of his family."
Noah looked up over the tiny Druid who blocked his path, to meet the black gaze of his male Enforcer. He realized then that Isabella had been stalling him while awaiting her husband's arrival.
Finally, the monarch visibly hesitated. One Enforcer; perhaps he could get away with the advantage in such a battle. However, the matched set was something else entirely.
It was this moment of hesitation that always heralded a turn in the dynamics of an enforcement situation. Jacob was quite familiar with it after all these centuries. The hesitation was no doubt as selfishly motivated as anything else the King had done in these past few hours, but it was also the first step toward logical reasoning. If he realized how futile his situation was, he would be on the path of recognizing the other flaws in his uncontrolled behavior.
Jacob put a hand on his wife's waist, nudging her gently in the direction of their child. As Bella hurried to inspect and protect her sister and her baby, Jacob squared off with his longtime friend.
He observed every detail of Noah's body language for a quick second, everything from the solid brace of his feet to the death grip he had on the blond woman hanging so limply in his arms. She would sport some serious bruises come the evening, but Jacob was determined to see that was the worst of the damage. It worried him that her breath came so shallow and that she was so deeply unconscious, but his senses, as sharp as all of nature, told him Noah hadn't had the time to put any other marks or damage on her.
"I will not allow anyone to take her from me. I no longer care what sacrifices have to be made, I will make them to keep her. Do you understand me?"
Jacob understood perfectly. In that moment, the King would go through every single living being in that room-in their very society-to keep his prize. Jacob knew the feeling well. Even he had once threatened Noah when he'd been forced away from Bella after their first intense encounter. It had torn at his soul and his sanity in a way that he didn't think he could ever truly bear again. Not without becoming pure animal and instinct, pretty much exactly like the Demon before him.
"I understand. But the only way you can truly keep her is to obey the law and its protocols. You realize that, do you not?"
Noah hesitated again, taking a moment to shift the weight of his burden a little higher against his chest. Jacob watched the King's eyes close briefly, his face turning closer to the woman's, the sound of his breath loud in the room full of people holding theirs.
Jacob and Isabella both cautiously exhaled. Corrine was less able to control her emotions, bursting into tears and falling against her sister in relief. Bella had no choice but to push her away. Her husband's command was ringing in her head and she rose straightaway to obey. She approached Noah carefully, swiping damp palms down the thighs of her jeans.
"Let me have her, Noah," she beckoned with a half smile and all the feminine coaxing she could muster. If Jacob had reached for Noah's possession, there was no telling what volatile reaction it could spark. To this day, Jacob himself had difficulties with other men touching or intending to touch Isabella. Therefore, he was highly sensitive to who should make the necessary move of retrieving the King's would-be mate.
The unconscious woman was nearly six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than the petite Enforcer, but Bella was far stronger than she looked. Jacob watched her work her soft, soothing magic on the Demon King, her hand reaching to cover his warmly where it gripped his captive's shoulder.
"She…she is drained," he warned her, clearly reluctant to release her to anyone.
"I know. I see that. She will come around soon enough," she assured him.
"Only I can reverse it. I can feed her energy in general, but she is to be my one true mate. It is my energy she will crave as she becomes Druid. She must stay close to me."
Bella glanced at Corrine when she caught her nod of agreement out of the corner of her eye.
"Then she will stay close to you. Only, let me carry her. You…" Bella hesitated for a long, painful second that reflected a fear only her husband was fully aware of. She spoke before he could stop her. "You have frightened Leah. Go and comfort her. You know she always stops crying for you."
Isabella knew her husband was flushed with mistrust and barely repressed outrage at the idea of Noah touching their child after he had behaved so badly and with so little regard for her safety, especially because neither of them was at all certain Noah's episode was past him. However, Isabella knew that Noah would never relinquish the woman without redirection.
He finally acquiesced after a long moment, hoisting his burden into Bella's arms with a tenderness that belied all of his actions of the past minutes.
"Don't worry," Bella whispered to him. Noah nodded, drawing away slowly. He paused for several beats before turning toward Leah. What he ended up facing was the expressions of fright that neither of the females huddled together could have repressed even if they'd had all the time in the world to prepare for it.
It was this evidence of the cruelty of his actions that finally and truly hit home. Noah exhaled sharply with shock and breathless pain as true awareness battered him from all sides. He was surrounded by a roomful of loved ones he had betrayed. He had been running on borrowed strength and power for several hours, burning it off as fast as he could replenish it in his maddened momentum. When the insanity abandoned him, so, too, did his strength, and just as suddenly. Noah stumbled forward onto his knees, only the brace of his hand preventing him from falling facedown onto the debris-scattered floor.
With a child's fickleness of memory and emotion, Leah scrambled out of her aunt's arms and hurried to help her uncle. Her little hands cupped his face for a moment, and then she hugged his head and made the soft, soothing sounds her mother and aunt used to comfort her when she was hurt or upset.
It completely undid the Demon King. He blindly gathered the little girl in his arms, sobbing once with incredible pain into her neck before completely giving in to his emotions in front of them all.
The Miserable Princess
A Demon Fairy Tale
Sarah could hear the collective whisper that shifted like a wave throughout the viewing stands as the Enforcer came to stand before her. She looked up, feeling small and vulnerable in the wake of his tall, imposing figure. He was crafted out of muscle and sinew as a sculpture was shaped from marble. The calluses on his hands were visible, as was the scar that ran down the side of his left temple. Sarah's father had told her that he had been stabbed there once, with an iron blade. When she thought of how that must have felt, the metal that was so deadly to Demons burning like acid through skin and bone, she wondered how his sight in his left eye had been preserved. He was lucky that all he had suffered was a scar.
"Good evening, Sarah," he greeted her, his deep voice surprisingly soft.
"Enforcer," she said in return, nodding in her very best royal manner.
"Ariel," he corrected, an amused grin playing over his lips and sparkling in his eyes.
Sarah shrugged, telling him it did not matter to her one way or another.
"So be it," Ariel said softly. "I thought you should know that I intend to win this competition, and I will demand you for my prize."
Sarah gasped in shock and flushed with outrage.
"How dare you speak to me this way!"
"Adjust, Kikilia," he said with determined ease, "for soon you will be in my house, tending my hearth, and you will no longer be a Princess."
"I would rather be dipped in boiling oil than become mate to the Enforcer," she retorted, the acid in her voice meant to burn viciously. She thought he had incredible nerve to even think such a thing. No self-respecting Princess would give up her father's house and her title to live with the stigma of being the wife of the man who humiliated and punished his own kind. Granted, somebody had to do it, and her father respected him very much, but she was not about to become the wife of one such as he, no matter what he said to the contrary.
Ariel chuckled at her reply, but she did not understand what was so funny.
"Do you wish to give me a favor, my lady? Then all will know of your regard for me as I wear it onto the battlefield," he said.
She gasped, horrified at his sheer gall.
"Very well. It will not matter one way or another. Before dawn, you will belong to me."
Ariel reached out to her quickly, taking the liberty of stroking her fair hair and purposely running a finger down the length of neck hidden beneath it. She huffed, but not entirely in outrage. His touch burst like fire over her skin, soon moving to burn through her entire body. As he turned and walked away, Sarah was left numb and speechless with the riot of sensation and reaction that rushed through her body. Skin and breath, heart and blood, all of it. All of it. It was as if a brilliant candle had been lit inside her and, given another moment, would send yellow bursts of light out of every pore of her skin.
Sarah suddenly understood what raw panic and terror truly were. As a Princess, she had never needed to be afraid of anything. She had lived a very protected life and had always been safe from even the most rudimentary of fears.
Now, however, she was learning a rapid lesson in all those frightening emotions. The Enforcer had touched her, and now her entire body was raging with trapped light and sizzling energy. There was one and only one condition capable of moving such a violent emotional reaction through a body with no apparent cause or reason.
It meant that she was destined to be exactly what he wanted her to be. His mate. His partner throughout all the centuries of her life.
And there was nothing she could ever do to change it.
Except one thing. She could not deny him her body, nor the need she would have ever after to live close to him, but she did have the power within her to reject him in her heart. She could choose to refuse him even the smallest amount of love. If she denied him that, he would not truly conquer her.
Sarah's heart began to pound at the possibilities of defying one so powerful and deadly. That was when she decided that she should at least try to run away. Hiding could not hurt. So what if he was the best tracker amongst them, the ability the divine right of all Enforcers? She was a Demon of the Body. She had quite a few tricks at her disposal as well.