How ridiculously simple it would be to cause them harm.
From far above, he watched with unwavering dark eyes as they walked down the shadowy street. The human male was so absorbed in his flirtation with his female, he would have no chance of protecting her from harm should they be surprised by a threat. What if he were to drop onto them from his current height?
Although in that instance, “surprised” wouldn’t be an adequate descriptive. The debate of defense would be futile as well. A human versus one of his ilk?
Jacob the Enforcer exhaled a sardonic laugh.
The redheaded woman had chosen poorly, in his opinion. No respectable male would have encouraged his partner to venture out on such a forbidding night. Mystical portents aside, the street they walked was notoriously disreputable. Menacing shadows shifted with threats unknown to simple human senses as clouds skimmed over the fickle light of the moon.
The couple walked beneath him, oblivious to his camouflaged presence.
Not to mention the coming of the other.
Jacob cocked his head, taking careful note of the other’s distant movements. Though the man-made features of a glass-and-concrete city numbed the Enforcer’s favored senses, he could still follow the comer’s progress easily. The younger, less experienced Demon was being careless, his focus riveted to his objective.
The human female.
Jacob recognized the younger Demon’s hunger, feeling it as it eddied into him, oppressive and pungent with the musk of unrestrained lust. The young Demon, Kane by common name, was stepping in and out of solid existence as he progressed toward the redhead. Kane’s fixation was making him uncharacteristically single-minded. He had no idea that the Enforcer had pursued him, that he was now lying in resolute wait for him.
Kane abruptly appeared on the pavement below in a burst of roiling smoke and the distinctive odor of sulfur. He was several yards behind the unknowing couple, his teleportation going completely unnoticed despite its display.
Jacob waited, the tension stretching his nerves taut. Although it pressed on him to interfere, it was his duty to let the other Demon commit to his course. Only then would he have justification for bringing the laws of their people down on him. All the while, he prayed to Destiny that Kane would regain control and walk away.
As Jacob gave the other Demon his chance to change his mind, he sat as still as a stone, watching Kane step into the recently trod path of the couple. When he passed beneath the Enforcer’s unseen perch up on the light pole to gain on his prey, Jacob launched upward into the air in a light, airy leap from one lamppost to the next several yards down the sidewalk. There was no sound as his feet touched the cool metal, no rustle of the clothing he wore as he crouched down once more in perfect balance. The only telltale sign of his presence was the sudden flickering twitch of the light. It only took him a moment to compensate, making the others below him perceive all as normal, though in actuality the light continued to flash with increasing spasms of protest.
He kept his thoughts hidden behind this projected camouflage as well. He knew that even in the grip of these basest of instincts, Kane would sense him if he did not. And yet, a whisper in the back of his mind was begging the Enforcer within him to just once, only this once, make an error. One small error, it murmured, and Kane, who is so dear to you, will sense your presence and your thoughts. Let him have the chance that you have denied so many others.
No one would ever know what Jacob sacrificed to deny that insidious whispering. Regardless of the voice’s entreaty, he could not forswear his duty.
So instead, he watched as Kane sent out his summons to the vulnerable couple. Abruptly, the male human turned and walked away from the female, abandoning her without reason or the awareness that he was doing so. The redhead turned completely around, facing the approaching Demon. She was quite beautiful, Jacob noted as she faced the lamplight, with a lush, long body and auburn curls hanging in lengthy coils down her back. It was clear why she had attracted Kane. It wasn’t the Enforcer in Jacob that allowed a small, quirking smile to play at the corner of his otherwise grim lips.
Kane sauntered up to her, completely confident of his power over her, and reached to touch her face. Jacob could see the thrall in her eyes, the manipulation of her mind making her soft and pliant, making her turn her cheek into his affectionate caress.
The affection was a lie. What would start with this gentility could not possibly end with it. It was the nature of the creatures that they were, and it was inevitable. This was why he could never have allowed Kane any more warning than he had already given hundreds… no… thousands of times before this.
Jacob had seen enough.
He leapt lightly into the air, his long body tumbling gracefully in a backflip until he came full around and landed soundlessly behind the redheaded woman. He discarded his camouflage so abruptly that Kane sucked in a loud, startled breath. He froze when he saw Jacob, and the Elder was easily aware of what the young Demon’s thoughts must be.
The Enforcer had come to punish him.
It was enough to make Kane swallow visibly in apprehension. His hand jerked away from the redhead’s cheek as if she’d burned him, and his concentration broke from her. She blinked, suddenly becoming aware that she was sandwiched between two strange men and had no idea how she had gotten there.
“Take hold of her mind, Kane. Do not make this worse by frightening her.”
Kane obeyed instantaneously and the lovely woman relaxed, smiling softly as if she were in the easy company of old friends, now completely at peace.
“Jacob, what brings you out on a night like this?”
Jacob wasn’t deterred by Kane’s casual quip or his attempt at saving face through levity. The Enforcer already knew the other male was not wicked at heart. Kane was still relatively untrained and, considering the conditions of the night, it was easy for him to be led astray by his own baser nature.
That did not change the stark facts of the moment. Kane had literally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His knee-jerk reaction, understandably, was to bargain his way out of the punishment he knew was impending. He would start with humor and continue on to every other tool in his arsenal.
“You know why I am here,” the Enforcer said, nipping those tools right in the bud with a chill, disciplined tone that warned Kane not to test his mettle.
“So maybe I do,” Kane relented, his dark blue eyes lowering as he shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “I wasn’t going to do anything. I was just… restless.”
“I see. So you thought to seduce this woman to appease your restlessness?” Jacob asked bluntly as he folded his arms across his chest. His entire manner radiated the image of a parent scolding a wayward child. It could be an amusing thought, considering Kane was just about to enter his second century of life, but the matter was too serious by far.
“I wasn’t going to hurt her,” Kane protested.
Jacob realized that Kane actually thought that was true. “No?” he countered. “Just what were you going to do? Ask politely if you could visit the savageness of your present nature on her? How does one word that, exactly?”
Kane fell stubbornly silent. He knew that the Enforcer had read his intentions from the moment he’d decided to stalk prey. Arguments and denials would just worsen the situation. Besides, the incriminating evidence of his transgression was standing between them.
For a brief, passionate moment, Kane’s thoughts filled with vivid mental imaginings of what could have been more incriminating. He suppressed a shudder of sinful response, his eyes falling covetously on the woman standing so beautifully serene before him. Had Jacob been even slightly off his irritatingly perfect game and come into the picture a half hour later…
“Kane, this is a difficult time for our people. You are as susceptible to these base cravings as any other Demon,” the Enforcer said with implacable resolve. It was as though Jacob were the one who could read Kane’s mind, rather than the other way around. “Still, you are a mere two years from becoming adult. I cannot believe you have me chasing you down like a green fledgling. Think of what I could be accomplishing if I were not standing here saving you from yourself.”
Kane’s rugged features flushed red with the shame Jacob intentionally laid at his feet. It relieved the Enforcer to see the reaction. It told him that Kane’s conscience was once again functioning, his usually smart sense of morality closer to restoration.
“I’m sorry, Jacob, I really am,” he said at last, this time with sincerity rather than as another ploy to try to disarm the Enforcer. Jacob could tell he was sincere because he finally stopped staring at the redhead as if she were due to be served to him on the proverbial silver platter.
As the Enforcer’s dynamic presence stabilized his principles, Kane was realizing that he’d placed Jacob in an untenable position, perhaps in a way that might forever mar their relationship. Kane’s throat closed with the sharp sense of remorse that knifed through him.
It was as overpowering as the dread that was welling up within him. He’d betrayed the sanctity of their laws, and there was punishment for that—a punishment that made an entire species catch their breath and back away whenever the Enforcer entered the vicinity. Kane could suddenly feel the weight of Jacob’s position, and it sharpened his regret to a point of pain in his chest.
“You will send this woman home safely by reuniting her with her escort and making sure she remembers nothing of your misbehavior,” Jacob instructed softly as he watched the tumult of emotion that swam across Kane’s face. “Then you will go home. Your punishment will come later.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” Kane protested, a swift rise of inescapable fear fueling the objection.
“You would have, Kane. Do not make this worse by lying to yourself about that. You will only convince yourself that I am the villain others like to make me out to be. That will only cause us both pain.”
Kane realized that truth with another upsurge of guilt. Sighing resolutely, he closed his eyes and concentrated for all of a second. Moments later, the redhead’s escort loped back across the street with a smile and a call to her.
“Hey! Where’d ya go? I turned the corner and suddenly you weren’t there!”
“I’m sorry. I was distracted by something and didn’t realize you’d gone, Charlie.”
Charlie linked his arm with his date’s and, completely oblivious to the two Demons barely a breath away, drew her off.
“Good,” Jacob commended Kane. It was simple and to the point. The younger Demon was becoming quite efficient as he matured.
Kane sighed, sounding gravely bereft.
“She’s so beautiful. Did you see that smile? All I could think about was how much I wanted her to smile when… ” Kane flushed as he looked at the Enforcer. Jacob was well aware that her smile hadn’t been his only motivation. “I never thought this would happen to me, Jacob. You have to believe that.”
“I do.” Jacob hesitated for a moment, for the first time making it obvious to Kane that this had been a terrible struggle for him, no matter how well he projected otherwise. “Do not worry, Kane. I know who you really are. I know that this curse is hard for us to fight. Now,” he said, his tone back to business, “please return home. You will find Abram there awaiting you.”
This time, Kane brushed away the welling trepidation within himself. He did this for Jacob’s sake, knowing how deeply this cut the Elder Demon, even though his thoughts were too carefully guarded for Kane to read. “You do your duty as you would with anyone. I understand that, Jacob.”
Kane then gave the Enforcer a short nod of kinship. After glancing around to make sure they were unobserved, he exploded into a burst of sulfur and smoke as he teleported away.
Jacob stood for long moments on the sidewalk, his senses attentive until he was confident Kane was truly returning home. It wasn’t unprecedented for a Demon to try running away and hiding for fear of impending punishment. Nevertheless, Kane was on the proper path, in more ways than one, once again.
Jacob turned and glanced up the street in the direction the human couple had taken. It never ceased to amaze him how lacking in instincts humans were. For all their civilization and technological advances, they had truly lost something valuable in trading away their animalist intuitions. That woman would be forever ignorant of how close she had come to danger. Meeting a wayward Demon in the shadow of a cursed moon was something no mortal wanted to be a part of.
Jacob released himself from the hold of gravity and rose into the air, barely causing a displacing breeze as he did so. His long, athletic body cut through the night like a beautifully honed blade. He soared past high-rises, some of the lights in the nearest occupied windows flickering in complaint at his passing. He burst up into the clear night sky.
Here, Jacob hesitated. He paused to study the bright, waxing moon with a frown he could not suppress. This was the way it was the weeks before and after the full moon of Beltane in spring and Samhain in autumn. These holidays were held Hallowed by Demons, but at the same time, they were the center of their curse. Restlessness amongst his people would only grow worse this coming week, peaking at the fullest moon. There would be more straying in the fledgling and adult generations. Even Elders would find their control sorely tempted.
Jacob had been chosen as Enforcer for a reason. His was a control beyond measure. Even the Demon monarch was considered more susceptible to this madness than he, and that was saying a lot considering that in all his four hundred years as Enforcer, Jacob had never been called to pull Noah, the Demon King, into check.
Jacob was grateful for that. Noah’s powers were not something he would relish going up against. Their King hadn’t earned his position by mere bloodlines like those in human histories did. Noah had earned his place based solely on his leadership and superiority of power.