The Mark of the Vampire Queen (Chapter Six)

She kept Gideon under her compulsion, guiding him into the limo and ordering Mr. Ingram to take them home. Jacob didn't like it. He'd wanted her to lift it as soon as they'd left the cell. Gide- on's capitulation disturbed him, the lackluster look in his eyes too close to a different version of what he'd displayed when he thought Kyle was going to kill them. But Lyssa had given Jacob a quelling look as soon as he had the thought. Since she was trying to control the minds of a building filled with armed police officers, he man- aged to suppress his reaction until they were safely in the limo and driving off. "Gideon's not weak. He's got a strong will. He's got to be fighting you like a son of a bitch. " "Compulsion imposed by a vampire of my strength does not al- low that level of consciousness, Jacob. " She curled her legs up under her in the seat facing the two of them. She wore a simple, short black dress that clung to her curves and stopped at midthigh. Sexy, classy. Even though she'd pulled her hair in a quick twist and hadn't put on any makeup or jewelry as she'd informed him, she didn't need any. It reminded him, however, how quickly she'd come to their aid, and diluted some of his irritation. She wasn't likely in the mood to be pushed. Which might or might not make him hold his tongue, depending on the mood he himself was in.

"It's like anesthesia, " she continued, even as her eyes challenged him, acknowledging his thought. "You start counting down from a hundred and have just enough time for the worry, `What if I don't go to sleep before they start cutting?' and then you're waking up in your hospital bed, the procedure done. " Her gaze shifted between him and Gideon again, lingering, comparing them in a way that disturbed Ja- cob. It made him wonder what she was thinking. What she was up to. "You're right, though, " she added quietly. "He does have a very strong will.

He's just very, very tired right now. Sick to his soul. Let him have the rest. It's not painful, I promise. It's like he's asleep, in a dream. " "He'll hate knowing you did it to him. The longer you hold it, the worse it will be. Please, my lady. I know him. " She sighed, gave him a searing look. However, as she turned her eyes to the window, Jacob sensed a change in the charged air in the limo. Gideon blinked. Straightened. His gaze darted to Jacob, then back to Lyssa. "How–" His eyes narrowed, pinned on Jacob with ominous intent. "You let her put her frigging mind control on me. You–" "And I will do it again if you two start pummeling one another like you're in the back of your parents' station wagon. Jacob didn't let me do anything, Gideon. He's my servant. I am not his. " Gideon glared at her. "You can let me off at the next corner. " "I could, but I won't. " Straightening out her legs, she crossed them, folded her hands over her lap and stared back at him. "You need a shower. " Her delicate nose wrinkled. "Food. A good night's sleep. I'd offer the same to a stray dog. While the dog would be far more deserving and definitely more grateful, you also need some time with your brother. " "I have no brother. " She laughed, startling them both because the sound of it was so easy and relaxed. It rippled through the tension in the car, disrupting and confusing it. "Of course you have a brother. Your anger doesn't change that. Had Kyle done anything to Jacob, you'd have broken all the bones of your hand to slip the handcuffs and try to kill him. I've lived a long time, Gideon.

Families have fights; they go their separate ways, sometimes for years. But you and Jacob are bonded. You love him. Your bafflement at the choices he's made, feeling betrayed and angered, perhaps even jealous, doesn't change the fact. " "I'm not jealous–" "Not of his choice. Of how he feels about me. The commitment he's made to me, instead of to you. " The knife of the truth twisted inside of Jacob. She was right. In Gideon's mind, he'd not only left his brother to fight his adversaries alone, but had made the choice to join the other side. Sometimes a person goes down the wrong path and the only way to help him back to the right one is to leave him alone to find it. While he appreciated his lady offering virtually the same thought he'd had right before their fight, it didn't help the aching sense of guilt. He looked at Gideon, at the haggard lines of his face. Felt the anger and hatred emanating from him as he stubbornly crossed his arms and refused to say anything further. You didn't leave Rex, Jacob thought. No. I killed him. He might have been better off if I had left him. Though she didn't say it, he heard it echo in the pregnant silence that followed the thought. Thomas certainly would have been. And Jacob never would have gotten to be this close to her, be- cause she wouldn't have needed a new human servant. Right or wrong, the thought was in his mind. From the shadowing of her ex- pression, he could tell she heard it. When they reached the house, Jacob expected Gideon to balk at going in, but his brother had apparently decided to go along with Lady Lyssa's intent. He got out of the car without comment and stared at the fortresslike structure while Lyssa spoke to Mr. Ingram. He thinks he can scope out your home for attack advantage, my lady. I wouldn't advise letting him in like this. I know, Jacob. Don't worry about it.

Jacob set a record for a fast shower, pulled on just a pair of jeans and was somewhat mollified to find Bran lying outside Gideon's door, along with a stack of extra towels.

The wolfhound padded away hap- pily as Jacob relieved him of his post and picked up the towels, giv- ing only a cursory knock before he entered. Gideon had apparently found a small towel in the bathroom. He held it around his hips, water still dotting his body as he surveyed the room with careful precision. "Looking for vulnerabilities?" Jacob asked. "Ways to come in and stake her in her sleep? You might as well sign your own death war- rant. She knows when a new squirrel enters her property. " "Vampires aren't always on guard, little brother. " Gideon turned, held out his hand to take the towel that Jacob offered. "No, they aren't. That's why they have human servants to pick up the slack. " Jacob watched him swap out the smaller swatch of terry cloth for the larger one, tucking it in at his hip. At some point, a blade had left an impressive crescent-shaped scar over his kidney area. He wouldn't have been surprised if the intent of the attacker had been to cut out the vital organ. "But if you try to take her on her own ground, on any ground, she'll cut you down before you even glance her way. You've never dealt with a vampire with her kind of power. " "Is that what gets you going? All that power in that fuck-me- eight-ways-to-Sunday body?" While Jacob refused to let his temper be tripped by such an obvi- ous ploy, he did experience a strong urge to ram his brother's hard head into the dresser. It was good, sturdy oak. It might withstand the blow. "I'm here by my own choice, Gideon. For my own reasons. " Gideon rubbed his hands over his face, the massive muscles in his arms bunching, turning scars into pale silver snakes rippling over his skin. "Just please don't tell me you're with her because you think she loves you. " "No. " Jacob put down the rest of the towels. "I'm with her because I know I love her. " Gideon made a derisive hissing between his teeth. "Boys. " The two men turned. Normally Jacob sensed when his lady was near, a feather brush of something insubstantial along his neck like a light kiss, but this time she'd disguised her approach.

She'd taken down her hair and brushed it out, the task she usu- ally preferred him to do. The long strands wove down the smooth cream skin of her arms. Her lips had been touched by red. The dress she wore now was a black formfitting satin, her breasts high and clefted deep from whatever creative underwear she wore beneath it. As she leaned against the wall next to the open door, her hands were folded behind her back, the position tilting her breasts upward. As she watched them, she rocked one foot back and forth on a stiletto heel, riding the skirt up, showing a hint of garter. Pure sex. Any man would have been stirred by the sight. Don't do this. But it was a weak whisper against the desire being conjured in him against his will. For once, she was using compul- sion on him to override his defiance. His cock could care less about right and wrong. In fact, wrong was looking damn appealing. "What are you–" Gideon had backed up a couple of steps, was shaking his head, trying to shake off the magic. Lyssa moved for- ward. When she did, her approach was like a wave of heat. Gideon planted his feet, his expression defiant. She kept coming.

Closing her fingers over the towel, she tugged it away and let it drop as her eyes lowered with blatant appreciation. He was already pow- erfully aroused. When her fingers closed around him, her nails teas- ing his testicles, he closed his eyes, a growl emitting from between his lips. "So full of anger and pain, " she whispered. "Your body is starved for a woman's touch. But you don't trust yourself anymore. You're afraid you'll want her so much, you'll hurt her. " Gideon's hands had closed into fists, his muscles taut, resisting whatever it was she was stirring to life inside him. "You don't want her to give you her body. You want to take it. Feel her surrender to you, open her heart, but you're terrified of what you'll do to that fragile thing . . . "And so tired, " she murmured even more soft ly, now so close her leg brushed his, the hem of the snug dress touching his bare thigh, her stiletto planted between his braced feet. "You can't hurt me, Gideon.

I know the kind of loss you're feeling. Like you, it has made me into the creature I am now. " "What if . . . I want it to hurt?" "I can make it hurt. " Her lips curved, wet sin, as she twisted his meaning. But Jacob wasn't sure she hadn't answered his brother ex- actly the way he needed her to. "I can give you a night of true rest. The kind of rest a man gets after he's fucked a woman past the point of thought. When the body is so exhausted he has no energy left to hold on to anything. " "No . . . No biting. " He opened his eyes, triumphant with the ef- fort of making the demand. Darker things dwelled in his gaze. He almost looked demonic, a handsome, ravaged man willing to do whatever things Heaven or Hell demanded of him just to have some- thing to distract him from his own emptiness. "No biting. " She nodded. "You're safe from that. You're safe from everything here tonight. I'm going to take care of you. So is Jacob. " Come to me, Jacob. I need to feel your touch. He wanted to turn her over his knee and spank her, but he moved forward, a whirl of thoughts in his mind. He noted Gideon's body, hard and lean, crisscrossed with scars, a man who could never be mistaken for anything but a warrior. A man who'd been fighting all his adult life. A man who'd been trying to get himself killed since he was barely grown because he wasn't the one who'd died in an alley, like the girl he'd loved. Or on a beach, like the parents he'd needed. Angry. Resentful of always having to fight. Protect. Jacob paused. He resents me. Of course. Her thought was matter-of-fact, almost a sigh of impa- tience. The older brother, required by his honor to protect you. Of course he was angry that they left him. That he alone was charged with worrying about you. That he found love, something of his own, and it was taken away. That he was left by the brother to whom he'd given so much. None of that has to be here tonight, though. Not be- tween any of us. There is only need. Despite his resistance, his anger at her manipulation of the situa- tion, he was now standing just behind her. Leaning in, he buried his nose in her hair. The ache in his gut from looking at his brother's suffering lessened.

With her free hand, she found his arm, guided it so his hand gripped her hip. Which inspired him to do the same with the other hand, sliding them both around her waist. It brought his body against hers, his hardening cock pressing against the cleft of her ass, so accessible in the soft satin. She rubbed against him, a slow, sinuous circle, even as her hand turned, her knuckles feather- ing up Gideon's hard belly, his broad chest. Her other hand was still wrapped around his brother's thick cock, her thumb teasing the head so he was already shuddering. Jacob brought his hands under her breasts, lifting them, squeez- ing, drawing his brother's gaze there as she arched in aroused re- sponse. Savage male instinct compelled Jacob to do what he did next. Seizing the neckline of the dress in both hands, he tore it open, baring her breasts to Gideon, holding the fabric in tight fists so she was pinned against Jacob's chest, her body fully leaning against him, head settling into the curve between his shoulder and throat. Gideon's gaze lingered on the ripe curves, held up so temptingly in the satin demi-cup bra. His brother had always been a breast man. While small, Lyssa's were superbly shaped, firm, full. Jacob slid his hand down the satin, over the hint of hard nipple. Catching the slen- der strap between the cups, he yanked the bra up, freeing her breasts with a rough wobble of motion that added intensity to his brother's dark blue eyes. Jacob pressed the heel of his hand against her throat, his thumb teasing her there, eliciting a soft mewl of desire as her breasts quivered. Gideon's hands came forward now, his fingers dusting the tops as Jacob gripped one beneath with his free hand and offered it up. Gideon hesitated, then bent and closed his mouth over the nipple. His other hand captured the free breast, taking pos- session. She undulated beneath their hands, her head arching back even farther as Gideon suckled, squeezed. He couldn't know what Gideon was thinking. Jacob wasn't sure if that was a place he wanted to go anyhow. Something hard to define was pumping through his own blood. This was the woman he loved, that he considered his, even though he knew his possessiveness amused or irritated her by turns. Over the past few weeks, she'd offered his body to others.

Commanded him to submit. Taught him that plea- sure could be found in surrendering to her will. During those times, he'd found he needed her touch, her command, as a compass to find that pleasure. So now the tables were turned. She intended to seduce his brother, perhaps only for the reasons she'd stated. But to immerse them all in the flood, she needed Jacob's ability to arouse her. That admission, so simply offered with those words–Come to me, Jacob. I need to feel your touch–had him torn between an intense, emotional reaction to the revelation, and a close-to-the-edge, violent response at the thought she intended him to share her with another man. His own brother. Occupied as they were, both men still noticed when she lowered her hands and began inching up her skirt. Up, up, showing the lace stockings, the garters, the point of her bare sex. No panties. I want you inside me, Jacob. In me from behind, before your brother fucks me. I want you there. Jacob dropped his hand down, moved over her thigh. He pressed his leg behind hers to hold her trapped between him there and Gide- on's hip. When he pushed his fingers into her pussy, into a wetness that sucked him in, he saw Gideon's eyes glitter with lust. She writhed, drawing in an uneven breath, her fangs baring. "Beg me, my lady. " He could have thought it, but instead de- manded it in a rough voice. He didn't know if his need to punish her for this was her influence, his own or the synergy of the moment. It didn't matter. Gideon's attention flickered to him, then back to the woman be- tween them. As if Jacob's demand had released any last inhibitions, he surrendered to his own desires with the snarl of a rabid animal. Seizing both breasts, Gideon pulled them up higher, arching her al- most impossibly as he descended on the nipple again, his suckling ferocious as he brought teeth as well as tongue into it. She turned her head into Jacob's throat, pricked him with her fangs, rubbing her delectable ass harder against his cock. As her eyes lifted to his, she raised an arm and looped it around his neck, her palm flat between his shoulder blades. Using the leverage, she raised her legs.

Gideon, picking up his cue, slid his hands under her, wrapped her around him, his cock trapped between their bodies, close to the point of decision. You'll let your brother fuck me without staking your claim first? You're playing with me, my lady. I'm commanding you. Begging you. I need you. He caught the hem of her skirt. I won't be gentle, my lady. You've pissed me off too much. I know. That makes you even harder. With a muttered curse, he opened his jeans, bunched the fabric of her garment in his fist against her lower back and drove into her. She'd apparently lubricated herself before this, for there was a slick-ness between her buttocks that took him in fast and deep. She cried out, part pain, part something else as Gideon drove into her in front. They were both big men, and their sizeable cocks filled her to the point that Jacob could feel the pressure of his brother in the channel of her pussy as he fucked her ass. Raw, visceral need. Nothing soft and feminine about this mo- ment. She was letting them be the base male animals they were. Encouraging it. Desiring it, even as Jacob sensed her genuine intent to give Gideon a female port in the storm he'd created of his life. It hadn't been a lie, he knew. She did understand his pain and sorrow, even if Gideon didn't believe she did. Whether it was a woman's intuition, her many years of life, her own experiences in losing her husband or whatever combination of vampire and Fey magic that made her what she was, she had that gift. She'd brought out re- sponses and emotions in Jacob he hadn't even known he had. He couldn't deny that, whether she was still compelling this moment or not. As she bucked up, the paleness of her throat was displayed, the bumps of her sternum, the slope of her breast over her heart. Though he knew her to be more than capable of defending herself, the melt- ing of her body in his grasp and the vulnerable offering of her throat to both an active and a former vampire hunter told him she trusted him to keep her safe, to protect her.

Her orgasm built like the strum of piano keys, playing along his length. It drew out the notes of his own response, making everything tighten until he was sure when he exploded it would rip him apart. Gideon's shoulders were bunched into rolls of hard muscle, his fin- gers gripping her hips with bruising force. His forearms brushed Ja- cob's, his thrusts knocking her ass harder onto his cock, her buttocks pressed against the top of Jacob's thighs. Gideon's eyes fastened on her throat, and he worked his way up her sternum, his lips curling back. "Sssh . . . " She caught his chin, even as her breath rasped out of her. "No . . . Gideon. No biting. " The smile was in her voice, but Jacob also heard the strain, for she was so close. He gave another powerful thrust, taking himself deep. Gideon's face contorted as he did the same in perfect sync, and Lys- sa's orgasm shattered her. She convulsed against their powerful grips, her cries elevating to a scream. They held on, Jacob stretching her, feeling the tight clench of her muscles, the rhythmic move- ments. He had to hold her tightly, for Gideon was thrusting into her just as hard, neither of them granting her any mercy, only wanting to feel the same type of mind-altering pleasure. Jacob closed his eyes and rode the release. Jetting hard, he bathed her inside with his seed as he heard his brother bellow in the grasp of a climax just as intense. Over all that, he reveled in Lyssa's cries, the rake of her nails that marked his neck. Her legs were wrapped around Gideon, Jacob buried so deeply into her that his feet were almost on top of his brother's. Air moved over his own balls each time his brother's testicles slapped the base of her cunt. When they finally came to a stumbling halt and he opened his eyes, he saw she had marked Gideon's shoulder with the nails of her other hand. Gideon's forehead had fallen to her shoulder, his own shoulders rising and falling fast, his hands still clutched on her hips. As if they were melded on every level, Jacob lifted his own hand as Lyssa reached up. Their hands overlapped to rest on Gideon's head, giving reassurance and comfort, encouraging him to take slow breaths, for his breathing was too deep and shuddering to be only from physical exertion.

In the midst of the maelstrom of response, this moment was quiet, separate. The eye of the storm. Jacob wanted to reach back through the years to touch his brother as he did now, to give him peace, to let him know he'd done well, help him heal. To let him know that he loved him, no matter what. None of the rest mat- tered. Jacob took some deep breaths of his own, feeling his lady's shoul- der blades pressed into his chest, her hair soft against his jaw. When he touched her chin, needing her, she obliged, lifting her face for a meeting of mouths, the taste of her tongue, the scrape of a fang. He was still learning how to kiss her without damage to his own mouth. Practice makes perfect, Sir Vagabond. Smiling against her lips despite the intensity of the past few mo- ments, he drew it out, exploring her mouth even further, tightening his grip on her throat. Through the third mark as well as lover's intu- ition, he felt her simmering and knew he would want her again soon, too. He was still hard. From the squeezing pressure he was experi- encing in her ass, he suspected Gideon was also. He ruffled his brother's hair, tugged on it, not to make him raise his head, but to continue that sense of comfort. Nearness. As he thought about the words Gideon had said to him at the diner, words that had cut so carelessly and brutally, he knew they meant nothing. Hadn't Lyssa proven as much when she'd laughed at Gideon for saying he didn't have a brother? While he might want to have a heart-to-heart with her about her methods, Lyssa had shown him the depths of his brother's despair and anger in a way separate from his own ego. So it was the most natural thing to say the words that came to his lips now. "You took good care of me, Gid, " he murmured. "You always did. And because you did such a good job, I don't need you to do it anymore. Do something for yourself for once. Give yourself happi-ness again so you can remember what's worth fighting for and what's not. " Gideon slowly raised his head. Lyssa's fingers were still tangled in his hair, and as he moved, her palm slid down his face to his neck, to a bare shoulder.

As he blinked at her, Jacob could see the emotions warring in his face. "You made me do that, " Gideon said at last. "I could lie to you and say yes, " Lyssa responded, "but the only compulsion I used on you, either of you, was in the first five minutes. When I took your towel, it was your free will that let it go. " Gideon withdrew from her, though he did it with courtesy. Even so, Jacob's hands tightened on her protectively, uncertain of Gideon's mood now. As Jacob eased out of her, letting her feet touch the floor, his brother apparently caught the wariness of his stance, for a muscle ticked in his jaw. "She's safe with me, Jacob. I . . . " He broke off, arched a brow. "Am I your guest or your prisoner, Lady Lyssa?" She surveyed him with a leisurely bold approval that brought a flush to his cheeks and made his cock jump, such that he turned away and picked up the towel. Jacob felt a ripple of amusement go through her at his muttered curse. "While I do like the connotations of the word prisoner when it refers to a handsome and powerful male, you are in fact my invited guest, Gideon. "

Wrapping the towel around his waist, Gideon sat down on the edge of the bed, maintaining an upright stance with visible effort. "Then you have my word. " His attention went back to his brother. "While I'm her guest, I won't do or try anything to cause her harm. " As if he could. Yes, my lady. He could. Please, for my own peace of mind, don't underestimate Gideon. There was a robe hanging on the armoire, one she'd apparently left in here when she brought the towels. Jacob retrieved it at her un- spoken command as she shrugged out of her disheveled dress and undergarments. When she put her arms back, he slid it onto her shoulders, satin onto silk, while Gideon watched. She didn't belt the robe. Rolling off the sheer stockings, she stepped out of the heels she'd kept on during their violent encounter. It made Jacob wonder if Gideon had stiletto marks on his ass. Despite that, as she padded away from him and toward his brother, with her hair down and feet now bare, he thought she looked like an innocent girl.

However, Jacob knew the view Gideon was get- ting was much different. Not just the sensual beauty of her naked body, shadowed temptingly under the movement of the folds of fab- ric, but her jade green eyes that held all the mystery of Woman since the beginning of time. He'd been pinned by that gaze often enough to know. When she reached his brother, for a couple of breaths, she simply stood, looking at him. Jacob couldn't see Gideon's face, but whatever she saw in it pained her, for a sympathetic response rippled through her. When she reached out, his hand shot up, caught her wrist. Jacob started forward, but Lyssa's sharp mental command stopped him. She was in control of the situation. She lifted the other hand. When Gideon caught that one, she used her body, pressing forward, one step, two steps, until she stood between his knees, him holding her hands so the robe fluttered out to either side like wings. Abruptly, he let her go, dropping his head so his hair brushed her bare breasts. A tremor ran through his broad, scarred back. He whispered something Jacob didn't quite catch. Lyssa repeated it for him. Just go away. She wrapped her arms around him, laying her head over his. "I think you've had far too much of that in your life. Those who've left you, and those you've driven away. Now it's time to sleep, " she said soft ly. "Just sleep. Because soon I'm going to want you. I'll use you again and again tonight, Gideon. I can't draw all the poison out, but I can draw out enough to help you remember what it was like to be whole. " "I can't. I don't want this. " Jacob silently left them to clean himself up in the bathroom. When he came back, she was turning down the bed, easing Gideon into it on his side, then herself behind him. When she reached a hand back, Jacob slid in behind her, spooning around her body. "Jacob will protect us while we sleep. He'll protect us both. " "Who'll protect him . . . From you?" Gideon muttered sleepily.

Her hand paused, but then she resumed her stroking of his brother's dark hair, spreading it on his shoulders. "Sssh . . . Just sleep. "

Jacob, I'm hungry. Gideon's breath was even. Lyssa passed her hand over his bare flesh, drawing the covers up over him. Then she turned and nestled into Jacob's arms, her nose nuzzling, seeking his throat like a kitten. Thank God the third mark gave him stamina far exceeding that of a regular man, for she'd lived up to her promise, or threat, de- pending on how a man looked at it. Gideon was sleeping deeply, the sleep of a man who'd been brought to orgasm multiple times in just the past hour and a half. The last time, she'd laid her robe over Gideon's face to form a loose blindfold. She'd tangled his wrists in the sash without tying it, giving him the illusion but not the reality of restraint. Then she'd moved down his body and put her mouth over him, causing him to fist his hands in the iron bars of the bed and yank hard as he thrust himself into her mouth. She'd been on her knees, her hips high in the air, and Jacob had stood on his knees behind her, thrusting into her wet pussy this time, feeling as if he was coming home, pumping her slowly, stroking her the way she liked until he was rewarded by her cry of release against the flesh of his brother's erection, the heat of her breath pushing Gideon over as well. Just the recollection of her slick folds rippling over him was enough to get him hard again. Apparently the third mark conveyed some of the vampire's sexual appetite with it. Or maybe it was just her ef- fect on him. My blood is yours, my lady. As am I. She put her temple against his jaw. I know that. She laid her hand on his forearm, the one she'd broken not so long ago, her fingers gentle. As always, he felt a shadow of regret from her. She'd apolo- gized for doing it. Actually, the night she'd done it, she'd tried to kill herself, thinking she was becoming the monster her husband, Rex, had become. Rather than a woman dealing with a terminal illness who had lashed out at the loss of control she was beginning to expe- rience from the symptoms.

He'll be gone tomorrow, won't he? Jacob thought the question. We've broken open an infected wound. Drained off the pus. He'll have to decide if he'll let it heal or get it infected again. He rolled her to her back and she let him,her legs opening to ac- cept him and the teasing pressure of his cock. An arch and the head was seated in her opening, her eyes darkening. Jacob began to ease forward, pressing his knees into the bed, moving slowly, quiet. He wanted his brother to sleep, and not just because of his own desire for privacy at the moment. Her fingers curled around his neck, bringing his full weight down on her so she could nip at his throat, lick, make his cock harden further inside so that her own muscles spasmed in reaction. He buried a groan against her hair even as her teeth pierced him with searing pain, followed by the stroke of her tongue as she began to take in his blood, replenishing the strength the evening had taken from her. Moments like this, he almost could forget what they faced. Could pretend they'd have years and years to explore one another. Years to be infuriated by her, amused by her. Besotted by her. She'd seemed invincible tonight, omnipotent. So beautiful and powerful, she was beyond the touch of death and sickness. But she needed his blood, his strength. As he'd predicted, the third mark was helping her maintain her strength in a way he hadn't been able to offer with just the second mark. Are you saying I told you so, Sir Vagabond? His lips curved against her temple even as his fingers curled into her hair, the other hand dropping below the covers. He slid down the nip of her waist and flare of hip to grip her thigh, press deeper at a better angle. It caused a hitch in her focus, both in her mind and in the gasp that caught in her throat even as she swallowed his blood. Smugness is a rare luxury with you, my lady. I beg your leave to indulge it. Clever tongue. I think I'd have it cut out of you if it weren't . . . So . . . Clever. He kept his movements torturously slow. As such, they were both without breath or words at the end as the climax rippled through them.

She pressed her mouth over the now closed wound to muffle her cries, he doing the same with his face pressed between the pillow and her hair, his body drawn into a bow over her trembling one, arms and legs intertwined in a way he never wanted to untangle. When he turned his head, he saw Gideon had rolled over, his eyes half-open though still full of drowsiness. It made Jacob wonder if his brother was truly awake or would think the moment was just a dream when he woke later. Then Gideon reached out, stroked a hand of gruff affection over his head, grunted and turned away again. He'd have pulled the covers off them if Jacob hadn't grabbed hold and tugged at the key moment, keeping the blankets equally distributed. "He used to do that all the time when we shared a bed at my aunt and uncle's, " Jacob muttered with a fraternal look of disgust at his brother's wide back. One night, to tease him, I wrapped up in the cov- ers like a burrito before he got into bed. He had to dump me on the floor to unroll me. "It wasn't easy for the two of you. " Surprised, he raised his head to look down into her face, illumi- nated by candles she'd had him light earlier. "No, it wasn't. But it could have been a lot worse. Our aunt and uncle were good to us, even though they had three other kids. That was okay. " His gaze drifted back to Gideon. "We had each other. Always. " A shadow crossed his mind, a familiar specter, one he'd always wrestled with, but now . . . The woman beneath him had lived for centuries. While there were many times he rebelled against her sense of superiority, he couldn't help but wonder at her thoughts. You did what you had to do. You weren't helping him by staying with him any longer. As I said, there comes a time when a person has to find his way out of the quagmire of his own nightmares. You've made it clear you'll be there to grab hold when he finally reaches up out of it. Be easy on that. Nevertheless, he laid a hand on Gideon's back, pressing his palm there as if he could convey the sentiment through touch, brand it on Gideon's heart like a map home.

It's there, Jacob. It's there. "You don't give up, okay?" Jacob whispered to his brother's sleep- ing form. "I need you to be somewhere in the world, you dumb, he- roic son of a bitch. Find a woman of your own. Laura would like that. And as much as I love you, I'm not too fond of sharing mine. " He ignored Lyssa's laughter in his mind and rolled over, keeping her in his arms so he could hold her close under his chin as he suc- cumbed to sleep again.