The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Eighteen)
He chuckled, came out of the bathroom. "With your permission, my lady, I'd like to put this on your lower back. "
He pulled back the wet towel to show her a temporary tattoo, a black rose and thorns done in artistic interwoven loops. She'd seen versions of the design riding on the lower backs of young women, revealed by their jeans. Jeans much like she was wearing now. Blue and riding low on her slim hips, for which he'd provided a pair of equally low-riding black panties. The pants had been worn at the stress points and were embellished with a scattering of painted pewter roses just below the front pockets, highlighted with a touch of silver pink. She had to admit the decoration was pretty, whimsical. He'd combined it with a snug midriff-baring tie-dye T-shirt, also in swirls of pink. On the front was an image of several kittens with jade eyes like hers. Two of the kittens cavorted across her breasts. There was a third kitten napping between them and they were all perched on top of the shirt's lettering: "Not everyone is a morning person. "
Her scoundrel, teasing her.
He'd pinned up her raven tresses and covered them with a shoulder-length wig of expensive quality. The human hair feathered naturally around her face with a red brown coloring.
Her comment notwithstanding, she allowed him to kneel behind her, pressing the tattoo to her lower back. As he held it there with one hand, he smoothed over it with the wet, warm cloth in the other. Tendrils of the water trickled down the curves of her buttocks beneath the jeans, an intimacy that made her very aware the points of his wrists were pressed against her denim- covered ass.
Despite her lapse at the pool, she'd continued her self-imposed abstinence. Five days now since that night. She couldn't trust herself to take advantage of the delights of his body and skill as a lover and resist the desire rising exponentially in her each day to give him the second mark. It was too soon. He had to at least get through the dinner to prove to her he was up to what they would face at the Council Gathering.
A mall was public. She could enjoy him without taking the risk. That, despite the fact she suspected he was deliberately testing her resolve as he brought his other hand to her front. His wide palm settled over her abdomen to anchor her as he increased the pressure on her lower back. He fanned his fingers so his smallest finger was under the waistband, just to the left of the button, perhaps a bare inch from the elastic of the panties. Which, given the style of the garments, did not put him far from a part of her body all too aware of him.
"You look lovely, my lady. But unless someone is expecting you to dress like this, you'll be very safe even without the wig. Plus we're taking other precautions. "
The paper now sticking on its own, he rose but didn't take his hand from her waist. She knew she should move as she felt his thigh press against the back of hers, the line of his hip against the curve of her buttock.
"So you like the way I look then?" she managed. "You seem as if you're thinking about taking liberties you've not been invited to take. "
"I welcome my lady's punishment, " he murmured. The provocative words set off volts of current through every needy part of her body. The whisper of a moan escaped her as his chin nudged away the red brown hair and his lips closed on her collarbone. His hand slid up under the T-shirt, under the fabric stretched taut over the curves of her breasts. She wasn't wearing a bra, and his thumb and forefinger curved under the left one, gently squeezing as her whisper became a true sound of need. Saliva pooled in her mouth, and she felt the prick of her fangs on her lips.
Control. An easy word to bring to mind and equally easy to ignore in the face of the blatant erection he pressed against her buttocks. His arms were now both around her, one grasping her breast, the other hooked in that waistband. His thumb teased the line of her panties, his fingers curved low on the outside,stroking her mound through the denim just above her clit.
"How long will you refuse me, my lady, when I can tell you want me in your bed? Why deny yourself what belongs to you?"
That formal courtesy and language Thomas knew she found so appealing in a man, especially during this vulgar century, combined with Jacob's unique confidence and aggression, gave him the ability to seduce her, a woman who knew everything there was to know about seduction.
His voice was against her ear, his breath teasing the side of her neck. She'd noted his bite there had lingered a day or so, like the love bite of a teenage lover. That was unusual, for wounds, let alone blemishes, healed almost instantly on her. While it could be a progression of the illness she still refused to discuss with him, it could also be the fact they shared at least one mark. She'd heard of such things, though she hadn't noted it with past servants.
"I have my reasons. Be patient, Jacob, and don't press me. "
"But I have a much shorter life span than you, my lady. By the time you make up your mind, I may no longer be able to live up to your demands. "
She elbowed him in the ribs, giving him an exasperated snort. "Perhaps if I wait until you're old and doddering to give you another mark, you'll be more manageable. I can always find myself a young and energetic lover. "
"Can you, then?"
She stepped back, turned and faced him. The Irish had slipped into his tone, this time she suspected without conscious awareness. For some reason the way he uttered it, softly, a little threateningly, ran a ripple of reaction through internal areas already experiencing some turbulent seas when it came to him. Tamping it down, she focused on more important matters. "Is there anything someone who knows me well would recognize?"
Though he obediently shifted his attention to serious contemplation of her question, it didn't make her body tingle any less, watching his eyes course over every part of it. She wondered what he was seeing. It had been a long time since she'd thought about that. Of course she knew by human standards she was stunning. But beauty could be surface. Drawing the eye before it tired of the display and then wandered on. Did he see anything worth looking at for several centuries?
What a ridiculous thought. While there was a sexual component to the vampire-servant relationship, she'd never denied her past servants the right to pursue a human lover as long as it didn't interfere with her own needs. So why did the idea of Jacob being with another woman displease her so much?
She reminded herself that a vampire-servant relationship had phases just as any other. Since Thomas had been her last servant, she'd simply forgotten about that. Sometimes servants were possessive at first. They learned the foolishness of that in time, but it could affect the vampire, too. It was just the newness of the attraction, of course. As they settled into it, it would become what it should be. She should enjoy this fun, flirtatious phase, the sharp pleasurable bite of sexual tension, anticipation.
And for heaven's sake, she hadn't made him her servant yet, officially. She kept threatening to throw him out every other day. It was alarming that she seemed to be reminding herself of the same things she was reminding him.
"Just your eyes. Here. " He offered a pair of sunglasses suited to the rest of the attire, with pale silver pink frames and fashionable tinting. "They'll also help if there are any bright lights in the mall. "
"So how does it look? The tattoo?" "I'm reconsidering. Every male in the place will have his gaze glued to your backside. I'll have to stick close. " As she slipped them on, Jacob wondered at how she could make anything appear beautiful, even a pair of cheap sunglasses.
"How are we getting there?"
"In the limo, at least part way. " He lifted a full-length, cowled cloak. "Ingram's bringing two people with him who are roughly our height and build. He'll drop them off at the opera, they'll get out, her in your cloak and him dressed like me, and go enjoy our opera tickets. When Mr. Ingram parks the limo to wait for them, we'll slip out the passenger door and go get my bike where I've parked it. "
"You have a motorcycle?"
He nodded. "Assuming we've not been followed, my lady, I'm going to treat you to a bike ride in the woods. I hope you're not faint of heart. "
She took the cloak, haughtily ignoring that comment, and settled it over her shoulders, lifting the cowl and drawing it down over her face. "It seems you've thought of everything. Have you had the silver cleaned for our dinner?"
"Yes, my lady. " He shrugged into a dark suit coat emphasizing his wide shoulders. He was wearing a white button-down shirt and dark dress jeans that fit his groin nicely, making the palm of her hand itch. "Did it myself. Not a spot on it. "
"Food all ordered?"
"Catering service prepped and food ordered. Linens have been dry cleaned, fresh flowers will be delivered that afternoon, complete with a special bouquet I picked out myself for my lady's table setting. "
"Done. " When she paused, he cocked his head. "Are you playing wicked stepmother again? Can I please go to the mall now?"
She bit back a smile, gave him a severe look instead. "Thomas trained you well. But again, he did not teach you to be impertinent. "
"That's an art form I cultivated all on my own to please my lady. "
The lights of the limo went by the kitchen window as Mr. Ingram pulled into the drive. She nodded to him through it, pleased to see him again. When he got out, raised a hand, she was glad to see he appeared equally amiable.
"You've gone to a great deal of effort for this outing. "
"You're a high-maintenance woman, no one's denying that, " he agreed. As he began to turn away, she captured his hand, stopping him.
"Jacob, do you take nothing seriously?"
Leaning in, he brushed his lips over her nose, hesitated, then touched her lips as well. Just a simple contact. Because it was so simple, no attempt to push and claim her mouth more thoroughly, she felt the impact of it down to her toes, how much he held back.
"Yes, my lady. There are things I take very seriously. You know what they are. "
When he drew the cowl forward to further cover her face, she turned her head, kissed his wrist, her fangs grazing him. He stilled, those blue eyes riveting on her gesture. His intensity sent frissons of excitement through her lower vitals, as if the excitement of new love awaited her tonight. Rather than just an evening's diversion provided to her by a precocious, intriguing and altogether exceptional male.
A human male, she reminded herself.
As he watched the thoughts course across her face, Jacob hoped he'd accomplish his primary objective tonight. He wanted to see his lady smile without thought. Perhaps even coax a giggle out of her and get her to engage in some innocent flirtation with the man who wanted to see her unfettered by shadows for one night.
For that gift, he could even force back his current, aching desire to have her body beneath him, feel her wet folds closing over him, the clutch of her hands on his shoulders.
"After you, my lady. "
As she nodded, sweeping out the door toward the limo, he could well imagine what she'd look like without the cloak, her ass defined by those jeans, the provocation of the tattoo. "God help me, " he muttered, following her out.
Oddly enough, one of the first places she wanted to go at the mall was the Mirror Maze, a dimly lit maze of mirrors confusing the mind. It disoriented the giggling and shrieking participants, causing them to bump into the mirrors they thought were open hallways and into each other. As a result, Jacob waited until the previous group had gone somewhat ahead of them before he led her through the curtains.
There were of course ghoulish sound effects, maniacal laughter and props to misdirect. Though he knew it was a game, he kept a firm grip on her hand as he watched her reach out and touch the glass. When she slid her fingertips along it, her brow raised in reaction to his image layering with the images of the others up ahead that were reflected back to them.
"Any dragons hiding in here, Sir Vagabond?"
"Worse, " he said in a low voice. "Teenagers. "
She chuckled. He noted as they caught up and passed other groups that only a brief glimpse of his lady was enough to have the young men running into walls, even more than they were already doing. She did have an undeniable effect on the male gender. He couldn't claim himself exempt.
When he took her to the exit to the maze, Lyssa hid a satisfied smile. Without a reflection, getting through the maze would have been easy for her, but she'd let him lead. He hadn't hesitated, had hardly even glanced at the cues or stopped to consider choices. "The luck of the Irish, indeed, " she murmured.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd had an outing like this. Falls Harbor Mall was an octagon, with corridors forming a pinwheel to the central feature of the mall, the Ferris wheel Jacob had described. At each of the eight points there was a different fantastical water display to engage the imaginations of the shoppers.
For a while they just wandered by the storefronts and she considered different purchases. At first she was wary, scanning her surroundings, but logic kicked in and she knew among this mass of humanity she would feel the presence of a vampire a mile away. Further, she noted that Jacob, though attentive to her, never stopped casually scanning the crowd, looking for anything unusual. She found herself touched by it, the way she'd been by his protective guidance in the maze.
But when he bought her ice cream, she sent him into a men's store to pick out the clothes he said he needed for the dinner. In a mood to placate him, she took a seat in front of the store on a marble wall surrounding a two-story-high fountain. The fountain simulated a mountain, complete with animated goats butting their heads against rocks, a holographic image of salmon leaping up the falls, and a grizzly bear up to his ankles in the rushing water.
Jacob had bought the ice cream with his own money, insisting everything tonight was his treat. She'd chosen strawberry, mixed with chunks of the fresh fruit and topped with Godiva chocolate fudge. As she inhaled the mixture of flavors, she enjoyed the experience of smelling it among the cacophony of echoing sounds. People moving in surges like the rush of water. Wanting to spend money or just enjoy the sights among the nearly two hundred stores. Young people prowling, here to be seen.
When a little girl and her mother sat down near her, she offered the treat to them. The mother was initially suspicious, but took it with an understanding smile when Lyssa confided her date had bought it for her but she was lactose intolerant and didn't want to hurt his feelings.
She had to suppress the urge to go shop with him. He'd told her what he was going to get. Like most things which concerned Jacob, she'd been impressed by the appropriateness of the choices. Particularly since all she'd seen him in other than the costume hose were T-shirts and jeans that had seen better days. Even tonight, once they'd gotten to the mall, he'd shed the dress shirt, showing he was wearing a T-shirt beneath it. It was a very appealing look on him, but she was looking forward to seeing him in the dark pair of slacks and midnight blue shirt he'd described.
When she rose and wandered around the back of the fountain, curious to see what animals decorated that side, she was, delighted to find a very lifelike cougar. A moment later, Jacob was at her shoulder, without his purchases.
"You disappeared on me, my lady. "
"As I will occasionally do. " She cocked her head, inserted one finger in the pocket of his jeans and tugged at the seam with an indulgent smile, too pleased by her, surroundings to get cross with his overprotectiveness. "At night, unless I specifically request it, I don't need my human servant to be a bodyguard. He guards his Mistress's well-being, yes. Helps her scout out danger upon her request, watches over her daytime repose. But when I'm awake at night, I'm fully capable of protecting myself. You've done all the right things to ensure we won't run into problems. If we do, they'll be the type of problem up to me to handle. "
"They'll have to come through me. "
"No, they won't. " Now her tone did sharpen. "I absolutely forbid you to engage a vampire in an attack. It will only interfere with my handling of him. " At his stubborn look, she chose a different tack. "I might get killed trying to protect you. "
"I was able to anticipate your movements the other night, " he said defensively. "I've hunted vampires. "
"So have I. I can promise you, the power and cunning of a vampire that would come after me will be more than you've ever faced. Otherwise you'd have been dead, and we wouldn't be having this conversation. " Before he could open his mouth to argue, she placed a finger on that appealing bottom lip. "Plus, I had no intention of hurting or killing you the other night. It makes a difference. " She peered at him over her glasses. "Go get your clothes and stop hovering. You're annoying me. " Even though he wasn't.
Giving her a bemused look, he reached out, pushed the bridge of the eyewear so they settled back on the bridge of her nose. "With respect, lady, you weren't able to protect yourself the other night when we met. "
She frowned. "You took care of me when I lost . Consciousness. I am quite fully awake now. Shoo. "
She turned her back on him, tilting her head to look to the top of the mountain, conveying quite bluntly that the conversation was over. Even gave a little flip of her hand to underscore the command. The sound of his breath leaving him in an exasperated huff like a disgruntled adolescent almost made her smile.
Ouch. Her hand clapped over her left buttock, a reaction to sharp pain. Astounded, she spun on her heel, glaring at him. He'd pinched her. Hard. On her ass.
Already several paces away, he threw her a rakish look over his shoulder. She closed her mouth. He was the most outrageous man. One moment properly deferential, a blink later, acting like… An annoyed lover. Teasing her like she was some girl he had out on a date.
With exaggerated casualness, she wandered back around the mountain display. Back inside the store, he was studying a rack of belts. A salesgirl had just approached to assist him. Or to ogle the muscles in his arms denned by the stretched fabric of his short sleeves. While Lyssa watched, the girl reached out to casually touch one of those arms as she pointed out the section of the belts with his size. As if the man was not perfectly capable of determining that for himself. He could figure out her accounts, order about landscapers and repair her woodshed. He knew how to pick out his own belt.
Or perhaps he did need some help.
As she closed in on him, stepping into the store, she slipped her hands in her back pockets to enhance the sway of her hips as she walked. It pushed the jeans down low enough that her hip bones were revealed in the front.
Her eyelashes didn't even flicker as a male sales associate tripped over a display and went sprawling within ten feet of her.
"Oh. " The girl left Jacob with a word of apology and hurried to help her coworker with the wrecked display and his bruised dignity.
Jacob barely acknowledged her, his eyes all on Lyssa as she approached. She'd noted he'd registered her entry the moment she'd stepped over the threshold. His mouth had twitched at the sales associate's reaction.
"Something you needed, my lady?" Despite their disguises, she hadn't encouraged him to call her anything else, so he kept his tone low on the address, giving his voice that sensual cadence.
She could tell he was smart enough to be wary. Male enough he couldn't keep his eyes off the low ride of the waistband, the jut of her unbound breasts beneath the kitten T-shirt.
"I decided to come in and help. Choosing belts?"
The trousers and shirts he intended to purchase lay over his arm, apparently retrieved when he came back in the store. "Do you have a preference?" he asked. He already had his hand on one, a simple black strap with a silver buckle, handsome but not overly ornamental. Very much to the taste of the man. Pursing her lips, she picked up one studded with pewter stars at two inch intervals on a wider strap. A look of alarm crossed his face as his grip tightened on the belt he'd originally chosen.
"My lady, I'm not certain if that style is my–"
She wondered how he would feel if she ordered him to wear women's clothes in public. There were so many ways a vampire could torment her servant.
Considering, she cocked her head, surveying the store. There was a married couple several feet away. The two store clerks were restoring the display. A group of teenagers clustered around the discount sales rack at the back of the store.
At the sound of a loud crack, they all turned, scanning the store and the walking area out in front.
Someone with a gift for recalling details might have remembered that the beautiful young woman casually standing with her boyfriend by the belts had held one of them loosely by the buckle in the opposite hand only a blink earlier.
They might also remember the man hadn't been standing rigid, his teeth clenched as if someone had just punched him in the jaw. Or as if he were ready to strangle someone.