The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Seventeen)

He set up his tools for her in the sunroom. She called it the moon room, since she only visited it on moonlit nights like this. The glassed area gave her a view of her rose garden and the statue in the middle, a fountain with water sprites cavorting around Pan.

"Doesn't he seem a little overendowed?" Jacob glanced toward the large appendage on the bronze statue.

Lyssa bit back a smile. "Are you envious, or worried you might suffer in comparison?"

Jacob snorted. "An elephant would suffer in comparison. I suspect most women would run screaming if they saw that. "

"Some women are aroused by pain. " She took a seat as he gestured her to it. "Some men as well. You found pleasure in the pain I inflicted on you, that first night. "

She'd taken an hour alone to re-marshal her defenses while he prepared. When she walked away tonight she intended to have the upper hand. But he'd changed into the tight hose he'd worn at the Eldar. No shirt and bare feet, recreating everything as she could wish it. He'd set up an occasional chair for her comfort across the table from the stool he'd chosen for himself. The chair did not recline as the one at the Eldar did, but would provide her a more relaxed seat while he did her nails.

He'd risen the moment she'd come into the room, underscoring the fact he was hers. Stimulating her when she did not want to be stimulated. Gods, was she a teenager again?

"With respect, I think it was your pleasure that goaded my desire, my lady. "

"Silver-tongued devil, " she commented coldly. "Start my nails and tell me about your first conversation with Thomas. How you convinced him to train you. "

Giving her a searching look, he picked up a file, apparently realizing it was best to start with filing her nails instead of the more intimate act of massaging her hands. "That first night I saw you, I wanted to speak to you, but Thomas prevented me from that. Quite smoothly, I might add. I ended up talking to him. He told me nothing of the truth of who he was, of course, but he must have seen something… Different, in how I was drawn to you. You were occupied, so we shared a bottle of wine, an evening together. At the end of it, he gave me his card, told me to call him if I ever felt a compulsion to do so. About a year ago, I found that card in my dresser behind some other things. I called. He was in Madrid, and I joined him there. "

Lifting a shoulder, he moved to the next finger, filing in one direction as was proper, brushing away the dust with a thumb that caressed her knuckle. She watched his lashes fan his cheeks, thickened by the shadowing of the moon, drawing her attention to the slope of his cheekbones, the sensuality of his mouth. "Once we established trust, he started telling me about you. At a certain point, he accepted I'd be here when he couldn't any longer. "

Again, his gaze rose, lingered on her face. Not for the first time, she thought he didn't look at her the way a human servant looked at his Mistress. He looked at her the way a lover would, one who knew things about her needs, her fears.

He was a human. She should tell him to lower his gaze. But would she be doing so to teach him a lesson, or because of the way that look was making her feel?

She frowned. "You had no woman?"

"Of course not, my lady. I wouldn't come to you attached. "

But he'd had women before. That was obvious. She found she wasn't interested in hearing about them, however. She didn't particularly care for the fact he'd had them, no matter how skilled it made him now. His fingers were larger than hers, deceptively stronger-looking, and she was hyperaware of every place they touched her hand, how they held it. "Do you still prefer oval tips, my lady?"

"A little sharper than that. " She tilted her head, let her voice lower into a purr. "I like being able to scratch a man's back, leave scars there when I drive my fangs into his throat, when his cock spurts into my body. "

She was spitefully delighted to see the flash of lust in his eyes, a flare of jealousy at the implication of other lovers. When he bent his head back over his task, she continued lashing at him, unable to stop herself. Unable to push down the desire her own words were stoking in herself. "I also like to restrain a man when I feed or take any other sort of pleasure with him. Spread his arms and legs wide, leave him no defense against me. Did Thomas tell you that amid all his many pearls of wisdom? Were you prepared for how I treated you that first night, Sir Vagabond? The way I may treat you every night if I so choose?"

"He told me some of your preferences, my lady. Is that sharp enough?"

She moved her glance down, but before she could study the shape of the nail, he lifted her hand. Gripping her wrist, he brought her fingertip to his throat, pressing down so it punctured the skin, welled blood. Keeping his gaze on hers, he lifted his chin higher.

Jacob knew when he was being taunted. Defiance wasn't the best strategy when it came to vampires, but instinct as well as a good deal of male ego drove him to stand up to her now.

Because his experience had been that vampires were very ritualized and formal in their own interactions, he'd envisioned his first days with Lady Lyssa as a transition period, like a knight swearing allegiance to a chosen lady. Awe and reverence. A certain amount of formal detachment between them, not too messily intimate or personal.

So much for that idea. His cock was going to explode if she kept masturbating it with nothing more than her sultry voice and provocative words. She'd brought him to climax less than a few hours before, in another almost equally uncomfortable situation.

A trickle of blood itched along his throat. She'd gone so still that Jacob blinked to make sure she was still real. He couldn't tell if he'd offended her or if he'd done… Something different. The way those jeweled eyes centered on him now, unmoving, unblinking, made him vote for something different. He tried to ignore the sly voice that suggested his aggressive response was to ignore his reaction to her words. The way hot lust licked up his cock, tightening his balls as he imagined the picture her words painted. Accessible to her touch whenever she willed it, his legs restrained. His blood pounded hard under the touch of her fingers.

"You do get aroused by pain, Sir Vagabond. " The same question was delivered as a statement, uttered in that temptress's voice. Her green eyes were like a predator's, waiting for the right answer before she moved in for the kill.

"No, my lady. Except when you're the one administering it. " Tightening his hand on her wrist, he leaned in. "When Thomas flogged me, he told me to imagine it was your hand wielding the whip. Damn if I didn't get as hard as the stones beneath my bare feet, even as I felt the blood get slick under my heels. The night you put that cock ring on me, it burned like fire, but all I could think about was how wet your cunt was getting while you watched my discomfort. You could have rammed a railroad spike up my ass and if it got you off, I'd still be hard as a rock, mesmerized by your nipples stiffening, your legs spreading so you could taunt me with your soaked pussy. No other woman has ever done that to me. It's you. Whatever you choose to do to me. "

Desire knocked into Lyssa like an ocean wave hitting her mid-body, spraying her senses. It was not just the smell of his blood, his heat. It was his defiant look, wrapped up with a gesture that offered her everything. He was challenging her control, recognizing full well she was testing him. He was testing her right back.

Jacob knew it was coming, could envision it happening before it actually did with that curious sense of dj vu he got, but he forced himself to stay still She surged up from the table. It was like going over the edge of a roller coaster, too fast to follow, everything out of his control as he was slammed up against the side of the sunroom, against the edge of a cabinet there. He opened his hand, releasing the file so it made a muted tinny sound as it hit the floor. When he swallowed against her hold on his throat, he noted her grip was under his jaw rather than on his windpipe. Apparently he wasn't the first she'd trapped against a solid surface like a mad scientist with a pin and a hapless butterfly. The corner of the cabinet stabbed into his back and hip bone.

Her expression was merciless, hard. "Did you know vampires secrete something like a pheromone that makes mortals unable to resist us? The younger vampires can't control it at first. When they go out at night they avoid crowded areas so they don't cause a spectacle like the Pied Piper. I rarely use it. After so many centuries, if a woman blessed with a vampire's immortal looks hasn't honed her seductive powers to the same potency as a chemical reaction, then she has no right to use either. "

"I'll deny you nothing, my lady. "

"You deny me your submission. " Her eyes glittered, her voice dropping to that cock-teasing whisper.

When he'd faced vampires with his brother, they'd intended to kill him before he could do the same to them. They'd discarded a civilized veneer, becoming 100 percent the savage predators they were. While hurting Lady Lyssa was the last thing he would ever do, he could not deny her sudden ferocity provoked his fighting instinct, which pissed him off. Closing his hands into fists, he suppressed the urge to struggle. Then it occurred to him a different strategy might be needed here.

You must go with your gut. Thomas's words. Lady Lyssa was a master of deception, even above the level of most of her peers. He would be of no use as a servant unless he learned how to cut through all that and get to what she really wanted from him, what she needed him to be. But what if what she wanted and needed was something she herself might not know? Something that might change from moment to moment.

After all, she is female.

"You like the fact I resist, " he responded. He matched her seductive purr with a husky growl. He could take disobedience to an art form if it gave her the type of shuddering orgasms that made her keep coming back for more. "That's what's making you wet even now. You want to sink your fangs into me and invade my mind, make even more of me your slave. "

Oh, he is such a handful.

Teaching a strong man to submit to her will by his own choice had always enthralled her. Under normal circumstances, that was important. While each vampire handled time differently, all vampires with an iota of wisdom knew the dangers of stagnation. The dreadful, often psychopathic effect of the Ennui took more of their numbers than anything. Ultimately, it was what had taken Rex. The thought disrupted the moment, reminded her that stagnation was irrelevant to her, like so many other things.

Easing Jacob down off the wall, she withdrew her hand, but in a motion that allowed her to trace his collarbone. The man had beautiful, firm skin. A delicious body. Thomas had given her substance and candy both. You bad, bad monk. You learned things from me no monk should know.

Turning away, she returned to her chair and deliberately laid her hand on the towel that was on the table, wiping off the blood that had collected on her fingers. Jacob approached a moment later, rubbing his neck and eyeing her warily as he straddled the stool again.

"I feed on my own terms, " she said coolly. "I'll give you the second mark only if that's my desire. If I bind you to me and you prove tiresome, I'd likely kill you rather than exert the energy to sever our link. Therefore, I wouldn't rush me. "

A grudging smile tugged at his lips, stirring her further. The man did not have enough control to suppress a smile. How on earth could he exercise the restraint to be her servant? Never mind she was fascinated by the way his lips curved, the appeal of his clever mouth, the genuine intelligence and affability his expression revealed.

"Fair enough, my lady. "

They maintained a companionable silence while he finished the filing. When he placed her hands in a basin of warm water, the fragrant oils with which he'd infused it closed over her skin, filled her nose.

"Did Thomas tell you how long he was with me?"

"Yes. And that he would have served at your pleasure for as much as two hundred more years if your husband had not punished him for his loyalty to you. " He gave her an even look. "For which you–"

Her hand was out of the water, her fingers pressed against his lips before he could say anything further. "We don't discuss that. Ever. "

Despite her sharp command, she took advantage of the contact to trace the oil along his lips. Watching them part in surprised response, she felt her heart twist in a knot of nearly unbearable pain at the simple beauty of it. His fingertips pressed into the table, whitening with the suggestion of a man's rising desire. It made things quiver low in her stomach. So she took her hand away.

"We never speak of that, Jacob. Not unless I bring it up. "

And I won't, because if any vampire or anyone connected to my world knows you know about it, your life would be forfeit.

Thomas had obviously had enormous confidence in this man. If she didn't trust her former servant's judgment so much, she'd be cursing the situation far more than she was doing. Thomas had never been dim-witted, far from it. If he'd told Jacob the second most precious secret she guarded, he'd done it to bind his candidate to her even more securely. If he entered her service, Jacob would need the full protection provided by all three marks to keep another vampire from compelling him to tell what he knew of her.

It had been a rather Machiavellian move on the part of her former servant. But if she rejected Jacob, refused to give him the second mark and sent him away, he would not become part of her world. The risk would be far less. You didn't think of that, Thomas, did you? You didn't know my most important secret, the one that makes it impossible for me to give him three marks. A fine dilemma you've given me, my friend.

But she found she couldn't be angry with Thomas's bold presumption. Not when she knew he'd been motivated by love, wanting to impose Jacob on her out of concern for her well-being. She supposed that was part of what had hurt so much about losing him, one of many things. They'd been a family unit, the two of them. Far more than she and Rex had ever been able to be.

If Thomas had sent a clone of himself–quiet, self-effacing, brilliant–she could have easily turned him away. But there was a sensual edge to Jacob that called to her, a fascinating complexity.

He was looking at her too intently, so she brushed a fingertip over his lashes, compelling him to lower his gaze, giving her the sole privilege of scrutiny, as was a Mistress's right. While he didn't deliberately disobey her by lifting his gaze, his hand covered hers in the basin, his thumb stroking the wet dip between her middle and index fingers.

"You know what a sexual submissive is, Jacob?" she asked, forcing indifference into her tone. Turning her hand, she closed it around his fingers, stilling him. "It means you submit to my will in all things. Even if that will is to watch you couple with another woman… Another man… Or share you with another vampire and his or her servant. It means if my desire is to chain you to a wall and torment you until you beg me for release, and even then deny you for the pure pleasure and amusement of seeing your hard cock suffer for hours, you will willingly do it. "

Being whored out to others as she desired, allowing men to touch him the way he'd only allowed women to do. Or to have men or women do things to him he'd not permitted anyone to do. She'd threatened such a thing on their first meeting, but she knew at that point Jacob hadn't believed it was anything more than an attempt to intimidate him. She wondered what he thought now.

It was a long moment before he disengaged himself to wrap her hands in terry cloth. There was a tense pressure as he dried her fingers. "You're right, my lady. I don't understand what a sexual submissive is. "

That he admitted it impressed her. And moved her in a disturbing way. "I'm not surprised, " she said without inflection. "I suspect for all your worldly travels, you're a bit old-fashioned, Jacob. A traditionalist. A knight protects a woman. He doesn't allow her to control him. "

His hands stilled, his head bowed so the fine silk of his hair shadowed the bearded jaw. "I don't understand what a sex slave is, my lady, but I do understand what an oath of service is. A knight swears fealty to a queen. His life is hers to command. Whether it is to send him to his death or to a worse fate. "

Catching him by the jaw, she dug in a little with her sharp nails, bringing his head up. "That would be a worse fate, what I described?"

"Would it, my lady?" The fine lashes lifted so his blue eyes met hers directly, creating a quiver of reaction low in her belly. "Would suffering for your pleasure be so awful? Should I be prepared to bear it the way a political prisoner fears torture?"

As Lyssa stared at him, she resisted the urge to lift his hand to her face. Press it against her cheeks, the bridge of her nose, her lips and chin. Feel her face through a man's sensual touch. He'd claimed he had no gift for words, but either he was a liar or simply unaware of his appeal.

"I leave that for you to decide, Sir Vagabond. I want my massage now. "

A muscle flexed along his jaw, but he inclined his head and drew her hand into the clasp of his.

Lyssa closed her eyes at the sensation. Touch was a basic need. Babies had proven it. Though a vampire's body did not need the therapeutic effects of a massage, she loved the petting, the manipulation of her joints under capable fingers. Jacob had very capable fingers. Thomas obviously had taught him what she liked, but the pacing, the feeling conveyed through the touch, had to be genuine or it wasn't effective.

Making herself push aside the intensity of their conversation, she cleared her mind. She focused on the quiet of the room, the way the moonlight filled it. It was a warm night and the room had trapped the heat of the day's sun. It would hold it through most of the night, which was one of the reasons she liked this space. She was so rarely, truly warm. The only thing that seemed to warm her sufficiently was a man's body.

Jacob switched off the cosmetic light so moonlight was the only illumination. It also gave her sensitive eyes a rest while he did the massage. Her seizure of the other night notwithstanding, Thomas had chosen his protege's debut well, a situation where he could prove his attention for detail while bringing his unique, attractive style to one of her private indulgences.

Perhaps Thomas had hoped it would be enough to overlook the deal breakers. The fact Jacob was a former vampire hunter, and that he wasn't very accomplished at sexual submission or unquestioning obedience in general. Or maybe Thomas knew the contrasts would intrigue her. Absolute loyalty. Resourcefulness. Beautiful body, clever fingers. The mystery mixed with the pleasure offered. Razor edge intelligence, perhaps only equaled by the monk himself.

When she closed her eyes to escape, she found it was a mistake to do so. These past few days, Jacob had served to distract her, but the quiet tranquility called forth the image like a seance. The ghosts of both Rex and Thomas tended to do that, slip into the still spaces whether invited or not, taking advantage of moments when she didn't want to focus her mind, like now.

Brown eyes. Brown hair gone gray too soon for a human servant's extended mortality. A face with so much character and intelligence it defied artistic rendering. "Strong bones" didn't cover it. In her mind, she could touch each plane of that face. The deep set of the eyes, the line of his brows, his firm, determined mouth.

My friend. My truest friend. I should have protected you.

The softness of a handkerchief brushed her face. Her lashes wet, she raised her gaze and saw Jacob touching the cloth to the corners of her eyes, carefully protecting her makeup.

"I'm not crying. "

"I know. Vampires don't cry. Thomas told me. " He was indescribably gentle. It fascinated her, how easily he could do tenderness when so much lean musculature embellished his shoulders, the broad chest. She'd been so used to Rex using gentleness as a distraction for his planned brutality. She couldn't deny there was something… Remarkable about the ease with which Jacob touched her and how she accepted it. Even Rex had never achieved that level of familiarity, in all the years they'd been together.

"You know how he liked word games?" Jacob asked.

She'd said nothing to indicate she was thinking of Thomas. But she nodded.

"One day, when I was trying to distract him from his pain, I asked him to describe you using just one sentence. " His quiet voice, the compassionate quality to it, soothed the ache, gave her an anchor in the helpless sense of loss that suddenly threatened to swamp her and produce more mortifying tears. "He said, 'She has the mindless courage of a predator, the broken heart of an angel, and a woman's unconquerable soul. '"

"Always the overly sentimental poet. "

"He was that. " When she looked away, he put the kerchief to the side and began to massage the joints of her other hand as he'd done with the first, saying nothing further. She watched the moon and her roses as his touch soothed the pain of the memories, distracting her with other things.

"Will you choose your polish, my lady?"

She chose the wet burgundy again. He remained silent, applying the base coat. She shifted her perusal to him, noting small scars, birthmarks, the movement of his body as he performed his task. The deft way he managed it with those large hands. How the hose fit his lower body.

She liked his abdomen, the fiat expanse of it with sectioned stomach muscles and a light covering of hair. She liked knowing she could reach out and touch any of him if she chose to do so.

"Did you win at the joust, Sir Vagabond?"

The corner of his mouth curved as he opened up a box holding tiny piles of glittering gem chips. Rubies, diamonds, topaz, amber. "I did, my lady. Quite often. "

"Ever defeated?"

"Every man can be defeated if he meets a better opponent. It's been some time since I've met one, though. "

She appreciated his cleverness. "I've found myself a Lancelot, then. Perhaps the only thing that can defeat him is a woman. "

Jacob chuckled. "I don't claim to be exceptional in that regard, my lady. A woman can bring me to my knees quite easily. "

"I certainly hope so. But can she make you want to be there?"

He didn't even blink. "One look from you and I believe you could make a man want to do anything. "

Sitting back with a smile, she tapped the section holding the white diamond chips. "You're well versed in courtly love to boot. "

"One of the more effective defenses against women's cleverness. " Giving her a wry look, he snapped off the nail dryer and pushed it to the side to work on the next coat of polish.

She said nothing after that, turning her attention back to her rose garden. She let her mind wander among the blooms even as she remained hypercognizant of his touch, keeping her half aroused even as it lulled her into this quiet peacefulness.

You need a regular dean donor. You need…

A companion. You knew I needed a companion. Someone who would give me the will to live. To want to be alive. All of a sudden she wished she hadn't burned Thomas's note. She'd kept the ribbon under her pillow, though. She wanted it in her hand now.

"My lady?" Jacob's soft question drew her out of the recesses of her memories. She focused, seeing with amazement time had ticked away over an hour. When she'd fallen into her reverie, her right hand rested in the nail platform on the table. At some point she'd curled up in the chair, her shoulder and cheek pressed into the crevice of the winged back, propping herself for more comfortable gazing. Her right hand rested on the chair arm now and her left hand was on the table. The nail platform and his tools were cleared away. She looked down and saw the ribbon trailing out from under the palm of her right hand, against the chair cushioning.

"When… "

"I thought you might want it, since you were thinking about him. " Jacob gestured. "Are your nails to your satisfaction, my lady?"

Against the wet burgundy color, he'd added a feathered brush of silver on the three longest fingers of each hand, setting in place a tiny black diamond chip at the point of each feather.

"Forgive me, but I thought you'd like to try the black diamond against the color instead of the white. You were so relaxed, I didn't want to disturb you. "

They were perfect. The female in her was well pleased, both with the manicure and the manicurist, as much as she didn't want to be. He bent toward her now, his blue eyes close, that beautiful mouth. That body, meant to please.

"Why is there no woman, Jacob?" she asked softly. "Have you been married?"

"No. " He was holding her hand, ostensibly to check her manicure, but pressing on her ring finger, stroking the soft skin above where a circlet would have fitted. She'd never worn one for Rex. It was a mark of ownership she couldn't allow. "I don't really know why. There've been women I've cared about. I've enjoyed their company. At a certain point, I just know it's time to let go and move on. I think I loved a couple of them, but it wasn't the type of love that would have kept me with them. Love… " He paused, lifted a self-conscious shoulder.

Despite his training in the Faire and circus as a performer, she could tell he had a man's reluctance to talk about his deepest feelings. "Tell me what's in your heart, " she murmured. Vampires were un-apologetically selfish. Demanding every secret from their servants, offering their own only when absolutely necessary. That was the way it was, the way it had always been.

From his look, she knew virtually the same thought had passed through his own mind, but he responded after a long, thoughtful moment. "I've always believed love is more than just a feeling. It may start that way, but eventually it rips the fabric of what you know, becomes something far more than you expect. "

"Pain and pleasure wrapped so tightly together that trying to separate the two will make you insane, as if you're unraveling a DNA strand meant to hold the universe together. " She offered it quietly, as if she'd picked up the thread of the thought. As if they already shared a second mark. "It helps explain the reason for chaos. It's the alpha and the omega, beginning and end. "

"Creates all the important questions and answers anything. " An ironic smile curved his mouth. "Like why I have no woman. "