The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Sixteen)

For the next few nights, she made herself keep her distance. She assigned him a well-appointed room in the servants' quarters, making it clear he needed an invitation to join her in her bedroom.

She met with him for an hour during the early part of the night to answer any questions, but after that she would dismiss him from her presence, indicating her need to handle business away from the mansion where he was not invited, or to work on her own matters that were none of his concern.

However, instead of going on her errands or sequestering herself in the room he could not access without her help, she watched him. With the one mark, she could locate him anywhere, but the preternatural stillness and swiftness of a vampire allowed her to be in the same room with him undetected, a shadow dancing at the edges of his peripheral vision.

She told herself she was verifying his competency, his trustworthiness, his discipline when unsupervised. She also needed to know the man, and one of the best ways to know a man was to see what he was when he thought he was alone.

He took meticulous notes. Not only when she spoke to him, but as he learned other things on his own. He'd scribble the information in the dozen multicolored composition books he had. Gazing over his shoulder when he was deep in thought over them, she saw dates and notes he'd made under Thomas's tutelage. She had four houses and eight safe havens. He'd coded them all with names known only to her and Thomas, the addresses not written down anywhere. Then there were scrawled references to the security systems, the more mundane aspects of utility bills, landscape scheduling, winterizing and maintenance issues. Most of those items were handled by trusted companies, usually owned and operated by other vampires or their servants, but it was her servant's responsibility to oversee it all, make sure they did what they were paid to do.

He didn't waste any time proving his competence in that regard. Her Atlanta home was her favorite, but in the months without Thomas, things had fallen behind. She forced herself to stay up later one morning to watch him inspect the grounds from a crack in the curtain, out of the line of sunlight, despite the exhaustion it imposed on her. When she retired to her bed, he was on the phone. By the time she woke in early evening, the grounds were overrun. He was finishing up with the window company that had come and spent the day pressure washing the house and professionally cleaning the stained glass windows. He'd also ridden herd on the landscaping company, having them tidy up areas they'd not kept as well as they should. At twilight, while both companies loaded up their trucks, he was among her roses with a master gardener. From his gestures, she suspected they were discussing if the soil composition was optimal for the spring, and what type of pruning needed to be done at this point.

As he squatted down sifting the soil, he tilted his head to hear what the gardener said, squinting his eyes against the sunlight, his soft hair ruffled over his forehead by the breeze. She liked the way his jeans fit his body, the stress points all where they should be. In that T-shirt his almost thirty years sat very lightly on his shoulders. Very lightly. She'd think he'd lied to her, except the man had no artifice to him. She didn't need a second mark to know that. If he felt it, he said it. Another reason she was insane for even entertaining the idea of him as a servant. So she kept telling herself. Yet she kept giving him more information, more to do, knowing he would prove competent in all ways except the ones most vital. She was keeping him around purely for how he made her feel, and that was dangerous to the point of absurdity.

He'd moved a small side table to the edge of the Persian rug, so each evening when she rose, she found an offering waiting for her at the top of the stairs. A single cut wildflower in a water glass. A piece of Belgian chocolate in the shape of a seashell, the white and dark swirled flavors teasing her tongue, her sense of smell. A tiny empty snail's shell that gleamed a light pink. It was then she realized he was using the items as a way to make sure she was all right, since she would take them back below with her or otherwise move them.

Such gestures had revealed something particularly unique about Thomas's choice. On the second night when she'd risen, she'd had a strong thirst for cold water, one of the few things other than blood that vampires needed for sustenance. Next to the Belgian chocolate had been a pitcher of ice water and a glass.

She'd noted it repeatedly during her observations, even now. As the gardener turned to ask for something, Jacob already had the soil tester he wanted in his hand.

At the Eldar, he'd caught her a moment before she fainted, before she even realized she was going to do it. In the kitchen, he'd handed Mr. Ingram his car keys a blink before Ingram had made his choice not to work for her. Jacob was precognitive, anticipating thoughts and desires before they occurred. Intriguingly, he didn't seem to realize it, probably considering it intuition or luck. Which also explained his brother's disappointment in losing him as a vampire hunter. A mortal precog had an advantage, using it to replace what his vision could not give him, the direction from which the vampire would strike. Of course, precognitive ability was hereditary, so the fact Gideon still lived despite his risky profession suggested both brothers had it.

After the gardener and the landscaping crew left, he took out her gardening tools and clipped a few blooms from each bush. Trailing him to the kitchen, she watched as he made up several vases. He placed one by her tub for her to enjoy during her bath. Then he did the same in her library and her upper bedroom. After that, he called a florist and ordered up special bouquets for the upcoming dinner. He also placed a standing order for weekly bouquets to be delivered every Monday, everything from wildflower groupings to more formal, elegant arrangements. He was bringing her house back to life.

When he went back to her garden box and put away her cleaned clippers, he picked up her gloves, held them in his hands. A faint smile crossed his face as he straightened one out on his knee and compared the size of their hands. Then he closed his hand over the glove, brought it to his nose.

She was back at the window by that time. She put her hand on the glass as if she were touching his shoulder, unable to stop herself while he did such an intimate thing. Swallowing, she let the curtain fall back in place. Perhaps her home wasn't the only thing he was reviving. The thought made her throat ache with emotions she couldn't afford to have.

The next night when she rose, she told herself she needed to go to her library and do some paperwork. She managed a half hour before she slipped into the kitchen and studied him as he laid out several selections of plates and compared them to the food choices they'd made for artistic presentation. After he chose some colors she didn't expect but found she liked, he placed them on the sideboard for the caterers to set the table. Cinderella was in fact making sure everything was in place so he could go play with her on Friday. She told herself the "wicked stepmother" comment didn't amuse her, even as her lips twitched at the recollection.

She admitted she was impressed by how competently he did everything, his large hands comfortable handling such delicate things as flowers and china. At the same time, he could pick Bran up around the midsection and wrestle with him in the grass. Or repair the work shed, the muscles of his bare back sculpted beautifully with light perspiration as he sawed wood or hammered nails into it. She'd almost burned a line down her forearm trying to get close enough to the window to watch that before the sun fully set.

Later that same night, she found him in her study, where he'd apparently spent most of the afternoon checking her accounts and familiarizing himself with the transactions and business conducted in her Region. She knew she was seeing the result of Thomas's rigorous training, but to create a perfect sculpture, the clay had to be right. Her monk had found her a Renaissance man, a jack-of-all-trades confident enough to teach himself whatever he needed to learn, or find someone to teach him by experience.

As engaging as he was to watch at work, the way he spent his leisure time intrigued her even more. When he chose to take a couple hours off, most of the time he read from the books in her library. The choices he made over the several days included a seafaring novel written in the seventeenth century, a Louis L'Amour western and the latest James Patterson novel. There was also a compilation of Leonardo da Vinci's notes on his inventions and a complete how-to on gardening. His absorption in those was a different angle in the same mirror of enthusiasm when he found an X-Men comic sandwiched between two books. She had no idea how it got there but resolved to pick up some more when she saw how he sat cross-legged and barefoot on the library carpet to read it, his back a tempting naked curve, each vertebra coaxing the touch of her fingertips.

When he checked out her cable channels, he made expressions of horror when he found she had nothing but basic service, but he seemed mollified by her DVD player.

So on this fourth night, she reclined near the ceiling, stretched out on top of the custom crafted bookshelves in her office and watched him go through manuals at her desk. As he looked over the maintenance list for her indoor pool system, she wondered if the problem wasn't that he wasn't suitable, but that she didn't want him to be suitable. After all, being a precog would only enhance his strength to serve her, and perhaps balance some of his deficiencies.

Gods, she was giving herself a headache. A normal one, though that didn't abate her irritation.

A furrow creased over his brow. Pursing his lips, he closed the file and rose, headed out of the study toward the pool area. Of course, she followed him.

Most vampires did not like water, but her Fey father had been related to water sprites, so she supposed that explained why she'd always been attracted to the element. While she rarely ventured into it, she'd wanted the pool. It had a curving lotus shape surrounded by tropical vegetation and fountains activated by switches. Jacob played with them, checking the way the lighting worked, making sure no bulbs were out. When he figured out the different control settings on the fountains, he fetched his notebook and made some more notes. Intrigued, she watched as he sat down at the pool's edge and let his feet dangle in the water as he wrote, despite the fact he was immersing his jeans to just below his knees.

After a while he rose and hit the switch to roll back the cover shield on the glass ceiling, allowing the night sky to unfold above him.

Tipping his head back on his shoulders, he looked at the scattering of stars and slice of moon. He closed his eyes and rolled his shoulders, the first time she'd seen him let the demands of the past few days show.

Her concern with that was replaced by something entirely different when he stripped off his shirt. His jeans and underwear came off then, and he toed off his worn loafers. It brought her the scent of earth, for he'd apparently worn them out in the garden earlier and some of the aroma of the dirt had clung to the heels.

Telling herself she had things to do and needed to go, she stayed motionless among the foliage of the tropical plants. The moonlight played across his bare back, the curve of thigh and buttock. It also made the hair brushing just the top of his shoulders gleam. The ends were uneven, suggesting he cut it himself. She wondered if he was planning a haircut before the dinner. He probably would. He seemed to be anticipating everything else.

Apparently the only way she was going to win the pleasure of punishing him again was to poke a stick into those areas where she knew he'd slap back at her. Stirred by the thought, she wanted to reach out and stroke her hand down his back to the dip in his spine, venture to that firm buttock.

Turning his head, he held the pose a moment, apparently listening. For her? But she wasn't breathing, so only the echo of the pool lapping quietly at its edges and the gurgle of the pair of fountains he'd turned on broke the silence. When he dove in, she watched the wavy line of his body stroking beneath the surface, his hair becoming copper-colored silk. She could imagine him as a merman, the sculpted upper body and a powerful tail gleaming in the moonlight as he lay on his back, tempting her to swim with him. To become something she could not be, losing herself in the pleasure of his company such that she could fool herself into thinking it was possible.

He did about fifty laps. By the time he'd finished, she'd sunk down on folded legs among the ferns, silently marking every stroke of his arms, the sinuous twists he did for the turns. When he came to a rest at her end of the pool, he folded his arms on the edge. Propping his chin on them, he gazed at one of the fountains, a Roman girl pouring water out of an urn onto her female lover's reclining nude body. "Would you care to join me for a swim, my lady?"

Tilting his head, he looked unerringly toward where she was. It surprised her enough she didn't think to move, to be gone before his glance could flicker that way. Was it a lucky guess, a sense he'd tested by speaking aloud? Or another example of that psychic ability?

She masked her reaction, rising to move out of her screened spot. "Vampires don't float, so we don't swim. "

He stretched out an arm, flattening a wet palm on the concrete. "I'll hold you up, my lady. The water feels good. "

"I'm not dressed for swimming. "

Laughter rose in his eyes. "I suspect you're wearing the same type of suit under your clothes that I have on now. "

She sighed, eyed him with a hint of exasperation. "I know Thomas didn't teach you impertinence. "

No, he didn't. Thomas had admired her, cared for her, but Jacob wasn't sure if the monk had ever truly seen her as a woman. Jacob understood that, for his lady had an otherworldly presence that diminished illusions of human superiority. But at times like this, she was as female as any woman he'd known. He could tell she wanted to join him. He'd sensed her nearby most of the week, and it had nearly driven him mad at times. Smelling the slight hint of her perfume, knowing her silky skin might be within touching distance, her jeweled green eyes studying everything he did. Her moist lips close, parted to breathe air on his skin.

"Please, my lady. "

When she came farther out of the screen of tropical plants, the desire he'd kept banked with difficulty sparked at finally seeing the body he'd been imagining all week. She shrugged out of the blouse she'd been wearing, unhooked her skirt and let it drop, leaving her in a pale pink lace bra and panties. The color was nearly transparent, blending with her flesh. He could see the shape of her nipples. When she came to the edge of the pool beside him, he held his position as she lowered herself to the edge and sat, dipping her feet into the water. Carefully at first, testing the temperature, then more confidently as she found it heated. It was far warmer than Jacob preferred, but he knew his lady disliked the cold. For the pleasure of her company, it could be boiling for all he cared. Her foot touched his side under the water, her toe whispering across his hip bone. An invitation.

He took it, clasping her ankle and moving around it to stand between her knees. His lady allowed him to reach up, unpin her hair and set aside the hand-carved wooden barrette holding it. Jacob stroked his hands through the dark locks, his fingers diving deep to find her scalp. Her feet curved around his hips, bringing him closer. Lowering his touch to her waist, he slid her off the edge and into the water, pulling her against him. He wanted to tell her how much he'd missed her, but he didn't.

Feeling his wet, muscular body against hers was the closest thing to contentment Lyssa had felt in several days. Her nerves sighed in relief. She'd given her body just a taste of him and now all it wanted was more, even knowing denial was in their mutual best interest. With his cock hard and insistent and pressed between their bodies, she suspected she was going to lose that battle with her will. At least tonight. Her clit was already quivering in little spasms at the contact, begging her to rub.

She avoided his lips, the tender intimacy of a kiss. Instead, she pressed her cheek against his, wrapped her arms around his back to anchor herself there. "Fuck me, Jacob, " she whispered in his ear. "Now. No foreplay, no seduction. Just obey your Mistress. "

His hand went between them, found the crotch of the panties and pulled them to the side, the other hand going behind to palm her ass and press, pushing her down upon him, driving into her slow and strong, making her breath leave her in a little gasp as his thickness invaded her, widening her legs, bringing her down more deeply on him. She tightened her calves on his back.

"Put your hands on your head. " She ordered "Fingers laced. "

As she let go of him, lying back in the water, using the movement of her arms to keep her above the surface of the water, she waited to see if he would obey. Did he know how it goaded her, the rebellious flare of fire in his eyes? Reluctantly, he complied, lacing his hands behind his head and giving up the use of his body entirely to her.

Using the strength of her thighs and upper body, she began to pump herself slowly on his length. Up and down. Stroke after stroke. Not permitting him to move so she could watch the response build in a hard quivering that jerked all the pleasing muscles of his upper body and his thighs, a response she could feel vibrating through her, adding to the sensations she was experiencing. Water rolled over his upper body, sculpting the pectorals, the curved biceps. She wanted to suck the water out of his collarbone, brush her cheek along the side of his wet throat.

"You have a marvelous cock. " Her voice had gone throaty, and she saw his arms tighten in reaction to it. His cock grew even harder inside her, making her gasp. She felt the soft brush of his testicles against her ass as she moved. His buttocks were clenched beneath her heels. His gaze was on her face, moving down her throat, lingering on the way. The pink lace clung to the curves of her breasts, her nipples now sharp points. Down the slope of her stomach to her stretched sex, joined with his, the silk of the panties and the movement of the water interfering with the view but not dampening his absorption in the distorted picture.

"I want to touch you, " he said, his voice a growl caressing her nerve endings. It alone made her pussy ripple on him. In the flex of his jaw, the flare of his eyes, she knew he felt it. "That's what you want, too. "

"Don't tell me what I want, servant, " she responded lightly while her heart hammered against the wall of her chest. "You stand still while I fuck you. That's all I've given you leave to do. "

It was wrong, she knew it was. He'd invited her into the water. When he'd touched her foot and moved between her legs, she'd looked at the beads of water rolling down his body and wanted to kiss every drop. She wanted to lift her chin and let him suck the moisture from her throat as well. Take her under and take over, and she couldn't do that. She had to do it this way, even as she knew she wasn't fulfilling either of their desires. But it would get some hormones out of the way. A clear head was the most important thing.

The orgasm was rolling up, making her lower body rigid. She squeezed him hard, milking his cock with her inner muscles, and heard him curse. "You'll come for me, " she managed. "At the same time I come. "

"No. Not like this. "

"Any way I wish. That's what you must learn. You have no will. No choices but what I give you. "

Oh, God, the sensations were swamping her. She wanted so much more. But this was what she could have. What she could handle.

The climax was a brutal shove over the edge of an abyss. Emptiness yawned below but she took what it could offer, pulling him with her with her skill, hearing him snarl in frustration as he let go, his body shuddering, his feet trying to hold them steady as the physical response unbalanced him.

The heat of his semen jetting seared her, took her up even higher. She pistoned her hips on him hard and fast now, drawing out his climax as well as her own, gasping out her pleasure, the rippling spasms passing through tender flesh.

When she opened her eyes, his chest was rising and falling with the exertion, his hands still laced on his head, his gaze burning on hers. He was beautiful, every muscle etched out with his tension, a powerful male animal held only by her will. She withdrew from him, reaching down to rearrange her panties back over herself. As she thought of their fluids mingling in her body and the water, the thought made her flush. "If you can't look at me with respect, you won't look at me at all, " she said sharply. "Lower your gaze. "

"Make me. "

She'd pushed him as far as his pride could stand, apparently. She turned her back on him, moved toward the edge of the pool. Damn him. Damn Thomas. Damn this emptiness in the pit of her belly even as her cunt wept with a desire only sated physically. Damn herself for a fool.

"Goddamn it… "

A splash of water as he lunged, caught her wrist, turned her around. She could have resisted him, but when he slid his arm around her waist and brought her up hard against him for the kiss she'd denied them both, she didn't. He lifted her off her feet, her toes brushing his calves as he held her by the nape and the waist, his palm pressing against her hip and buttock. When he covered her wet lips with his own, she tasted chlorine and man, cooler pool water mixing with the heat of his mouth.

She didn't put her arms around him. They rested in the water on either side of her, her whole weight held by him until he guided her thighs up around his hips, taking her back into a position where she was wrapped around his body, his buttocks under her calves, heels pressed to his thighs.

"Hold me, my lady, " he muttered against her lips. "I won't betray your trust:"

It wasn't about that. It was about him learning what the limits of their relationship were, a difficult obstacle for almost any servant. Most vampires gave their servants more time to learn it, to understand that the relationship was something different from anything defined in the mortal world, but she would be asking a great deal of him very soon, and he had to learn it now. She had to hammer it into him on every interaction.

But was he partly right? Was her concern a facade for her unwillingness to open her heart again? It was not inappropriate to be fond of one's servant, to show him physical affection.

When he lifted his head, he kept his intense gaze close to her face so it felt as if his eyes had a power to touch her like his fingers, only deep below the skin.

"Jacob, we're not lovers. We never will be. You serve my needs. Do you understand that?" She had to force the words out when all she wanted was for him to cover her mouth with his again, his tongue testing the sharpness of her fangs.

"Serving your needs fully is what I intend to do. It's my only desire. "

She glanced at him sharply, but she didn't let him go. Instead, her hands curled around his neck under his wet hair, her fingertips playing along the steel cords of his shoulders. "Thomas should have made you understand what that means far better than he did. "

"He knew… " Jacob paused, and Lyssa wished she couldn't tell how honest he was trying to be with her, to give her information without hurting her. "Time was short, my lady! He said he was teaching me what he was most suited to teach. "

"Like manicures. " Her tone was brittle even to her own ears. "Oh, Thomas. "

"Your proper care was his primary concern. "

"As opposed to his life. " Her fingers clenched, her nails digging into his flesh, seeking to give pain to balance her own.

"Will denying yourself true pleasure with me change that?" Jacob's hands increased their pressure on her hips. "Change anything other than your happiness?"

Happiness was irrelevant at this point. Pushing out of his arms, she backed to the edge of the pool and turned away from him, closing her eyes. She stiffened as his hand touched her waist, slid around her from behind. His cheek rested against her temple as he enclosed her in the warmth and strong shelter of his body. Nothing sexual, just a connection of flesh to flesh. "What are you doing?"

"Comforting you, my lady. " His tone, ever patient, telling her what to anyone else would be obvious. But people did not offer her comfort.

She leaned back into him, testing it out, even as her mind ordered her to leave his company. She couldn't regain her balance with him this close. Not in her current state of mind. She'd commanded armies. Run households the size of a town. Killed when killing was needed. But her woman's heart could still drive her to her knees, plant a knife between her shoulder blades.

"You wouldn't serve me if I wasn't like this, " she said suddenly, desperately. "You wouldn't want to be with me at all. "

"I don't understand, my lady. " His fingers stroked her hip bone. "What do you mean?"

"If I wasn't beautiful. Desirable to men. "

He shook his head against her temple. "No, my lady. That's not the reason. There are many women far more beautiful. In fact, I'd say you're plain as a fence post. I've seen women with much nicer breasts. Bigger. Long legs. Fine, firm asses that make a man wish his hands were permanently glued–"

When he reached down with his other hand to apparently take advantage of his description, she shoved him under the water, held him down. Shrieked as he grabbed her legs and hips and took her under with him. She struggled, thrashed, and he brought them both up, tossing his head to get the hair out of his eyes, laughing.

"You are impossible, " she accused, even as she let him hold her about the waist as he treaded backward.

"I've heard that all my life, my lady. "

"No doubt. " She couldn't keep up with him. His moods were like the gentle waves of the tide on a shoreline, each cycle rinsing away what was left from the last one, leaving no remains to mar the next new moment. Why was it was so easy for him to slip beneath her defenses in ways even Thomas hadn't been able to accomplish?

"What are you doing?"

"Taking you past where you can touch, my lady. You'll have to cling to me, depend on me for your life. "

"I can walk on the bottom. I can't drown, " she added.

"I can pretend I'm rescuing you. "

Knowing the moment to make her point had passed, she let it go. Maybe she'd gotten it across, but he was refusing to accept it. Again, that wasn't unusual for a new servant. What was unusual was her reluctance to push the issue, knowing the time factors involved.

The dinner would be the true test. With others there, it would eliminate the trap of intimacy she kept stumbling into with him and remind her of her responsibilities. Even though she suspected it would tear something vital in herself, she had to give him the scars he would need to survive the strikes inflicted upon him in her world. She had to know how tough he truly was. But for now…

"I want my manicure, Sir Vagabond. "