Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 39
For some reason, Lady Elyssa Amaterasu Yamato Wentworth, last Queen of the Far East Clan, loved him, Jacob Green, a drifter and former vampire hunter. Another man might say a gift like that for any length of time was more than he deserved.
He should be content with what he’d been given. But when it came to a treasure like that, only a madman wasn’t selfish, determined to do whatever was necessary to hold on to it as long as possible.
He thought of the stories of hunters who stole the sealskin of hauntingly beautiful selkies, to make them their wives and keep them with them. And how those same men were left bereft when their Fae wife found her skin and returned to the sea. He wasn’t going to let her drift away like that, briefly enjoyed and then given to memory.
Holding his hand on the heart wound, he pul ed her up into his arms, into a sitting position. Her eyes were half closed, but sightless. The life spark was distant. Her body had no resistance. Curling his hand in her hair, he pul ed it back, and sank his fangs into her throat.
She’d given him her vampire powers. It had been an accident, but she’d told him more than once that foreknowledge of it wouldn’t have changed her actions. He’d never tried to turn anyone. All the horror stories of what could happen when a fledgling vampire tried to turn a human rocketed through his mind.
But she wasn’t human, and she already bore three marks from him. He had more than a fledgling’s abilities, even if he only had a fledgling’s experience in handling them. He shot the silver serum directly into her carotid, a flood of acrid taste. As soon as he could no longer taste it, knew it was running through her, he began to drink. He had to drink her almost dry, because that was the way it worked. His own heart seized as she arched up in his arms with a desolate, strangled cry, but he kept pulling on that vein, gulping like a bloodstarved fledgling even as his stomach revolted, heaving.
I’m sorry, oh Jesus, my lady, I’m sorry… If it didn’t work, and he’d made her last few moments agony, he couldn’t bear it. Please fucking work.
Work, damn it.
He made himself do what needed to be done, watched her grow paler and paler, even as she bucked and writhed weakly in his arms. It sapped him as well, dizziness taking over, making the world spin around him. The sun dimmed. Was it never night here? What kind of hell would that be? The absence of nighttime, with full moons, chirping crickets and those quiet, solitary moments in bed with his lady, just the two of them in the whole dark universe. There was a spiritual power to joining with her body then, becoming one with her. The universe still ed under the cover of darkness, a time when everyone could experience magic.
Please, my lady. His gut was racked with pain. It was as if his heart had been ripped from his chest.
He didn’t need to breathe, but he still had the experience of suffocation. He broke free, turned away to retch, though he continued to hold her on his knees. It hadn’t worked. That sense of separation was a brick wall coming down, strong and immediate. She was beyond his grasp.
The thought plunged him into pure desolation, worse than even this world. Worse than Hell itself.
No, no, no, no… Kane. Was Kane somewhere, screaming and crying, inconsolable, because he could feel that broken connection that nothing could ever replace? Jacob knew that feeling all too well.
He wasn’t there to comfort his son, just as his own father hadn’t been, couldn’t be, when he and Gideon lost their mother, lost them both.
Jacob wasn’t sure he had the strength and will to give any comfort, regardless. He wanted to die. He knew he wouldn’t, that he would get up, and he would do what needed to be done because of that child, her child. Their child. But in this horrible moment, he wanted to die.
He also wanted to stay curled over her. He would protect her from the sun and stay with her. Lyssa.
Sweet queen. Don’t go.
“My lady,” he said brokenly, tears running over his mouth. He knew they were falling on her face, but he couldn’t open his eyes to wipe them away, couldn’t bear to see death at last come to rest on the face of his thousand-year-old Mistress. In the time he’d known her, she’d never revealed her exact age, maybe because she nursed a woman’s vanity in that regard. That would be just like her.
As he pressed his forehead to hers, sobs racked him. His whole world was dark. He had no idea how he was going to find the strength to get up, leave this moment. Or keep himself from killing Rhoswen, which would earn him a death sentence, and prevent him from returning to Kane.
“Shhh.” Her hand curved over his skull, fingertips in his hair. “Sad Irishman. ’S alright. I’m here.
He lifted his head, disbelieving. She’d thought she was hallucinating, when he was here with her in the bright light of day, and now he had the same incredulous feeling. He could feel that emptiness, that loss, pulsing through him like a terminal fever.
But she was looking up at him, still weak but alive. It had worked. More than worked. His intuition, honed from vampire hunting, detected the vampire, knew that part of her blood had kindled once more. It was pumping like he’d tapped a well, bringing the waters gushing forth, rapidly filling a dry basin.
She had that still ness in her gaze all vampires had, particularly the very old ones. He had forgotten how obvious it was, when she was truly, strongly vampire. The energy of it pulsed against him with that still ness. She’d recognized it as well, was feeling her way through it. He could still detect the Fae blood, a shifting balance. It wasn’t a reversal, though. The Fae blood wasn’t being obliterated by the vampire. It was as if they were… equalizing.
He felt the restrained strength in her fingers, in the way she touched him. She was reminding herself of the little things. Like that too tight a grip could crush a skull. A fragile, mortal human skull.
He realized it then, a shock that went to his core.
His fangs were gone, replaced by normal canines.
He was human again. But the emptiness… he scrambled through his mind, realized what it was.
The second-mark mindlink, the geographic first link, he still felt those threads, but the third, the one that filled his soul with her, it was gone as if it had never been.
When he twitched his shoulders, he felt the physical evidence of the third mark, that serpentine impression. But Brian had said there were reasons for that mark beyond a vampire’s ken, beyond what they scientifically knew about the marks. Every time he and Lyssa had faced things that said they could go no farther— don’t step past this line—they’d let their bond with one another lead them.
It wasn’t a vampire bond. It was their bond, the one that would exist throughout the ages, no matter what. That was what that serpentine fossil mark meant, and that was why it was still there.
Even so, he wanted that third mark back. It was as sacred as a marriage, holding the same meaning and then some. Though she was weak, he saw the same thing in her eyes. Its absence disturbed her as much as it did him.
She stiffened, her nostrils flaring. “They’ve found us.”
Following the direction her head turned, he saw the small shapes coming across the landscape.
Four or five of them.
“Get what you need, my lady. Keldwyn said a portal should open up once you had your hands on what Rhoswen wanted.” Glancing down, he was relieved to see his return to mortality had not brought back the desert brand. “I should be able to follow you out that door.”
She nodded. “The pack. Get the pouch Rhoswen gave me for the gemstone.”
When he did, instead of putting the gem in it, she positioned it beneath the canopy of the small bush.
Curious, he watched her touch the closest branch. It dissolved, a cloud of misty ash that drifted into the pouch. She did it to the next branch and the next.
Whatever enchantment had held the plant together this long appeared to be directing the residue into the bag, not a single cloud drifting beyond the mouth.
Jacob kept his eye on the advancing attack. “Do you
. expanded inside of me. The vampire I was is all, fully there. But I don’t feel I’ve lost anything of what I’ve discovered about my Fae blood. Whether or not that’s the case, even with your blood and the restoration of the vampire side, I feel weak yet. I don’t know how much I'll be able to do against them.”
“Well, a near-death experience can take it out of you.” He stroked a hand down her back. “We'll be fine. Please just hurry, my lady.”
The last of the plant dissolved into the pouch then, a fickle breeze blowing the sand off that glittering red gem. A tiny teacup rose appeared to be frozen inside it. When Lyssa picked it up, the stone was large enough to fit in her palm.
She clasped it to her breast, her face getting quiet, pensive as it had when she told Jacob she’d touched her father through that conduit. Jacob tied the pouch to the belt loop of her torn and bloody tunic, while she handed him the pack. When they met gazes, he knew she was giving him the supplies and weapons because her exit was more certain than his.
“If I don’t come through with you,” he said steadily,
“Do what you need to do with Rhoswen, then come back for me.”
Shadows flashed through her eyes, and with that second-mark link he caught glimpses of the nightmarish memories of what she’d seen for the past two days. “I will not be leaving you behind,” she said flatly.
Since they were both wobbling, they helped each other to their feet. As one, they looked toward the approaching enemy. They were much closer. “When the portal opens,” Lyssa said, her voice even, deadly calm, “hold on to me, tight and close as you can. If she knows you’re here, she'll try her best to shake you loose, leave you behind.”
“Like Tam Lin.” He looked down at her, stroked back a lock of her hair from her sunburned, bloody face. The bruises and scratches weren’t healing. It might be the effect of the Fae world, but it wasn’t.
Even second-marked, he knew her needs, the pal or of her skin. She needed blood. Lots of it. “To save Tam Lin, the girl who loved him had to hold on to him tightly, though the Fae queen turned him into a variety of frightening creatures to get her to let go.
But in the end, she held on, and Tam Lin and she lived happily ever after.”
“All the more reason to hold on.” Her cracked lips curved, her attention shifting. “Murphy’s Law. Looks like they’re going to get here before Rhoswen gets around to opening a door.”
Jacob bent, found a mace and a short sword in the pack, along with several other knives. Clasping the handles of the mace and short sword together, he straightened and handed her the knives. “They say that things here are capricious, but they seem damn premeditated to me.”
“I'll miss eating food,” she said calmly. “I hadn’t expected to like that so much.”
“Yeah. I missed that one a lot myself.”
“Well, you'll eat for both of us. But not too much. If you get fat and lazy, I'll have to find myself another…”
She stopped before she said it, that final word.
Because at the moment, he wasn’t her full servant, was he? God damn it, what a crazy thing to be bugging him right now, bugging them both, but there it was.
The oncoming five were less than a hundred yards away now. Carrying scraps of metal, beaten into crude weapons, they were like zombies out of a slasher flick, only with a far more conscious determination to overwhelm whoever stood in their path. They horrified him, even as it increased his admiration for her anew, thinking how many of these she’d defeated to get here.
He tightened his hand on the sword. When they shifted apart, shoulder to shoulder, she gave him enough room to swing the mace. On a second thought, he leaned down, yanked another weapon out of the pack, this one a wicked-looking machete, and tossed it to her. Dropping one knife, Lyssa caught the machete in the same motion. “I'll bet there’s quite a story behind how Keldwyn got his hands on this.” She considered the blade, flashing in the sun.
“You could write a book of stories about that one, period. Here they come, my lady.”
The creatures broke ranks, making a weird noise between a croaking roar and a hiss like a snake as they charged. The sound would flavor his nightmares for some time to come, along with their bloodshot staring eyes and faces bubbled and leathered with sun damage. All evidence of what they’d endured here. Any rational creature would have committed suicide to avoid this fate, but maybe by the time they reached this point they were beyond rationality.
He took the first one with a solid blow with the mace, close enough to get spattered by the blood and brain matter. His lady leaped into the fray with the machete, taking a head off with a smooth stroke.
Despite her tough couple of days, she demonstrated such elegant footwork he was almost caught with his mouth open and his guard down. Yes, she’d led small armies during the Territory Wars, but he’d never seen her fight hand to hand. Hell, he might ask her to protect him going forward.
He could imagine her caustic retort. Jacob, I’m not risking my manicure when I have a perfectly good servant to fight for me…
Ducking under his next opponent’s lurch, he came back up with a parry and thrust. As the Fae tried to block his sword with a makeshift shield of lashed-together bones, he smashed the shield into shards with the mace, taking out the side of the male’s face.
The eyes burned into his one last moment, blind pain and fury. Twisting around, Jacob saw a green light limn his lady’s figure, the doorway opening where she stood, now fifteen feet away from him.
Another new opponent was coming in fast with two sharp blades, but he managed to backpedal in her direction. She’d taken down her two opponents, but was fighting the pul of that portal as fiercely. Her face showed the incredible strain, her feet planted and arms stretched out wide, holding herself anchored in this world. The green light started to flicker. If they missed their opportunity, Rhoswen might not open it again in time for Lyssa to survive another two days, vampire or no.
Chucking his sword at the last attacker, he spun, snatched up the pack, took two fast strides and sprang. Too slow. He snarled as the blade thunked solidly into his lower back. It didn’t stop his forward momentum. Hitting Lyssa mid-body, he wrapped himself around her, tumbling them both through the portal.
That absolute darkness again, but he smell ed forest floor beneath them. He was on top of her, her heartbeat under his chest, his arm still around her waist, fingers curled in her tunic. When he put his forehead on hers, they drew a sigh of relief together.
She felt her way down his back, found the serrated blade. As she pul ed it free, he shuddered at the tearing sensation, but refused to let her go. When he’d entered this dark chasm to the desert portal, it had been sinister, no place he’d want to linger. Now, free of the desert world, alive, and yet not quite in Rhoswen’s clutches, this in-between place was the best place he could imagine.
Lyssa pressed her lips to his face, his cheekbone, his jaw, then his mouth. He cradled her face in his hands, deepened the kiss, pressing his body down into hers so he felt every curve, the way her thighs spread, a natural cradle for him.
Then her touch slid down his jaw, to his throat. She broke the kiss and used her thumb to tilt his chin up, testing that restored strength, letting him feel the strain in his neck, his shoulders. With a Mistress’s natural bent, she demonstrated the ability to hold him as she wished. When her mouth touched his throat, he trembled, his fingers curling into the torn tunic on her hips.
Jacob, you once again have a choice.
“No, my lady.” He murmured it into her hair, the shell of that beautiful ear. “You do. I was always born to be your servant, from the very first time my soul came into this world. You are my heart, and if I’m not fully bound to that heart, then I’m not whole. You understand?”
“It is my choice.” She repeated it, her other hand moving to his face in the black, but he knew what her expression was, could tell only by her voice, the way he knew everything about her body language, her emotions, her cravings and darkness.
He swallowed. “Yes, my lady. All choices, when it comes to my life, my will , are yours.” She was feeling a Mistress’s pleasure in his words, a Mistress’s craving that surged to the forefront, no matter the carnage they’d left behind, or how weak she felt, what she’d been through. It was not just the nature of the vampire, but the nature of the woman herself.
The superior strength and quickness, those powers she’d given him with her turning, they would now reside within her once again, when she reached full strength. While he could mourn those abilities to protect her, and there would be times his alpha nature would deeply regret their loss when he wanted to resist her attempts to be too much the Mistress with him, he knew this was how it was meant to be. She’d tilted the universe to save him, and the universe had been kind enough to allow it.
But now it was returning to how it was meant to be.
“Please, my lady. Lyssa.”
Her fangs eased in, a hum in her throat, an emotional sound echoed in his aching heart.
I’ve missed this, Sir Vagabond. Feeding from you as a vampire.
I’ve missed it as well, my lady. And he had. There in the desert world, he’d almost begged her to take the precious time to reinstitute that mark.
I like it when you beg, Jacob. You know this. “But I also know your heart.” She slid her fangs out to tease him a bit as she spoke, pricking his skin. “I feel that emptiness, calling to me. I want that bond as well, enough to make me hesitate, to be sure you’re sure. You say it is my choice, and I will agree it is, for you long ago surrendered to me as your Mistress, but I will ask you to say it one more time.”
“I will do more than that, my lady.” Lifting her hand, he placed it upon his chest, over his heart, and spoke the oath he’d taken under Thomas’s training.
The oath he’d spoken the night he’d been given fifty lashes, part of the Ritual of Binding to a Vampire Queen.