Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 45
“No, you’re not,” he responded. “Do you remember your last visit to Council? We agreed on a low profile after that. Indefinitely.” Gideon shifted to that aggressive stance Jacob knew all too well. “This Council meeting isn’t going to be about us, so it’s a different situation. And I’m not letting my brother and my nephew go into it without my help.”
“So you are fine with Anwyn deciding to go into a dangerous situation if it suits your own purposes?”
“Don’t do that,” Anwyn snapped. She moved shoulder to shoulder with Gideon. “You know how it pisses me off when either one of you uses me as a pawn to get your way. Why don’t we hear Lady Lyssa’s plan tonight and then decide?”
“Fine.” Daegan inclined his head. “We will hear it, and then I will decide. I’m going to check the perimeter.”
As he strode away, the vampire called over his shoulder without turning. “Gideon, I can see it in your mind when you make a gesture like that.”
“Good. I’d hate for you to miss it.” Gideon glanced at Jacob. “What the hell are you grinning at?” Lyssa was moving toward the house, Ingram accompanying her. While Jacob couldn’t think of anything more appealing than curling around his lady and Kane while they slept, and catching a few hours himself, he wanted to take a moment with Gideon.
He needed to do that.
Gideon sobered, picking up on the change in Jacob’s demeanor. “Everything okay, bro?” His throat suddenly thick, Jacob nodded. He gripped his brother’s shoulder, tightening his grasp there in a sudden surge of emotion. “Yeah. Let’s go see if Ingram has beer in the fridge. I have to tell you some things about where we’ve been. Who we saw.” Clearing his throat, Jacob added, “Kelpies are real, Gid. And that’s not all. You’re not going to believe where I went the day before we left.” Soon after Jacob and Cayden’s sparring session, Catriona had arrived at the castle alone, indicating she wanted to show Jacob something, if he could be spared for a couple hours.
Lyssa was busy with Rhoswen, but regardless, Catriona said this was for Jacob’s eyes alone. While he rode one of the white chargers the Queen’s Guard favored, the dryad chose to fly in low formation next to him. However, after a time, she squatted on the horse’s rump, her bare toes and a light hand on Jacob’s shoulder balancing her. When they moved out of forest area, right toward a thick swirl of pink and golden mist collecting across their intended path, her grip tightened. “Just keep riding,” she said in that soft, breathy voice, a voice like musical chimes. “It’s alright.”
Since the pitch blackness of the desert world had been his last experience with obscured visibility, he was somewhat wary. However, this was Catriona, and the horse didn’t seem concerned. He moved straight into the fog. It was cool, damp on the skin, making it glisten with that same pink and gold shimmer. Catriona’s breath was warm on Jacob’s neck as she went to her knees behind him, leaning against his back, both hands on his shoulders now.
In several strides, the mist started to clear. He saw they were on the bank of a slow-moving river, the water deep midnight blue, with touches of green and the sparkle of the sun. On the other side of the river, within hailing distance, was an island. Lush green grass, fruit trees with wide canopies, white stone buildings. The setting reminded Jacob of the Spanish monastery where Thomas had trained him to be Lyssa’s servant, only even more peaceful and untouched. Women in pale robes picked fruit in the orchards, dropping them into slings on their hips.
“Apples,” Catriona said. “So sweet. The priestesses send baskets of them over as an offering to Queen Rhoswen every season and she shares them with us all. Because of those trees, this is called the Isle of Apples.”
Jacob swallowed. Something shifted beneath his very foundation. The world tilted. It couldn’t be…
“Avalon.” The word came out hoarse. Catriona’s hand tightened on him.
“Yes, Sir Knight. For that is also what your lady calls you, does she not? She has favored Sir Vagabond, but Sir Knight is always what she means, no matter what she calls you. Throughout the ages, no matter the century, there are men who represent the ideals of a knight. Nobility, loyalty, faithfulness, bravery, integrity… you cannot turn them from their path. And there is one spirit, one man they honor as the best of all of them, though some believe in his reality, and others only believe in what he symbolizes.”
Jacob got off the horse. Catriona used her wings to land next to him, her lyrical voice continuing.
“When he died, it is said his half sister, the sorceress, brought him to Avalon to live, until the day he returns again.”
Her hand slipped into his. Jacob gripped the slim fingers as two figures appeared, walking down the island beach. One was a tall, statuesque woman with glittering gold hair almost to her knees, her emerald green robes making her look like a jewel in a gold setting. The man who walked next to her wore a plain unlaced tunic and leggings, his feet bare. He swung a naked sword in relaxed fashion as he walked, as if he’d been doing a morning practice before he joined her for the stroll.
As casual as he appeared, no one with eyes could mistake the man for anything but what he was. A king. It wasn’t merely the broad shoulders or way he moved. It just… was.
It didn’t matter that he hadn’t looked their way, and perhaps, with Fae magic being what it was, they couldn’t even see the opposite bank. Regardless, Jacob dropped to one knee and bowed his head before he drew another breath. He placed one hand over his heart, and one on the pommel of the short sword still at his hip.
Catriona touched his shoulder again, drawing his eyes up. The two had stopped. King Arthur moved several steps closer to the water, and though they were not within speaking distance, Jacob could see a pair of steady eyes, a firm mouth. The Pendragon raised his sword before him, touched the flat to his forehead and gave a slight bow, an acknowledgment. Then he turned and rejoined the woman, where they continued their walk. As Jacob stared after them, the pink and gold mist rose up on the river, slowly swallowing the island again.
Catriona pressed the hem of her dress to his face, taking away the tears there. “Irishmen are very sentimental,” she said, with a tiny ghostlike smile. “I am glad the Lady of the Lake found you worthy. I wasn’t sure if she would allow the mist to part and you to see this, but if it was possible, I thought it might be a good gift, for what you did for me.” Jacob cleared his throat. He wasn’t sure if he could speak quite yet, but he croaked out a sentence. “It was my lady who freed you. The gift... should be hers.”
“You are Lady Lyssa’s gift. You are her heart.
When I honor you, I honor her. She knows this.” Catriona put her hem to his cheek again, blotting more tears. “Was it a good gift?”
Jacob nodded, but could say no more. Catriona seemed to understand.
WHEN Jacob joined Lyssa in her lower bedroom, she could tell from the flush in his cheeks, the gleam in his eyes, he’d been telling Gideon not only about their parents, but about the Fae world. And Avalon.
As he lay down next to her, he propped himself on his elbow so they could close their upper bodies in a heart shape around Kane, now dozing off after his meal. She caressed Jacob’s five-o’clock shadow, enjoying his facial hair again. He’d had a neatly trimmed beard and moustache when she met him, much like the knight she’d met a few centuries before.
“When you came back from Avalon, Rhoswen told me we needed to leave the very next dawn,” she said, low. “She told me I should watch over you closely.”
That day, she and Rhoswen had been in the main bailey. When Jacob rode back into the courtyard, what Catriona had shown him fairly vibrated from him. Lyssa understood the sheer enormity of it to him. But something about his reaction disturbed her as well. Since they’d returned from the desert world, she’d sensed an odd struggle inside of him, too amorphous to define. Rhoswen had provided the missing piece.
He’s human again, Lyssa. This world is an addictive drug to the mortal soul. The moment they step foot here, they
Leave at dawn. Before you next come here, we will try to figure out how to shield him. Humans whose blood becomes infused with the essence of our world can never return to the mortal world. Their hearts explode from the agony of that separation.
Now she kept her hand on his face. “Will I lose you to the Fae world, Jacob?”
Keeping his blue eyes steady on hers, he curled his fingers around her wrist, kissed her pulse point, making it quicken. “It will never match the yearning I have to be with you and Kane. Being without you is what would truly tear my heart in two. Be easy on that, my lady. I am always yours. What kind of knight would I be if I wasn’t?”
Later that evening, as Lyssa laid out the plan to the others, she found she’d convened a dangerous strategy team. As hunters, Daegan, Gideon and Jacob all had experience in difficult confrontations, so they provided her a wealth of contingency plans and alternative scenarios if things didn’t go exactly as planned—or even if they did. Anwyn contributed her experience as a Mistress, honing the diplomatic approaches into a razor-sharp edge. Lyssa hadn’t wanted any household staff other than Mr. Ingram and John present, so was amused when Anwyn took charge of dinner for the four humans. The fledgling vampire enjoyed cooking, though she herself no longer benefitted from it.
Despite the serious nature of their discussion, it was a relaxed environment. Jacob and Gideon helped Anwyn fetch and carry. John, after being called in from the library where he’d been doing his homework, helped set the table. Daegan was absent at the moment, but Anwyn indicated he would join them for dinnertime. Lyssa understood. For the most part, Daegan had been alone and on his own for nearly seven hundred years. When she had Jacob in her mind, available to her as she wished, she often had no need for other company.
Still, after having been in the Fae world, surrounded by strangers, this was a quiet pleasure.
John sat on her lap so she could test his spelling for class the next day. Jacob was nearby with Kane balanced on his knees, holding his hands as he pushed his chair back onto two legs and made it bounce like a horse for his son. Anwyn and Gideon were teasing one another in the kitchen. If Mason and Danny were here, she’d feel like she was surrounded by… family.
Vampires lived on a pyramid, rating every other vampire as over or under them, and behaving appropriately. They didn’t have families, not usually.
Even those that got pregnant with their servant or another vampire often still treated the servant or vampire as a lesser or superior, and the child was expected to cleave more to the dominant vampire parent in time, relegating the human back to a servant’s status as the child matured.
She glanced at Jacob, watched the boy fall face-first against his father’s chest with complete trust as Jacob caught him then held him high in the air, teaching him how to fly like Superman. The idea of ever allowing anyone—whether it was Kane, herself or another vampire—to treat Jacob as less than a full father to Kane, was reprehensible to her, particularly seeing the unconditional love in Jacob’s eyes for his son.
When Gideon came into the room, she saw that cautious smile on his face as he looked toward his brother and nephew. This was all new for him, too.
Spending time with people he loved without having to always be on guard, emotionally or otherwise.
They were a dangerous group, with bloodlust issues and dominant and submissive sexual proclivities that could be way over the top. So vampires were never going to be a warm fuzzy family, but this worked for them. As Anwyn arrived, her gaze sought out Gideon instantly, and he lifted his head, his eyes warming on her. He kissed his nephew’s head, then came around and held her chair for her. As he did, Daegan strode in. When he slid his knuckles along Anwyn’s cheek, he also brushed Gideon’s body with intimate familiarity, closing his palm on his hip.
Daegan, Anwyn and Lyssa had wine flavored with their servants’ blood and a small sampling of the meal Anwyn had cooked. Elijah, Jacob, Gideon and John got steak, mashed potatoes and a Cobb salad.
Anwyn had accurately guessed the tastes of the
“meat and potato” males, though Lyssa was amused to see John somberly telling his grandfather he should eat only half of the meat and save the rest for later, to watch his cholesterol. Jacob, on the other hand, had attacked the meal with gusto.
You don’t have to savor that quite so obviously, you know.
Shooting her a grin, he cut her another tidbit of the well -buttered potatoes and held it out. She took it, well aware of how he watched her mouth as it closed over the morsel.
When they’d all slowed down a bit, she lifted her wineglass, drawing their gazes. Kane had fallen asleep in her lap, and she held him in one arm. “A toast. To good friends and family. Perhaps the changes we make will allow us more times like these, Goddess willing.”
“Or we'll all be dead and it won’t matter,” Gideon added.
She inclined her head. “True. Over the past year, I’ve learned that there is never an age where you can’t learn something new about yourself and the world, and be the better for it.”
“Here, here,” Daegan murmured, touching his glass to Anwyn’s and giving Gideon a fond look.
Lyssa’s gaze shifted to Jacob. “Let us hope we can convince the Council of that, peaceably.”
“After we stake a couple of them.”
This time Daegan did not have to perform the head slap, because Anwyn, sitting between him and Gideon, managed it quite effectively. Gideon gave her a pained look. “You did that because he told you to do it. Puppet.”
“We were merely reflecting the same desire,” Anwyn responded.
Gideon caught her hand, brought it to his lips to soothe any sting to her palm caused by his hard head. “Just remember our bet,” he shot at Daegan.
Daegan lifted a brow. “As long as you remember what you owe your Mistress, regardless of the outcome.”
Anywn shook her head at both of them, lifted her goblet toward Lyssa. “I agree wholeheartedly,” she said quietly. “Everything I value most is at this table, and I do not want to lose them. Well said, Lady Lyssa.”
Elijah sent John off to the den to watch an hour of TV then, while Anwyn sent Gideon to retrieve the desserts. He took Jacob with him. Once they’d left the room, Lyssa raised a brow. “What is the bet?”
“Gideon thinks you'll have to beat Lord Belizar to a bloody pulp to get him to listen to reason. Daegan thinks you'll have to stake him and start from scratch.
If Gideon wins”—she glanced at Daegan, confirming he was fine revealing the nature of the agreement
—“he wants Daegan to set aside his Master role for one night. Gideon wants to… take Daegan.” Intriguing, and more than a little bit astounding.
Jacob had fucked men in her service before. It was not his favorite thing, though it had not compromised his male pride to do it. Only extreme circumstances would make her put him in a situation where the reverse was necessary, because of what she knew of him. Since he’d known his brother was of the same bent—innately and often intensely heterosexual—it had been a paradigm shift for Jacob to see his angry, violent-natured brother as the servant for a male and female vampire. However, because of the circumstances that had brought the three together, Lyssa knew this was a significant step for them. It explained why Daegan had agreed to the wager. Gideon actually wanting to be the initiator with Daegan, give his Master pleasure through penetration, rather than being the submissive recipient who could passively deny his own desire, underscored how much he accepted Daegan as his Master.
“And if you win?”
Daegan took a sip of his wine, pressing his lips together over the taste of it, flavored with Gideon’s blood. “Wild card. I get to
“Hmm.” There were pleasures in peace and contentment. But for vampires, there were darker pleasures as well, ones stirring in her blood now.
“What did you mean, he must honor what he owes his Mistress?”
Anwyn answered. “When Gideon surrendered to us, one of my conditions was that, at some point, Daegan takes him down alone, without my participation.”
Lyssa privately hoped Anwyn had a diabolical plan to watch that, because she couldn’t imagine wanting to miss such a sight, two strong warriors in a sexual embrace, so passionate it would appear like they were in mortal combat. “Now I understand why you sent them both out. Brothers don’t need to share everything.”
“No, they don’t.” Anwyn met Lyssa’s gaze squarely. Though the woman had been deferential, polite and friendly, there was a gleam in her eye Lyssa recognized. Daegan put a warning hand over hers.
Lyssa smiled, showing the tips of her fangs.
“Touché, dear. You’re well suited to the vampire world. Just be careful of showing that cleverness in the wrong place, where it won’t be properly appreciated.”
She sobered then. “Which brings me to an important point. While I expect you will convince Lord Daegan that you and Gideon should accompany him, this could get very bloody. In time, you will be a strong and able vampire. But do not let pride make you foolish. If you are going to be present, obey Lord Daegan’s direction to stay safe, so neither Master nor servant will make a fatal mistake, trying to protect you.” Lyssa allowed a rare moment of softness in her tone. “He has just found you. His soul is too fragile to survive your loss, but being marked by both of you, Gideon would likely survive your death, Anywn. Physically.”
Anwyn nodded, her jaw tight as if she’d already reached the same conclusion, though she found it an unappealing one, standing back in a fight where her two men were in peril. “It’s why I hope you’re right and neither of them are. I hope reason will prevail.”
“Dealing with old vampires, that’s not usually the case,” Lyssa noted. “But lesser miracles have been known to happen.”