Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 5
“You be very good for Lord Mason and Jessica,” his lady murmured, stroking his back and balancing him so he wouldn’t topple off the horse. “They will teach you many wonderful things and take excellent care of you.”
She hesitated then. When a wave of emotion surged forth, Jacob almost went to her. She battled it back down, not wanting Kane to sense it, of course, but Jacob knew her eyes were wet. She’d lived through a lot of things, including the loss of another child, centuries ago. She knew better than anyone that every day could be the last, that this journey might be one from which they wouldn’t return. It wasn’t a dramatic observation; just the way their lives were. Usually she shut herself down to handle such realities. However, staring into the face of the child that was one half of herself, who expected she’d always be there because that was the oblivious faith the young had, she lost a grip on those shields. Leaning down, she kissed his head, pressing her lips hard to his fine cap of hair, her own curtaining him as she gave him her touch, her scent.
“Go to her,” Jacob said to Jess. “She'll want to leave him playing there, so he won’t see us go.” The girl nodded, moved down the slope. Jacob sensed Mason at his shoulder.
“You know,” the older vampire said. “My relationship with Jessica is… complicated. Far beyond the rules of the Vampire Council—fuck all of them.”
Jacob bared his fangs in a feral grin, appreciating Mason even as his eyes remained on his lady.
“However,” Mason continued, “if prizes were going to be handed out for the most complex and hard-to-understand vampire-servant relationship, you and Lyssa would win that ribbon hands down. You know that.”
“What? She has vampire blood, but she’s not technically a vampire anymore. And I used to be human, and should have a fledgling’s skills, but I have hers instead. What’s complicated about that?” Jacob shot him a wry look.
“And she’s your fully marked servant.”
“I fully marked her. She’s not my servant.”
“Jacob.” Mason drew the younger man’s attention with the serious note. “You know how I feel about Lyssa. It would take far more than the loss of her vampire powers to make me view Lady Elyssa Ameratsu Yamato Wentworth as anything less than the dangerous force of nature she can be. I don’t mean any disrespect to her.”
“I know.” Jacob shifted. “But it’s not merely sentiment, Mason. You’ve seen her come out of the forest in her Fae form, transition back to human, so to speak. And while I hope your gaze has not lingered too long before she puts on her robe, I’m sure you’ve noticed it. She doesn’t have a servant’s mark. But I still have mine.”
All third-marked servants bore a skin mark, a spontaneous occurrence when the final serum was administered. Jacob, whose vampire transition should have eliminated his full -servant mark, still bore the silver fossil-like serpent imprint up the line of his spine. Some things were beyond the ken of man or vampire, but Mason knew that in everything he was or did, Jacob saw himself as Lyssa’s servant. Her protector, her lover, whatever she needed.
While Jacob observed that belief privately as well as publicly, there was a practical purpose for the public side. Only three vampires and their trusted servants—Mason and Jess among them—knew that Lyssa had lost her vampire abilities from that turning.
That kind of vulnerability was dangerous as hell in their world.
Jacob’s background as a trained fighter had helped him gain command of Lyssa’s former strengths relatively quickly, though he still had the occasional bout with a fledgling’s bloodlust if he got pissed off. However, as much confidence as Mason had in Jacob—those strengths being a formidable combination with his unshakable loyalty and courage
—he found the knowledge of Lyssa’s own burgeoning Fae skills an additional and considerable reassurance. One could never have too many weapons in the arsenal.
Unfortunately, the Fae Queen’s summons meant that Lyssa’s growing gifts had opened herself up to dangers from the other side of her family tree.
Mason put his hand on his shoulder. “All I’m trying to say is, she means a great deal to me. If there’s anything I can do…”
“You'll be the first I call. As well as Gideon. We'll come back, Mason. Never underestimate her.”
“I don’t. I never underestimate either one of you.” Jacob hoped that was true. He had a great many concerns related to a trip to the Fae world and the things that could go awry, but first they had to find a needle in a haystack. Though finding an actual needle in a haystack was probably easier than locating a dryad in downtown Atlanta.
Lyssa passed most of her time on the plane sleeping, stretched out on the comfortable cushions, her head pill owed on his thigh. She’d spent most of the daylight hours before Jacob and Kane woke talking to Jessica about the child’s care, but he knew that wasn’t the only reason she sought refuge in oblivion.
They’d slipped away while the baby was occupied with Jessica. His last glimpse of his son was his face screwed up in concentration as Jessica showed him how to press his heels into the concrete horse’s sides. Even while dozing, Lyssa kept her hand linked with his, that connecting pressure a reinforcement for both of them. It was the first time since Kane’s birth that they’d been away from him.
While the blood connection allowed them to locate or communicate with him, he would do better for Jessica and Mason if they didn’t use that link too often, like any child being left with trusted guardians for the first time.
When they arrived in Atlanta around eight in the evening, they sent him a warm good “morning” and the emotional equivalent of a hug, but not wanting to distress him, they left it at that.
Elijah Ingram, the majordomo for Lyssa’s estate, was guardian for his young grandson John, whose bedtime was ironically 8:30 p.m., shortly after Kane was getting up. As a result, Jacob had told Ingram to leave Lyssa’s car at the private airstrip and Jacob would drive them back to the mansion.
They’d visited her Atlanta home a couple times since the Council had rescinded Lyssa’s fugitive status. That had occurred just prior to Kane’s birth, thanks to the efforts of Lord Brian, Lord Mason and other friends Lyssa had that could influence Council mind-set. While the Council still hadn’t decided Lyssa’s new status, she had free use of her properties once again. Lord Richard, a friend and territory overlord in her Region, had been designated acting Region Master. He’d made it clear to Council he would concede the role back to Lyssa if and when they decided to restore it to her.
Through a communication with Lyssa, he’d also stated he considered her an honored guest in the Region, not bound by the requirements of other subjects under his control.
Given what he knew of Richard’s ambitious and sometimes ruthless nature, Jacob was surprised, but he supposed he shouldn’t be. His lady inspired loyalty in unexpected places, probably because she was never less than who she was. After greeting the dogs, Lyssa’s pack of Irish wolfhounds, they joined Elijah in the kitchen. The fifty-something former chauffeur, whose steady nerves and military skill's had landed him in this unlikely role as Lyssa’s estate manager, was slicing ham and tomatoes for John’s lunch box. As he did that, he briefed them on the mundane estate business that had occurred while they were away. Whiskers, the kitten Jacob had rescued from the inner workings of Lyssa’s Mercedes and that John had adopted, was perched on top of the refrigerator, watching the food preparations keenly. “You jump from there onto this cutting board, and I’m going to dice up cat for lunch,” Ingram promised. Then he grunted, put aside the knife.
“That reminds me. Your mail’s all on your desk, but I thought you’d want to see this one pretty soon after you arrived.”
Jacob straddled the stool behind her, so he saw the Council seal on the envelope Elijah offered. As she broke the seal and scanned the contents, her sudden tension tightened screws in his chest. She handed it over to Jacob, her gaze unreadable.
Dropping past the bullshit preamble, Jacob reread the key paragraphs twice.
No mention of her vampire blood at all. Someone had found out about the loss of her vampire powers and let it slip to Council. It wouldn’t be Brian, Mason or Debra, he was sure, which left him clueless as to how it had been discovered. He met her gaze, then returned to the letter.
You are therefore required to appear before Council at its next scheduled meeting, where this matter will be determined. In light of your former position among us, we will of course consider your input in this matter, but we know you will submit to our guidance for what is best for your child. You may be assured you will still have a presence in his life, particularly if you accept relocating to a more closely supervised location. It may be necessary for your fledgling servant to serve a time in the household of another Region Master or overlord, as is our custom for accommodating newly made vampires.
As always, we wish you well—
She’d been on the run from the Council before, but at a time when the governing body had been in disarray and not greatly inclined to pursue them.
Plus, Kane had been protected inside her body.
Being fugitives with a vampire child barely out of his infancy would be entirely different.
At Lyssa’s nod, he passed it to Elijah, knowing the majordomo should be in the loop. “Mason’s not on the letterhead yet. I expect that’s a good thing.” It was a reminder to them both that the newest member of the Council was a strong ally. But it wasn’t enough. Mason was already beholdened to Council for their tolerance of Jessica, who’d committed the usually unpardonable crime of killing her previous vampire master. While Jacob suspected the male vampire and his brave servant wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about that if they knew Lyssa was being threatened, Lyssa wouldn’t want to repay Mason’s loyalty by putting him in the same position they faced if she could help it.
The flicker in her eyes, a subtle gesture, told him he had permission to see what way her mind was going. Her Fae powers were impressive and growing, but she didn’t yet have a predictable command of them. If she couldn’t disprove the leak that she’d lost her vampire powers, then they didn’t have a lot of options, not in the short term. She knew they couldn’t risk coming before Council where they’d be outnumbered. They might indeed succeed in taking Kane, and she wouldn’t risk that.
“So instead of going in a more enlightened direction, they’ve decided to tighten the reins.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” she said. “Mason implied as much, based on the documents he’s been reviewing on recent Council decisions. There was the mess involving Stephen’s betrayal of Council, and Lady Barbra’s suspected involvement in it.”
“His next Council meeting will be Mason’s first as a full member.” Though Jacob offered it as a point in their favor, it didn’t ease the pale strain in her face.
“He can’t fight the entire Council. Cal him. Tell him if we’re delayed, he should not take Kane to that meeting under any circumstances. Provisions should be made…”
“I'll take care of it, my lady.” Jacob nodded firmly.
“They won’t get near him.”
Her fingers were white on the table edge. Elijah looked between them. “Can you postpone your trip to this Otherworld?”
“No.” Lyssa tightened her jaw. “Lord Keldwyn made it clear that they will come looking for us. That would be just as dangerous for Kane. Perhaps more so.”
“Trapped between two crappy choices.” The majordomo passed a ham sandwich to Lyssa.
“Sounds like a normal week for you two.” If the Council had remained in the dark about her loss of vampire powers, Mason would have been able to do what he’d intended. Recommend she be reinstated in an advisory capacity to the Council, where they could honor and benefit from her wisdom and strength, as they had for decades. Jacob knew she’d nursed that quiet hope herself, even though she hadn’t put as much faith in it as he and Mason had. Still, feeling anger on her behalf, he reached out, touched her hand.
“Power is the true currency with vampires.” She lifted a shoulder. “I'll pen a neutral response to this before we embark on our quest tomorrow. A great many things may change before that part of things is over. It’s best not to commit to a course of action until then.” She glanced at Ingram. “Were you able to work on the project we called about?”
“Yes, John helped. No surprise that the boy’s actually much better than his grandpa on the computer.” Ingram wiped his hands on a towel and slid a folder to her. “I spoke to the visitors’ center in Atlanta, a couple historic societies, even some of the garden clubs. While they had nothing definite, they gave us some leads and we drove around a bit, took some pictures. John also helped me put some links to satellite photos in the file that might be likely spots for what you’re seeking.” Taking a computer tablet out of the kitchen desk, he laid it at her elbow.
“Our needle in a haystack?” Jacob asked. “The dryad in a tree?”
“We'll see.” She sighed, turning on the screen.
“We'll study these, and head out to look ourselves tomorrow night. After you’ve had your vampire beauty sleep.”
“That’s right. Us young vamps need more rest than you old—”
Jacob was quick enough to have his hand off the butcher block before the knife stabbed into the wood where it had rested. Fingers flexing on the blade, she lifted an eyebrow, her jade eyes gleaming.
“Don’t get too confident, fledgling. Age and experience are more than capable of taking you down a peg or two.”
He grinned, glad to see the flash of temper in her gaze. “I never forget, my lady.”
Ingram cleared his throat. “I’d forgotten vampire flirting is a little more extreme. Or perhaps that’s just the two of you,” he added dryly. Carefully retrieving the knife, he began slicing again.
Later that night, after taking care of some other more mundane business for her, Jacob went looking for his lady. From the way she’d looked after digesting that note, he knew she’d be walking in her rose garden, and that was where he found her.
Ingram had taken good care of the plants, keeping tabs on the landscaping crew who maintained them.
Like Jacob, he understood the significance of the spot to her. For loving and impregnating a vampire, Lyssa’s father, a Fae lord even more powerful than Keldwyn, had been turned into a rose bush. He was then planted in the desert to wither and die. That had all happened a thousand years ago, before Lyssa was born. When she’d been hiding in the mountains and still carrying Kane, Keldwyn had given her an enchanted rose that came from her father’s transmuted form. It was now suspended under glass in her bedroom here, but she’d known the story long before she’d received the rose, and so had always cultivated exotic, delicate roses in her father’s honor.
She’d avoided going to the nursery entirely, and he knew it wasn’t because she missed Kane. As he watched her from the doorway of the solarium, he could see it happening. She was shedding that part of herself. It was in how she walked through her rose garden in that slow, methodical way, her back straightening, chin lifting unconsciously. She was drawing her shields around herself, repatching any armor that the past months had softened or dented.
She was becoming Queen of the Far East Clan again, right before his eyes. And Jacob knew what that required from him.
Though some might cal her months as a fugitive in the Appalachians a hardship, once they’d been reunited there, neither of them had viewed it that way. Not long after they’d met, he remembered a vulnerable moment where she’d spoken of her longing to simply exist. Not as a queen, but as a creature of the forest, nothing required of her but to
Even after they’d returned to Atlanta, with the limbo state of the Council not being sure what to do with her, they’d been able to hold on to that, unmolested by vampire affairs. Until the attack on Mason’s estate had drawn the attention of the Fae queen. While he was sad to see those times about to disappear, perhaps he was cut out of the same fabric as she was, because it was a passing moment. He could feel himself changing as well, aligning back to the concentrated focus of a servant.
Not just guardian and lover, but the being whose role was anticipating her needs at all levels. The knight and samurai that were his past, but also part of his present, were resurrecting, getting ready to defend and care for his liege lady.
His somber thoughts were broken by a smile at her entourage. Bran, her Irish wolfhound, stalked so close to her side that her hand rested with relaxed ease on his wiry head. Whiskers trailed in their wake, making occasional spectacular leaps at Bran’s tail as it swayed with his stately stalk. Now that Ingram and John lived on Lyssa’s property, Bran had developed a tolerance pact with the cat, ignoring her most of the time. However, Mr. Ingram was careful to keep the feline inside when Bran’s siblings were running loose on the estate.
“Because what one dog will do to a cat is a different matter from what a pack will do,” the fifty-something majordomo had observed earlier.
“A universal truth,” Lyssa murmured. That moment had been the beginning of her mood shift.
At dusk on the following day, they’d start seeking the whereabouts of a dryad trapped somewhere among the concrete, glass and asphalt of downtown Atlanta. But tonight, Jacob watched his lady draw strength from the brown earth beneath her bare feet.
When she at last stopped in the inner circle of her garden, where the plants were oldest, those that bloomed with the sweetest, deepest fragrance, she lowered herself to the ground gracefully, sitting on one hip. She wore one of the older skirts she used for her gardening, an oversized Renaissance shirt loose over it. The shirt had belonged to Rex, her former husband. An unsettling choice, but Jacob understood that as well. Another reminder of what she had to become again, from a time when she’d had to be more guarded than she’d ever been, her emotions locked behind a fortress to protect what she held dear.