Vampire Queen 8 - Bound by the Vampire Queen - Joey W Hill, page 50
“Yet you wouldn’t abandon either of us. It was then I realized you were different from other vampires.
You seduced a young woman, brought her to Rex and me to feed upon. When she lost consciousness, I remember you lifting her in your arms, tender as your own child, and carrying her up top to a safe place, back to her family home. When you came back, you knelt by Rex, stroked his brow, then came to me. I was wearing that fake beard to look like my countrymen. You tugged on it to tease me, even as I could see the strain in your eyes, the determination.” Belizar coughed, shifted. “The set of your delicate chin told me that before daylight, you would take Pietro down. And you did. Tore him to pieces, scared his thugs into a running retreat with your ferocity. And yet… you stroked my beard. You have always been a puzzle to me, Lady Lyssa. Perhaps that is why I often forget why you are a queen.”
“I trust it will be a while before you forget again,” she said lightly.
“That is so.” He turned his head, closed his eyes.
“Make your sire’s mark. I am yours, to do with as you will .”
Leaning forward now, she laid one hand on his abdomen, the other on his throat, fingers slim and petite compared to the massive bull neck. When she placed her mouth on his carotid, she tilted his head up. The way she did it to Jacob, increasing the sense of vulnerability and jolt of sexual awareness at once.
This was his least favorite side of her, this ability to draw men into the sexual miasma that swirled around her like a djinn’s magic. It always made him want to pin her up against a wall and fuck her brains out to remind her of his presence.
I am always aware of you, Sir Vagabond. And how you react to this, the fierceness of your want in my mind, makes me wet.
Yeah, it might be his least favorite, but it was nowhere near her least irresistible side. She sank her fangs into Belizar’s throat as his fingers curled against the bed covers. His involuntary response was obvious beneath the bedcovers, because he was a well -endowed male. When her fingers stroked his abdomen, he gave a slight jerk, registering the burn of the mark that would make his mind open to her whenever she wished it to be.
Tension was in his face, in every line of his body, for vampires did not open their minds to other vampires willingly, particularly one Belizar’s age.
There might not be another vampire alive who had the access to his mind she’d just taken.
She gave him a thought to test that link, sharing it with Jacob. I will tell Brian to look into ways to give male vampires facial hair again. I’d like to see you with a beard, old warhorse.
As she drew back, Belizar turned his head to look at her, his eyes faintly crimson, revealing the effort it had taken him to submit for her marking. Her hand closed on his forearm. “If you will learn to trust me again, Belizar, as you trusted me that day in the sewer, one day this moment will not be such a painful memory.”
Glancing down then, a smile playing on her lips, she stroked high on his thigh, perilously close to the engorged appendage. “It looks like you might have need of Vincent. But give him blood first. He looks a little unsteady. He did his best to protect you, my lord. Though he lacks Malachi’s battle skill's, he is a good servant.”
Belizar grunted at that, though the shadow that passed through his eyes said he still missed the servant who’d been kill ed at the Council Gathering not too long ago.
Rising, Lyssa moved to Jacob. She placed her hand on his arm, giving him her mesmerizing expression long enough to stroke his nerves before she slipped out, expecting him to follow. He did, conscious of Belizar’s eyes following them both.
So here they were at dinner, with Belizar answering her toast and the other dinner guests following suit.
As the first course was served, Jacob monitored the movement of staff in and out of the room, ensuring everyone was doing their job and the vampires’ needs were being met. He caught Gideon making faces at him a couple of times, his brother mocking him acting the proper majordomo. Jacob resisted the urge to send a rude gesture his way. He’d pound him in a sparring match later.
The Council servants were doing what servants did, measuring one another, knowing they might be on far closer terms later in the evening. Gideon, Jessica and he received the most attention, since they were the newest variables. Though Jacob knew some of them in passing, there was one very welcome and familiar face: Debra, Lord Brian’s servant. He’d sent her a warm nod when she took her place behind Brian’s chair. As usual, she looked too serious and thin, but she’d worn a blue evening gown tonight that accentuated her breasts and line of hip, her hair loose on her bare shoulders. An easier look to her eyes suggested her Master was taking the time to appreciate something other than her lab skill's these days. If not, he was a fucking wanker.
He was sure the Aussie derogative had been influenced by his earlier cal to Dev. Dev’s response to the news of Lady Daniela’s promotion had been typically laconic.
“That’s going to send her into a blue, for sure. It’s near sheep shearing time.”
Comparing the formality of this evening to Danny and Dev doing sheep shearing, imagining them sitting out on the station porch afterward to watch the starlight and share a cuppa, was the difference between the sun and moon. Lyssa had chosen well.
Daniela’s no-nonsense and straightforward personality would be a good element for the Council.
Jacob shifted his gaze to his lady. She was alert and engaged with everyone at the table, missing nothing, not the slightest nuance in conversation or facial expression. In some ways, it was a new side of her for him as well. When he’d met her, she’d been exhausted by everything about the vampire world.
Even after the Delilah virus incident, she’d had bouts with that lack of interest and weariness. However, since her vampire powers had been restored, he’d felt that renewed resolve within her. If the turning had somehow contributed to this revitalized queen, he’d never regret the loss of his vampire strengths again.
Kane hit his legs like a little cannonball. Helga had been bouncing him on her lap, making comical voices and faces for him. While Kane had been vastly entertained by the unexpected side to the austere woman, once she put him down, he’d made a beeline for his father. Now the toddler clung to his slacks, swaying on his still unsteady legs, and beamed up at him. “Da…”
Jacob picked him up, settled him on his hip, and gave him a warm smile. “What’re you doing, troublemaker?”
“Da-da-da-da…” He fingered the lapel of Jacob’s jacket, his feet kicking his waist. There was a suspicious stain at his mouth, chocolate that Helga had snuck him. He gave Lyssa a glance, and she rolled her eyes indulgently. She’d pushed her chair back to see them, so he lowered their son into her lap. Kane kept hold of them both, rocking on Lyssa’s thighs, obviously delighted to have both of their undivided attention.
It felt good to Jacob as well. Then the toddler spotted the chocolate truffle at the edge of Lyssa’s plate and went for it like a striking snake. Jacob, anticipating the move, caught his wrist, gave it a little shake, drawing those green eyes up to his face. “No, sir. That’s your mother’s. And it’s bad for you.” Kane’s lips settled into a pout. Jacob knew the wheels turning in that small mind, enough that he had to work not to let a grin escape past his stern expression. “Don’t think I won’t smack your ass here in front of all of them. Behave.”
Since Jacob had been vampire ever since Kane’s birth, dealing with him as a human servant hadn’t been an issue. But it didn’t change anything. Even when Kane could outrun him and toss him like a football, or rip his throat out, he wasn’t going to be less of a parent. And it was a father’s job to teach his son respect.
Kane subsided, recognizing he’d lost. Proving it, he instantly returned to smiling and chuckling at his mother. Straightening, Jacob stepped back to his place at the wall. He discovered a momentary silence had settled over the table, Council vampires and servants alike now staring at them in visible shock. And a lot of that attention appeared to be upon hi
He hadn’t really talked about it with his lady, thinking he knew her mind on it, but now he was forcibly reminded that most servants didn’t take on an active parent role. Particularly not in front of a vampire gathering like this.
Well, they’d better get used to it. Lyssa didn’t look at him, but he felt the warmth in the declaration, her answer to the unasked question. It eased the coil of tension in his gut.
Lord Brian cleared his throat. “My lady, this seems an excellent time to offer the preliminary findings I discussed with you earlier. If you agree.”
“I do.” When Kane wriggled, wanting down, she let him toddle around to his next target, the somber Uthe. The Council member’s eyes lit with a smile as he let Kane examine his cufflink, then clamber onto his knee to examine the Templar pendant he always wore. Mariela made a face at the child when Kane peered over his broad shoulder. Kane’s eyes got wide, then his mouth creased in a smile.
Fearless. Jacob hoped he would always be. Do you want me to ask Lord Daegan to take him to bed, my lady?
No. We’ll wait until after Lord Brian’s discussion, as long as he doesn’t get overly fussy. I think it could serve a strategic purpose, having him here for this.
Brian rose, nodding to the assembled. “It’s a good night to have this discussion, since we have had a . .
. perspective shift today. With respect”—he bowed toward Lord Belizar—“I think that shift will be necessary to comprehend the significance of this report, and embrace what it suggests.” Translation—before the coup earlier in the day, Jacob suspected Brian had prepared a report with much more careful wording. It was evident in the easier set of his shoulders, the eagerness in his eyes, now unhampered by concerns about sharp repercussions.
“As you know, one of the most important areas of my research is the low reproduction rate for born vampires. In the past couple centuries, it has dwindled to an alarming rate. At times, this led to various decisions to permit more made vampires, who come with their own problems. With no prejudices intended toward the made vampires who have proven themselves able to overcome these issues, born vampires are more stable, stronger physical stock for our race, and so their continued existence and births are essential for the overall future of our species.”
His gaze strayed briefly to Kane as the child appeared at his knee, now trying that high wattage smile on the scientist. Lord Brian gave him a tender look, brushing his hair back from his forehead. When Jacob made a quiet noise that brought the boy back to him, he picked him up, settled him on his hip again.
As he did, he noted Gideon had moved a step closer to Anwyn’s chair. Daegan had his arm stretched across the back of it, casual enough, but an obvious reinforcement. Anwyn’s expression was fixed and polite, but of course she was the only made vampire present—the other one having been kill ed by Lyssa earlier in the day. The fact Anwyn still wrestled with unstable blood from her sire made the words more applicable than comfortable.
Fortunately, the scientist moved away from the delicate topic.
“Cultures with strong magical versus scientific paradigms, such as the Druids, believed that spiritualism was intimately tied to the practical way life was lived. The outcomes of crop production, fertility, et cetera, were all affected by magical forces or the relationship with the gods. These days, some might cal it karma. Whatever name or cause we give it, there does seem to be a correlation between the way we live our lives, and the consequences of those choices, with the expected exceptions. It is even possible that, since we are a very small race, the spiritual forces in our lives are that much stronger to help us survive as a people, to shove us in the right direction, so to speak.
“This is a very odd way to present scientific findings, Lord Brian,” Helga noted. “Particularly for you.”
He nodded. “If you'll bear with me, my lady, my point will be made clear shortly. So many times, bad outcomes with respect to crops and harsh winters were pinned on individuals, usually community outsiders easy to blame. It is far easier to do that than to consider such difficulties as the result of the way our lives are being lived. Or even considering it a test of Fate, building our strength, helping our adaptability as time goes on.”
He nodded toward Helga. “I am perhaps unique from others in my field in that I consider an amalgamation of esoteric factors along with the concrete ones, when the concrete ones reach their limit. When that occurs, testing variables becomes more challenging, but I test all that are available and review experiential data. Let me give you an example.”
He looked toward Lyssa. “With your permission, my lady, I would like Jacob to remove his shirt and show us your servant’s mark.”
At Lyssa’s nod, Jacob handed Kane to her. He slipped the buttons of his shirt, turned and let it fall off his shoulders, displaying the fossil-like serpent shape. There were mirrors along the walls of the dining area, a curious decorating choice for vampires, unless one realized how they liked to see their servants at all angles during entertainments. No place to hide facial expressions, but he kept his steady as he watched the Council members’ attention turn to his back.
“Every full servant bears a spontaneous impression like this when they receive the third marking. We can’t explain why the shapes appear as they do, but they are always symbolic of the unique relationship between the vampire and servant. In this case, Lady Lyssa is the oldest among us.”
There was a pause as the Council members exchanged glances. Uthe chuckled. “Best explain quickly, lad. She’s close enough to tear off your sensitive appendages.”
Light laughter rippled through their ranks. Brian, mired in his science, pul ed out of the deep end enough to realize the faux pas. Lyssa arched a brow at him, her jade eyes cool, though Jacob felt her indulgent amusement with
Brian’s sudden discomfiture. He pressed on hastily.
“I am not comparing you to the fossil, my lady. Not technically. A fossil is an enduring impression of ancient times, of our history, of what has led us to this moment. I think it could be argued that Lady Lyssa does represent that to us. This serpent shape”—he moved closer, followed the track of the mark up Jacob’s back with a finger—“has three distinct curve points. Lady Lyssa has made it clear she believes Jacob was a part of her life at three different points, in three different bodies.
“These are just interpretations, obviously, and this symbol is more open to them than others. However, many of you know about Lord Mason’s tiger mark on his back, a brand and inked tattoo he put there himself many years ago. When he took Jessica as his fully marked servant earlier this year…” Turning toward Mason, Brian had the good sense to clear his throat, ask delicately. “Er, my lord, if you don’t mind?”
Jessica waited, her gaze on her Master’s profile.
Mason gave her a nearly imperceptible nod.
Stepping forward, she slid her skirt up almost to the juncture of her thighs, barely covering what was between. Gracefully, she pivoted her toe to reveal her inner thigh, the tiger mark there.
“Thank you, my lady, my lord.” He nodded to Lyssa and Mason. Jessica smoothed her skirt back in place. However, before Jacob could shrug back into his shirt, Lyssa extended her free hand out over the side of her chair. While she didn’t spare him a glance, he understood the message well enough.
Jacob placed the shirt in her hand, and she gave it to Kane to crumple in his fists, bury his face in his father’s familiar scent.
“Thank you, my lady,” Carola said, a sparkle in her eye as she ran an appreciative glance over Jacob’s upper body. Giving her a slight bow and a curve of lips, Jacob took up his place on the wall again.
Brian resumed, the sense of expectation in his voice indicating he was about to reach his point of import. “Just like the marks that appear on our servants that we can’t explain, but which seem appropriately suited to our relationships, I have found a correlation between those of our kind who are successfully getting pregnant and bearing children now. A significant one.”
That stilled movement at the table further, for few things concerned the Council as much as the dwindling population of the vampire species.
“Ten of our nearly five thousand known vampires have children on the way. Eight are born vampires, two are made. Seven others are raising children they have had in the past five years.” He nodded toward Kane, dozing off in Lyssa’s arms. “I won’t bore the Council with the painstaking details of years of data collection on this subject, trusting that you have confidence in my research skill's, though of course I always maintain the data for your personal review . . . particularly in this case.”
As he paused on those last four words, their attention sharpened. “When biological factors proved no pattern, I chose nonbiological factors. The one common factor every couple had was something I waited to voice until I was reasonably sure of it.
What I have found is this: there is an undeniable connection between fertility and those vampires and servants who have a closer relationship than is considered acceptable in our world.”
A murmur ran through the assembled Council.
Some gazes darted toward Lyssa to see her reaction, but her attention remained on Brian, her expression unchanging. “You may say my research is speculative,” Brian noted, “since those vampires and servants who have such a relationship are not likely to reveal it. However, I applied a set of constant factors, and all ten relationships demonstrated them.
A higher level of intimacy and trust, some level of positive dependence between the couple. Positive, in that the vampire still clearly held the dominant role in the relationship, but he or she valued the servant in a manner that strongly suggests a deep emotional bond there. One that could be defined as deep, romantic love.”
At the uncomfortable shifting around the table, the frowns that appeared on more than one face, he lifted a shoulder. “Whenever a scientist dips a foot into such a realm, he is already beyond measurable standards, but I use the term as we define it visually, by intuition and feeling, in our interactions with others.