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The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Nine)

Jacob wanted to strangle her. Strangle her then roll her beneath him, feel her trembling body open, trusting him to give her pleasure with his hands on her.

Fuck this. And fuck Thomas for not explaining this better.

But as he thought back, he realized the dying man had indicated that all vampires lived by the code of hierarchy established by dominance. Even as their queen, Lyssa had to continually earn the title. Otherwise, she would have become a pawn long ago, political currency trotted out by anyone who could take her and use the value her blood gave her.

When she'd made the decision to marry Rex, sealing a political alliance between the ancient Asian royal house and the more distant remnants of the Western European one, it had been her decision. Jacob was dealing with a woman who'd lived long enough to know exactly what she had to do to protect what was hers. No matter the trappings of culture and civilization with which they surrounded themselves, vampires brought a level of brutality to their personal and public politics that made the machinations of human governments look like schoolyard antics.

He just hadn't understood how deeply that sentiment pervaded vampire society, even into the sanctity of the bedroom. He'd also made the mistake of arrogance, thinking all the long hours with Thomas had prepared him. Those hours had been like kindergarten, the barest concept of what education would require of the student.

He wasn't the type of man who surrendered lightly. He too had a code of honor he'd clung to grimly, even when every other decision in his life had seemed haphazard, no real plan. Many things had made him leave Gideon, but primarily it had been a shadow that had haunted his dreams since sexual awakening. He'd gone into the world to seek it as if he were looking for a grail. Gideon had scoffed at him, told him he'd read too many Irish folktales.

Jacob doubted the nagging feeling himself at times, up until the night he first saw Lady Lyssa. The shadow memory had shattered,drawing him to the actual woman behind it. The feeling had only grown stronger under Thomas's tutelage. Yes, he was a drifter, a dreamer. A man who'd been in search of a hazy sense of destiny for the almost thirty years of his life. But that destiny was her. He was certain of it.

This, though–he glanced up at the manacles, felt the scream of his muscles–hadn't exactly been part of the picture.

Okay. He made himself think past the ache, lingering panic, fury and–holy God–unabated lust. He had a lot to learn about Lyssa's world. But she'd wanted him free there at the end so he could touch her. He'd felt it. He knew it.

He had to earn her trust. Maybe then she'd learn to respect him. Curl up in his arms and fall asleep with ease, knowing he was there to care for her.

That one visual summed it up, a physical gesture of trust meaning so much more. It had the ability to assuage some of the emptiness inside of him, just by imagining it.

Everything else was what he had to learn to get there.

***

He'd have been surprised to know Lyssa did respect him. Enough to think she should boot him out on his handsome ass with the driver she was preparing to meet again.

Mr. Ingram sat at the kitchen island on a stool, yesterday's paper open. The empty plate that had held the eggs Jacob had prepared for him was at his left. As Ingram finished each section of the paper, he'd folded it neatly to his right. She wondered if he was normally that meticulous or if he was trying to stave off panic at being left with no instruction or direction while effectively imprisoned by her wolfhounds. It was the dogs' favorite room regardless, due to its warmth and proximity to food. Bran lifted his head in greeting but didn't move otherwise. The floor appeared littered with long hairy rugs tossed about to land in doglike shapes. The radio had been left on her preferred jazz station, Russ Freeman's stirring melody about a woman with gypsy eyes filling the room.

"Your man was kind enough to leave me a paper. It's kept my mind off my bladder, though I'll admit I was close to using cookware.

Your main fellow there likes to show his teeth every time I shift. "

"The closest bathroom is down that hall. " She nodded. "Please take as long as you wish. Bran, off guard. "

The driver jumped when the dogs erupted as if she'd run an electric current through the linoleum. They leaped for the dog door and charged out with repetitious thumps, yips and growls. In less than a moment, they were alone.

He cleared his throat. "I guess they needed to go, too. "

"They tend to approach everything with zeal, " she said with a tight smile. "Please. Go take your comfort and then I'd like to speak to you. At the very least to thank you for your professionalism. It's been awhile since I've had one man take such care for my well-being, let alone two in the same night. "

He nodded, sliding off the stool. From his stiff movements, she suspected he'd hardly dared shift. Apparently his circulation had suffered as his bladder grew more insistent.

"I apologize for causing you discomfort, " she added, feeling a pang. "It wasn't my intention. "

"Well, that's reassuring. " He made his way gingerly toward the hallway. "I'd started thinking my decision to stay and make sure that fellow hadn't kidnapped you had ended up with me being the prisoner. "

"Jacob thought I would want to speak to you. I must feel that way, otherwise the dogs wouldn't have kept you. " When he turned, meeting her gaze with trepidation in his eyes, she said, "They tend to understand my needs before I do. "

"Sounds like the boy's got some of that, too, if he asked me to wait. "

When she didn't choose to respond to that, he nodded and disappeared around the corner. Lyssa turned to the bowl of fruit on the counter, picked up an orange and held it, enjoying the feel of the rind, the smell of the juice beneath as she brought it to her nose.

The. Boy. As if the driver intuited there was a vast difference between their ages, despite the fact she appeared a handful of years younger than Jacob. How would he look when his hair got threads of gray in the reddish brown, turning it silver in certain lights? She imagined the deepening crow's feet enhancing his smiling eyes, the laugh lines around his mouth sculpting into the deeper character lines of a man in his fifties. Inscrutability was necessary for the politics in her life, and everything showed in Jacob's face. Anger, passion, tenderness, concern. All of it at intense and alive high volume. He was too impulsive, too uncensored.

These thoughts might not matter. He could even now be counting the minutes until she released him so he could turn his back on his offer of an oath to her, considering the never-sealed contract dissolved.

No. If Jacob had made an oath to Thomas, he would keep it unless she released him from it. She knew that as well as she knew the slices of orange would glisten like clusters of teardrops when the outer skin was gently removed, every one of them a burst of sensation capable of eliciting a response from her.

"Ma'am?"

She opened her eyes and found the driver in one doorway. Jacob leaned against the other.

She'd left the key on the bed. But the manacles had been drawn taut. Even if he'd managed to get his fingers on the key it would have been impossible for him to position it to open the cuffs. Yet there he stood.

He studied her for a moment, perhaps two. Whatever the driver had intended to say, he held it now, apparently picking up on the tension. Jacob had put his jeans back on, but not the shirt. She'd thought she could read his face, and she did read a variety of emotions there. Simmering anger, frustration, the bite of desire. But mixed together they made something she couldn't interpret, like a language she recognized but didn't understand.

Straightening, he moved toward her. One step. Two. There was a rolling grace to his gait, a trained power. Her gaze traveled over the smooth glide of muscle along his shoulders, his waist, the way his hips moved, drawing her eye to the curve of his groin area demarcated by the thighs she'd felt flex beneath her own not too long ago.

When he reached her, he dropped to one knee, surprising her no small amount.. Lifting his hand, he opened it to offer her the key.

"I may not understand the games you feel you must play, my lady. But this is no game to me. I've offered myself willingly to you and will continue to do so. "

She didn't look at clocks, for she knew what time of day it was to every minute. The ebb and flow of her life force was dependent on the rising and setting of the sun. So it seemed to her time skipped a beat. She lost a moment or two, just studying the mystery of the man on his knees before her.

"I'll continue to consider it, " she said at last. "But you need to think as well. The life you enter with me would be all about games, strategizing to a level of viciousness I suspect your soul is too pure to understand. If you stay with me, it's likely to be corrupted. At worst, mortally wounded. I will be no friend to you. I can be cruder than anything you've ever imagined. "

"This makes you different from any other woman, how?" His blue eyes glinted, but he held his firm mouth in a resolute line. "A man who doesn't test the mettle of his soul isn't much of a man, my lady. My offer to serve you stands. " His gaze held hers. "I promise I won't make it easy to refuse me. "

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