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The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Six)

Lyssa's sleep was deep and long, filled with interesting dreams. Of a knight with pale blue eyes who tucked her in before he went off to battle. She dreamed long enough that her dream brought him back to her. Wearing full-skirted chain mail with a tunic of the Crusades over it, the field of white bearing a red cross as pure as blood. She helped him out of it in the sanctity of their chamber, removing his gauntlets from his large hands, massaging her fingers over the calluses he'd earned from wielding sword and mace. When she unlaced the mail and he lifted it off, she noted the dirt in the creases of his knuckles, the lines that heat, wind and cold had etched on his handsome face. Reaching up, she touched his lips, framed by the soft down of his beard and moustache. He kissed her fingers, his tongue playfully teasing her skin.

A bath steamed behind him. As he stood before her gloriously nude, muscular, powerful, aroused, she tried to tease, to slip away. But he was having none of that. He seized her waist in hands as gentle with her as they were powerful in the service of his Lord. Drawing her into his arms, he pulled her full against him, her breasts pressed into his skin, rising above the velvet and ribbon edge of her scooped-neck dress. His lips sought hers when he pushed her gown away and held her. Tighter. Even tighter.

Too tightly. He was hurting her, and she couldn't get free. She threw her head back, crying out. It was Rex's dark face, his lips pulled back in a snarl as he crushed her, her ribs breaking beneath the iron band of his arms while her heart beat frantically like a bird trapped in a cage getting smaller and smaller.

It's astounding the pain a vampire can endure, isn't it? Almost nothing can actually kill us.

He would not take her in her dreams. Not there, not in her life, not anywhere. Pulling her lips back in a matching snarl, she met his gaze.

As you found out. Didn't you, dearest?

His eyes glowed red. With a roar, he broke her rib cage like a frame of matchsticks, his touch separated from her heart by shards of shattered bone and so much more…

Lyssa woke, opened her eyes. Well, the first part of the dream had been nice. She could still feel that knight's rough palm, the strength of an eager male lover instead of a…

No, she wouldn't dishonor Rex's memory by venting her rage on him with name-calling. She dwelled instead on the knight, as if the other part of the dream had not existed. His blue eyes and copper hair.

Her fingers moved down her body, bare beneath the sheets. Finding her smooth sex wet, she shuddered at just the touch of her fingers. That knight of her dreams had reminded her of someone.

Of…

She bolted upright in the bed, a motion too rapid for the human eye to follow if any humans had been present. She was alone in her bedchamber, which was an appropriate name for it, since she had it appointed like a medieval fantasy. Heavy canopy drapes for the large bed. A massive stone fireplace, the tapestry hung near it depicting hunting scenes in the bold colors and poor drawing style of the early centuries of the second millennium. Stained glass on her windows kept light filtered during daylight hours. Lit candles on the dark wood dresser and the faint smell of smoke lingering from matches being struck told her she hadn't been alone for long.

He'd gotten her home somehow. Gotten her to her own bedroom. Had Thomas described it to him, or had he wandered through the rooms, carrying her in his arms until he found the one that felt just right, like the fairy tale?

Well, Goldilocks she surely wasn't. As she turned and put her feet on the floor, she grasped the tall post, feeling the carvings of clematis flowers and leaves twining around it. Her hair fell forward, tangling in her nails as she swept it from her eyes. If she was cast in a fluffy animated retelling of one of those grim fairy tales, her character would be a wicked witch, a darkly dangerous stepmother. The thought almost made her smile.

She wondered what her knight would do when she took him to her bed. Chained him as she'd imagined, making him wait upon her pleasure. Even when he was allowed to sleep in her bed less encumbered, she'd still require him to sleep with one wrist cuffed and chained to the bed, a nominal reminder of his devotion, of the fact that he was her property.

Or perhaps she wouldn't chain and cuff his wrist, but his fine cock and scrotum. Jacob. When she thought of the personality he'd shown, the temper, her hunger stirred. She was ravenous. A side effect of the powder, she knew, but it was further stirred by her dream and memories of the things that had happened between them before she fainted. While the malady she suffered had many drawbacks, including the inability to predict these attacks, one of its better aspects was that the spells, like the tides, fully receded after they'd run their course.

Her strength and potency had returned with her hunger. As well as the sharpness of her faculties, her ability to think and question.

Bran? How had Jacob gotten past him? How had he gotten in, period? Why was she thinking of him as if she'd already made the decision to keep him? He hadn't even told her the full truth of why he wanted to be her servant. She knew almost nothing of him. Thomas's endorsement held great weight, but normally she would have investigated far more about the man before bringing him into her home. Perhaps desperate times called for desperate measures, though she disliked thinking of her situation as desperate.

After brushing out her hair and sliding on a black satin robe and some jewelry to armor herself, she left the room and the west wing for the stairwell. She liked her Atlanta mansion, built in a fortress style with stone. While she'd have preferred it situated even more deeply in the woods than it was, at least it backed up to thirty acres of forest she'd had fenced, the outer perimeter regularly patrolled.

As she walked down the stairs, she knew it was still night. Probably about two thirty in the morning, given that the medicine usually knocked her out for two hours. The outside landscaping lights mounted beneath the stained glass windows threw light before her on. The curving stairwell and into the foyer. Reds, blues and golds merged with the shadows.

Stopping halfway down the staircase, she cocked her head, her exceptional senses picking up music from a radio and voices. And… Aromas.

He was cooking eggs. Speaking to someone. Who? She deepened her probe, the possible need for aggression rising in her. Then she relaxed. It was Mr. Ingram. The driver. With Jacob. Brow furrowed, she went to the base of the stairs and headed for the kitchen.

Since she hadn't sent a compulsion to Bran to conceal his response when he sensed her approach, there was a sudden thunderous bark, followed by several slightly less vocal ones and a surprised yelp from what sounded like Mr. Ingram. Then there was the clatter of toenails. Many toenails.

Stopping in the wide hall, she braced herself for canine assault.

Her hellhounds, Rex had called them. He'd actually been fond of the two girls. Not as fond as she was of all of them though, finding herself unable to suppress a smile as the pack of Irish wolfhounds came racing out of the kitchen. Graceful as deer when they had traction, they galloped pell-mell down the slick wooden floor of the long hall that was the central feature of her home. She winced as Maggie skidded into one of the mounted suits of armor and knocked the pike loose, sending it clattering to the floor after it bounced off of Fionn's head, which deterred his speed not a bit.

She suspected Rex's affection had to do with their reputation from ancient times of being able to rip an enemy's head off in battle. Plus the fact that, at one time, only royalty could keep them. Even when Irish nobility had been allowed to have them, the quantity of the dogs they were allowed depended on rank. While she found their ferocity very useful, their heritage noble, she'd found many other reasons to love them.

Bran was in the lead of course. The pack of nine dogs, seven males and two females, varied in color from black to brindle, fawn to red, but he was her ghost, a rare pure white. He came to a skidding halt just short of making contact, showing respect. Since he was nearly a yard tall at the shoulder, Bran was level with her breastbone when he raised his head as he did now. She stroked his head first as the pack leader, acknowledging him, then dispensed touches and reassuring words to the others. As she heard footsteps approaching, she raised her voice.

"You've been a very bad dog, Bran. Letting riffraff into my house. "

Lifting her head, she studied Jacob, coming down the hallway toward her. Yes, he was just as appealing now as he'd been at the salon. The edge of lust she carried made her want to sink her teeth into him before another blink of time had passed. He still wore a shirt, but he'd buttoned a couple more buttons and wore it loose over the jeans, impeding her view in a manner that didn't entirely please her. But for the moment she was content to study him as he was. The blue eyes assessed her, concerned. The confident stride, the loose hands said he'd made himself comfortable in his surroundings.

She could intimidate or seduce a man with a look without any magical power. She'd had time to practice, after all. But Jacob had a self-possession that made an impression. Perhaps it was his colorful past and the secrets he'd yet to divulge to her that made him handle himself so well. Since he had Thomas's confidence, she acknowledged those secrets might be nothing to concern her, just the history behind his private revelations and struggles. A man at ease with himself, who knew where he'd been, what it meant and where he wanted to go. Which annoyed her exactly because of how much it appealed to her.

"I promise he ate at least three Jehovah's Witnesses to redeem himself, " he responded.

"Bran would never eat my dinner if it delivered itself to my door. He has manners. How did you get past him?"

"Thomas taught me the command he used with them. He also gave me a handkerchief with his preserved scent. The two together seemed to do the trick. "

"Fortunately for you. " She fondled Fionn's ears, feeling the soft silk of the undercoat mixed with the rough top layer. It reminded her somewhat of the softness of Jacob's lips, mixed with the stimulation of his facial hair. "Why is the driver still here?"

"I think you should hire him, my lady. He's very competent, and he's had military training. "

"He would never work for the likes of me. "

"I think he'd consider it, if an offer was made. "

"What lies have you been telling him?"

His eyes narrowed. "I would never lie about you, my lady. I will lie for you, if needed for your well-being. "

"Hmm. " He was showing that edge of irritation he'd demonstrated when she'd accused him of being a drifter, stimulating her in a way he likely wouldn't expect. It brought back all the things the dream had roused as well. "Come with me, then. "

"The driver–"

"Will wait without question if he is indeed the type of person I can use. For now, you'll follow me and keep silent, and that is all. Bran, take your brothers and sisters back to the kitchen. On guard. "

Immediately the dog spun, his siblings in pursuit. They parted around Jacob, a river of fur and flashing eyes, and galloped back down the hall, leaving the two of them standing ten feet apart. To Lyssa, the distance didn't seem so much like the distance of strangers as the paced-off field of potential combatants.

When Jacob hesitated, she raised a brow. "If you can't follow my commands without question, you're also not the type of person I can use. "

He would think her uncharitable for not thanking him, for not answering the many questions she could see he had about her welfare, about the house, about his role in it. But she was not his companion. He was applying to be hers. Despite their unfortunate beginning, it was time to see if he would accept a full understanding of what that meant. Only then could she decide whether to allow him to serve her under one mark. Maybe two. She knew he would be discontent with anything less than three, but it was not her role to make him content. He needed to accept that as well.

***

This was not the same woman he'd helped into the limo. It was another intriguing version of her. At the salon, she'd been a temptress. Here she was that, but also obviously queen. He felt it in her assessing gaze, the imperious tone and the restless lust that moved in her eyes and had his cock jumping eagerly even as his mind balked at being treated as chattel.

She was walking away, leaving him the choice. Once he followed, he was agreeing to be what she was requiring at this moment and perhaps ever after. He struggled with it, the independence of a lifetime warring with the image Thomas had given him of a woman who needed him, who intrigued his mind and fantasies.

She stopped at the stairwell, laying her hand on the banister. Slim, elegant fingers, the middle one bearing a ring with a sapphire set in silver, the gem as large as a fingernail. He wondered if her husband had given it to her, and unexpected displeasure surged at the thought. Lifting that hand, she freed her hair from a clip that held part of it away from her face. As the strands dropped, she ran her hand through the silken weight of it, an ebony tide that pulled his gaze to the hips it brushed. The black satin robe clung to her, the fit and loose neckline telling him she wore nothing beneath it.

"Jacob. " Her voice was a purr. Her eyes were as dark as the shadows clustering around the stairwell. "Every moment you hesitate will make your punishment much more intense. "

"I'm not afraid of pain, my lady. "

She chuckled. "Then you've not experienced it intensely enough. But there are punishments far worse than pain. "

"Worse than losing your sense of yourself?"

She cocked her head. "Sometimes that is the most pleasurable part of pain. Come. I'd say I don't bite"–her lip curled up slightly at one corner–"but we both know that to be untrue. "

When she ascended the stairs, he found himself following, taking them two at a time to her one. As he caught up, an instinct contrary to his nature kept him a pace behind her.

She took him to her bedroom where he'd laid her less than two hours before, hoping he was doing the right thing, that he was overlooking nothing for her care. He hadn't wanted to leave her side. But when her face had eased into a peaceful expression, he'd returned to Mr. Ingram to keep him company. The driver had refused to leave until she presented herself to him fully lucid and assured him Jacob was welcome in her home. If Jacob had dallied over her, he was certain the man would have come looking for him with that Beretta, a situation certain to have disturbed his lady's much needed rest.

While he'd followed Thomas's direction to get past the dogs, even Bran had not given him an unconditional green light. He'd stood stiffly by the front door, his stock-still posture and the watchful eyes seeming to say, "Well, then. Do you have the stones, mate?"

Now in the present, as Lyssa glanced over her shoulder at him, he had the feeling the same challenge was being issued.

Do you have the stones, mate?

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