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The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Thirty)

They lay by the fire for the remainder of the night, saying little. She let him doze, knowing he wasn't quite used to her hours yet. It took the human body a long time to adapt to a vampire's schedule.

The third mark made that much easier. The mark she couldn't give him, no matter how strong the compulsion in her to do so was growing. The third mark would give him a much greater level of strength, enhanced senses on many levels. Not to mention the far deeper level of connection. She'd lied to Jacob somewhat on that. While she had been able to disconnect the link between her and Thomas, the awareness of his existence could not be totally blocked from her. She'd known the moment Thomas had died.

What's more, Thomas had known it, because she'd heard his dying words. Perhaps because when she'd felt his life essence slipping, she'd torn away the veil between them, acting on pure emotion, desperately seeking one last touch with him.

Good-bye, my lady.

Then nothing. That chamber of her heart forever empty in a blink, populated with inanimate memories. Dusty bookshops he'd loved, his spectacles sitting on a side table by firelight. Places he'd been with all the evidence of him except his living presence.

Her reverie drifted into a predawn doze, for she woke out of it only as Jacob lifted her, took her to the bed and slid her naked under the covers, arranging them over her.

"You aren't going to lie with me until dawn comes, Sir Vagabond?"

He bent over her, studying her as she reached out. When he pressed his lips to her wrist, she thought she could look at that straight nose, the firm lips and clear, clear blue eyes, for hours. She tangled her fingers in the strands of reddish hair that fell forward over his shoulder. "My lady only has to ask, " he murmured as if there was something sleeping in the room he didn't wish to wake. "There's nothing I'll refuse her. "

"Until dawn, " she murmured back, closing her eyes.

Jacob lay down next to her. She curled against him with the deceptive docility and appeal of a kitten, when a few hours before she'd done everything she could to tear his soul to ribbons. He reflected there was nothing linear about their relationship. They didn't even have the upward consistency of a spiral. He was beginning to sense this was the way she loved, as mercurial as a fairy in truth, choosing by some random path of her own which thought or action she would pursue next. He might as well predict the direction to chase a butterfly through a meadow of wildfiowers so colorful he could barely distinguish between the creature he chased and the nodding blooms.

Of course a bat flitting through the night sky after a mosquito was more apt. A smile tugged at his lips. He saw from his watch dawn was minutes away. She'd had a long night and her body was settling. Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he brushed his lips over her ear. "Sleep, my lady. I'll take care of everything aloft. "

"I know you will, " she said sleepily. "Go now. Let me rest. "

Because he knew it was a command, he did, albeit reluctantly.

When he looked back from the top of the stairs, he watched her until the opening slowly faded, taking her and the mystery of her thoughts away from him. Except for the jagged cut of the last drowsy sentence she uttered in his mind.

I won't have need of you tomorrow night.

***

He'd apparently put in a long day. She found a neat stack of her account books and the usual summary of daily tasks addressed on her credenza in her office when she got up. The routine she preferred when she didn't want his attendance was to rise, review the status of her household and business interests, and then either pursue her evening errands or seek him out on her own time, if at all, if she then had need of him.

The vampires who ran businesses in Lyssa's Region had regular correspondence with her, and she skimmed the report of their requests and questions, noting Jacob had handled most of those as her agent and handled them well. She could tell her servant's intuition was benefiting her interests. He'd noted Jonas of the Savannah territory seemed nervous about his fourth quarter estimated earnings. Myra in Raleigh needed an additional employee but was preferring to work herself to death rather than admit she needed help running the lucrative crystal shop.

The window people had come to replace the piece of plywood he'd put over the window in the upper hall with a new sheet of plate glass until she decided if she wanted to commission a new stained glass work. Despite her preference for a hired limo, she had three cars in her garage. He'd checked them for operating condition and found two in need of work. He'd gotten to one and would handle the other later in the week. Today also had been the cleaning staff's day and he left her a general inventory of what was in the kitchen in case she had any other events planned for the near future. He'd called in a carpet crew to clean the Aubusson in the dining room.

"I ought to take that out of your salary, " she observed with amusement.

As the clock ticked and she finished her review, she made herself sit back in her chair, tap her fingers on the desk. One at a time, a ripple of motion. She'd told him he wouldn't see her tonight. After last night by the fire, her own desires meant nothing. She had to rein it back in. They were not lovers. She couldn't let him develop emotional ideas.

"Damn it, " she muttered. The tapping became a drumming. Hadn't she as much as said this would happen? You'll be like a dog I've allowed to misbehave …

Why shouldn't she spend time with him if she wanted to do so? He was her servant. She didn't have to justify anything.

Rising abruptly from the desk, she moved into the hallway, headed toward the sound of the television. It was coming from the den area, which she knew was his preferred place for leisure time, though he didn't take much of it. The quick swim in the pool, playtime with the dogs, an occasional movie or news program. He didn't care for idleness, her vagabond knight.

But why would he? He was a strong young man in excellent health, in the prime of his life. Which brought her the image of his arms, muscles taut, in a variety of favorite images. Playing tug-of-war with Bran, replacing a rotted piece of framing board on the second level, the hammer descending in smooth strokes. Drawing her close so that her fingers could whisper over the curves of those firm biceps.

The closer she got, the more her step increased, though she kept her movements silent and blocked Bran's awareness of her approach.

The den library was a sunken area. She sat down on the top of the steps leading into it, preferring to watch the scene unnoticed for a few moments.

Jacob was stretched out on the couch, wearing just a pair of jeans. He had a bowl of popcorn on his bare abdomen, remote in hand as he watched a movie. His feet were propped up on the opposite arm and he was occasionally throwing Bran a piece of the popcorn. The dog was amusing him by catching it in midair, most of the time.

"Don't give me that look. That pitch was not too high, " he informed the wolfhound as Bran had to go retrieve a piece that went under the adjacent chair, managing to scoot it back several inches in his hunt. "It does you some good to move. Getting all lazy and fat, lying around watching television. " "From where I'm sitting, that sounds like the pot calling the kettle black, " she commented.

Jacob tilted his head, then swung his legs to the floor. She was almost sorry for the change of pose, enjoying the sight of that lean half-naked body on her couch.

"I can turn this off, my lady, if you wish to–"

"No. Leave it. " She paused, feeling incomprehensibly awkward.

He considered her. "Did I misunderstand you? I thought you said you wouldn't require me tonight. "

"I don't. " She rose, smoothed her hands across her skirt.

"Did you want the room? I can go to the servant's quarters to give you privacy. "

"No… I just need… " She shook her head at her inability to express her desire to simply spend some time in his company. She knew it took time, the easy camaraderie she'd had with Thomas. For one thing, he'd had all of her marks. But the friendship, the companionship she sought with Jacob was something different, something which had a certain tension to it that had not existed between her and Thomas. It was underscored when he moved to the stairs and put his hand on the rail, a foot casually on the bottom step, his body so close, eyes so intent, alert… Reminding her that he was as aware as she was of everything they'd shared the previous night.

Perhaps the right man could make a woman of any age act like an insecure schoolgirl. Except she'd never acted or felt that way with any man. Ever. At any age. "Jacob, I would like to spend some time with you. "

He blinked. Then a pleased smile crossed his face, loosening the tension in her stomach. She'd not realized his easy manner could be as effective on her as it was on the landscapers or the dogs. It even seemed to work on Mr. Ingram.

"You do me honor, lady. Do you prefer the couch?"

"I do. " When she crossed to it, she spread her skirt and sat at the end, placing the pillow he'd been using on her lap. "I'd like you to lie back down as you were. "

He came around the coffee table, sliding the popcorn bowl to the coffee table. Giving her a curious glance, he settled his head in her lap, the pillow between it and her thighs, giving his neck a comfortable brace to watch the television. She toyed with the ends of his hair and glanced toward the muted screen in time to see two swordsmen reach the end of a contemporary battle in a parking deck. One sliced off the other's head, though the camera mercifully cut away.

"What are you watching?"

"This is Highlander. " At her blank look, that infectious smile crossed his face again. "The hero is immortal. There's a whole group of immortals, and each time one cuts off another's head, the winner gets the dead immortal's power. It's all filtering down to the time when there will be only one all-powerful immortal. "

She frowned. "How lonely. He'll be the only one of his kind. "

"Well, the hero never goes out of his way to pick a fight. It just happens that way. There are lots of evil immortals who want to be the only one. "

"Mmmm. "

"You might get some tips from this. " Jacob propped one bare foot on the top of the other on the opposite arm of the sofa and rocked his knee, drawing her attention to those long thighs as her fingers traced his ears, his temples. His hand dropped down to the floor, his fingers finding her bare ankle and closing around it. "Whenever he meets a woman he wants, he announces he's immortal and can never die, and bam, he gets laid. " He cleared his throat. "Excuse me, my lady. He gets his way with them. "

She pursed her lips. "They equate immortality with stamina or sexual prowess?"

He chuckled. "I'm just saying it seems like a highly effective pickup line, if you want to use it. Not that I'm encouraging you."

She tugged on his hair in reproof. "You think I need pickup lines?"

"Well, look at me. I fell for the whole I-need-a-human-servant line. "

Jacob liked the way she almost smiled at the joke. But even as he enjoyed her touch, was engaged by the play of the lamplight along her cheek, limning the fine line of it, the resentments he'd buried beneath a frenzy of activity today couldn't help rising.

Was this what being her servant would be like? The most incredibly powerful experiences of his life mixed with indifference or outright rejection? Was he just supposed to accept it? "I won't have need of you today" versus "Come here so I can fuck your brains out"? Perhaps a servant was just a different version of her relationship with Bran. Put his head in her lap to be stroked, keeping her company when it suited her? A pet who could also perform tasks that required opposing digits?

Her lashes slowly rose, the brilliant green eyes fastening on his, and he silently cursed at her expression.

"You know, I keep forgetting you can do that. "

"Would it make a difference if you didn't?" she said icily. "It takes self-control to block your own thoughts, Jacob. You don't have too much of that. "

When she began to rise, push him off her, he twisted, laid an arm over her thighs. "Please don't go, my lady. I didn't mean to offend you. If you can read my thoughts, you know that. "

Blowing out a frustrated breath, he lunged up from the couch, paced to the television, and snapped it off. Raking a hand through his hair, he turned, faced her. "Damn it, I don't know how to deal with this, how to deal with you. Thomas taught me how to winterize your houses and take care of your accounts, but it's like one moment you're… Everything inside of me. And then the next moment, you take it away. I don't know if you're getting off on it, or if you're as torn up about it as I am, or if I'm just losing my fucking mind. "

She looked down. She noted she had her hands pressed hard on her thighs, conveying her tension, but she didn't know how to relax them. "I knew last night was a mistake. I owe you an apology, Jacob. "

"No. Don't you do that. " Taking two steps back to her, he knelt and covered her hands with his own, tightening when she made to draw away. He was so tall he was eye level with her, and Lyssa found she had difficulty meeting his gaze. She'd met the gazes of vampires who wanted to tear her to pieces, but she couldn't handle those blue eyes, the way they made her feel.

"My lady. " His fingers touched her chin, curling so his knuckles feathered over her skin, then straightened again to trace her ear, a lock of her hair. When she finally managed to meet his gaze, there was something in his that caused a lump in her throat.

"I'm going to take a huge leap here and say I think this confuses you as much as it does me. You don't have to confirm or deny it, but I don't think any less of you for that being the truth. I just… " He blew out another breath, gave her a half smile. "How about we do this? I am truly, deeply honored that you want to spend time with me tonight. Will you forgive my thoughts and consent to stay awhile?"

When she studied him a long moment, knowing her expression was remote at best, still masking a hurt she didn't deserve to feel, he gave her an arch look. "I'm only human, you know. And male, to boot. "

She allowed herself a small, tight smile. "Show me something to make it worth my while to stay. Something Bran can't do for me. " Relief crossed his features, soothing her wounded feelings, but again she had no right to feel wounded. There was nothing he'd thought she could have challenged. That had annoyed her as much as him having the thought in the first place.

"Come here. " She urged him to lay back down with his head in her lap. He complied, but his brow was furrowed as he considered her demand.

"No listening in, " he warned. "I want to surprise you. " As he thought, he indulged in a stretch, bending his arms over his head so he caught the edge of the couch on the other side of her lap. The exercise pressed his shoulders into her thigh and tempted her to run her hand down the center of his chest to his flat stomach.

Perhaps even lower, to the waistband of the jeans and the tempting curve of groin displayed. He was the most unconsciously sensual man she'd ever met, his somewhat bohemian mannerisms and dress making him even more appealing. She followed the urge, smoothing her palm over him, feeling the muscles tense and relax in response as she reached, pressing her breast into his shoulder as she leaned over. As she brushed his stomach with her knuckles, letting one finger play just under the silver fastener of the jeans, his gaze rose.

"I'm just occupying myself while waiting, " she informed him. "I can promise you this is something I never do with Bran. "

"My relief on that knows no bounds, my lady. But come to think of it, that's something that Bran doesn't do for you… "

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