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The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter Two)

As she moved past, he touched the small of her back, a guiding hand. It almost brought Lyssa to a freezing halt. When her gaze flickered up to his profile, she realized the gesture hadn't been calculated. Whatever Thomas had taught him of the deference she demanded was intertwined with an automatic instinct to project protective body language toward a woman. It didn't displease her, but it startled her, for she intimidated most men enough they'd never dare contact without invitation. He'd already moved into her personal space as if the boundary did not apply to him. Apparently it didn't, for nothing he'd done yet had bothered her. In fact, the way she hadn't reacted negatively to his nearness was the only thing that did bother her.

The sameness about her preferred room served to soothe her–the occasional chair and the mosaic tile table beside it, topped with an array of tools. The low stool pulled close for the manicurist. Warmth emanated from the gas log fire, which she required regardless of the season because she chilled easily. Its dim light was the room's only illumination. She glanced at the antique pine china cabinet that held more manicure supplies and the bronze pedestal sink, making sure nothing was out of order, before she focused on her favorite feature of the room. The two bare walls had life-sized female nudes drawn in simple black brushstrokes. Titillating, . Dreamy impressions that aroused yet relaxed the viewer, one depicted the curve of a woman's back and hip, a fall of gem-sparkled hair as she reclined. On the other wall the woman sat on the point of her bottom, legs drawn up and crossed against her body, hair again sweeping the ground.

Lyssa loved the small room. Understated opulence, set off by the images that were more about substance than form, as if the artist had captured the simplest rendition of a woman's quiet but complicated soul.

"My lady. " Jacob extended his hand. "I believe you usually prefer to remove your shoes?"

Nonplussed, she took his hand as he went to one knee. Guiding her hand to his shoulder to balance her, he bent and slid off one heeled slipper, then the other. Absorbing the sensation of his fingers gliding along her ankle bone and her instep, she studied the shape and feel of his shoulder under her hand. Solid bone and muscle, telling her he was disciplined about what he put into his body, as well as how he conditioned it. When he took her hand, his pulse had begun to race beneath her touch. An urge swept over her to trail her fingers under his hair, feel the individual strands slide through them, see the way they looked tangled in her grasp.

I give you Jacob. Thomas's note, offering her a man whose motives were as yet unknown to her.

"Stay on your knees. "

He stilled, his hand hovering over her right foot as he remained on one knee, his elbow propped on it.

Wondering at herself, for she hadn't indulged such a romantic notion in a long time, she moved her hand to his ear, tracing the shape of it. Then she curled her fingers into his hair as she'd desired.

If she exercised her enjoyment of such things with her prey it could be dangerous, giving a sharp edge to her hunger. While she was experienced enough to control it, it was disruptive, an appetite that only grew stronger as she fed. Her mind said she was going to discard Thomas's offer as a presumption, tolerated only because it was now made beyond the grave. The sensation drifting through her fingers and up her arm was saying something else entirely. The wide expanse of his shoulders had tensed, the smooth cords of muscle displayed well. While his hand Was now curled above her foot, one forefinger was extended, the scoundrel daring to brush the top of her foot in a very light caress.

Her gaze followed the line of his spine, marking each vertebra, noting the shallow dip in his lower back. Her brow furrowed at the crisscrossing of scars. Lash marks, deep ones that would still be sensitive, probably a month or two old at most. There was the tempting swell of his buttocks well defined by the hose. Because of the low ride of the rolled waistband, she could see the hint of the indentation between his buttocks. She wanted to place her finger in that shallow valley, caress the tip of his spine there.

She wondered if his cock was swelling to even greater proportions against the crotch, testing the limits of the fabric. Since she could smell his arousal, she suspected it was, his reaction wetting the tip of his broad head. Her tongue touched her lip as she imagined it.

Just that instance of desire and she remembered a different image. Rex lying on the bed, his fist in her hair, forcing her mouth down roughly on his length. One hand clamped on her thigh as she faced away from him, his fingers bruising her, communicating his intention to break her thigh bone if she didn't make him come quickly enough. Or to do so anyway as part of the rush of pleasure of his climax. One of the lovers' games they'd played.

Withdrawing her hand, she wondered how it was possible to hate and love someone equally. To miss him desperately in the dead hours of the night and yet be relieved to be without him. So relieved that the idea of having another like Rex had kept her unusually chaste ever since she'd lost both him and Thomas.

"Why did you dress this way?" she asked.

When Jacob raised his head, his face was at the level of her breasts. She was aroused just from touching him, so her nipples were drawn to hard points. Since she was small in that area, she only wore a bra when she deemed it necessary.

He deliberately studied the curves, the upward thrust of the nipples, the way they pushed against the stretched yarn of her sweater, before he raised his gaze. She didn't feel he was being vulgar, improper. Instead, she felt wholly desired, a woman's need that the passage of time never diminished. She couldn't deny the potency of it when it was offered by the right man. From the aching hardness of her nipples, she concluded he was apparently the right man.

"Thomas told me you'd want to see as much of me as possible. He said that you had a fondness for this style and it might intrigue you enough to give me a chance. " The dim firelight shadowed his face, but she was almost sure there was a hint of that attractive smile again.

You deceitful, conniving monk, I don't think you made it to Heaven after all.

"I would have stepped out naked, but… " He lifted a shoulder, and now she was the one who couldn't take her gaze off his lips. "I figured the security guard might take exception. "

"What if I'd wanted you to strip before me right there, regardless?"

"I suppose he would've had to get over it, wouldn't he, then?"

From the shockingly teasing glance he gave her, the hint of Irish brogue that tempered his words, she realized he thought she was offering a jest. It appeared Thomas had not apprised him of everything being a human servant meant. Or that she didn't have much of a sense of humor.

***

Would a smile on her lips banish the lonely melancholy Jacob saw in her face? Such sadness would have made a mortal woman look drawn, detracting from her beauty. On her it added to the haunting, mysterious quality. Mixed with a fuck-me-now sensuality, that air of mystery was turning his compass upside down. Vulnerability, an intimidating, imperious manner and an erotic aura that would register on the hellfire side of red hot mixed together to drive him crazy. A man could be torn in half by the desire to have her body and the need to protect it with every ounce of strength in his own.

Thomas had been so concerned about her not having a human servant, Jacob sometimes thought the man had hastened his own passing when Jacob had refused to leave him until the end. It had seemed absurd that a creature as formidable as Lady Lyssa was supposed to be could be at risk from the simple absence of a mortal companion. During these first few minutes, he understood Thomas's concerns better. She was so tightly wound up the stress pulsed off her like a force field. Though he couldn't identify whether the cause was emotional or physical in nature, he sensed she was in desperate need.

The first step in the manicure was supposed to be massaging the hands to loosen and relax the joints, easing tension in the wrists. But after the intimate caress she'd bestowed on him several moments ago it seemed too personal to start with that. Not to mention his body was already inflamed by that proprietary touch. She'd been testing him to be sure, giving him the barest taste of what it would be like to be considered hers.

"I want you to do my feet first, " she said, gazing at him with those dark eyes that revealed nothing of her own thoughts.

Apparently, he was to have no choice in the matter. She was determined to drive him to insanity. He gave himself a mental shake, steadied himself. "Yes, my lady. "

Lyssa settled into the occasional chair, taking it to a half-reclining position so her feet were lifted from the floor, but still pointed on a slope toward it. As she did so, she watched his reaction in her peripheral vision. She wanted him to perform the pedicure on his knees. If Thomas had trained him, he would obey the unspoken command her body language was projecting, but she wondered if Jacob truly understood the significance of it. It was not an easy lesson for most strong-willed men to comprehend. Even Thomas had occasional difficulty with it, and he'd spent his life learning obedience to his God.

Jacob moved away from the stool. Kneeling with simple grace, like a knight before a queen in an Edward Blair Leighton painting, he took her right foot in his hands to begin the massage. He handled the move with the same relaxed familiarity with which he wore the hose and spoke to her. Mixing it all easily with more modern mannerisms and speech, he roused her curiosity about him further. Was he a stage player of some type?

Lyssa tried to ignore the tremor that ran through her at his touch and studied his hands instead. He had clean nails. A dusting of fine hairs lay along the upper part of the long fingers that handled her with gentle but firm assurance. He didn't grip her as if she were a doll, but he didn't clasp her too firmly either.

It was evident he was experienced and confident when touching a woman's body. That perfect balance could not help but evoke in her mind the way his hands would feel upon her thighs, along the valley of her spine, sliding down to her hips. Because of their height difference, when she stood before him and those arms closed around her, drawing her near if she desired it, the sensation would be sheltering, provocative. His throat would be warm beneath her lips as he lifted his jaw, trusting. Offering. Submitting.

His hands moved over the arch of her foot, caressed her heel and worked the. Top of her foot, his fingers whispering up her ankle in a way that shot signals of hard lust up the insides of her thighs to her core, dampening the silken fabric covering her there. The feel of her own arousal, warm and slippery, drove her desire even higher.

Was she losing her mind? She'd met the man five minutes ago. What had Thomas been thinking? She knew her own reactions and desires well enough to know her response to this man was out of proportion, even for the cravings for blood and sex she'd been experiencing before coming through the door. Thomas would have been very ill at the end. Would he have been ill enough to make a poor judgment call? Been compelled to do something he did not wish to do? Had someone found him, despite her best efforts to ensure everyone thought he was dead, killed by her own hand? Was Jacob a trap?

The thoughts helped her rein in her wayward responses. She narrowed her gaze on the man at her feet, a hawk targeting her prey.

"I can't believe Thomas would do something like this behind my back. "

"He didn't intend disrespect. He–" "I know how Thomas felt about me. " She spat it. "You, on the other hand, I know nothing about. "

"Thomas's introduction–"

"I read it. Why do you want to become a human servant? Are you running from death? Or are you one of those idealistic idiots who believe vampires are misunderstood creatures, issuing pretentious threats while we cling to the shadows and whine out our angst over our lost mortality?"

The description made Jacob smile. Too late, he realized he should have curbed the urge. He'd been warned her moods changed as quickly as the snap of a whip.

In a blink, the room closed in on him with a suffocating energy. Making the chamber much warmer than the gas log fire, the power raised the hairs on his neck.

"Do you realize, mortal, I could rip you apart limb by limb? Tear out your entrails and take your blood while you watch, choking on your last breath? Don't play games with me, and do not speak false, or those words will be your last. "

When Jacob raised his gaze, he saw her eyes had taken on a reddish cast as she spoke, a hint of fang pushing over the right side of her full lip. The humanity had disappeared from her expression.

A wise man would have taken his hands off her foot. Put about a hundred feet between him and the threat he knew she was capable of executing. But Jacob knew that would be it. Game over. The last nine months of his life a waste. Most importantly, he would fail her, something he'd sworn to a dying man he would not do.

"I know you can destroy me, " he said quietly, staring down at that shapely foot. "My reasons for wanting to be your servant are complicated and personal, my lady. My tongue isn't clever enough to explain them as you wish me to do. But I can prove myself to you, if you'll give me the opportunity. "

It took Herculean effort to manage the words in an even tone, to raise his attention back to her face and hold that preternatural gaze without flinching, though his muscles tensed in an involuntary readiness he knew would be futile if she chose to strike. "I suspect if you truly intended to tear my limbs off, you wouldn't take the time to threaten me. "

"Perhaps I feed on fear. "

"There are other, more satisfying meals I can offer you. " Daring or just plain stupid he didn't know, but going with his gut, Jacob bent and placed his lips against the top of her foot.

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