The Vampire Queen's Servant (Chapter One)
For months she'd made herself take blood functionally, letting it nourish her the way freeze-dried packets would keep a lost camper alive. But like most vampires, her desire for blood was intertwined with her need to dominate her victim sexually.
Without that, the blood had no taste. No vitality.
She missed taking alpha males. She enjoyed the fight, their resistance, the sweet taste of heated blood. The perception, if only for a moment, that the hunt would be a challenge. A vampire didn't survive by being ruled by her compulsions, any more than a woman survived by being consumed by her most private desires. But tonight she needed release, and she was feeling reckless enough not to care about the consequences to her fragile heart.
Her nails were just the beginning. A manicure, then a man.
It irritated her that the car in the deserted parking lot of the salon was not Max's. Maybe her manicurist had experienced car trouble and borrowed someone else's vehicle. Still, it set off alarm bells in Lyssa's head. But since her limo was an evening's rental while she stayed in Atlanta, she couldn't very well ask the driver to scope out the area for signs of rival vampires. Of course, if she'd had a marked human servant, he could have performed the task for her.
Leave me be, Thomas. I've made my choke on that. For now.
She studied her nails by the light thrown into the car from the parking lot lamps. Hellhound that he was, her Irish wolfhound Bran had torn one when she was indulging his incessant need for attention. It had grown back to the half-inch length she preferred in no time, but the glossy burgundy polish could not be regenerated. Perfection was essential, particularly these days when showing any vulnerability could create dangerous situations. Though she easily could afford to pay a manicurist to come to her home, her enemies needed to know she wouldn't hesitate to go out to seek simple indulgences.
The hell with it. So it wasn't Max's car. If it was a trap or trick, she was ready to prove to any enemy or potential suitor foolish enough to challenge her that she was not to be trifled with–particularly not when she teetered on the edge of full-blown bloodlust. She nodded to the driver, indicating she was ready. Throughout (lie trip from her mansion on the outskirts of Atlanta to the downtown area, the fifty-something black man had watched her closely in the rearview mirror. From her research into his background and her request from the rental company she knew he was ex-military and used regularly for high-risk clients. Add to that, perhaps somewhere in his southern past he had a grandmother into voodoo or witchcraft, or some other path that believed in the otherworldly. For it was obvious he sensed there was something different about her. Something that warned him not to turn his back.
Getting out, he opened her door. When she stepped onto the pavement, she noted his large hand tightened on the top of the window as he apparently controlled an urge to draw away from her.
"I'll be two hours, " she said. "You're welcome to do as you wish during that time. "
"I'll likely just sleep in the car, ma'am. "
"No. " His brows lifted as she turned, pointed. "If you do that, there's a hotel parking deck two miles that way. You'll go there. It's not safe to sleep in a car downtown late at night, Mr. Ingram. " It was possible someone might slit his throat and pose as her driver, a twisted attempt to gain her favor or capitulation. The pressure on her to remarry since Rex's death was fierce, and courtship in the vampire world had all the romance to it of a terrorist cell planning to blow up a preschool.
She didn't want the driver's blood spilled on her account. Particularly since blood spilled on the ground was wasteful. "Do as I say. " Withdrawing some money from her small purse, she handed the folded bills to him. "That's three hundred dollars. Lock up the car, eat dinner in the hotel and pay for a room to take your nap. Come back for me at midnight. "
He nodded. She could see her actions created many questions in his mind, but she appreciated that he didn't ask them, choosing to sort them out himself. Perhaps this driver would consider… No, his fear was too palpable.
Even while she discarded the idea of hiring him as her permanent driver, for hiring staff was something she'd recently shied away from doing, her mind was admonishing her as she knew Thomas, her last human servant, would have done. You must have staff. Most importantly, you need a servant. Who will take care of you, my lady?.
Only a human servant would ask that question and sincerely mean it when talking about his Mistress, a vampire over a thousand years old. It was moot in this case. Lyssa had no interest in Mr.
Ingram as anything but a driver.
A marked human servant was different from an employee or domestic staff person. It was a person who served her by choice, binding himself to her by blood for much more intimate reasons than just to drive her car. One who accepted the demands of the role out of desire rather than fear, a form of submission that brought her a deep, lasting pleasure.
She just hadn't found anyone yet. A year was not a long time to wait when one had her life span. She still missed Thomas too much. It was that simple.
As she walked toward the high alabaster archway of the Eldar Salon and Spa, the sight of the familiar security guard waiting for her made her relax somewhat. Unless there was serious cause, she didn't believe in canceling an appointment at the last minute or being significantly late, like a movie or rock star who believed the world revolved around her schedule. People who worked had families, lives. Short lives at that. Rex had pointed out to her more than once that it didn't matter since humans frequently squandered the time they had. But that was their decision. Hers was to be reasonably prompt so they would have that choice to make.
She looked back at Elijah Ingram. She supposed most clients who rented a limo for the night didn't even know the name of their drivers, but she'd known much more than that about him before he'd come to pick her up. Enough to be reasonably certain he'd go to the hotel, pay for parking and take just enough of the change to get himself a soda and a Danish from the vending machine. He'd doze in the car and stash away the rest of the money to pay for his grown son's many mistakes. Other than purchasing that guilty snack, he wouldn't spend the money on anything for himself.
Elijah Ingram was a decent, hard-working man. A man who knew the dangers of taking money from the damned. ***
Her standing arrangement with the Eldar to open for her at ten o'clock in the evening whenever she came to her Atlanta home and requested it had cost her a fortune, giving the proprietors the not unjustified impression she was obscenely wealthy. As a result, the staff acted with the appropriate deference. Not overly chatty, attentive to her moods. They'd always been careful not to surprise her with the unexpected.
For that reason alone, Lyssa knew she should turn on her heel and walk back out. The man who stepped into the foyer to meet her was not Max.
However, she didn't turn around and leave. In fact, she brushed away the warning to do so the way she'd impatiently push a cobweb aside as she passed into a darker, deeper cave where unknown things–possibly treasure–awaited her.
This man did not look the least bit like her manicurist. For one thing, he was blatantly, solidly heterosexual, a condition easily detected by a person with her heightened senses.
His body was a feast. An absolute feast.
Men scoffed at hose, because in the Industrial Age they'd become associated with women's wear only, but she well remembered the way men had looked in them when they'd been the fashion. She'd favored the short tunics of the Renaissance period, particularly in Italy. They'd allowed a full view of the leggings from calf to groin. When men strode down the cobbled street in them, their swords at their hips, the air ringing with the flowing speech of a language meant to seduce… There was no woman who wouldn't have felt a. Stirring in her loins at such a virile sight.
This man wore such a garment easily, without self-consciousness, though she suspected he'd worn street clothes to the salon. He'd chosen a modified version of the hose, no codpiece, so his heavy cock and testicles cambered intriguingly beneath the tan fabric, framed between the columns of his muscular thighs. The top of the hose was rolled down so it rode low on his hips, low enough she could see his hip bones, the diagonal slope of the muscles above them that formed a Vee as they arrowed toward the genitals. His feet were bare. Since he was drying his hands on a towel, the motion drew her attention to the solid, compact muscle of his bare upper body. The man was a fighter, a cross between an Irish boxer and a medieval knight.
His fair, reddish brown hair had copper highlights from exposure to the sun. Loose, it fell to his shoulders. A neatly trimmed moustache and short beard following his chin outlined his firm lips. Set well on either side of a nose that had been broken at least once, his blue eyes had fine blond lashes with the same hints of copper. His skin was pale but ruddy, too Celtic to tan.
He'd executed a short bow when he stepped into the foyer, but he'd not yet spoken. His overly firm grip on the towel revealed some tension. When she registered the steady thud of his heart, smelled his heat and the life pulsing through him, a response rippled through her. She countered it with irritation, trying to force herself to be sensible. Careful.
"Are you mute?"
"No, my lady. I would never speak before you gave me leave. "
Despite her intention to remain inscrutable, she couldn't help the way her interest rose when he spoke so formally. "Tell me who you are, " she said, giving him a mental nudge to ensure a truthful answer.
His broad shoulder twitched, a corner of his mouth curving up. "There's no need to use compulsion, my lady. I'm Jacob Green. Thomas sent me. "
At that shocking statement, he slowly raised his hand, making it obvious he intended no threat. From one of the display tables, he picked up a small envelope embellished like a suitor's calling card, complete with a red wax seal and a curl of gold ribbon.
Emotion flooded her chest at the sight of it. For a moment she couldn't speak, could do nothing but look at something Thomas had touched, recently.Jacob stepped forward. Most men were taller than she was, and he was no exception at a little over six feet. "He died at peace, with great regard and affection for you until the end. "
Taking the envelope from his hand, she felt the warmth of his skin even though she made sure their fingers did not touch. Somehow she felt reassured by that heat, by him standing so close. Not improperly, just close enough to feel his support, an unspoken offer of assistance. That was what it felt like to have a human servant, to go to ground during daylight and know he was nearby. Watching over her.
She shrugged off the unexpected thought. Turning the envelope over and over in her hands, she suppressed the sudden need to crush it as if she could absorb the essence of the man who had sent it, feel the way she'd felt when Thomas had been with her. Not completely alone.
He'd been her companion for a hundred and fifty years. Then,after all they'd been through together, she'd abandoned him to die alone.
Aware of her audience, she got a grip on herself and broke open the seal.
As she bent her head over the note, Jacob fought the urge to reach out to her, touch the rippling satin of her straight black hair. Thomas had shown him sketches, a portrait. He'd described her with the emotional eloquence only a dying man could conjure, but he'd admitted nothing would come close to meeting Lady Elyssa Amaterasu Yamato Wentworth in person.
He'd pictured her taller, likely because Thomas had told him vivid, heart-stopping tales of her battles with other vampires during the early territory wars. But she'd been born a vampire, and her Asian mother had apparently given her the petite build. Lady Lyssa was considered one of the most powerful and ancient vampires still living, fully in command of her faculties and abilities, not a common occurrence for any vampire over five hundred, much less one over one thousand years old.
Even while cursing the memory of her dead husband, Rex, Thomas had attributed a portion of her uncanny aptitude for survival to him. An aptitude that had grown exponentially in the last fifty years due to the lessons Rex had taught as well as inflicted upon her.
She looked barely out of girlhood, a young woman in her early twenties. That impression vanished the moment Jacob looked into her eyes, a startling jade green rimmed with a solid black line around the irises. Generation upon generation of women were there, layered like rock strata. The energy of it emanated from her, mingling with her other-than-human power to influence and destroy. Despite that, the man in him noticed the bow of her lips, touched and glossed in burgundy, the way her soft black sweater clung to her upper body.
Her skirt was layers of gauze in hues of gold and green, reminiscent of a fairy. That, as well as the eyes, reminded him her father had been a Fey lord. She was a slim woman with perfectly shaped small breasts and nicely curving hips. Her slender legs teased him, a glimpse of knee or calf appearing between the points of the skirt as she moved.
Stirring and magnetic, she riveted his attention just by existing. She'd had that effect on him the very first time he'd seen her, over two years ago. But what made the strongest impression on him now was the flash of naked emotion in her eyes when she took the envelope from his hands.
My gracious lady, please accept this last offering from your humble servant. Something I know you will not go out and obtain for yourself. I give you Jacob. You and he need one another, I promise you. He will serve you well, far better than a feeble, bookish monk.
Lyssa was cognizant of Jacob's intent study as she read, as well as every motion he made. She was used to scrutiny by humans when she chose to walk among them, but his regard was different. Far more personal, as if he was memorizing every detail of her appearance and expressions.
He'd moved a step closer, a gesture of comfort, but he respected. Her privacy by facing her so he looked beyond her shoulder, not down at her note. The heat of his body shimmered over her skin like the dangerous brush of sunlight.
Damn you, Thomas.
"Do you know what's in this?" She gestured with it. He stood so close the ribbon under the wax seal fluttered against his pectoral, the light covering of hair on his chest. It made her fingers itch to stroke. To curl in and tug.
He gazed down at her with those clear and steady blue eyes. "I know it was my introduction. Thomas said I'd need it. But I didn't read it. "
The seal had been unbroken, applied with Thomas's particular method for the times she'd needed to be certain information was not compromised.
"I want my manicure. Where's Max?" She straightened, not backing away. When she tilted her head, she noted his attention was distracted by the proximity of her lips. She felt his gaze there like the teasing caress of a tongue, and had to quell the urge to moisten them. Try something improper, Sir Knight, and you'll regret it.
But would she?. She pushed the sly voice away. She was used to men being overwhelmingly attracted to her. It was the vampire allure. But she liked the look of this man. Of course, she'd intended to cap off her night by finding a dinner with similar specifications. Only this one far exceeded those specifications, tempting her to skip the whole spa experience and take him home for several days. She'd chain him spread-eagle on her bed and bite, scratch and suckle to her heart's content. While she wasn't willing to immediately capitulate to Thomas's recommendation of this man as a servant, she had his word she could trust him. It made her imaginings grow even more dangerously attractive.
"Max is fine, my lady. Sleeping quite deeply at his apartment, the aftereffect of his usual Chinese takeout… With a little bit of sleep aid added. I'll perform your manicure as well as a pedicure. If you'll permit it. "
Add to that he'd somehow convinced Martin, the security guard, that he was an approved substitute for the evening. Not an easy feat. Clearing her throat, she managed to sweep a scornful glance over him. Enjoyed the journey immensely. "What training have you had to give me a manicure?"
"Thomas taught me. "
His lips curved in that half smile again. Reassurance or humor she didn't know, but the reaction of her body took her by surprise. A hard shudder just below the level of muscle, like a simmering in her blood no human eye could see. Also unexpected was the fact he registered it. The smile disappeared. After a moment's hesitation, he pulled back the curtain dividing the waiting area from the private rooms of the salon. "Please let me attend to you, my lady. "
She creased the fold of the note, frowning. Glanced down at the nail that had no polish.
Yes, her wounds healed quickly. Unfortunately, despite the myth that vampires were invincible, she could and did have bad hair days just like anyone else. One could use vampire glamour to make humans think they were seeing perfection, but it didn't work on other vampires without an exceptional level of effort. Unable to see her own face, she missed having a human servant to ensure she'd done her hair and makeup properly. To do quick fixes on her nails between full manicures. To help her dress and bathe.
The fact of the matter was, whether or not a reflection was needed, she liked being attended. Thomas had teased her about it, once he'd known her well enough to know when she was in the mood to be teased. He would have known this was not one of those moments.
The monk had relied heavily on her regard for him and her sentiment about his passing. It did not mollify her that he'd been right on both counts. While she knew she was taking petty revenge on the man who should not be the target of her ire, she couldn't stop herself.
"We shall see, " she said at last, sweeping past him.