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Book X of the Vampire Queen series
(While this title can stand alone, suggest familiarity with Vampire Queen world to enhance enjoyment.)

Released October 2014.

In the vampire-servant relationship, the vampire holds all the power. Being Lord Brian’s research assistant as well as his servant, Debra accepts that, but she craves her Master’s heart. When Brian notices his servant’s unhappiness, he uses methods they both understand to prove just what belonging to him fully means.


© Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved

Debra. I’m hungry.

Two words that always meant something much more than blood to vampires.

She found him in Lady Lyssa’s gardens. The old stone bench under an arbor weighted down by Confederate jasmine was his favored place to work when he didn’t have to be in the lab. He was studying his laptop now, which provided her time to look at him as she approached.

The moonlight limned his hair, giving the lighter strands a golden-silver luster. The sculpted planes of his face were etched by shadow. With the preternatural vampire stillness that could take him when he was deep in thought, he could have been another marble statue in the maze of gardens.

Though he often came out of his work as if emerging from the bottom of a still ocean, she felt the moment his focus sharpened on her. It was a transition that never failed to weaken her knees. The awareness in his eyes, a mixture of blood hunger, sexual need and…

No, that was all there was. That was all she could let herself think about. For her part, it was so much more, but that was her problem to handle. She was the human in the relationship. A servant to his needs.

Setting aside his laptop, he brought her between his knees, banded his arms around her and nuzzled her throat. No words. They didn’t need them, did they? She wound her arms around his shoulders, taking advantage of those first few seconds to slide her fingers through his thick hair, her pulse tripping as he slipped the buttons of her blouse and licked the valley between her breasts, tracing the curves. The man could use his tongue, the way a master painter used a fine brush. The pressure, stroke, timing… Totally controlled and excruciatingly perfect.

If a vampire wanted to fuck his servant in plain view of everyone on the Council estate, no one thought a thing about it. But right now, they were blissfully alone. Brian slid a hand up under her skirt to cup her buttock. When he found his way beneath her panties to stimulate her rim with long fingers, she moaned, rubbing her mound against his chest. The look he lifted to her was full of heat and pleasure, reflecting that dangerous edge that left no doubt—at least in this moment—that he considered her totally his.

His other hand slid along the curve of her breast, up to her throat, stroking so she lifted her chin, drawing in her breath at the whisper of his own there, the brush of his fangs. Those vibrant hazel eyes watched her every reaction. 

“Stay still,” he said, and she didn’t move a muscle, even though inside all of her nerve endings were dancing. He pressed his mouth against her throat again and, as his fangs penetrated, he slowly slid his fingers into her wet pussy.

Clasp your hands behind your back. He spoke to her mind to mind, but it didn’t lessen the command. When she obeyed, the thrust of her breasts put her tight nipples against his upper chest, an excruciating friction.

My bad girl. Already so hot and wet. You’re going to come without my permission.

No, my lord.

You’re saying no to me?

He took a particular delight in befuddling her usually organized mind like that. She could tell it in the gleam of his gaze, the erotic set of his irresistible mouth as he briefly lifted his head, gave her a look. She gave a desperate half laugh. “No, my lord. I mean, yes. Oh…”

He scissored and thrust his fingers in a rhythm with his drinking that elicited tiny moans, made her lose her train of thought.

You’re going to come for me.

“Yes.” She breathed it, shut her eyes and pressed her jaw against his head as the climax rose up inside her, an irresistible wave. She’d do anything for him.

He locked his arm around her, holding her fast so her sensual writhings worked her against his body. As he took his nourishment from her throat again, he kept stroking and teasing her until she wanted nothing more than to grip his shoulders, hold on forever.

But she wasn’t allowed to touch him until he said she could.

* * * * *

That had been a couple hours before dawn, quite a few hours ago, but her body still vibrated with need. Debra opened her eyes, staring at rows of clean test tubes, mounted in the stainless steel drying rack on the wall across from her. The light thrown in from the west window gleamed off the glass. The rack kept them equidistant, allowing them to dry evenly and completely. Such order usually soothed her, centering her mind, but today she had an absurd urge to make the tubes fall. Make them touch, shatter against one another. Their rigid order felt like a mockery, a flimsy screen over a world making less and less sense to her.

She knew recalling her Master’s latest feeding was a double-edged form of self-comfort, but it didn’t stop her from recalling every ounce of sensory input. His hair against her skin. The thick strands scattered over his forehead and brushing his collar were the color of sunbaked golden sand, mixed with the darker bronze of it close to the shoreline. He’d had a scattering of Confederate jasmine blooms on his shoulders. Then there was his scent. The sharp cleanliness of the lab had been integrated with the smell of cut grass and old stone.

She thought of his eyes, focused and sharp. His firm mouth, commanding her to sink to her trembling knees after her climax and his feeding. He’d unbuckled the belt of his slacks, opened them to reach in and grip his steel length. He’d stretched his cock out over the snug fit of his underwear, fed it between her parted lips, her moan of eagerness to serve him vibrating against the broad head.

In the vampire world, Lord Brian might be thought unassuming because he was more interested in gaining scientific knowledge than political power, but the inherent Dominant nature all vampires carried was just as full-blown in him as in a member of the Vampire Council.

Unfortunately, it tended to show itself only in short bursts; during feedings or at social events. If he was present for the event, that is. All too often he sent Debra by herself, because it was required that a lower-ranking vampire would make his servant available for such formal occasions. Here on Lady Lyssa’s estate, where high-ranking vampires regularly came to petition the Council, most vampires wouldn’t get away with sending their servant but not making an appearance themselves. However, if Brian wasn’t there, he was in the research wing of the estate, his quarters, or the gardens, his brilliant mind employed with vital issues that affected the wellbeing of vampire kind.

Performing sexual acts with other servants for the pleasure of watching vampires was part of being in their very carnal world. She’d learned to embrace the sensuality of it, realizing she was honoring her Master by performing well, handling those things so he could spend time on his work. Even so, being at those events without him was never easy. She was indebted to the kindness of other servants who’d helped her grow more comfortable with it. By going to a place in her mind where she imagined him in the group of watching vampires, speaking in her head, ordering her every move, she could sometimes even make it pleasurable.

Since Lady Lyssa had taken over the Council leadership, she’d pretty much excused Debra from any formal vampire dinner requirements if Brian wasn’t going to be present. It was a significant change from when the Council had been under Belizar’s leadership. Though she suspected Jacob, Lyssa’s servant, had been behind that decision, Debra was grateful for it.

When she’d met Brian at the university-affiliated research facility where she was working, he’d recognized she was a bone-deep submissive, one who had never articulated her needs. Instead, she’d channeled all of it into who she was as a scientist, serving the greater good, always asking more of herself, pushing harder. The bar was always rising, every breakthrough only a step toward the next one. She was an extreme overachiever with a dazzling mind, responsible for the acquisition of several key grants for the facility and, despite her age, in line for a fellowship.

Yet after only a short period of time in Brian’s company, she’d left the world of human research and committed her life to him as his third marked servant. For one thing, he’d offered her an incomparable professional opportunity. She managed the day-to-day operations of the multiple wings of the research facility here at the Council headquarters. That also included management of the human staff of sixteen second marked servants who worked in those wings.

Working side by side with Brian, they’d made outstanding breakthroughs on the Delilah virus and vampire fertility issues that had made a difference to the species as a whole. Some of those breakthroughs had led to discoveries related to human disease. She’d forwarded those findings to a trusted contact at her old research facility and allowed her to take the credit, Debra remaining anonymous. Which was fine. The real reward was working with Brian himself. The way her and Brian’s minds meshed when they solved problems created a synergy so profound, it was no different from the exhilaration of shooting down the water slide in the amusement park of her youth. 

She hadn’t wanted to go to that amusement park, but her grandfather had said she was too serious, that she needed to get out and live life as much as study it. When she hit the pool at the bottom of the slide, the rush of the water, the pleasure of turning somersaults and getting a buoyant sense of herself different from what she’d ever known, had in fact been liberating. It made her a better scientist.

Her grandfather had taught her to seek different ways of looking at things. There’s always one perfect angle to see everything that’s important. But remember the sun shines on a different world every day. Getting trapped into one way of thinking is quicksand.

She could tell herself she’d left her old life for the science, but when Brian had unlocked the sexual side of her submission, he’d shown her it went down to her soul. When he held her, looked at her like he had in the garden, that was the perfect angle. It was the key to everything she needed from him and wanted to be for him. He was her Master, that one word the beginning and end of all of it. Which explained not only the main reason she’d followed him into his world, but why she was still with him, even during times like these, when the emptiness of her soul ached to be filled by things he could never offer her.

She glanced down at her tablet. The email she’d received several days ago was only a couple of taps away, but she already knew it by heart. Reading it again didn’t change anything. Lack of change was the real problem, wasn’t it?

A crackling noise penetrated her brooding, making her snap her attention to the left side of her desk. Emilie was chewing on her pencil like a beaver taking down a tree.

“Emilie, no. You know better than that.” Debra extricated the item from the tiny claws of the white mouse and offered her a pinch of sunflowers from the jar on her desk. The mouse sat up on her haunches, seed clasped in both paws as she nibbled with a satisfied air. Debra raised a brow.

“Think you have me trained like Pavlov’s dog, don’t you?” She took a pinch of seeds herself, chewed while she looked back down at her notes. They were complete; she knew they were. She should move on to the latest data reports about the Delilah virus, but instead she tapped the tab on her tablet marked “birthing data”.

Everything they’d collected about vampire birth data was in there, from Kane, Lady Lyssa and Jacob’s son, to the most recent pregnancy in the vampire world, the daughter born to Lord Mason and his servant Jessica. But Debra wasn’t interested in reviewing statistics. Instead she chose Brian’s formal presentation to the Vampire Council a few months ago. If she kept it in hardcopy, it would be like a worn love letter. A simple fact, not sentiment, and a scientist never discarded fact because it was too uncomfortable to face, did she?

What I have found is this: there is an undeniable connection between fertility and those vampires and servants who have a closer relationship than is considered acceptable in our world…

What they’d done was analyze a number of carefully selected factors from both fertile and non-fertile relationships, and the results overwhelmingly supported their theory. Each fertile test couple exhibited a higher level of intimacy and trust than their non-fertile counterpart, as well as some level of what they’d decided to label as “positive dependence”.

Debra went back to the report, where they’d couched it in lay terms. Terms so potent she couldn’t stop re-reading them.

Positive, in that the vampire still clearly held the dominant role in the relationship, but he or she valued the servant in a manner that strongly suggests an emotional bond. One that could be defined as deep, romantic love.

Servants could be valued confidantes, a constant blood source, useful for performing daylight chores. But they were still considered an inferior race. The idea that vampires could be in love with their servants, that there was some sort of emotional parity to the relationship? Taboo, to say the least. The specifics of these results had been kept confidential at the Council level, only a carefully edited summary allowed distribution to Region Masters and overlords. The Council needed time to digest the implications before they would be comfortable handling the reaction of the vampire world as a whole.

Deep, romantic love. She and Brian had debated the correct terminology to use for the presentation, and in the end agreed it would be best to go with a subjective term a layperson would understand, to maximize the impact. This wasn’t about achieving rights for servants. Beyond having their existence publicly exposed to humans, born vampires faced no greater threat than the extraordinarily low birth rate. Made vampires for the most part simply didn’t have the same longevity or strength. This was a significant finding, if the data continued to support it, and so far it had.

Closing her eyes, Debra remembered what else Brian had said to Lady Lyssa during that pivotal meeting. “I credit my lab assistant and servant with this finding. She pointed out the variable to me and backed it up.”

It was ironic that when she’d met Lady Lyssa’s servant, Jacob, Debra had been the one to give him the stern lecture about the nature of the relationship between vampires and servants. The bond between servant and vampire is unique. Not family, not spouses, not lover. The excess sex drive vampires have can force us into a deceptive intimacy. We convince ourselves we’re lovers, probably because the reality is beyond our ken and we don’t know how to classify it. Since we can’t reconcile the feeling with the reality, we use sex to Band-Aid it… If you allow yourself to believe it’s something different from what it is, you’ve fooled yourself in a way that will only bring you heartbreak. In the worst cases it’ll result in bitterness. They’ll drive that lesson home again and again, twisting the knife.

She’d been on the receiving end of that knife during her first couple of years as Brian’s full servant. She considered herself a rational empiricist, so once she’d pushed past the emotional pain of what had happened, she’d analyzed it from all angles and accepted what her relationship to Brian could and couldn’t be.

Or so she thought. Lately, things had been changing, new variables altering her ability to manage her feelings.

Lady Lyssa and Jacob had defied hundreds of years of strict vampire protocol on vampire-servant relationships. They were clearly a man and woman in love, no matter that as her servant Jacob only had the rights Lyssa gave to him. But what vampire law said and what people’s hearts dictated were frequently different.

When Debra was around Jacob, it was clear how often Lyssa floated in and out of his mind. His handsome mouth would quirk, his eyes soften, brief flashes of humor crossing his features. Along with occasional wry frustration, since the last queen of the Far East clan was far from the most easy-going of vampires—an uncommon trait in any vampire, let alone one over a thousand years old with royal blood in her veins.

Though all third marked servants were linked to the minds of their vampires, Brian didn’t spend much time in Debra’s, not nearly as much as many other vampires did with their servants. Except when they were working. During those times, bringing together theory, hypotheses and testing across the bridge of their minds was so intense it was almost like lovemaking.

Sex, she corrected herself, setting her jaw. When they weren’t working—or in the throes of sexual relations—her thoughts were her own. She should consider that a blessing, because plenty of servants grumbled about privacy being the major drawback of becoming a vampire’s fully marked servant, the servant’s mind unable to be shielded from the vampire’s in any way, all the way down to the soul.

Brian had never shown much interest in that. What would it feel like, to have him reach out to her during his waking hours, touch her mind, her heart and soul? Know he was listening to her subconscious flow of thoughts and feelings for no other reason than he wanted to take advantage of that mind-to-mind bond he had with no other.

A scientist couldn’t ask for more than what she had in this state-of-the-art facility, the work she was doing. Yet the main yearning she had in her life wasn’t professional at all. It all revolved around an amazing vampire scientist from whom she wanted more than she could have.

She sighed, propped her chin on her hand. Damn it, she was supposed to be past all this ridiculous starry-eyed…bullshit. Way past. What was the matter with her?

Yet if she hadn’t allowed for a variable as subjective as the depth of a relationship, she might never have found the connection between it and the fertility rate. So she knew the vulnerability of her heart contributed to her science. Even so, lately she wished she was as emotionless as a Vulcan.

Despite her morose thoughts, the thought gave her a tiny smile. Brian had every Star Trek series and movie made to date. His mind tended to run like a race car’s RPM, so he occasionally put one in the player before dawn. At eighty-five, a young age for vampires, he couldn’t stay awake more than an hour past sunrise, even in his bedroom below ground, but he said the space opera helped him sleep better.

When he watched the programs, he was different, less guarded. Early in their relationship, she’d often spent the hour before dawn watching them with him. Curled up in bed together, sweat from their intense erotic encounters drying on her tingling flesh, she’d teased him, called him a geek.

Then she’d asked him if he loved her. That had ended the comfortable intimacy between them outside the lab.

“You don’t look happy.”

She glanced up to see Jacob leaning in the door frame. The highest-ranking servant in the vampire world didn’t dress the part, wearing his Dragon Ale Tavern T-shirt and faded jeans. Given how well the cotton stretched and denim molded his muscular form, she didn’t think anyone would object. Like vampires themselves, most servants were absurdly attractive, but there was an intelligence and charisma to Jacob that made it clear why the broad-shouldered, russet-haired male was such a good match for Lady Lyssa.

Brian’s main research facility had been relocated from Berlin to this vast property outside Savannah, Georgia. Since Lyssa resided here at least part of the year because this was also where the Council had its primary base of operations, Jacob was a frequent and welcome visitor to Debra’s lab. She’d been a servant far longer, but he’d been the one who most helped her adapt to vampire social events, the all-too-public sexual demands they placed on servants. Beyond that, he’d become a good friend. Perhaps her best friend, after Brian. Though thinking of her vampire Master as her friend was probably more evidence of her confused state of mind today.

“I’m fine,” she said automatically. Jacob smelled like cookies, which told her the cook had been baking. It was too much to hope he’d brought her some. She thought of cookies baking in her grandmother’s oven, the tremendous comfort and wealth of memory a single smell could contain, and that wave of sadness hit her again.

You can’t do anything about it, she told herself. Put it away.

Jacob straddled a stool near the door, pushing off so he rolled across the floor to her, bumping into her to stop. Giving him a mock scowl, she bumped him back. “You’re invading my space.”

“I have sugar.” He produced a small container of cookies, the lid cracked to release oven-baked heat.

He had thought to bring her some. Then again, she was dealing with Jacob, not Brian. Jacob anticipated a woman’s needs

Stop it. It’s not your Master’s job to even think about your needs. She admonished herself firmly, even as her heart twisted at the simple kindness of a friend.

“You’re evil. And wonderful.” She leaned in, gave his shoulder an exaggerated sniff. “Are you sure that smell isn’t you, though? According to that giggling entourage of second marks with Lady Helga last week, you are cookies, chocolate and a foot massage all rolled up into one.”

“Can’t help that I’m irresistible.” He shrugged, fending off her shove.

Emilie was so used to him, she didn’t even bother to look up from her seeds. She’d been joined by her two brothers, Albert and Nicolai, scampering out of their open cage. Debra’s work desk in the corner was one of the few things she’d brought from her old life. Engraved with famous equations, symbols and sayings of historic thinkers, the polished heavy oak surface looked like it would be at home in a ship.

To remind you that science is a voyage, not a destination, her grandfather had said. He’d made it for her. Her desk was the only place in the lab the mice were allowed to be out of their cage, mounted above the corner. They had a short, colorful set of Lego steps descending from the open door to help them reach the desk surface. Jacob nodded. “That’s a new renovation.”

“Courtesy of your son and his constant shadow, John.”

Jacob smiled at that, touched Emilie’s silky back with one gentle finger. “I see Whiskers has successfully been kept clear of the lab, else you’d be down three mice.”

“I threatened to declaw and defang her last time she was here. She hasn’t been back.”

“You’re as gentle as you can be with animals. I don’t believe it.” He cocked a brow at her, those shrewd eyes measuring. “You know, you’re always way too serious, but serious and unhappy are different things. So what’s up?”

When she didn’t immediately reply, he tugged her stool closer, sliding an arm around her. The strength of his body and his scent—which really did seem to have something magnetic to female senses—was a balm to her, not a sexual enticement, but that was part of their friendship as well.

Since servants were often required to perform sexually together during vampire gatherings, she and Jacob had been down that road. But it was part of their service to their Master and Mistress, respectively. Jacob would never dream of touching Debra sexually except under Lyssa’s command, so his generous physical affection in a platonic context was a comfort she could never resist, because Brian rarely did casual affection anymore. Jacob also understood how she felt about Brian. It was okay for servants to love their Masters, after all. Just not in reverse. No matter what that study said. One conclusion didn’t change centuries of embedded class culture.

Damn it, damn it, damn it. She pushed away from Jacob, earning a startled look. “It’s not you. I’m sorry, Jacob. I’m working on a particularly frustrating issue today and it’s gotten under my skin. Just ignore me. Come back tomorrow and I’ll be in a better mood.”

Instead of leaving, he rose and laid his hands on her shoulders. “Debra.”

“It’s nothing.” Her half-laugh fell short of humor and landed right into despair territory. “The servant version of the seven year itch. You look down the road, and you realize the relationship won’t ever change, but this is the relationship I signed up for. With eyes wide open. It’s a phase. I’m sure plenty of servants have gone through it.”

She was staring at Jacob’s chest, using her finger to draw equations on it, something she did to calm a racing mind. Her lungs were drawing in far too little air. His hands kneaded her shoulders. “Breathe,” he murmured. “Psycho OCD nerd.”

“Dumb jock.”

“Not me. Gideon was the football star.”

Jacob referred to his brother, Gideon Green, the former vampire hunter who was now unlikely servant to two vampires, Anwyn and Lord Daegan.  “I was the Dungeons and Dragon kid,” he added. “The one who talked my friends into tilting with lances on our bicycles. Shoving the lance in the spokes is a great way to unhorse your opponent.”

“That’s cheating. You’re supposed to aim for the knight, not his horse.”

He smiled. “Why am I not surprised you know that? You know everything.”

She wished she knew everything. She wished she knew how to make her heart stop loving a man who’d made it clear he wouldn’t love her back, even though they shared an intense relationship she could achieve with no one else.

Studying her face, Jacob drew her back to her chair, but instead of easing her onto it, he took it instead and put her on his lap, curving a hand over her hip to hold her in place, bounce her a little bit. It made her smile, as she was sure he intended. Emilie was at the edge of the desk, studying them. The mouse made a short leap, catching Jacob’s shirt sleeve and using it to climb up to his shoulder and settle down under his hair, which was long enough to brush his shoulders.

When she sighed, unable to hold back her unhappiness, Jacob put both arms around her. He made it okay for her to put her head on his other shoulder. Using his long legs and the brace of his feet, he rocked the chair back and forth, back and forth. That was another thing about him. She didn’t have to say anything, and he knew when not to talk. As well as when to do so, even if it made her uncomfortable.

“You remember what you told me that day in the library? About the limits of the vampire-servant relationship?”

“I was just thinking about that,” she said.

He nodded, his jaw moving against her temple. Vampires had no facial hair, so it was only with other servants she experienced the rasp of beard shadow. Since Jacob shaved daily, it gave her an indication of the late afternoon hour, though she really didn’t need it. From habit as well as an internal clock all third marks seemed to have, she knew when sundown was approaching. But Brian kept a small lab in his quarters. He might not appear until he needed the instruments in the main lab, was ready to check in with her on the day’s work, or if he needed blood.

She shivered, remembering that last feeding again. Sexual attraction never diminished between vampire and servant, remaining intense and far too easy to confuse with emotions. She knew all the rational, chemical reasons for that. She should be able to manage it.

“You told me the first time you assumed your relationship with Brian was more than it could be for vampire and servant, the bastard took a female vampire in front of you.”

“Jacob.” Her cheeks colored. Even after all this time, it was a painful memory. When he was done, Brian had fed his cock into her mouth, still smelling of the other woman’s cunt, and then he’d fucked Debra as well.

Yet long before that had happened, when she only had the first of the three marks necessary to become a vampire’s full servant, Brian had grilled her with brutal thoroughness, made sure she understood exactly what the relationship between vampire and servant was like. She’d told him she understood. When her Master was 100% focused, nothing got past him. If she’d had an ounce of uncertainty, Brian would have let her go.

Then, two years into their relationship, she’d proven she hadn’t learned the lesson well enough, and he’d reinforced it with that painful lesson. Though it had hurt like hell, she’d analyzed it, understood the message, and they’d moved on.

Even so, her body had stiffened. Jacob fished Emilie out of his hair and dumped her gently back on the counter. Then he moved to his stool and lowered Debra back into her chair to give her space, but he put his hand over hers, tangling fingers, his thumb moving over the top of her hand in an idle stroke.

“He needed to be horsewhipped for doing that. But the Lord Brian I’ve come to know these past few years isn’t cruel without purpose, is he?” When she shook her head, he leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “Around that same time period, several servants were put to death in front of their vampires when it was ruled their Masters or Mistresses had become too attached to them. Brian’s very good at detachment when he feels it’s essential. It makes him capable of acts the rest of us might be too emotionally soft to pull off.”

“He’s a good man.” On a normal day, she meant it. But her thought process today made her sound too wooden. Why couldn’t facts affect her heart more than feelings?

“Yes, he is.” Jacob studied her. “You’ve got a lot of his qualities, Debra. Sometimes I think your heart has to overflow before you’ll let it have its say. Experiencing something like that—no matter his reasons for doing it—any woman would be afraid to let herself go back down that road again. However, Brian himself came to the conclusion, with your help, that a vampire-servant relationship can be more. Perhaps should be more.”

No. Even as she rejected it, her kneejerk reaction told her how right Jacob was. Her heart clamped shut at the mere idea. It was bad enough to have it lurking around in her own mind, but to hear it voiced gave it even more strength, made it more dangerously irresistible.

“I’m just feeling vulnerable right now. There’s nothing wrong with me and Brian. It’s something else. My grandfather isn’t well. He’s…dying.” She laid her palm on the desk, traced one of the burned sets of letters. The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do. – Galileo

Her grandfather had such a quirky, wonderful sense of humor. She took a breath. “My mother still emails me. I need to bring an end to that. I mean, we’re going to outlive all of our family, aren’t we? Except perhaps you and Gideon.”

“As infuriating as Gideon is, that’s not a foregone conclusion,” Jacob said dryly. “Anwyn may put a railroad spike over his heart and let Daegan stomp it through his chest.”

A reminder that metal through the heart took a servant’s life. She wondered if that hurt less than heartache, but then forced the thought away, summoning a strained smile at Jacob’s humor.

He touched her hand again. “I’m so sorry about your grandfather.”

“He encouraged my love of science, helped me…be who I am.”

She didn’t like to cry. She’d cried the night Brian had taken the woman in front of her, but she’d done it later, alone. That night she’d been grateful for how little he visited her mind outside of work. Knowing he could hear her distress and yet hadn’t come to her would have made it all even more horrible.

It hadn’t really mattered, had it? No matter the tears or pain, at that point her binding to Brian was far more profound than even the marking. The human world wouldn’t understand that. They'd compare her to a battered spouse, deluding herself into thinking she’d asked for the punishment. Only it had been a lesson, not a punishment, and she was part of the vampire world. As Jacob had pointed out, every servant was all too aware of why the boundaries existed.

She’d made her choice, damn it. She ignored the vicious inner voice that wanted to know where the call of destiny ended and the embrace of self-destruction began. Instead, she returned to the subject of her dying family member, safer ground. “I’m still close enough to the age when I became a servant I could go visit Grandfather, but you know the rules. We’re supposed to wean ourselves off family relationships in whatever way we have to do it.”

“But you haven’t completely severed ties. You could still go see him.”

She shook her head. “They’re in Tennessee. Brian has no time in his schedule for that and he can’t spare me. We’re at a critical juncture on several projects.”

Jacob’s lips thinned as if he’d say something more, but she turned away. “Speaking of which, I better get back to this. He’ll be up soon and this report needs to be ready for him.”

A lie, because she was done with it. But she couldn’t pursue this conversation further. She waited, tense, until Jacob stood, kissed the top of her head. “Okay, geek. You know where I am if you need anything.”

“Thanks for the cookies.”

“Better eat them before those rodents attack,” he said as he headed for the door. “They’ll be bouncing off the walls on a sugar high.”

The three mice were sitting on top of the fragrant container Jacob had brought, and Emilie was already investigating the cracked lid. She slid the mice off into their cage and closed the door. “It’s time for me to do some serious work,” she told them. “Go play in your maze.”

Three clear, colorful tubes ran out of the cage, up along the wall and across the ceiling of the lab, coming back together to one cylinder to pass through the wall to more mazes and compartments in other rooms of the research wing. She’d bought a few pieces initially to build an arch over the cage, give them a more expansive habitat, but then John, the grandson of Lyssa’s majordomo, Elijah Ingram, had gotten involved. As Debra had noted, if John was involved, Lyssa’s son Kane was sure to be helping as well. The boys were near constant companions during weekend nights and John’s pre-bedtime hours on the weekdays, since he still attended school in town.

With a mind like a young civil engineer, John had designed the whole set up and he and Kane implemented it together, John showing the very young vampire how to help with assembly. Though Lyssa and Jacob didn’t overly indulge their son, money wasn’t a limitation when the project was deemed educational. Since Kane was old enough to start figuring out how things fit together, Jacob had ordered the many pieces needed. Debra had been delighted to see her three pets getting such freedom. On top of that, the boys took care of the mice when she traveled. John even handled the laborious process of cleaning out the tube sections when needed.

Just one example of the many lovely, remarkable things in her life. Her focus needed to be on that. Her Master was a good man, and time had made him kinder toward her. Plus, no matter what else he wasn’t, in those intense sessions during feeding or lovemaking, he was everything she could want in a Master.

Service to one’s vampire was what drove a servant. Though she might not feel it now, time would help her accept that, find complete fulfillment. She had the average servant’s three hundred year lifespan to figure it out. It should have been a comforting thought. Unfortunately, it increased the heavy weight over her heart, so she chose the only immediate solution for it.

She got back to work.

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