Book IX of the Vampire Queen Series
(Suggest reading Vampire Mistress/Vampire Trinity first to fully enjoy this book)
Released May 2013
Groomed from birth to be an Inherited Servant and serve only the most powerful vampire masters, Alanna never resented her destiny. Then she did the unthinkable: she betrayed her Master to the Vampire Council. Now death is her future, but until her Master is captured, she must be protected. The Vampire Council assigns her to Evan, a vampire whose wandering lifestyle makes him the perfect guardian…
Alanna’s training was for a vampire of power and ambition, not for someone like Evan who lives in mountainside shacks and caves. Even his servant, Niall, is rough-mannered. But these two men are about to teach Alanna something her rigorous training never did. How to feel, how to desire…perhaps even how to love.
Then the Council captures her Master, and Alanna has no choice but to accept her destiny. But Evan and Niall are no strangers to defying fate—and they will stop at nothing to make Alanna theirs forever…
© Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved
She’d betrayed her Master. In the vampire world, there was no greater crime a servant could commit. She should be overwhelmed by her failure, but she was numb. What did anything matter, once a decision was made that was the end of everything? Her feelings since that moment had been out of reach, faces at the top of a well, staring down at her silent, prolonged drowning.
She was cold, but that was irrelevant. Her needs had always been secondary to her Master’s. A simple issue of being cold wouldn’t interfere with her respectful silence, the straightness of her back as she sat on her knees in the empty hallway. There was a chair here, but she hadn’t been told she could use it. A tapestry hung on the wall before her, a depiction of Hell, monsters with gaping mouths, staring eyes.
Lady Lyssa, the new head of the Vampire Council, planned to move their headquarters out of this grim Berlin castle. But there was other business to finish first, and Alanna was part of that. The only reason she was still alive was because they’d hoped to track her Master through her blood connection to him. When Lord Stephen had plotted the murder of the Council’s primary assassin as part of a larger conspiracy to increase the influence of made vampires, he’d become a fugitive. He’d have killed her before he fled, but escape had been a higher priority.
That didn’t guarantee her safety, not that she’d ever had any hope of that. Once he found a safe hole, he’d begun tearing her apart. It was the only practical choice, really. He had no ally loyal enough to risk Council’s wrath by taking her life. So he’d destroy her from the inside. A fully marked servant had no defense against her Master’s invasion. He could reach into her soul, torment and break the mind of his bloodbound human minion.
She wondered if whoever had created that tapestry had endured such an experience. If so, the terrified eyes and gaping mouths belonged to people the artist had loved, or different, twisted versions of his own soul, put through unspeakable horrors. Time had no meaning in the face of such mental agony. She’d stopped looking at clocks, because what did they matter at this point?
The tapestry dominated her field of vision, and she wouldn’t alter her straight posture, the correct alignment of her eyes straight ahead. However, the gooseflesh caused by the chilly hall prickled in reaction as she stared at the wash of bloodred fibers that dissolved, became blood itself, trickling down over the scene.
She supposed it had been exhausting to Stephen, maintaining the energy to keep her spinning on her axis so the Council couldn’t draw a bead on him, send their assassin to end him. That he hated her for her betrayal, would kill her for punishment as well as self-preservation, was certain. But overall it wasn’t personal. The soul torment had been to preserve his hiding place. He had no feelings for her. A human servant was a valuable tool until she wasn’t. Stephen had made that clear, long ago.
Lord Belizar, the Council head when Stephen’s treachery had come to light, had harshly commanded her to stay alive, to endure. His thunderous Russian baritone had penetrated the nightmares, and her training had done the rest. She was an Inherited Servant. She would obey, would serve with every ounce of will she had.
Before she’d been conceived, she’d been promised to the InhServ program. The intense indoctrination began at age six, the last time she sat at a table with her birth family. Her parents taught her to kneel behind her father’s chair and wait silently while they ate dinner, talked to their other children and each other. It had been confusing, but when she understood she was being prepared for the great honor of serving a vampire, she’d embraced the idea. Her one desire, her one goal in life, had been to exceed even the high expectations of that honor.
Yet, in the end, she’d come to this.
Lord Brian, the Council scientist and doctor, had experimented with a variety of blockers, things that would stop Stephen’s interference with her mind, but each one failed. As Stephen’s torment of her mind persisted for weeks, Lord Belizar’s command wasn’t enough to override her Master’s power over her soul. She had to be strapped down to keep her from taking her own life, because Stephen was doing everything in his power to make her do just that.
“I will find a way to block him, Alanna. But you must help me.You must hold on.”
When he said that, Lord Brian didn’t know he looked like a giant spider to her, with snapping mandibles and hairy legs reaching for her, but even as she was screaming and writhing against her bonds, soiling herself with her fear, the inexorable command penetrated.
There was a gentle firmness in Lord Brian’s directive that made her want to try harder, keep struggling, though she didn’t know why it bolstered her will more than Lord Belizar’s harsh, impersonal command. There was no room in her mind for asking such questions. She did hear snippets of conversation, voices in the storm.
Could try more aggressive methods…but it will kill her. Only one shot, and if it doesn’t work, we lose our chance.
They should do it. She was useless otherwise. She couldn’t keep her Master from unbalancing her mind long enough for them to get a fix on him. If they could pin the butterfly to the board and, in those few moments while her wings were still twitching, get a bead on him, then her last act would be one of service.
“Please…” She must have said something to that effect, because it was the only time she remembered Lord Brian touching her, a brief whisper of fingertips over her forehead that Stephen turned into worms crawling into her eyes, sending her screaming down another bloodsoaked tunnel. But then something else had happened. Even now, she didn’t know if it was her mind, creating something to help her obey the Council’s will, or if it was real. Since Lord Brian’s blockers had started to work, she’d had difficulty parsing the reality from the nightmares she’d experienced during those terrible days.
She’d been too exhausted to fight anymore, deaf and dumb to everything but those nightmarish hallucinations. The significant thing had happened while she was staring at a group of rats, perched on her ripped open belly, feeding on her exposed insides. Blood on their muzzles.
Dead…better off dead…kill yourself. Serve your Master. Make up for your betrayal. It’s the only way to make it right.
“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” The calm, confident tone brought the rats to an abrupt stop. They stood on their haunches, looked through the wall of flames surrounding her. “That’s a quote from Frida Kahlo. Easy, yekirati. We’ll see what pictures we can paint together.”
She couldn’t see anything, but that voice… A vampire male for certain, but just like Lord Brian’s voice, his had something…more to it. Something that made her want to please, to obey, and not just because of her natural desire to serve, honed by her training. His hand settled on her abdomen. Long, elegant fingers, pale skin. Ragged nails, rough cuticles. Odd. Most vampires of her experience had well-manicured hands.
The rats fizzled away into scattered ash, her flesh reknitting over her concave stomach, the protrusion of her ribs over it, like the lip of a cave. They’d tried feeding her, but everything came up. Only steel through the heart could kill a thirdmark servant…or beheading, which killed pretty much everything, so she could be a skeleton with skin stretched over it and endure to serve.
Those fingers whispered over her flesh, distracting her. When they disappeared from her view, she drew an unhappy breath, but they returned covered in paint, which they started to swirl across her flesh. He’d meant it quite literally. He was painting a picture. This was obviously another hallucination, which meant Stephen would turn it into a nightmare, but she’d take the respite. She wanted to hear that voice again. But a servant didn’t ask for anything.
He created a sky across her stomach. Blue, green, a touch of rose. The muted red and orange he’d applied first became a hazy sunrise. His touch soothed. She didn’t want it to go away, but she was at her Master’s mercy. She’d betrayed him once, but she would resist him no other way. She would honor her training that much.
The abrupt sting in her arm hurt. Something new was flowing through her veins. Lord Brian, perhaps trying something different. But she kept staring at those fingers. More details were coming into focus. The new male wore a ring, a heavy pewter band with markings on it. As he drew his hand away, he grazed her bound one. She managed to latch onto the middle finger that bore the ring, the pads of her trembling digits trying to make sense of it, like a blind person reading Braille. He stilled, letting her hold onto him with that awkward, weak grasp. A servant didn’t touch a vampire unless invited, but this wasn’t real, so it didn’t matter.
“Time is a great healer. That is what the ring says, in Hebrew.”
His voice was thoroughly masculine. It seemed absurd to call a man’s voice masculine, but Stephen’s hadn’t struck her that way. She thought of the Edgar Rice Burroughs story, where the hero described a trusted brother-in-arms as “fully male”, meaning all the best qualities a man could have. So perhaps it wasn’t so absurd.
He had no definable accent, typical of a well-traveled vampire with a few centuries in age, but she’d guess American. Whatever Lord Brian had injected seemed to be clearing her mind. Her body twitched, then went into a rigid, muscle-grinding spasm. She clamped down on that ring finger as her other hand convulsed, fingers jerking into a splayed, spiderlike rigor. Her thighs strained, pressing her hips hard into the table, her neck arching. A cry struggled free of her throat, crossed an inert tongue, dry lips.
“Easy…dinna fash yourself, lass.” The concerned voice, another new one, came from directly above her. He had a similar quality in his voice. Gentle, irrefutable command that told her she should do her best to obey—once she determined what fashing was and why she shouldn’t do it—and that obeying their will was a port in the storm. A shelter.
She was looking up into tawny brown eyes. Dark brown hair was carelessly pulled back from his strong-featured face. He was a big man, towering over her like a concerned oak. If she put her slim hand on his jaw, she expected it would look like a child’s in comparison. He put his hands on her head, though, cupping her ears, her jaw, underscoring his size.
Her lashes brushed her cheeks as she looked downward again. The hazy sun painted on her abdomen now shone on a green meadow dotted with white flowers, all of it smeared and dreamlike, like an Impressionist painting. The man with the ring tugged the sheet down as he decorated her mons, the tops of her thighs, expanding the meadow over the terrain of her naked body.
She was trained to serve, such that even in this state her body would respond to a vampire’s touch. An unbidden tear rolled out her right eye, sliding along her temple. The Scot caught it on his thumb, made another reassuring noise. He bent, brushed his lips across her strapped-down forehead. It told her he was this vampire’s servant, for no vampire would ever act with such tender sentiment, especially not in front of Lord Brian. But he didn’t seem like any servant she knew. Lord Stephen was still playing with her mind, her own broken dreams weaving among his vicissitudes like creeper vines in a crumbling castle wall.
“Alanna, tell me what you feel.”
She never refused a vampire’s command, but Lord Brian asked her a question she’d never been asked. She couldn’t remember when she’d stopped thinking about it, or if she’d ever thought about it at all. Service was above ego, above individual need and want. There were only the Master’s feelings and needs. Yet she’d spent the past…she really didn’t know how long it had been anymore…however long, resisting Stephen’s screaming command for her to die, to take her own life. Because Lord Belizar had told her no, Lord Brian had told her no. She refused to be a total failure. Perhaps she did have a will of her own, which meant she’d never been as good a servant as she’d thought.
“Alanna. Tell him how you feel.” The painter was giving her the command now. He pressed down on the wet paint, his thumb making slow, easy passes over her pubic bone, charging the nerves at the tops of her thighs. He gave her the command as if she belonged to him personally. Did he understand that had been the biggest loss to her? For the first time in so many years, she didn’t belong to someone. Cut out of the circle, no longer a part of anything.
“Do I need to tell you twice?”
“No, Master.” It rasped from her lips, an unplanned response, but it seemed right. The two sets of fingers stilled, both on her abdomen and on her forehead. Yes, she’d only called Stephen that, but…it still felt right now. Maybe more right than it had with him, ever. That also didn’t make sense, but her mind and soul were broken, scrambled. Sanity and logic were beyond her grasp.
She was too tired to understand or dissect anything. She didn’t spend much time on such things even on a good day, and this was certainly not a good day.
“I feel…” She searched the scarred, abandoned battlefield of her mind and soul, and then she latched onto that word, the one that meant hope and damnation. And the end of her usefulness. It was over.
“Abandoned. He’s gone.”
* * * * *
Lord Brian had at last found a chemical combination that blocked the nightmares, but it also blocked Stephen’s access to her. She didn’t understand why they’d bothered to keep her alive after that. She’d proven too weak to resist his dissection of her soul, the scrambling of her mind. As long as she was taking those injections, they couldn’t use her to pinpoint his location.
However, during the weeks of her illness and months of recuperation, remarkable changes had occurred. The Vampire Council was now under new leadership. Lady Lyssa, last of the vampire royals, had staged a coup and knocked Lord Belizar from his position as head of the Council. She’d killed the only other made vampire on the Council, Lady Barbra, and installed Lady Daniela from the Australian territories to take her place.
Soon after she’d been moved to a regular bed to be fed and assigned a daily exercise regimen to recover atrophied muscle, Lady Lyssa had visited her. Alanna had struggled to leave the bed, go to her knees, but the vampire queen had forbidden it.
“You will preserve your strength.” Those cool jade eyes assessed her state, kept her pinned in place. “I command you to regain your health. I will determine what to do with you shortly.”
So now, at last, ‘shortly’ had come. As she waited outside Council chambers, in this cold, silent hallway, she couldn’t hear what was going on behind the solid doors. She should be able to hear the occasional murmur caused by a raised voice, which was why this was hallway was kept clear during Council sessions. However, the blocker had a devastating side effect. The exceptional strength, speed and senses that came with being a thirdmark were negated. For the first time since she’d become Stephen’s thirdmark, at age sixteen, she was merely human.
Lady Lyssa’s command to stay alive was the second hardest thing that had ever been demanded of her, but the queen was the closest thing to a Master she had now, however temporal that would be.
She recalled the fingers on her stomach, the man with the ring commanding her to answer Lord Brian. The Scot’s soothing tone. He’d spoken often while she was being painted, such that she started to follow his accent like music, the way he dragged out the vowels in some places, making them more dense and strong in others. Fiiinal… Book was buek… Certainly was cairtenly…floating like the air itself. And the wonderful rolling r’s…
After she’d answered Lord Brian’s question, the exhaustion and desolation had sent her into unconsciousness. When she woke, they hadn’t been there, and there was no paint on her body. She’d looked thoroughly for any trace of it, and found nothing. During the days that followed, where she remained mute unless Lord Brian needed an answer to a question, she realized they’d been some strange, defensive side effect to Stephen’s torment. But it felt more real than the most hideous nightmare he’d sent her, and since what made the nightmares so awful was how very real they felt, that was saying something.
She lifted her head to see Jacob, Lady Lyssa’s servant, standing in the doorway. She hadn’t heard the heavy portal open. Exhorting herself to focus, be attentive as she should, she slid her weight to the balls of her feet and tried to rise gracefully in one motion. It worked, but the effort was phenomenal. She was still so weak.
Jacob had waited, showing he knew offering assistance to any InhServ was a deep insult to them. Requiring help was a mark of shame. But the broad-shouldered Irishman with steady midnight blue eyes was an odd sort, not the usual kind of servant. One never knew what he might do.
She stepped into the chamber. The dimly lit oval room with stone walls, iron chandelier and crescent-shaped table elevated on a platform was as intimidating as it was intended to be. Even the floor-length velvet table cloth was the color of dried blood. It was easy to imagine black-cloaked Inquisitioners here, staring down upon hapless souls.
She’d expected to face the whole Council. Instead, only Lady Lyssa was present.
The oldest living vampire was a master at that eerie stillness that could make her almost invisible, except for the itchy feeling suggesting a predator was watching. Correctly realizing she didn’t need any props to make her more scary, the queen had the head Council chair positioned on the flagstone floor, not on the raised dais behind the table. An empty chair faced her, several paces away.
Alanna knelt, keeping the proscribed distance from a Council vampire. “I’m here to serve, my lady. What is your will for me?”
“You are aware of the dilemma your existence presents, Alanna. What do you think we should do with you?”
Even without looking up, she felt the weight of those jade green eyes boring into her. Lady Lyssa was barely over five feet. The porcelain skin and sharp nails, the long black hair she often kept clipped over one shoulder, enhanced her beauty, but they also reinforced how striking and untouchable she was. Except to Jacob, who stood behind her chair now.
InhServs, when solicited, only offered opinions on how something should best be done to serve her Master’s interests. So Alanna framed her answer accordingly.
“I am a liability, because I cannot help you find my Master. He might use my mind to determine what your plans are, if I am kept in proximity to Council. I submit to your judgment and willingly sacrifice my life.”
“The treatment Brian found blocks Lord Stephen’s hold on your mind. The pain as well?”
Alanna flushed, her knuckles pressing hard into the cold flagstone. “Yes. I am too weak to bear the pain he inflicts on me when the blocker is not present. It blinds me to his location. I apologize for my failure.”
“You are apologizing that your will is not strong enough to overcome your Master's?”
Alanna shook her head. "Forgive me, my lady. It’s clear I am not worthy of my training. I await your judgment."
Please, just get it over with. Let this end.
Instead, she stiffened as a male hand closed on her elbow.
“You will permit Jacob to assist you.”
She couldn’t refuse the queen’s order, but her shame was nigh unbearable as Jacob lifted her into the empty chair. She’d become stiff, sitting on her knees. He put a woman’s cloak over her shoulders, a ruby-colored thick fabric that smelled like cloves. Had it come from Lady Lyssa’s chair? It had retained some of the body heat of the previous occupant, so it could be no other’s.
Pushed into a paradigm she couldn’t comprehend, she looked up at Jacob blankly.
“You're shivering,” he said. “Your skin is ice cold.”
Why would that matter? Staring at him, she registered he was handsome, not unusual for a servant, but there was a directness to his midnight blue eyes, the way he touched a woman, that suggested a knight of medieval times. Even the way he served his lady was exceptional.
The relationship between Lady Lyssa, the last Queen of the Far East Clan, and her servant—at times documented in witnessed events, at other times speculated about due to astounding rumors—was barely whispered about even among servants, because of how forbidden it was.
He’d declared his love for her, but a servant was permitted to have that level of feeling for his Mistress. She’d never felt love toward Stephen, but dedication, loyalty and devotion were what he demanded. No, what was shocking was that Lady Lyssa had reciprocated Jacob’s feelings. Not just in private, where such a thing might rarely happen, and, if it did, a wise servant never spoke of it. She’d declared it before the whole Council.
A vampire falling in love with his or her servant was almost as taboo as revealing the existence of vampires to the human world. Vampires were superior beings, regarding their servants at best as treasured pets, but pets all the same. Love suggested some type of…equal footing, at least on an emotional level. Unthinkable.
Even so, Alanna suspected Lady Lyssa’s idea of love was still a different concept than Jacob’s. However, the queen had delayed the business which had brought Alanna before her, allowing her servant the time to lift her from the floor, get her settled and comfortable, even speak to her. When he left Alanna’s side, moving to stand behind his lady’s chair again, Alanna dared a quick glance. Lady Lyssa showed no disapproval. Nor did she seem less queenlike for it.
“Lord Brian has told me that if a more powerful vampire than Lord Stephen thirdmarks you, there is a possibility we can override Lord Stephen’s hold and track him. He also feels that would permanently break your mind. Though it was not his intent that you overhear that information, my understanding is that you did, and immediately informed him that he should do it.”
“When Lord Stephen is brought to justice, my life will end, my lady. My sanity does not seem of great importance during that temporary period. If I cannot help you, it’s best to remove me from the equation.” The cape’s warmth helped her straighten further, though she kept her eyes downcast.
"I have a different alternative in mind," Lyssa said, after a weighted pause. “You met Evan. Do you remember?”
Alanna struggled with the change of subject. “No, my lady.”
“When Lord Brian was testing the blocking serum, he and his servant helped calm you. He’s an artist. His servant, Niall, is Scottish.”
She almost forgot herself and lifted her head. Instead, she tightened her fingers around one another. Just an inconsequential bit of memory, suddenly so significant to her. A piece of reality Stephen hadn’t been able to twist into a nightmare.
“Though your mind is blocked, your importance to him is such that Stephen might use other methods to find you. So we will use the rabbit to flush the wolf a different way. One that poses less risk to you, but perhaps not so much less that it insults your InhServ protocol.”
She didn’t know what to make of that remark. Sarcasm? Sympathy? Straight fact? Fortunately, Lady Lyssa wasn’t requesting a response.
“Evan is a made vampire, one with no political standing. Part of the fabric of our society rather than an outstanding marker upon it.” Lyssa’s tone suggested she wasn’t deprecating Evan’s status as much as being amused by the irony of it. “He has an incurable case of wanderlust but, as luck will have it, the next couple months he plans to be in the southern region of the United States, which is where I will be moving Council headquarters once I conclude matters here. You are being put in his care until the situation alters. He will secondmark you, for Brian believes Evan’s strength and age, less than Stephen’s, will make that possible without damage. Evan agreed to Lord Daegan taking his blood as a sire so that he can communicate with him as needed, a conduit to your mind and location.”
No vampire allowed another vampire take their blood, not if they could prevent it. It was done by overlords and Region Masters to ensure the loyalties of the vampires within their territories, or by vampires forcibly imposing dominance on weaker ones. What little she knew of Evan didn’t seem to fit that assessment, but it didn’t matter. The decision was out of her hands.
She hadn’t imagined serving another vampire. No one of political stature would want her again, and an InhServ was too integrated into the upper echelon to be used anywhere else. Lady Lyssa uttering Lord Daegan’s name in her presence was a prime example. Only the Council members and their servants—and of course Lord Stephen had been on the Council—knew Daegan was the Council assassin, dispatching vampires who broke the laws of their volatile world. She’d been in his presence rarely herself, but he exuded exactly what he was. The top predator in a world of predators, perhaps only surpassed by Lady Lyssa herself, and she wouldn’t be putting money on the winner of that combat.
In short, Alanna knew as much about vampire politics and etiquette as the queen. But it was a moot point. When Stephen was apprehended, he would be executed. As soon as a vampire died, blocker or no, his fully marked servant died with him.
Was the burden of dealing with her, putting him in Stephen’s path, a punishment for Evan? A debt he owed to the Council?
“Niall will arrive Friday to escort you to him. Until you receive any further direction from the Council, you serve Evan as a servant should. Obey him as you would obey me, in all things.”
“Yes, my lady.” The command of any vampire was law, as long as that command didn’t conflict with the servant’s Master or Mistress. Even their will could be overridden if the command was issued by a higher ranking vampire, though the servant could expect punishment for it by her vampire later. Stephen had done so severely, once or twice, when she’d obeyed the directive of a Council member who outranked him. He hadn’t expected her to disobey the Council member, any more than she’d been surprised to endure his ire and abused ego over it. Being the outlet for his anger was part of her responsibilities.
Pushing away any tension she had over serving a vampire again, she accepted her charge. She was to treat Evan as her Master, even though he would withhold the vital thirdmark that would bind her irrevocably to him, and she would be bait for Stephen, her true Master. It made her tired and sad. She would have preferred death.