Book VIII of the Vampire Queen Series
(Vampire Queen's Servant & Mark of the Vampire Queen should be read first)
Released December 2011
Sworn to obedience, compelled by loyalty, and threatened with damnation for betrayal, Jacob entered Lady Lyssa’s servitude as a human servant. Now he is a vampire, but still bound to Lyssa, who has found herself struggling with the capricious powers that have come alive in her paternal Fae blood—and challenged by two enemies…
While the Vampire Council threatens to take away Lyssa and Jacob’s newborn son, the Fae Queen has ordered Lyssa to appear before the Otherworld court to face inescapable charges. The Fae have nothing but contempt for vampires, but to serve her, protect her, nourish her, and pleasure her, Jacob will follow his lady into hell itself. No one—neither Fae nor vampire--will compel him to break the oath he made to serve a vampire queen forever.
© Copyright 2011 - All Rights Reserved
Jacob squatted on his booted heels on a mountain of broken concrete. Looking down the slope of rock and across a thicket of ruined foliage, he wondered how hard it was to pull off a fairy’s wings. He’d sure as hell like the chance to find out.
His lady and Fae Lord Keldwyn were a few hundred yards away, standing next to the clump of twisted trees where the verandah used to be. She called it the mangrove, evidence of her macabre sense of humor, given that the trees used to be a pack of rabid vampires. That is, before she turned them into future firewood, and crushed the surrounding marble and concrete like popcorn.
Thanks to his ability to be in her mind, Jacob could easily hear their conversation. Which was why he was envisioning wing extraction. Of course, since Keldwyn’s wings were currently concealed, Jacob would settle for breaking a limb or two.
“As long as you had no true grasp of Fae power,” Keldwyn was saying, “the court had no interest in you. You were like solitary elementals; pixies, dryads, gnomes. The peasantry of our kind. Less than that, even, because of your inferior vampire blood.”
Through his lady’s mind, Jacob watched the Fae lord’s eyes, like onyx and pale moonstone, slide over the center tree. The shape of the trunk was undeniably like the tortured body of the male vampire trapped within it. One large aboveground root kinked up like a leg, in a futile struggle to push out of its prison.
“But this, and the potential of your parentage, has set your future course. The Unseelie queen demands you come before her, for assessment and possible acknowledgment. If she determines that you are significant, you will be made a member of her court, one of her subjects, required to attend her will as she deems appropriate.”
“What are they saying?” The question came from Lord Mason, sitting at a lower point on the pile of debris. He had his elbows braced on a jagged slab of what used to be the veranda steps. His long legs were stretched out, ankles crossed.
“He’s saying he misses us. That he wants us to come join the conversation.” Jacob rose, and with a couple of graceful leaps, was on the ground near Mason’s polished riding boots.
“The same tight-assed bastard who said ‘the vampires need to wait here,’ like we were lepers?” Mason arched a brow.
Jacob gave him a grim smile. When Keldwyn had issued that curt directive, not even by a twitch had Mason reacted to being treated like chattel on his own estate. Of course, that wasn’t surprising. Though Jacob had warned Mason of the Fae’s contempt for vampires, Mason had dealt with plenty of egos in his own world. Hadn’t they all? Jacob’s lip curled at the thought.
“Yeah, he’s had a change of heart. He’s feeling all warm and fuzzy about us now.”
Mason snorted, but Jacob knew neither of them gave a rat’s ass what Keldwyn thought. Lyssa was their mutual main concern. As such, when he headed toward the mangrove, he was aware of Mason rising to follow him at a sauntering pace, ostensibly to check his surviving roses, but Jacob knew he had his back. A Fae might be able to kick a vampire’s ass any day of the week, but kicking two of them, as well as dealing with Lyssa, might be more than Keldwyn wanted to do. He’d muss his perfect hair, after all.
Jacob. Easy. Lyssa spoke in his mind. Let’s see where this goes.
I’m ever obedient to your will, my lady.
He felt the touch of wry humor, saw it flash through her jade green eyes as her gaze flickered his way. Still, he meant it. He wasn’t as good at poker faces as Mason, but he could keep his mouth shut when needed. As Keldwyn noted their approach, his expression got sour. Lyssa spoke before he could say anything, however.
“And if I prefer to remain solitary?”
Unlike him, his lady had an exceptional talent for not revealing anything about her true thoughts on a matter, so Jacob knew the edge to her voice was deliberate. Keldwyn turned his gaze back to her.
“Then you should not have done this.” He nodded at the trees. “This is dark magic, with a clear Unseelie signature. Your father had blood from both the Seelie and Unseelie courts, so it remains to be seen if your abilities will stay in the realm of one court or expand to both. However, as of now, you’ve made an indelible mark on the Unseelie queen’s universe, and so her eye is turned toward you. This is not an invitation. If you choose to refuse it like one, you will not have months to live like a fugitive in the woods as you did when the vampires shunned you. The queen will destroy all you hold dear. She can have you brought to her in chains and keep you as a pet at her feet, until she feels you understand obedience.”
Keldwyn’s voice was flat, his gaze utterly impersonal. Even so, Jacob sensed something beneath that, an elusive sense of urgency, enough to underscore and make his words unsettling truth, not a goading threat.
Ever since they’d met Keldwyn, months ago, this was the way it had been. Jacob’s gut was always on high alert around the pointy-eared bastard, scanning for something that felt not quite... right. Of course, Jacob had Irish roots, and before her death, his mother had regaled him with bedtime stories of the Fae. Fascinating, beautiful and wondrous, they were also capricious, unpredictable and morally neutral at best. At worst, they could be and do things much like Keldwyn had just described the Fae queen doing. In short, it was best to give anything smacking of them a wide berth.
I am part Fae, Sir Vagabond . Lyssa’s amusement was evident in the thought. I think you have lost that chance.
Because of his background as Renaissance Faire knight, drifter and vampire hunter, it was her preferred endearment for him when she was in a good mood. Less frequently, usually when she was reminiscing much further back, she sometimes called him Sir Knight, recalling his past life as such. Regardless, he was glad she was calm about this, but then Lyssa had fought in the Territory Wars and seen a thousand years of crises. She tended to consider a matter carefully before getting too excited about things.
Mason, with a similar relaxed mien but one Jacob knew could conceal a panther about to tear into the soft underbelly of his prey, had taken a seat on a wrought-iron bench. He stretched a powerful arm across the back, propping one boot against the base. Like Jacob, Mason kept his amber eyes trained on the Fae. Keldwyn continued to ignore them both.
“To go to her court, you will have to cross into the Fae world. She won’t simply throw open the gate. She will want to test your mettle, see if you can find your way to it. I am not allowed to point the way, but she did not forbid a useful suggestion.”
Lyssa cocked her head. “You’re playing a dangerous game with her intent.”
Keldwyn shrugged. “Our ways are tricky. A step left, when the dance seems meant to go right. You may have powers like ours”—he glanced toward the grove again—“but you do not yet know the way our minds work. We are creatures of random chaos. It is why our paths separated from humans and vampires so long ago. Because of their violent natures, they need order and structure. We do not.”
“Yet the Fae have a court and a queen. Two courts, even.”
“We have our own etiquette. It’s just far less predictable.”
“There are time distortions between the Fae world and ours,” Lyssa said. “What if I go there for a day and return to find a hundred years have passed here?”
“The queen is capable of managing such things. If you please her, it will not be a concern. Do you wish my suggestion or not?”
Not. Though I’d be happy to give him a suggestion or two.
Lyssa’s lips quirked at Jacob’s thought, but otherwise her face remained serene. “Of course, Lord Keldwyn.”
“Entrances to the Fae world used to be fairly easy to find. In-between places or times. Crossroads, forks in the road, stream edges, midnight or noon, equinoxes. The mists. Such circumstances are still required for an opening, but in your case the will of the Fae queen must be aligned with it as well. Bring an offering that impresses her, and she will make the crossing an easier one.”
Keldwyn’s focus moved back to that largest tree. “I walk in your world, in the places of old Earth, deep forests such as where we met. However, because of my age and strength, I can visit places like your cities, observing certain precautions. Our young are not so resilient. If, through foolish curiosity, they wander too deeply into the human world, and keep their soles too long on the things of earth men have made into their tools—concrete, steel, brick—the young Fae weakens. When their magic is dangerously sapped, their base instinct is to transform, as many of us can, into a pure earth form to regenerate. A tree, a plant, a stone.”
Keldwyn’s gaze shifted to the necklace Lyssa wore, chunks of amber. Some of them had tiny fossilized creatures inside. The center pendant was a smooth teardrop of jade, speckled like a bird’s egg. It reflected the color of her intent eyes.
“But that is a trap,” he continued. “Once they are in that form, it becomes their prison. Only the touch of a Fae, one who has enough strength for it, can release them. Even then, the young will need to be taken out of your world of iron and structure, back to the Fae world, before their strength can truly regenerate.”
“So you want me to free someone to impress the queen.”
Keldwyn lifted a shoulder. “There is one, a dryad, lost to our world over two decades ago. The queen bore her affection and was grieved to lose her, but where she is, no pure Fae can reclaim her. The risk is too great, and the queen forbade anyone to try, because of the chance we might reveal ourselves. However, you are as yet outside our world, our laws. If you succeed, I am certain a gateway in the proper in-between setting would open for you.”
Lyssa considered him. “You are ever helpful, Lord Keldwyn. Where is this Fae located?”
“In the city you made your home before your fall from grace with the Council. Atlanta. In a place surrounded with broken asphalt. I do not know her condition, but even near death, a dryad can live for a long time inside the shelter of a tree. I cannot give you the exact location, but she is in the downtown area, the decaying, crime-ridden parts. Perhaps in what you call a parking lot, or an older, abandoned area?”
“That narrows it down,” Jacob noted dryly.
Keldwyn shot him a glance. “Yes. I expect you will have to spend some time finding the right place. But you cannot take too long. The queen will not wait beyond the next full moon on your attendance. Samhain approaches and other events of importance take place in the Fae world. At that point, she will get tired of your fumbling attempts to find a gateway and bring you to her. In that case, the crossing will be a far more unpleasant experience.”
Because it already sounds like the perfect vacation hot spot now.
Once his message was delivered, Keldwyn headed back toward the forest, making it obvious he intended to depart, irrespective of whether they had further questions or need of him. It wouldn’t matter regardless, Jacob knew. He didn’t serve their interests, but that of an unknown monarch. And his own.
Though Lyssa asked Mason to remain at the grove, Jacob stayed a close step behind her, and she didn’t discourage him. When they reached the edge of the forest, Keldwyn paused, those onyx eyes settling back on Lyssa’s face after a brief flicker at Jacob’s. “Long ago,” he said, “a woodsman fell in love with a beautiful and mysterious girl he found in the forest. She agreed to marry him on one condition. She had to leave him from midnight to dawn every night, and he couldn’t ask her whereabouts or try to follow her. Since he loved her, he agreed. They were very happy, for a time.”
He paused. “Eventually, they had a child together. Since the woodsman had been busy with his trade, upon the child’s birth they only had an old cradle loaned to them by the village wise woman. One night, while his wife was gone, he couldn’t sleep, for he never slept well without her. He decided he’d pick out a tree to make a new cradle. Putting their daughter on his back, he carried her into the woods. Not too far away, he found one that was perfect, the wood so smooth beneath his fingers. The baby smiled and laughed when he touched the tree, reaching toward it, so he was sure it was the right one. He chopped it down and made the cradle in that one fateful night.”
Now his gaze shifted back to Jacob, flat, unreadable. “His wife was a hamadryad, her life essence connected to a specific tree. To maintain that life essence, she had to return to a tree form for a certain amount of time every night. As I’m sure you guessed, he mistakenly killed her to make a resting place for their child. Fae lore is filled with many such cautionary tales about the wisdom of love between the species.”
“Perhaps if she’d just told him who and what she was, it never would have happened. Honesty is the best policy and all that,” Jacob suggested. As he met Lyssa’s bemused green eyes, he thought of how much he liked the porcelain smoothness of her face, the delicate features. “The problem I have with that old folktale,” he added, “is how long he accepted her being gone at that time of night. When it comes to love, you don’t accept rationing. Over time, you want it all. He would have followed her.”
“He would have lost her that much sooner.” Keldwyn’s lip curled. “The Fae can make man or vampire believe what they want them to believe. For instance, you believe you and the Lady Lyssa are meant to be together forever. That you can have a happily ever after, like the fairy tales humans have bastardized. But in the end, if her path lies in our world, you and the half-breed infant will be left behind. Just like the woodsman and his daughter.”
Despite Lyssa’s sudden stillness, a warning, Jacob stepped forward. He and Keldwyn were of like height, though the compressed energy of the male Fae was like standing within the incineration range of a star. It didn’t matter. Jacob was a ticking bomb himself. “At some point,” he said quietly, “you will acknowledge Lady Lyssa’s son.”
“Not as long as he is yours as well. Lyssa, you would do well to tell your servant to stand down, before there’s one more tree out there. One that can be snapped like kindling.”
Jacob, there’s a time for this. Go back to Mason. I need a few minutes of privacy, and I do not want you to listen in.
It was a firm order, but there was also a caress behind it, telling him she was quietly pleased he’d stood up for her and Kane. He rarely doubted her wisdom, though there were times it was hard to stomach, like now. He nodded to Keldwyn, his jaw tight. “I’ve said my peace.”
Turning, he sketched a bow to his lady. I’ll respect your wishes, but I’ll be close, my lady. I don’t trust your welfare to him. Not now, not ever.
He returned to his place on the concrete rubble, finding Mason back in his own place there. Though he gave him a nod, Jacob kept his attention trained on Lyssa and Keldwyn. They spoke for only a few moments, and he could tell nothing from their expressions. At length, Keldwyn vanished into the rainforest.
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Mason said, correctly interpreting the mood as Lyssa moved back toward them. “We’ll discuss plans shortly.”
Jacob watched his lady come toward him, all sensual grace in slacks and a cream-colored blouse open at the throat. Her long black hair was clipped at her nape, the hip-length strands playing around her shoulders and nip of her waist. She was so fine-boned and petite, the result of her Asian vampire mother, but only a fool would ignore the royal power that emanated from those jade eyes. The fact her feet were bare didn’t impact that in the slightest. Of late, she seemed to prefer direct contact with the earth, another indication of the changes happening with her Fae blood. She looked pensive.
“Figuring out his motives is like trying to spear a fish with a straw,” he remarked.
Taking a seat on one of the lower concrete pieces, she crossed her legs and stretched her arms back to brace herself. Turning her face to the wind, she closed her eyes.
“Yes,” she said simply. Her velvet voice could caress a man’s skin, her vampire allure in perfect complement to the Fae. Though he was resigned to her ability to arouse with nothing more than her voice or her scent, long practice and intense servant training allowed him to focus past it, particularly when it was incidental, not targeted. When she wanted to arouse him, a battle against an army of Keldwyns would be easier than resistance. Her lips curved, telling him she’d registered his thought, though the pensive look remained. The private conversation with the Fae lord had bothered her.
“I know you don’t believe his motives. Or his story about the dryad trapped in Atlanta.”
“As a queen, I know there are certain things you do and don’t do. The Fae monarch has many to do her bidding. If she was truly fond of this dryad, she would have sent someone after her long ago, even if she could not risk herself. I think it far more likely the queen imprisoned the girl there as a punishment, and Keldwyn has his own reasons for wanting us to free her, perhaps to rouse the queen’s ire, challenge her.”
“But you still think we should do it.”
She glanced up at him under thick, dark lashes. “You already know that.”
“Which is why it wasn’t a question.”
His tone won an imperious arch of her brow, but she nodded. “Keldwyn is duplicitous, secretive. However, every piece of advice he’s given us contains a certain degree of wisdom. If I am able to release her and bring her to the queen, doing what another Fae can’t or won’t dare to do, then there is a status to that even if I anger her.”
Jacob snorted. “Only another queen would think about it that way.”
“But that is how I need to come to her. Not as a supplicant, but as an equal.”
He slid down next to her. Stretching out his legs, he rested on his elbows, tangling his fingers in a lock of her long hair. As he twined it around his fingers, he gave it a tug. She laid her palm on his abdomen, slipping her fingers beneath his T-shirt to trace the ridges of muscle. Jacob didn’t want to say it, but he knew he had to do so.
“You are superior in all ways, my lady, but what if your new powers are not equal to hers? What if she feels compelled to teach you a painful lesson? Set you back on your heels for freeing this Fae girl?”
“That’s a risk I must take. Far better to appear assertive in such a situation than meek and scraping.” One long-nailed finger teased beneath the denim waistband, tracing his bare hip bone. “And that applies not only to queens. Not too long ago, I remember an insolent young man who presented himself to be my servant. Respect he had, but not an ounce of true submission.”
Jacob gave a half chuckle. “Yeah, and I remember how that night went. I got my ass kicked.”
“But it turned out all right in the end, didn’t it?”
He looked up at her. Despite her Fae abilities, he could still get the jump on her with his vampire speed. Sometimes. Like now. In a blink, he’d moved them off the concrete and down below the mangroves, into the cultivated gardens where there was a patch of soft grass. He’d left her on top, but had her pulled down against his chest, his arm around her back, his mouth warm on hers. She stirred against him, and he felt her pleasure with his body against the softer curves of her own. His cock hardened as her own flesh dampened, readying itself for him. Even when he’d been a third-mark human servant, he’d had the senses to smell her arousal. A third-mark was equipped to mostly keep up with a vampire’s insatiable carnal appetities. Now that he was a vampire, he had those appetites in spades himself. So her arousal was an irresistible perfume, an acceptable invitation to deal with the tension of the past couple hours.
But more needed to be said first. Seeing it in his lady’s eyes, he braced himself, pretty sure he wasn’t going to like whatever it was.
Lyssa pushed herself up, straddling his hips, but flattened her palms on his chest, a mute order to stay where he was. “Jacob, you know you’re staying here.”
She pressed her lips into a thin line. “You sound more like your brother, Gideon, than the servant Thomas trained so well for me.”
“Gideon and I have more in common that most people realize. Particularly Gideon.” His eyes didn’t waver. “I’m going with you.”
“We both know how the Fae feel about vampires. It’s very likely the doorway won’t open for you, even if we manage to free this dryad and bring her along.”
“Is that what Keldwyn told you when you had your private conversation?”
When Jacob rejoined Mason, Lyssa hadn’t watched him go, though she usually took great pleasure in the attractive flex of muscle in all the right places, the warrior’s grace and power enhanced by the vampire blood.
Keldwyn lifted a shoulder. “You counsel your servant wisely, Lady Lyssa.”
“Don’t flatter yourself overmuch, my lord. Call it a challenge to Fae superiority all you wish. I know male posturing, regardless of the species.”
He lifted a brow. “What is it you wish to say to me that required this private audience?”
“It wasn’t Fae allure or any power of mine that convinced Jacob we were meant to be together. He convinced me.”
“Then you are as much a fool as he is. Many things change, but not someone’s fundamental nature. It matters not what species they are.”
“That is my point, exactly. And Jacob’s.”
He studied her for another moment, then inclined his head. “I wish you well, Lady Lyssa. As always.”
When he disappeared from view in a blink of time, she didn’t bother to try and track him as she had when he’d first started visiting them. Unlike vampires, it wasn’t speed that gave him that ability, but a Fae’s capacity to blend. He could be within a stride of her, cloaked not only in the colors of the forest, but its scents and life energy, a perfect chameleon. So, anticipating he was still close enough hear her, she spoke, taking the final word.
“Better a fool in his arms, my lord, than a lonely Fae who haunts the forests and doesn’t know how to smile. I wish you well. Also as always.”