The Vampire Queens Servant Chapter Thirty Three


She looked startled, making him wonder if she even realized she'd been projecting the thought.

He understood an inkling of the bond that could grow between mother and child when the child was dependent on his mother's sustenance for life. While his feelings for Lyssa were not maternal in any sense, when she lowered her head and found his throat, allowing him to slide his arm over her shoulder, rest his hand on the crest of one wing, he knew the fierce, protective connection was the same, the sense that this was the most important thing he'd done or would ever do in his life, caring for her. Committing himself to her. Nurturing her whenever, however she needed it. He was also aware that hunger encompassed several different things for her.

He moved his other hand up her hip to the stark indentation of her waist and along the ripples of her rib cage, his thumb grazing the base of her breast. Stroking her, just feeling the slope of her. Her breath touched his jaw as she released his wrist to curve around his throat and shoulder, tilting his head up to an even more straining arch, making him aware of the rush of blood through the arteries, the vulnerability of his windpipe that could be crushed with the pressure of her thumb, the clamp of her jaw. Closing his eyes, he moved his other hand along her thigh as she changed her position and straddled him, pressing her bare se* down against his pelvis and eliciting a groan of pleasure as the movement confirmed he was hard and erect for her. Her wings moved, stretching out and then folding over both of them like the curtains of a bed, closing them into even greater darkness where he could just make out the line of her shoulder, feel the press of the elbow talon against his side.

He didn't want to do it, knew it was the wrong thing to do, but he had to.

My lady, a vampire's confidence in her superiority can be a fatal mistake.

He'd counted on her not using the mind link between them, but when he made the comment in his mind, she lifted her head, her fangs an inch away from his throat. He increased his grip on the slender stake he had pressed firmly between her ribs. In one blink, he could have sent it spearing into the heart beneath.

When one gave a shot to a horse, one thumped and poked the powerful muscle repeatedly. Once the animal was used to the rapping, one tossed the needle like a dart into the spot. The pressure and teasing of his fingers had served the same purpose.

As she rose above him, straightening, he gripped the shaft between them, broke it and let it fall to the earth beside him. ’’I'm not easily killed, my lady. I may be driven by anger when you are in danger, or distressed by that monster who pretended to be your husband's friend, but I never stop using my brain. ’’

Except when I'm sunk deep into your body.

As she continued to stare at him, not speaking, he knew he might lose her in a blink, her capricious moods dictating she withdraw at his unexpected move and disappear into the shadows of the forest, leaving him a hollow victory. In fact, making his heart lurch with the loss, she suddenly stood five feet away from him, her back straight, that tail following the line of her hip, curled around the front of her feet. With her taloned fingers slightly curled, wings at half spread, she looked like a demonic angel.

’’Don't go, my lady. ’’ He whispered it, sitting up and extending a hand toward her silhouette, not wanting her to fade into the darkness. ’’I beg you. Appease your hunger in whatever manner your body demands of me. ’’

The wind kicked up, making the branches of the live oaks creak, the pines whisper secrets. The night creatures had stilled, sensing a predator in their midst.

He used his eyes now, keeping them clamped on her outline as if that could compel her to stay. Then she began to move back toward him. Slowly. One step, two. When she stepped over him, he settled his hands on the outside of her thighs, his thumbs caressing her flesh. Bending forward, he laid his lips on her upper thigh, close to the tight folds of flesh hiding her se*. If the emotions driving the gesture had physical force, color, perhaps he would have left the imprint of a tiny bloodred rose on her leg, a permanent reminder of the kiss and all it meant.

Her hands came to rest on his shoulders, pushed at him, eased him to his back as she straddled him again, pinning his shoulders to the ground before she sat back and continued to study him, as if confused by the type of prey she'd found.

He felt like her dark eyes were gazing into his soul, making it yearn to be a part of her, connected to her forever. The need surged up in him. While his rational mind argued with him not to voice it, not to ruin this moment, his heart was fiercely sure it needed to happen. Right now. This was the time. The turning point.

Go with your gut.

’’I've no doubt you're my Mistress. ’’ Reaching up, he stroked his knuckles along the line of her cheek, his thumb against the corner of her dark eye. He moved back to her ear, down to the side of her throat, following her windpipe, feeling her swallow. When he increased his grip, her eyes flickered to him. ’’I'm your servant, my lady. Please, let me serve you. Don't doubt me or yourself. I've proven my loyalty to you. My skill. Believe in me and give me my own choice. ’’

Why do you force me to play games? All of you, even Thomas. Can't I have one person whom I don't have to force to do my bidding for their own good?

So she could communicate in this form. Hearing her voice in his head sounding as it usually did was startling with the contrast of this winged transformation, but he recovered quickly.

Perhaps you need to stop feeling you have to make those choices for us. Old you are, my lady, he teased her gently. But God you are not. Even God gave us free will.

He was an idiot that day. A weak moment that has caused more pain and aggravation in the world than can be measured.

Something shimmered in her expression, something that turned into a hard quiver running through her body. He was astonished to see moisture collect in the corner of one large dark eye, become a glittering tear. A moment later he knew what track a tear would take in this form. The diamond shape of it was split into three trails by the overlapping folds, dampening her face. Catching the moisture with his finger, he carefully wiped it away. ’’Don't cry. Please, my lady. ’’

He began to rise, intending comfort. As unexpectedly as a lightning strike out of a clear sky, she seized his hand, pulled back on her haunches and twisted him so she rolled him over. Forced him to his stomach where he could not see her and his arm was pressed at an uncomfortable angle behind his back. With his cheek pressed into the dirt and grass of the forest floor, he could only see her in his peripheral vision. Just brief impressions, shadows, though she was very solidly real, the way she anchored herself on his body. She stood on his thighs how in her birdlike crouch so that her sharp toenails pressed into his muscles. Using her other hand, she pushed away his torn T-shirt, baring the strip of skin just above the waistband of his jeans. He turned his pinned wrist to twine his fingers with the claws holding his arm to his back. While she accepted the contact, it did not ease the strength of her grip. When she bent to him, the tip of her tongue touched him, a tongue that felt forked and a bit longer than it had been. He felt the scrape of a fang.

Use your free hand and reach under yourself. Unzip your jeans.

It took a bit of effort. This form was not much heavier, but with her weight on his upper thighs and pressed on his lower back, she didn't give him much maneuvering room. He sensed her pleasure in the necessary flexing of his muscles and buttocks to rise up the amount needed to do her bidding. Since she was completely naked, it stood to reason she would desire him in the same state, though lying prone on a bare erection was not the most comfortable position in the world. The unbidden image of her impaling herself on him as he lay on his back, his arms drawn to straining over his head by vines dangling from the trees above, tortured him further.

Hold on a second. He wouldn't envision himself bound. But the next image was the sultry glide of her slick cunt down his length... One inch... Two inches... She was offering him her fantasies, goading him with her own desires. It was like the intense eroticism of watching a woman masturbate, only he was getting to see it from inside of her head, the visions she conjured to stimulate herself.

He managed to complete the task and struggled to get his shoes off in the same fashion, inspiring her to run her hand over his buttocks as they shifted to accomplish the task. Once the shoes were gone, she pulled the jeans off him in a quick move that took his lower body off the ground, dragging him a couple feet. He gripped at the earth, seeking balance, but before he could find it she was back on top of him again. She guided his arms back so the elbows were bent at right angles, his hands gripping his forearms to form a square on his lower back. Then she manacled his overlapping wrists with one long-fingered hand, the talons snicking together like the sound of a lock, scraping against his skin.

Why are you afraid to let me be free, my lady?

Why are you afraid of surrendering, Jacob?

With her free hand, she flicked a claw across the top of his thigh, raking him, taking flesh, drawing blood.

It stung like nettles, the fire racing over the back of his leg, telling him she carried some type of venom in those razor tips, hopefully just a temporary measure to distract prey. But Jesus, it burned. He couldn't help his spasmodic twitching. But she showed mercy, leaning down and blowing on the area, bringing the feel of a cool mist across desert sands, easing the feeling. So flooded with relief, he wasn't prepared at all when she eased two fingers deep into his backside. He jerked immediately after though, struggling against her. He clenched around her invasion, creating a different burning sensation, almost as uncomfortable.

Easy, Jacob. Breathe deeply and relax. She held him down effortlessly. It made him fight even harder, his mind overcome by panic at the physical and emotional reactions that surged through him at the uninvited penetration. There were no inanimate manacles he could slip. She moved effortlessly with him as he thrashed, and the predatory pleasure he sensed from her at his struggle only made his reaction harder to control.

A virgin in this area entirely, aren't you? Never even allowed a woman to tease your rim, though you go for mine often enough. I know you've enjoyed the pleasure of a woman's tight hole.

While he was sure his rectum was going to simply erupt into flames, he was cognizant that before she'd invaded she'd transformed her fingers back to human form, for there was no feeling of cutting sharpness, just a woman's fingers, lubricated with that oil he'd felt on her skin. Maybe also from oils lower down. Perhaps she had actually touched herself when he'd envisioned her masturbating.

Easy, Sir Vagabond. Be my slave. Submit to my pleasure. Leaning over him now, she pressed her thighs against the outside of his, her mons brushing the base of his ass just below where her fingers were penetrating. Though I admit I love to watch you fight me, your muscles rippling along your back and shoulders, that delectably tight ass. I love your power, Jacob, knowing you're a strong man who will resist even when you know you're irrevocably caught. But as much as that arouses me, I love when you give me all that power as a gift.

You also like taking it, my lady.

He felt her dangerous amusement. Yes, I do. Did you know, from the first time I saw you at the Eldar, to every second you've been in my house, there hasn't been a single moment I haven't wanted to taste you, smell you, f*k you? Eat you alive. You're a hunger I seem unable to appease.

She was doing it again, putting images in his brain that were making his cock into a painful iron bar against the ground. She worked her fingers inside of him in a way that had him pushing himself mindlessly against the earth as if it were her pussy he was plunging into. He was working a furrow into the forest floor that was getting warmer from the heat of his body, making the dirt and packed leaves moist from the arousal leaking from him.

You're trying to change the subject, my lady. Turn us away from the course you know is inevitable. It won't work. Shut up, slave.

She leaned farther forward, putting more straining pressure on his arms. She'd turned completely back to human form except that one hand holding him, for he felt the difference in her weight distribution. Her hair fell against his shoulder blades. The skin of her thighs had become silky smooth and soft like her breasts as they pressed against the top of his folded arms. Putting her teeth to the juncture of shoulder and neck, she bit deep, her nose and cheek along his jawline.

She drank with her body on top of his, her fingers far too cleverly pumping in his ass. As she drew sustenance from him, using him completely for her pleasure and nourishment but offering him nothing beyond that, it shattered him into pieces.

His mind simply stopped functioning. She tightened her thighs on him rhythmically, matching her cadence with her drinking. As she rocked, she pressed her pubic bone against the loose curl of her hand in a way that bumped her fingers more deeply into his ass, as if she had a cock and her curled knuckles were the scrotal sac slapping against him. He thought there might be four fingers in him now, stretching him past bearing with the physical pleasure and emotional turmoil.

He didn't have any interest in being f*ked by a man, never had, but this image, of his delicate, se*y Mistress using the illusion of a cock to force him to climax, overwhelmed him in a way he didn't expect. Hadn't Thomas told him she would force him to explore places in himself he'd never even thought to look?

His cock was pulsing hard. ’’My lady... Mistress... ’’

’’You'll come for me, now. Now, ’’ she repeated it sharply, and he groaned, a sound that wrenched from him as a snarling growl, evolving into a roar as his insides drew taut and he spurted like a hot geyser. He slammed his hips into the ground, the earth nowhere close to the slickness of her cunt, but it didn't matter to his frenetically humping cock. He could imagine it, for she was filling his head with it. She was remembering their first night, when he had the taste of her in his mouth, her grinding against his face, her thighs gripping his skull.

It spurred an orgasm that had already reached an intensity level he'd never known existed. If she'd used pheromones, he was sure it would have killed him.

When he roared at the intensity, somewhere out in the night he heard Bran howl. He thought he even felt vibration beneath him when his seed fertilized the ground. As if the Earth Herself had responded to the energy rolling over him like an avalanche.

She didn't let her fangs slide out of him until he at last slowed, breathing hard. Even then she kept her tongue and lips on the wound, her soft breath in his ear.

As he tried to steady himself in the aftermath, she stretched out on him, her body quivering with her own reaction. The curve of her pelvis fitted over his buttocks, her stomach against the small of his back as she mashed her breasts pleasantly into the upper broadness of it. Her now completely restored hands folded over the base of his neck, her fingers tangling in his hair as she laid her cheek partly on them, partly on him, her lips nuzzling his flesh. Her bare toes rested against one of his calves, one knee planted between his thighs, close enough to put the weight of her thigh against his temporarily depleted testicles as she draped over him.

’’You haven't let me give you pleasure. ’’ His voice was hoarse.

’’You've given me more pleasure than I've felt in a long time, ’’ she corrected softly. ’’Just be still and quiet for me now. Let me lie upon you and believe, at least for a little while, that the world is a place where I could love you the way I want to. ’’

The words startled him, but her hair whispered over his shoulder as the breeze picked up again, the strands drifting across his lips as if trying to underscore her desire for silence.

What you were worrying about a couple days ago... You are wrong in so many ways to be a human servant. But I want you in a way I've not wanted anything in a very long time. I keep intending to send you away, and I just can't.

I wouldn't go, my lady. You can't make me. ’’Yes, I--’’ She stopped, and he felt her smile against his hair. He'd smile back if he wasn't so exhausted, his body drained, his emotions a maze. ’’We'll argue about it later. ’’

’’All right. ’’

The trees rustled above, the earth a comforting smell beneath him, a restful bed. He drifted and dozed awhile with her lying upon him, her body shifting on his. All of it integrated into the languid pleasure of providing her a bed, his body recuperating from the explosive orgasm. From the effort of offering her all she'd demanded and everything he wanted to give, and having it rejected again. But he was here.

I'll never leave you, my lady...

At length, he surfaced. It might have been a half hour later, perhaps an hour. He was aware of an aura of needy energy sinking into his body from the heat of hers. As his senses sharpened, he became aware of the sensual rub of her lips on the back of his neck, the alternating tensing and relaxing of her hips as she stimulated her clit on the curve of his buttocks.

He put a hand under him, began to rise as she held onto him. Slowly he turned, tumbling her to her back, completing a full circle so he was lying on top of her. She was curiously docile through it all, watching him. Reaching down between them, he found her clit and teased it, making her shudder as his cock hardened at her reaction. Shifting, he moved down her body to frame her petite breasts with tender reverence before he began to suckle, creating a blush on her fair skin with the stubble of his jaw. Her legs rose, holding him around the hips as his stiffening member found her, eased its way naturally in as it grew harder and he continued laving her breasts. The soft nipples were not so soft now, the plump weight of her swelling in his hand. He felt the press of her body all along his. He wanted her to tremble in his arms, climax over his cock. He wanted to feel her small pussy grip him tightly like the illusion of a fulfilled promise. It would not sate the longing in his heart, but maybe it would ease the yearning for a moment or two.

He wasn't afraid of her sending him away. He was afraid of losing her altogether. The thought of it built in his mind and he couldn't bear it, the knowledge that it would become reality. So he kissed and suckled her fiercely, trying to serve her even as tears gathered in his eyes and he couldn't blink them back.

Something shuddered through her mind as if the thoughts running through his mind had found a resounding echo in her own.

This is as close as I can get to what I truly desire... Still only a shallow substitute for what I miss so keenly. But how can I miss something so much that I've never had...

When he raised his head, her eyes were full of pain, so torn that they'd almost transformed back to the eyes of the creature hidden within herself, the pupils dark and taking over all the lighter areas. Her hand touched his face, giving him comfort even as her other hand clutched his arm, holding on as if he was her only hope to keep her from falling over the edge of an abyss.

He moved within her, keeping his gaze on her. He would seduce her with his body even as he told her with his tears he loved her. More than anything. More than his own life.

She tried to turn her face away, press her cheek to the earth, but he caught her chin. ’’No. Don't you pull back. Mark me, my lady. Give me the third mark, and I'll never leave you alone. Not ever. It's what I want. Have mercy, my lady. Please... Don't leave me alone to grieve you. ’’

Lyssa stared up at him, at the implacable resolve in his blue eyes. She wondered how her heart could hurt so much and not crack into a hundred pieces.

There had been a postscript to Thomas's note, put in as an afterthought. Neither the sentence structure nor the writing had been smooth, as if he'd been about to suffer an attack right before he completed the letter and feared he might not emerge from the other side of it to complete the correspondence. You have been together before... Let him make his own decision... He will seem impossibly young to you, and he is, in so many charming ways. It will help keep you young, but he is also an old, old soul. Don't deny him his own wisdom, unique and separate from yours.

’’I shouldn't. It's wrong. ’’

’’Yes, you should. Please. ’’

He'd moved his hand so now it cupped the side of her face, cradling the weight of her skull. It made her remember the days she was so weary from her battles with Rex she couldn't even raise her head to acknowledge the presence of the moon, greet the night, see the petals of her roses gleam. All she'd wanted as she'd sat there, head bowed, was to feel his touch on her face. When a man touched your face first, lingered there, studying you--as Jacob was studying her now, as if he wanted to look at her just that way forever--it meant he loved you. Or at least it made a woman think he loved her. Enough that she was willing to give anything. Sacrifice anything.

Only this time, Jacob was the one willing to give it all. Sacrifice everything. In the depths of his love for her, he considered it a gift, not a sacrifice at all.

When she curled her arm around his neck, he understood, using the tension in his fine stomach muscles to lift them up so she straddled him, his body still linked to hers. Holding her hand on his neck, she knew her whole world had become his blue eyes. Steady. Pure.

’’You'll need to bite my throat, here. Over the artery. ’’ She brought his hand to it, and hers was shaking. He squeezed her, reassuring, even as he trembled, too. ’’Try to use your canines.

It helps with the puncturing. But don't hesitate and worry about hurting me. Bite down as hard as you can, and drink my blood. I'll let you know when to stop. ’’

He stared at her, barely breathing, and yet she couldn't deny she felt almost the same way, swept with paralyzing shock by what she was about to do, no matter all the reasons not to do it. The only words or actions she seemed capable of were those that would put them on a course where there was no turning back.

, He threaded his hand through her hair. As she helped, pulling the thick strands of it to the opposite shoulder, he leaned in. But before he went to her neck, he pressed his lips to hers, keeping his eyes open, the two of them watching each other, the moment so heavy with intent and change, she couldn't speak.

No. She wouldn't do this to him.

His cognitive ability denied her the change of heart. He sensed it a moment before she had the thought, because even as she had it, he'd wrapped his hand in her hair, yanked her head to the side and clamped down on her with the savage clumsiness of a young wolf making his first kill. But on a vampire, the blood exchange of a third mark was far from the terror a deer might feel beneath the jaws of a predator.

Every time he'd nipped at her or let her feel the pressure of his teeth she'd felt a surge of intense erotic reaction for just this reason. It set off an explosive sensation that rocketed through her the moment his teeth punctured through, finding her blood.

He stilled as her blood filled his mouth, getting used to it, and then his throat worked as he swallowed. Once... Twice... Three times. Before the second mark, it would not have gone down with such eager ease, but those two marks gave him the intuitive desire, the hunger for it.

Drawing his hand from the side of her face, she dipped her head. Not to dislodge him, just giving her better access to his wrist. In comparison to the other times she'd bitten him she pricked him almost delicately, letting her grip sink in rather than forcing it in among the strands of veins and arteries. Her jaw trembled, her body on the pinnacle of decision. His cock was deeply embedded in her body, holding her there. I love you, my lady. Do it. No regrets. Not now, not ever. If you die tomorrow, I will follow you with only gratitude for the honor of being your servant forever... Your slave, if it's your pleasure to call me that.

She'd held a drop of it on her finger once, the fluid that made the third mark possible. Gleaming silver, reminding her of a ribbon of lightning with the way it glowed. As she released it now and let it flow into his wrist vein, she closed her eyes and let the reaction unfold and enfold the both of them, spinning out the energy that would link them. She would not feel alone or be alone again. For some reason it felt like the first time in her life she could feel that way, believe it for certain.

It was like it had been with Thomas, but so different as well, as if the soul merging itself into hers was one she'd always known as intimately as her own. He'd just committed everything to her, so how could she not give him the same? For this moment at least, as the third mark bound them, she let everything be open, her heart, soul and mind where he could read and see anything. Feel how very significant this was to her, the fulfillment she'd missed so much and yet felt as if she was experiencing it in an amazing new way.

He cried out hoarsely against her skin as the quicksilver ribbon manifested itself another way, a way she hadn't warned him about, for of course she'd never expected to do this. Her hands slipped to his back, feeling the change in the skin, the burning of the individual design that would display to all that he carried the third mark. Her mark specifically.

When we first met, you said a tattoo is something you get when you're sure you'll stand by that belief or commitment forever.

So I did... Gods, my lady...

She was crying and moving on him at once, riding him again, going up through a spiraling tunnel, charging into a star-strewn universe that contained just the two of them, nothing to fear, nothing else but this moment.

She saw the knight in her mind. The quicksilver flash of a samurai's blade against the gleam of chain mail, the tunic of the Crusades. Lotus blossoms and red roses. Hard muscles pressed against her woman's body. Gentle hands on her face when she'd been a child, his dark hair loose and curling in her small fingers. He'd sung to comfort her then, too, only in a Japanese tongue.

He's served you twice before. He will not bear being parted from you a third time...

As she began to feel lightheaded, she pulled out of the swirling depths of the memories. Putting her fingers to his lips, she reached out to him with her mind.

Enough, love. That's plenty. Though even to her, it felt like it would never be enough.

Jacob withdrew slowly, licking her, holding his mouth over her, feeling the way the wound slowly closed beneath his tongue. His hands slipped to her hips, anchoring her, and she dropped her head on her shoulders, emitting a wild, low cry as the first crest of the climax hit her like an unexpected rainstorm. His mouth was on her breasts, and she saw a smear of her blood there. Catching his jaw, she sealed her own mouth over his, pulling deep and hard, the same as he was doing to her. Their minds revolved together as if dancing, all the pieces of one another mixing up until she wasn't sure which memories were his and which ones were hers.

She was giving him too much of herself. The bad as well as the good were swirling in this cycle of energy, but his mind reached through it all to reassure her.

I want it all, my lady. Don't fear I can't handle it.

Thomas's words resounded in her head. Your soul mate.

Catching two handfuls of her hair, Jacob pressed his face into it, tangled her wrists in it, then his fingers with hers, rolling them over so she was on her back again, staring at the sky and the silhouette of his face over hers. His body pressed her to the earth, stroking her even more deeply so she tilted up, opened to him even more. Her body was shuddering with every wave of the orgasm and needing more, more, more... His eyes were taking in everything, within and without them, trying to hold onto this moment forever. But she knew its temporal nature was what gave it so much sweetness. How could it become a memory to sustain her heart if it never ended?

’’Let go with me, ’’ she rasped against his ear as she squeezed him within. And he did, holding closer to her, his hips suddenly jerking, his thighs flexing, drawing her up with him into another shuddering peak.

She felt everything he felt, the sense of release on so many levels. And one of those levels startled her with its intensity, so deep it clogged her throat with tears.

All of the worry and fears he'd had, his doubts... He let them all go, his heart easing to the point the climax was a true release, a purging. She felt a wave of relief from him as powerful as exhaustion. She would not shut him out, would let him offer her every resource he had to serve her.

Like a multidimensional collage, she saw an ocean of overlapping memories, his lifelong quest to find his sense of purpose, his resting place. The home where he was always meant to be. Her.

So worried about taking from him what she shouldn't ask, she hadn't realized how much it would mean to him to have her take the gift he'd been freely offering from the beginning.

There would be no more questions for him, no matter where they went or what they had to do. And because she felt the truth of that flood her with the power of his jetting seed, she felt her heart ease as well. At least for now.

Damn if you weren't right in the end, you wily old monk.

Reaching up, she touched her servant's face in wonder. I love you, Jacob Green. Then she said it to him, to prolong her joy in the fierce reaction that filled his expression. ’’I love you. ’’ She managed a smile through tears. ’’But don't expect that to change anything. Who you are, who I am. I won't be any easier to live with. ’’

He kissed the curve of her mouth. Holding his lips there motionless for a long moment, he pressed his forehead to hers, his eyes closed, hands framing her face. The night moved around them and there was just this moment, the beat of his heart, the mingling of their breaths.

When at last he raised his head, he'd regained his composure. His blue eyes held a trace of the mischief she knew so well, though his voice trembled. ’’My lady, I just received the miracle of a lifetime. It's a greedy and unwise man that would ask for two, particularly on the very same night. ’’

As she thumped his chest with a light fist, he caught her hand, but she sobered.

’’I'm dying, Jacob, ’’ she said quietly, freeing herself to put her fingers to his lips so he wouldn't interrupt her. ’’There's nothing you can do about that. Nothing that can change it. What matters now is that I protect those who depend on me. Whenever it comes to a choice between that and my personal well-being, you must promise me you will always put the former first. Swear it. ’’

His eyes held hers but he did not speak. She pushed him off her. ’’Turn around. ’’

When he obeyed, her fingers traced the design, letting him feel it. From a distance, it appeared as a sinuous prehistoric snake, but also like an etching of his spine, representing his ability to move, to act, to think--all at her command.

As she held her touch there, she waited.

’’Your goals shall be mine, my lady, ’’ he said at last. ’’Though I will strive to protect you. ’’

There was the Council Gathering to face. Carnal. The end of her life and all she must do to prepare for it. Tasks she must handle, using him to help her. She would have to be ruthless to serve her duty, which meant if she had to be cruel to him, crueler than he'd yet been able to imagine, she would be.

When he turned, took her beneath him again, she saw him register her thoughts. His elbows pressed to the earth on either side of her head, keeping her gazing up into his face.

’’My love for you means nothing in the world in which I must live. You understand that, Jacob?’’

Jacob touched her face with his free hand. Her mind was still open to him, whether she knew it or not, so he felt her fears and worries, as well as her indomitable resolve. He matched it with his own.

’’It means everything to me, my lady. That's all that matters. No matter what you need, I'll be at your side. ’’

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