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The Scientific Method, Page 12

Joey W. Hill


  Debra curled her hand over his, nearly losing herself to tears again when his long fingers twined with hers. She was crying far more than she ever had these past few days, but there was certainly good cause here. He smelled like sickness, like death. She supposed everyone around a dying family member detected those scents, but to a third mark with enhanced senses, it was almost overwhelming, the emotional and physical impact of it.

  She focused on his brown eyes, the same color as hers. "Hi, Grandpa."

  "Little thinker. Still thinking too much." Letting go of her hand, he brushed a fingertip over the creases in her brow. "Anything come from that thinking? Make anything better?"

  "Yes," she said honestly. "I'm helping...people. And learning so much every day. Learning how much I have to learn."

  "That's the way of it. It never ends. Just this morning, I thought of the best mousetrap yet. Think Otto would go for it?"

  For all the years she'd known him, her grandfather had always had mice. Usually one sleeping in his pocket, or riding his shoulder, taking tidbits from him. There were always a few in the barn, helping with his inventions. Otto was one of the first she remembered.

  "As long as it has cheese. And doesn't pinch any of his legs. Or catches his tail."

  "Yeah. He never forgave me for that one." Her grandfather chuckled.

  "I have my own Ottos. Emilie, Nicolai and Albert." She told him about the maze of tubes, how the children had helped her. She explained John and Kane as offspring of people who worked in the building next to the lab. Like all servants who had to deal with the human world, she was practiced at generalities that gave partial truths. Her grandfather listened, asked her questions about her work. He was far less lucid than he would have been in a stronger state. But she held his hand, told him about the high level research that went into the Delilah virus, framing it in a human context.

  "Things like that should be on the TV as big news." He scowled. "Instead of which idiot actor is getting out of rehab or showing her unmentionables to the whole world."

  She squeezed his hand, and he chuckled tiredly. "Doesn't matter to me anymore, though. Don't care a thing about watching the news. My time is coming, little thinker."

  Her throat closed up. "I don't want you to go. I don't want you to die."

  "None of us want to die. But it happens." He studied her. "This 'colleague', Brian Morris. Tell me about him. Is he good to my girl?"

  "He's..." Was he good to her? Yes and no. He wasn't required to be. But lately...her thinking was changing on that. She'd always hoped and dreamed he'd want to be good to her, cherish her the way she cherished him.

  As her grandfather's brow drew down ominously, she had the alarming impression he might just pull himself right off the mattress even in his weakened state and go after Brian.

  "I've learned so much from him, Grandpa," she said hastily. "I thought you were the smartest man in the universe, that I'd never find anyone half as smart. His mind shines like a diamond."

  "Too much to hope I'd never have any competition." He settled back, gave her a wink. "How did you meet?"

  She'd told him how they'd met right after it happened, via phone call. But she didn't mind telling him again. She'd read him his favorite book over and over, just to sit here with him.

  "He was a friend of the director at the Brown Cancer Center. The director let him come in one night to use the lab. You remember I was in charge of the instruments, and since I was working late anyway --"

  "As always," he teased her.

  "I was keeping an eye on him." Her lips curved as she remembered. "He didn't look like a scientist. He looked like a movie star playing a scientist. Like Paul Walker or Heath Ledger... Someone who puts on a pair of wire framed glasses to look bookish, but he wasn't wearing glasses."

  Her grandfather's brow furrowed, his eyes sharpening on her face through the fog she knew was caused by whatever medications he was taking to keep him comfortable. "Your glasses," he said. "I just noticed. You're not wearing any."

  She'd been so self-conscious of them in her youth. Thick, coke bottle lenses because her vision had been so poor. After she'd become Brian's third mark, her vision had become progressively better, such that eventually she'd been able to discard them, though she still kept a pair of readers around when the eyestrain became too much.

  "Contacts," she said. "They finally came up with a way to make some strong enough."

  He smiled at that, patted her hand. "Now you can't hide how beautiful you are any more. And this Dr. Morris noticed, didn't he? So what happened in the lab that made him realize how wonderful my girl is?"

  She shook her head at that, but told him. "I happened to notice some of what he was working on, and we started discussing it. We spent that whole first night in the lab, didn't even realize it until it got close to dawn..."

  At his invitation, she worked with Brian three nights straight, helping him extrapolate his data, getting his input on her own research, both of them advancing further as a result. The sexual tension grew as well, incidental brushes growing more significant and lingering as they swapped places at a monitor or in front of a microscope. But along with that tension came a relaxed intimacy she hadn't experienced with any male before. When she ordered her usual Chinese takeout, they talked about a random wealth of topics. He'd declined her offer to order him food, but had taken a bite of dumpling from her hand, his own circling her wrist briefly, caressing her pulse before pulling away.

  He'd only restrained himself until the third night, but by then her body was humming with need. In the daylight, when she'd snatched a few hours of sleep at her neglected nearby studio apartment, she'd almost used her hand or vibrator to give herself a climax, but something held her back. She felt like her release...belonged to him.

  From the first moment, she'd felt she was his. The way he watched her, how he seemed aware of her every movement when they were together in the lab, as if she was a part of him already, seemed only to underscore it.

  That third night, she'd been staring into the microscope, mentioning some variables she'd researched during the day that he might find intriguing. She'd started as his hands molded over her hips, his body sliding against hers as he put his mouth on her neck. His large hand cruised up her thigh, the silk lining of her skirt brushing her flesh as he pushed beneath it and found her sex with capable fingers. The second he touched her, she started to vibrate, and he'd murmured against her ear.

  "Now you can come. You've been waiting for me to tell you that you can, haven't you?"

  "Yes," she gasped. She came in a matter of seconds, his mouth swallowing her cries as he took command of her lips, stroked her straining body. He cradled her jaw as the aftershocks rocked her, and she remembered jerking at his sharp nip at her throat, another bolt of pleasure spearing through her at the pain.

  It wasn't the kind of memory one shared with one's grandfather. Though it was indelibly printed in her mind, it was only a quick flash through her head now.

  Her grandfather touched her hand. "Is he a good man, Debra?"

  "Yes. One of the best, Grandfather. Good like you, though I think he's still learning how to get there. We both are."

  He nodded. "You don't see him through rose-colored glasses. That's good for both of you. Can't really love someone you set on a pedestal. Loving someone...it's about knowing them, and that's a lifelong puzzle. Biggest unsolved question there is. Like living a worthwhile life. I know you're on the right road. I see worries, but determination... A belief that you're where you're...meant to be."

  His eyes were starting to droop, voice starting to slur. "You have to go tonight, don't you?"

  "I can stay longer." She knew she could. Brian had said so.

  Her grandfather shook his head, his eyes opening again with visible effort. "No need for you to be around for this part. This is between me and your grandmother. She has help to carry the load I've become. But I'm so glad to see your face once more. You think of your grandfather now and again, all ri
ght?"

  She cried again then, silent tears. When she hugged him, she felt his thin arm against her back, his fingers so tentative in their brush against her shoulder blade. He'd had such a strong grip. Now she was the one with the strong grip. Holding him, she stroked his hair until he fell asleep. It happened in minutes, just as her grandmother had warned.

  She finally made herself straighten. She traced the thin wisp of hair over his brow. Bent and kissed his hand, so limp on the covers. Then she rose, turning toward her grandmother. Vivian was a quiet, brittle statue in the corner. Debra crossed the room to her, held her tight as well, as long as her grandmother needed, a million unspoken words in the embrace.

  Brian heard all the thoughts in her head, all the things she wanted to say, all the apologies. She knew this would be the last time she'd see them. She didn't let go until her grandmother stroked her hair, eased back.

  "I love you," Debra said brokenly.

  "And we love you, Debra. Always."

  Debra nodded, squeezing her grandmother's hand lightly, mindful of her arthritis, though Brian could tell she wanted to hold onto her with all her strength. It was a major act of will for her to leave the room, come back up the hall to him, every footstep resounding in an aching heart.

  She gave him a nod, letting him know it was time to go. He'd already risen, but she stayed along the wall, out of reach, moving toward the door. It was clear she felt too breakable to be touched.

  At the door, she stopped, closed her eyes and inhaled. She wanted the scents of growing up to fill her, the things she'd learned here, never to be forgotten. Glancing around the quiet room, he sensed her grandmother in that back bedroom, waiting because she didn't have the strength to show her granddaughter to the door. Pushing down a wealth of inexplicable feeling, Brian followed Debra out, closing the door behind him.

  She moved down the walkway quietly. He shook his head at the driver, opened the door for her himself, steadying her with a hand on her elbow. As he turned to get in the limo with her, he saw Vivian at the bedroom window. She didn't raise her hand in farewell, and Brian knew she was crying again. The ache inside his own chest was difficult to manage. Like Debra, he didn't really have words for what couldn't be changed, decisions that had been made. How could Debra not have regrets?

  "He said she has help?"

  "Yes."

  He didn't have to give Debra access to his mind for her to understand the question before it was asked. "My aunt lives here, and my mother's emails say she and her family have been helping my grandmother care for him. She's not alone."

  As Brian studied her profile, her chin lifted so she inadvertently revealed eyes brimming with tears in the reflection of the dark window, he wondered if his servant felt she could say the same.

  He wanted to reach out, close his hand over hers, but she still had that invisible wall around her. He knew it would only take the right combination of words to crack it. So he used them.

  "You know," he said, "Just because you made your choice, doesn't mean you don't have every right to grieve for the path not taken."

  She turned her head. Tears streamed down her face. He couldn't bear it.

  Come here.

  He opened his arms and she went into them. He'd never held her when she cried like this. Though she didn't give in to tears often, he was sure she'd done so more than once since she'd made the choice to be his servant and turn away from all this. He knew for certain she'd cried the night he was so cruel to her.

  From here forward, whenever you need to cry, I will hold you. For as long as you need it.

  Just as she had her grandmother. Strong women didn't need to be held endlessly. Just at the right moment, to give them the strength to keep going.

  Her body shuddered, and he held her tighter, afraid she might physically break apart from the storm of emotions he felt rushing through her. But she was still his Debra, his spirited, impossibly strong servant. When that storm ebbed, he heard her response.

  Same goes, my lord.

  He'd never known a smile could hurt.

  Chapter Six

  When they landed in Texas on Butch Dorn's private airstrip, there'd been little time for anything but a few pleasantries and being shown to the guest quarters before the vampires had to retire for the dawn. She was glad for that, because the attack of weeping had left her drained. She hadn't cried so hard and so long in...maybe ever. She'd found herself crying for her grandfather, for the life she'd left behind, for the night Brian had sex with the other woman...for everything. True to his word, Brian had held her through all of it, even when she was so overcome by her emotions she could barely breathe. He'd rubbed her back, soothed her, held her. Just held her.

  She'd been given a small adjoining room to his, the usual set up for vampire and servant, so Brian could call her to him at his pleasure, but once they reached their guest quarters, Brian caught her hand. "You'll stay with me, at least for a few hours."

  She wasn't really sure she could sleep. She had a tension headache from all the crying, and her third mark constitution wasn't making it go away.

  "You just need a change of focus." Bringing her over to the bed, he sat down, moved her between his spread knees and began to undress her.

  He unbuttoned and pushed her blouse off her shoulders, unhooked her bra, then removed her skirt and underwear while she held his shoulder. She could only study him numbly, bemused as he cosseted her. He'd unbalanced her with his kindness, his attentiveness. But he apparently knew she needed more than his kindness to let go of the pain that was making her temples throb.

  He laid her on her back, his eyes sparks in the darkness because he hadn't turned on any lights. She had an impression of heavy, rustic furniture, appropriate and comfortable for a Texas setting. The room smelled faintly of sage and rosemary.

  Brian stretched out next to her, stroking the hair at her temple, curling a long strand around his forefinger. He hadn't undressed, but her hand rested on the first closed button of his shirt, her fingertips sliding over the warm, firm flesh revealed in the open collar above it. She stared up at him in the darkness, no words to say, just okay to be this with him, in the semi-darkness. Then his hand closed over her wrist.

  "You know the best way to get rid of a headache? Other than to stake the vampire causing it?"

  She smiled. "That sounds like something Gideon would say."

  "Well, a scientist has to steal humor from others, because it's widely known we have none of our own. Do you know the best way to get rid of a headache, Debra?"

  "No my lord. Aspirin doesn't really work for third marks."

  "No, it doesn't. But a refresher on basic anatomy should. Trust your doctor."

  Her lips retained a faint curve. Though his main focus was research, Brian had done as much study for medical practice as possible. The daylight requirements of internship and residency had denied him the ability to complete the degree. However, he regularly treated injuries to the second marked staff at the Council quarters and his in-depth understanding of anatomy had been invaluable to his research. Vampire anatomy wasn't significantly different from human. It was the constitution itself that set the species apart.

  She knew it chafed him that he didn't have the degree, though he already had several in other fields. At some point she was sure he'd figure a way around that daylight requirement. A vampire's longevity allowed for a great deal of education, if he was willing to pursue it. And he was.

  "I appreciate my servant's faith in me."

  He leaned over her, clasped her hand, kissed her knuckles. Cupping the side of her head, he nuzzled her ear, then behind and below it, placing his lips just...there.

  "Oh..." A faint sigh escaped her lips as he caressed the highly erogenous zone. He'd released her hand and it rested on his chest again. She wished his shirt wasn't in the way.

  Unbutton it, then.

  She did, laying her hand fully on his solid chest. She averted her face, giving him better access. He was just playing in that s
mall area behind her ear, but it was enough to make her body shift restlessly, hips pressing into the bed.

  "So what part is this?" he said. "Until you remember, I can't move on to another part."

  She managed a half laugh. "Mastoid process. Lowest...point of the temporal lobe."

  "Hmm. No." He dropped a hand down between her legs, cupped her, pressed his fingers against her, making her moan. "Try again."

  She fought through the haze of lust, realized the simple mistake. "Bone," she managed in a strangled voice. "Lowest point of the temporal bone."

  "Correct. And this?" He moved to the side of her throat, his fangs grazing the muscle the turn of her head had made prominent, a long, slender cord.

  "SCM."

  "Full name." It was a gentle order, but he nipped her. Her headache did seem to be lessening, though she was fairly certain it wasn't the anatomy lesson doing the trick.

  "Sternocleidomastoid muscle. Because it attaches sternum... clavicle... and mastoid process." She had to swallow another desperate chuckle as he followed her explanation, laying a moist kiss on her sternum, clavicle and back up beneath her ear again. "Brian..."

  He stilled at her whisper, but then resumed, his kisses slower, longer, the pressure holding, such that she could feel the shell over her heart cracking, those openings growing wider, willing her to invite him in, grip that vital organ in his hand and know that it was all his, whatever he wanted to do to it. This was insane.

  "No, it's not. What I've been allowing us to be these past few years; that was insane. When we could have...this." He nuzzled her clavicle again. "You're so delicate. So...breakable."

  The note in his voice made her look up at him, touch his face. He lifted his head to study her. "If I'd lost you that night, with Gideon...I'm not sure if I could have looked at anything in life the same way, Debra."