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The Scientific Method, Page 15

Joey W. Hill

  He could push past all that, but she'd panicked when he'd gone there the other night, under far more sensual circumstances. She was already feeling very unsettled. He didn't want to add to it if he could figure it out through patience and deductive reasoning.

  As the day had progressed, she had gotten quieter, less likely to respond to Butch's laughter. Once, when she needed to go to her room to retrieve a hardcopy file, Dix had hopped up and told her to tell him where it was. "That way you don't have to interrupt what you're doing," he'd said easily.

  In hindsight, Brian realized he'd made the offer a little too quickly. But as a result, Debra had remained in the room with them throughout the day, never leaving except for the occasional bathroom break, which was just outside this room, in view of the door.

  She regularly served at Council dinners. At the few where he'd also been present, he'd been incredibly pleased by her responsiveness. It was a credit to him as her Master and, beyond that, it intensely aroused him, feeling his servant act under his command. Up until recently, he'd always told himself it was evidence she'd positively adjusted to the realities of vampire life. But had he ever really delved into those subconscious layers where she was obviously hiding her true self, to see if emotionally she accepted the things a submissive like her responded to physically?

  He knew she liked it very much when he was present at those events. Her eyes would latch onto him, mind reaching for him, ensuring her Master's pleasure. He hadn't seen it as a vital way for her to deal with the scenario. Endure it and find pleasure at the same time.

  He frowned, prowling around her mind. She was focusing on her work, pushing her dread away, though he noticed the twitch of her fingers on the counter, the taut line of her shoulders. She was wearing her lab coat, as she always did when they were conducting official examinations, but beneath her slim body was clad in a waist-nipping skirt and cotton knit shirt that molded her curves. She'd change into something else for dinner, something a little more formal. Seeing the flash of it in her head, he was more than pleased with her choice.

  She'd brought an amber-colored shimmery short dress, one of his favorites on her, enhancing her doe-brown eyes, the multiple shades of gold in her hair. His beautiful wild creature, something that looked like she belonged to the forest and in the shade of green trees. Even more pleasing was what she usually wore beneath it, thong panties and a matching bra whose cups were so low her generous breasts would spill out of them with little more than a shallow breath.

  He just wasn't sure he cared to see the effect it would have on the other vampires present.

  So you'd have her wear flannel? He couldn't afford to get possessive like this. He didn't have the rank to keep his servant exclusive. Truth, it had never occurred to him as a possibility. From the time he'd had a blood nanny, his parents had taught him a servant was a toy that must be shared, unless he achieved a rank where he could be more discriminating. A servant could only be kept completely to oneself if no vampire was higher in rank. There was only one position in the vampire world that qualified, and he didn't imagine himself taking Lyssa's place anytime soon.

  His mind rejected the thought of Debra as a toy, though he knew the term simply clarified the example. He was being overly emotional. He returned to the matter at hand -- figuring out the source of her fear in a way that didn't exacerbate it. "So, are you looking forward to dinner?"

  "Yes, my lord."

  Her response was automatic, but what happened in her mind was anything but. A maelstrom of thoughts and worries erupted with one face in the center of it. Lord Graham.

  Another handful of images popped up around that center, and they had him coming to a full stop, his work forgotten. Any reservations about bonding himself too closely to her emotions vanished and he opened himself fully to the throbbing press of her fears, her dread. Fury filled him.

  Over the past few days, he'd finally absorbed just how much Debra did for him. She not only cared for his needs as a vampire, which were demanding enough on their own, but she worked with him as well, a punishing schedule that had worked her to the bone. Past a third mark's endurance, until he noticed she wasn't getting any sleep.

  She sure as hell hadn't planned to tell him.

  Yes, he didn't have the rank to prohibit other vampires from enjoying the sensual pleasures his servant could offer, short of actual sex with her. Yet vampires who consented to other vampires taking liberties with their servants would at least stay in the servant's mind, even if just to enjoy voyeuristic pleasure. They didn't abandon their servant, mentally as well as physically, to face another vampire's requirements alone.

  Debra's surprise when he'd issued the mild threat to Lord Butch about disembowelment underscored how rarely he demonstrated any possessiveness toward her at all. Many vampires did, which told others that those liberties, when taken, should be respectful of the vampire master or mistress. That there were consequences for stepping over the lines.

  Unfortunately, he'd sent the exact opposite message. Then again, he'd never realized she'd faced such things. But that was because he didn't spend time in her mind. God in heaven, what kind of horrible bastard was he?

  His lips tightened. The kind that would seize that cruel edge to use it for good purpose. For once.

  He closed her laptop in mid-stream, though he allowed her time to remove her fingers from the keyboard first. Startled, she looked up at his face, which he knew was thundercloud dark.

  "What else has Lord Graham made you do?"

  Color stained her cheeks. That and the tremor that ran through her, her gaze dropping to the floor, were all the trademarks of a woman who felt shame. It only increased his wrath with himself.

  "I'm sorry, my lord. I didn't want --"

  "That's quite clear," he snapped. With effort, he reined himself back. "You owe me no apologies, Debra. Absolutely none."

  Confusion gripped her. She was struggling for words, a question.

  "You will tell me the things he has done," he said evenly. He'd seen snippets only. Probably more than enough to fill in the blanks, but he was going to be thorough. Unless it distressed her too much.

  "I can't, my lord. Please don't make me say them."

  He captured her chin in gentle fingers, met her eyes. "Show me then."

  She did, staccato flashes as if she was trying to press the Play button but hit stop after each frame so she didn't have to see the animation. His blood boiled at what she revealed. No there hadn't been sex, but that hardly mattered, did it? Rape wasn't about sex.

  His father would scoff at that. Brian could almost hear him, an obscene narrative to accompany what Debra was showing him. "A servant can't be raped. She's performed the same acts at public dinners, with other servants. Serving our pleasures is required of her."

  It wasn't the same. There was a tremendous gap between those events, where her submissive nature allowed her to feel pleasure even if she had mental inhibitions -- especially if he made the effort to make sure his ass was there to command her as her Master -- and what Lord Graham had forced upon her.

  He was still holding her chin, and he slid his grip briefly over her throat, gave it a light squeeze. "Debra."

  "It's fine, my lord," she said hastily. "It's simply what a servant must do. I can handle it. It's fine. No need to trouble yourself. Will you be there tonight? I know there are things Butch gave us that you wish to review..."

  She was trying her best to phrase it as a casual inquiry, but Brian saw the truth of it in her head, in her tremor beneath his touch. She wanted him there. Needed him there.

  She'd never asked him for anything, not since the night she'd asked if he loved her. Every fiber of her was begging him to be there tonight, to help her through this. And what speared his heart was seeing how it shamed her to have to ask, to depend on him to care for her.

  That answered his earlier question -- yes, he was definitely a bastard. But he could change that.

  It had been his experience that change didn't come ab
out from external factors, only internal motivations. But Debra was his third mark, and that mark went both ways. She could delve down to the level of his soul, fill him to the brim, if he allowed it. Or even if he'd done his best to prevent it.

  "Yes. I will be."

  Her relief was palpable, but she merely nodded. Slipping out of his grasp, she gathered up her things as he watched her with narrowed eyes. "I'll go prepare for dinner," she said. "Is there anything else you require in the meantime?"

  There were so many things, he couldn't enumerate them all. He was simmering with anger, frustration, regret...shame. He needed time to process things. As a result, though he was reluctant to leave it this way, he let her go.

  "No, Debra. Go get ready for dinner."

  She nodded, not meeting his eyes, and hurried out. He followed her in his mind to their room, noting how she hesitated at intersecting passageways. She was like a mouse scurrying through the estate, making sure the cat wasn't waiting to pounce.

  He let the rage and helplessness in his heart rise. She'd pulled away from him so abruptly because she was afraid of depending on him too much. She was worried if she relied on him this one time, it would be harder for her to face it alone next time, since she was sure she would be.

  Since the nightmares had started, he'd waffled between his upbringing, his risk to his career goals and his genuine feelings for his servant, but all he'd needed to do all along was step deeply enough inside her heart to unlock his own and face the stark truth.

  He loved her.

  He had made a major mistake, and what's worse, had kept making it, over and over again during their time together. He'd had his head buried in the sand ever since the night he'd "proven" to her what their relationship couldn't be. He'd had a few nightmares in his sleep? She'd been fucking forced to endure them in her waking hours.

  Throughout his life, he'd experienced frustration over his rank and age. Over the scorn he received when he tried to get higher-ranking vampires to fund his work, validate it. Then there were all the years his father had been disappointed because Brian hadn't wanted to play political games, become a powerful overlord or Region Master. Even now, he was more pleased with Brian's rise in status than the strides toward keeping their species from extinction. No matter that an extinct species had no status to speak of.

  All those frustrations dimmed next to this. It was the first time in his life he'd felt that stifled fury, not just for things close to his heart, but for someone inside it. Someone he should have been protecting all along.

  He'd been so worried about proving he was a mature male, capable of making his own decisions. It was time to prove he was a man, in the only way that mattered. Following what his heart, mind and soul knew was right, not what others believed was right. No matter the cost, for Debra had already paid far more than he ever could.

  Shutting down his computer, he resolved it was time to change for dinner -- in more ways than one.

  Chapter Seven

  Debra was finishing her preparations when her Master spoke in her mind. Don't leave the room without me. You'll accompany me to the dining room.

  It made her feel guilty. Because she'd revealed her worry about Lord Graham, now Brian felt the burden of protecting her. She'd tried to never be an obligation to him --

  Are you trying to get me to punish you?

  His sharpness brought her up short, left her confused. Was he angry about it, or about her thoughts? He was silent though, waiting for her response.

  No, my lord. Unless that's what you desire. I apologize.

  Nothing further, leaving her bemused. But when he sent her another thought a few minutes later, letting her know he was ready and she should meet him in the hall, she gave herself one last check and stepped out.

  No sweater vest, no trace of the professor tonight. He wore a silver-gray dress shirt open at the throat, charcoal slacks and coat over it, polished Italian loafers. But clothing wasn't the only thing upgraded tonight. She was used to his absent-minded personality, as if his brain never completely left his work. She liked that about him. Yet she found this side of him appealing as well, if a little intimidating.

  The sharp and cool hazel eyes that swept her showed a mind fully present in the here and now. His bearing suggesting a vampire who would take a leadership role in whatever situation presented itself to him. Strikingly, it reminded her of his father. And made her knees weaken in a way his father never had.

  She was glad she'd taken extra effort tonight, though it had been motivated by an odd sort of defiance. She wasn't going to fear the Lord Grahams of the world. She was going to dress for her Master's pleasure.

  You succeeded.

  She warmed at his praise, even as the lock of his gaze, potent as a steel cuff, gave her an additional quiver. She'd brought the amber dress because she knew he liked it. Though she didn't wear it often, it made the most of her slim figure, the breast-hugging bra beneath lifting her generous breasts and providing ample cleavage. The short skirt revealed her legs to the thigh. The sprinkle of sparkles made her feel dressed up. She'd worn her hair down, brushing it into waves around her face, even applying extra makeup to enhance the set of her eyes, make her lips glisten.

  He studied her from head to toe, his eyes resting briefly on the three-inch black pumps she'd chosen, hoping she wouldn't trip and break a limb. But she wasn't going to be the nervous ingfnue tonight. If she could finally pull off the attitude of an experienced servant, unfazed by anything thrown at her at a vampire dinner, Lord Graham's sadistic urges would be left unsatisfied and he would lose interest in her going forward. Brian's concern had been a wakeup call. She was a capable, strong woman, and she could handle this. She would be a credit to him, not an encumbrance.

  His protracted appraisal was helping her confidence considerably. His gaze slid back up her legs, over the curve of hip, then lingered a long time on her breasts. When his attention shifted to her throat, she felt her pulse jump. His look was intense, heated, full of things she couldn't completely comprehend.

  When she shifted, he lifted a finger, a nonverbal command to stay still. He circled her, reaching out to mold a hand over her waist, cup her buttock. He was a solid strong male wall at her back as he dropped a kiss on her collar bone. His other hand came up, took a possessive hold of her breast. Touching what belonged to him in a way that provoked a soft moan from her, all her nerves reacting.

  She'd worn shimmery stockings attached with garters, tiny bows at the clasps. He traced the strap of one, hooking beneath it and caressing her flesh as well as the bow.

  "Beautiful. But not yet perfect."

  He lifted his hands from her, and apparently withdrew something from his coat, for a sparkle caught her eye, a necklace he was lowering in front of her face. She didn't wear much jewelry and didn't have pierced ears. To keep them from healing up quickly, a servant had to wear posts all the time, and she was always too busy to remember to do that, plus sleeping in earrings wasn't comfortable. She'd found it was easiest to pierce her ears each time she wanted to wear them, since it happened so rarely. Plus -- the most important reason -- the only sharp thing she liked near her ear lobes were Brian's fangs.

  The necklace was braided gold and copper, but it was the pendant that caught her eye, a man's ring. As he settled the necklace on her collar bone, she reached up, closed her fingers over the weight of it. She already knew what it was, since he only wore it during formal occasions. He'd never had her wear it, which explained why her heart was pounding like a drum behind her sternum.

  It was his family crest. His father had been knighted in England in the 1700s, such that he was as often called Sir as Lord at vampire gatherings. She particularly liked the design, a green emerald in an antique gold setting that showed a pair of crossed swords and the Latin inscription Knowledge is Power.

  "My lord..." she said softly, clasping it hard. "What..."

  "It works with the dress." He turned her to face him, tracing the cleavage cradling the ring. "And
it looks far better there than on my finger."

  Her thready breath made her breasts rise beneath his touch. He followed the motion with silent appreciation. "Arch your back for me," he murmured. "Lift them higher, but otherwise stay still."

  She bit down on her lip as he cupped one curve, stimulating her nipple below the edge of the low cut neckline with his thumb. Back, forth. Back, forth. It beaded under the thin bra, sent spirals of sensation shooting straight down to her pussy.

  "I should have chastised Butch," he said. "These are not tits. A cow has tits. These are breasts. Beautiful, perfect breasts."

  "Actually," she said unsteadily, "Cows have teats. Udders."

  He arched a brow, nodded, but he kept his eyes on her breasts, watching the reaction of her nipples. "It's interesting how both of them shape to tight points when only one is stimulated. Your whole body connects to one touch, like ripples in a pond."

  "Master..." Arousal soaked her panties already. If he kept this up, it would be trickling down her leg.

  "That's what I want." His attention flicked up to her face. "And remember, I'll be in your mind tonight. No matter what."

  She didn't have the brain cells to explain he needn't trouble himself, that she could handle things. That she just wanted him to forget their earlier exchange about Lord Graham.

  "Because if I have to give one minute of thought to your care, I might find you too troublesome?"

  "I didn't say -- "

  "No, you didn't. And I find myself torn between wanting to paddle you to the point of blood for that, and wanting to ask your forgiveness again, for bludgeoning your sense of self-worth such that you don't think you have the right to expect more of me."

  He settled his hand on her throat, a light collar above the necklace. While it was difficult to think through that possessive gesture, she struggled for the words. "It's not that. There's no equity in this world, Brian. You made it clear I had to accept that."