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The Scientific Method, Page 2

Joey W. Hill

  Though all third marked servants were linked to the minds of their vampires, Brian didn't spend much time in Debra's, not nearly as much as many other vampires did with their servants. Except when they were working. During those times, bringing together theory, hypotheses and testing across the bridge of their minds was so intense it was almost like lovemaking.

  Sex, she corrected herself, setting her jaw. When they weren't working -- or in the throes of sexual relations -- her thoughts were her own. She should consider that a blessing, because plenty of servants grumbled about privacy being the major drawback of becoming a vampire's fully marked servant, the servant's mind unable to be shielded from the vampire's in any way, all the way down to the soul.

  Brian had never shown much interest in that. What would it feel like, to have him reach out to her during his waking hours, touch her mind, her heart and soul? Know he was listening to her subconscious flow of thoughts and feelings for no other reason than he wanted to take advantage of that mind-to-mind bond he had with no other.

  A scientist couldn't ask for more than what she had in this state-of-the-art facility, the work she was doing. Yet the main yearning she had in her life wasn't professional at all. It all revolved around an amazing vampire scientist from whom she wanted more than she could have.

  She sighed, propped her chin on her hand. Damn it, she was supposed to be past all this ridiculous starry-eyed...bullshit. Way past. What was the matter with her?

  Yet if she hadn't allowed for a variable as subjective as the depth of a relationship, she might never have found the connection between it and the fertility rate. So she knew the vulnerability of her heart contributed to her science. Even so, lately she wished she was as emotionless as a Vulcan.

  Despite her morose thoughts, the thought gave her a tiny smile. Brian had every Star Trek series and movie made to date. His mind tended to run like a race car's RPM, so he occasionally put one in the player before dawn. At eighty-five, a young age for vampires, he couldn't stay awake more than an hour past sunrise, even in his bedroom below ground, but he said the space opera helped him sleep better.

  When he watched the programs, he was different, less guarded. Early in their relationship, she'd often spent the hour before dawn watching them with him. Curled up in bed together, sweat from their intense erotic encounters drying on her tingling flesh, she'd teased him, called him a geek.

  Then she'd asked him if he loved her. That had ended the comfortable intimacy between them outside the lab.

  "You don't look happy."

  She glanced up to see Jacob leaning in the door frame. The highest-ranking servant in the vampire world didn't dress the part, wearing his Dragon Ale Tavern T-shirt and faded jeans. Given how well the cotton stretched and denim molded his muscular form, she didn't think anyone would object. Like vampires themselves, most servants were absurdly attractive, but there was an intelligence and charisma to Jacob that made it clear why the broad-shouldered, russet-haired male was such a good match for Lady Lyssa.

  Brian's main research facility had been relocated from Berlin to this vast property outside Savannah, Georgia. Since Lyssa resided here at least part of the year because this was also where the Council had its primary base of operations, Jacob was a frequent and welcome visitor to Debra's lab. She'd been a servant far longer, but he'd been the one who most helped her adapt to vampire social events, the all-too-public sexual demands they placed on servants. Beyond that, he'd become a good friend. Perhaps her best friend, after Brian. Though thinking of her vampire Master as her friend was probably more evidence of her confused state of mind today.

  "I'm fine," she said automatically. Jacob smelled like cookies, which told her the cook had been baking. It was too much to hope he'd brought her some. She thought of cookies baking in her grandmother's oven, the tremendous comfort and wealth of memory a single smell could contain, and that wave of sadness hit her again.

  You can't do anything about it, she told herself. Put it away.

  Jacob straddled a stool near the door, pushing off so he rolled across the floor to her, bumping into her to stop. Giving him a mock scowl, she bumped him back. "You're invading my space."

  "I have sugar." He produced a small container of cookies, the lid cracked to release oven-baked heat.

  He had thought to bring her some. Then again, she was dealing with Jacob, not Brian. Jacob anticipated a woman's needs.

  Stop it. It's not your Master's job to even think about your needs. She admonished herself firmly, even as her heart twisted at the simple kindness of a friend.

  "You're evil. And wonderful." She leaned in, gave his shoulder an exaggerated sniff. "Are you sure that smell isn't you, though? According to that giggling entourage of second marks with Lady Helga last week, you are cookies, chocolate and a foot massage all rolled up into one."

  "Can't help that I'm irresistible." He shrugged, fending off her shove.

  Emilie was so used to him, she didn't even bother to look up from her seeds. She'd been joined by her two brothers, Albert and Nicolai, scampering out of their open cage. Debra's work desk in the corner was one of the few things she'd brought from her old life. Engraved with famous equations, symbols and sayings of historic thinkers, the polished heavy oak surface looked like it would be at home in a ship.

  To remind you that science is a voyage, not a destination, her grandfather had said. He'd made it for her. Her desk was the only place in the lab the mice were allowed to be out of their cage, mounted above the corner. They had a short, colorful set of Lego steps descending from the open door to help them reach the desk surface. Jacob nodded. "That's a new renovation."

  "Courtesy of your son and his constant shadow, John."

  Jacob smiled at that, touched Emilie's silky back with one gentle finger. "I see Whiskers has successfully been kept clear of the lab, else you'd be down three mice."

  "I threatened to declaw and defang her last time she was here. She hasn't been back."

  "You're as gentle as you can be with animals. I don't believe it." He cocked a brow at her, those shrewd eyes measuring. "You know, you're always way too serious, but serious and unhappy are different things. So what's up?"

  When she didn't immediately reply, he tugged her stool closer, sliding an arm around her. The strength of his body and his scent -- which really did seem to have something magnetic to female senses -- was a balm to her, not a sexual enticement, but that was part of their friendship as well.

  Since servants were often required to perform sexually together during vampire gatherings, she and Jacob had been down that road. But it was part of their service to their Master and Mistress, respectively. Jacob would never dream of touching Debra sexually except under Lyssa's command, so his generous physical affection in a platonic context was a comfort she could never resist, because Brian rarely did casual affection anymore. Jacob also understood how she felt about Brian. It was okay for servants to love their Masters, after all. Just not in reverse. No matter what that study said. One conclusion didn't change centuries of embedded class culture.

  Damn it, damn it, damn it. She pushed away from Jacob, earning a startled look. "It's not you. I'm sorry, Jacob. I'm working on a particularly frustrating issue today and it's gotten under my skin. Just ignore me. Come back tomorrow and I'll be in a better mood."

  Instead of leaving, he rose and laid his hands on her shoulders. "Debra."

  "It's nothing." Her half-laugh fell short of humor and landed right into despair territory. "The servant version of the seven year itch. You look down the road, and you realize the relationship won't ever change, but this is the relationship I signed up for. With eyes wide open. It's a phase. I'm sure plenty of servants have gone through it."

  She was staring at Jacob's chest, using her finger to draw equations on it, something she did to calm a racing mind. Her lungs were drawing in far too little air. His hands kneaded her shoulders. "Breathe," he murmured. "Psycho OCD nerd."

  "Dumb jock."

  "Not me.
Gideon was the football star."

  Jacob referred to his brother, Gideon Green, the former vampire hunter who was now unlikely servant to two vampires, Anwyn and Lord Daegan. "I was the Dungeons and Dragon kid," he added. "The one who talked my friends into tilting with lances on our bicycles. Shoving the lance in the spokes is a great way to unhorse your opponent."

  "That's cheating. You're supposed to aim for the knight, not his horse."

  He smiled. "Why am I not surprised you know that? You know everything."

  She wished she knew everything. She wished she knew how to make her heart stop loving a man who'd made it clear he wouldn't love her back, even though they shared an intense relationship she could achieve with no one else.

  Studying her face, Jacob drew her back to her chair, but instead of easing her onto it, he took it instead and put her on his lap, curving a hand over her hip to hold her in place, bounce her a little bit. It made her smile, as she was sure he intended. Emilie was at the edge of the desk, studying them. The mouse made a short leap, catching Jacob's shirt sleeve and using it to climb up to his shoulder and settle down under his hair, which was long enough to brush his shoulders.

  When she sighed, unable to hold back her unhappiness, Jacob put both arms around her. He made it okay for her to put her head on his other shoulder. Using his long legs and the brace of his feet, he rocked the chair back and forth, back and forth. That was another thing about him. She didn't have to say anything, and he knew when not to talk. As well as when to do so, even if it made her uncomfortable.

  "You remember what you told me that day in the library? About the limits of the vampire-servant relationship?"

  "I was just thinking about that," she said.

  He nodded, his jaw moving against her temple. Vampires had no facial hair, so it was only with other servants she experienced the rasp of beard shadow. Since Jacob shaved daily, it gave her an indication of the late afternoon hour, though she really didn't need it. From habit as well as an internal clock all third marks seemed to have, she knew when sundown was approaching. But Brian kept a small lab in his quarters. He might not appear until he needed the instruments in the main lab, was ready to check in with her on the day's work, or if he needed blood.

  She shivered, remembering that last feeding again. Sexual attraction never diminished between vampire and servant, remaining intense and far too easy to confuse with emotions. She knew all the rational, chemical reasons for that. She should be able to manage it.

  "You told me the first time you assumed your relationship with Brian was more than it could be for vampire and servant, the bastard took a female vampire in front of you."

  "Jacob." Her cheeks colored. Even after all this time, it was a painful memory. When he was done, Brian had fed his cock into her mouth, still smelling of the other woman's cunt, and then he'd fucked Debra as well.

  Yet long before that had happened, when she only had the first of the three marks necessary to become a vampire's full servant, Brian had grilled her with brutal thoroughness, made sure she understood exactly what the relationship between vampire and servant was like. She'd told him she understood. When her Master was 100% focused, nothing got past him. If she'd had an ounce of uncertainty, Brian would have let her go.

  Then, two years into their relationship, she'd proven she hadn't learned the lesson well enough, and he'd reinforced it with that painful lesson. Though it had hurt like hell, she'd analyzed it, understood the message, and they'd moved on.

  Even so, her body had stiffened. Jacob fished Emilie out of his hair and dumped her gently back on the counter. Then he moved to his stool and lowered Debra back into her chair to give her space, but he put his hand over hers, tangling fingers, his thumb moving over the top of her hand in an idle stroke.

  "He needed to be horsewhipped for doing that. But the Lord Brian I've come to know these past few years isn't cruel without purpose, is he?" When she shook her head, he leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. "Around that same time period, several servants were put to death in front of their vampires when it was ruled their Masters or Mistresses had become too attached to them. Brian's very good at detachment when he feels it's essential. It makes him capable of acts the rest of us might be too emotionally soft to pull off."

  "He's a good man." On a normal day, she meant it. But her thought process today made her sound too wooden. Why couldn't facts affect her heart more than feelings?

  "Yes, he is." Jacob studied her. "You've got a lot of his qualities, Debra. Sometimes I think your heart has to overflow before you'll let it have its say. Experiencing something like that -- no matter his reasons for doing it -- any woman would be afraid to let herself go back down that road again. However, Brian himself came to the conclusion, with your help, that a vampire-servant relationship can be more. Perhaps should be more."

  No. Even as she rejected it, her kneejerk reaction told her how right Jacob was. Her heart clamped shut at the mere idea. It was bad enough to have it lurking around in her own mind, but to hear it voiced gave it even more strength, made it more dangerously irresistible.

  "I'm just feeling vulnerable right now. There's nothing wrong with me and Brian. It's something else. My grandfather isn't well. He's...dying." She laid her palm on the desk, traced one of the burned sets of letters. The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do. -- Galileo

  Her grandfather had such a quirky, wonderful sense of humor. She took a breath. "My mother still emails me. I need to bring an end to that. I mean, we're going to outlive all of our family, aren't we? Except perhaps you and Gideon."

  "As infuriating as Gideon is, that's not a foregone conclusion," Jacob said dryly. "Anwyn may put a railroad spike over his heart and let Daegan stomp it through his chest."

  A reminder that metal through the heart took a servant's life. She wondered if that hurt less than heartache, but then forced the thought away, summoning a strained smile at Jacob's humor.

  He touched her hand again. "I'm so sorry about your grandfather."

  "He encouraged my love of science, helped who I am."

  She didn't like to cry. She'd cried the night Brian had taken the woman in front of her, but she'd done it later, alone. That night she'd been grateful for how little he visited her mind outside of work. Knowing he could hear her distress and yet hadn't come to her would have made it all even more horrible.

  It hadn't really mattered, had it? No matter the tears or pain, at that point her binding to Brian was far more profound than even the marking. The human world wouldn't understand that. They'd compare her to a battered spouse, deluding herself into thinking she'd asked for the punishment. Only it had been a lesson, not a punishment, and she was part of the vampire world. As Jacob had pointed out, every servant was all too aware of why the boundaries existed.

  She'd made her choice, damn it. She ignored the vicious inner voice that wanted to know where the call of destiny ended and the embrace of self-destruction began. Instead, she returned to the subject of her dying family member, safer ground. "I'm still close enough to the age when I became a servant I could go visit Grandfather, but you know the rules. We're supposed to wean ourselves off family relationships in whatever way we have to do it."

  "But you haven't completely severed ties. You could still go see him."

  She shook her head. "They're in Tennessee. Brian has no time in his schedule for that and he can't spare me. We're at a critical juncture on several projects."

  Jacob's lips thinned as if he'd say something more, but she turned away. "Speaking of which, I better get back to this. He'll be up soon and this report needs to be ready for him."

  A lie, because she was done with it. But she couldn't pursue this conversation further. She waited, tense, until Jacob stood, kissed the top of her head. "Okay, geek. You know where I am if you need anything."

  "Thanks for the cookies."

  "Better e
at them before those rodents attack," he said as he headed for the door. "They'll be bouncing off the walls on a sugar high."

  The three mice were sitting on top of the fragrant container Jacob had brought, and Emilie was already investigating the cracked lid. She slid the mice off into their cage and closed the door. "It's time for me to do some serious work," she told them. "Go play in your maze."

  Three clear, colorful tubes ran out of the cage, up along the wall and across the ceiling of the lab, coming back together to one cylinder to pass through the wall to more mazes and compartments in other rooms of the research wing. She'd bought a few pieces initially to build an arch over the cage, give them a more expansive habitat, but then John, the grandson of Lyssa's majordomo, Elijah Ingram, had gotten involved. As Debra had noted, if John was involved, Lyssa's son Kane was sure to be helping as well. The boys were near constant companions during weekend nights and John's pre-bedtime hours on the weekdays, since he still attended school in town.

  With a mind like a young civil engineer, John had designed the whole set up and he and Kane implemented it together, John showing the very young vampire how to help with assembly. Though Lyssa and Jacob didn't overly indulge their son, money wasn't a limitation when the project was deemed educational. Since Kane was old enough to start figuring out how things fit together, Jacob had ordered the many pieces needed. Debra had been delighted to see her three pets getting such freedom. On top of that, the boys took care of the mice when she traveled. John even handled the laborious process of cleaning out the tube sections when needed.

  Just one example of the many lovely, remarkable things in her life. Her focus needed to be on that. Her Master was a good man, and time had made him kinder toward her. Plus, no matter what else he wasn't, in those intense sessions during feeding or lovemaking, he was everything she could want in a Master.

  Service to one's vampire was what drove a servant. Though she might not feel it now, time would help her accept that, find complete fulfillment. She had the average servant's three hundred year lifespan to figure it out. It should have been a comforting thought. Unfortunately, it increased the heavy weight over her heart, so she chose the only immediate solution for it.