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The Scientific Method, Page 5

Joey W. Hill

  "I'm getting tired of insults."

  "I'm not insulting you." Jacob sighed, ran a hand over his face. "You spoke to Council, explained why you think some vampires are more disposed to childbearing."

  Brian nodded stiffly. "Yes."

  "Then practice what you preach." Jacob's eyes sharpened and he stepped forward so he was once again close to Brian, but it was a different kind of confrontation now. "The bond I have with my lady? It's the very air I breathe, my lord. Knowing she has given me her heart, that she entrusts me with her love, it's indescribable. We can all talk about unconditional service until we're blue in the face, but reciprocity is what strengthens a relationship, makes it something we can't live without."

  His visage darkened. "When a soul like Debra's has to live without it, it's a half-life. A very painful one. Yes, servants understand the nature of our relationship with vampires, but we also understand deeper things about that relationship that sometimes you all miss. When you deny us any part of your souls, you might as well tear our hearts out of our chests, because carrying them around becomes eternal torment."

  Stepping back, he gave Lord Brian a short bow, then pivoted and headed down the hallway. "Don't tie up your hands in combat," he threw over his shoulder. "I could have staked you while you were trying to choke me."

  Brian bared his fangs at that, but Jacob was already headed up the long corridor. He should ask Lyssa to have him publicly whipped. She might get some pleasure out of that, if done right. But he wouldn't ask, because Jacob was right. Brian didn't believe in pompous displays of vampire power over human servants.

  The male should at least wear a shirt in the hallways, though.

  Watching a pair of female staff staring after Lyssa's servant, seeing their obvious appreciation for the glistening broad shoulders and how denim cupped his ass, annoyed Brian greatly. It was distracting and...indecent.

  When they turned and saw him, both servants gave a respectful bow and headed off to their duties. It only irritated him more.

  Chapter Three

  His lack of control was intolerable. He knew Debra's mind, her devotion to him. If she accepted the platonic affection of a friend, it was nothing that interfered with her loyalty to him.

  He and Debra worked well into the early evening hours with the other members of the research staff. They handled conference calls, sample processing, countless emails and write ups. He pushed all of them, wanting to immerse himself in the things he understood.

  When he was finally forced to retire with the dawn, he knew there were about three more hours of samples to analyze. She assured him she and the staff would handle it. He studied her face, touched her mind, felt nothing but sincerity. Vaguely dissatisfied, he gave her a short nod and headed for his quarters below ground.

  Once there, though, he found he couldn't sleep. He could push away his irrational reaction to Jacob. Pushing away his words wasn't as easy.

  He had some time before the sunrise above ground would force him to sleep. He owed his father an email, but he didn't have the concentration for it. His quarters were well-appointed, with a small lab and office area, sitting room, comfortable bed, paintings and artifacts collected on his travels. Passing his fingers over a wood carving of a slender woman, a pleasing thing given to him by an overlord in Tunisia, he realized he didn't feel like doing any of the normal things he did to unwind, prepare for sleep. Perhaps he should have recommended the research facility be located in Alaska, where night held far greater dominion over the hours.

  With a sigh, he stripped and lay down on the bed, cut the lights. Not entirely sure of his purpose, he nevertheless decided to enter Debra's mind and silently observe. Record, collect data, the way he might for an experiment. A very important one, where every detail was vital to reaching the proper conclusion.

  She was still working. Since she was alone, he assumed the lab techs were busy in other wings, processing blood samples with electrophoresis and examining DNA segments with PCR. She was bent over her microscope, patiently examining slide after slide and making notes. She was so thorough, never rushing any process. But she did pause to rub her eyes, Picking up the bottle next to her, he saw it was a caffeine energy drink, something third marks didn't normally need. Carefully screwing the top back on after taking a draught, she rolled her head back on her shoulders. He could feel the knots in her muscles, the tension in her lower back.

  When he heard Jacob's voice, he stiffened. However, as the male entered the lab, laid a hand on her shoulder, Brian could feel her response at every level. It truly was a strong friendship, one that brought her comfort and made Brian feel petty for resenting it. Jacob massaged her shoulder with that one hand, picking up on her discomfort. He could see the male servant's concern. So he wasn't the only one noticing how hard she was pushing herself. Though Jacob had been noticing far longer, perhaps explaining why he stopped by so frequently. And why he'd spoken to Brian the way he had.

  When was the last time Brian had asked Debra how her day had gone? Of course, it wasn't required that he do so.

  Pompous asshole.

  It wasn't Jacob's voice in his head that time, but his own. He'd taken the path never traveled by a vampire, into science and research. While his father had been disappointed that Brian's interests had lain in promoting the wellbeing of the race as a whole, which meant rubbing elbows with the least as well as the highest ranking of their kind, the credit he'd been given by Council in the past few years, including this research facility, had helped his father reconcile himself to his son's choice.

  Not that that was much of an issue to Brian. He loved and respected his father, but his path had always been clear. He'd sought knowledge and scientific pursuit almost as soon as he was aware of his capacity to think.

  So if he'd been that much of a maverick, why was he letting the protocols of a lifetime dictate to him, when it was clear things were changing for vampire-servant relationships?

  If he viewed his servant as most vampires did, with fondness and appreciation for their value, but no untoward romantic feelings, it wouldn't be an issue. But he'd liked her from their first meeting. Had wanted her intensely only a blink later. So ever since the full marking, he'd dedicated himself to shutting down both their responses, making sure everything between them was within the appropriate boundaries.

  He'd done the job all too well. Or had he? Did the same feelings seethe inside Debra that seemed to be struggling to break free inside him?

  She was so formal with him. It hadn't always been that way. When they first met at the lab where she worked, before she'd known he was a vampire and even for a while afterwards, she'd laughed around him, blushed, tried flirting with him a little. Spoken her mind. She was well informed on almost everything, his Debra.

  With the workload they now carried, there wasn't much time to socialize, but that didn't explain it. He thought of the bond shared by pairings like Lyssa and Jacob. As busy as Lyssa was with Council matters, Brian had no doubt she checked on Jacob's mental state throughout the day, doing what he was doing now, drifting in and out of his servant's mind to get an honest picture of how she was feeling, how much she was demanding of herself. Servants were notorious for always putting their vampires first, minimizing their own needs. It was part of being a servant and certainly added to their value, but there was a line. Jacob had implied...

  No, not implied. He'd stated outright that Brian completely ignored that line.

  It mattered to Brian that she was tired, that her back hurt. Yes, Debra was a competent, intelligent woman capable of taking care of herself. She was also a highly-driven, obsessive compulsive submissive to whom serving her Master, never failing his expectations, was paramount. Only since he wasn't telling her what those expectations were, she was setting them, and putting that bar up on the moon.

  As Jacob took his leave and Brian continued to hover in her mind, he was reminded how enchanting it was to watch Debra work. While she studied slides containing thin-sliced tissue preps, she
typed in data one-handed and carried on a running commentary with her mice about that data, peppered with affectionate comments about their behavior. As always when doing tissue work, the mice were in their cage and maze tubes, but he noticed they liked to stay near, listen to her voice. He found it pleasing as well.

  All those years ago, after he'd given her the first mark, he'd taken a step prohibited by Council. He'd not only let her know what he was, he'd given her a detailed account of what a fully marked servant could expect in his world. The Council overlooked -- reluctantly -- letting a first mark go only if that person had the vaguest knowledge or none at all of the vampire world. But he'd trusted her. Her intellect was a match for his own, such that he felt like they already stood inside one another's minds. He wasn't going to pull her all the way into his world when she wasn't ready for what that meant.

  Though he'd told her all the opportunities that awaited her as a scientist, he'd also drawn a highly accurate, graphic picture of the demands placed on a vampire's servant, as well as their lack of status in his society. When he was done, she'd been pale, her eyes wide, a slight tremor in her hands. He'd wanted to reassure her, but he'd forced himself to stay silent, wait for any questions she had.

  "So I'd be yours, entirely." Her brown eyes fixed on his face.

  Something primitive stirred in him at the way she said it. His attention locked on her soft lips, how she swallowed under his steady gaze.

  "Entirely. No rights but what I give you." He fought back the overwhelming desire to sugarcoat it. He wanted this woman as his servant the way he craved blood. That alone was a warning to let her go. It made him sharpen his tone. "But I'm not the highest ranked in my world. There are others who will have the right to make demands of you and I...have to capitulate to them."

  He cleared his throat at her unreadable look. "Tomorrow night will be my last day here. If you decide to come with me, I'll need your timetable for resigning and joining me at our facility in Alabama. If you don't choose to come with me..."

  He hadn't been able to stop himself from reaching out, touching her face, the slim jaw, but then he drew his hand back, forced his tone to be as flat as if he were conducting a job interview. "If you don't come with me, it's been a pleasure working with you."

  When he'd retired at dawn and replayed it all in his mind, he was sure she would decline. They'd only spent a few days together, after all.

  Yet though her submissive nature and cravings were a bottomless pool he'd only begun to explore, he'd intuitively recognized them as a mesh with the extreme demands of the vampire world and the type of servants who inhabited it. But she was socially awkward to the point of charming shyness. On top of that, she was an accomplished scientist and a woman well integrated into a modern Western society. How could she possibly agree to such an offer? "Come with me -- you'll have a fabulous lab, but you'll also be a sex slave with no protection but what I can provide." It was ludicrous for him to expect her to agree to that.

  She'd shown up at the lab on time the next evening, a little more quiet and hollow-eyed, telling him she hadn't slept. She hadn't addressed the question immediately, and he'd held his tongue, not wanting to push. He expected he was putting off her rejection as long as possible. They'd worked through the early hours with minimal conversation, but as the night progressed and they started trading data, looking over one another's shoulders and brainstorming what they were analyzing, their intuitive understanding of one another's thought processes overcame the awkwardness of things unsaid.

  "If you were a second mark, we'd be in each other's heads. Think how much faster we could do the calculations and theorizing. And having a third's like sharing one mind."

  He'd said it without thinking, fully caught up. He remembered how serious she'd gotten then. She'd paused a long moment. Then nodded to herself, as if she'd come to some type of irrefutable conclusion. Crossing the lab to where he sat on a stool, she moved between his spread knees. Her liquid brown eyes, framed by a fringe of lashes so black they made her look like she wore eyeliner, enhancing her pale, smooth face, had fixed onto his. Pulling her ponytail over her shoulder, she averted her chin in a delicate move, offering him her throat.

  He was always a man who kept his passions under tight control. Yet when she offered her neck, he struck like a cobra, banding an arm around her waist and yanking her to him. She'd gasped, but her fingers had dug into his arms, holding fast. He'd felt her nipples peak against him, the insistence of her body revealing her response to his strength. He hadn't even thought to use the pheromone mix that could ease the burn of the second mark serum, for the pain just seemed to goad her pleasure. He surged off the stool, carrying her to the nearest wall with her legs wrapped around his hips.

  He'd gotten the necessary clothes out of the way and thrust into her with his fangs still in her throat. No finesse, just sheer brute demand. She was as slick as if he'd had his mouth between her legs. Feeling the clamp of her cunt on his cock, the quiver of her spread thighs against his pelvis, he didn't ever want to stop.

  "Third mark," she whispered in his ear. "Please. Do it."

  Struggling for some rationality, he seized her hair, pulled her head back to stare into her eyes. "Do you understand what it all means?"

  "It doesn't matter," she said. And then the second mark kicked in and he heard the first words directly from her mind. There's nothing I will ever want as much as you.


  Tuning back in to the present, Brian saw her step outside, taking a break in the little courtyard garden outside her lab. Lifting her head to the sun, she noticed how pretty the day was, blue skies and fluffy clouds, a bright sun. Another perk to having a servant was the ability to see the sun, enjoy it through her. She registered the heat on her skin as she inhaled the flowers in the garden. She thought about sitting down on one of the benches, taking a quick cat nap.

  As she sank down on the bench, she took a breath. Then another. The hints of sadness he'd sensed suffused her like a flood. It almost drove him from her mind, an instinctive retreat from the unexpected crash of emotion.

  Bowing her head, she began to weep.

  What the hell? Earlier, he hadn't taken the time to penetrate the chaos in her mind to see the source of her distress, but now he was neck deep and refused to let himself turn away from it. He took those tentative steps into an area he hadn't allowed himself to go before. A moment later, he floundered in a labyrinth of emotions, the depth of which startled him.

  In this sad, dark place in her subconscious, Debra apparently kept everything she felt wasn't appropriate to share with anyone else. Including him. He had an intuitive sense that this maze of tunnels and perilous chasms had been a manageable space at one time. But she'd kept carving further into herself, trying to bury it lower and lower, until she was tunneling through her core.

  It was like ants weakening the root system of a tree. He felt her despair. Life wasn't worth living anymore, not if it was always going to be like this.

  He had to bite back a startled response to that, a demand that she talk to him, explain this, not ever consider such a thing as...leaving him. As he brought himself under control, he wondered if she sensed him. She'd wrapped her arms around herself and was rocking, softly whispering his name, a chant of comfort.

  Whenever he confronted a seemingly incomprehensible tangle of data, he would start from the outer edges and work his way inward. So he forced himself past her pain to find the entry point of her distress.

  Her grandfather. He was ill, dying. As soon as Brian targeted that thought, he was overrun with images of the man. With Debra as a child, a teenager, at her graduation, whenever she accepted awards, when she earned her master's degree. Early on in their time together, Brian remembered her talking about the man, a prominent figure in any personal references about her life and family.

  The mortality of a servant's family was a transition all servants endured. However, feeling it as she felt it made him feel far less detached from it. But
beyond that, what startled him was what surrounded all of it.

  Debra was profoundly lonely.

  That first night he spent in the lab with her, Debra had remained with him until dawn, even though he knew she was scheduled to work that day. When he'd protested, she'd said she wanted to make sure he didn't have any difficulties using the lab instruments. She'd also wanted the opportunity to learn as much as she could from him during his temporary visit. In between waiting on sample results, they'd talked of countless things. The colleague who had given him use of the lab had told him Debra was shy, would likely say less than ten words to him while he was there.

  But the damn woman knows everything, Brian. I expect she'll be running the place in five years.

  He wasn't disposed to being chatty while working himself, yet he couldn't seem to stop talking to her. During the daylight hours, he missed her, even in sleep. He regretted not being able to tell her everything she wanted to learn. For the first time since his maturity, he considered taking a full servant.

  She wasn't close to the servants in the lab or on the estate. Jacob was probably her only true friend, though most the others treated her with kindness and respect. Like Brian himself, she tended to be in her head so much it was difficult for her to focus on the minutiae of small talk. The things that interested her the most she assumed no one else would want to talk about.

  A smile touched his lips as he recalled her telling him how she'd dissected a variety of creatures through her childhood. Their lives had been claimed by circumstance -- road kill for the animals, natural lifespan for the insects. Even so, she'd relayed her mother's horror, the first time she'd discovered her daughter investigating a rabbit's intestines in their basement.

  She was on the phone with a psychologist the next day, trying to figure out if I was a budding serial killer.

  But he couldn't rationalize that it was a lack of friends making her so lonely now. He was sitting in the midst of that labyrinth, and all tunnels came back to him. Her Master. He'd thought that she fed herself adequately on what science and sex could offer, but her heart was as hungry as his would be without blood for a month.