Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Scientific Method, Page 7

Joey W. Hill

  Her cheeks turned pink. "You do, my lord. Or a college professor. I like how you dress."

  "Because it gives you the opportunity to make fun of me. I liked how you were dressed this morning." He caressed her chin. "It gives me the chance to tease you a different way. Think I'll have you dress that way again. Maybe for a future Council update. Then they won't care if I get every blasted number wrong."

  She blushed even more prettily then. He'd forgotten how she showed everything on her face. Christ, had he really had his head that much up his ass, like Jacob said?

  It wasn't a full Council meet, thank God. That would have interfered with the whole day's schedule. This was just Lyssa, Lord Mason and Lord Uthe who, as her right hands, were visiting on other matters and had requested a quick update on their active projects. It didn't mean he could treat it with any less respect than a full Council meet, though. When they arrived, he was surprised to see another attendee he hadn't expected. But then, this male didn't usually announce his schedule. Beyond the Council members, most vampires who knew his identity didn't live very long to tell anyone about it.

  Daegan Rei was the Council's assassin, charged with hunting and executing vampires who'd broken the vampire code to the point it endangered the species as a whole. Unfortunately, due to some unwise policy decisions from previous Councils, he'd been busy these past couple years, mostly dealing with the sires of made vampires who'd been turned without Council permission. Then there were the made vampires themselves, many too unstable to be allowed to survive.

  Daegan was a dark-eyed, intense lean shadow of a vampire. Though he wasn't as old as Lady Lyssa, their ages weren't far apart. If ever Council made an enemy of him, he'd be a formidable one to overcome. It might take both Lyssa and Mason -- the third oldest vampire -- to take him down.

  Fortunately, Daegan Rei was a strong supporter of Lady Lyssa. Plus, they were bound by familial relations, of a sort. Glancing left, Brian saw Gideon, Daegan's servant as well as Jacob's brother, leaning against the far wall, since servants weren't typically invited to sit during formal vampire occasions. Though Gideon was full servant to two vampires, Anwyn wasn't in the chamber. As a fledgling, she wasn't part of Council sessions, even those where the servants of Council vampires were. Brian expected she knew all that went on in them regardless, since she was fully capable of scouring Gideon's mind. Excluding her was more of a procedural issue.

  He made a mental note to see how her seizure management was going while she was here. Though he didn't have his mind open to her, he saw Debra making that note on her tablet. She was probably also making a note to check in on Jessica, his very next thought. Mason's servant would have their daughter with them, explaining her absence from the meeting, and Debra knew Brian would want to review the health of both mother and child.

  She anticipated his every need. Whereas he...ignored hers.

  "Lord Daegan has a situation in Oregon," Lyssa said, breaking into his thoughts. "A full servant that needs to be unmarked before he terminates her Master."

  Brian tuned in to the discussion, admonishing himself to concentrate. Regardless, he found himself staying particularly aware of Debra, the lingering musk of her arousal, a combination of her climax and his she hadn't had time to clean from between her legs. Every male in the chamber would know he'd taken her recently, and he didn't mind the feeling at all. Maybe he was going through some type of hormonal surge for young male vampires. Or maybe he was just suddenly noticing what was his and reacting to that.

  Fortunately he was a very good at multitasking. He recommended that Daegan bring the marked servant to the research facility. That way he could ensure the proper dosage and compound would be administered to reverse the marking effects and erase the human's memory. At Lyssa's nod, closing the matter, he proceeded from there into an update about the fertility research, as well as current Delilah virus victims.

  Unfortunately the cure still required the death of the servant to heal the vampire, something he and Debra were working to change, though so far without much success. In every case but one, the servant had willingly taken the death sentence to protect the Master or Mistress, but the loss of such a dedicated servant was something everyone agreed the vampire in question would welcome the chance to avoid.

  Yet they all refused to address the layers of meaning to such selfless devotion.

  When he deferred a follow-up question to Debra, he watched her respond in her usual calm manner. Noting the Council's attentiveness, he realized they had as much confidence in her answers as they did his. She'd earned that, tenfold. But if she had to die to save his life, she would, wouldn't she? There was no other logical solution. If the vampire died of the virus, the servant died as well, so the servant being the channel for the serum meant only one life was lost. And there were only about 5000 vampires in a world overrun by humans.

  But could life really be quantified that way? There might be billions of humans, but there was only one Debra. As he skimmed the faces in the chamber, he knew every vampire in here but one met the indicators of his fertility study regarding an exceptional relationship with their servant. For Lyssa, Daegan and Mason, there was only one Jacob, Gideon or Jessica. Uthe was fond of his female servant, but he had the more traditional relationship with her.

  "Very good." Lyssa nodded. "Mason, Uthe, if you have nothing further...?"

  They shook their heads and she addressed Brian. "You'll be traveling to Texas at the end of the week, won't you, Lord Brian?"

  "Yes, my lady. There's a made vampire there over three hundred years old. He's agreed to let me interview him and take tissue samples, since he's a prime example of a stable turning. I expect it will only take a couple days."

  At her nod and indication that he could take his leave, he gave a slight bow and motioned to Debra. Then, on second thought, he put out a hand, stopping her. "My lady, unless you or the rest of the Council objects, I will depart a couple days early to make a stop in Tennessee."

  "Further research?"

  "No, my lady." Brian met Lyssa's gaze. "Debra's grandfather is terminally ill, and I would like to give her the chance to spend some time with him. If circumstances require her to stay a longer time, I will continue on to Texas and pick her up on the way back. Or pay for her airfare to come back when she is ready. By your leave."

  Lyssa lifted a shoulder, the light from the room sconces sliding down the wing of her ebony hair. "By your own admission, Debra is as much responsible as yourself for the steps that saved my life not too long ago. You've also indicated she identified the breakthrough variable on the fertility study, a study that may put our birthrate on a more positive track." Lyssa inclined her head. "If she requires a plane ticket to return, and an extended stay with her grandfather, I approve both the expenditure of money and time, and I expect neither Lord Mason nor Uthe will disagree with me."

  Uthe made a noncommittal grunt, but Mason straightened from a relaxed panther sprawl in the oversized chair that fit his broad shoulders. The vampire had long auburn hair that framed a strong, arresting face. It meshed with his serious countenance now. "If you feel your presence is required, stay with your servant, Lord Brian," he said. "It sounds like you are well on top of your current efforts."

  Brian met Mason's amber eyes. Vampires who achieved the age of those at the Council table had more trouble blending among humans. Not just because of their beauty or the different hue of their eyes, but their exceptional focus and preternatural stillness were harder to mask. Their thoughts and emotions were almost impossible to read, faces often as smooth as a blank slate. Which meant when their expressions were readable, it was deliberate. He saw a clear missive from Mason's.

  They serve us, so when it matters, we need to be there for them.

  It was a message so at odds with how things had been even five years ago. Everything he'd been experiencing -- the nightmares, his interaction with Jacob, what he saw in Debra's mind -- was telling him it was time for a vital paradigm shift.

had Jacob said? Practice what you preach?

  As he turned to take his leave, his gaze passed over the male in question, standing behind Lyssa's chair. Jacob's blue eyes flickered with approbation, Brian supposed about his decision to go to Tennessee. Not that he needed a human's approval, but Brian gave the man a nod.

  Taking Debra's arm because she looked a little rooted in place, he gave her a nudge toward the door. She jerked into motion, but he could feel she was nonplused as she followed him back to the lab. He heard the flood of thoughts in her head. What just happened? How did he know? Would Jacob, Jacob wouldn't betray my confidence. So he was...listening?

  Once in the lab, Brian took a seat on the rolling stool he favored and turned to where she stood uncertainly in the center of the floor. She'd been on firm footing in front of three of the most powerful vampires in the world, yet she felt on quicksand with her own Master. He could fix that. Or enjoy the benefits of keeping her off balance.

  "Come here," he said, reaching out a hand.

  She came, further bemused by how he grasped her wrist and tugged her between his spread knees.

  "Yes, I listened to your mind," he said. He saw how the stern set to his mouth put her on alert. Good. "As far as Jacob betraying your confidence, I agree, he's a good friend who wouldn't do that. But since when do you feel you have the right to keep any secrets from your Master?"

  She set her jaw. "I wasn't trying to keep secrets. I just don't want you to have to worry about things like that."

  "Like my servant's wellbeing?"

  She looked away. "I serve you, my lord. Not the other way around."

  When he probed, he discovered she'd literally built a wall around those feelings, thick as the scar on a badly mended heart, protecting an area he hadn't visited in quite a while. The woman who'd been willing to go into a rogue vampire lair, risking torture and death, was terrified of taking this step again, when he'd set her back on her heels so harshly last time. That wall was in the center of those dark places he'd waded through the day before, like a castle with a poisoned moat, affecting everything around it, making the despair grow.

  As a result of that realization, he had to rein back his compulsion to hammer at that wall, bring it down. It didn't take a scientist to realize that wasn't the best approach. She'd built it over time; it would take time to bring it down, draw out the poison, so her heart could beat and feel freely again.

  So he was going to do something he rarely did. Let his feelings lead him. Standing in a room with the world's most powerful vampires, seeing how most of them felt about their own servants, he felt a new, refreshing determination to try something different from what he'd been raised to do.

  "You serve me very well, Debra. Your generosity of spirit and submission run so deep, you make it entirely possible for your Master to be a bastard of the first order."

  Her gaze snapped up to him. "My lord --"

  He shook his head, stopping her. "We'll deal with the generosity of spirit later. The submission has been a bit of an unfilled well of late, hasn't it?"

  Her brow knitted. Curving his hands over her hips, then sliding down to grip her lovely backside, he brought her even closer. As he kneaded, enjoying the pleasure of fondling his servant and how she responded to his touch, he spoke in her mind.

  When I spanked you yesterday, your mind opened up. I've been depriving myself of that well, splashing around in the shallows. You need to feel the strength of your Master's will more often. And his hand.

  She looked confused, but her body was responding to his touch. As was her pounding heart. She didn't know how to respond, since Yes, Master might seem self-serving. He liked confounding that sharp mind. Not to diminish it, but to see what other things came forth when she gave herself to sensation and pure feeling.

  "Mason is right. We're at a good place on our ongoing projects." He gave her a leisurely perusal. "So tonight we stop at midnight. I'm in the mood for stargazing on the south lawn, where we can see the moon rise. It will be a warm night. I want you to wear sheer white lace panties and that low cut bra that goes with them. Put on your highest heels, as well as your lab coat. Leave it open." He threaded her pony tail through his fingers. "Leave your hair down. You don't wear it that way often enough. That will change."

  "Yes, my lord."

  He touched her chin, made her lift her wary gaze to his. "I may be your lord, but there's one thing I am that belongs to you alone, Debra. It pleases me when you call me by that name."

  "Master." It came out a whisper and he nodded, restraining the overwhelming urge just to take her right then and there. He wanted to drive up her anticipation, help her knock a layer off that wall he'd forced her to build. He could feel her fear as much as her anticipation, and it curdled in his gut, the things it told him about her...and himself.

  "Good." He stepped back. "Let's get to work then."

  Chapter Four

  Debra spent the early evening dealing with mixed emotions, as well as grappling with the shocking idea that Brian was randomly listening to her mind. But that wasn't the only thing he did that kept her in a distracted state. As he went back and forth between workstations, several times he detoured to where she sat at her desk. He nudged her hair aside, kissed her throat, his hands at her waist coming up to casually cup her breasts, stroke. As he did, he asked how her data was going, solicited feedback from her. Sometimes he just put his hands on her shoulders, kneaded the tight muscles there and in her neck. The sexual undercurrent was there, but it was fueled by the intimacy, rather than him actively trying to arouse her.

  When he asked her to get them a candy bar at ten, he took a bite of the snack from her fingertips, nipping them lightly. After she took the candy back to her desk, she had a couple more bites, but left half of it for later, because he called her back over to him. It wasn't work-related, however, at least not immediately. He brought her close, inhaled her breath, licked a bit of the sugar off her lips.

  "You have a sweet tooth, my... Master."

  "I do. I should indulge it more often." As he delved deeper, his tongue tasting the chocolate flavor that lingered in her mouth, he leaned against the counter, his arm banded around her waist to keep her steady. When he raised his head, her knees were quivering at the look in his eyes.

  "You'll get sick," she managed.

  "Maybe. Lady Helga thinks we should assign a much higher priority to vampire digestive issues, especially when it comes to chocolate."

  "Of course." Trying to appear casual about all of it, she straightened as he let her go, adjusted her lab coat under his amused gaze. "Coming up with the vampire version of Tums is far more critical than resolving the fertility limitations that could result in species extinction."

  His grin warmed her from head to toe. Then he glanced back down at what he was doing. "Can you put that equation up on the board so we can both look at it? Something's not coming out right."

  She complied, and he shifted to stand by her side. Her brow creased, the variables arranging themselves in her mind. She could see what concerned him. As he hooked a thumb in her back waistband, hip comfortable against hers, he opened his mind to hers.

  "What about that value there?" He pointed. "If we switch that out, replace it as an unknown..."

  They sorted and rearranged. At a certain point she couldn't tell which of them was working which part of the problem, but then she stepped forward, using her fingers on the touch screen to eliminate one part and add in other variables as they'd done in their minds.

  "Yes." His eyes lighted up. "That's it."

  She nodded. "That will remove one of the limiting assumptions. It will make the calculations more complex, but then we'll definitely have better control of the overall study."

  "Excellent. We might just have time left over for that Tums development after all."

  She chuckled at that, shook her head, and went to attend to the change in her files. As confused as she was, it was the best day she'd spent with him in a while. She felt in s
ync on every level, not just in the research they were doing.

  Then she realized the rest of her candy bar had vanished off the counter. Quick as a shot, she ducked under her desk and caught the small fist about to jam the rest of the candy into an open mouth. "Kane, no," she said sharply.

  The born vampire, not much more than a toddler in age, gave her his mother's jade you-will-die-puny-mortal stare. Ignoring that, she nevertheless had difficulty wresting it from him. Fortunately, Brian came to her aid. "You are getting to be a strong little cuss," he said, but took the candy out of range. "How many times do we have to tell you that chocolate will make you sick?"

  "You ate," Kane said sullenly.

  "Yes, a bite. You were about to swallow half of it whole. John?"

  As Brian raised his voice, the young man appeared outside the lab door. He'd no doubt followed Kane, but had hung back when he realized Brian was present. When it was just Debra, he usually came right in. She had a great fondness for John. The young man was in lanky adolescence, but he had a maturity and patience far exceeding his age, likely a genetic boon from his grandfather. Elijah Ingram had the patient steadiness of a stone, and a foundation of compassion and generosity of spirit structured with steely self-discipline. His grandson showed all those burgeoning traits. It made her miss her own grandfather all the more when she was around either one of them, and was another reason she'd bonded with John.

  "Sorry about that, sir." John crouched in front of Kane. Studying the chocolate smeared on the little vampire's mouth, he gave him a gimlet eye. "Your daddy is going to whip your butt for sure if he finds out you got hold of that."

  "I should have put it away," Debra said.

  "No," Brian said. "He knew it was wrong. You don't learn self-control by not testing it. Here." Pulling it off the table, Brian knelt by John and handed it back to Kane. "Take the rest. Eat it. See what happens."

  "My lord," John said, surprised, but Brian gave him a sharp look.

  The boy subsided, pressing his lips together. Though John was clearly protective of his friend, he didn't sass his elders, human or otherwise. It was respect rather than fear, however, for Debra knew no one on the estate except his grandfather would ever touch a hair on his head. Lady Lyssa's protection was upon the human child as much as that of her own son. Not only were the two children fast companions, it was an oath she'd made to Elijah Ingram when he'd agreed to be majordomo of her estate.