I felt truly invigorated. With his life now quite literally in my hands, surely now he would see my worth as his defender?
So while I would sooner take my own life than his, he had to see how valuable I would be in his defense.
He just had to.
His skill with a sword was nearly as great as my own, but I hadn’t truly been trying to end him. To end him would be the end of me. My life had no purpose without the continuation of his and in spite of his disrespect towards my great-grandfather’s sacrifice, I had pledged my life in service to him. While my emotions at the time had once again gotten the better of me, I would not make the same mistake twice.
My loyalty to King Northman was and would forever remain absolute. Even above any loyalty I had to my own kin.
But knowing he was one of the oldest of his kind in this world – certainly the oldest on this continent – my other worries had been mollified somewhat with the knowledge I would no doubt best any vampire who threatened him.
Teleportation wasn’t the only advantage I had thanks to my heritage.
But I hadn’t wanted to use the deadly force I was capable of, knowing I would end him in the process. Shooting the equivilent of sunlight from my hands was my ultimate weapon. One that had no defense, that I had seen anyway, but it drained me greatly. I would be incapacitated not long after and needed nearly an entire day spent in direct sunlight to recover whenever I called forth that particular power. It was one of the reasons why I preferred hand to hand combat.
However I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if I needed to.
While I awaited his next move, I could sense her approach – as I’m sure Master did through their shared bond. But with the clacking of her heels openly reverberating across the marble floors, I was sure everyone else in the palace could hear her coming too.
Had she no training in stealth?
Neither one of us moved a muscle when she came to stand in the open doorway, but my muscles tightened slightly hearing her ask, “When you’re through, may I be allowed to take her for a ride next, Master?”
“No, Pamela,” he lowly growled. “Now leave us.”
His reply was firm and I was grateful for it. I had heard stories of the human donors some vampires kept and I had no wish to join their ranks. While I understood to be a part of the Royal Donor Pool was a position of prestige among the humans, it would be a great insult to me.
But her question brought back my earlier insecurities when – for a brief moment – I had misunderstood the meaning of my master’s words. When he had said my appearance was my greatest advantage, my first thought had been he’d only found me pleasing to look at. That my body was my only value and not my skillset. And even though he had been the only man to ever hold that opinion of me, instead of feeling flattered over being thought of as beautiful, more so it had been denigrating.
And yet it had been both a disappointment and a great relief when I discovered the true meaning of his words.
But I only had one purpose here and keeping that in mind – now that we were once again alone – with both my blade and my stake still hovering over their targets, I playfully asked, “Do you surrender, Master?”
“Not quite,” he replied, now sounding amused as well.
Quicker than I could react, his hands gripped each of my wrists and pulled my body up and over his own. Before I knew what happened, my hands were empty of the weapons they’d held and I was on my back on top of his desk, with his body hovering over mine. His long blond hair created a curtain, separating us from the rest of the world for a brief moment in time, and his blue eyes stared challengingly into my own as he asked, “Will we be doing this all night?”
“I am not familiar with your schedule,” I admitted with a small shrug and added, “but I had no other plans.” Teleporting out from underneath him, I reappeared in the far corner of the room, and taunted truthfully, “But if I had truly wanted to end you, I would be too busy brushing your ashes from my dress right now to play.”
It was true. Had he been a real foe, I would’ve ended him before he’d even known I was perched on his back. But he was my new master, so he was safe from meeting his end by my hand.
However it was in this type of environment in which I thrived. Playing off another opponent was my favorite pastime.
I never lost a match and I didn’t intend to now – Master or not.
He still appeared amused, but he called our game to an end by holding up his hands and saying, “Then I am calling a truce. As much as I would like to continue, there are other things we must see to before the night draws to a close.”
Very well then.
I gave him my silent agreement by taking a seat on the couch he had gestured towards and would have likely felt more disappointed if I wasn’t so anxious to hear what he thought of me now that he had gotten a glimpse of my prowess as a warrior.
Because as much as I told myself I wouldn’t, I couldn’t be certain he would be safe from my sword if he tried to add me to his donor pool.
Despite my good intentions, Sookie still lurked in the depths of my soul. And I was sure she would have something to say about it if any form of those words fell from his lips.
But I just as quickly dismissed the ridiculous idea. Back home no one had ever truly wanted me in that way and I had no reason to believe that opinion would change here. My blood – while of the Brigant bloodline – was greatly diluted. Polluted by two generations of humans before my birth, I was certainly no prize on that front.
Besides, that simply wasn’t my purpose for being.
But I had assumed my purpose for being there on that couch with him was so I could finally drink some of his blood. However, instead of offering me his wrist, he simply sat and stared.
Unable to read his mind – a gift I had yet to ascertain if I truly had or tell him about – I wondered if perhaps he was having second thoughts.
Maybe he wasn’t as impressed by my skills as I had hoped?
If he decided he didn’t want me as his personal guard, would I dare disobey a direct order from him in order to keep my vow of protection?
What if he chose to release me altogether instead?
My stomach dropped at just the thought alone and my inner shame showed itself in the form of the inflammation I could feel rising up my cheeks. The scandal of such a thing would bring a great dishonor to my great-grandfather and all of my kind.
The ultimate stain by the one born stained with human blood.
In all likelihood- recalling the taunts I’d received as a young child – it wouldn’t be that great of a surprise.
“Tell me, Susannah,” he eventually said, breaking the silence that had descended upon us and drawing my attention out of my own thoughts. “Why is it your heart is now racing, but it beat at barely half that rate during the whole of our duel?”
Because I was used to sparring for hours on end, but the thought of being sent away threatened my very sanity?
Terrified of what his answer would be, I still needed to know. But I had been asked a direct question, so I attempted to answer as truthfully as I could and ended up stuttering out, “I…I…”
I was such an idiot. Why would he ever want to keep me around when I couldn’t even string two words together?
In any language.
Searching deep within myself, I attempted to find my backbone. I hadn’t felt so off-balance since just after the accident when I was a young girl and if I didn’t show my true self to the King – here and now – he would have no reason to want my presence, much less my protection.
“I am nervous,” I finally admitted.
There. Three words strung together.
Couldn’t he at least have strung four words together and given me more time to hunt down my still missing backbone?
Thinking I might have left it behind in the Fae realm, I created one from sheer willpower alone and straightened up, looked him in the eye, and asked what I was desperate to know.
“Will you be releasing me from my pledge?”
I neither breathed nor blinked, awaiting his reply, and at my question his expression went from curious to – dare I say – crestfallen as he asked, “Is that what you would like?”
“NO!” I shouted and immediately tried to rein in my fear and my voice, when I found myself repeating, “No, I…forgive me Master, but no. I would not like that.”
He stared back at me, studying who knows what on my face, before finally settling his eyes on mine when he asked, “Because you were born for me?”
Not the only reason, but true just the same.
My eyes flickered to his mouth a moment later, hearing the snick of his fangs snapping down, and I felt my heart quicken just a hair watching them sink into his wrist. I felt something else quicken much lower in my body seeing him lick the blood from his lips, when he leaned forward and offered the open wound to me, saying only, “Then drink.”
Those two little words had my heart nearly beating its way out of my chest in exultation.
If he was offering me his blood, then surely he was keeping me!
I wouldn’t bring shame to our kind. My great-grandfather wouldn’t have to live with the indignation of bearing a great-granddaughter who was unworthy of fulfilling his debt.
My life still had meaning.
Gladly wrapping my lips around the open wound, I pulled his blood into my mouth in triumph. I savored the cold liquid as it crept along my palate and seeped into my taste buds. Surprisingly sweet, I swallowed and drew a second mouthful from his wrist as I closed my eyes, unprepared for the onslaught of sensations now coursing through me.
A humming or thrumming – or were they one and the same – started out low in my body. As it traveled through my veins, it lit up every nerve ending along the way, and by the time it had completed a full circuit, I felt positively electrified. My body felt stronger than ever. More alive than it had ever been.
And then I opened my eyes.
Despite my now much more acute senses, I hadn’t expected to find Master so close.
So right there.
In my face.
Even so close – so right there – I doubt he would have been able to hear me without his preternatural senses. He seemed very preoccupied watching me lick the remaining blood from his wrist, and then my lips, and I noticed his fangs had yet to ascend back into his gums.
Claudette would have had plenty to say had she been there, and none of it appropriate.
I wasn’t quite sure what I had been expecting him to ask me, now that his blood flowed in my veins, but it surely wasn’t what eventually came out of his mouth.
“What did they call you back in the Fae realm other than Susannah?”
Well that was a bit of a loaded question. I’d been called plenty of things growing up, but knowing what I had almost said when he’d posed the question earlier, I gave him that single answer when I admitted, “Sookie. Everyone called me Sookie, save my great-grandfather. He was the only one who called me Susannah.”
“Sookie,” he repeated, and I would swear his eyes locked onto his blood in my body, following the path it took as it coursed through my veins. “Odd.”
Indeed, but my nickname was the least odd thing about me.
But there was no need to go into all of that. It was bad enough that everything going on, on this couch could be deemed odd – from my internal freak outs to his silent reactions to everything – so I tried to bring the conversation back on course by using his own words when I asked, “Have you made any determination on where I will fit best?”
I didn’t want to put my assumptions before my ass and find it shamed and floundering outside of the palace grounds with no purpose.
“You were charged with being my personal protector, were you not?” he asked with a lifted brow. A small upturn in the corners of his mouth appeared when I nodded my reply and he added a moment later, “Apparently my left flank is in need of guarding, or so I’ve been told.”
“You are quite big, so it’s a lot of territory to cover,” I smiled, feeling more secure my calling would be fulfilled.
“I am quite big,” he smirked. “Do you think you are up for the challenge?”
What had I been thinking about earlier?
Things left unspoken?
It was probably just my imagination, so I pushed aside any thoughts his words might have more meaning to them and returned, “I know my strengths. The question is – do you think I am up for the challenge?”
“I believe you are,” he offered and with those words I felt all of my worries disappear. I would not fail him or my great-grandfather.
I would sooner die first.