Authors: Lisa Olsen
“Good evening, Annike. It’s nice to see you again.”
Annike flushed a darker shade of scarlet at the recognition. “Would you like the usual?”
“Yes, and for my companion as well.”
The waitress smiled in my direction, and I got the distinct impression she wished she could trade places with me. “Tasty plates?”
“Tasty plates,” Jakob beamed in anticipation.
“Coming right up. Will there be anything else?”
Jakob looked to me, but I shook my head. I hadn’t even had a chance to so much as glance at the menu. Maybe next time.
Annike was back in a flash with tulip shaped glasses of a light amber liquid.
“What is this?” I sniffed at it experimentally, not quite able to place the scent. Caraway maybe?
Jakob lifted the glass to his nose, inhaling as though it was the most fragrant bouquet imaginable. “You call it aquavit. Try it, it’s good for the digestion.” He tossed back half of the glass in one sip, and Annike was right on hand with the bottle to refill it. Three other waiters arrived moments later, setting multiple plates upon the table. Tasty plates meant appetizers from the look of it. All manner of delicacies appeared before us
, from fried pickles to calamari, even some exotic quesadillas and sweet potato fries.
“It looks like you’re going to need it.” I’d almost forgotten how much food he could put away in one sitting, and I politely set a few items on my plate to make it look like I
shared in the appetizer buffet.
“I will provide something more to your tastes later.” His voice was full of promise as he raised his glass. “But for now, cheers.”
“Skol,” I replied, held captive by the way his blue eyes crinkled with warmth at my choice of words before I took a sip. It was good, strong, more of a sipping drink than I’d thought from watching him devour it, but I could appreciate the mellow spices.
Tidbits of food began to disappear between his lips as he sampled from all of the plates, eating with the tips of his fingers. And the aquavit flowed like water. One, two, three bottles poured out, though I’d had only two glasses myself, but he showed no signs of intoxication.
“Do you ever get drunk?” I asked during a rare moment alone while Annike left off her position at Jakob’s elbow.
“Drunk… not for very long, no. It would take a lot more than this
.” He grabbed the bottle from the edge of the table and drained it into his glass. “This is like water to me, I grew up on this drink.”
“Ah, I see. That sort of paints a different picture of your childhood than how I was raised.” Not that we had
in common in that respect. “My parents never drank anything stronger than wine with Sunday dinner.”
“Tell me about your parents. You are close to them?”
“I wouldn’t say close. They’re on the stricter side, but mostly because they want the best for me. I’m closer to my sister, really.”
“Hanna, I remember. She fares well from her ordeal?”
“Yes, she made a full recovery, thanks to you.” I smiled warmly before images of my sister drinking from his wrist melted some of those warm fuzzies away. “I worry about her though, and her involvement with Mason.” Any time the Order was involved, it brought a risk to the people I loved. Then again, the higher I climbed in vampire society, the higher the risk I placed my family in. “God, I hope this Jarl thing doesn’t bring any more enemies to my doorstep. Is that why you were so wigged out about Rob leaving?”
“Let us dance,” he commanded suddenly, pulling me out to the dance floor.
“Um, sure,” I squeaked, scrambling after him to keep my arm from being tugged out of its socket. Jakob enfolded me into his arms, my body instantly molding to his as we swayed to the music. His breath stirred my hair, fluttering past the curve of my ear to send a shiver down to my toes. There was no art to his dance, but I felt the beat in every step and in the way he held me close.
He was so physical. Everything about him larger than life. The heat coming off of his body was overwhelming, as was the throb of his heart, audible beneath the beat of the music. His skin smelled like sunlight and leather, and I only narrowly resisted the urge to taste it, remembering at the last second that we were in a public place.
What the heck was wrong with me? Sure, he was a sexy beast, but I was usually able to keep my hormones more in check. Had someone slipped an aphrodisiac into my aquavit? Swallowing, I tried to inject a cushion of space between our bodies, giving up when he didn’t loosen his hold on me one bit. I had to distract myself from his physicality before I jumped him right there on the dance floor.
“So um, does that invitation to ask questions still exist, or have I already hit my quota for this century?”
Jakob laughed. “Of course. Ask me anything you like, petal. I would share everything with you.”
Glad to hear he was still preaching full disclosure, I wished I had access to the list folded inside my beaded clutch purse back in the booth. My eyes fell upon the smooth, amber cabochon ring on my finger, and the question leapt to my lips. “Is there
a special significance to this ring?” I asked, stroking the carved runes on the band with my thumb. “I haven’t taken it off once since you put it there… I’m not even sure I could. It almost feels like it’s a part of me.”
Jakob brought my hand to his lips, brushing a kiss over the ring. “Would you like me to show you?” he asked, his eyes meeting mine. At my nod, he led me from the dance floor to a curtained room, instead of our table. “We would like privacy now,” he said mildly.
“Of course.” The attendant stepped away, pulling back the curtain to reveal an intimate VIP room, sparsely populated with a ring of tables. Each semi-circular booth offered even more privacy, cloaked in deep, red velvet curtains, which he drew closed around us after depositing another bottle of aquavit and two glasses on the table (along with my purse and wrap).
“Now that we may speak freely,” he began, sliding closer so that our thighs pressed together, “I give you what you truly desire.” His lips drew back into a sultry smile, revealing sharp teeth. For half a moment I pictured those teeth descending on my neck, and a tingle of anticipation danced along my spine. Instead, he brought a finger to his mouth, teeth piercing his own flesh before Jakob offered his blood to me. “Drink,
,” he commanded, his voice husky with need. “Drink and know me.”
A single drop of ruby red blood welled on the tip of his finger. It grew heavy, threatening to fall and I couldn’t look away from it, fascinated. “You want me to, um…” I couldn’t focus, the words falling away as the alluring scent of his powerful blood filled the curtained room. Knowing how intimate such a thing could be between our kind, I wasn’t sure I wanted to jump so far so fast, but the siren’s call of his blood had my mouth watering.
What would it hurt? Temptation overrode my intentions, pulling me closer with unseen hands. My tongue darted out to moisten lips that had suddenly grown parched. “Maybe just a taste,” I murmured, before my mouth fastened over the pad of his finger, the salty-sweet taste of him immediately flooding my senses.
The cut had already closed, and my teeth scraped over his skin, begging for more. Jakob made no protest when I pierced his finger, a low hum of pleasure emanating from his chest as I drew against the tiny wounds. The thin trickle that emerged was enough to overwhelm my senses, enslaving me to the power of his blood.
My eyes slid shut, but instead of darkness, I saw images
– fleeting at first, but growing more cohesive as I drank. I was in a rustic cottage, the curved walls hewn from weathered wood. A roaring fire painted the room with flickering light, casting shadows on the thatched roof, and the smell of roasting meat hung heavy in the air. The dirt floor was liberally strewn with wildflowers and fragrant herbs, but I knew this was not a normal occurrence.
A woman turned with a smile, her face glowing with joy. Beautiful… there was something familiar in the curve of her smile… Her wheaten hair was braided back away from her f
ace to fall down past her waist. Smooth amber stones threaded around the slender plaits with silver wire, winking in the firelight. Her simple homespun dress was dyed a yellow saffron, the over-dress a deep forest green, held up with pins of hammered silver. Soft leather boots covered her feet.
With a soft cry she rushed into my arms, and I inhaled the good clean scent of rosemary and apples, coupled with smoky peat from the fire. So soft in my arms… the woman
– Sanna… her name was Sanna – and she was my wife. Jakob’s wife. All at once I understood what I was seeing, these were Jakob’s memories. Memories of a human wife, in Vadheim.
Jakob took her hand and kissed it, the ring on her finger glowing with warm amber fire of its own. My ring. Or her ring first, I guess. There were hushed words of love whispered between them with not a little urgency, words I didn’t recognize but understood well enough. The endearments grew fewer and far between as his
mouth claimed hers. I rode along, a part of the memory rather than an observer, as she greeted her Viking husband, home from battle as only a dutiful wife should.
Caught up in the moment, my body lurched as Jakob pulled his finger away from my questing mouth before it became too intimate for them, or for us. My eyes fluttered open, slightly dazed as I took in our surroundings, and the slightly amused expression in his blue eyes. “What was that?” I gasped, drawing in a shaky breath.
“I shared a memory with you.”
“You can do that?” Obviously
he could, and I wondered if I could do the same, but had way too many other questions for him. “Sanna, she was your first wife?”
“My only wife,” he nodded, his gaze distant. “She was betrothed to another, but I took her, as was my right.”
His right. He said it like there was absolutely nothing wrong with that statement. “How did she feel about you taking her like that?” It was clear to see she loved him from the memory, but I wondered if she’d always felt that way or if it had grown with time.
“She soon came around,” Jakob replied, brows twitching together before he distracted himself with a glass of aquavit, downing the contents and refilling both our glasses. There was more to that story, I was sure of it, but I didn’t want to push. Instead, I asked the next question that popped into my mind. “Did you have any children?”
“Can you um, have children?”
“It’s possible,” he replied, rolling the glass between his fingers. “Many of my brethren fathered children, but I have no direct knowledge of any of my own progeny beyond those who I’ve made as
“Then, you don’t have any direct descendents out there?”
“None that I know of, but it’s a possibility,” he shrugged, unconcerned. How could he not care one way or another? I’d want to know if I had a family line out there if I lived for as long as he had.
“So, the ring was hers? Your wife’s?”
“It belonged first to my mother, given to her by my father. A ring of queens.” Jakob picked up my hand and pressed a kiss to it above the ring, much as I’d seen him do in the memory. “I gave it to you, queen of my heart.”
, what do you say to something like that? “Um, thanks,” I smiled, teeth scraping at my lower lip as I racked my brain for a more appropriate response that wouldn’t completely lead him to believe I felt more for him in return than I actually did. “It’s very beautiful, and so was she. I can see why you loved her so much. What happened to her?”
Leave it to me to bring down the room. Of course she’d died, it was thousands of years ago. Why had I brought it up? Still, given his obsessive nature with women, the next question begged asking. “You weren’t at all tempted to, you know, turn her?”
“She died before I had tasted human blood. We didn
’t know then that we could make others in our image.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I reached for his hand, covering it with mine. “That must have been rough on you.”
Jakob squeezed my hand back, the heat warming mine. “I’ve had many years to make my peace with it. I showed you my beloved Sanna because I wanted you to know what she was to me. And when I first saw you… I felt…” He leaned forward in his seat, searching for the right words. “I felt I had a chance to live the life I was cheated of with her.”
“With me?” I blinked. “But how? I’m a completely different person.” Besides the ring and the blonde hair, we had absolutely nothing in common, separated by too many years to count. Jakob waved it away as unimportant though.
“There is something of her spirit in you. I recognized it, immediately. Perhaps you share more than you think.” His expression grew pensive, recalling days past. “She was the only one ever to refuse me, and I didn’t recognize that for the gift it was at the time.”
“What do you mean by that? A gift?”
“I was young and impatient. I forced her before she was ready.” Jakob began to talk faster, a pucker appearing on his brow. “You must remember, times were different then. It was my right to take her, regardless of her tender feelings.”
He hadn’t just forced her feelings, he’d forced her physically. I recoiled in disgust, pulling my hand from his. How could someone so considerate of my wishes that he let me be with another man treat any woman like that? Especially one he claimed to love. “But you said she came around, and I saw how much she loved you. How could she forgive you something like that?” He didn’t meet my gaze and all at once I understood. He’d compelled her into loving him.
“I chose for her,” he admitted, head hanging in shame. “I didn’t understand until now what I gave up in making that decision for her. How much I want you to choose me of your own free will. I’ve never experienced love freely given.” His head came up, blue eyes seeking mine. “I would have that from you,
He asked me for love almost in the same breath that he told me he’d raped his first wife both physically and emotionally. Did he really not understand the position that put me in? “I’m sorry… I don’t… I, I just…”
His hands came up in supplication, cutting off my stammered response. “No, you mistake me, petal. I do not ask for your love now. I merely mean to lay the cards out on the table, as they say. I would have your love in your own time under your own terms. I wish to start anew with you, but I seek to hide nothing. That is why I showed you the flawed history of that ring. That is why I freely admit my mistakes, if only to show how much I’ve changed for you.”
“For me… you should change for yourself,” I murmured, taking in the heady words. If he was to be believed,
that gave me a lot of power over him. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I wasn’t sure how I felt about any of it. “If you’re so big on not compelling me to feel anything one way or the other, what about the ring then? Why do I feel so uncomfortable every time I even think about taking it off? And why didn’t I remember anything about you when I first woke up in the morgue?”
“Ah, those things you must forgive me
.” His head hung again, but I could tell from the smile that lurked around his eyes that he wasn’t truly sorry for them. “I didn’t say I’d never compelled you in any way, only that I haven’t compelled you to love me.”
“Okay,” I waved him on, “let’s have it then. What did you do to mess with my head?” Depending on his answer, I was so out of there…
“The ring was selfish I suppose. I wanted you to keep something of mine with you, always. It’s nothing more sinister than that.”
“And the second?”
“The second compulsion was for your protection as well as mine. I couldn’t openly claim you, it seemed safer to keep any knowledge of your Sire hidden until I could come for you myself.”
Safer? His definition of the word clearly didn’t mesh with mine. It all smacked of half truths, but I didn’t know where to apply pressure to get him to fold (if such a thing was even possible). “Why
you leave me that night? The night you turned me.”
A breath filled his lungs for an impossibly long time before he let it out in a slow exhalation. “I hadn
’t meant to. I made my preparations in an out of the way place, the better to keep from drawing any undue attention.”
“I remember it,” I murmured, thinking back to the runes carved into the floor and the handmade mattress soaked with my blood. More than that, I remembered Bishop taking me through the abandoned house, teaching me to extend my newly heightened senses
– something my Sire should have done himself. “What made you leave me there for the paramedics to find?”
“Bad luck,” he replied, and there was no guile in the shrug of his sh
oulders. “Almost as soon as I finished the ritual there were shots fired in the area, and a police search began. I was weakened by the giving of my blood.”
“The police came in, and I chose to leave and trust in your instincts to protect you rather than risk detection, it’s as simple as that. I’d planned to retrieve you from the hospital with none the wiser, but I learned the Order was involved by then, and it seemed prudent to stay away.”
I’d just about been swayed by the logic of his explanation when the last bit caught my attention. “Wait, then you knew the Order was involved and you still didn’t come forward?” I balked. “I almost ended up in vampire jail or worse. You know I didn’t have the proper license. What if they’d killed me on sight?”
Jakob’s chuckle prickled my already irritated temper, but he seemed not to notice. “Clearly you survived quite well on your own, petal. You’re more resourceful than you give yourself credit for, but I was prepared to step in if needed.”
o I wasn’t in mortal danger that whole time. Cool beans. I couldn’t help thinking that might’ve been nice to know at the time. There didn’t seem to be much point in scolding him over it though, considering it was one of the least awful things he’d done. “Will you tell me why you’re hiding out from vampire society?”
Jakob’s face twisted with distaste. “I dislike the term hiding out. It implies fear, where I have none. I simply choose to keep on the down low, as they say, for now.”
“For how long?”
“Not too much longer. Soon I will take my place with you at my side.”
Did soon mean two months or two decades? Vampire time could be tricky depending on the eye of the beholder. “What happens then? When you’re tired of waiting in the wings?” Something flashed in his eyes. Avarice, lust, too much aquavit? It was impossible to tell, but it made me nervous, all the same.
“Wouldn’t you rather know what pleasures await when you take your place by my side
? Shall I share another memory with you?” His voice dropped to a husky throb as he scooted closer, the neck of his shirt stretching wider to reveal the tanned expanse of skin beneath. “Perhaps a bigger taste is in order now, I think.”