Brian bowed toward Lyssa. “It is probably easiest to use your circumstances as an example, my lady, since you have openly declared it. The relationship you have with your servant is much deeper than what is considered usual and acceptable for our kind. You did not conceive for hundreds of years, yet you conceived within a year of being with him.” Lyssa nodded. Jacob knew she had conceived within days of being with the knight he'd once been, centuries before, but she hadn't offered that data to Brian, since that would stretch even his scientific flexibility beyond bearing. Plus, she liked having that memory as a private treasure between them. He didn't mind that, either.
Brian turned his attention back to Council. “It is very possible that there is a biological component here I've not yet located. Scientists know there are chemical forces of attraction that compel males and females of many species to choose one particular mate over another for reproduction. Perhaps when there is a greater level of intimacy and trust, it triggers a chemical change in the female vampire or the seed of the male vampire, to encourage fertility.
Science and spiritual forces often overlap in such inexplicable ways.
“As my final evidence for this summary report, I offer the latest data confirming my findings.
Yesterday, I took a blood sample from one of my recent subjects. My intention was to run some tests on her fertility levels, but I received a rather direct and unexpected confirmation of it.”
Turning to the opposite end of the table, he executed a bow, a smile playing around his serious mouth. “Lord Mason, I'm delighted to inform you that your servant is in the early stages of pregnancy.” There was a pause, then the Council erupted with comments and exclamations. Mason was rooted to his chair, his usual y unreadable expression stunned.
Jessica's legs began to shake, her eyes wide in her face. Though Gideon and Torrence moved toward her immediately, Mason stil beat them there, sliding his arm around her waist and almost lifting her off her feet to steady her. The expression she turned up to him was a mixture of terror and joy.
“This is a simple report of my findings.” Brian cleared his throat at length, drawing the rest of the Council's attention back to him and giving the couple a needed moment of semiprivacy. “I am a scientist, not a policy maker. The Council, I am sure, will wish to careful y deliberate on what to do with the information. However, in conclusion, from a purely scientific standpoint, I would suggest this. Though the stringent safeguards on vampire-servant relationships have been set down to good purpose, perhaps they have been twisted in a wrong direction over time, such that it has been harder for those bonds to develop in a way that would encourage fertility.”
Giving a short bow to the assembled, he added,
“Thank you for your time, my lords and my ladies. As always, I am open to any questions or further discussion.”
Lyssa gave Brian a nod as he took his seat, but then turned her attention outward. “First things first,” she said.
Handing Kane to Jacob, she rose. At Jacob's direction, the staff had already placed a chair at the wal so Jessica could sit until she was steadier on her feet. Mason stood at her side, his hand on the sweet line between neck and shoulder, his expression ful of her and the momentous news.
Another staff member had been refil ing the wineglasses, anticipating the coming toast. Now Lyssa lifted hers toward Mason, drawing his attention when Jessica squeezed his hand.
“Congratulations, Lord Mason. May your offspring be far less obstinate than you, and as beautiful as his or her mother.”
As he locked gazes with the vampire queen, the long history between them was evident in the naked emotion in his gaze, and how her throat thickened over her next words. “You deserve this happiness, Mason. You both do. Blessings upon you both.” The Council members joined in with “Here, here,” and assorted other comments of encouragement and good humor. For the moment, the import and potential controversy of Brian's report was put aside.
As Lyssa had said, every conception in the vampire world was precious. However, Jacob knew this one was even more personal to his lady.
Putting down the wineglass, she came around the table to the male vampire. With gentlemanly courtesy, he met her halfway, but he walked as if he might stumble, entirely un-Mason-like. When she slid her arms around his wide shoulders, he lifted her off her feet and held her tight, burying his face in her neck, his copper hair fal ing across his broad shoulder and brushing hers. Stretching out her other hand, Lyssa brought Jessica to them, drew her into the embrace. Jessica wrapped her arms around Mason as well.
As Lyssa spoke in Mason's mind, she shared those words with Jacob.
You know how deeply you are in my heart.
Beyond Jacob, you are the one I trust and love beyond any other. I wish you and Jessica all the happiness this child will bring you. And the baby could not have a better mother, one who will love the both of you to the bottom of her soul. For some unimaginable reason, she already loves you that way, despite all your shortcomings.
Drawing back, she gave him a smile through suspiciously wet eyes, pressing a kiss to both his mouth and Jessica's. Then she stepped back, all owing the other Council members to rise and congratulate Mason in their own way. While they would not congratulate Jessica directly the way Lyssa had, Jacob noted they touched her shoulder or gave her a nod of acknowledgment, steadying her further during the earthshatter-ing moment.
During the time they were involved with that, Lyssa returned to the head of the table. Brian sat in the chair at her side, watching the goings on with his usual academic scrutiny. Lyssa tipped her glass to him. “Wel played, Doctor. You have a highly unscientific flare for dramatic timing.” Brian shrugged, but couldn't hide a light flush.
“Perhaps I have been learning from the company I've been keeping this past year or so.”
“They're a dangeous element. You should be careful of that.” Her eyes gleamed. “However, you have served the Council well in this instance.”
“I credit my lab assistant and servant with this finding, Lady Lyssa. She pointed out the variable to me and backed it up based on some earlier conversations she'd had with your servant, when you were sick with the Delilah virus.” He looked toward Debra. She stil stood at the wal , quietly watching it all, though there was a shine of happiness in her eyes as she looked toward Jessica and Mason.
Once the vampires had been tucked in, Jacob was sure Debra would be part of the servants' group, including himself and Gideon, who would congratulate Jessica more openly, celebrating the young woman's pregnancy.
“Hmm. Yes, I remember some of that, despite Jacob's best efforts to conceal it from me.” When she gave him an affected stern look, Jacob offered her a bland expression in return. She almost smiled before turning her attention back to Brian. “You are fortunate in having both a gifted lab tech and servant.
Though I admit one question has plagued me ever since that time.”
“What question is that, my lady?” His brow creased, concerned.
Before she spoke again, Lyssa made certain the Council was stil involved in speaking to Mason.
Jacob, picking up on it, shifted his attention to them, watching her back. “I want to know why I gained your loyalty over what you owe to the Council,” she said.
“And before you answer, know I'm not asking an idle question. As head of this Council now, I require a better sense of what motivates your loyalty. I can take a deeper marking on you to assure myself of your honesty, but I do not think I need that, do I?”
“I am yours to do with as you will , my lady,” Brian said, instantly and sincerely. “If that is what you wish, I will embrace having you deeper in my mind.” It was not often a vampire was pressed to state his loyalties so openly. However, he'd responded to the awkward question with an open and raw honesty, at odds with many of the vampires she knew.
Debra's gray eyes rested on her Master, the set of his shoulders, as he continued.
“From the night you first marked me, giving me permission to be in your territory, and through everything since then, you've proved to me you are a queen worth serving. You've not yet ever disappointed me in your intentions or in who you are.
I am somewhat oligarchical in viewpoint.” He flashed his fangs in mirthless humor. “But the best form of governance for our race is a monarchy supported by a fair and intel igent advisory Council, when the monarch possesses the abilities you do. The sad fact is few of them do. I believe in our world, the best things that we can be. It is leadership like yours we need to achieve and maintain that. Perhaps, one day, we will be able to be the self-governing Council you hoped we would be. But until then”—he offered a reticent smile—“Long live the queen.”
“Here, here.” That came from Mason. The vampire had taken his seat at the end of the table again.
Lyssa received Jacob's silent nudge of warning toward the end of Brian's monologue, so the Council members who'd also returned to their places hadn't fol owed the first part of the conversation. However, like Mason, they'd obviously caught the last part. And witnessed what Brian did now.
Rising from his seat, Brian dropped to a knee before her. He bowed his head. “Whatever you need from me, Lady Lyssa—any form of loyalty, be it courage, deception or my very life—you have it. In fact, I encourage you to give me that sire's mark, so you can always have access to my mind if you have need of it, and that I may serve you better.”
“I may very well take you up on that, Lord Brian,” Lyssa said, touched. Laying a hand on the side of his face, she stroked his dark blond hair back from his ear. “But tonight, I will let your thoughts be your own. That will give you time to banish any incriminating theories, like my fossilized status, from your mind.”
A wave of chuckles came from the Council.
Though he had the grace to flush again, he also smiled and bowed his head. “Thank you for that mercy, my lady.”
Lyssa nodded to them all. “We have many reasons to celebrate tonight. Lord Brian's remarkable findings give us hope for a stronger race, and Lord Mason and his servant will soon bring another strong vampire into our world. In a few minutes, we will retire to the atrium area with our coffee, desserts and Lord Belizar's cognac to enjoy these tidings”—she sent the Cossack a fond smile —“as well as some after-dinner entertainment. If you all will indulge me, I would like to exercise the prerogative of a queen, and dictate what that entertainment will be.”