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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(112) by Anne Bishop
  • “So I’ve decided to give you a bit more incentive.” As she moved toward him, Krelis wondered how he’d ever mistaken that predatory walk for something enticing, inviting.

    “Do you remember your predecessor, Lord Krelis?” Dorothea purred. “You’re going to bring those five men to me. And every day that little bitch runs free, one of those men will pay for your failure.” Her eyes slid to the blood-soaked cloth. “Since you’re the one selecting them for this, the last four, at least, will understand who’s responsible for their suffering. You may choose whether your cousin or your protégé is the last. I hope you find her before then, Krelis. I truly do.” She waved the feather, tickling his lips. “I expect them here within the hour. Do you understand?”

    Krelis wanted to lick his dry lips, but he was terrified his tongue might touch that feather. Since there was no chance of handing over the little bitch-Queen tomorrow, he knew how that feather would soon be used. “I understand, Priestess,” he choked. “I understand.”

    How could it have gone so wrong? Krelis wondered a couple of hours later as he leaned back in his chair, a half-full bottle of brandy cradled to his chest. He’d anticipated so much, had taken such care.

    How could it have gone so wrong?

    With the bounty he’d offered, every marauder band in that part of the Realm was hunting her, and they’dstill found nothing but cold trails and the buttons his pet had left.

    And his pet hadn’t even left those lately.

    His fault for believing the bastard hadn’t had something vital snipped out of him when the Ring of Obedience had been placed around his cock. The fear of the pain changed most of them. They never again felt the arrogant assurance that honor and Protocol would protect them. Warlord Princes became savage over time. Warlords shriveled up inside.

    But his pet hadn’t been a slave that long, only long enough to feel desperate, and bitter enough about the betrayal that had sent him into slavery that the offer of service without a Ring sounded sweet enough to rape honor and justify betrayal. He’d been intelligent enough to realize the quality of his life would rest on Hayll’s whims, and doing such an extensive favor for the High Priestess would almost guarantee that he’d never feel the pain of the lash or the agony of the Ring again.


    Krelis laughed bitterly. The bastard had believed that by killing the one Queen who had successfully stood against Dorothea over these past decades, he’d earn a promise of safety.

    Except there was no promise. And there was no safety. Krelis had finally understood that when he watched five pairs of eyes fill with terror when he left them in that barren room.

    He’d always been ambitious. He’d thought it was because he wanted the kind of power that could only be attained by serving in the First Circle of a strong court. Now he knew it was because he’d wanted to be safe. And hewas safe. Safe from the minor Queens who didn’t believe a strong male could be trusted at all unless he was Ringed. Safe from the petty abuse inflicted on males by any witch who wore a darker Jewel. Safe from torments designed to soothe a bitch’s ego.

    Safe from everything except Dorothea.

    Which meant he wasn’t safe at all.

    But she was all he had now. He’d realized that, too, when he’d seen how carefully the guards who were posted outside that barren room had shuttered their expressions, closing him out. He’d betrayed the unspoken understanding that the Master would protect his men from the whims of the witches in the court. They would obey him to escape punishment, but they would never respect him.

    With one order, Dorothea had isolated him from everyone but her First Circle—and he’d even be isolated from them if he didn’t succeed brilliantly enough to erase his failure up to this point. If his cousin was subjected to that gruesome maiming, his family would tolerate his presence when he joined them but would never welcome him. His dream of a pretty, placid, broodmare wife would wither and die with his unborn children. He’d be left mounting the whores who worked in the Red Moon houses.

    Krelis raised the bottle of brandy to his lips and kept swallowing until he needed to breathe.

    He’d find the little bitch before his cousin felt Dorothea’s knife.

    And his pet would learn the price of failure.

    Chapter Nineteen

    “Would you like to play chess?” Jared asked as he set up the game board the innkeeper had provided and tried—hard—not to throw a fine fit of male hysterics. That’s what Lia had called his reaction when her legs had buckled while she’d been pacing the room earlier in the day. Working the stiffness out of them, she’d said. Scaring the shit out ofhim , he’d shouted.

    Then his wobbly-legged little Queen had threatened to dump the hot soup that had been part of the midday meal into his lap if he didn’t stop pestering her to take a nap.

    He didn’t pester. He never pestered. He wasconcerned . Couldn’t she tell the difference?

    “One game,” Jared coaxed, grinding his teeth so he wouldn’t yell at her to sit down. “Just to pass the time.”

    Looking much too fragile and very young in the too-large sweater and snug trousers that had belonged to one of the innkeeper’s sons, Lia crossed her arms and gave Jared a stony stare that would have made him nervous if it hadn’t been accompanied by a hint of a pout. “You snarled the last time we played.”

    Jared placed one hand over his heart. “I promise not to snarl.” About the game, anyway. “Of course, if you don’t want to play, we could just turn in for the night.”

    She snarled at him.

    “She who snarls shouldn’t comment on someone else’s little grumbles,” Jared said virtuously.

    Her hands balled into fists.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire