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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(143) by Anne Bishop
  • What had he seen in her eyes before she looked away? Sorrow that her attempt to descend to her full strength had failed? Regret that she’d tried to make the Offering to the Darkness when she was physically, mentally, and emotionally tired, and, because of it, had failed that ultimate test of Self?

    No second chances. The Offering could be made only once. Whatever potential depth of power a person might have reached was lost forever if it wasn’t won during that one grueling night. Whatever Jewels a person came away with after the Offering were the darkest Jewels he or she couldever wear.

    Which is why a witch who should have been a Gray-Jeweled Queen had ended up wearing the Green Jewels of her birthright. She might hone her Craft and gain more skill with the power she had, but because she’d gambled on one night, she wouldn’t be strong enough to protect her Territory or her people against Dorothea SaDiablo.

    Thera looked at Blaed and Talon before focusing on him. “We’d like to return to the village and leave as soon as possible,” she said.

    Jared clenched his teeth until the muscles in his jaw began to jump. “Whatever you Ladies wish.”

    Lia flicked an uneasy glance in his direction before hurrying toward the horses.

    Watching them, Jared pivoted slowly until he could see the men around the fire. How many of them knew he’d given Lia her Virgin Night?

    Most of them, judging by the way they kept their expressions carefully blank and politely looked around or through him.

    Only Randolf didn’t look away, and his eyes held something that might have been sharp regret.

    Even Brock just shook his head and turned his attention to smothering the fire and preparing to leave the Sanctuary.

    As resentment began to burn through the shock, Jared walked away from them, needed to get away from them. They blamed him for diminishing a Queen, blamed the inexperienced pleasure slave for daring to perform a service that should have been left to a strong, seasoned male.

    Talon’s hand closed on Jared’s arm, forcing him to stop.

    “It’s wrong,” Jared snarled. “It’s all wrong. Talon, I swear by the Jewels and all that I am, I did everything I was supposed to do.”

    “No one’s saying differently,” Talon replied calmly.

    “No?” Jared looked over his shoulder at the other men. “A pleasure slave isn’t considered a man. How would he—”

    “Shut up.”

    Jared tried, but the resentment kept building. “It’s wrong,” he insisted. “Even if she wasn’t able to descend to the Gray, she shouldn’t have ended up with just her Birthright Green. She should have at least come away with the Sapphire or the Red.”

    “Hold your tongue,” Talon snapped. “This isn’t the time or place to chew over what happened or why. It’s done, and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we’d better all start accepting it.”

    With his hand still clamped on Jared’s arm, Talon headed for the horses. “Once we’ve got everyone tucked safely in Dena Nehele, why don’t you spend a few months in the mountains with me?”

    “Why?” Jared said, feeling the guilt that he should have done something different, somethingmore , coil around his heart and squeeze.

    Talon bared his teeth in a feral smile. “Because, Warlord, after you spend a winter with me, all that shit you spew about pleasure slaves will be knocked clean out of your head.”

    “Well, that’s something to look forward to,” Jared grumbled as he mounted the bay gelding.

    Lia, Jared noticed with a fresh stab of resentment, was surrounded by Talon’s men—and they didn’t make room for him to ride beside her.

    “Let’s move,” Talon said. “Jared, take the lead. I’ll watch our backs. Everyone in the village will be waiting for us at the Coaches.”

    The Sanctuary was only a mile from the village, but it was the longest mile Jared had ever ridden.

    The sky got lighter.

    Feeling a prickle between his shoulder blades, Jared urged the gelding into a canter.

    He probed the road ahead of him, looking for a trap. He probed the village and lightly touched the minds clustered together.

    He expanded his probe outward . . .

    . . . and found a blank spot.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire