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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(165) by Anne Bishop
  • “Krelis did.” Daemon’s mouth curved in a vicious smile. “But I doubt he mentioned our little discussion.” He took a couple of swallows of wine. “No, she just wants to be sure I’m held in a Territory closer to Hayll. She has enough problems right now. It seems no one’s eager to be her new Master of the Guard. And the efforts to soften the Territories bordering those already under Hayll’s control have been seriously undermined by the stories that have spread about how a young Queen and a handful of former slaves defended an entire village against Dorothea’s Master of the Guard and five thousand Hayllian warriors.”

    “There weren’t that many,” Jared mumbled.

    Daemon shrugged. “Well, you know how stories grow with the telling. Especially with a little help.”

    “You cut the ground out from under Dorothea in any way you can, don’t you?” Jared said.

    “In every way I can,” Daemon agreed solemnly. “But there’s only so much I can do. And it’s not enough.”

    Jared felt the sadness he’d been fighting all winter well up inside him. “Dena Nehele will fall, won’t it?”

    “Not while a Gray-Jeweled Queen rules there. Not while the strongest and the best serve her and remain vigilant against Hayll’s subtle cultural poisoning. But, yes, eventually Dena Nehele will live in Hayll’s shadow.”

    “Then all our efforts are pointless.”

    “No, Jared, they’re not. Even in the most rotted Territories, there are still overlooked places where the Blood remember what it means to be Blood, what it means to honor the Darkness. Where males remember what it means to serve and witches remember that the bargain isn’t one-sided. Those who remember may lose control of their lands, may have to live careful, hidden lives, but they must survive in order to restore their people when the time comes.”

    “When what time comes?” Jared asked, sitting forward.

    Daemon hesitated. “When a Queen far more powerful than Dorothea can imagine walks the Realm. She’s coming. That much I know. That much I was promised,” he added quietly.

    They drank in silence.

    “Why did you call me here?” Jared finally asked.

    “To say good-bye. And to tell you not to be a fool.”

    “About what?” Jared waited. Hoped. All the talks he and Talon had had during the long winter nights hadn’t eased his doubts because Talon didn’t really understand what it meant to be a pleasure slave. But if there was anyone who could understand how deeply that kind of slavery wounded a man, it was Daemon Sadi.

    “There are many shades and flavors of love, Jared,” Daemon said quietly. “Not all of them have the richness and the depth to be Gold. You have a chance at something many men only dream of. Don’t let the Gold slip through your fingers.”

    Jared carefully refilled their glasses. “Is it fair to hinder a strong Queen with a Consort who has a degrading past?”

    “Is it fair to deny the woman a man who loves her with everything that’s in him?” Daemon countered.

    “I was a pleasure slave for nine years.”

    “Nine years,” Daemon snarled impatiently. “What’s nine years compared tocenturies ?”

    “Wouldyou ask a Queen to accept you as her husband?”

    “In a heartbeat.”

    Jared sat back, awed and a little frightened by the terrible yearning that filled Daemon’s eyes.

    “You love someone,” he whispered. “Who?” He bit his tongue, instantly regretting the question.

    Daemon’s smile was gentle and a little self-mocking. “I don’t know. She hasn’t been born yet. But I’ve loved, and served, her all my life. I’ll love no other. And I’ll serve no other willingly.” Reaching across the table, he laid his hand over Jared’s. “Don’t let the Gold slip away, Jared. Don’t spend the rest of your life regretting that you didn’t take the risk.”

    Daemon drained his glass and rose. “I have to go.”

    Jared stood, too. There were so many things he wanted to say, but words weren’t enough. Taking a deep breath, he gripped Daemon’s shoulders, opened his inner barriers, and let his feelings flow through his hands—his gratitude, his friendship, and the sincere hope that Daemon would someday find his Lady.

    A little embarrassed, he stepped back. “May the Darkness embrace you, Prince Sadi.”

    Daemon cupped Jared’s face in his hands and kissed him softly on the mouth. “And you, Lord Jared. And you.”

    Jared remained long after Daemon had gone. He picked up his glass, then set it down untouched.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire