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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(29) by Anne Bishop
  • At the time, Jared had thought Belarr’s reaction was due to Reyna’s returning home completely exhausted from a long and difficult healing. Now, watching the Gray Lady’s Queen scamper around the board attacking, protecting, risking capture, the memory became shaded with a different meaning, a deeper understanding.

    He passed up a couple of opportunities to capture, initiating attacks on the other side of the board where she had to use the stronger male pieces. Even then, she sacrificed a Priestess instead of a Prince.

    He swallowed the anger that was building up inside him again. It was only a game, a way to relieve her boredom. But, Hell’s fire, didn’t the woman have any sense? You didn’t sacrifice the distaff gender while there was still a strong male left standing unless there was no other move.

    When she moved her Queen to protect a Blood male that couldn’t escape capture, his temper finally snapped.

    “Lady,” he said through gritted teeth as he took the Blood male, “it’s an insignificant piece. You shouldn’t be risking your Queen for a pawn.”

    The air in the wagon chilled so much he could see his breath.

    Startled, he looked at her.

    The gray eyes that had been warm and friendly a moment ago were icy, hard, and reflected a fury that came from so deep within her they reflected nothing at all.

    Never breaking eye contact, she reached out and deliberately knocked over her Queen. “There are no pawns.”

    Looking away, she began gathering up the captured pieces that were lying beside her on the bench, carefully setting each one into the box.

    Watching the jerky movements of muscles clenched in anger was worse than feeling the lash.

    “Thank you for the game,” she said stiffly, feeling around for the last piece. “I’m tired now. I wish to rest.”

    As she picked up the last piece, a Blood male, her fingers closed protectively around it.

    The cold dismissal stung, but he accepted it. After double-checking that all the pieces and the dice were back in the box, he slipped it into the cloth bag and left the wagon. He returned the game to Blaed with faint thanks and hurried away.

    No one approached him. No one asked what had happened. Even Thera took a long look at his face and left him alone.

    Not a game to be played with an enemy, because it exposed the heart’s weaknesses.

    All these long years later, he understood the quarrels between Belarr and Reyna as he never had before. Despite their Craft and their courage—or, perhaps, because of it— Healers didn’t have a strong sense of self-preservation and would drain themselves to the breaking point before they’d back away from a healing. Which was why, by Blood Law, every Healer had to be served by at least one Jeweled male unless she had a Jeweled consort or husband who would assume the duty of protecting her from herself.

    Was that why courts had originally formed around Queens? To protect them from giving too much of themselves?

    Since he’d never served in a court before he was Ringed, he’d never been with a Queen he respected let alone wanted to protect, never experienced the fierce loyalty and pride that he’d heard filled men when they served a good Queen.

    For the rest of the morning, his thoughts chased each other, swinging from the Gray Lady to Reyna and back again. Speculation and memories kept poking at him until he felt savage and frightened. He couldn’t shake the idea that Reyna would like Lady Grizelle, and it troubled him. That Belarr would probably consider her a good Queen troubled him even more, because Belarr would question the honor of a Red-Jeweled Warlord who would abandon a Queen during a difficult journey.

    Hell’s fire, he was aslave . He hadn’t agreed to serve her. Why shouldn’t he escape if he got the chance? He wanted to go home. He wanted to talk to Reyna. Wanted,needed to explain.

    Belarr had never been a slave. There was no way he could fully appreciate the emotional difference. What would the Sadist do if he were here, wearing the Invisible Ring?

    No answers. No answers. Just a churning uneasiness that came from knowing that he would have to make a choice soon.

    Just when he thought the day couldn’t get any worse, it started raining again.

    “Hell’s fire,” Randolf snarled. “What’s wrong with Garth now?”

    “I don’t know,” Jared said as the big man ran awkwardly toward them, holding out his arms to help maintain his balance on the muddy road.

    Garth tended to roam ahead of the rest of them and then shuffle back to keep them in sight, much as a pet dog would do. The fact that the Gray Lady didn’t keep him on a tighter leash was another thing about her that baffled the other males. Granted, Garth couldn’t ride the Winds by himself, if he had ever been able to, and it wasn’t likely that he could get far enough away on foot to prevent the Gray Lady from incapacitating him with the agony that could be sent through the Ring of Obedience, but that leniency wasn’t typical in a slave owner.

    Jared shook his head. Right now, he wasn’t interested in puzzling over the peculiarities of female behavior. He was cold, wet, and tired. The afternoon light—what little of it there had been that day—was waning, and the only thing he was interested in was finding a place to make camp and getting something hot to eat. So his voice had an edge to it when he said, “What is it, Garth?”

    Garth gave no sign of having heard him. Instead of continuing toward Jared, he suddenly veered toward Corry and Cathryn, waving his arms as if he were trying to herd small farm animals into a pen.

    “Shoo! Shoo!” Garth shouted, waving his arms.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire