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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(30) by Anne Bishop
  • There was something sadly amusing about watching Garth, but there was nothing amusing about the way the children froze, their eyes getting bigger and bigger, or the fear in Corry’s face when he grabbed Cathryn’s hand and ran back to the wagon.

    “Garth,” Jared yelled, starting toward him.

    Garth changed directions and ran toward Eryk. ‘’Shoo! Shoo!“

    “Garth!” Jared put the crack of a lash into his voice. He held his ground when Garth turned again, and clenched his teeth when the big man grabbed his upper arms and lifted him off his feet.

    “ ‘Rauders!” Garth shouted, shaking him. “Fight ’rauders!”

    Jared felt Randolfs bristling temper and wondered if this was going to turn into a maiming fight. Then he felt Brock’s battle calm and saw the other man silently come around behind Garth. Randolf might have been a well-trained guard before being made a slave, but in a fight, Jared would rather have Brock’s steadiness at his back any day.

    “Put me down, Garth,” Jared said firmly.

    “Fight ‘rauders!” Garth insisted.

    “When you put me down.”

    Garth dropped him.

    Jared slipped on the mud and would have landed on his back if Garth hadn’t grabbed him again, planting his feet so firmly on the road it made his bones rattle.

    “Damn it, Garth!” Jared snapped as he stepped out of reach.

    Garth just hopped from one foot to the other in an anxious, shuffling dance. “ ‘Rauders!” he said, growing more insistent and more frantic.

    Jared eyed the big man, then took a deep breath and blew it out. Hell’s fire. There weren’t any marauders. No one but slaves owned by a stubborn idiot of a Queen would be traveling on a day like this. Most likely, Garth had spotted an animal moving through the brush and trees that bordered the road. Although . . . unless they had been startled for some reason, even animals would find a spot to shelter in, wouldn’t they?

    Made uneasy by that thought as well as Garth’s continued distress, Jared sent out a wide psychic probe that spanned the narrow road and extended several yards on either side. A few seconds later, he choked back a shiver of fear.

    Still out of sight but coming steadily toward them were thirteen Blood males—twelve Warlords . . . and a Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord Prince whose psychic scent had that distinctive blend of viciousness and passion that separated Warlord Princes from other males. They were a law unto themselves, no matter what Jewels they wore. And they were always dangerous.

    Jared took a step back before he could stop himself. “Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.” He whipped around to face Randolf and Brock. “Get everyone back to the wagon. Now!”

    Brock narrowed his eyes as if that would let him see farther in the pouring rain. “Jared—”


    Brock and Randolf looked at Garth, who was now standing in the middle of the road with his legs far enough apart for good balance and his huge hands clenched. Nodding grimly, they wrapped their hands around his thick-muscled arms and dragged him toward the wagon, leaving Jared alone on the road.

    Jared raked one hand through his dark hair and swore when the rain squeezed out by the motion trickled down his back.

    Thirteen men, all of them wearing Jewels. He’d pulled back the moment his psychic probe had touched the Sapphire shield and he realized it belonged to a Warlord Prince, so there hadn’t been time to discern how dark the other Jewels were. The Sapphire was probably the strongest among them, but that didn’t help much. If he were free to use the Red Jewels, he could take a Warlord wearing the Sapphire. But the Red were only one Jewel rank darker than the Sapphire. That wasn’t enough of an advantage against a man who was, by his very nature, a killer. A Warlord Prince wasn’t going to stand back and let anyone strike at his lighter-Jeweled followers. And if he was rogue, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain from a fast, vicious strike that would leave most of them helpless.

    Except the Gray. If that Gray strength was unleashed . . .

    Jared shuddered, his mind suddenly filled with the image of a chess piece scampering around the board, attacking, defending.

    You’re a slave. Remember that! You’re aslave.

    It should have mattered. It didn’t. He couldn’t stand by and watch the Gray Lady risk herself in a battle while there was one man among them who was still standing.

    The Warlord Prince and his men came into sight a couple of minutes later. In the waning light and the rain, they were nothing more than dark, moving shapes, but he felt the power that swirled around them.

    And the anger.

    For a moment he just stood there, torn between his instincts to protect and the reality of his position. As a slave, he was forbidden to wear the Jewels, and without that reservoir of power, all he had was the strength that was always within him. Granted, it was a deeper well than most of the Blood had, but not enough against a Sapphire who could draw on his reserves and sustain the attack.

    Jared turned away and kept a measured stride as he walked back to where the wagon had stopped. He felt a swift, light probe brush against his inner barriers and pushed back instinctively, letting the Warlord Prince know for certain that he would face one man who was a Jewel rank darker.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire