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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(39) by Anne Bishop
  • She had reached the door before Tomas spoke up. “Lady? Aren’t you going to tell us the next part of the story?”

    Jared turned to look at her. Her eyes were closed. Pain deepened the lines in her face.

    “Not tonight,” she said in a husky voice. She stepped out into the rain, hobbling over slippery ground to the wagon.

    Guilt stabbed at Jared. As glad as they were to get away from her, she was even more relieved to get away from them. A Queen should never feel that way about the males who served her.

    Jared shook his head. Hedidn’t serve her. She had bought him. He owed her no loyalty. No matter how many back roads they traveled, they’d have to come close to the Winds sooner or later. That’s when he’d try to slip the leash. To go home long enough to see his family, and talk to Reyna.

    The dishes were washed and put away about the same time the thin mattresses, blankets, and pillows that they’d found in the cupboards that filled the left side wall were spread out over the floor.

    As Jared started pulling off his boots, he noticed Thera’s longing glance at the hipbath and folded screen that stood in one corner of the room. He understood the longing. He’d been wet for three days, but that didn’t mean he felt clean.

    Shaking her head, Thera picked up the kettle heating on the stove, dropped a gauze herb bag into two mugs, and filled them with hot water.

    Jared shoved his foot back into the boot and went over to her. “We could move the hipbath over near the stove for warmth,” he said quietly. “It wouldn’t take much Craft to heat the water, and the screen would give you privacy.”

    Thera didn’t look at him. Picking up a spoon, she poked at the herb bags. “Is that how it works among your people? Giving one woman an extra dollop of courtesy evens out giving another one none at all?”

    Jared’s temper flared, but he kept his voice even. “You approve of what she did today?”

    “Even good Queens sometimes have to make bitter choices.” Thera lifted the herb bags out of the mugs, set them in a small bowl, and picked up the mugs. “Step aside, Lord Jared. I want to turn in now.”

    “You’re going out to the wagon,” he said accusingly.

    Her green eyes became shadowed with something that sent a shiver up his spine, reminding him that, even when she was broken, it was wiser not to tangle with a Black Widow.

    “Are you going to try and stop me?” she asked too gently.

    Jared stepped aside. When she closed the door behind her, he let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

    A few minutes later, little Cathryn realized she was the only female in a room full of men.

    “Where’s Thera?” she asked, her eyes darting around the room as if looking for a way to escape.

    “Thera’s staying in the wagon,” Jared said soothingly. “She and the Gray Lady need to be alone tonight.”

    The men stirred, instinctively wanting to ease Cathryn’s fear while bitterly knowing there was nothing they could do without escalating that fear into full-scale panic.

    Corry worried his lower lip while he watched Cathryn. Then he pushed his mattress over until it touched hers. “It’ll be all right, Cathryn. I’ll sleep right beside you.”

    “You can’t,” Cathryn said shrilly. “You’re a boy.”

    Blaed cleared his throat. “Since Corry’s taken on the duties of an escort, it seems to me he’s entitled to claim Escort’s Privilege.”

    Cathryn looked uncertain.

    Corry looked hopeful.

    Eryk and Tomas looked envious.

    Jared closed his eyes. Sweet Darkness, please don’t let them start squabbling. Cathryn couldn’t handle it, and the rest of them wouldn’t tolerate it.

    “What’s that mean?” Cathryn finally asked.

    Blaed tugged at his collar as if it had suddenly become too tight. “Well, it means that, when a Lady is feeling a bit nervous for any reason, it’s an escort’s duty and privilege to stay nearby, especially when she’s sleeping.”

    “Really?” Cathryn said doubtfully.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire