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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(40) by Anne Bishop
  • Blaed put one hand over his heart. “Really. My cousin served as an escort, and he explained it to me.”

    No one spoke. No one dared move until Cathryn lay down on the mattress and shyly smiled while Corry tucked the blanket around her.

    His eyes shining with pride and pleasure, Corry got settled on his own mattress, as close to the edge as possible.

    Jared looked away to hide his smile. He’d bet his boots that, by morning, those two would be curled up together like two puppies.

    The rest of them settled down. The candlelights that sat on a couple of small tables tucked against the walls were extinguished, but the fire in the hearth still provided enough light to see by.

    Jared pulled off his boots and set them beside his mattress. Tucking the blanket around him, he vanished the rest of his clothes and sighed with pleasure. With luck, he’d be up early enough to wash before Cathryn woke up, before Thera and the Gray Lady stirred.

    Despite his fatigue, sleep was a long time coming. The events of the day kept chasing each other, refusing to be stilled. He thought about the pride and pleasure in Corry’s eyes, thought about Thera’s remark about courtesy. No matter how he justified it, he couldn’t dismiss the knowledge that he, not Thera, should have been sleeping in the wagon tonight. He was the experienced pleasure slave. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the Gray Lady to use him without calling attention to it. And he could have used those private hours to learn more about her, which was essential if he wanted to find a way around the Invisible Ring, to ease his way home.

    Too late now.

    Jared looked at the jug of flowers sitting on the wooden table and couldn’t shake the feeling that, somehow, he’d made a mistake.

    Chapter Ten

    Krelis settled into a corner of the small carriage, soothed by the driver’s murmurs and the horse’s clip-clop rhythm. He could have hired one of the horseless coaches that were starting to fill up Draega’s wide streets and replace this quainter way of traveling, but they never felt quite right. Besides, there was something a little distasteful about using Craft to perform a task previously done by an animal. Oh, he’d heard the arguments in favor of the new coaches—no dependence on an animal’s well-being, cleaner streets, work for the coach drivers who had gotten tired of draining so much of their strength so that their inferiors could ride the Winds—but seeing another connection lost between the Blood and the land sometimes made him feel like he was standing in front of a closed window, trying to feel the wind.

    Krelis shut his eyes. He was just tired and impatient for news—and troubled by the High Priestess’s coy remarks about giving him a little more help. He understood her wanting to eliminate an enemy whose existence continuously undermined her plans for Terreille, but to sidestep explaining the arrangements she had made . . .

    He understood that, too. She was probably still feeling raw about the last Master’s betrayal. It would take some time to earn her trust.

    Besides, the first rule of the court was, Dorothea was never wrong.

    Even with that interference, it shouldn’t take the tame marauder bands long to find the Gray-Jeweled bitch. The spelled brass buttons he’d given his pet would lead them right to her. And they, in turn, would send him the buttons they found so that he could extract any messages his pet might have added.

    No, it wouldn’t take much longer.

    Then, maybe, he could get some sleep.

    Chapter Eleven

    Refreshed by a quick morning bath and a change of clothes, and fortified with strong, heavily sugared coffee, Jared stepped outside and wondered which would be more dangerous: asking Thera if she intended to make breakfast or having the men combine their limited cooking skills and risk her sharp-tongued wrath if the food was only marginally edible. Although, with Polli gone, Thera would need more help than Cathryn could give her, and no one expected a Queen to do chores, even though the Gray Lady had surprised them all by doing her share before she injured her knee. So Thera’s new helper would have to be male, and she’d just have to choke on it.

    Jared smiled. Maybe they could draw straws every morning. Short straw got to help Thera for the day. That would certainly start the mornings off with a kick. And since everyone would have an equal chance, no one could resent him for getting stuck with the duty.

    Still smiling, he started walking toward the pedlar’s wagon. The air had a crisp, clean bite to it, and the sky, for the first time in days, held no threat of rain.

    Out of the corner of his eye, Jared noticed Tomas trotting toward him from the direction of the privy hole. He raised his hand in greeting, but his smile faded when he saw the boy’s worried expression.

    Spiders and other insects were to be expected in a little wooden structure that enclosed a hole in the ground, although the herb bags that were hung in the corners not only freshened the air but seemed to discourage crawling company. Even though he hadn’t seen them, there were probably mice around—maybe even rats.

    Jared stiffened. Ordinary rats could be enough of a nuisance, but disturbing a nest of viper rats could be deadly. And young boys weren’t always sensible.

    He could still feel the sharp fear that had jabbed at him the summer his brother Davin had been bitten by a viper rat; could still remember how the venom had caused the six-year-old boy’s forearm to swell grotesquely. Even with Reyna’s healing skill, Davin had been ill for several days.

    “Tomas?” Jared searched the boy’s face for any sign of illness or injury. “What’s wrong?”

    Tomas didn’t look back at the privy hole. His worried brown eyes fastened on the wagon. “They’re both feeling pissy this morning.”

    Jared sighed, both annoyed and relieved. “So what else is new?”

    “I—I think Thera’s sick. She acted real funny when I asked them if they wanted some coffee. And the Gray Lady didn’t say nothing either, and youknow she likes coffee.”

    Yes, he did. Jared had never thought of coffee as a sensual experience until he’d watched the Gray Lady drink her morning cup.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire