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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(41) by Anne Bishop
  • Jared drained his cup and handed it to Tomas. “Tell Blaed and Thayne to do what they can with breakfast. I’ll see what I can do for the Ladies.”

    Glad to hand the worry over to someone else, Tomas dashed for the stone building.

    Jared squared his shoulders and forced his legs to move toward the wagon. Prudently standing to one side, he knocked on the door.

    No answer.

    He knocked harder.

    Still no answer.

    Were they too weak or too sick to call out?

    His heart climbed into his throat as he pushed the door open.

    “Get out!” Thera’s voice was full of temper edged with fear.

    Jared stood on the top step and swore silently. Thera and the Gray Lady sat on the benches, two lumpy shapes hunched under a mound of blankets. Tomas was right; neither of them looked well.

    And, Hell’s fire, it wascold in there! Were they both masochists or was this a subtle punishment for the males, a way to strip the pleasure out of having slept in a warm room? Maybe Thera couldn’t have sustained a warming spell all night, but the Gray Lady certainly could have with a minimal amount of her Gray strength.

    Jared opened his mouth to make a stinging comment. . . and tasted the difference in the air. Thera was in her moontime.

    It was one of those things that remained unspoken between the genders. Once a Blood male passed puberty, he became sensitive to the smell of moon’s blood and could recognize it no matter how carefully a woman tried to mask it. Jared wasn’t sure if it was a subtle change in a woman’s psychic scent or a slight difference in her physical scent or a combination of both that alerted the males, but they could taste it in the air, smell it when they passed her on the street.

    It was the time when every sexually mature witch became vulnerable. For the first two or three days, doing more than basic Craft was physically painful for her, and the stronger the witch, the more of her psychic strength had to be drained into the Jewels during those days because her body couldn’t tolerate it.

    During that time, unless she had the protection of other witches, she was at the mercy of the males around her.

    Within a family, that sharpened the males’ territorial and protective instincts. Within a court, it sharpened the tempers of all the males in the First Circle. Within a village, men learned to ride the ebb and flow of women’s moods, concentrating their attention on the women in their families, their lovers, and particular friends who had to tolerate affectionate bullying and overprotectiveness.

    “Would you like some coffee?” Jared asked, glancing at the Gray Lady. Hell’s fire, she really didn’t look well either. Maybe she had caught a chill. The Darkness only knew why the rest of them hadn’t gotten sick after walking in cold rain for the past few days and sleeping outside on wet ground. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t answered him yesterday until he’d contacted her with a Green communication thread. Maybe she’d already started to become ill and didn’t feel physically strong enough to wear the Gray. The Green could be her Birthright Jewel. It would make sense that she’d ease back to her Birthright Jewel if she wasn’t feeling well. Damn. How sick was she? A chill could turn into something serious if it wasn’t taken care of. But it could just be a griping belly. That could make a person feel miserable without being serious. If he asked, would she tell him what was wrong? Doubtful, unless she became very sick. And if she did . . . What in the name of Hell was he supposed to do if she did?

    And why did it matter so much if she was sick or not?

    He didn’t want to think about that. So he focused his attention on the fact that neither of them had answered his first question and tried again. “How about some hot water for a brew?”

    “Thank you,” the Gray Lady said dully. “That would be welcome.”

    Jared closed the door and blew out a breath. After breakfast, he would clear everyone out of the building and give the two women some privacy if they wanted a hot bath. And he’d have to remember to give Thera discreet opportunities to take care of her private needs.

    There wasn’t anything he could do for the Gray Lady without knowing what was wrong with her, but if she allowed him to look through her healing herbs, he knew several brews that would help ease Thera’s discomfort.

    The Sadist had taught him every one of them.

    At the time, it had amazed him that a man who was a master at emotional cruelty was so well versed at easing a woman’s physical discomfort. On the other hand, he never saw Daemon give one of those brews to the Queen who controlled them or the aristo witches in her First Circle. Those brews found their way to the female servants’ living quarters and the women who would get no other pampering.

    Brock met him at the door when he returned to the stone building.

    “Problem?” Brock asked quietly.

    “Thera’s feeling a little bitchy,” Jared replied, wondering if men from other Territories used that phrase in the same way.

    Brock’s shoulders relaxed. “Ah. Well, we can give her breathing room and keep the pups from pestering her. What about the Gray Lady?”

    Jared shrugged and lied to himself that he didn’t feel concerned. “She might have a stomach chill or something.”

    Blaed and Thayne both had more skill at a stove than he’d suspected, and a few minutes later he and Tomas were carrying full plates and cups of hot water to the wagon. Keeping his distance so that he wouldn’t upset Thera, he set a plate and cup next to each of them and retreated after mentioning the availability of the hipbath.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire