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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(45) by Anne Bishop
  • “Maybe,” Jared said again. “Or maybe the company just hasn’t gotten here yet. Or maybe there’s Blood out there who outrank you and are shielded so you’re not aware of them.”

    He tensed when Brock’s hand closed on his arm, forcing him to turn and face the other man.

    “I was a First Circle guard, Warlord,” Brock said, anger simmering in his voice. “The Purple Dusk may not be one of the darker Jewels, but I’ve got the training, and I know what to look for. When I probe to find something, I find it, if it’s there at all.”

    Jared wasn’t sure of that, but he didn’t know that much about a guard’s training, so he didn’t disagree.

    “What’s happened, Jared?” Brock said, releasing Jared’s arm. “You’ve been straight with me since we started out, and now all of a sudden you’re talking smoke.”

    Jared turned to face the water, not so much to turn away from Brock but to keep his back to the others. He and Brock worked well together, and he liked the man. But liking and trusting weren’t the same thing, and trust was what Brock was asking for now.

    Keeping his voice neutral, Jared said, “If you could kill the Gray Lady, would you do it?” He flicked a glance at Brock, whose face and eyes were carefully blank.

    “If she died out here, we’d be free,” Brock answered, his voice giving nothing away.

    “Would you kill her?” Jared pressed.

    Brock seemed reluctant to answer, but finally said, “No.”

    Brock’s answer should have made Jared feel easier. It didn’t. He watched the water steal another plank from the bridge. “It could have been marauders.”

    Brock huffed.

    “It could have,” Jared insisted. “What if they destroyed the bridge to force us to take another road, find another bridge where they’ll be waiting for us?”

    “You mean waiting for her,” Brock said slowly, rubbing his chin. “They’d have no reason to think we’d fight. Slaves, if they’re smart, don’t take sides. If their owner wins, they wouldn’t survive the punishment if they’d helped her enemy, and they wouldn’t survive what the others would do to them if they fought for her and the enemy won. By doing nothing, a slave wouldn’t be any worse off and might even be granted the freedom to serve without a Ring.”

    “The only thing he’d be granted is the chance to whore his honor for the illusion of freedom,” Jared snapped. “He’d never really be trusted, never really be free. He wouldn’t be wearing a Ring he could feel or see, but—” The words suddenly stuck in Jared’s throat. “But he’d be trapped by it all the same,” he finished softly.

    Freedom from pain. Freedom from the constant physical reminder that your body belonged to someone else who could use you, hurt you, sell you, maim you simply because she wanted to. Freedom to have a lover, maybe even children. Freedom, for the price of giving up honor.

    And all a man would have to do was blindly obey.

    Like he’d been doing since they’d started this fool’s journey.

    Rage boiled up in Jared.

    “Jared?”

    As Jared shook off Brock’s restraining hand, he noticed the three boys scrambling among the boulders a little ways upstream, jostling each other as they threw sticks into the creek.

    Jared roared to vent some of his temper. “Tomas! Eryk! Corry! Get away from there!”

    Tomas grinned and waved. “We’ll be careful,” he shouted.

    “Keep an eye on them,” Jared snapped, pushing past Brock.

    Ignoring the worried looks of the others waiting by the wagon, Jared headed for the Gray Lady, who’d been wandering around in the field next to the creek since they’d had to stop. She limped toward him, her arms wrapped around her belly, too focused on the ground just ahead of her to notice his approach until he was almost on top of her.

    Jared grabbed her arm, too angry to be careful. “Make the Ring visible. Prove it’s there.Prove it .”

    Her eyes widened. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out.

    His hand tightened. “Or add the Ring of Obedience to it. I’m not going to play your games. I’m not going to fall for your tricks. You may own my body, but you’re never going to own my soul.”

    She stared at him as if he’d lost his mind.

    Right now, he wasn’t so sure he hadn’t.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire