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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(51) by Anne Bishop
  • “Not for fun,” she snapped. “For the Gray Lady.”

    “For the Gray Lady. Of course. How could I forget? Do you even know her? Or was that the best disguise you could think of?”

    “Of course I know her.” She raised her chin and glared at him. “I’m in her First Circle.”

    Jared narrowed his green eyes. A young, talented witchmight serve in a Territory Queen’s First Circle in order to receive special training before ruling a Province or District on that Queen’s behalf. “How old are you?”

    “Thirty-seven.”

    He laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. If the little witch wanted to play games, he’d play games.

    He raked his eyes over her in a way that couldn’t be interpreted as anything but an insult. “I’d guess fifteen. Maybe sixteen.”

    “I’m twenty-one!”

    She sounded too outraged to be lying.

    “And with the Gray Lady’s consent, you went trotting off to Raej, pretending to be a Gray-Jeweled Queen.” He shook his head and tsked. “Not a very sporting thing for a Queen to ask of a young protégée . . . unless, of course, she was trying to eliminate a rival.”

    Her eyes glittered with suppressed fury, but her voice became dismissively chilly. “I told you everything you need to know.”

    He studied her for a moment. That she’d taken an insult to the Gray Lady personally was a strong indication that shewas a member of the First Circle—or at least a member of the court. And, perhaps, telling the truth.

    He saw her shiver and leashed his temper. What was wrong with him that he was fighting with her when she needed attention? His father would have skinned him for neglecting his duties for such an indulgence.

    Stepping away from the door, Jared reached for her coat. ‘I’ll help you get out of those wet clothes.“

    “No,” she said quickly, her hands clutching the front of the coat and tunic, holding them closed. She pressed her back against the storage boxes, her body tensing as he bent over her. “I can manage.”

    Jared closed his hand over one of her ice-cold fists and tugged gently. “You’re cold, exhausted, bruised, and can’t even stand up without falling over. According to all the rules my father thumped into my stubborn head, this is exactly the sort of circumstance when a Queen should put aside her pride and let someone help her.”

    He tugged again. Her fist tightened.

    He tried dredging up the smile that used to charm Reyna into giving him an extra nutcake.

    She stared at him as if he’d grown fangs.

    “Hell’s fire, Lady,” Jared growled as he tried to loosen her hands. “This can’t be the first time a man has offered to undress you.”

    She said nothing.

    All right, he understood her being nervous. They’d been arguing. It was her moontime, and she was vulnerable. Her disguise had failed for some reason, and she didn’t have the Gray Lady’s reputation to hide behind anymore. But, Hell’s fire, you’d think she’d never—

    Jared took a good look at her pale, tight face and backed away so fast he yelped when he hit the door. His hand shook as he pointed a finger at her, and said accusingly, “You’re a virgin. Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful,you’re a virgin .”

    Still clutching the coat, she eyed him warily. “There’s no reason to get hysterical. It’s not contagious.”

    Jared raked his fingers through his hair, dizzied by the conflicting emotions spinning through him. “What’s wrong with your people? What’s wrong with yourfamily ? How could they let a virgin Queen out of her home village without an escort, let alone out of the Territory?” His temper roared to life with a vengeance. “What kind of man is your father to let you go to a place like Raej?”

    “What doyou know about my people or my family?” She swung her legs off the bench and sucked air through her teeth. “And don’t you dare insult my father!”

    Jared took a step forward. “If you stand on that leg, I’ll do what your father should have done. I’ll put you over my knee and wallop some sense into you! I swear it!”

    “Unlike some people, I don’t sit on my brains, Warlord!”

    “That’s highly debatable, Lady!”

    Someone tried to open the door and smacked his arm since he was still blocking it.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire