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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(54) by Anne Bishop
  • He studied the man’s face. What lay behind those pale blue eyes? “Thank you for saving Eryk and Tomas.”

    Garth just looked at him. Then his lips curved in a slow smile. He raised one huge hand in a casual salute and turned his attention back to the road.

    Too many things hidden, Jared thought, as Blaed joined him. A Green-Jeweled Queen pretending to be a Gray. A broken Black Widow who wasn’t broken. A mind-damaged man who kept showing flashes of training and intelligence.

    And, possibly, an enemy who might wear the face of a friend.

    Too many questions.

    Jared put those thoughts aside. There wasn’t time for questions. But later, when they were all safely tucked away in the clearing, he intended to get some answers.

    Using Craft to balance the two steaming mugs, Jared rapped once on the wagon’s door and went in without waiting for a response.

    The witchlight he’d created earlier had grown small and dim, the power that had sustained it almost exhausted. He couldn’t see her face in the gloom, but opening his first inner barrier a crack was enough to sense her pain—and her fear of the male strength that might descend on her now that her ability to protect herself was so impaired. Wasn’t that why she’d chosen the cold solitude of the wagon to the warmth and company in the stone building?

    After feeding the witchlight a few drops of his Red strength so that they’d be able to see each other, he thought about using a warming spell to make the wagon more comfortable.

    And decided against it.

    “Here,” Jared said, handing her one of the mugs. ‘“This brew won’t help your bruises or your knee, but it should ease the other discomfort a little.”

    She cradled the mug for its warmth. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

    Jared sat on the opposite bench and sipped his coffee. He understood the hesitation. One of the first things the Blood learned when they began their formal training was how to probe food and drink for substances that shouldn’t be there. It didn’t always work. There were subtle poisons, substances that were harmless until they were added to something else, sedatives that could react fast enough to leave a person at the mercy of an unsuspected enemy. She’d be a fool not to test it.

    Watching her rub her finger around the mug’s rim, he wondered if she could do even that much Craft right now.

    “I made a cup for Thera, too,” Jared said.

    She took a tiny sip, then stared at the mug in surprise. “It tastes good.” She studied him without quite looking at him. “Where did you learn to make a healing brew?”

    “My mother is a Healer. I picked up a few things.” Which wasn’t quite a lie. Hehad picked up some basic healing Craft from Reyna. The moontime brews just didn’t happen to be part of it.

    But the words did what he’d expected them to do. A Healer was a respected woman, and there was the implicit faith that a Healer wouldn’t create a brew that would harm.

    He knew better. In places that stood in Hayll's shadow, Healers weren’t always well trained or respected, and some had made the choice to harm others in order to save themselves.

    Watching her shoulders relax as she took another sip, he felt relieved that the healing Craft was still strong in Dena Nehele.

    He didn’t want to hurt her. She was hurting so much already. But her self-imposed exile had made it possible for him to talk with her privately without calling attention to it, and there were questions he had put aside while they returned to the clearing, ate, and settled in for the evening, too weary to do anything more.

    So he tried to keep his voice gentle and soothing, and sent out psychic tendrils of reassurance so that his strength and maleness wouldn’t intimidate her so much she wouldn’t talk to him.

    “Lady . . .” Jared paused. Frowning, he sipped his coffee. What was he supposed to call her? Did the people in the court address her as Lady Arabella Ardelia? Formally perhaps, but surely not in a normal conversation. Lady Arabella? That made him think of a fair, dainty woman who wore ruffles and lace, not this tall, strong-boned, solid-muscled young woman with generous curves. Lady Ardelia?

    Yes.

    A woman as strong as the land, with a heart of fire.

    The Lady, on the other hand, might have a different opinion.

    “What do your people call you?” he asked, surprised at how much her answer might disappoint him.

    For the first time since he’d entered the wagon, she looked directly at him. Her lips twitched. “My father calls me Bella. My mother calls me Belle.” Her expression darkened, and her lips curled in a silent snarl. “My cousin calls me belly button.” She sipped the brew and muttered under her breath, “I never liked my cousin.”

    Jared wisely raised his mug to his lips, covering the smile. “Which do you prefer?”

    “Lia,” she said. “When I was seven, I decided I wanted to be called Lia. So that’s what everyone calls me now— except my parents.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire