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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 58)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(58) by Anne Bishop
  • Reluctantly, she nodded.

    “Now, by the time you’d made your next-to-last purchase, there were still plenty of gold marks left to buy the double passage that would get you to a Coach station close to the Tamanara Mountains. And don’t give me any nonsense about the escorts bringing the marks with them for the next step of the journey. I had originally trained as an escort, Lady, and no man who serves in that capacity would have let you leave without making sure you had the means to get home on your own.” He raised his voice to drown out her indignant sputters. “So there must have been a secondary plan if you couldn’t meet them as agreed. Which meant you had the funds for that second passage.”

    “I told you—”

    Jared pressed his finger against her lips again. ‘“You came to buy five, and they were expensive purchases. Brock and Randolf would have been expensive, too. But Garth? You might have paid more than a simple, expendable laborer was worth, but it wouldn’t have lightened your purse by much.” When she started to protest, he held his hand firmly over her mouth. “Raej might be the prime slave fair and slave-owning might be an aristo indulgence, but even there a young, half-Blood male like Tomas wouldn’t go for much. With the way aristo Blood males have been mounting Ian-den females, you can go into just about any village and buy a starving little bastard of either sex. And little Cathryn— a pretty Blood female that an aristo male would use as a breeder after his broken wife produced the one child she’d be capable of bearing. But Cathryn’s only nine, and if healthy offspring are the intention, she isn’t going to be useful for several more years. So she wasn’t going to go for much either. Thera? I can’t imagine you had much competition bidding for a broken Black Widow with a vicious temper. Which leaves me.”

    She stared at him, wide-eyed.

    Jared took his hand away from her mouth and found he needed a moment to steady himself. “It was me, wasn’t it? Until you bought me, you still had the funds to buy passage on another Coach.”

    Lia shook her head, but he saw the truth in the shadows that darkened her gray eyes.

    “I know where the bidding starts for a fully trained pleasure slave—even a vicious one. And even though you weren’t bidding against anyone, the auction steward wouldn’t have accepted a price that was much less than the starting bid would have been. So I was the purchase that emptied your purse a little too much.”

    She wouldn’t look at him.

    “You can’t tell me I have things in the wrong order, Lia. It was almost closing when you came down to those pens. So I was the last one.” Taking the handkerchief, Jared wiped the fresh tears from her face. “Why, Lia? Why were you even down there?”

    “I don’t know,” Lia said, her voice catching. “I just needed to go down there. I knew there was something I needed to see.” She gave him a defiant look through eyelashes that were spiky from the tears.

    Jared frowned. “A compulsion spell?”

    Lia jerked. Her eyes widened, then narrowed thoughtfully. After a moment, she shook her head. “I would have sensed it.”

    “Would you? If a darker Jewel—”

    “You wouldn’t believe the drills I was put through,” Lia replied sourly. “No. I know what compulsion spells feel like. And I was drilled in how to look for all kinds of illusion webs, which is why I sensed something odd about Thera.” She shook her head again. “If itwas a compulsion spell, it was awfully subtle.”

    He wouldn’t have expected any other kind if it came from Hayll. Subtle and twisted. Now was probably not a good time to remind her that being able to recognize akind of spell didn’t guarantee being able to recognize aparticular spell.

    Had he been the bait for a trap? Had Dorothea deliberately warned Lia away from that Coach station so that she’d be stranded still within Hayll’s reach, forced to travel overland instead of riding the Winds?

    “Wait,” Jared said. “If you were planning to let us go, why didn’t you tell us at the inn? Why did you buy the wagon at all? No, look.” He gripped her shoulders. Remembering her bruises, he lightened his hold. “If you’d told us then, there were five of us who could have ridden the Winds and you would have had plenty of marks to buy passage for the others.”

    She searched his face and, after a moment, reached a decision. “There’s a ... wrongness . . . here. I can’t explain it better than that. I didn’t sense it until we were all together. In a way, Istill can’t sense it, but . . .”

    “Go on.”

    “At first I thought it was the illusion webs Thera and I were using, but it’s more, Jared, and I can’t pinpoint the source. It’s like catching something out of the corner of your eye but not being able to see it when you try to look directly at it. I couldn’t risk bringing that wrongness into Dena Nehele. I couldn’t risk having someone who might be full of Hayll’s kind of poison living freely among my people. So I decided to keep everyone together and let them think they were still slaves until I could find the source.”

    Jared leaned back. ‘“You let Polli go.”

    Lia took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “I told Talon about the wrongness. He’ll take . . . precautions.” She smiled bleakly, her eyes so full of shadows. “Besides, the wrongness is still here.”

    He didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes. Then he stood up. “Come on,” he said. “You’ll sleep better on a mattress in front of the fire than on a hard bench out here in the cold.”

    “No.” Lia hunched her shoulders. “I’ll stay here.”

    “No, you won’t.”

    There was more snap than shadow in her eyes now. “You can’t—”

    “I’m claiming Escort’s Privilege.”Checkmate, little witch , Jared thought as he smiled at her. When a Queen’s escorts weren’t available, another male could take on the duties of looking after the Lady. Since it was a temporary arrangement, Queens rarely refused a male’s claim—especially if his Jewels happened to outrank hers.

    She muttered and sputtered while he bundled her up and carried her out of the wagon. Her comments about escorts poking their noses into personal concerns became more pungent after he asked her if she needed to use the privy hole.

    “There were extra mattresses, so I put down a double thickness for you,” Jared said as he carried her to the building.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire