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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(60) by Anne Bishop
  • Krelis’s legs turned to jelly. Before he could think of some way to respond, the door between the bedroom and sitting room opened.

    The Warlord toy-boy didn’t look sulky or defiant this morning. And he didn’t have the sated look of a man who had spent a hot night in bed. He looked haunted, numb, as if he’d passed beyond fear sometime in the early hours and was only beginning to feel the tingle of reawakened emotions. The hunger in his eyes was focused on the coffeepot and basket of pastries, not on the barely dressed woman.

    Krelis watched Dorothea’s expression change. She reminded him of a satisfied cat who had just remembered the mouse beneath her paw.

    “It’s still early, darling,” Dorothea purred. “Go back to bed.”

    Flinching, the Warlord obeyed.

    After tossing the half crescent back into the basket, Dorothea raised her arms and stretched luxuriously. “There’s nothing quite like staying in bed on a rainy morning, don’t you think?”

    For a moment, just a moment, Krelis pictured the three of them tangled in satin sheets and wasn’t sure if he felt revolted or aroused. Then common sense—and a healthy dose of fear—grounded him. Hoping she’d overlook his hesitation, he tried to smile. “It’s a necessary indulgence for Ladies. Unfortunately, the mundane tasks we males perform don’t disappear in rainy weather.”

    “And I’ve kept you from your tasks long enough,” Dorothea said with a knowing smile. “I imagine your mother enjoys rainy mornings.”

    The verbal knife slipped past all his defenses and left him bleeding. “I imagine so, Priestess,” he said weakly.

    A muffled, pitiful weeping came from behind the bedroom door.

    Turning toward the sound, Dorothea stroked her br**sts.

    Krelis fled.

    He walked back to the guards’ quarters, completely unaware that he was getting soaked to the skin.

    Aristo word games. Sentences with layers of meaning.

    He remembered the mother of his childhood as a lovely woman content with her life; a woman who filled the house with her laughter and singing; a woman whose eyes lit up when his father was in the room.

    He remembered the woman who fought with a witch’s passion when the Healer tried to refuse to help Olvan; the woman whose pride and courage had shamed the merchants when they tried to insist that she pay immediately instead of sending her a monthly account as was customary; the woman who looked her neighbors in the eye until they avoided her.

    He remembered the woman whose courage finally crumbled after so many years of isolation; the woman who became emotionally bitter and brittle; the woman whose eyes were full of contempt for the man she’d loved; the woman who kept her distance from her son, as if he, too, would place a burden on her that was past bearing.

    He remembered the woman who crept back to her family, leaving him to deal with the merchants and face the neighbors, leaving him with that soul-withered husk of a man who spent his days rereading beloved books and never going beyond the garden gate, leaving him to share in his father’s shame for no other reason than because he was male.

    And he remembered the woman who brought him back into her family once he’d severed all ties with Olvan; the woman who had looked at him out of dead eyes; the woman who flaunted a string of lovers, who spread her legs for any male who had some position and power.

    Oh, yes, he imagined his mother stayed in bed on rainy mornings.

    Krelis reached his rooms and stripped out of his wet clothes.

    Aristo games. Witches’ games. He still didn’t really know the rules. Despite having ties with the Hundred Families, his people had been countryfolk. He hadn’t been raised to play these games. Dorothea must have known that.

    Which made him wonder, for the first time, why she had chosen him to be her Master of the Guard.

    Chapter Thirteen

    Jared slipped out of the stone building, pausing to take a deep breath of crisp night air. No one would follow him. He’d made it clear since the evening meal that he wanted to be alone. Lia was settled for the night and wouldn’t need him for a little while.

    Jared smiled. Lady Ardelia had spent the past two days resenting needing him at all, giving him dark looks and muttering under her breath every time he’d carried her from the table to her mattress. Every time he’d carried her to the privy hole, it had taken her resentment half an hour to thaw enough for her to speak to him again. And every time she’d tried to get around him, he’d remind her of Escort’s Privilege and wisely stay out of reach for a few minutes while she muttered and snarled.

    But his “unreasonable” attitude and stubbornness about not letting her walk on her injured leg had produced swift results. By combining his basic healing skills with Thera’s and Lia’s knowledge of healing, they had almost fully healed her knee, enough so that this afternoon she’d been able to hobble around as long as she held on to something—usually Tomas’s shoulder.

    Her efforts to resist help from him had irritated and amused him in equal measure. At least she’d had sense enough to restrict her helpers to Thera and the children. It would be ludicrous to feel jealous about them, and he could tolerate Blaed’s courtesies to Lia because Blaed was interested in Thera. But the other adult males . . .

    It wasn’t so much jealousy, he decided as he studied the full moon and clear sky. It was the possessiveness and territoriality that was a male’s response to a witch’s moontime.

    Especially a witch who was also a virgin. It was the sexual potential of the other males that put him on edge, made him watch them with suspicious eyes whenever they got too close to Lia. After all, they hadn’t known each other when Lia bought them a few days ago—and a few days didn’t buy a lot of trust when balanced against instincts bred into males for generations—and those instincts had been riding him hard since they got back to the clearing.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire