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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(80) by Anne Bishop
  • “It might at that,” the butcher said, smiling.

    Outside, Blaed was mounted and waiting for him.

    They rode out of the village at a walk.

    Blaed caressed the Opal-Jeweled ring on his right hand. “I know I should put it away, but, Hell’s fire, it feels good to wear it again.”

    Jared twisted in his saddle. “If you put those Jewels aside before we get to Dena Nehele, I’ll cut your balls off. I swear it.”

    Blaed stared at him. Then he lowered his head and pursed his lips. “Since she treats us like a court circle and not bought flesh, we should act like a court circle. Is that what you’re saying?”

    “That’s what I’m saying.”

    Blaed studied the glowing Red Jewel hanging from the chain around Jared’s neck. “Suits me.” He paused, and added, “You going to insist on the Jewels all around?”

    “Everyone who can wear them.”

    Blaed nodded thoughtfully. “Shouldn’t be a problem. At least, it shouldn’t add to the ones we already have.”

    Jared felt a prickle between his shoulder blades. “What problems are those?”

    Blaed snorted. He sounded amused.

    Warlord Princes were a law unto themselves, Jared thought as he watched something shift in Blaed’s hazel eyes. A different breed of men, no matter what Jewels they wore. Men who rose to the killing edge as easily as other men slipped on a comfortable coat. Men who spent their lives dancing on the knife edge. Violently passionate—and passionately violent.

    “Yes, I’m dangerous,” Blaed said softly, as if he’d heard Jared’s thoughts. “I’m younger than you and less experienced, but you can’t dismiss what I am. You came close to what it’s like to be a Warlord Prince that night when you were in rut. Do you know why you didn’t kill the rest of us? She balanced you, grounded you. If Lia wasn’t the kind of Queen she is, you would have come out of it surrounded by corpses. That’s what’s inside me, all the time. Banked, that’s true, except for those times when it becomes too fierce to control and I have to surrender to the bed and give in to the rut. The only hope I have of not becoming a vicious killer, of not being a butcher when I’m sheathed between a woman’s thighs is serving a Queen who can balance me, ground me. It’s not so fierce then. In fact, as long as there’s no provocation, it’s fairly easy to control when you’re grounded by a strong Queen. Or so my father told me.”

    Jared licked his dry lips. “What if you couldn’t . . . what if there’s no relief, no release?”

    Blaed didn’t have to ask who Jared was talking about. “He never gets aroused. Never. But the rut has to be siphoned off somehow.” Blaed shuddered. “I think it’s best not to think about how he does it.”

    “We’re running,” Jared said. “You know that.”

    Blaed nodded. “We’re being hunted. I know that, too.”

    “One of us serves Dorothea SaDiablo.”

    Blaed digested this and nodded again. “At least one of us.”

    Jared narrowed his eyes. “You’re thinking of Garth?”

    “Hard not to.”

    Jared scanned the countryside. Then he opened his inner barriers enough to make a strong psychic probe.

    Nothing. Not even a pocket of emptiness that might have indicated a psychic shield. A lighter-Jeweled psychic shield, he amended. If there was a Red Jewel out there, he might not be able to sense it. But a Red wouldn’t go up against another Red. Not alone.

    “Whom do you trust among us?” Jared asked suddenly.

    “Besides Lia? Thera. Thayne because we grew up together. You.”

    Jared hesitated but had to ask. “Do you trust Thera because you’re attracted to her or because you truly believe she’s not a danger?”

    “Oh, she’s a danger,” Blaed replied, “but not to Lia.” He paused, then chose his words as if he were picking his way over rough ground. “Even when they were both trying to deceive everyone with those illusion spells, I think they recognized something in each other, something that made them friends despite the deception. Hell’s fire, Jared. Right from the start, they quarreled like friends who just couldn’t see eye to eye. So, yes, I trust Thera. Besides, I think she’s the kind of witch Dorothea would see as a rival, not a tool.”

    Jared thought that over and, reluctantly, had to agree. “What about the children? Do you trust them?”

    Blaed shook his head. “Too vulnerable. Useful as a weapon against us, though, unless you can hold Lia down during an attack.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire