Surreal slashed a look at Daemon and started to sweat. If that happened, what would Sadi do? Easy answer. The hard question was, what could any of them do to stop him from tearing Lucivar apart?

The first clash of the sticks had her heart jumping into her throat. After that she wasn't aware of anything except Jaenelle and Lucivar moving gracefully through a savage dance.

Seconds passed into minutes.

"Mother Night," Falonar whispered. "She's making him work for it."

Lucivar's chest glistened with sweat. Surreal could hear his deep, harsh breathing. Her own sweat chilled her skin when she saw the wild look in Jaenelle's eyes.

She didn't know how much time had passed when, after half a dozen lightning-fast moves, Jaenelle lost her balance for a split second. Lucivar danced back just long enough to let her get her feet solidly under her before attacking again.

"He could have put her on the ground right then and ended it," Falonar said softly.

"He wants to work her, not get her mad enough to really go after him," Chaosti replied just as softly, stepping up behind Surreal.

Finally, Hallevar yelled, "TIME!"

Lucivar and Jaenelle circled, thrust, clashed.


They broke apart, backed away.

Hallevar strode into the circle and took the stick away from Lucivar. He looked at Jaenelle, hesitated, then backed off when Lucivar shook his head.

"Come on, Cat," Lucivar gasped as he moved toward her. "We've got to walk to cool down."

Her head snapped up. She braced her feet in a fighting stance.

Lucivar held up his hands and kept moving forward.

The wild look in her eyes faded. "Water."

"Walk first," he said, taking the stick away from her.

"Prick," she snarled halfheartedly, but she walked with him.

"If you don't give me a hard time about it, you can even have breakfast." Lucivar handed the stick to Falonar as he and Jaenelle walked past. He took a couple of towels from Aaron, draped one over Jaenelle's neck, and began to rub himself down with the other.

Looking around, Surreal noticed that Khardeen was also in the crowd, watching and alert. And she noticed, with a sigh of relief, that Saetan was talking quietly with Daemon.

Turning back to Falonar, she brushed her fingers against the stick. "Do you think I'll ever get half that good with one of these?" She half expected some dismissive comment, but when he didn't answer, she looked up to see him studying her seriously.

"If you can become half as proficient with this as she is, you'll be able to take down any male except an Eyrien warrior," Falonar said slowly. "And you'll be able to take down half of them as well." Then he looked at Marian. "Are you all right, Lady?"

Marian let out a shuddering breath. "I'm fine, thank you, Prince Falonar. It's just... sometimes when they're so intense ..."

Falonar bowed just enough to show respect, then left them to talk with Hallevar.

"Are you really all right?" Surreal asked, drawing Marian a little ways away from the crowd.

Marian's smile was a trifle strained. "Lucivar's always tense after he's been at the service fair, and he's been worried about Daemon."

Looking back, Surreal saw Daemon walking toward the Hall with the High Lord. Well, that was one worry out of the way for the moment.

She also noticed the way Jaenelle kept glancing at Daemon while Lucivar piled food on a plate. She smiled.

"Usually I can help him relieve the tension," Marian continued.

Her self-conscious expression told Surreal exactly how Marian helped relieve the tension. The woman had guts to get into a bed with a man like Lucivar when his temper was already on the edge.

"Since that wasn't an option this time..."

No,Surreal thought as Marian gave her a speculative look. If Lucivar had never suggested an alternative to intercourse,she certainly wasn't going to supply the information.

After a moment, Marian shrugged. "Usually when Jaenelle is his sparring partner, they just keep working through the moves until he's sweated out the tension. But this morning... Jaenelle's relatives showing up like this has put her on edge, too."

"Yeah, seeing her family again isn't a reason to cheer."

Marian stiffened. "Herfamily lives here."

"Yes," Surreal said after a minute, "I guess they do."

2 / Kaeleer

Wilhelmina walked silently beside Lucivar as he escorted her to her room. She wished he would put his arm around her. Maybe then she would stop shivering. Maybe then she wouldn't feel so afraid.

That was funny. A few hours ago, she'd been terrified of him, especially after she'd seen him and Jaenelle attacking each other with the sticks.

Afterward, she'd tried to slip back to the Hall before anyone noticed because she'd been sure her heart would just burst if any of those Eyrien warriors snarled at her when she couldn't do the exercises properly. But Lucivar had noticed her slinking away. He'd grabbed the back of her tunic and hauled her into the practice circle.

And he'd been kind. While other Eyriens instructed the other women, and Marian and some of the coven had demonstrated the moves, he had worked with her and the girl, Jillian. Never in a hurry, never impatient, his hands firm but gentle when he repositioned her body, his voice always calm and encouraging.

She hadn't expected that from him. And she hadn't expected him to stay with her when she went to meet Alexandra, Leland, and Philip.

She should have said "no" when the High Lord told her they were here and wanted to talk to her. But she'd felt an obligation to see them, since they'd come all this way.

They'd been angry when Lucivar refused to let the Province Queens and the escorts into the room and refused to leave himself. Oh, he'd gone out onto the balcony, but no one was going to forget his presence.

She could tell they had been as insulted as she had been relieved, but theyhad been glad to see her. They'd all hugged her and complimented her on how pretty she'd become and how worried they had been about her and how much they'd missed her...

And then Alexandra told her not to worry. They would find a way to break the contract and get her out of this place and away from these people. She'd tried to explain that she intended to honor the contract, that the High Lord and Prince Yaslana weren't the monsters Alexandra was trying to make them out to be.

They didn't listen, just as they hadn't listened years ago when her father, Robert Benedict, had tried to force himself on her after Jaenelle disappeared—a few months after he had come down with the illness that had finally killed him. She had run away because she'd been afraid that, one day, no one would hear her screams or, if they did, would ignore them because she was turning into a "difficult" child, just like Jaenelle.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books