Did Grizelle come to the auctions to act as a slave trader for the marauders and rogue packs who hid in the Tamanara Mountains and wouldn’t dare approach Raej because they’d probably end up on the auction block themselves?
Jared’s stomach churned. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and willed himself to stay calm. What could he do? Challenge a Gray-Jeweled Queen? If she unleashed the Gray, she’d destroy him completely. Which might be preferable to finding out what would happen if she used the Invisible Ring. He understood the Jewels, but this thing he couldn’t see, couldn’t touch, couldn’t sense in any way . . .
The outside door opened, and a female voice said, “Good, you’re awake. At least we won’t have to drag you to the wagon and dump you on top of the supplies.”
Jared leaped up, knocking over the chair, his heart hammering in his chest.It isn‘t her , he thought as he looked at the startled dark-haired, green-eyed woman standing in the doorway.It isn’t her .
“Maybe we would have been better off if wehad had to dump you on top of the supplies,” she muttered after a moment’s silence. Then she gave him one sharp-eyed, head-to-toe look that plainly said there were already too many troublesome males around for her liking, and he was going to be another one. “Better prance on out there. She’s ready to leave, and we wouldn’t want the prize dangle to get dragged along like a reluctant puppy on a leash, would we?”
Anger flooded him, but it had no heat, no bite. It was like his blood was being clogged with ashes instead of flowing with fire.
And there was something very wrong with the way hewasn’t responding to the presence of a witch, broken or not.
A sour taste filled the back of his mouth, and he started to shake.
The woman stepped forward, reaching out to him. “Are you still sick?”
Jared recoiled from her touch.
“He was doing fine until you came in,” Tomas snapped.
Her eyes frosted over until they were green ice. “Be careful, little man,” she said in an awful, quiet voice before she turned around and walked out.
“Areyou still sick?” Tomas asked, looking anxious. “Should I tell the Lady you need to ride in the wagon?”
Jared continued to shake. When Tomas darted for the door, he managed to grab the boy’s arm.
“No,” Jared said, forcing the word out. “I’d—I’d rather walk.” He took a deep breath. Took another. “That was Thera?”
Tomas sighed. “That was Thera.”
With one hand on Tomas’s shoulder to steady himself, Jared left the guest servants’ quarters and slowly followed the pedlar’s wagon and the wary slaves who trailed behind it.
Thera had done him a favor without realizing it. At least he understood now.
He was still male. He still had the strength of the Red Jewels. He still had his skill in using Craft. What he had lost, what the wild stranger had taken away, was the fire and passion that made a Jeweled male a Warlord.
Krelis didn’t stare at Dorothea SaDiablo, nor did he avert his eyes. One action would have been considered a challenge; the other, a lack of appreciation. Either error could cost a man freedom or flesh.
Instead, he looked at the disheveled young Warlord lying on the chaise lounge with Hayll’s High Priestess.
Not a pleasure slave, Krelis decided as he studied the young Warlord’s kiss-swollen, sulky mouth. Must be one of the toy-boys, maybe even an aristo youth from one of the Hundred Families who had been given the honor of serving in Dorothea’s court. Didn’t really matter, pleasure slave or toy-boy, except the toy-boys had social status so they couldn’t be physically mistreated that much, and were still considered men. Pleasure slaves were considered geldings who still had their balls.
At least some of them did.
Dorothea gave the young Warlord one more throat-swabbing kiss before leisurely rising from the chaise lounge. “Did she take the bait?” she asked as she buttoned her gown, her hands smoothing the material over her firm, small br**sts.
Krelis took a deep breath to steady himself. “Yes, Priestess—”
She cut him off with a sharp, restrained hand gesture.
Krelis’s face tightened as the young Warlord smirked at him. He understood the youth’s need to make some attempt at superiority, however temporary it might be, but a Master of the Guard was considered the dominant warrior in a court, and any undermining of his authority might lead to actions that could put his Lady at risk. The youth’s Yellow Jewel was no match for his Sapphire, and the difference-in their Jewel rank was reason enough to give Dorothea’s new toy a disciplinary lesson. As for the difference in their social rank ... If the young Warlordwas an aristo from one of the Hundred Families and not from an offshoot, Krelis could become embroiled in the kind of quarrel that might lead to his dismissal—or worse.
He should have known Dorothea wouldn’t miss, or ignore, silent challenges between two males who served her.
Looking over her shoulder, Dorothea gave the youth a malevolent smile, and purred, “I won’t be long, darling. Why don’t you amuse yourself? I want you hot when I get back.”
Krelis felt no pleasure at seeing the distress in the youth’s eyes. They both knew Dorothea’s saying that in front of another man was punishment, and more humiliating than any physical discipline Krelis might have inflicted. They both knew a warrior was more valuable to the court than a handsome youth who could be replaced so easily. And they both knew what could happen if the toy-boy wasn’t ready to please Dorothea by the time she returned.
Krelis started to turn away, but Dorothea didn’t move. She continued to stare at the young Warlord until his eyes turned tear-bright and his muscles started to quiver. Swallowing hard, he opened his trousers all the way and slipped his hand inside.
Satisfied, Dorothea led Krelis out of her sitting room and began to stroll toward another wing of the SaDiablo mansion.
“So the bitch took the bait,” Dorothea said.
Krelis’s mouth dried up. Sweat gathered in his armpits. “She disappeared. She bought passage for the westernmost station that could be reached by taking a Coach out of Raej, but when the Coach finally reached the station, it was several hours overdue and there was no one in it except the drivers. Neither of them could explain the lost hours nor what had happened to the Gray Lady and the slaves she’d purchased at the auction.”