The flies were an additional torment, buzzing around the lash wounds on his back and belly that had reopened when the guards had pulled his hands behind his back and yanked his arms up to tie the straps to the back posts.
One fly landed on Jared’s cheek. He closed his eye before the fly could reach it.
The guard stared at him for a moment, then cursed savagely. “You son of a whoring bitch, are you winking at me?” Grabbing Jared by the hair, he used Craft to call in a knife, then slowly turned the blade until all Jared could see was the sharp edge. “Well, slut, you don’t need two eyes to dig salt.”
Jared panted as the blade came closer, closer. Explaining wouldn’t help him. Neither would pleading. If he used Craft to protect himself, all the guards would be down on him and, by the time it was over, he’d end up losing more than an eye.
Just before the blade came close enough to cut, the guard jerked, stumbled back a step. He shook his head as if to clear it, then rubbed the small of his back with a fist. When he turned around, he froze and let out a soft whimper.
Jared blinked rapidly, not sure if it was tears or sweat blinding him. Didn’t matter. The guard was between him and whatever had caught the man’s attention.
During those long seconds when the guard stood frozen, Jared became aware of the silence. All the usual, small noises inside a slave pen had stopped, as if slaves and guards alike were afraid to do anything that might call attention to themselves.
Finally, the guard vanished the knife and moved away slowly, awkwardly, as if his legs had become unsteady.
No longer blocked by the guard’s body, Jared looked straight into Daemon Sadi’s cold, golden eyes.
If pleasure slaves were the aristos in the slave hierarchy, then Daemon Sadi was as far above the rest of them as they were to the slaves used for hard labor. Looking at his broad-shouldered body and beautiful face or listening to his deep, sexy-edged voice was enough to arouse most women—and quite a few men, regardless of their preference. He could seduce anything that breathed.
They called him the Sadist because he was as cruel as he was beautiful. Owned by Dorothea SaDiablo, he’d been a pleasure slave for centuries and wore the Ring of Obedience. He was also a strong Warlord Prince, and people who annoyed Sadi had an odd way of disappearing.
Jared sighed in relief when Daemon finally looked away, the bored expression on that beautiful face betraying no thoughts, no feelings. But the voice that reached Jared on a Red psychic spear thread held sympathy and understanding.
*So. You finally couldn’t stomach it anymore.*
Jared thought of the last Queen who had owned him, and the kinds of bedroom games she and her Prince brother had wanted to play. He shuddered. *No, I couldn’t stomach it anymore,* he replied. *I couldn’t stomachthem.*
If Daemon hadn’t taken an interest in him eight years ago when they’d been in the same court, he wouldn’t have survived this long. Pleasure slaves tended to become emotionally unstable after a few years of serving in the bed. Daemon’s lessons had helped him stay detached from what he was ordered to do, or what was being done to him.
Even that detachment hadn’t been enough that last time.
*The bitch deserved to die,* Daemon said, as if killing a Queen was so commonplace it wasn’t worth more than a casual remark. Which, for Sadi, was probably close to the truth. Then his tone changed, and he sounded like a teacher who was mildly annoyed with a favorite student. *But you could have been more subtle.*
The woman next to Daemon tugged on the sleeve of his black, tailored jacket. She seemed confused to find herself so far away from the amusements and the merchant booths. Compared to Daemon’s looks and Hayllian coloring— golden-brown skin, glossy black hair, and gold eyes—she looked bleached and plain. She mumbled something and tugged again.
Daemon ignored her.
Jared couldn’t hear the words, but he heard the whine in her voice. His muscles tensed. He held his breath.
She spoke again, but her whining was cut off by Daemon’s low, vicious snarl. She quickly stepped away from him. Once she was safely out of reach, she raised her voice. “I could use the Ring.”
Daemon smiled, a cold, brutal smile.
The guards exchanged nervous glances and shifted their feet.
*It seems my Lady requires some entertainment,* Daemon said. There was something beneath the bland tone that made Jared wonder if the Lady wasn’t going to be very sorry she’d made that threat.
*May the Darkness embrace you, Lord Jared,* Daemon said as he offered his arm to the Lady and started to walk away.
*And you, Prince Sadi.* Jared replied.
They were out of sight when Daemon’s last words reached him. *That guard’s going to come down with a mysterious fever. He’ll recover, but he’ll never regain enough strength in his limbs to resume his duties. What use do you think a man like that will have in a place like Raej?*
Jared shuddered, grateful Sadi had already broken the link between them. He owed Daemon a great deal, but there were things about the Sadist he preferred not to know.
Another fly landed on his cheek.
Jared closed his eyes, and tried not to think. Tried not to remember. And failed.
* * *
When he opened his eyes again, the day had waned to dusk. At any moment, the bell that signaled the end of that day’s auctioning would ring. The Blood Lords and Ladies who came to buy preferred to do so in harsh sunlight that didn’t hide flaws that wouldn’t be as apparent when a naked slave was displayed in muted candle-light or, better yet, flickering torchlight.
He saw the guard standing outside the pen, watching him. Not one of the usual brutes. The badge on the clean uniform jacket indicated that this was one of the guards who hired out as an escort. It was a fixed rule at the auction; Ladies were required to hire two of Raej’s guard escorts to help with any slaves they might purchase. Since the man was alone, his partner was probably guarding the slaves that had already been purchased.
Which still didn’t explain why the man was wandering around near the pens that held the most-condemned males. It still didn’t explain why the bastard was staring at ...
Something crept through the air. Something tantalizing. Something intriguing. A psychic scent that made his heart speed up and his muscles quiver. A scent that made the wild stranger inside him strain toward it, wary and eager— and hungry.
A Queen’s scent.
Jared looked at the empty space beside the guard escort. Except it wasn’t empty.
Despite feeling certain of what he would see, he looked straight at her and still almost didn’t see her. She was gray, and stood so still she blended into the dust and the waning light and the taste of despair.