“Landens.” Randolf made the word for the non-Blood of each race sound like an obscenity.

Ignoring Randolf’s surliness, Jared rubbed his chin. The village nestled in the lowland a mile from the hilltop he’d chosen as their midday resting place looked fairly prosperous. From a distance, anyway. His father had always been fair about the tithes required from the landen villages that were bound to Ranon’s Wood, but he’d seen ragged, half-starved people in other Territories who were stripped of so much of their goods and harvests there wasn’t enough left for the whole village to get through the winter months.

“We might be able to get supplies there,” Jared said slowly, turning to look at Lia.

She stared at something in the distance and didn’t answer.

Jared waited, knowing her answer wouldn’t really have anything to do with supplies—because the Winds ran over that landen village, and anyone she sent was going to be tempted to catch one of those psychic roadways for a fast ride home.

Hell’s fire,he was certainly tempted, and heknew freedom waited at the end of this journey. Would men like Brock and Randolf, who still believed they were slaves, be able to resist a chance to escape?

“You’ll need marks to pay for the supplies,” Lia said abruptly.

Jared narrowed his eyes and studied her stiff back as she slowly walked to the wagon and went inside. He felt the absence of something—as if she’d closed some inner door he hadn’t been aware of, leaving him on the outside. He couldn’t define it, couldn’t even say what was suddenly missing except that, without warning, she’d taken something away that she’d shared with him until now.

And he resented the loss because he’d done nothing to deserve it.

Fine, he thought as he brushed past the others and strode toward the wagon. If she wanted to give him the cold shoulder all of a sudden, that was just fine with him. He’d be a good boy and run her errands for her. Just see if he didn’t.

Why in the name of Hell had she shut him out?

He pulled up short to keep from knocking her down when she came around the corner of the wagon.

“Here,” Lia said, holding out a thick bundle of folded marks.

Jared stared at her. There was no color in her voice, nothing he could read in her gray eyes.

She was hiding something from him.

Resentment simmered, deepened into hurt.

He took the marks and riffled through the various denominations of gold and silver. She could have bought passage on a Coach for herself, Thera, and the children with what he held in his hand.

Which made him wonder just how much of her remaining funds she’d given him . . . and why.

Working to make his voice as colorless as hers, he said, “Am I supposed to buy supplies or the village with this?”

“You should have enough with you to buy what’s needed,” Lia replied carefully.

“If I needed more, I could contact you?” Jared watched her, not sure what he was looking for. “You could use Craft to send it to me.” Damn her, why was she doing this to him? Why was she holding herself as if he’d just beaten her?

“Take it with you, Jared.” She took a deep breath.

Jared held his breath and waited. There was something else she wanted to say, something she wanted to tell him. He could feel it. Had she discovered something about the danger that traveled with them?

She let her breath out and said nothing.

Vanishing the marks, Jared mounted the bay gelding. “Anything in particular you want me to look for? Any—” No. he wouldn’t ask her about personal needs. She didn’t want him to meet any personal needs.

She was a good Queen. He’d give her that. It was his error that he hadn’t realized it was a Queen acting responsibly toward a strong, distressed male and not a woman responding as a woman when she’d let him hold her, kiss her, caress her.

His mistake. One that wouldn’t be repeated.

Thera approached them, followed by Blaed.

“Take Blaed with you,” Thera said.

Jared knew the words were meant for him, but Thera kept looking at Lia, who hissed in anger.

“Lord Jared’s perfectly capable of obtaining supplies,” Lia said.

“Of course,” Thera agreed calmly. “But two of them will get it done faster. There’s not enough food left to put together a midday meal. How much daylight do you want to waste?”

The gelding snorted and backed away from the female tempers that gave the air a stormy tang as a silent, vicious argument took place.

“Fine,” Lia finally said through clenched teeth. “Blaed will accompany Jared to the village.”

Circling wide around the two women, Blaed mounted the roan mare.

“Ladies,” Jared said coldly.

Receiving no response, Jared shortened the gelding’s reins and turned the eager horse toward the village. He couldn’t blame it for wanting to get as far away from that anger as possible.

Blaed didn’t break the silence until they reached the bottom of the hill. “You and Lady Lia have a fight?”

“If we did, I wasn’t invited to participate,” Jared snarled, urging the gelding into an easy canter.

“Lia trusts you,” Blaed said, raising his voice above the rhythmic sound of pounding hooves. “You know that, don’t you?”

Jared reined the gelding in and slowed to a walk. He glared at the younger man, who met his temper with a steadying calm. “Did Thera shove you into coming with me because you were fussing her too much or because she thought I needed a keeper?”

“Maybe she thought you needed a friend,” Blaed replied quietly. “Lia’s upset. It has something to do with you. Stands to reason you might need to do a bit of snarling yourself.”

“Well, your reasoning’s faulty,” Jared snapped. And then swore.

Blaed made no comment, which was all the comment he needed to make.

“It has nothing to do with trust,” Jared said after a minute. He wouldn’t let it hurt him. He wouldn’t. “Who else could she have sent? Randolf with his surly contempt? The children? Garth?”

“Brock,” Blaed countered. “Thera.”

“Thera would have needed an escort.”

“Thera doesn’t need anyone to watch her back.”

Hearing the tightness in Blaed’s voice, Jared studied the Warlord Prince thoughtfully. “No, she doesn’t,” he agreed slowly. “What she needs—although she’d deny it with her last breath—is a patient man who could coax her into letting him warm her feet at night.”

Tags: Anne Bishop Books The Black Jewels Series Books Science Fiction Books
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