“I—” Lia took a couple of deep breaths. “Would you do it?”
Jared’s mind went blank. To have this much. To give this much. To know that she trusted him this much.
Lia flicked a nervous glance at him.
Jared ran a hand through his hair. “Yes. Of course. When we get to Dena Nehele—”
“No.” Lia scraped her teeth over her bottom lip. “It has to be now. Before sunset.”
Jared took a step back. His legs hit the edge of the bed. He sat down abruptly. “Now?Right now?”
Lia nodded. “Thera says if I don’t have my Virgin Night before sunset, I never will.”
Jared opened his mouth, sure that he’d been about to express a reasonable opinion, but nothing came out.
If only it hadn’t been Thera, who had heeded a similar warning and had survived because of it.That he couldn’t dismiss.
“Lia . . .”
“If you’re not comfortable with it, I can ask Talon—”
Jared shot to his feet. “I’ll kill him first.”
Lia blinked. Frowned. Finally said, “If you kill him first, won’t that make the rest of it ... awkward?”
“It will make it impossible,” Jared replied, spacing out each word.
Jared rubbed his hands over his face. His body remembered what it felt like to hold her, kiss her, and itwanted . His heart yearned to make love to her. His mind kept squeaking the words “Virgin Night” like some terrified mouse.
Jared lowered his hands. “I’ll be back shortly. You stay right here.” He gestured toward a chair. “Sit down. Relax. Concentrate on breathing or something.”
He bolted from the room.
Out in the corridor, Jared sagged against the wall.
He’d have to find Talon and ask him. Hell’s fire, he had to asksomeone . Being a pleasure slave didn’t qualify him for seeing a witch through her Virgin Night. He’d seen plenty of witches who’d been broken during that first intimacy. They all had a lost, slightly vacant look in their eyes. Any fire that had burned in their hearts had been snuffed out under a man’s body.
If something went wrong, he didn’t think he could bear seeing Lia’s eyes filled with that lost, vacant expression.
Oh, witches adjusted to the loss of their Jewels and their Craft. The ones from aristo families were sent into arranged marriages. He wasn’t sure what kind of life the others endured. They adjusted. But they were never again whole. Many of them just faded away until there was little more than a husk left going through the motions of living. Some of them slipped into madness. None of them could be seeded more than once after being broken, and more than half of those pregnancies ended with an early miscarriage.
When he was younger, he thought it was unfair that broken witches should be stripped of their ability to have children as well as being stripped of their Jewels. But after having lived in the Territories that stood in Hayll’s shadow, he doubted any of them regretted that barrenness. It was not in a witch’s nature to become a breeder for the gender she would consider as the enemy.
Jared pushed away from the wall. He and Talon had spent the early afternoon removing the seats in the two small Coaches so they could fit more people in, while Yarek oversaw packing the storage spaces—and finding a safe place for the six honey pear trees Lia insisted come with them.
Thank the Darkness, some of Talon’s men knew how to handle a Coach, so there was no problem now about finding drivers.
With luck, Talon would be checking on something else that had to be readied for their departure, and it would take some time to find him. Maybe by then, Lia would have reconsidered.
He shook his head. Not with Thera’s warning riding her.
Before he took two steps, Talon turned the corner.
Groaning, Jared sagged against the wall again.
“She still upset?” Talon asked, eyeing the bedroom door.
“Not exactly,” Jared muttered.
Talon’s eyes narrowed. “She feeling all right?”
“She’s doing fine.” Jared looked Talon in the eyes. “She wants her Virgin Night.”
Talon gaped at him. “Now?”
“Yes. Now. I was just coming to look for you.”
Watching Talon sag against the wall made Jared feel better.
Talon rubbed a hand over his chest. “She wants me to—”
“No,” Jared said too quickly.
A slow, wicked smile curved Talon’s mouth. “In that case, Warlord, since the woman and the bed are in there, why are you out here?”
Jared’s face heated. He shifted so that his back was fully pressed against the wall. “I’ve been a pleasure slave since I was eighteen.”
Talon nodded in understanding. “That’s a long time to know the bed without ever knowing intimacy or pleasure. And at that age . . . Hell’s fire, you can probably count the number of times you werereally with a woman.”
“I could count it on one hand and not use all my fingers.”
Talon rubbed his forehead. “Mother Night, you’re almost a virgin yourself. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Jared stared at the opposite wall. “She asked me.” He paused. “Would you consider seeing a witch through her Virgin Night a duty?”
Talon stiffened. “I’d call it an honor.”
Satisfied, Jared nodded. “You’ve done it?”
“A few times. It’s safer when the male wears the darker Jewel.”
Talon settled more comfortably against the wall and crossed his arms. “It’s not that difficult, really.”
“It’s dangerous,” Jared argued.
“It can be if you forget why you’re in the bed—or if she panics.”
Well, that helped.
It took less than five minutes for Talon to explain what he had to do for the Virgin Night.
“That’s it?” Jared asked.
Talon shrugged. “That’s it. Just take it slow. Let her get comfortable with each step before you go on to the next, and you’ll do all right.”
Jared glanced at the end of the hall.
“Go on,” Talon said with a smile. “I’ll stay here and make sure she doesn’t bolt.”
Jared took a deep breath, blew it out, and then walked to the bathroom at the end of the hall.
After cleaning his teeth, he paused and sniffed himself. He shook his head and stripped. Halfway through the fast bath, he realized he’d accepted what he was about to do and felt steady.