Tassle,Lucivar thought, raising the mug to hide his smile.What kind of name was Tassle for a Warlord wolf? "Good morning. Smell anything interesting?"

*Yes.Yas, you aren't wearing your cow skin.*

"It's called leather." Which Tassle knew perfectly well. Humans had prejudices, but so did the kindred. If something could be described by referring to the animal it came from, they ignored the human word for the end result. They viewed the world from their own furry perspective, which was fair, he supposed, since no two people, let alone two species, would view the world around them in quite the same way. "I don't need clothes right now. It's a fine morning, we're alone up here, and it's not like anyone living in the valley is going to see me."

*But,Yas—*

He sensed it then. Someone coming up the stone stairs from the landing area below had passed through the perimeter shield he'd placed around the eyrie. The shield wasn't meant to keep anyone out, just to alert him if someone approached his home.

As he turned toward the intruder, Helene, his father's housekeeper, hurried up the last few steps, then stopped abruptly when she reached the flagstones and saw him.

"Good morning, Prince Yaslana," she said politely.

"Helene," he replied with equal, if forced, politeness…especially when a dozen maids who worked at the Hall came up the stairs and gave him a quick, and approving, glance before going into the eyrie.

Well,Lucivar thought sourly,they all got an eyeful to perk up their morning. "What brings you here, Helene?"

"Now that all the workmen are done with the renovations the High Lord felt were necessary to make Prince Andulvar's old eyrie livable again, we've come to give it a good cleaning."

"I've already cleaned the place."

She made a sound that told him what she thought of his ability to cleananything. But that was a hearth witch for you. If it didn't sparkle, shine, or gleam, it wasn't clean. Never mind that stone walls weren't supposed to sparkle, shine, or gleam.

"Fine," Lucivar said, knowing he was cornered and arguing was a waste of breath. "I'll get dressed and show you—"

Helene waved her hand dismissively. "You were obviously enjoying a fine morning. There's no reason why you should do otherwise. I'm sure we can find everything. What there is of it," she added under her breath.

He bared his teeth in what he hoped would be mistaken as a smile. "I wouldn't want to be a distraction."

She gave him a fast sweep with her eyes. "You won't be."

Lucivar just stared at her, too stunned to think of anything to say.

Helene sniffed delicately. "I won't say I've seen better, but I've seen just as good."

Who?He could think of one man Helene could have walked in on and surprised.

As she headed for the door, another woman's voice, coming from the stairs, said, "Come along, ladies. We don't want to interrupt too much of the Prince's day."

Helene turned toward the stairs, the light of battle in her eyes, as Merry bounded up the last few stairs and saw him. Along with her husband, Briggs, Merry ran a tavern and inn in Riada, the closest Blood village in the valley.

"Oh, my," Merry said with approval. Then she noticed Helene, and the glint in her eyes didn't bode well for a peaceful morning.

"Ladies," Lucivar said, wondering if he was going to start his day breaking up a brawl outside his door.

"We're going to clean up the eyrie for the Prince," Merry said stiffly, indicating the women crowding the stairs behind her. "As a welcome to Ebon Rih since he'll be living here now."

"I'm sure Prince Yaslana appreciates the gesture, but I've brought some of my staff from the Hall to take care of things," Helene replied.

"Ladies."

"There's no need for you to be taking time away from your own duties. We can look after him. Heis the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih now," Merry said.

"Which doesn't make him any less his father's son—" Helene said, raising her voice.

Hell's fire! They were squaring off like two bitches ready to fight over a meaty bone—and he wasnot going to become the prize of whoever won this battle.

"—and I won't have it said that any of the High Lord's children are living in squalor," Helene continued.

Lucivar gritted his teeth. Squalor?Squalor? He'd moved to the eyrie two days ago. There hadn't been time to accumulatesqualor. "Ladies."

They turned on him, and after studying them the way he'd study any adversary, he wisely swallowed his rising temper. Helene worked for his father, and since he would, no doubt, continue to spend time at the Hall, telling her to leave would be an insult he didn't want to live with. And Merry made the best steak pies he'd ever tasted. If he toldher to go, it might be years before he had another slice of steak pie.

Finally Helene turned to Merry and said, "While yours is the more recent claim, it is equally valid. And there's more than enough work for all of us."

Merry nodded, then clapped her hands. "Come along, ladies. We've work to do."

Four of the women who'd come with Merry were married or, at least, had acknowledged lovers. The other seven were younger and unattached… and would have dawdled a lot longer if Merry and Helene hadn't herded them into the eyrie.

When he'd been a slave in Terreillean courts, he'd been stripped down and displayed for the enjoyment of the Queen who controlled the Ring of Obedience. He'd never felt the need to smile politely while he was being ogled. But here he was, smiling…showing his teeth, anyway…as Helene pushed the last witch inside and closed the door.

Rage danced in his belly, twisting it into knots. He closed his eyes and tightened the leash on his temper. He had an explosive one, and it had served him well when he'd lived in Terreille, but this wasn't the same. He hadn't been forced to strip down. He'd been standing outside of his own free will, and if the women who had suddenly appeared appreciated the view he provided, he couldn't blame them for it.

Thank the Darkness none of them had tried to touch him. He wasn't sure what he would have done if any of them had tried.

No. That wasn't true. Heknew what he would have done. He just didn't know how he would have explained breaking a woman's arm for a touch they'd all think of as harmless or, at the very worst, an invitation.

*Yas?* Tassle's sending on a psychic thread sounded hesitant, a little fearful.

Turning, Lucivar looked at the young wolf. "Women are a pain in the ass."

Confusion replaced fear. *Pain? They didn't nip you. Why is there pain?* After a pause, Tassle added, *I could lick it to make it better.*

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