With a shaky sigh, she went to the cupboard in the pantry where she kept her broom and dustpan.
* * *
Lucivar stopped in the corridor, the scent hitting him with the force of running into a stone wall. His nostrils flared. His lips pulled back in a silent snarl. Moon's blood.
Some change in a witch's psychic scent or her physical scent triggered that recognition in Blood males once they reached puberty. Maybe it was a trait that had developed long ago as a tool for survival since this was one of the times when the balance of power between the genders swung in the males' favor. A witch who had to defend herself against a male ended up fighting two adversaries: him and her own body.
Which was why the males closed ranks around a Queen during those days when she was vulnerable. Even the mildest-tempered Blood male became edgy and aggressive, but moon's blood drove Warlord Princes to the killing edge. Naturally aggressive and territorial, their response to an unknown male was lethal more often than not. That response was the primary reason Blood males were trained to ignore the scent of moon's blood except for the females in their own family and the Circle of the court they served in.
And that was the problem now, wasn't it? At the Hall, the male servants looked after, and fussed over, the female servants. The family and the boyos took care of Jaenelle and the coven when they were in residence. The boundaries were established, and all the males accepted them. But there was just the three of them here. He'd gritted his teeth through it the other times, reminding himself that Marian worked for him, so he couldn't yell at her for exerting herself. He couldn't insist that she sit and do something quiet that wouldn't strain her body. He couldn't roar until it brought every male in the area running to find out what was wrong the way he could when Jaenelle got stubborn. There were boundaries and…
Screw boundaries. Marian wasnot going to make him frantic again, seething in silence and trying to keep a slippery hold on his temper while she scrubbed and polished things that could damn well wait a few days before they got scrubbed and polished. They were going to compromise…and if that meant tying her to a chair to make her rest, so be it.
With his temper choked back to simmering…and ready to boil…he strode toward the kitchen to explain a few things to his little hearth witch.
"WHAT IN THE NAME OF HELL ARE YOU DOING?"
The broom jerked in Marian's hands, scattering the sugar she'd just swept into a neat pile. Her heart slammed against her chest. She took a step back as Lucivar stepped through the archway into the kitchen, his lips pulled back in a snarl and a wild look in his eyes.
"You arenot going to do this again, do you understand me?" he shouted as he walked toward her. "You arenot going to beat yourself into the ground trying to do more than you should be doing."
The weepy mood vanished. Resentment welled up, hot and bitter. Hearth witches weren't pampered. Other witches might be excused from their work, but hearth witches were expected to grit their teeth and keep going, no matter how they felt. Her mother had worked half days during the first three days of her moontime. Her sisters weren't required to do more than sit quietly and study…and usually complained about doing even that much. She, on the other hand, was expected to prepare the meals and do the cleaning, excused from her work only if the greasy nausea that sometimes accompanied the start of the moon's blood made her too sick.
It had become a matter of pride that she did her work and didn't complain, since that only brought criticism. Now Lucivar was yelling at her for no reason, just when she'd been about to swallow her pride and tell him she really needed to rest for the day. She was even going to ask him to purchase bread at the baker's in Riada so she wouldn't have to make biscuits to go with the stew she was planning to make for the midday meal. Well, she wasnot going to askhim for anything now.
"I can do my work," she said, gritting her teeth as she started sweeping up the sugar again.
"You're going to rest if I have to tie you down to make sure you do it."
Oh, she'd love to rest today, but not onhis terms. Not when he was snarling at her. "What I do is my own business."
"Think again, witchling," Lucivar snapped, moving closer to her. "You live in my eyrie, you're under my protection. And that means protecting you from yourself when you get too stubborn to do what's good for you."
"And you never get stubborn and always do what's good for you," she snapped back. The nerve of the man. Who did he think he was, anyway? He grabbed the broom handle, his hand closing over it just above her own hands. He tugged. She tugged back, trying to reclaim control. His hand tightened. A fast twist of his wrist and the handle snapped. He took one step back, turned, and threw the piece of wood through the archway. Marian flinched, expecting to hear a lamp in the other room smashing. Or, worse, the crash as the handle shattered the glass doors that led out to the lawn on the other side of the eyrie.
No smash. No crash. Nothing. Not even the clatter of wood as it fell on the floor.
He must have vanished it before it could hit something. Before she could react, he yanked the rest of the broom out of her hands, strode to the archway, and threw the broom away.
How could she forget how strong he was? She'd seen him exercising to keep his warrior's body and reflexes sharply honed. She'd seen him chopping wood. Hadn't she watched those wonderful muscles ripple under his skin all summer? He didn't need Craft to be dangerous.
Turning back to the kitchen, he pointed a finger at her, and snarled, "You are not doing anything today."
A wave of temper drowned out nerves. "Don't you tell me what to do! I can do my work!" Irrationally angry and feeling cornered, she grabbed the pot sitting on the stove and threw it at him.
He tucked his wings in at the last second. The pot hit the wall next to the archway and fell to the floor. Awful silence filled the kitchen. Lucivar picked up the pot and walked away.
Marian crept to the archway and saw him outside, throwing the pot at the bales of hay he'd set up for target practice. She sagged against the wall. Eyrien males didn't tolerate defiance from a witch who didn't outrank them. Thank the Darkness Lucivar was taking his anger out on a pot and bales of hay. Her father, who didn't technically outrank her since he also wore Purple Dusk Jewels, would have slapped her for arguing with him. Throwing the pot at him would have earned her a fist in the belly, inflicting pain where it would hurt the worst today.
She turned and saw Tassle sniffing the spilled sugar.
"Don't step in that. I have to clean it up."