She shrugged. "Doesn't matter. He didn't mean any of it. He told me so after he made the stew."

He didn't appreciate being criticized, but wasn't it interesting that it had annoyed her enough that she hadn't paid attention to what was going on in her own kitchen?

"But then he said…"

Lucivar studied her. She looked so baffled. "What?"

"He said if I wanted to be kind, I would let you make the biscuits… and let you fuss over me a little."

"I can make biscuits."

She shook her head. "You bought some bread."

Not sure how she'd respond to him, he moved closer to her and ran a hand over her hair.

She looked up at him. "Why did he do that?"

"Make the stew?" He leaned over and kissed her forehead, hoping she'd take it as a friendly gesture…and wanting to kiss her in ways that had nothing to do with being friends. "He's a Warlord Prince. I guess he couldn't stand seeing you work when you were hurting." He eased back a little to look at her. Her eyes held a female awareness of a male that eased one kind of tension in him and created another. "So. Are you going to let me fuss a little?"

"I've never been fussed over before."

He smiled. "Think of it as an adventure. It will be easier that way." And until someone, like Jaenelle, told Marian the rules about fussing, he was going to make the most of his hearth witch's ignorance.


Marian crouched behind the shelves of dishes and glassware. How soon before the shop's proprietor remembered he had another customer and started wondering what she'd been doing all this time?

She wasn't hiding, exactly. She just didn't want to deal with that Roxie woman. Thank the Darkness she'd been examining some plates on the lower shelves when Roxie walked into the shop. There'd been no mistaking that voice, and one quick look had convinced her she didn't want to meet Roxie when she couldn't slam a door in the woman's face. But having spent the past hour carefully making her selections, she wasnot leaving without her cookware, which was stacked on one end of the large wooden counter that ran across the back of the store.

She peeked over the top shelf, then ducked back down out of sight. Poor man. Roxie had been sneering at his merchandise since she walked in the door, proclaiming loudly that the aristo shops in Doun hadmuch better fare. But that hadn't stopped her from plunking several items on the counter. And now…

"What do you mean I can't put it on the account?" Roxie's voice rose toward a screech. "Hetold me I could buy anything I wanted and put it on his account."

"Unfortunately," the proprietor replied, his voice condemning in its politeness, "Prince Yaslana has not informed me of that fact."

Marian winced. She'd bought a few things at the shops she usually patronized, but then it had occurred to her thatall the merchants would owe a tithe to Lucivar, so she'd taken one of the horse-drawn cabs over to this side of the village to spread her spending around a little. She'd felt self-conscious about walking into a shop that so obviously catered to the aristo families in Riada. Only the fact that she was buying these things for Lucivar's home and Lucivar's table had kept her from walking right back out.

That and the books. The merchant's shop she usually went to had a small selection of books, and most of them were used…and there'd been nothing there that she hadn't already read since Jaenelle was very generous about loaning her books. But there'd been so many to choose from in this shop, she'd lost track of time as she browsed the shelves. If she'd simply picked one that had interested her, she would have completed her purchases and been out of the shop before Roxie came in.

"He's hardly going to tell every merchant in the village that we're lovers," Roxie snapped. "Especially since we've tried to be discreet about our liaison."

Marian swallowed wrong and almost choked, so she didn't hear the proprietor's response.

"Oh, very well," Roxie said. "You can open an account for me, and Lucivar will settle it with you later."

"I am sorry, Lady, but I cannot open an account for you on the expectation that Prince Yaslana will pay it."

"I told you, we'relovers."

"And it has been my experience that a man who is willing to share his bed may not necessarily be willing to share his purse. If you do not have the funds for the purchases, I can hold the items for a few days."

"Don't bother," Roxie snapped. "The merchants in Doun wouldn't treat me this way."

"Then I suggest you do your shopping in Doun."

When she heard the door open, Marian rose from her crouch. But Roxie hadn't quite left the shop. For a long moment, their eyes met. Then something outside caught Roxie's attention, and she left the shop in a hurry.

Working to steady her nerves, Marian approached the counter.

"Have you found everything you wanted?" the proprietor asked.

"Yes, thank you," Marian replied, trying not to stammer. She swallowed hard. "Prince Yaslana instructed me to have the household purchases put on his account."

"I see." He flicked a look at the door as someone entered the shop. Why had she come to this part of the village? Why hadn't she kept to the shops where she felt she belonged? Why— "What's all this?"

Jaenelle was suddenly beside her, looking at the cookware with a gleam in her eyes that was downright scary. "Lady Angelline," Marian said.

Jaenelle smiled. "You finally informed Lucivar that he wasn't getting another dinner until you had the proper tools to cook with, didn't you?"

"Not exactly," Marian muttered.

"You're Lady Marian?" the proprietor asked.

"Yes." Maybe she shouldn't be surprised that he'd heard her name. After all, she and Lucivar were the only Eyriens living near Riada.

"Are you sure you have everything?" Jaenelle asked.

"Yes, I'm sure. I thought about—"

But Jaenelle was already heading toward the part of the shop that held household goods, and remembering their last shopping trip, Marian rushed after her.

"I don't need the large- cheese grater," Marian said a few minutes later, trying to keep her voice from edging toward desperation. It wasn't a question of taste, as it had been when they'd shopped for Lucivar's furniture, it was Jaenelle's unflagging idea that if Marian needed one of something for the kitchen, two would be better.

"Why not?" Jaenelle said. "You only have the little one."

"The smaller one is all I need. Really." She took the cheese grater out of Jaenelle's hands and put it back on the shelf.

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books