As she filled the teakettle, she said, "Prince Yaslana isn't here at the moment."

"I know," Saetan replied, leaning against the counter. "I came to see you." He paused. "Do you need a Healer?"

"Do I look like I need a Healer?" she snapped, slamming the kettle down on the stove. Witchfire flared up beneath it. Cursing silently, she pulled the fire back to its proper level.

"Nooo," Saetan replied dryly, "but the question has to be asked."

She turned on him. "I can't be the only woman who spent most of the past three days in bed. Arethey going to be asked if they need a Healer?"

"Probably not. But they didn't spend that time with a Warlord Prince in rut."

She turned away to get out cups and saucers. "I'm all right."

"Physically, I tend to agree. But you're not all right, Marian. You're upset about something, and most likely, it has to do with the rut."

She kept silent while she made the tea and set a cup in front of him when he took a seat at the pine table. She didn't join him. A week ago, she would have. But right now, she felt more like a paid servant than she'd felt in all the months she'd worked for Lucivar.

"He ran away," she said, feeling her heart ache as she said the words. "He could barely stand to look at me before he… bolted out of the eyrie."

"He's afraid," Saetan said quietly.

Baffled, she studied the man watching her. "Of what?"

Temper flashed in Saetan's eyes. "You have no idea what it's like to be caught in the rut, to be driven by something that eclipses everything else, to lose the veneer of civilized behavior that makes it possible for Warlord Princes to live with other people."

"I know what it's like to be with that kind of man," Marian flashed back.

"Do you remember everything that happened from the time the rut began until it ended?"

"Of course I do!"

"He doesn't."

She watched Saetan rein in his temper, watched the visible effort to chain strong feelings.

"He doesn't," Saetan said again. "Warlord Princes are not held accountable for anything they do during the rut, but that doesn't mean we don't have… regrets… about things that happen."

We.It hit her like a fist. Saetan was a Warlord Prince, too, and had gone through the rut.

Her nerves danced. She licked her dry lips. "How can a woman know what it's like for you if you never tell her?"

He shuddered. The High Lord of Hell actually shuddered. That, more than anything, made her wonder what Lucivar remembered about the past three days.

Setting the tea aside, Saetan rose. "Well. I have things to see to." Another strong man tucking his tail between his legs and running away because of the rut.

"Thank you for stopping by, High Lord." He gave her a wan smile. "It was my pleasure, Lady." She doubted that, but she smiled and stayed in the kitchen until she was sure he was gone. After making a cup of tea for herself, she sat at the table for a long time.

It must have required a kind of steely courage for the High Lord to come to the eyrie, not knowing what he might find, what kind of damage he might have to try to repair. Remembering the stories she'd heard about Warlord Princes, she had to admit he and Lucivar both had a valid reason for asking if she needed a Healer. It hadn't occurred to her that Lucivar wouldn't know she didn't need one.

Maybe Lucivar's bolting this morning hadn't been meant as a rejection. If he hadn't cared, at least a little, he wouldn't have been as concerned about what had happened during the rut, would he?

She sighed. There was nothing she could do to settle things between them until he came back, so she might as well get some work done.

After bundling up again, she opened the front door…and stared. There wasn't so much as a flake of snow on the entire flagstone courtyard except for Tassle's den.

Taking the hint, Marian went back inside. She'd clean Lucivar's bed-

room and make some soup. And she wouldn't allow herself to wonder if he was afraid to come home because of things he couldn't remember.

Saetan waited throughout the day, knowing Lucivar would come to him before going to the eyrie. It had been easy enough to keep track of his son. It hadn't been easy to resist summoning Lucivar to the Keep to offer what reassurance he could. But a summons of any kind would be misunderstood, and Lucivar's fear had bordered on panic too many times during the day to dare give him any kind of push.

Finally, as the afternoon waned, Lucivar walked into the room where Saetan waited. He looked exhausted, and his hands trembled a little as he poured himself a glass of brandy.

"You saw her," Lucivar said, staring into the glass for a moment before he gulped the brandy and poured another glass.

"I saw her," Saetan replied.

"Did she need a Healer? I asked, but…"

"No, she didn't need a Healer."

Lucivar sagged with relief. "Is she… upset?"

Saetan hesitated. He thought he'd taken an accurate measure of Marian's temperament when she'd stayed at the Hall during Winsol, but the woman who had flung snow on him and snapped at him in her kitchen didn't fit that measure. "She wasn't reacting as I would have expected." He frowned. "She'd struck me as a quiet-natured woman, but…"

Lucivar shrugged. "She usually is, but she gets feisty when she's riled."

Riled. Yes, that was a good way to describe the woman he'd seen that morning.

Lucivar set the glass down so carefully, Saetan suspected it was taking every bit of self-control to keep from throwing the glass at the wall.

"Is she going to leave?" Lucivar asked. "Should I stay away until she can—" He swallowed hard, unable to finish.

That, Saetan realized, was the root of Lucivar's fear…that the woman he was in love with, the woman he'd been courting so carefully over the last few months, would want nothing from him except the chance to escape. Lucivar wouldn't believe him right now if he said escape was the last thing on Marian's mind.

"May I offer you some advice?" Saetan asked. "Not as your father or as the Steward of the court, but as a man who talked to Marian this morning."

Misery filling his gold eyes, Lucivar said, "What's your advice?" Saetan smiled dryly. "Get your ass home in time for dinner."

He found her in the kitchen, arranging slices of bread and cheese on plates while something that smelled delicious simmered on the stove. How many times had he come home to find her like this, preparing the evening meal for them, her warm smile of welcome a feast to a heart that had been starving for love for so many centuries? Now he wasn't sure what he should say to her, what he should do.

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