Lucivar nodded. He would have preferred blunt words to this diplomatic hedging, but he was Eyrien. "You have a solution?"

The Prince tipped his head in acknowledgment. "My brother serves as an escort in a Queen's court. She rules one of the larger cities on the coast of Askavi. A quiet word to him would spread to the other courts. If Roxie relocates to one of their cities, they'll know."

Lucivar thought about the young man he'd met on Roxie's street, a young man who would spend the next few years working hard to clean that smear off his reputation. "Do it."

Just then Marian rushed in from the kitchen, looking breathless and windblown—and beautiful.

"Lucivar, I— Oh. Good day, Prince."

"Lady Marian," the Prince replied, offering her a slight bow.

"Would you care for refreshments?"

Lucivar almost grinned at the exasperated look she gave him, could almost hear her thoughts:Leave him alone for a few minutes, and he keeps an important visitor standing at the door. She'd come a long way from the frightened hearth witch who had sat at his kitchen table last summer.

"Thank you for the offer, Lady, but I need to be getting back."

When the Prince left, Lucivar locked the front door and came back to the kitchen, rubbing his hands over his face. "I don't care who comes knocking, for the next hour you and I are going to have some peace."

"I brought back kegs of ale and some brandy," Marian said as she unbuckled the belt of her new cape.

"Give me a hug. That will do more for me than ale and brandy put together."

She looked at him, startled, then gave him an understanding smile as she walked into his open arms.

"Poor Lucivar," she said as she slid her arms around him. "You've had a beastly day, haven't you?"

He rubbed his cheek against her hair. "And it's not over yet." There was one visitor he was expecting who hadn't shown up yet. He was almost looking forward to that little discussion.

Marian heard the raised voices when she came out of the pantry with a jar of fruit to go with the steak pie. Feeling cowardly when she recognized Luthvian's voice, but not sufficiently ashamed of the feeling to enter the front room, she stayed at the edge of the kitchen where it was least likely she'd be seen. She didn't want to get in the middle of this… especially when she heard a viciousness in Lucivar's voice that made her shiver.

"Don't use that tone with me," Luthvian said.

"What tone?" Lucivar snarled. "I'm not a boy you can slap down, and I'm not a slave you can control. You don't like my tone, get out of my house."

Luthvian's voice gained a sharp, slicing edge. "You exiled an aristo witch simply because…"

"She was a bitch, a liar, and a user. She got away with it because she never quite crossed the line of forcing a male into her bed. Well, planning to accuse me of attempted rape crossed that line."

"You only have the word of a hearth witch that Roxie intended any such thing."

"A witch who was willing to open her mind to my Queen, knowing a lie would destroy her. Hell's fire, Luthvian! It doesn't matter if Roxie would have gone through with accusing me. Even if she'd had second thoughts about taking me on, she wouldn't have had second thoughts abput trying that game with a male who wouldn't have known what to do once she'd gotten a Ring of Obedience on him."

"What would you have done?"

"Ripped the bitch apart. She wouldn't have lived an hour after she put a Ring on me."

Marian clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle her gasp. As the tense silence continued, she peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of Lucivar as he paced away from Luthvian and turned back, framed by the archway. The look on his face… Warrior. Predator. He looked magnificent. And terrifying.

"You don't mean that," Luthvian said, her voice tight.

His laugh was sharp and bitter. "I saw hundreds of Roxies while I was a slave in Terreille. They didn't survive me. Do you know why they stopped trying to use me as a pleasure slave, Luthvian? Because I was so damned vicious, and every one of those bitches left the bed damaged in one way or another. The bedroom wasn't just a battleground for me; it was a killing field. I gloried in the spilled blood, the screams, the pain… because those bitches gloried in inflicting pain, in spilling blood, in hearing men scream."

"Stop it," Luthvian said.

"Why? Turning squeamish? I loathed everything Roxie was."

"She was a high-spirited aristo witch," Luthvian protested. "Maybe she'd become too obsessed with having you for a lover, but she's just…"

"Another Prythian. Another Dorothea. Another bitch like the ones who turned Terreille into a nightmare. If you're telling methat's what is festering in the aristo families in Doun, then there's going to be a purge and a bloodletting the likes of which Ebon Rih has never seen."

"You wouldn't."

"I don't bluff." A long pause. "Let it go, Luthvian. I let her live. Let that be enough."

Silence. Then the front door slammed.

Knees shaking, Marian crept into the kitchen. Setting the jar of fruit on the counter, she glanced over and saw Lucivar in the archway, watching her.

"You have an opinion?" he snarled. "Then say it."

She said the only thing she could think of, the only thing that mattered. "You aren't vicious."

He just smiled at her. "I'm a Warlord Prince, Lady. I was born vicious."

"Not like that," she said, hating that her voice quivered. "Not in bed."

She held her ground as he moved toward her, came close enough to touch her.

"Yes, I am," he said softly. "That's the way I was. That's the way I could be again." He shook his head as he raised his hand, his fingertips touching her hair. "I want to be your lover. Ichose to be your lover.That makes all the difference. Being in bed with you is like soaring on a sweet wind. I chose to be your lover, Marian…just as you chose to be mine."

She threw her arms around him and held on, warmed by his embrace when his arms circled her. She gave herself a few moments to enjoy being with him before she asked, "Is this going to cause trouble between you and Luthvian?"

His lips brushed her temple. "There's always trouble between me and Luthvian. This is just another piece."

She nodded, not sure what to say to him. "There's steak pie for dinner. Merry brought it up a little while ago."

"Then why don't I open a bottle of wine and…"

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