By the time he left the bookstore, there were plenty of people out and about Amdarh's shopping district. As he walked to his next destination, he greeted the men and women he'd met at aristo houses when he'd been invited to dinner or to a party. He'd made an effort to become acquainted with the Blood aristos in the city, especially the ones who served in Lady Zhara's court, since she ruled Dhemlan's capital. Except for Karla, the boyos and the coven who had made up Jaenelle's First Circle hadn't quite forgiven him for the games he'd played to keep them away from her while she created the spells that would protect them and Kaeleer. And he and Lucivar still weren't quite easy with each other. What he'd done in Dorothea's camp to protect his brother's wife and son was a still-healing wound between them.

He greeted two witches he'd met at a party when he was in Amdarh a few weeks ago buying gifts for Winsol. Baffled by the wary stares they gave him before returning the greeting, he shrugged it off as unimportant, his mind already focused on the shop at the end of the block.

"Good morning, Prince Sadi," Banard said as soon as Daemon walked into the shop. "I hadn't expected to see you here so soon after Winsol. Did the Lady like the pin?"

"Good morning," Daemon replied as he walked up to one of the glass displays that also served as a counter. "Yes, Lady Angelline was delighted with the unicorn pin."

A gifted craftsman who worked with precious gems and metals, Banard, a Blood male who wore no Jewel himself, had been commissioned over the years to create a number of unique pieces for darker-Jeweled Blood… including Jaenelle's scepter when she'd established her Dark Court.

"I have a commission for you," Daemon said. "One that requires your discretion for the time being."

Banard smiled. "Don't they all require discretion, Prince?"

"Yes, they do," he replied, returning the smile to acknowledge the truth ofBanard's statement. "But this one needs a little more than most."

Banard just continued to smile.

Daemon hesitated, wondering if he was being premature. Didn't matter. If he ended up being a fool over this, so be it. "I want you to make two rings. One… I'm not really sure how I want it to look." Despite the fact that they were alone in the shop, he lowered his voice. "The other is a plain gold band."

"Do you know the ring size for this gold band?"

In answer, Daemon held out his left hand.

"Ah." Banard's smile widened. "Then this other must be a special ring for a special Lady?"

"A ring worthy of a lifetime."

Banard called in a velvet-lined ring case. Brass rings marched in neat rows from the largest, which would fit a man twice Daemon's size, to the smallest, which looked like it would fit only a small child.

"I made the rings for the Lady's Court," Banard said, his fingers moving above the rows of brass rings. "If I remember correctly…" He selected a ring and held it out.

Daemon slipped it on his finger. A perfect fit. Just as the Consort's Ring had been a perfect fit.

He removed the ring and gave it back to Banard, who returned the ring to its place and vanished the case.

"As for the other…"

Banard broke off as the shop's door opened and a woman stepped inside. She smiled at them, then moved to the display case that contained brooches.

"I'll give the matter some thought," Banard continued quietly. "Make a few sketches for you to look at the next time you're in Amdarh. Would that be sufficient?"

"That would be fine," Daemon replied, working to keep his voice from turning into a snarl. Something in the air. Something that honed his temper.

He turned his head and studied the woman. A lighter-Jeweled witch. Who was cloaked in an illusion spell. The kind of spell that could only be made through the Hourglass's Craft.That's what he sensed. But there was nothing… enhanced… about her appearance. She was attractive but hardly stunning. Perhaps she was disfigured in some way, from accident or illness. There were some things even the best Healer couldn't fix completely, so an illusion spell was sometimes used to hide a disfigurement.

Wondering if she had come from Terreille, and knowing the cruel and terrible things Dorothea and her followers had done to people, he felt a moment's pity for her and was glad the illusion spell gave her the courage to go out in the world.

"There is one thing I can show you," Banard said. "I just finished it yesterday." He retreated behind the curtain that shielded his workroom and the private showrooms, then returned quickly with a piece of folded black velvet. He set the cloth on the counter and revealed its contents.

Daemon picked up the bracelet. It was a double strand of white and yellow gold set with precious and semiprecious gems that matched the colors of the Jewels from the Rose to the Black.

"It's beautiful," Daemon said. And so appropriate since it reflected every color that made up Twilight's Dawn, the Jewel Jaenelle now wore. "A special gift for a special Lady."

"I was hoping you would think so," Banard said.

Grinning, he set it back on the velvet. "Wrap it up, and I'll take it with me."

"Oh. May I see it?"

The woman was standing near him, focused on the bracelet. There was a greediness in her eyes that made him want to lash out, to sweep the bracelet out of sight. But he thought of the illusion spell and the reasons she might have paid a Black Widow to create one. Beauty of any kind might be a new discovery for her.

He forced himself to step aside so she could get a better look at the bracelet, but he rested his hand on the counter close to the velvet, a subtle claim and a warning that she could look but not touch.

After a long study, she smiled and moved back to the counter with the brooches.

Wrapping the velvet around the bracelet, Daemon vanished it, promised to return in a fortnight, and turned to leave the shop. At the door, he looked back at the woman, but her attention was on the brooches, not on him. Shrugging off his uneasiness as a reaction to living in Terreille for most of his life, he headed back to the family town house, where he and Marcus would share a midday meal before getting down to business.

A few minutes later, Roxie left Banard's shop with a brooch safely tucked in her small carry bag. She strolled down the street, stopping to look into store windows, until she reached the horse-drawn cab waiting by the curb. As soon as she scrambled inside, the driver pulled into the stream of horse-drawn conveyances and Craft-powered coaches. "Well?" Lektra demanded, twisting a curl around her finger. "I think he noticed the illusion spell," Roxie said, feeling a little breathless now that their plan was truly in motion.

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