And that little thought made her scowl at Rainier. “When did you hear about this?”

“I was at the Hall early this morning.”


Her expression must have conveyed the question, because he gave her a puzzled look. “I stop in a couple of times a week. Ido work for Prince Sadi, remember?”

She remembered. Even though she’d met Rainier before he’d signed a contract with Daemon, she had to consider what kind of task a male cousin might give an unattached Warlord Prince.

“Am I a friend or an assignment, Prince Rainier?”

She saw the insult in his eyes, saw the way his jaw tensed with the effort to keep his anger leashed.

“You’re a friend,” he snapped. “At least,I thought we were friends. Picking up the books is an assignment.”

“I’m sorry.” And she was. “I just…” Oh, that particular wound was still more raw than she wanted to admit.

Rainier’s look was too sharp, too understanding. “You just wanted to spend time with someone who liked you for who you are and didn’t see you as a way to advance his standing in a court?”

A light touch of his hand on her elbow, shifting them both away from the door as a dapper-looking man entered the shop.

“I’ve had sex with a lot of men, but Falonar was my first lover. It felt different, being with a man when it wasn’t business of one kind or another. Maybe if we’d had a romp during the days after we arrived at the Hall and then had gone our separate ways—Falonar to Ebon Rih and me somewhere else—it might have been an easy good-bye. You know. ‘Thanks for the hot ride in bed’ sort of thing. But I ended up going to Ebon Rih too, and somewhere along the way, enjoying a hot ride turned into something else. At least, I thought it had. But toward the end, instead of having a lover, I felt like I was being serviced by someone who wasn’t enthusiastic about the work.” That wasn’t the only bone still stuck in her throat where Prince Falonar was concerned, but that was all she was willing to share at the moment.

Rainier smiled wryly. “Your introduction to the courts in Kaeleer was the Dark Court. The men who served in Jaenelle’s First Circle were the exceptions, Surreal, not the rule. The Consort of a Territory Queen is one of the three most influential men in that Territory. A man usually isn’t offeredthat ring until he has credentials.”

“So he sleeps his way into a position of power?”

“He doesn’t do much sleeping in his Lady’s bed, but, essentially, yes. Usually there is attraction, basic lust on both sides. Most often there is affection. Sometimes even love. And sometimes there is lust on the Lady’s side and ambition on his—and nothing more.”

She moved toward the shelves of books, wanting to be farther away from the counter and the other customers. “It was like that in Terreille, but I hadn’t thought it was that way in Kaeleer.” And Falonar had come from Askavi in the Realm of Terreille. Maybe he’d seen servicing her as a way of solidifying his position as Lucivar’s second-in-command.

What bothered her more? That Falonar’s interest in her could have been a combination of lust and a desire to have a connection with the witches who ruled Kaeleer, or that his interest in his current lover had nothing to do with ambition and everything to do with heart?

Let it go. He wasn’t the right man for you anyway.

“What I’m trying to say is, I will stand as an official escort for you whenever you need one—or whenever it is required that you have one,” Rainier said. “But I’m not here for the sake of ambition. I’m here because I like you. All right?”

She nodded, then puffed out a breath. “I guess I’m just being moody. Or bitchy.”

A warm smile now. “I hadn’t noticed.”

He was teasing her, poking fun of her usual sharp tongue. Something a friend would do. Something a manwouldn’t do unless he was sure the teasing would be taken as intended.

Cheered by the thought, she moved toward the back shelves. The dapper-looking man who had come in while she and Rainier were talking saw her coming toward him, flushed as if he’d been caught doing something dirty, and ducked out of sight.

Her cheerful mood vanished as she stared at the spot where the man had been. Something about him. Something not quite right. Like he’d dressed very carefully for an afternoon out, but it was a laboriously constructed costume, and he had missed some small detail that skewed everything else just enough to scratch her temper. Added to that was the suspicion that he’d been trying to eavesdrop on a conversation and hadn’t been happy when she’d caught him at it.

She considered sending Rainier down another aisle and boxing the man between the two of them, but she had seen no Jewel, didn’t get any sense of threat or power. In fact, she got so little sense of him, she wasn’t even sure hewas Blood. Was she going to scare the shit out of a man and spoil his pleasant afternoon of browsing in the bookshop just because she didn’t like something about the way he dressed?

Since she couldn’t say with certainty that her reaction wasn’t the result of an edginess caused by talking about Falonar, she turned to Rainier and said, “Help me find the first Jarvis Jenkell story about the Blood. And while we’re doing that, you can tell me again about this spooky house.”

Late that evening, Daemon sprawled across the big bed, naked, sated, and blissfully content, his head pillowed in Jaenelle’s lap. They had bathed after a hungry session of lovemaking, but he still caught a light whiff of their mingled scents beneath the clean smell of soap.

So tempting to turn his head and press a kiss on that triangle between her thighs. But a kiss through her nightgown would make him want to push up the fabric in order to taste skin, and that kind of kiss would lead to other kinds of kisses.

He’d already indulged himself with those other kinds of kisses.

Besides, she was reading a book and petting him, her fingers drifting through his hair, over his shoulders and back. He could float on that sensation, and he did, beginning to settle into sleep when…tap. tap tap. tap. tap tap.Her finger against his shoulder.

He knew that rhythm. It seldom boded well.

“Are you asleep?” Jaenelle asked.

“Mmmm.” Noncommittal response. Could mean anything.tap. tap tap.


He opened his eyes halfway.

“When we have sex, does your penis weep with gratitude?”

A handful of answers flashed through his mind. If he said any of them, he would end up sleeping in the Consort’s room. Alone.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction