She didn’t know much about landen architecture or landscaping, but the whole thing struck her as being off-balance, as if the right side of the land were about to tip up from the weight of the house on the left side. And why would anyone surround property with a waist-high wrought-iron fence that followed the property line at least on the two sides but split the front yard in half between house and street, making it useful for nothing?

“It might have been attractive at one time,” she said, not bothering to keep the doubt out of her voice.

“You mean before it was built?” Rainier replied.

She huffed out a laugh.

“There are plenty of Blood mansions that have a tower,” Rainier said. “But the tower attached to the right side of this building…”

“Looks like a fat penis with pretensions.”

Rainier choked. And because he choked, she couldn’t resist.

“Really,” Surreal said. “It reminds me of the c**k decorating that was done in a Terreillean Territory a few decades ago. Didn’t stay in fashion for long, but it was amusing while it did.”

“Cock decorating.”

She couldn’t tell if he was amused or appalled. But he didn’t sound suspicious. “Feathers, ribbons, netting that acted as a sleeve so that seed pearls and sequins could be added.”

“I can’t imagine any of that would be comfortable, and I also don’t see the point.”

“Well, it’s not like they kept it stuffed in their pants.” She bit the inside of her cheek.

“But…In a social gathering, it’s much better for a man to imply what he’s got rather than actuallyshow it.”

Did men use undergarments that enhanced their cocks the way women sometimes used corsets or specially constructed brassieres to enhance their br**sts? She’d have to ask him sometime.

“Besides, a man can’t sustain an erection for an entire evening,” Rainier said.

“That’s true. And there was an ebb and flow to the festivities for a while.” Oh, he was definitely appalled now. “That’s why most men started wearing a stiff covering over their asset and decorating that.”

“How could you tell it was a covering?”

“Has your c**k ever turned purple?”


“Well, then.” She grinned. Couldn’t stop herself. Besides, he sounded like he was being lightly strangled, so it was time to stop teasing. “Now that you’re warmed up for it, shall we go view the rest of the evening’s horrors?”


Laughing, she ignored the muttering coming from her companion.

“It really was done in a Terreillean Territory, but not to that extent,” Surreal said.

They both pondered that, and she suspected her perception of that particular fashion was very different from his.

Then Rainier said, “If ithad been done like you described, do you think Sadi…?”

He looked at her. She looked at him—and knew they were both picturing that elegant, beautiful man moving across a ballroom with lethal, feline grace. If Daemon had been forced to display himself during the years he’d been a pleasure slave, he would have done it right. Nothing garish for Sadi. Seed pearls and silk. Maybe a small ruby strategically placed to catch the light—and a woman’s eye. A fatal lure that promised unimagined pleasures, despite his lack of arousal. But the look in Sadi’s golden eyes and his cold, cruel smile would have made a very different kind of promise—andthat was the promise the Sadist always kept.

Andthat thought got her moving up the broken, weedy flag-stone walkway at the same moment a man came out of the house and lit the lanterns that hung on either side of the door.

“Think that’s the equivalent of the houselights going down in a theater?” Rainier asked as they stopped at the gate in the fence.

“Could be.” A movement near the edge of the property had her dropping back a step, giving Rainier fighting room as she turned.

“Just children,” Rainier said, turning with her. “One of them must have been keeping watch. Or else they planned to meet here at dusk.”

“Makes sense. After all, they’re probably the ones who provided the inspiration for this place.” And imagining them all getting close enough for her to give each one of them a hard whack upside the head as payment for that inspiration pleased her so much she smiled and waved at them.

“Don’t encourage them,” Rainier warned. “They’ll think you’re inviting them to come with us.”

“Don’t be daft. Landens stay away from…Hell’s fire.” Theyhad taken her wave as an invitation.

“Told you,” Rainier said, grabbing her arm as he pushed the gate open. It swung easily enough but creaked as if it hadn’t been used in years.

“How was I supposed to know?” Surreal grumbled, caught between going through the gate, which she didn’t want to do, and being trapped against the fence by a pack of children.

“You were that age once.”

“I wasn’t like them at that age.”

Rainier made a scoffing sound. “Being Blood doesn’t make usthat different when we’re young—at least in terms of behavior.”

That wasn’t what I meant.But she didn’t contradict him because the children were approaching too fast—and because her relationship with her ex-lover Falonar had taught her that a man who could accept she’d been a whore might have a problem when he discoveredwhen she’d become a whore.

There weren’t many outside of the family who knew the details of her past, and she preferred it that way.

“Let’s get inside,” she said.

They went through the opening. Then Rainier swore fiercely. So did she as she wiped her face. Nothing there, but the sense that she’d walked into a big cobweb lingered.

“I guess the fun begins even before we get into the house,” Rainier said, sounding cross.

“It explains why the fence is here instead of bordering the edge of the property,” Surreal said. “Jaenelle and Marian must have moved it so they could attach this illusion spell to the gate and still leave some open ground where visitors can gather.”

“Maybe getting a face full of cobwebs is meant to discourage people from going farther?” He sounded like he’d be quite happy to be discouraged from going farther.

“Are you telling me an Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince is going to be put off by a few cobwebs?”

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