Which didn’t explain his suddenly slipping into the movements of an old habit.

Then he looked up at the town house’s sitting room windows—and smiled.

His reaching for a cigarette had been a response to memories of the hundreds of times he and Surreal had spent an evening together in exactly the same way—enjoying each other’s company while pursuing individual interests. Which meant the two of them had finally circled back to being the friends they had been once upon a time.

She was twelve when he first met her and her mother, Titian. A pretty, leggy girl with the Hayllian coloring of black hair and light brown skin that had come from her sire, Kartane SaDiablo. But her eyes were gold-green instead of pure gold and larger than usual, and her ears were delicately pointed. The slightly oversized eyes and the ears, along with a slim body that was stronger than it looked, came from Titian, who had been a Black Widow Queen of the Dea al Mon, one of the Children of the Wood.

So Surreal had a dual bloodline, as it was politely called in Kaeleer. Hayllians were one of the long-lived races; the Dea al Mon were not. Her body had matured closer to the pace of the short-lived races, but her emotions…

Because he’d seen her only for an evening here and there, and because she’d had to grow up hard and fast after Titian was murdered, it hadn’t occurred to him that Surreal’s emotional maturity might develop at a slower pace, that even after a few centuries of being a whore and an assassin, she had still been more of an adolescent girl than a mature woman. So in a way, the night that had broken their friendship was as much his fault as hers.

She’d been young and foolish and drunk the night she had asked him to show her what Hayll’s Whore could do in bed. She’d said it would be a feather in her cap because no whore who worked in a Red Moon house could claim actual experience in bed with him. And he, who had thought of her as a young cousin, had been bitterly hurt at what he’d seen as a betrayal of his trust. So he had responded with a cold fury, and he had shown her what it was like to dance with the Sadist.

That night changed things between them, and it was only because of Jaenelle that their friendship began to mend. Jaenelle, who was Witch, the living myth, dreams made flesh. She had been a child when they had both met her. She grew up to be an extraordinary Queen. Then she sacrificed herself to stop the war being orchestrated by Hekatah and Dorothea SaDiablo—the High Priestess of Hell and the High Priestess of Hayll, respectively.

Because of their mutual commitment to Jaenelle, he and Surreal had found their way back to being friends—and family. Maybe it was because they were finally comfortable with each other again that his leave-taking had been as much warning as distraction. Even Surreal couldn’t afford to become complacent and forget what he was.

Now there was another connection he had to consider: Rainier.

Prince Rainier had met Jaenelle and the coven when he’d been hired to be their dance instructor. Unlike the instructors who had come before him, he had been no more than a few years older than them and had thrived on the contact with the young Queens who, not many years later, would rule Kaeleer. When Jaenelle formally became the Queen of Ebon Askavi, Rainier joined her court as a Second Circle escort, although he’d continued to make a living as a dance instructor.

Now there was no court at Ebon Askavi. Not officially. And that was the problem. The Warlords and Warlord Princes who had served in the First Circle already had a connection to other courts—usually the court of the Queen they had married or were related to in some way. But Rainier had served in the Dark Court, and when it ended, he could no longer legitimately claim to be serving a Queen. Oh, no one had pushed it during that first year, especially after they’d heard Jaenelle had survived. No one had disputed Rainier’s claim that he still served Witch in an unofficial capacity. But the day had been coming when other Queens wouldn’t have considered that a valid reason to refuse service in another court.

That was why he had hired Rainier and given the man a five-year contract, duties to be flexible and as needed. While no male born in the Shadow Realm wasrequired to serve, it was assumed that most would spend some time serving in a court at one point in their lives or another. And Warlord Princes, who were considered a dangerous asset because of their tempers and nature, were sometimes treated as outcasts if a Queen wasn’t holding the leash. Even in Kaeleer.

Despite his family’s opinion of him, a man like Rainier would be a prize. He was a fine-looking man with a dancer’s lean build, fair skin, green eyes, and a mane of brown hair. He had an easy manner and a mild temper for a Warlord Prince. But while he made a delightful—and protective—companion, he wasn’t suited for bedroom duties. Even if Rainier had taken a contract with one of the coven—and because he was a friend, they had all offered him a contract—service in the bedroom for the other Ladies in the Queen’s First Circle would have been unspoken but understood.

Serving the new Warlord Prince of Dhemlan was the best solution. There was no court, so there were no Ladies who could demand service. And yet no one was going to argue that service tohim wasn’t sufficient to control another Warlord Prince.

So the arrangement promised to work well for both of them.

And here comes the innocent now,Daemon thought, suppressing a grin as Rainier turned a corner and walked toward the town house, his stride easy and graceful.

“Prince Sadi,” Rainier said when he reached the town house’s steps.

“Prince Rainier,” Daemon replied.

Rainier’s eyes flicked to the town house’s door before focusing on the Prince he served.

“I’m on my way out,” Daemon said. “I understand that you’re on your way in. For the night.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Not for me.” Daemon stepped aside and waited until Rainier had climbed the stairs and raised the knocker on the door. “How are your reflexes this evening?”

Rainier twisted at the waist and looked down at him, clearly puzzled. “They’re fine. Why?”

“You may need to be fast on your feet.”

With that, Daemon walked away. It was a pleasant summer evening. Since he wasn’t expected home, he’d walk to his favorite bookshop and see if there was anything new that might whet Jaenelle’s appetite for stories.

Then he’d go home and see what he could do about whetting her other appetites.

“I saw Prince Sadi on my way in,” Rainier said as he walked into the sitting room. “He seemed amused about something.”

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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