“Thank you, Warlord,” he said.

“It was my pleasure, Prince.”

I doubt it,Lucivar thought as he watched the messenger walk across the courtyard—and then scamper down the stairs to the landing web. Maybe he’d sounded alittle too threatening the last time the pup was at the door.

He frowned as he closed the door and locked it for the evening. There had been a message.

The one he held now was in Daemon’s handwriting, but not the careful script he was used to seeing.

He looked at the back side of the message. Official SaDiablo crest pressed into the red wax.

He broke the seal and opened the paper.

Lucivar,

If you’re home, stay there until you hear from me.

Daemon

“Stay there” had been underlined three times.

“Wasn’t planning to go anywhere,” Lucivar muttered, walking toward the kitchen, where Marian was putting away the remains of their meal.

Something niggled his memory. Something about Marian and a message.

Then his darling hearth witch turned away from the sink and looked at him.

“Who was that?” she asked.

“A message from Daemon. He told me to stay home this evening.”

“Why?”

“No idea.” Although…Healmost knew. The messagealmost made sense.

Then Marian took a step toward him. Something about the look in her eyes. Something about the way her wings flexed open slightly and then closed. Something about her psychic scent—and her physical scent. Something that had changed in the time since she’d come home.

He vanished the paper as his hands caressed the sides of her hips and urged her closer until their bodies were just brushing. He gave her a lazy smile. “Want to snuggle?”

She rolled her hips, pushing into him as her arms wrapped around his neck.

His blood went from warm to sizzle in a heartbeat.

“I was hoping you’d want to do more than that.” She slid one leg along the outside of his, then hooked that leg behind his thigh, pushing herself up against him even more. Opening herself for him.

As her tongue caressed his mouth, demanding entry, he counted days and put the pieces together. She became a bold, aggressive lover during her fertile days. He was pretty sure she didn’t realize there was a pattern to the times when she sought him out for sex instead of him issuing the invitation, but it was a pattern he recognized—and thoroughly enjoyed. Since they weren’t ready to have another baby, he needed to steep his contraceptive brew a little longer for the next few days. Just to be safe.

Then he opened his mouth for her—and lost his ability to think.

“Marian?” he gasped when she broke the kiss and clamped her mouth on his neck. “Come with me, sweetheart. I’ll give you whatever kind of ride you want.”

She nipped him. “I thought we could start here and work our way to the bed.”

Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.

“We could do that,” he said as she lowered her leg and backed him toward a chair. “Oh, yeah. We could do that.”

The ball of witchlight floated into the kitchen, followed by Rainier. He laid the two pokers and her stiletto on the kitchen table.

“The witchlight is dimming,” he said. “Did you check in here to see if there was anything useful?”

Surreal stared at the passageway, then looked at Rainier.

“I left them the other lamp,” he said.

“Left them the…You left themalone in there?”

His face hardened with the kind of anger that made her want to take a step back, but she held her ground. She had to. She outranked him, at least in terms of the Jewels each of them wore, and she had to show her faith in his self-control—even when it didn’t look like he had any.

“I’m your escort, not theirs. They disobeyed you. If they want to stay with us, we’ll give them what protection we can. If not…” He shrugged. “Their choice.”

She hadn’t expected Rainier to draw such an unyielding line. Of course, he wouldn’t have been that unyielding if the children had disobeyedhim rather thanher. But the Blood males in Kaeleer—especially the Warlord Princes—drew a hard line when it came to disobeying a witch unless she was asking for something they considered unreasonable.

“They’re children,” she argued, knowing it was pointless to argue. “We invited them to join us.”

“We made it easy for someone, but I think those children would have been part of this sick game regardless. How did they know this would be the night the Blood would be coming here?”

“No sign of workmen?” Surreal paused. Would there have been workmen? Or just the Black Widows? Would children just wait around an old house after dark unless someone had given them a hint that they would see something of interest? She wouldn’t have—unless she was meeting someone in order to kill him.

“All right,” she said. “Let’s see if we can find anything useful in here. A market basket, carry sack. Anything we can use to haul around what we find.”

She walked over to the sink. Water would be good. She had a jug of fresh water stored in her “personal cupboard,” a place created by Craft and power that allowed the Blood to carry things without being physically burdened with them. At least Lucivar couldn’t chew on her about not having supplies, and Rainier probably had a jug of water as well. Maybe even some food. But they’d have to use Craft to call in things from those personal cupboards, and she’d rather wait until there wasn’t a choice before doing something that would close another exit.

She turned both taps and waited. The water pipes clanked and gurgled—and finally produced a gush-and-trickle rhythm of rusty water that stank. Letting it run in the hope that she’d eventually get clear water, she started to turn away to help Rainier check drawers and cupboards. Then…

Plink-plink. Plink-plink-plink.

Tiny white nuggets fell from the tap along with the water,plink ing into the sink. Minerals in the pipes, knocked loose when she turned on the water?

Instead of being washed down the drain, the nuggets shifted and began to form a pattern. Began to form a tiny hand.

“Well, therewas a carry basket here,” Rainier said as he closed a lower cupboard door and stood up. “But it looks like mice have been nesting in here for some time.”

Not mineral nuggets coming out of the faucet. She was looking at tiny bones. But how could mice get into water pipes?

Same way anything else could. They had help.


Tags: Anne Bishop Books The Black Jewels Series Books Science Fiction Books
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