The other Queen never stopped the pain until his voice was gone.

“I’m not . . . right,” Gray said. That was the reason he couldn’t serve in the court. Talon and Theran had both told him that. Not that he’d wanted to serve in the court. At least, not until he’d met Cassie.

“No, you’re not,” Lucivar said quietly. “You have scars, Gray, and they run deep. I can feel them in you. When a man has scars like that, there are boundaries he can’t cross, lines he has to draw to keep himself whole. But those boundaries aren’t as small as you might think, and a man can choose to live safe or he can choose to live right up to those lines. He might slip over a line every now and then, and that will hurt like a wicked bitch, but he might decide that what he gains will be worth the price.”

“Do you have scars?” Gray asked.

Lucivar nodded. “I have scars. And sometimes they still bleed.”

Gray studied Lucivar. This man didn’t know him, didn’t know about the times when he was so scared he couldn’t take care of himself, when his body seized up so badly he couldn’t move. And yet there was a message underneath the words, a message that had been there since Lucivar had first turned and looked at him.

“I’m not a warrior,” Gray said.

“Yes, you are.” Lucivar smiled grimly. “Just because you fought on a different kind of battlefield doesn’t make you less a warrior.”

Something stirred, shifted, fit into place.

“You get a copy of those books of Protocol and you study them,” Lucivar said. “Next time you won’t have to stand back if Cassidy does something foolish.”

“The first law is not obedience,” Gray said.

Lucivar grinned. “That was the best rule I ever learned.”

Gray grinned in reply. Then the grin faded as he looked at the walls that seemed to be closing in around him.

“Do you want me to walk you out of here?” Lucivar asked.

Gray hesitated. “Can those boundaries you talked about change?”

“Up to a point. The challenge is to learn which ones are still fluid and which ones are made of stone. I’m guessing you entered what had been the enemy’s lair. That’s pushing the boundaries plenty for one day.”

Gray nodded. Then he pointed to a door on the right. “That room has the fastest way out from here. Not a door, just a window, but there’s nothing in the way under it.”

“Let’s go.”

When Gray had the window open and one leg over the sill, he realized what was missing from Lucivar’s psychic scent that was there in all the other Warlord Princes’ scents. Even Theran’s and Talon’s.

“You don’t pity me,” Gray said.

Lucivar gave him one of those long, assessing looks. “A lot of us have scars, boyo. The biggest difference between you and the rest of us is you haven’t learned to live with yours yet.”



Talon waited in the small meeting room. As Master of the Guard, he didn’t have an office like the Steward—and didn’t want one—but this small room was becoming his place to talk with one or two of the men when he had specific instructions or one of them wanted to report something in private. Not that there had been much to report.

He had a bad feeling that was about to change.

Didn’t need to be told they were in trouble. He’d felt that dark presence the moment he woke; known a strong predator had come to the estate. And Powell had knocked on his door a minute after sunset to tell him an Eyrien was waiting to see him. A Red-Jeweled Warlord Prince.

“Red-Jeweled, my ass,” Talon muttered. He wore Sapphire. He knew the feel of Red. And he was willing to bet that if the Eyrien wore the Red, it wasn’t his Jewel of rank. Which meant the Eyrien had to be . . .

The door opened and controlled fury walked into the room.

“Lucivar Yaslana,” Talon whispered, feeling his legs go weak. He’d never met the man before, thank the Darkness, but there was no mistaking the Ebon-gray Jewel that gleamed against Lucivar’s brown skin. “I’m Talon, Master of the Guard.”

“You know what I am?” Lucivar asked.

Talon nodded. He’d heard enough stories to know exactly what was standing in this room.

Lucivar raised one hand. Two boxes appeared on the table. He approached the table and pulled the top off one box. “Official business first. This is yarbarah, the blood wine.”

With no wasted movement, Lucivar opened a bottle of yarbarah, called in a wineglass, filled it, and began warming the blood wine over a tongue of witchfire.

“Since you’re going to need to keep replenishing your power, you should drink a glass of this three times a day. More if you want, but three glasses will provide enough blood to maintain someone who is demon-dead. Every ten days, you should add some fresh human blood. How much depends on the strength of the person who is giving it, but a couple of spoonfuls is usually enough. And once a month you should drink an offering cup of undiluted human blood.” Lucivar handed the glass to Talon. “Yarbarah is best drunk warm. It tastes a little thick otherwise. And it’s best to keep a bottle chilled once you open it.”

Talon took the wineglass but didn’t drink. “The court can’t afford the expense of—”

“Queen’s gift. Won’t cost the court anything to keep you supplied with what you need to serve as Master.”

Someone’s paying for it, Talon thought, but he didn’t argue. And he didn’t try to resist any longer when the smell of blood was sharpening his hunger and need.

He took a sip, got the taste of it, then gulped down the rest of the glass. Not as rich or potent as human blood, but there wasn’t any shame in drinking it.

“There are specific rituals for the giving and taking of blood,” Lucivar said. “You should learn them.”

Talon hesitated, then filled the glass again and warmed it with witchfire the way Lucivar had done.

“Why do you know so much about yarbarah?” he asked.

“My uncle, cousin, and older brother were demon-dead. My father is a Guardian. Yarbarah is standard fare with the family.”

Talon took another swallow of yarbarah and frowned. “They were demon-dead?”

“They’re gone now.”

“And your father is . . . ?” According to some stories,Yaslana was a half-breed bastard whose bloodlines were unknown. According to other stories, Daemon Sadi shared that unknown paternal bloodline, making Sadi and Yaslana half brothers.