“A Guardian,” Lucivar said. “One of the living dead. And the High Lord of Hell.”

Ice twined around Talon’s spine. Saetan had sired Sadi and Yaslana? Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful!

That explained some things about the two of them. And it made Talon wonder if going to Sadi for a favor hadn’t been a serious mistake if his brother was also going to take an interest in Dena Nehele.

And his father as well? That wasn’t a thought Talon wanted to entertain.

“What’s your unofficial business?” Talon asked.

Lucivar’s gold eyes glazed. “I don’t like what I see here,Talon. I don’t like what I feel here. If it doesn’t change, I’m taking Cassidy back to Kaeleer, and I’ll leave nothing but corpses behind me.”

“You have no right to make that decision.”

“I say I do. Your Queen got hurt today, and not one of her court did a damn thing to stop it.”

“Hurt? How? What happened?”

“Ask the First Circle. Ask the First Escort, who’s lucky to still be alive.”

“What happened?” Talon asked again.

“I figured it was better for everyone if I didn’t ask for the details.”

Hell’s fire.

Something wasn’t right. Even if Yaslana was here because Sadi had asked his brother to play messenger, Lucivar’s interest in Cassidy seemed a bit too proprietary.

“What’s your interest in a Rose-Jeweled Queen?” Talon asked. He’d tried to put it aside because Cassidy seemed a likable enough girl—and because there was something about her that pulled at him and pulled hard—but the truth was they needed strength and had gotten weakness.

Lucivar tipped his head, and his expression changed to cold amusement. “You don’t know? Your boy Grayhaven didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“The Jewels a Queen wears are not the only kind of power she wields. You should know that well enough. How many of the Queens you endured over these past few decades would have ruled at all if they hadn’t been backed by that bitch Dorothea SaDiablo?”

“None,” Talon said bitterly. “What’s that got to do with the here and now?”

“Connections, Prince. You looked at Cassidy’s Jewels and forgot to consider the connections.”

“What connections?”

“Do you know why Cassidy is here?” Lucivar asked.

“Because Sadi’s wife is a friend of hers, and Theran’s choice was to take Cassidy or walk away without a Queen,” Talon snapped, frustrated enough to be imprudent.

“Sadi’s wife.”

“A Queen who doesn’t seem able to form a court of her own, even with Sadi’s backing.”

The room suddenly turned cold enough to bite.

“Your boy left out a few things,” Lucivar said too softly. “Because of that, I’ll overlook your lack of courtesy. This time. Since Grayhaven has chosen to leave out a few details—or didn’t care enough to ask—you would do well to ask Cassidy a few questions. Like who really sent her to Dena Nehele.”

The cold was turning his muscles to stone. He wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to avoid an attack. Wouldn’t survive an attack even if he could move.

Killing field. Battlefield. Didn’t matter. Any man who fought knew that no one on the opposing side survived when Yaslana stepped into a fight.

“I’ll be back, Talon,” Lucivar said as he turned toward the door. “You can count on it. And the next time I won’t be as forgiving. You can count on that too.”

Lucivar opened the door, then stopped and looked back. “The Warlord Prince Gray.”

Talon swallowed hard. Mother Night! How would a defense-less boy like Gray handle crossing paths with something like Yaslana? “What about him?”

“How old was he when he was tortured?”

Talon rocked back on his heels, not sure what to think. “How did you know?”

Lucivar snorted. “I’ve lived seventeen hundred years. I’ve seen a lot of courts and a lot of men during that time. I know the look, and I know the feel, of a man who’s been tortured.”

“Fifteen,” Talon said. “He was fifteen years old and the most promising Warlord Prince to come along in a couple generations or more. Not as good with weapons as Theran, but stronger in other ways. He could have been stronger.” He sighed, feeling the old regrets. “Wasn’t much left of that promising boy two years later when I finally found him and got him away from the bitch.”

Lucivar just looked at him for a long time. “Ask the questions, Prince,” he said softly. “Ask the questions before it’s too late.”

Talon waited until Lucivar left the room before he drained the second glass of yarbarah. Then he corked the bottle and put a cooling spell on it. He wanted more, needed more blood, since he’d resisted asking for any—or demanding any—from the Warlord Princes in the court since the night Cassidy had freely given her blood.

“Too many warnings and not enough information,” Talon growled.

When he opened the door, he found Ranon on the other side.

“I came to tell you the Eyrien is gone,” Ranon said.

“In here,” Talon snapped.

Ranon came into the room, wary.

“What in the name of Hell happened today?”

“I don’t know,” Ranon said.

“You have no idea how much trouble we’re in, so don’t be playing games with me.”

“I don’t know!”

Frustration. Worry. Ranon wasn’t trying to hide those things.

“Then tell me what you do know.”

“I respectfully refuse to give you a shovel. Or a hoe. Or a rake. Or any of the tools. I Craft-locked the shed.”

Cassidy slanted a look at Gray, who had crept up to the flower bed and now stood a long step away from her.

Her hands throbbed whenever she lowered them. Her arms ached when she held her hands up. She shouldn’t even be out there. She should be in her room, resting. She’d slept for a little while after Shira finished the healing and helped her to her suite, but she didn’t feel easy about being inside the house. At least out here, there was the illusion of comfort.

Then the phrasing Gray used sank in and had her looking at him more closely—and had her eyeing the book he clutched to his chest like a shield.

“Is that one of the books of Protocol I brought?”


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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