So he did. He kissed her. And when he was done, one of her hands was fisted in his hair, encouraging him not to go too far away.

“I gave Gray some tips about romantic kissing,” he said as his lips drifted across her face, leaving a trail of delicate kisses.

“You did?” She sounded breathless, and her scent had shifted toward arousal enough to warm his blood very nicely.

“Hmm. I don’t think he had his mind on much else through the whole of dinner.”

“That explains why he was so cheerful,” Jaenelle murmured, tipping her head to one side so that he could nibble on his favorite part of her neck.

“Lucivar is a more difficult challenge.” He slipped one hand under her nightgown and his fingertips whispered up and down the insides of her thighs.

Nothing in her eyes now but desire. Nothing in her touch but love as she slipped a hand under the covers and stroked him.

“I should practice my technique,” he said as he licked the valley between her br**sts.

“Daemon,” she gasped when his fingers found other interesting bits of her to play with. “How much practice do you need?”

He settled over her, enjoying, for the moment, the thin barrier of fabric between them. “I’ll let you know in the morning,” he purred.

Her reply was a moan of pleasure.


Theran walked into the parlor in the family wing and flopped on the sofa.

“Want some brandy?” Talon asked.


He accepted the glass Talon poured for him, then slugged back half the liquor.

“How did it go tonight?” Talon asked, settling into a chair near the sofa.

“Well enough.”

“Is Gray all right?”

Theran made a sound that might have been a laugh. “Better than I am.”

“You hurt?”

He shook his head. He didn’t want Talon to be alarmed; he just didn’t know if he should repeat what he’d been told. Wasn’t sure he wanted Talon to agree with the High Lord’s assessment.

“Gray is like them,” he said, swirling the brandy so he wouldn’t have to look at Talon. “He fit in like he was just another piece of an intricate pattern. The way he talked with them, listened to them. If he decides to emigrate to Dharo, they’ll help him.”

“If he decides what?”

Theran winced. Of course Talon didn’t know about it. Gray hadn’t mentioned it until this morning.

“I didn’t know him tonight,” Theran said. “He had one of his . . . scares . . .”

“Damn,” Talon muttered.

“. . . and they handled it, Sadi and the High Lord. Soothing spells and power. They got him settled in minutes.”

“Did you think to ask about the spell?” Talon asked. “Sounds like a handy thing to know. Hell’s fire, I’ve tried everything I know and couldn’t get him settled when he was having a bad night.”

“The High Lord took me aside after dinner and taught me the soothing spell he’d used. He considered it a basic spell and was surprised that it wasn’t part of our usual training.”

Talon studied him, then sat back in his chair. “You’re circling around something.”

“Theran’s blade,” Theran said quietly. “Gray and I used to joke about him being my great protector. But Jewels only measure one kind of power, don’t they? Two men can wear the same Jewel, even have the exact same depth of power, and one might be a dominant male, while the other is better as a follower. If Gray hadn’t been captured twelve years ago, if we’d both grown up as we should have, he would have been my defender. He would have stood in front of me. Overshadowed me. Because he’s a Warlord Prince like they are—like Sadi and Yaslana—or he would have been. I could almost see him changing, hour by hour, as he talked with them. The High Lord said that even with his emotional scars, Gray won’t have any trouble settling in Kaeleer if that’s what he decides to do.”

Theran drained his glass and poured himself another. “Gray remained a child all these years, so I had to become a man.”

“You would have become a man no matter what,” Talon said. He shifted in his chair, a restless movement that wasn’t like him. “So you don’t fit in with Sadi and Yaslana. There aren’t many who could.”

“Guess not.”

“Go to bed,” Talon said. “Things will look different after some sleep.”

Theran rose and lifted his glass in a salute. “I’ll do that.”

Talon waited until Theran left the room before he got up to pour and warm a glass of yarbarah.

. . . Jewels only measure one kind of power. . . . would have stood in front of me . . . Overshadowed me . . . he’s a Warlord Prince like they are....

Talon raised the glass and studied the blood wine. “Theran, my boy, I’ll never say this to your face, but you’re right about Gray. He would have overshadowed you. Not deliberately. He’d been taught from the cradle on up that he was your sword and your shield. Had been raised to believe it was his duty to protect and defend the Grayhaven line. Men have followed you because of your name, but being a leader is still an ill-fitting coat on you. For Gray, being the dominant Warlord Prince of Dena Nehele would have been as natural as breathing.”

He took a swallow of yarbarah. “You might have ended up hating him for being what everyone expected you to be. And as much as my heart aches to say it, and as much as I wish he’d never been harmed, maybe it’s just as well he’s waking up now when you’re old enough to hold your own.”

Talon drank the rest of the yarbarah and sighed. “Maybe it’s just as well.”

Gray leaned against the outside wall of the stone shed and studied the glow of witchlight coming from his window. Soft light, Daemon had said. Enough so nobody was stumbling around in the dark, but not so much to spotlight desire. It was easier to yield just a little more in the dark.

And wasn’t that a wonder? he thought as he waited for Cassie. Talking to Daemon was like having an older friend who not only knew things about women but was willing to tell you things.

Was willing to do more than tell.

“Put your hands on her waist. Like this. She’ll be so concerned with apologizing for that damn illusion spell, she won’t even notice your hands until the warmth seeps through her clothes. That moment when she becomes aware is when the romance needs to begin. She’s feeling vulnerable tonight. She’ll try to shy away. This is the moment when you offer just enough to make her want more. Let her lose a few hours’ sleep because you’ve given her a reason to think about you. To wonder about you. To dream about you.”

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction