The key was embedded in the wood, and when she tried to remove it, it broke cleanly, becoming nothing more than an odd gold glint in the wood.

She put the rest of the key in her own trinket box, then finished putting the room in order.

Time had made its shift from late night to early morning before she finally climbed into bed withVae stretched out beside her.

Just before she fell asleep, she realized why the servants had acted so oddly when she’d chosen these rooms over the fancy Queen’s suite.

This must have been the suite that had belonged to Lia.



Vulchera slipped into the bedroom and looked around. The maid had turned down the bedcovers and plumped the pillows. Everything was ready for the Warlord when he bade the other guests good night and came up here to his chaste bed.

Damn Sadi for his lack of discretion. Why in the name of Hell did he have to explode like that? She hadn’t been aiming for him at that house party. Not initially. But when he wouldn’t even flirt with her, when he looked at her with those cold yellow eyes like she was some kind of scabby street whore, when every remark he did make to her had been blandly worded but so heavily laced with contempt everyone knew he wouldn’t consider soiling himself by being with her . . .

Well, she had her pride, didn’t she? She’d wanted only to give him a twinge of discomfort, a little payback because the other men who had been present at Rhea’s country house had taken a good measure of Sadi’s feelings and avoided her.

She’d wanted only to make him uneasy. She certainly hadn’t intended to do anything that would upset Jaenelle Angelline. Anyone who had heard about what Sadi had done to Lady Lektra last spring knew better than to aim anything, even a barbed comment, at Sadi’s wife.

But he had exploded when he found her in his room, had heaped his rage on Rhea’s head to the point where the Province Queen had “suggested” she leave their little house party—and had made it clear there would never be another invitation.

They had been friends, and she’d truly liked Rhea. Besides, having a Province Queen as a friend had put her in contact with the kind of men who could be most useful, and it had provided her with some clout she wouldn’t have had otherwise when she’d asked for favors from those men, even if Rhea hadn’t been aware of providing that clout. Now it was all spoiled because she had miscalculated the depth of Sadi’s rage.

None of that mattered now. Rhea still wanted to believe that she had intended to meet a lover who was an available male and had gotten the rooms mixed up. But they both knew Rhea’s court was going to break under the weight of Sadi’s temper, and that the friendship was just the first thing to break because of her mistake.

It wasn’t prudent to play this game again so soon, especially at this particular friend’s house. His wife didn’t like her. He didn’t like her, but he was an aristo Warlord who had wanted a bit of spice instead of what he usually found in his marriage bed. The shirt she’d kept as a memento of that evening gave her a standing invitation to his house—at least until his youngest son went through the Birthright Ceremony and he was granted paternity.

But she had to know—had to—if Sadi’s threat had been an empty one. She’d gone to her Healer and was assured there was nothing wrong. She’d gone to a Black Widow, who assured her there was no sign of any kind of spell around her.

Assurances. But not enough assurance, not when the person aiming a spell at her was a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince. She had to know if Sadi really could strip her of the ability to get any pleasure out of sex.

She’d picked the Warlord at this house party because he was married and he’d made it clear he wanted to romp. At any other time, she wouldn’t have done more than flirt with him, because he wasn’t wealthy enough or influential enough to do her favors. But he would help her prove that nothing would happen to her—as long as she avoided crossing paths with Sadi.

The candle-light in the lamp on the table beside the bed was on a low setting and, oddly, lit only one side of the room, leaving the other side midnight dark. She shrugged off that detail even quicker than she stripped off her clothes until she was down to high-heeled shoes and sheer panties.

And wasn’t that considerate of him? she thought when she noticed the shirt draped over a chair.

Heavy silk, lovely to touch. She hadn’t seen him wear anything like this, wouldn’t have guessed he could afford a shirt like this.

Unless this was the shirt he offered women for a romp.

The thought wasn’t appealing, and even less appealing was the possibility that he might not think her being here was anything special.

But there was a hint of spice rising up from the shirt where her hands had warmed the silk. Not cologne, just a spicy male scent that made her feel fluid and female.

She slipped on the shirt, loving the way it settled over her skin. She buttoned the cuffs, then buttoned half the buttons down the front.

She twirled once, twice. The shirt caressed her skin as it settled around her.

A bead of sweat tickled her as it followed the channel of her spine.

Damn, damn, damn. She didn’t want to sweat. At least, not before she and the Warlord were heavily into the romp part of the evening.

Then she caught sight of herself in the mirror over the dressing table.

Dark specks on the shirt, growing bigger by the moment.

More sweat trickling down her spine.

What in the name of Hell was going on?

She walked over to the mirror to get a better look. The shirt was clinging to her shoulders. As she reached the mirror, she pressed her fingers on a patch of now-dark silk.

When she raised her fingers, they were wet—and red.

She was sweating blood. How could she be sweating blood?

The shirt. Had to be something in the shirt.

She grabbed the fabric with both hands, intending to tear the shirt off.

Blood gushed from her hands.

She released the fabric and stumbled toward the door.

Help. She needed help.

The door wouldn’t open.

She pounded on the door, leaving bloody handprints.

“Help me! Somebody, help me!”

No response from the other side of the door.

“They can’t hear you,” a deep voice said in a singsong croon. “They won’t help you.”

She turned toward the voice coming from the dark side of the room. “My lover will be coming up to bed at any moment.”

Movement. Then a man appeared on the edge of the dark side of the room. Most of his face was still in shadow, but his smile was viciously gentle. “The Warlord? No, my dear, he won’t be coming up here. He was encouraged to leave and is, by now, on his way home.”

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction