Shucking off his heavy coat, Theran handed it to Julien and took the letter. “I’ll be in my study.”

“Lady Kermilla wanted to be informed the moment you returned home.”

Should I take my time delivering the message?That was the underlying question.

“Inform the Lady that I’ve returned,” Theran said as he walked away.

Kermilla wanted Julien dismissed. Actually, she wanted the man banned from the town because, on his best days, Julien was barely courteous to her. On the days when memories rode him hard, he couldn’t stand being around her. Since she was still a guest, she had to tolerate the butler. Once she became Queen . . .

Problem was, Julien was damn good at his job, took on more than a butler’s typical duties, and by standing between Kermilla and the rest of the staff, was the only reason the other servants hadn’t resigned.

Why was everyone so resistant and so resentful? Yes, she was sometimes difficult or inconsiderate, but maturity and work that made full use of her abilities would soften those edges. Sure she had a temper, but that just meant she had spine and spirit. And that spine and spirit were the reasons Kermilla was the right Queen for Dena Nehele—the one who could represent their land and people with grace and skill.

The servants grumbled on a daily basis, which he didn’t understand since he hadn’t seen Kermilla doing anything that justified the grumbles. He could ignore the servants for the most part, and did—as long as Julien managed to keep them from leaving. Couldn’t anyone understand that it was an anxious time for all of them and the next few weeks would be so critical? Nerves were a bit frayed and tempers were sharper than they would be normally. But once Kermilla had the assurance of her place in Dena Nehele, everything would settle down.

Could he give her any assurance?

The Warlord Princes he’d met with today had listened—and had offered nothing. Not one indication that they would be willing to accept Kermilla, let alone serve her. And not one spark of interest in meeting her. There was wariness over being seen in her company because Talon had declared her an enemy of the current Queen of Dena Nehele, but there wasn’t any sign of the suppressed interest he’d expected once he’d hinted that Talon’s declaration would no longer apply come spring.

What was he supposed to do about that? Having the backing of at least some of the Warlord Princes and minor Queens was crucial.

He riffled through the opened mail. Invitations? Well, he didn’t mind her opening those. Not really. After all, she’d be attending those events with him, so she should have a say in which ones they accepted. But the rest . . .

Uneasiness rippled through him, a warning that something wasn’t good, wasn’t right. Then Kermilla walked into the study, and the uneasiness was buried under his craving to be with her and use everything he was for her pleasure—whatever that pleasure might be. The uneasiness was buried, but not the anger.

“Oh,la, Theran,” Kermilla said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t get back in time. There’s a delightful little party later this afternoon that Imust attend and—”

“Why did you open my private correspondence?” He hadn’t realizedhow much anger he was keeping leashed until he heard the roughness in his voice.

She stopped moving toward the desk. She lowered her head and looked at him through her lashes while her mouth shifted into its sexy pout. “I was just trying to help. And I wanted to learn. You’re always telling me that I need to learn more about Dena Nehele.”

“You learn by talking . . .”Listening. “. . .or asking.Not by violating someone’s privacy.”

“Violating?” She widened her eyes. “That’s a harsh word. I just looked at a few silly old letters.”

“No, it’s not a harsh word.” He fanned the stack of letters and the uneasiness returned. *Julien? How many letters did you put on the desk this morning?*

*Five invitations and seven letters.*

Theran counted them again, then moved them to make sure nothing was hidden.

Five invitations—and five letters.

“What happened to the other two letters, Kermilla?” he asked. Before she could lie to him, he added, “There were seven letters delivered. There are five here now. Where are the other two?”

“They were very rude.” She enhanced the pout. “I burned them.”

“You burned letters addressed to me?”

“They were rude.”

“I don’t give a damn how rude they were. You had no business reading them, let alone burning them!”

Her eyes flashed with temper. “Nothing is hidden from a Queen, Prince.Nothing. ”

A cold fist wrapped around his spine—and squeezed. “Those letters. Who were they from?”

She tossed her head and said dismissively, “I don’t remember.”

His temper slipped the leash for a moment and thundered through the room, knocking a painting off the wall and sending several useless porcelain figurines crashing to the floor.

No color in her face. Fear in her eyes.

“Who were they from?” he snarled.

“Ferall and . . . I don’t remember the other name. I don’t!”

Ferall. Mother Night. He hadn’t expected to getany response from Ferall. He couldn’t ask the man to send the letter again. And outside of being “rude,” which could mean anything, he had no idea what kind of answer he’d been given to his carefully worded inquiries. He knew Ferall wouldn’t serve Kermilla, but he wanted some assurance the other Warlord Prince wouldn’t actively go after Dena Nehele’s new Queen.

“Don’t do it again,” he said, breaking the seal on Cassidy’s letter. “I don’t give a damn what youthink a Queen is entitled to do. Any correspondence addressed to me isprivate. You don’t open it without my consent. Is that clear?”

She pulled her shoulders back and raised her chin, the picture of wounded dignity. “Perfectly clear.”

He began reading Cassidy’s letter. No, not a letter. Some kind of official document that . . .

“Theran, what about the invitation for this afternoon?” Kermilla asked. “It’s really important that I—”

“You bitch,” he snarled. “You cold-bloodedbitch. ”

“Theran!” She sounded shocked.

He rushed out of the study and roared to release some temper. “Julien! My coat!”

Julien hurried to the entranceway, holding the coat open. “Prince?”

Anne Bishop Books | Science Fiction Books | The Black Jewels Series Books