A Territory Queen.La, wasn’t that wonderful? All right, it wasn’t a rich, exciting Territory, and itwas in Terreille, but the tithes had to be worth the responsibilities, so they would beso much better than that little sheep-shit village of Bhak or, worse, Woolskin. She’d try for a five-year contract. Theran would get it for her. And she wouldn’t shirk her duties. Really, she wouldn’t. But she’d make sure there was somefun too.

It had been satisfying to teach those other Queens about draining power into the land. Such a basic thing, and they didn’t know it.La! They weren’t much better than landens. Not that she’dsaid that. She supposed they were nice enough, but most of them were older than her and they looked so tatty and didn’t talk about anything interesting. How could they expect anyone to take them seriously as Queens when they dressed like that and didn’t know how to be interesting?

She would set an example, even set the fashion trends. Wouldn’t that be fun? Of course, because Freckledy had gotten into a snit, she was stuck here in Grayhaven, which was supposed to be the capital of Dena Nehele and an Important Town. There wasn’t anything here thatshe considered impressive. If this was the best they could do, maybe she didn’t want to rule here after all.

No, of course she wanted to rule here. When would she get another opportunity to rule a whole Territory? Sabrina was going to be ruling Dharo for years and years, and there were too many other strong Queens to choose from when it came time for a successor. She could continue to rule Bhak and keep a connection with Dharo that way. A few days each season would be sufficient for whatever required her attention. Her Steward could run Bhak and landen Woolskin the rest of the time and just send her reports—and the all-important income from the tithes. Then, if she decided not to stay in Dena Nehele and nothing better turned up in Terreille, she could go home, a seasoned Queen who might not be offered a Province—yet—but should be given her pick of the larger cities that could offer more diversity in terms of society and entertainment—and shops.

If she was going to stay here, she would need more company. Nottoo much company, since Theran was more than a bit stingy and he would have to support any Ladies who were her companions. But that one young Queen who had come with the others—she and Correne had become friends within minutes, and the girl was enough like her to fit right in. At sixteen, Correne wasn’t a baby, but she was still too young to be serious competition, despite being pretty. No Queen was serious competition until she had her Virgin Night and could offer some enticement to the males without risking her own power.

A knock on her door.

“Come in,” she said gaily.

Jhorma slipped into the room and closed the door.

Kermilla watched him as he approached the bed. He was a handsome man and a skilled lover, but there wasn’t the heat in his eyes for her that there had been while he was chained to Cassidy’s bed. Oh, he came to her bed hungry to please—and to take his own relief as a reward—and he never made excuses to get out of performing the way he did with Freckledy toward the end of his contract. But he didn’t look at her the way Theran did. She was getting the impression that Jhorma could swap her with any female body and be just as thorough and enthusiastic—as long as he got his own pleasure at the end. Theran looked at her as if she was the only one he wanted, the only one who could satisfy him.

Jhorma didn’t remove his jacket before sitting beside her on the bed, didn’t make any move to touch her.

“We need to talk,” he said.

She ran a finger down his arm and smiled playfully. “Sex first, talk later.”

He didn’t smile back. “How much longer are we going to be stuck in this place?”

Her smile soured to a frown. “For as long as I say we stay.”

“Cassidy isn’t here, and it doesn’t sound like she’s coming back. When you decided to come here, you told Gallard we would be gone a couple of days. Three at the most. He assigned the escorts according to that information.”


“Aston and Ridley have families. They want to go home. They wouldn’t have been given this assignment if the Steward had known we’d be away this long.”

She sat up, stung that Jhorma was more interested in talking about Aston and Ridley than in having sex with her.

“Fine,” she snapped. “Tell the whiny boys who are missing the nipple that they can go home.”

Anger flashed in his eyes before he hid it.

He hadn’t shown her anger since he’d signed a contract to serve as her Consort, but he hadn’t hesitated to give her a verbal slap when she’d been training in Freckledy’s court and had said something cutting about one of the other men.

But he’d always smiled indulgently when she’d referred to Cassidy as Freckledy. She’d just forgotten how testy the males could be when you made fun of one ofthem.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was uncalled for. It’s just . . . I don’t feel like I have any support here.”

“Then maybe we should all go back to Dharo.”

But I have a chance to rule a whole Territory.

Not something she could say to him.He wouldn’t be part of that court. She didn’t pay attention when Theran began droning on and on about Dena Nehele, but she did understand that he and the other Warlord Princes here never would tolerate a ruling court made up of outsiders. Something about courts like that ruling here before and making a mess of things.

Maybe she could go back to Dharo and return here next spring when Cassidy’s contract ended. No, she couldn’t. She had to show these people she was the better Queen, and she couldn’t do that unless she was hereshowing them she was the better Queen. Just like she’d done in Bhak when she’d won over Freckledy’s court.

“There are reasons why I need to stay,” she said. “If Aston and Ridley need to return to Dharo, they can go. But two others from the First Circle should take their place.”

“I’ll convey the message,” Jhorma said. “Do you want sex now?”

“No, I do not want sex now.” Especially when he might have been asking her if she wanted a cup of tea.

“As you please.” Jhorma rose and walked out of the room.

Shehad wanted sex, but he’d spoiled her mood.

So maybe she’d take a walk in the moonlight with Theran this evening and see if he had any experience behind that enthusiasm.

Accepting Gray’s assistance, Cassidy stepped out of the carriage and looked at the boardinghouse. Queen’s Residence, she reminded herself. Somehow, while dealing with the snarls and grumbles that had been a constant background during this journey, she had agreed that the boardinghouse now be referred to as the Queen’s Residence.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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