“What are you looking at?” Shira asked, her dark eyes reflecting the pleasure of their lovemaking as well as amusement.

His thoughts had drifted beyond her bedroom, but his eyes had been focused on her br**sts.

He lowered his head and placed one warm kiss between her br**sts before saying, “A Shalador beauty.”

Her response was a little snort. “I know what I look like.”

“But you don’t see what I see,” Ranon said. He was considered a handsome man. The sharp features typical of his people gave his face a rugged handsomeness that went well with a warrior’s lean body, and he had the dark eyes, dark hair, and golden skin that made Shaladorans distinct from the brown-skinned, long-lived races or the fair-skinned races like the people of Dena Nehele.

She had the look of their people, too, and many men had thought the sharp bones of her face and the curves that lacked abundance made her less appealing as a lover—and her sharp tongue and temper discouraged most men from getting close to her. But it was exactly those things about her that excited him in ways no other woman had, and he understood why Gray could look at Cassidy—whom even the most generous supporter could not call pretty—and see a beautiful woman.

Shira turned her head away from him, an evasive movement that wasn’t typical of her.

He considered his words.You don’t see what I see. Then he considered the nature of a Black Widow’s Craft and felt a chill settle in his belly.

“Shira? Have you seen something in a tangled web?”

“I can’t talk about it.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Can’t, won’t. The words make no difference.”

They made a difference to him. His voice went flat. “You saw something in a web of dreams and visions. Didn’t you?”

“I can’t speak of it, Ranon. None of us will speak of it.”

The chill in his belly turned to jagged ice. “How many Black Widows have seen this?”

She sighed, a sound full of exasperation and a hint of anger.

He shifted away from her, sat up, and wrapped his arms around his bent knees. He had no right to push. If she felt he needed to know, she would have told him. Hell’s fire! She was the one who had pushed him to come to Grayhaven when Theran had first summoned the Warlord Princes to talk about bringing a Queen from Kaeleer. She hadn’t told him anything then, either. She’d just said he had to go.

The Hourglass didn’t divulge what they saw in their tangled webs. Not very often, anyway. And not directly. But a Black Widow never made a suggestion about an action to take without a reason.

“Is it something to do with Cassidy?” he asked.

She didn’t answer.

“Shira . . .” He didn’t know what to ask.

Finally Shira asked quietly, “Who has your loyalty, Prince Ranon? Tell me the list in order.”

His heart ached, but she had asked. Because he would give her nothing less than honesty, the words had to be said. “I love you with everything I am, but my first loyalty is to my Queen. Then you, then our people, then Dena Nehele.”

She sat up and pressed a hand against his face. When he looked at her, she said fiercely, “Remember the order of that list. Hold on to it with everything you are.”

Was she warning him that something might happen to Cassie when they went to the Shalador reserves?

“Hold on to it the same way you’ve held on to your honor,” Shira said.

And that was the answer: Cassidy the Queen came before anything and everything else—his lover, his people, his land.

The visions seen in tangled webs didn’t always come true. Sometimes they were warnings of what might be. Shira was telling him that his choices would make a difference.His choices. And she had told him, without breaking her own code of honor, what his choice had to be.

That night, while Shira slept and he lay awake staring at the dark ceiling of her bedroom, he realized that fear could entwine with hope as well as love, and all he could do was give his best to the two women who were now the center of his life.



Daemon rounded a corner and let out a roar—which only made his quarry pump those little legs faster.

Hell’s fire. He’d only looked away for a minute while he was packing up the things Daemonar would take home. One damn minute! That’s all it had taken for the boy to shoot out of the bedroom like an arrow released from a bow.

Well, if this was going to be their last pissing contest during this visit, he wasnot going to lose.

He was going to lose.

When he realized the stairs leading down to the informal receiving room—and beyond that, the great hall—were up ahead, heran. The boy was going too fast to get down those stairs without a bad tumble.

Almost in reach. If he couldn’t stop Daemonar . . .

The boy spread those little membranous wings and launched himself over the railing.

Daemon gave a moment’s thought to leaping over the railing and using Craft to make a controlled slide on air, but that wasn’t an easy bit of Craft to do, despite how simple Jaenelle always made it seem, and since it wasn’t something he did on a regular basis—until lately, anyway—a miscalculation could end with a broken leg. Or worse.

At least the door to the great hall was closed, Daemon thought as he pounded down the stairs. At least the little beast didn’t know how to make a pass through a solid object. At least he’d only be chasing a flying boy around a contained space.

Which was when Holt opened the door—and Daemonar dove right at the footman’s head. Startled, Holt dove for the floor, and Daemonar flew past him into the great hall and let out a happy squeal.

Damn! Did someone just open the front door? If Daemonar got outside, it might takehours to catch him.

Leaping over Holt, Daemon skidded into the great hall.

And there was Lucivar, with his arms full of happy boy.

“Hello, boyo,” Lucivar said, giving his bundle of boy a smacking kiss on the cheek.

“Papa! Papa!”

Daemon braced one hand on the wall and sucked in air while he watched the reunion.

“Were you a good boy?” Lucivar asked Daemonar. He gave Daemon what might have been a sheepish look—if it had been anyone else but Lucivar.

“Guess what, Papa! Unka Daemon fell out of a tree!”

Daemon’s face burned with embarrassment.

Lucivar kept his eyes on his son. “What was Uncle Daemon doing in the tree?”

Daemonar suddenly turned shy and began playing with the gold chain that held Lucivar’s Birthright Red Jewel.

Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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