“But if a particular person were to ask my opinion about a possible alternative to being a guard?”

“You could mention that you’d heard I was looking for a teacher.”

He left Rainier a few minutes later and went into the bathroom. He washed the salve off his shielded hands and then, dropping the shield, washed his hands again. Then he tapped on the other door.

“It’s open,” Surreal said.

He walked into her room and stopped, feeling his heart kick once.

Short blades, long blades, slim blades and double-edged. Even an Eyrien hunting knife she’d probably had Kohlvar make for her the last time she’d stayed in Ebon Rih.

Her gold-green eyes were focused on him as her hands unerringly stroked a blade over the whetstone. There was something terrifyingly erotic about watching Surreal hone her blades.

“You won’t need those tomorrow,” he said.

She just smiled.

Because of what he saw in her eyes, he didn’t get near her. That was simply caution. He could meet her in a fight and win. They both knew it. He also knew he needed to talk to Daemon very soon.

He could meet her in a fight and win. But outside of a fight, he wasn’t sure what to do with a Gray-Jeweled witch who might be drifting too close to the borders of the Twisted Kingdom.

FIVE

Surreal set two plates on the table, then poured two cups of coffee and took a seat.

Rainier studied the chunks of chicken and ham on top of a generous portion of casserole. “Didn’t Merry serve this casserole for dinner last night?”

“It has eggs, so today it’s a breakfast casserole. Toast?” Her sharp smile told him what he could do with his next comment about the casserole.

He took a piece of toast and dug in to his meal.

They’d gone down to the coffee shop and bakery every morning, so having breakfast in The Tavern’s main room felt strange. Then again, a lot of things had felt strange lately. When Endar and the other Eyriens came to see Rainier, she’d been ready to fight, almost needed to fight.

But there was no reason to fight, because Endar, Hallevar, and the other men had been making an effort to help Rainier, working with him, even being protective of him as he began exercising the damaged leg.

Feeling easier about Rainier after that first workout, she thought she’d gotten over whatever was riding her temper. Then Jillian showed up yesterday morning. The teacher was sick. School was canceled. Lucivar let the girl stay to be her partner with the sparring sticks, having Endar stand as their instructor.

Nothing wrong with Endar. He was a gentle man with an abundance of patience. But she saw him raise a sparring stick and step toward Jillian—which was what he was supposed to do because he’d been demonstrating a move—and she almost attacked him, almost gutted him.

She’d have to talk to Jaenelle before she did something that couldn’t be undone. It was possible there was some unexpected residue from the poisoning. Maybe the poison, and the illness that followed, had stirred up memories that plagued her dreams but disappeared by morning, leaving her feeling tired and vulnerable.

But today there were simpler problems to face.

“I think we should run The Tavern,” she said. “Merry is down with that stomach upset, and Briggs bolted upstairs at the first whiff of food.”

“You’re going to cook?” Rainier asked. “Not that you can’t, but Merry usually makes a significant amount of food for a day.”

“And we won’t. I’ll see what’s left over from yesterday. We can make sandwiches, maybe a soup. And serve drinks and coffee. Anyone who wants more can go somewhere else. You could settle yourself on that stool Briggs keeps behind the bar for the slow times. I’ll wait on the tables.”

“We should check with Lucivar.” Rainier glanced up as the door opened.

“Go away. We’re not open yet,” Surreal snapped without looking around to see who had come in.

“You’re not open yet?” Lucivar asked as he walked up to their table and looked at Rainier. “And what do you need to check with me?”

Shit shit shit. “Merry and Briggs are down with that disgusting stomach illness,” she said. “Instead of them losing a day’s business as well as feeling miserable, I thought Rainier and I could run the place for them.”

“Well, having the two of you running things would either scare away all the customers or bring in a crowd to watch the show,” Lucivar said.

Choosing to ignore him because he was right, she ate a neat bite of her breakfast.

“We could open late, after the day’s training,” Rainier said.

“No training today,” Lucivar said. “That’s what I came to tell you.”

“Is there a reason for that?” Surreal asked.

“Yes, there is.”

She glanced at Rainier. Something going on here, and Rainier knows what it is. Or at least knows some of it.

“Marian’s making a couple of soups this morning,” Lucivar said. “If you bring a pot and the supplies up to the eyrie, I think she’d be willing to make a pot for you to serve here.”

“All right.”

Rainier called in a leather case similar to the ones Daemon and Lord Marcus, his man of business, used when conveying documents.

“I reviewed them and sorted them as you asked,” Rainier said. “And confirmed what you already knew.”

“Thanks.” Lucivar vanished the leather case and gave Rainier a sharp look. “Daemon should be at the Keep by now. He and I have something to discuss. Then he’ll be coming here to talk to you.”

“Why? I haven’t done anything to annoy him.”

“I know you haven’t,” Lucivar said.

“I haven’t done anything either,” Surreal said primly.

“Don’t push your luck. You, I’m not sure of.”

She laughed, more to encourage him to leave than because she was amused.

The moment he did leave, she leaned toward Rainier. “What’s going on? He’s been flying all over the valley and hasn’t been focused on any of the workouts except yours.”

“And yours,” Rainier said. “He flies around the valley all the time, keeping tabs on the Rihlander villages and the Eyrien camps.”

She shrugged that off. “This is different. Obviously he asked you to do some paperwork for him, quietly. And now Sadi has arrived for an early-morning meeting—and Marian is making a lot of soup, which means she wants something easy that she can offer to a lot of guests.”

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