They stared at each other.

“Nurian . . .”

“Get out of my home,” she said quietly, “and don’t ever come back. You’re not welcome here. Not in my home, and not in my bed.”

“Nurian . . .”

“Stay away from me and my sister. You stay away from us, Falonar.”

“Is that what this is really about? That I strapped a little sense into your sister for her own good?”

Nurian looked sick.

Hell’s fire. It had been only a couple of light blows. Just a warning. He’d told the little bitch to keep silent. Looked like she had.

“Stay away from us!” Nurian screamed.

“Nurian?” Jillian hovered in the doorway, with Dorian behind her.

He left. Wasn’t anything he could do until Nurian calmed down enough to listen.

Lucivar had hoped Hallevar would return, but the first person to storm back into the communal eyrie was Nurian.

He felt her anger and distress as she strode toward him, and figured he was the cause of both. Then he saw the mark on her face, and the heat of fury burned over his skin. He swung around the table and headed for the door to explain a couple of things to Falonar. Maybe the bastard wouldn’t feel so much contempt for the Rihlanders when he had to ask one of their Healers to set the broken bones in his hand.

“No!” Nurian made a grab for him as he passed her, then skipped back a step.

Stung by that instinctive move of fear, he stopped and waited.

“You’re not going to do anything about this,” she said, waving her hand at her face.

“That will be true when the sun shines in Hell,” he replied, trying not to snarl. A woman who had been hit by a man didn’t need another one snarling at her.

“I didn’t come here for that. Let it go, Prince.”

He’d hit women, and he’d killed women. But he’d never raised a hand to one unless she’d hurt someone else first.

“Was this the only time?” he asked.

She nodded. “And it will be the last.”

He studied her. Something there in her eyes. She might have forgiven Falonar for one slap, especially today, but not more than one. And not . . .

“Jillian?” he asked.

There it was, that flash of anger that told him what had pushed this woman to draw the line.

“Strapped for her own good,” Nurian said bitterly.

Maybe it’s the first time here, he thought, but you’ve both felt the kiss of leather at some point, haven’t you?

“You say what you want to say, Nurian. Then I want Jillian to report to me here. Is that understood?”

He saw her anger crumbling. Not surprising. Healers didn’t look for a fight unless they were fighting for someone they were healing.

“I knew my service contract expired, and I should have said something.” Nurian’s voice sped up so the words tumbled over one another. “But I thought, since you didn’t say anything, that you were satisfied with my work and the contract could just continue. All right, I know contracts don’t just continue, but I wanted it to. I want to live here, Prince. I want to work here. I can be the Healer for the Eyriens in Ebon Rih and help the Riada Healers so that I do enough work to earn my keep. And I want Jillian to live here. She can fly around these mountains or go down to the village on her own and be safe. You don’t know how much that means to me. How much that means to her. And I know it’s because of the way you rule this valley. I don’t much care about Eyrien traditions. I want what is here for my sister. I want it for me. And I want Jillian to have the weapons training. She’s always been intrigued by weapons, she’s always tried to imitate the moves she saw the men performing—”

And gotten strapped for it? Lucivar wondered.

“—and now she has a chance to learn.” Nurian raised her chin and almost looked him in the eyes. “And I want to learn too.”

Surprised, he rocked back on his heels. “Why?”

She blushed and no longer even tried to meet his eyes. “Your wife is graceful,” she mumbled.

“I think so. What’s that got to do with weapons?”

“It’s the way she moves, the way the training . . .”

Hallevar would shit rocks if he heard that a woman wanted to learn to use the sparring sticks in order to be more graceful. On the other hand, Eyrien warriors were graceful, more so than most of the Eyrien women. He’d initially insisted that the women learn to use weapons so that they could defend themselves sufficiently until help could arrive. He’d eventually stopped insisting after so many of them whined about handling weapons that shouldn’t be used by anyone but an Eyrien warrior.

Personally, he didn’t care why they wanted to learn as long as it helped the women acquire skills to protect themselves. Convincing the other men to accept this renewed female interest in weapons might be a bit more difficult.

“You want to work for me?” he asked.

“Yes.”

No hesitation from her, but he felt a slight hesitation that compelled him to say, “You working for me won’t sit well with Falonar. Not after today.”

She looked sad, confused, sorry. “I love him. I do. But he comes from an aristo family, and I don’t—and that seems to matter to him more and more. I don’t know what he wants from his life, but I’m sure he and I don’t want the same things anymore.”

“All right,” he said gently. “Once I know who’s staying, we’ll figure things out. Until then, get some rest.”

She sniffled once, then squared her shoulders. “I have some tonics to make.”

He waited until she reached the door. “Send Jillian to me.” Seeing the momentary slump of her shoulders before she hurried out, he smiled grimly and thought, Hoped I would forget, didn’t you, witchling?

Then Hallevar, Kohlvar, Rothvar, and Zaranar walked in, and it was time for the next dance.

A shadow. A flutter of air. The sound of boots behind him.

Startled, Rainier stopped his careful walk down the street so that he wouldn’t take a misstep.

“Prince Rainier?”

Leaning on his cane, he looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Lord Endar.”

“Could I talk to you?”

“I need to walk to the end of the street to fulfill the day’s exertions. I could meet you back at The Tavern when I’m done or at that coffee shop across the street.”

“I don’t mind walking.”

A few minutes is too long to wait? “All right.”

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