Books


Tangled Webs

Tangled Webs

Roc
March 2008
Hardcover ISBN-13:
978-0-451-46160-5

Paperback ISBN-13:
978-0-451-46222-0

Cover:
Art by Larry Rostant
Design by Ray Lundgren

available as audio bookavailable as ebook

 




EXCERPT

Copyright © 2008 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)


Prologue

He laid his hand on the cover of his latest book, closed his eyes to shut out the world around him, and savored this new reality that was still so painfully sweet.

They had embraced his previous story about Landry Langston. They had read his thinly veiled discovery about himself and had bought more copies of that book than any other.

He was one of them. Cheated out of his heritage for so many years and discovering his true nature only by accident, now he could stand among them as an equal. Some--themselves insignificant--had thought him worthy enough to be a casual acquaintance because his writing skills had earned him fame and wealth, had earned him invitations to parties and literary discussions that would otherwise be closed to a landen.

Now they would welcome him simply because of the power that flowed in his veins.

He’d been overwhelmed by his discovery and had kept it a secret for all these months. Well, an open secret since he’d put it down on paper for all to read. But now he was ready to walk among them, to be acknowledged by them. Not just by the society sparklers, but by the true aristos. He’d even taken the first step to indicate he would welcome just such an invitation.

He could see himself sitting at the dining table at SaDiablo Hall, one of a small number of select guests. He would entertain the other guests with amusing stories, and he would flirt with the Lady--but not so much that he would offend his host. He’d heard rumors about a fool who had offended Daemon Sadi in that way.

Had Sadi really burned out the man’s brain using witchfire? How intriguing. Perhaps…

There was so much to learn now that he was one of them. So much. And there was so much he could do now that he was no longer shackled by landen law. So much he couldn’t have tried before. Except in stories.

For a long time he’d feared there was something wrong with him that made him crave the violence that had no outlet except being poured into his stories. Now he knew that violence was simply part of his nature.

Oh, yes. He was one of them now. One of the ones who walked the Realms in all their dark glory.

He was no longer an insignificant landen, chained by someone else’s rules.

He was Blood.

dingbat



Chapter 1

“Hell’s fire.”

Surreal SaDiablo stared at the page she was currently reading, then let the book drop into her lap. “A body in a closet? What kind of idiot leaves a body in a closet?”

“Someone who doesn’t have large furry friends who think ‘human’ and ‘snack’ mean the same thing?” Daemon replied in an offhand way that told her he was paying some attention but not really listening, his thoughts still on the papers spread out around him.

Another woman might have been insulted by that lack of immediate attention. Knowing the man, Surreal just waited.     Looking at Daemon Sadi wasn’t a hardship at any time, but at the moment, he was comfortably rumpled, which made the picture even more delicious. His thick black hair was disheveled from his fingers running through it while he read reports and made notes of things he wanted to discuss with Dhemlan’s Province Queens. His white silk shirt was partially unbuttoned, giving her a view of toned muscles and golden brown skin, as well as little flashes of the Red Birthright Jewel that hung from a gold chain around his neck. His bare feet rested on a pillow he’d tossed onto the low table in front of the sofa.

His deep, cultured voice always had a sexual edge that made a woman’s pulse race--even when the look in those gold eyes promised pain instead of pleasure. He had a face too beautiful to be called handsome, and he had a temper typical of his caste.

Since he was one of the two males in the entire history of the Blood to wear a Black Jewel, he was as lethal as he was beautiful. And may the Darkness help her, he was family.

It was that last part that assured her she’d have his full attention before much longer. It was the nature of Warlord Princes to be protective and territorial--as well as violent and deadly--so it was pretty much a given that a Warlord Prince was going to pay attention to the women in his family.

That thought had her narrowing her gold green eyes as she considered why he was settled in the sitting room of the family’s town house in Amdarh, Dhemlan’s capital city, instead of doing paperwork in his own study at SaDiablo Hall. Where he belonged.

“Hell’s fire, Sadi,” she growled. “Now that you’re the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, don’t you have enough details to keep you occupied without keeping track of my moontimes?” Which reminded her of the problem that was going to be filling up the sitting room if he was still there in an hour.

He set aside his papers and looked at her, his gold eyes full of warmth and amusement.

“You’re married,” she said, as if he needed the reminder of an event that had taken place a few weeks ago. “You should be keeping track of your wife, not me.”

No answer. Just that annoying amusement.

“Why don’t you keep track of Marian too while you’re at it?” she muttered.

The warmth and amusement in his eyes deepened.

Shit shit shit. He did keep track of his brother’s wife.

Her stomach gave a funny little twirl as she considered that. Daemon Sadi. Lucivar Yaslana. Half brothers linked through their Hayllian father, who was the Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell. Men who were ice and fire, working in tandem to look after the women in the family--especially during the few days of each moon cycle when those women couldn’t use Craft and might be vulnerable.

Which made her wonder about the Warlord she had met at a party shortly after Daemon became the Warlord Prince who ruled the Territory of Dhemlan in the Realm of Kaeleer. The man had managed to maintain the mask of an interesting companion until she agreed to go to the theater with him. Then his true personality began to seep through. She would have gone with him anyway to find out what he really wanted, but he’d canceled, sending a note to offer his regrets and apologies for being called away unexpectedly. She hadn’t thought anything of it; just figured he’d found out a little more about her and decided not to risk being gutted during the play’s intermission. After all, men who were willing to escort a former whore who was connected to the most powerful family in Kaeleer tended to get nervous when they discovered the former whore was also a former assassin.

Now she wondered whether the little prick-ass had canceled to avoid having a few bones broken (Lucivar’s method of dissuading fools) or whether he had run from a much scarier threat (if the prick-ass had ended up having a chat with Daemon).

“What body in which closet?” Daemon asked.

It took her a moment to remember.

“This one.” She finger-snapped the offending page of the book. “What’s wrong with these people? Why are they leaving bodies around for other people to find instead of disposing of them in some sensible way? And what’s wrong with the person who found the body? With help, I should add, from a cat. What does he need help for? Even a human nose can smell that much rotting meat.”

“What are you reading?”

There was a hint of wariness mixed in with Daemon’s amusement. Which was fair, she supposed, since she’d made a good living as an assassin before she moved to Kaeleer and acquired too many powerful male relatives. Not that he’d be concerned about that. After all, he’d taught her most of the nastier tricks of that particular trade.

She held up the book so he could read the title.

“Ah. That book.”

Definite wariness now, as if he had measured the distance between her chair and his place on the sofa and was determined to maintain it.

“Is there something I should know about this book? And what kind of name is Jarvis Jenkell? Do you think that’s his real name?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Daemon replied dryly. “I do know that since he came out with this new series of books, Jaenelle isn’t allowed to read his stories in bed anymore. She starts laughing so hard, she ends up flailing.”

“What…? Oh. Caught you, did she?”

Stony expression.

Oh, yeah. Back to the first subject. “So why don’t these people have brains enough to bury a body where it won’t be found? Nooo, they’ll put a body in a closet…or in an old trunk in a spare bedroom--not even up in the attic, where it might be harder to find--or in the shed out back, where it attracts critters that want to take home some carrion for dinner.” She clapped her hands to her cheeks, widened her eyes, and wagged her head. “Oh! Look! It’s the gardener. Who is dead. And look! There’s blood on the hedge clippers. Do you think it’s a clue?”

Daemon snorted out a laugh, tried to regain control, then just slumped back and let the laughter roar.

She laughed with him, then shook her head. She was too much a professional to be able to dismiss sloppy work, even in a story. “Really, Sadi. Granted, a landen would have to work harder than we do to dispose of a body, but they do have shovels.”

“It’s a mystery, Surreal,” he said when he could talk again. “That’s the whole point of the story. A person discovers a body, gets caught up in the events surrounding the death, and has to figure out why the person died and who did the killing--usually while trying to avoid being killed himself. Until you’ve got a body, there’s no reason to look for clues.”

“And no point to the story.” She nodded, since that part made sense. “That still doesn’t explain this character who is supposed to be Blood--or the cat. A species of kindred who have chosen to remain hidden while pretending to be larger-than-usual domestic cats, except for this one rogue feline who has decided to help the poor, dumb, smell-impaired human figure out murders?”

Daemon got up and went over to the corner table that held an open bottle of wine and glasses. He lifted the bottle and gave her a questioning look. She shook her head.

After pouring a glass for himself, he returned to his place on the sofa. “It hasn’t been that many years since the kindred dogs and horses made their presence known, so it is possible that a species chose to remain hidden when the rest of them decided to let the human Blood know the kindred existed. Not likely, but possible. As for the human side of the partnership, this is the second book with these characters. The man discovered his Blood heritage in the first story and is still learning how to use his power.”

“Doesn’t that sound a bit too much like the stories Lady Fiona writes about Tracker and Shadow?” Surreal asked.

“I believe it was Fiona’s success that spurred him to write this new story line. Jenkell is a well-known writer in landen artistic circles, and he’s become quite wealthy writing his mysteries. I’ve read a few of the books in the other series; they’re entertaining stories.”

She huffed out a breath and shook the book. “But this! The man has never been in the same room as one of the Blood. At least, not the kind of Blood he’s trying to write about. You can tell he doesn’t understand a damn thing about us.”

Daemon smiled. “I know. For years he’s been considered the top writer in his field, mostly because his characters were clever and found imaginative ways out of difficult situations.”

“And entertained both landens and Blood.”

Daemon nodded. “Then ego or temper overwhelmed sense when Fiona’s Tracker and Shadow stories became popular with landens as well as the Blood, and he began writing this new series about a Blood male and his kindred partner.”

“And he’s still popular with the Blood?” She put as much disbelief in her voice as possible.

“He is, but not because he’s telling a good story anymore.” Daemon lifted his glass in a salute. “His portrayal of the Blood is so bad it’s hysterically funny. At least, a good number of people have thought so.”

Apparently Daemon wasn’t one of them. “Does he know the Blood are buying the books to laugh at the characters? That must be biting his ass.” She riffled a few pages until she got to the next chapter.

“I imagine it is. What are you doing?”

“I wanted to see what other Blood things he’s doing wrong.”

“The point of one of these stories is to read it in order to see the clues as they’re revealed.”

He was getting that bossy tone in his voice. She wasn’t sure if it was family bossy or Warlord Prince bossy, but he’d stare her down if she tried to ignore him. Once he went home, she could…

Shit.

She glanced at the clock on the mantel, considered the man now studying her, and decided not to waste time being subtle.

“You have to go home now.”

“No.”

She hadn’t thought giving him an order would work, but he didn’t have to sound so politely unyielding about it. Now the only way to get rid of him was to tell him why he had to go.

“Rainier will be here soon,” she said.

“So?”

Something under the pleasant tone made her think of a cat sharpening its claws before it went out to play with the mouse.

“You like Rainier,” she said. “He works for you.”

Daemon settled back on the sofa, making himself more comfortable. “I’m aware of that.” He waited a beat. “Why is he coming here this evening?”

For the same reason you’ve got your ass snuggled into the sofa. Which was not something a witch said to any male relative who was bigger than she was and wore darker Jewels than she did.

“Doesn’t he have family of his own to fuss over?”

Hell’s fire. He was going to get pissy about this.

“Actually,” she said, “he doesn’t.” A flicker in Daemon’s eyes warned her he was aware of the lie within the words--he knew perfectly well Rainier had family living in Dharo--but he didn’t know why the words were also true. And she wasn’t looking forward to being the one to tell him. “His family prefers that he stay away.”

“Because he prefers to warm a man’s bed rather than a woman’s?”

It was like seeing a storm coming and knowing you couldn’t get out of the way in time.

“No,” she said softly, “it’s because he’s a Warlord Prince.”

A heartbeat. That’s all it took. Daemon, the amused male relative, was gone. The Warlord Prince who looked at her… Not the Sadist, who could be so elegantly vicious. Thank the Darkness, it wasn’t that facet of Daemon’s personality that had surfaced. No, this was Prince Sadi, ruler of Dhemlan, who was considering the depth of the insult contained within her words.

“They aren’t like our family,” she said hurriedly.

A moment of silence. Then, too softly, he said, “Explain.”

She didn’t dare look at the clock to see how much time was left. It didn’t matter. This discussion had to be over, done, fast.

“Most of the males in the SaDiablo-Yaslana family are, or were, Warlord Princes. So none of you are different from the rest. You know how to live with a Warlord Prince. The women in this family know how to live with a Warlord Prince. But Rainier… From what I gathered, there had been a couple of Warlord Princes in the family bloodlines over the generations, but they’d worn lighter Jewels, so the more aggressive, predatory nature”--Shit! Don’t remind him of that!--“of a Warlord Prince was balanced by not having as much power. But Rainier wears an Opal Jewel that’s considered a dark Jewel. His family didn’t know what to do with him when he was young and wore Purple Dusk as his Birthright, and as sure as the sun doesn’t shine in Hell, they don’t know what to do with him now.”

“So they turn away from him.”

Oh, yeah. This was turning into a fun discussion.

“To his benefit, since they don’t deserve to have him.” She put some snap in her voice, hoping for a flash of amusement from him.

Nothing.

“A Warlord Prince needs a female to fuss over--if not family, then a friend,” she finished quietly.

“Having his company for the evening is fine, Surreal, but--”

“He’ll be staying for breakfast.”

Long pause. “You trust him that much?”

Now they had gotten to the core of it. Did she trust a man who wasn’t family during the hours when she was asleep and would be the most vulnerable? “Yes, I trust him that much. So go home to your wife, Sadi.” Then I can read this book however I want to.

Another pause. Then the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan took a deep breath--and Daemon let it out in a sigh as he stood up.

“All right, then.” Using Craft, he vanished all the papers and called in his black jacket. He slipped on the jacket, then ran his fingers--with their long, perfectly manicured, black-tinted nails--through his hair. Now the hair looked bedroom-disheveled. Now the partially unbuttoned shirt looked like a lure to attract and entice.

Which was insane, because the only woman who could safely have Daemon Sadi as a lover was Jaenelle Angelline, since she was the only woman he wanted for a lover.

Don’t just sit here. Get up. Move. You’ve got no fighting room in this position.

Then a little flash, a blink of light near the floor. Nothing there, but…

He was still barefoot. There was something too sensual about him still being barefoot when he was wearing that silk shirt, the expensive jacket, and the too-well-tailored trousers that taunted women with a hint of what they couldn’t have.

She pondered the feet and not the significance of their movement until he was leaning over her, one hand resting on the arm of her chair, the fingertips of the other hand drifting down the page of her book, then over her thumb and wrist.

She actually felt her heart skip a beat in anticipation of a kiss before it began pounding like a rabbit’s.

Why was he doing this? What did he want from her? Those golden eyes held hers, demanding her attention. The way his mouth curved in a hint of a smile seemed to promise all kinds of delights. Which was probably the exact look the Terreillean Queens who had used him saw right before he killed them.

Then his lips brushed her cheek and lingered there as his chained sexual heat washed over her.

“Enjoy your evening, cousin,” he said.

He eased back--and glided out of the room.

Had he used Craft to open and close the door, or had he used the power that lived within him to simply pass through the wood? She didn’t know, didn’t care. She felt a bit breathless--and more than a little scared. When Daemon was the Sadist, he used sex as a terrifying weapon. She felt as if she’d brushed against that side of his temper, but she didn’t know why he’d be angry with her.

Maybe nothing. Probably hadn’t even been aimed at her. Just feeling pissy about Rainier’s family was all.

Which reminded her.

Shaking off the sexual haze--which she wasn’t in any mood for anyway--she glanced at the clock. Rainier was late. Wasn’t that lovely? Now that she knew the book was meant to be silly, she wanted to read a little more. And she wanted to flip through and discover some of the other stupid things this Jarvis Jenkell thought the Blood did.

She picked up the book and tried to flip through the pages.

Tried to flip through the pages.

Tried to flip through the pages.

“That whoring son of a whoring bitch!

# # # # #

As he walked down the town house’s steps, Daemon reached inside his black jacket. Then he stopped, baffled that he’d been reaching for a cigarette case he hadn’t carried in several years.

He couldn’t remember when he’d stopped smoking the black cigarettes. Sometime during the years when his mind had been shattered and he’d wandered the paths of madness the Blood called the Twisted Kingdom. During the years when he was slowly regaining his sanity and lived in hiding with Surreal and Manny, it hadn’t been prudent to call attention to themselves by adding an expensive item to their supplies when the invalid--and fictitious--owner of the island had never ordered cigarettes before. Now the only way to get the things would be to buy them from a supplier in the Realm of Terreille, and there was nothing he wanted from Terreille. Nothing.

Which didn’t explain his suddenly slipping into the movements of an old habit.

Then he looked up at the town house’s sitting room windows
--and smiled.

His reaching for a cigarette had been a response to memories of the hundreds of times he and Surreal had spent an evening together in exactly the same way--enjoying each other’s company while pursuing individual interests. Which meant the two of them had finally circled back to being the friends they had been once upon a time.

She was twelve when he first met her and her mother, Titian. A pretty, leggy girl with the Hayllian coloring of black hair and light brown skin that had come from her sire, Kartane SaDiablo. But her eyes were gold green instead of pure gold and larger than usual, and her ears were delicately pointed. The slightly oversized eyes and the ears, along with a slim body that was stronger than it looked, came from Titian, who had been a Black Widow Queen of the Dea al Mon, one of the Children of the Wood.

So Surreal had a dual bloodline, as it was politely called in Kaeleer. Hayllians were one of the long-lived races; the Dea al Mon were not. Her body had matured closer to the pace of the short-lived races, but her emotions…

Because he’d seen her only for an evening here and there, and because she’d had to grow up hard and fast after Titian was murdered, it hadn’t occurred to him that Surreal’s emotional maturity might develop at a slower pace, that even after a few centuries of being a whore and an assassin, she had still been more of an adolescent girl than a mature woman. So in a way, the night that had broken their friendship was as much his fault as hers.

She’d been young and foolish and drunk the night she had asked him to show her what Hayll’s Whore could do in bed. She’d said it would be a feather in her cap because no whore who worked in a Red Moon house could claim actual experience in bed with him. And he, who had thought of her as a young cousin, had been bitterly hurt at what he’d seen as a betrayal of his trust. So he had responded with a cold fury, and he had shown her what it was like to dance with the Sadist.

That night changed things between them, and it was only because of Jaenelle that their friendship began to mend. Jaenelle, who was Witch, the living myth, dreams made flesh. She had been a child when they had both met her. She grew up to be an extraordinary Queen. Then she sacrificed herself to stop the war being orchestrated by Hekatah and Dorothea SaDiablo--the High Priestess of Hell and the High Priestess of Hayll, respectively.

Because of their mutual commitment to Jaenelle, he and Surreal had found their way back to being friends--and family. Maybe it was because they were finally comfortable with each other again that his leave-taking had been as much warning as distraction. Even Surreal couldn’t afford to become complacent and forget what he was.

Now there was another connection he had to consider: Rainier.

Prince Rainier had met Jaenelle and the coven when he’d been hired to be their dance instructor. Unlike the instructors who had come before him, he had been no more than a few years older than them and had thrived on the contact with the young Queens who, not many years later, would rule Kaeleer. When Jaenelle formally became the Queen of Ebon Askavi, Rainier joined her court as a Second Circle escort, although he’d continued to make a living as a dance instructor.

Now there was no court at Ebon Askavi. Not officially. And that was the problem. The Warlords and Warlord Princes who had served in the First Circle already had a connection to other courts--usually the court of the Queen they had married or were related to in some way. But Rainier had served in the Dark Court, and when it ended, he could no longer legitimately claim to be serving a Queen. Oh, no one had pushed it during that first year, especially after they’d heard Jaenelle had survived. No one had disputed Rainier’s claim that he still served Witch in an unofficial capacity. But the day had been coming when other Queens wouldn’t have considered that a valid reason to refuse service in another court.

That was why he had hired Rainier and given the man a five-year contract, duties to be flexible and as needed. While no male born in the Shadow Realm was required to serve, it was assumed that most would spend some time serving in a court at one point in their lives or another. And Warlord Princes, who were considered a dangerous asset because of their tempers and nature, were sometimes treated as outcasts if a Queen wasn’t holding the leash. Even in Kaeleer.

Despite his family’s opinion of him, a man like Rainier would be a prize. He was a fine-looking man with a dancer’s lean build, fair skin, green eyes, and a mane of brown hair. He had an easy manner and a mild temper for a Warlord Prince. But while he made a delightful--and protective--companion, he wasn’t suited for bedroom duties. Even if Rainier had taken a contract with one of the coven--and because he was a friend, they had all offered him a contract--service in the bedroom for the other Ladies in the Queen’s First Circle would have been unspoken but understood.

Serving the new Warlord Prince of Dhemlan was the best solution. There was no court, so there were no Ladies who could demand service. And yet no one was going to argue that service to him wasn’t sufficient to control another Warlord Prince.

So the arrangement promised to work well for both of them.

And here comes the innocent now, Daemon thought, suppressing a grin as Rainier turned a corner and walked toward the town house, his stride easy and graceful.

“Prince Sadi,” Rainier said when he reached the town house’s steps.

“Prince Rainier,” Daemon replied.

Rainier’s eyes flicked to the town house’s door before focusing on the Prince he served.

“I’m on my way out,” Daemon said. “I understand that you’re on your way in. For the night.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Not for me.” Daemon stepped aside and waited until Rainier had climbed the stairs and raised the knocker on the door. “How are your reflexes this evening?”

Rainier twisted at the waist and looked down at him, clearly puzzled. “They’re fine. Why?”

“You may need to be fast on your feet.”

With that, Daemon walked away. It was a pleasant summer evening. Since he wasn’t expected home, he’d walk to his favorite bookshop and see if there was anything new that might whet Jaenelle’s appetite for stories.

Then he’d go home and see what he could do about whetting her other appetites.

# # # # #

“I saw Prince Sadi on my way in,” Rainier said as he walked into the sitting room. “He seemed amused about something.”

“Let’s see how amused he is when I put his balls through a meat grinder! While they’re still attached!

To give him credit, Rainier didn’t turn and run out of the room. But he also didn’t come any closer. Surreal wasn’t sure if the wariness was sincere or a sop to her ego, since he was the dominant power right now, despite the fact that she wore Gray Jewels and he wore Opal. She didn’t care if it was sincerity or sop. She just wanted someone to howl at.

“Look what he did to my book!” she wailed, shaking the book at him. “Look!”

Cautious, he came closer. Encouraged that she wouldn’t lose her audience, she tried flipping through the pages to demonstrate.

“The pages are stuck together,” Rainier said. “Is the book defective?”

He did this.” She turned the page, as if she’d finished reading it. That she could do. Then she tried flipping through pages and all the pages stuck together. “I can turn one page at a time, but if I want to skip around to--”

“Wouldn’t that spoil the story?” Rainier asked, breaking into her rant.

“Stop thinking like a male,” she snarled.

He grinned at her. The grin didn’t last long when she just stared at him.

“Sorry,” he said, doing his best to sound meek.

She looked down at the book, and her eyes filled with tears. Stupid to get weepy over something so foolish. Moontime moodies. Didn’t hit her often, thank the Darkness, but she was entitled to a mood or two when she didn’t feel well and couldn’t use Craft on top of it.

A tear plopped onto the back of her hand. She sniffled--and heard a low sound rumble through the room. Growl? Snarl? She looked up to ask Rainier and…

“He made you cry,” Rainier said, staring at her through the glazed eyes of a Warlord Prince who had risen to the killing edge. “The bastard played a cruel trick and made you cry.” He took a step toward the sitting room door.

Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful. He was going after Sadi. He saw tears and gut instinct kicked in, and he was going after Sadi, who was the most powerful male in the Realm. And Daemon, when challenged, would give Rainier a chance to back down--and then would lash out in response to his own predatory nature, destroying the other man completely.

“No.” The book went flying as she propelled herself out of the chair and grabbed his arm. “You’re not doing this.”

“He made you cry.”

“He pissed me off, and I got weepy. He wouldn’t have done it if he’d known I’d get weepy.” Which was true. On any other day, she would have raged for a few minutes and then tried to figure out how the spell worked. Or she would have stomped over to the nearest bookshop and bought another copy of the damn book.

“Rainier.”

At the moment, she had some sympathy for his family’s inability to deal with a Warlord Prince, but she wasn’t going to let him leave. She could think of a lot cleaner ways to commit suicide than challenging Daemon. If that meant channeling her power when her body couldn’t tolerate being the vessel for that power, so be it. She’d slap enough shields around Rainier to cage him for a while. It would hurt like a wicked bitch, but she’d do it. And then she’d grab the fastest messenger she could find to ride the Winds to Ebon Rih and deliver a message to Lucivar. He’d arrive with that Eyrien temper of his stoked to the point of explosion and yell at Rainier for considering something so stupid. He’d yell at her too, for hurting herself by using Craft when she shouldn’t. And then he and Rainier would be merciless about fussing over her because, to their stone-headed way of thinking, she needed to be fussed over.

What did Jaenelle keep telling her? Work with a Warlord Prince’s nature instead of trying to work against it.

She sagged against Rainier so suddenly, he grabbed her to keep her on her feet.

“Surreal?”

Razor-sharp tone, but not the killing edge. This was worry now, focused completely on her.

Good.

“You promised to stay with me tonight,” she said. Don’t sound pathetic. He won’t believe it for a moment if you sound pathetic.

“I know but--”

“A mood, Rainier. Just a mood. You don’t ask a man to step onto the killing field for a mood.” At least, not in Kaeleer. The bitches in Terreille had done it all the time.

He studied her, and she could feel the tension in him slowly fading.

“That’s all it is?” he finally asked. “Just a mood?”

She nodded, then rested her head on his shoulder. It was nice to have a male friend. Her one attempt at a romantic relationship with a man had left her with a heart bruised badly enough to wither any sexual interest she had in the gender. At least for the time being. So it was nice to spend time with a male who didn’t want her to be more than a friend.

All she had to do was avoid getting him killed.

“Was there anything you wanted to do this evening?” Rainier asked.

The brilliance of an idea dazzled her for a moment.

“Well,” she said, “I was curious about that book, especially now that I know the things in there about the Blood are very silly. But I don’t want the frustration of those stuck-together pages.” And she was going to send Daemon a blistering letter about tricks that almost backfire.

No. Not Daemon. She’d send a note to Uncle Saetan. He may have retired from being the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, he may have taken up residence at the Keep as a retreat from the living Realms, but he was still the patriarch of the SaDiablo family, and no one could flay an erring son with a look or a phrase as well as the High Lord of Hell.

Cheered by the thought, she almost didn’t respond in time when Rainier said, “I could read the story to you, if that would be pleasing.”

“I’d like that.” She stepped back. “I’m going to freshen up first. Could you see about getting some food we could nibble on?”

A relaxed smile and a look of pleased anticipation in his eyes. “I could do that.”

As she climbed the stairs to her room on the second floor, Surreal considered how annoying the evening might have been. She would have wanted to read the book; Rainier would have wanted some way to look after her, and his need to fuss would have scraped on her temper. Now, with him reading the story to her, they could talk about it and laugh over it, and they would both have an enjoyable, entertaining evening.

She paused outside the door of her room to consider everything that had happened.

One spell, designed to annoy her just enough. One man, who understood the nature of Warlord Princes all too well. Since Daemon had found a clever way to take care of her and Rainier, maybe she wouldn’t send that note to Uncle Saetan after all.

She shook her head and smiled as she walked into her bedroom. “Sneaky bastard.”

dingbat

Chapter 2

Daemon watched his hand as he poured a cup of coffee, pleased to see that the uncontrollable shakes had settled down to little tremors.

Their mating that had been a combination of unrestrained arousal mixed with dollops of fear, which, because of the woman, had intensified his excitement. Sex that was savage and yet still tender, that was all physical and yet was possible only because of the depth of their feelings for each other. When they were done, Jaenelle had staggered into the bathroom, and he, braced by self-discipline and sheer stubbornness, had stumbled his way to the bathroom in the adjoining Consort’s suite. In safe privacy, he had braced his hands against the shower walls, and while the hot water poured over him, his body shook in response to what he’d been doing in bed with the woman who was his wife and Queen.

He sincerely hoped they would enjoy each other like that again in the future. And he hoped, just as sincerely, that it wouldn’t be anytime soon.

“I thought men liked morning sex,” Jaenelle said, looking baffled.

“We do,” Daemon replied. Of course, “sex” was a pale word to describe what they had been doing, but he wasn’t about to debate her choice of words. Especially since she was watching the hand holding the coffee cup. Had noted the tremors. “Of course we do.”

The baffled look changed to something that was almost angry, almost hostile. “You said it didn’t matter. You said you could accept that I no longer wore Ebony Jewels, was no longer dominant.”

Her quiet intensity alarmed him. He set the cup down. “It doesn’t matter. I can accept it. What is this about?”

“It’s about that.” She waved a hand to indicate his own. “It’s about pretending that you were with a witch who was stronger than you and now acting all shaky and nervous.”

Sweetheart, you didn’t see the look in your eyes when we were in bed. But he saw the problem now. Despite having gotten married twice--once in a private ceremony and again in a public ceremony a few weeks later--she still wasn’t certain he had accepted the choice she had made.

After he’d dealt with the witches who had tried to stop the wedding by hurting her, Jaenelle had brought him to the Misty Place and shown him the truth. So he knew she could have been exactly the same as she had been before she’d sacrificed herself to save Kaeleer. She could have worn the Ebony Jewels again instead of Twilight’s Dawn, which had only a hint of Black. But she hadn’t wanted that much power, had never wanted to be so different and so distant from everyone else. And everyone around her, everyone who had loved her, was still adjusting to what they thought of as a loss.

“I’ll agree with the part about my being shaky, but I’ll dispute the accusation that I’m pretending to be nervous.” He put enough punch in his voice to assure he’d have her attention.

“Men pretend sometimes. You can’t tell me they don’t.”

He acknowledged that fact with a nod. “Sometimes a man does pretend he’s a little intimidated by the woman he’s bedding, even if he’s the one wearing the darker Jewels.” And sometimes it wasn’t pretense; men just didn’t argue with women’s incorrect assessment--mostly because they figured women wouldn’t understand that the power that was sometimes being wielded had nothing whatsoever to do with the Jewels.

To give himself a moment to collect his thoughts, he picked up the cup and took a sip of coffee.

Damn. If he’d known they were going to have this kind of discussion, he would have put a warming spell on the cup. He swallowed the cold coffee and set the cup down.

“Would you say our enjoyment of each other this morning was intense?” he asked. “Because I would.”

A blush stained Jaenelle’s cheeks. She nodded.

Daemon sighed, a sound of strained patience. Or patient exasperation. “Sweetheart, sometimes the body reacts. Should I apologize for feeling weak in the knees and quivering? I’m your husband, and I’m your lover. Being both--being able to be both--still takes my breath away.”

She studied him a moment longer, then reached across the table. He clasped her hand, craving the touch.

And that touch was enough to rekindle his arousal. He let his chained sexual heat wash over both of them, leaving her with no doubt that if they ended up in bed before the breakfast dishes were cleared, he would be the dominant partner.

She offered him a small, embarrassed smile before she released his hand and picked up her fork, a clear signal that she wasn’t ready for another romp in bed.

Then again, neither was he. Not really.

Relieved they could change the subject, he poured more coffee and gave his attention to his own breakfast. Since he’d already had his exercise for the day--and more--he was ravenous.

“What are you planning to do today?” he asked.

“I’m meeting Marian. We’re going to walk through the building we’re going to transform into a spooky house.” Jaenelle gave him a bright smile that said, Ask me. Come on, ask me.

No sane man with any kind of functioning brain would go near that statement. But he knew his duty as a husband, so he said, “Spooky house?”

Jaenelle swallowed a bite of omelet. “I was visiting one of the landen villages that’s located near the family vineyards, and I got to talking to some of the boys. They had the strangest ideas of what the Blood are like--especially since common sense should tell them the things they think can’t be true.”

“They’re boys,” he said. “They don’t have common sense.”

“No doubt, but I thought it would be fun to create a house based on all the silly, spooky things they think we live with day to day. There are usually harvest festivals in the late autumn. We could have it ready by then as an entertainment.”

“An entertainment.” Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful. “Where is this entertainment?”

“We got a big old house in a landen village located in the central part of Dhemlan. Well, I bought it. It’s structurally sound, but it looks…” She shrugged.

There was something stuck in his throat. He was pretty sure it was his heart. “You bought a house?” And didn’t tell me?

“Yes.”

She gave him an unsure but game smile--and he had a sudden understanding of the terror his father, the powerful, Black-Jeweled High Lord of Hell, must have felt during Jaenelle’s adolescence when greeted by that smile.

“What are you doing today?” Jaenelle asked.

Had Marian told Lucivar about this spooky house? Surely the lovely Eyrien hearth witch hadn’t kept it a secret from her own husband! Which was a thought he wasn’t going to follow to its logical conclusion because then he would start to wonder why his own lovely wife hadn’t informed him until now.

But if Lucivar had known, why hadn’t the prick sent a warning? A man did not need to be blindsided by something like this at the breakfast table. Or any other time, for that matter.

“Daemon?”

“Uh?” Pay attention, fool. “Oh, I have some paperwork to finish up for my meetings with the Province Queens.” He focused on his coffee cup and added, oh so casually, “And I thought I would drop in at the Keep and see how Father is doing.”

“Uh-huh.” Jaenelle sliced her omelet in half, put a half between two pieces of toast, and wrapped her breakfast in her napkin. “I have to run if I’m going to be on time to meet up with Marian. She’s a little nervous about doing this.”

I wonder why. “Are you taking one of the Coaches?”

“No, I’ll just ride the Winds.” She drained her coffee cup and stood up.

Something not quite right here. “It shouldn’t take that long to reach the landen village, should it?”

She came around the table and gave him a sweet kiss. “No, it won’t take that long.” Then she gave him a wicked grin. “But first I have to yell at the cat for waking me up."

 

Marked in FleshMarked in Flesh, in paperback February 2017