Books


The Invisible Ring

The Invisible Ring

Roc
October 2000
ISBN-13:
978-0-451-45802-5

Cover:
Art by Larry Rostant
Design by Ray Lundgren

available as audio bookavailable as ebook

 




EXCERPT

Copyright © 2000 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)


Prologue

Lord Krelis, the new Master of the Guard, tried not to fidget as he watched Dorothea SaDiablo slowly pace the length of her private audience room. If she'd been any other woman, he might have openly admired her slender body, might have wondered if the black hair gracefully coiled around her head felt as silky as it looked, might have dared to run a hand over the brown skin that wasn't covered by her long red dress. He might have enjoyed the way the dress swished in counterrhythm to her swaying hips. He might have wondered if the way she caressed her chin with that large white feather was a subtle invitation for other kinds of caresses.

But Dorothea SaDiablo was a Black Widow, a member of the Hourglass, the most dangerous and feared covens in the Realm of Terreille. Black Widows specialized in poisons and journeys of the mind, in shadows and illusions, in dreamscapes that could ensnare a man and leave him locked in an endless nightmare.

She was also the Red-Jeweled High Priestess of Hayll. Since there were no Queens in the Hayllian Territory who could match the psychic strength that Jewel signified, and since no weaker Queen who wanted to stay whole and healthy challenged her authority, Dorothea ruled as she pleased – which was something no male in Hayll dared to forget.

“Have you seen your predecessor lately?” Dorothea purred as she swished past him. Her coquettish smile didn't match the vicious pleasure in her gold eyes.

“Yes, Priestess,” Krelis replied, trying to keep his voice neutral. When he and a troop of men had gone into the slums of Draega, Hayll's capital, to round up some of the dregs for expendable labor, he had seen his former commander stumbling out of a filthy alleyway.

The former Master of the Guard was now a maimed, tortured mockery of the man he'd been. Worse, his inner web, that intimate core of Self that made the Blood who and what they were, had been shattered so that he could no longer wear the Jewels, could do no more than basic Craft, if even that. The keen tactical mind that had protected Dorothea for so many decades had been split open like a melon and scraped clean. But not completely. If the haunted eyes in the scarred face were any indication, enough thought had been left for him to remember what he had been. And who had done this to him.

Dorothea swished past Krelis again. Sweat beaded his forehead as he blanked his mind and prayed to the Darkness that she wouldn't sense anything that would make her want to open his inner barriers and sample his thoughts.

“I gave your predecessor an important task, and he failed me.” Stopping in front of him, Dorothea smiled as she brushed the feather against his cheek. “Now he belongs to the Brotherhood of the Quill.”

Krelis shuddered. Mother Night! To be shaved of all the organs that made a man a man. To need one of those large quills to...

“Are you going to fail me?” Dorothea purred, leaning close to him.

“No, Priestess,” Krelis stammered. “Tell me what you wish of me, and I'll do it.”

“A wise man.” She tickled his lips with the feather before turning away. “You know of the Gray Lady?”

Had he failed already? Oh, he'd heard vague whispers a few months ago, but he'd still been a Third Circle guard at the time – and commanders weren't in the habit of telling their men more than was necessary. Feeling sick, he swallowed hard, and managed to whisper, “No, Priestess.”

Dorothea flashed a malicious, amused look at him before resuming her leisurely pacing. “She's a dangerous enemy, a Gray-Jeweled Queen who rules the Territory called Dena Nehele on the other side of the Tamanara Mountains. She's been a thorn in my side since she set up her court forty years ago, and she continues to fight my attempts to bring the Realm of Terreille under the beneficent guidance of Hayll.”

Krelis said hesitantly, “Since she's not from one of the long-lived races, surely she must be old by now.”

“But still strong,” Dorothea snapped. “As long as she continues to live, Dena Nehele will be able to resist being drawn into Hayll's shadow, and the Territories bordering it will be strengthened by that resistance. Even if she died tomorrow, it would still take at least one of their generations to eliminate her influence.”

“You intend to declare war on this Gray Lady?”

Dorothea's gold eyes turned hard yellow. “Hayll does not lower itself to such barbarities as war. What would be the point of acquiring a Territory that had been savaged by the kind of war the Blood fight?” She tapped the feather against her chin. “There are subtler ways of making a Territory ripe for the plucking. But that doesn't concern you.”

Krelis stared at the floor. “No, Priestess.”

“Your task is to eliminate the Gray Lady.“

He didn't think before he blurted out, “How?

She looked disgusted. Was she regretting savaging the old Master and losing that tactical mind? Then her expression changed.

“Poor boy,” she murmured, gently stroking his cheek. “I've been cruel to you, haven't I? No, darling” – she pressed her fingers against his lips – “you needn't deny it. There's no reason why you would know that bitch's habits.” She stepped back and sighed. “Grizelle is too well protected in her own Territory for you to reach her there. However, over the past few years, she's come out of her lair twice each year for the slave auctions at Raej.”

“Slave auctions.” Krelis's gold eyes lit up.

Dorothea shook her head. “Raej is considered neutral ground. If a Queen were killed there for any reason, others might hesitate to visit, and then how would everyone sell the toys they're ready to discard and buy new ones?”

“A slave could be replaced with a loyal servant and then —”

“She doesn't buy anyone from Hayll, and there are no loyal servants outside of our own people. Sometimes not even within our own people.”

Krelis leashed his frustration. This was the first important task she'd given him since he became Master of the Guard a few months ago. He wouldn't fail. He wouldn't. “Then what should I do, Priestess?”

Dorothea stopped pacing. “Lord Krelis, you're the Master of the Guard. How you accomplish this is entirely up to you.” Her expression softened. “However, if you wish me to, I'll use my particular Craft to assist you in whatever way I can.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Priestess.”

Dorothea studied him for just a little too long. Then she smiled. “I knew I'd made the right choice in my new Master of the Guard. I made the same offer to your predecessor, but he didn't want my help. Since the bitch escaped his trap rather easily, that was reason enough to doubt his loyalty, don't you think?”

Remembering what the former Master's face looked like now, Krelis shivered. “Yes, Priestess.”

“I'm not going to have to worry about your loyalty, am I?”

“No, Priestess.”

Dorothea walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “You know, darling, I'm very generous with a male who pleases me.” She rubbed her breasts against his chest, kissed him thoroughly, then purred, “That's to remind you of the rewards that come from serving me well. And this” – she tucked the large white feather into his belt – “will remind you of the penalties of failure.”



Chapter 1

Nothing that had been done to him over the past nine years had hurt as much as the harsh truth that he had brought this on himself. With one error in judgment, the eighteen-year-old boy he had been, that young strutting buck who had been so sure of himself, had sent him down this pain-filled road. A road that would soon end in the brutality that waited for men in the salt mines of Pruul.

Over the past few days, while he had waited to be brought to the slave auction, he had tried very hard to forgive that boy for ignoring the uneasiness his friends had felt and the warnings the older Warlords had given him when that witch had walked into the inn. He had tried to forgive him for not looking beneath the surface, for not sensing the rot that existed beneath the beautiful face and lush body, for grabbing that musky bait with such enthusiasm. He had tried to forgive him for believing the whispered words that had promised a forever filled with nighttime romps, for being so caught up in the pleasure between his legs that he'd let her put that gold ring around his cock because she'd poutingly told him about all the naughty things she wanted to do with him and for him – but not until he wore a Ring of Obedience because she needed a little control over his passion.

She'd played with him for a day before he learned just how cruel the Ring of Obedience could be when it was used by someone who enjoyed inflicting pain.

Having been a pleasure slave for the past nine years, he couldn't remember why he'd ever wanted to get into bed with a woman.

And he blamed that boy, bitterly. With the salt mines of Pruul waiting for him, oh, yes, he blamed that boy.

***

“What's a Red-Jeweled Warlord doing in this pen?” one of the slaves whispered. “They don't usually put the likes of him down here.

Another slave spat. “Don't matter what Jewels a slave wears.”

“True enough, but... I remember seeing him before. I thought he was a pleasure slave.”

“He was,” a third man answered, “until he became a Queen killer.”

“A Queen killer!”

Queen killer. Queen killer.

Jared remained in the corner of the slave pen he had claimed for himself, ignoring the whispers that swirled around him, pretending he didn't see the way the other men avoided him. Even here, in the vilest slave pen, Blood males who were now considered unmanageable for anything but the meanest labor didn't want to be contaminated by a man who had a Queen's blood on his hands.

He understood that. When the blinding rage had faded enough for him to see the bodies of the Queen and her Prince brother, he had been horrified by what he'd done.

His breath hitched as emotional pain ripped through him again, threatening to tear him apart.

One part of himself had been horrified, that was true enough – the part that had learned the Warlord's code of honor from his father, the part that had been raised to serve the distaff gender. But another part, a savage part that he hadn't known existed, had howled in triumph.

The pain eased, again, while that wild stranger inside him prowled the edges of his mind and heart.

He didn't trust that stranger, even feared its presence. It wasn't him. But he would use its savagery one more time for just one reason: he wanted, needed, to get home just long enough to see his mother and take back the words he'd had years to regret saying. After that...

There was no point thinking there would be anything after that. But it would be enough. Had to be enough.

Which meant he had to escape tonight. Tomorrow, Raej's autumn slave auction would begin. The witches who came to this island to buy and sell would be on the auction grounds accompanied by hired guards, and the guards watching the pens would be too edgy, too quick to react to anything a slave did.

So tonight he would find a way to get close enough to the official landing place outside the fairgrounds and catch one of the Winds, those webs of psychic roadways that allowed the Blood to travel through the Darkness. He would catch one and ride it all the way back to Ranon's Wood.

The decision made, Jared watched the sun set and the quarter moon rise while he thought about his mother, his father and brothers, his home...and the boy he used to be.



Chapter 2

Krelis closed the small wooden box Dorothea had given him, then used Craft to vanish it.

All the plans were made. There was nothing he could do but wait.

Staying in the Master's office made him feel too confined, so he left the building that housed the First Circle guards and began walking aimlessly across the practice fields.

Thank the Darkness Dorothea hadn't demanded his presence at dinner tonight. While his bloodlines could be traced to two of Hayll's Hundred Families, his family on both sides was from minor branches. He'd grown up in a small village, and he still wasn't comfortable in the jaded, glittering aristo society that made up the social power of Hayll. A man on guard duty during one of these functions could watch the seductions and the games, could listen to the double-edged conversations, could observe the dance of wealth and power without having to participate. But the Master of the Guard was one of the three most important males in a court, and, when required, he was expected to socialize with the people who gathered around his Lady. He was expected to talk with the other men and dance with the women, was expected to flirt just enough not to give offense, without flirting so much that servicing the woman would be required.

He'd already sweated through a couple of smaller functions. He didn't need to dance on the knife edge tonight.

Leaving the practice fields, Krelis followed a bridle path until he reached a small reflecting pool. Sitting on a stone bench near the pool, he watched the still water.

Either the former Master of the Guard had become arrogantly foolish or he'd turned traitor. That was the only way Krelis could explain the failed attack on the Gray Lady when she was returning to Dena Nehele after the spring auction at Raej.

It wasn't strange that the Master hadn't led the attack. Along with the Steward and the Consort, the Master seldom left the court unless he was accompanying his Lady. His duties were no longer in the field. But one of those duties was to choose the right men for an assignment.

The old Master had sent a handful of lighter-Jeweled, Fifth Circle guards and a small band of marauders to destroy a Gray-Jeweled Queen and the escort waiting for her at the Coach station. There had been no time to overwhelm the escort before the Gray bitch's arrival. There had been no backup force to attack her if she tried to escape on the Winds. There had been nothing.

Only one of those lighter-Jeweled Hayllian guards had returned to report the failure.

One was all Dorothea had needed.

Well, he hadn't made that mistake. He had tame marauder bands waiting at the Coach stations the Gray Lady would most likely use on her return from the auction. They would eliminate any escorts waiting for her and send a messenger to Lord Maryk, his second-in-command. Maryk, along with carefully selected, experienced First and Second Circle guards, would arrive at the station just ahead of the Gray Lady to finish the kill. If that ambush wasn't completely successful, and Maryk and the men were killed, he still had a way to keep track of the bitch and leave a trail the marauder bands could follow. The hunt would continue until the Gray Lady was destroyed.

Krelis fingered the Master's badge on his left shoulder.

With the spells Dorothea had woven for him, his strategy would bring down her most dangerous rival. That would prove to the aristo bastards in the First and Second Circles that he wasn't some upstart Third Circle guard who had gained a coveted position in the court by using his cock.

Of course, he didn't know any male who wouldn't use sex in order to achieve his own goals.

It hadn't always been like that.

He remembered that night so many, many years ago. He'd been permitted to stay up when some of his father's friends had come to the house for their weekly chess games and male conversation. The evening had grown late and he'd been dozing on the couch when his father, who had a strong interest in Hayll's history, especially where it pertained to the Blood, had gently voiced his concern about some of the changes that had taken place in their society over the past few centuries. Olvan had made no accusations, had named no names, had merely pointed out some differences in the way males who didn't serve in a court were treated.

The next day, when he and Olvan were taking a rambling walk along one of the country lanes near their village, the Queen of the Province and twelve of her guards came riding up. The Queen had snapped a few questions at Olvan, becoming more and more enraged with his respectful replies.

A few minutes later, Olvan dangled from a tree branch. The spelled ropes around his wrists had prevented him from using Craft to undo the knots or sever the ropes. Even if he'd managed to free himself, his Jewels weren't dark enough to challenge the combined power of the Queen and her guards.

They let him hang there while he pleaded with the Queen to tell him how he had displeased her. When the pleading finally stopped, six of the guards uncurled their whips.

The force of the blows swung Olvan back and forth, back and forth.

There had been no sympathy in the guards' faces, no mercy in the strong arms that wielded the whips. If anything, there had been a hint of fear in their eyes, as if coming in contact with a male who didn't understand obedience would taint them somehow and make them less desirable to the Queen they served.

Through it all, another guard had held Krelis and made him watch.

When they rode away, they left his father hanging there, half-dead.

Krelis still remembered running desperately to the nearest house for help, still remembered sitting next to his father's bleeding body during the ride back home, still remembered the Healer's reluctance to do anything.

And he still remembered the moment, years later, when he realized that the whipping had nothing to do with the courteous answers his father had made to the Queen and everything to do with Olvan's oldest and most trusted friends never once coming back to the house or inviting his father to any of theirs.

That was the moment he decided to train to be a guard.

That was the moment he understood that how males were treated in the past didn't matter. The only thing that mattered to a young Hayllian male was surviving the way things were now. And the only way to do that was to serve in a strong court.

Krelis stood up and stretched.

So here he was just beginning his sixteenth century – a young man by the standards of the long-lived Hayllian race – and he was already the Master of the Guard of the strongest court in Hayll. An important goal in itself, but now just a stepping-stone toward the other things he wanted.

He had worked too long and too hard to let some Gray-Jeweled bitch who would die in a few decades anyway spoil his plans.



Chapter 3

He had almost made it, had almost gotten close enough to catch one of the Winds. If he'd had a few more seconds before the auction steward had used the Ring of Obedience to pull him down and make him easy prey for the guards and their whips, he would have been home by now.

He would have had those seconds if he had killed the guard keeping watch on the slave pen. But at the last moment, when that wild stranger inside him had surged forward intent on the kill, he had seen the same fear and knowledge in the guard's eyes that had been in the eyes of the Queen just before her blood had covered his hands...and he had yanked that savagery back. His attack had stunned the guard long enough for him to escape from the pen, but the man had recovered too quickly, had been able to sound the alarm too soon.

There would be no other chance. Not after last night.

I'm sorry, Mother. I'm sorry.

dingbat

“Don't look so pretty now, do ya, twat-licker?”

Pain and the guard's sneering words brought Jared back to the present. He looked at the man – a vicious brute whose Yellow Jewel was as grimy as the rest of him – and said nothing.

The guard hawked and spat. “All you pretty boys, prancing around in your fancy clothes, acting like you was better than other men, real men, who know what to do with their spears. Well, no one's going to want to play with you now, are they, pretty boy? 'Cept the Queens in Pruul, and everyone knows what kind of games they like to play.” The guard grinned, showing a black hole where a couple of teeth were missing.

Jared watched the guard warily. He'd been brought back to this slave pen at dawn, forced to his knees, and then tied so securely to the four waist-high iron posts he couldn't move at all, not even his head. He'd had no food or water since yesterday afternoon's ration. The auction steward in charge of the controlling ring connected to his Ring of Obedience had been sending low-level pain through the Ring since his capture last night. His genitals were so tender that even a fly walking across his balls made him grit his teeth to keep from screaming.

The flies were an additional torment, buzzing around the lash wounds on his back and belly that had reopened when the guards had pulled his hands behind his back and yanked his arms up to tie the straps to the back posts.

One fly landed on Jared's cheek. He closed his eye before the fly could reach it.

The guard stared at him for a moment, then cursed savagely. “You son of a whoring bitch, are you winking at me?” Grabbing Jared by the hair, he used Craft to call in a knife, then slowly turned the blade until all Jared could see was the sharp edge. “Well, slut, you don't need two eyes to dig salt.”

Jared panted as the blade came closer, closer. Explaining wouldn't help him. Neither would pleading. If he used Craft to protect himself, all the guards would be down on him and, by the time it was over, he'd end up losing more than an eye.

Just before the blade came close enough to cut, the guard jerked, stumbled back a step. He shook his head as if to clear it, then rubbed the small of his back with a fist. When he turned around, he froze and let out a soft whimper.

Jared blinked rapidly, not sure if it was tears or sweat blinding him. Didn't matter. The guard was between him and whatever had caught the man's attention.

During those long seconds when the guard stood frozen, Jared became aware of the silence. All the usual, small noises inside a slave pen had stopped, as if slaves and guards alike were afraid to do anything that might call attention to themselves.

Finally, the guard vanished the knife and moved away slowly, awkwardly, as if his legs had become unsteady.

No longer blocked by the guard's body, Jared looked straight into Daemon Sadi's cold, golden eyes.

If pleasure slaves were the aristos in the slave hierarchy, then Daemon Sadi was as far above the rest of them as they were to the slaves used for hard labor. Looking at his broad-shouldered body and beautiful face or listening to his deep, sexy-edged voice was enough to arouse most women – and quite a few men, regardless of their preference. He could seduce anything that breathed.

They called him the Sadist because he was as cruel as he was beautiful. Owned by Dorothea SaDiablo, he'd been a pleasure slave for centuries and wore the Ring of Obedience. He was also a strong Warlord Prince, and people who annoyed Sadi had an odd way of disappearing.

Jared sighed in relief when Daemon finally looked away, the bored expression on that beautiful face betraying no thoughts, no feelings. But the voice that reached Jared on a Red psychic spear thread held sympathy and understanding.

*So. You finally couldn't stomach it anymore.*

Jared thought of the last Queen who had owned him, and the kinds of bedroom games she and her Prince brother had wanted to play. He shuddered. *No, I couldn't stomach it anymore,* he replied. *I couldn't stomach them.*

If Daemon hadn't taken an interest in him eight years ago when they'd been in the same court, he wouldn't have survived this long. Pleasure slaves tended to become emotionally unstable after a few years of serving in the bed. Daemon's lessons had helped him stay detached from what he was ordered to do, or what was being done to him.

Even that detachment hadn't been enough that last time.

*The bitch deserved to die,* Daemon said, as if killing a Queen was so commonplace it wasn't worth more than a casual remark. Which, for Sadi, was probably close to the truth. Then his tone changed, and he sounded like a teacher who was mildly annoyed with a favorite student. *But you could have been more subtle.*

The woman next to Daemon tugged on the sleeve of his black, tailored jacket. She seemed confused to find herself so far away from the amusements and the merchant booths. Compared to Daemon's looks and Hayllian coloring – golden-brown skin, glossy black hair, and gold eyes – she looked bleached and plain. She mumbled something and tugged again.

Daemon ignored her.

Jared couldn't hear the words, but he heard the whine in her voice. His muscles tensed. He held his breath.

She spoke again, but her whining was cut off by Daemon's low, vicious snarl. She quickly stepped away from him. Once she was safely out of reach, she raised her voice. “I could use the Ring.”

Daemon smiled, a cold, brutal smile.

The guards exchanged nervous glances and shifted their feet.

*It seems my Lady requires some entertainment,* Daemon said. There was something beneath the bland tone that made Jared wonder if the Lady wasn't going to be very sorry she'd made that threat.

*May the Darkness embrace you, Lord Jared,* Daemon said as he offered his arm to the Lady and started to walk away.

*And you, Prince Sadi,* Jared replied.

They were out of sight when Daemon's last words reached him. *That guard's going to come down with a mysterious fever. He'll recover, but he'll never regain enough strength in his limbs to resume his duties. What use do you think a man like that will have in a place like Raej?*

Jared shuddered, grateful Sadi had already broken the link between them. He owed Daemon a great deal, but there were things about the Sadist he preferred not to know.

Another fly landed on his cheek.

Jared closed his eyes, and tried not to think. Tried not to remember. And failed.

dingbat

When he opened his eyes again, the day had waned to dusk. At any moment, the bell that signaled the end of that day's auctioning would ring. The Blood Lords and Ladies who came to buy preferred to do so in harsh sunlight that didn't hide flaws that wouldn't be as apparent when a naked slave was displayed in muted candle-light or, better yet, flickering torchlight.

He saw the guard standing outside the pen, watching him. Not one of the usual brutes. The badge on the clean uniform jacket indicated that this was one of the guards who hired out as an escort. It was a fixed rule at the auction; Ladies were required to hire two of Raej's guard escorts to help with any slaves they might purchase. Since the man was alone, his partner was probably guarding the slaves that had already been purchased.

Which still didn't explain why the man was wandering around near the pens that held the most-condemned males. It still didn't explain why the bastard was staring at...

Something crept through the air. Something tantalizing. Something intriguing. A psychic scent that made his heart speed up and his muscles quiver. A scent that made the wild stranger inside him strain toward it, wary and eager – and hungry.

A Queen's scent.

Jared looked at the empty space beside the guard escort. Except it wasn't empty.

Despite feeling certain of what he would see, he looked straight at her and still almost didn't see her. She was gray, and stood so still she blended into the dust and the waning light and the taste of despair.

No. No! Not that one.

He began hoping, desperately, that the auction bell would ring. Then, maybe, if the Darkness was kind, she wouldn't return in the morning, wouldn't come back to stare at him with those hard gray eyes.

There were a few courts where being a slave was almost tolerable. There were others where every command abraded a man's soul.

In the slave quarters, stories and rumors were fearfully whispered in the dark. Warnings and advice were passed along. Because of that, the slaves had a saying: the bite of a lash was better than being owned by Dorothea SaDiablo; being owned by Dorothea was better than dying in the salt mines of Pruul; but dying in the salt mines was better, far better, than being touched by Grizelle, the Gray Lady.

No slave who went into her Territory ever came out again. No slave survived being owned by the Gray-Jeweled Queen who was standing outside the pen, so silent and so still, looking at him.

Fear swelled inside him until it overwhelmed all the rest of the day's torments. Tied to the iron posts, he couldn't turn away, couldn't even look down since the wide, tight leather collar kept him from moving his head. Isolated, he couldn't blend in with the other slaves who clustered on the other side of the pen. He was pinned, alone, physically and emotionally naked beneath that gray stare.

She terrified him. The only advantage he'd ever had was that the Queens who had owned him hadn't worn Jewels that could threaten his inner web. But the Gray Jewels were darker than the Red, and a Queen who could tear apart his inner barriers and shatter his inner web as easily as she could tear apart his body wasn't a woman he wanted to get close to. In any way.

But the wild stranger, that beast that had been so angry and so eager to kill, now wanted to crawl to her and expose its belly in an act of complete submission.

That terrified him even more.

“Lady, there's nothing here of interest. These males are unmanageable, unfit for anything but hard labor.”

Hearing the undercurrent of worry in the man's voice, Jared focused on the guard escort standing next to Grizelle. The man had reason to worry. A hired escort who failed to protect the Lady in his charge would probably find himself on the auction block the next morning.

Ignoring the escort, Grizelle withdrew one hand from her robe's wide sleeves and pointed at Jared. “That one.”

Jared's chest clenched so hard he couldn't draw a breath. Hell's fire! Even her voice was gray!

And she wanted him.

No no no no no!

That one?” The escort sounded shocked. “Lady, that one killed the last Queen who owned him and attacked a guard last night, trying to escape. He's going to the salt mines unless someone buys him for a killing sport.”

Listen to him, Jared thought fiercely, trying to make her feel the words without risking a direct link. I'm tainted, twisted, past any hope. I'll fight you with everything I am for as long as I can, and I'll hate you long after that.

The finger didn't waver. The gray eyes didn't blink.As he focused on the finger pointing at him, nine years of pain and fear began to crystallize into deadly, chilling hatred. He'd once believed in service and honor. Now all he believed in was cold hatred and rage. He was a Red-Jeweled Warlord from Shalador. He was Blood. He'd fight her, and die in the fighting. That was better than cringing and cowering while she tore him apart piece by piece.The wild stranger howled in distress and desire, fighting against the very rage it should have embraced, shattering it almost before it formed.“That one,” the Gray Lady said again.

You will not have me, Jared thought as he watched the reluctant approach of the auction steward who had been summoned. I will not yield to you. Even if I can't do anything else, I can still do that much. Will do that much.

When a price was finally agreed upon, the steward bowed to Grizelle, then gestured to two of the guards inside the pen. “We'll clean him up for you, Lady,” he said. His pompous smile died beneath that steely stare. “I'll have him and the papers ready in...an hour?”“Thirty minutes.”The steward paled. “Of course, Lady. I'll see to it personally.”

Offering no response, Grizelle and her unhappy escort walked away.

 

Written in Red Written in Red, in paperback March 2014