Dark Hunger


Page 15



She checked the duplicate copy in her message book and saw the messages had been recorded in unfamiliar writing. “That will not be necessary. Thank you.”


Once she retrieved the clipboard with her notes on the progress in the different areas under construction, Jayr retreated to her study, where she found a fire burning in her hearth, a stack of messages sitting on her desk, and a neatly typed page that appeared to be some sort of task schedule. She had barely begun reading it when a knock on the door sounded. “Come in.”


“Good evening, my lady.” Devan Leeds entered, carrying a bottle of bloodwine and a crystal goblet on a silver tray, which he brought over and served to her. “Tresora Burke called earlier to remind you that the lady visitors from Alenfar jardin will be arriving tonight. I’ve readied the reception room, and as they are sisters, I’ve arranged adjoining chambers for them in the guest quarters. Is that acceptable to you?”


“That sounds very good.” Jayr watched him prepare her drink. “Have you been settling in?”


“Quite well, my lady. I took the liberty of checking on the current renovations, which are progressing according to schedule, and placed orders for the props, fabrics, and gift items you wished to obtain for the reopening. The stable master reports the sickly mare has much improved and, as your seneschal suspected, buttercups were the culprit. He promises to eradicate them from the field at once. When convenient, Captain Harlech wishes to have a word about purchasing some new mounts for the jousting performance. I believe he wishes to buy five more from a breeder in the Carolinas.” He offered her the wineglass he had filled. “This is a very pleasant Spanish red; I think you’ll find it superior to the French label you’ve been served of late.”


Jayr stared at him as she accepted the glass. “Good God, man, have you slept at all today?”


“I have, my lady, thank you.” He stepped back and folded his hands behind his back.


Jayr drank from the glass and regarded him. “I am in awe of your efficiency. Have you left anything for me to do?”


“I thought you might want to review the messages from the service, that I might know your wishes and attend to the return calls while you welcome your visitors.” He nodded at the typed page. “That is my work plan for the night, but if you need me to do anything else, of course you may change it as you will.”


Jayr wasn’t sure she dared look at it. “Mr. Leeds—Devan—you likely know better your duties than I ever will. I would ask only that you not exhaust yourself. In two days I believe you’ve done more work than five men might have in twenty.”


“It is good to have some real purpose again,” Leeds admitted. “These last months since my master…Well, I am happiest when I am busy, my lady, but should I ever prove an annoyance, you have only to say.”


“That I think you will never hear from me, sir.” She drained the remaining wine from her glass. “I’ll review messages with you now, but the return calls can wait until after the Alenfar ladies arrive. I should like you at my side in the reception room.”


For the first time a flicker of doubt passed over Leeds’s features. “You would? Forgive me; I had assumed that place to be your seneschal’s.”


“As Byrne refuses to learn proper protocol and quite despises formal receptions, I feel certain that you will do a much better job of it.” She picked up the slips. “Now, this call from Disney corporate is likely yet another offer to buy the Realm. Please advise them that my answer has not changed, and that I shall be delighted to sell it to them once hell freezes over.”


Farlae slipped onto a viewing balcony, and parted the curtains to look down at the Kyn assembled below. The suzeraina greeted the two just-arrived female visitors differently, shaking the hand of the tall, fair Frenchwoman before embracing the petite, dark American. He knew from his sources in Europe and South Florida that the females were newly turned, the blonde by Korvel, formerly seneschal to Richard Tremayne, and the little brunette by Jamys, son of Thierry Durand. Neither woman had come from the ranks of the Kyndred, orphaned humans made over with Kyn DNA by the Brethren, but he still did not trust them.


If Farlae were to be honest, he trusted no one and nothing. Especially not the smiling mortal standing beside Jayr.


“What are you doing?” a beloved voice whispered as the scent of warm strawberries teased Farlae’s nose. “Spying on our lady? What for?”


“I am not spying. Be silent.” He should have expected Rainer would follow him here; when it came to tracking Kyn or mortal, his fool lover had no equal. “Better yet, go back to your poppets.”


“They’re called puppets, not poppets. What is she doing?” Rain tried to peek through the slit in the curtain. “Who are those females? That tall one looks fierce. Do you come here to spy on her?”


Farlae took Rain by the arm and marched him out of the balcony and into the adjoining corridor. “I have told you about this,” he said through gritted teeth. “You cannot tag along after me when I am working.”


Rain stuck out his lower lip. “You work in the sewing rooms, where I never go. Except tonight, but I needed more string for my puppets, and you were not there.” He hung his head and shuffled his feet. “You were not very attached to that shawl you were making, were you?”

Farlae wanted to tear his hair out. “Rain, I don’t give a damn about that bloody shawl, your puppet string, or–”


“My foolishness,” Rain finished for him, his eyes sad. “As you have said, many times. But I am not as stupid as you think. I know what you are about here.”


He had always managed to keep his lover from knowing about his less scrupulous activities. “I am merely admiring the lady visitors.”


“Do not lie to me,” Rain said, suddenly looking uncharacteristically fierce. “You watch because you’ve taken a fancy to that new mortal of Jayr’s.”


Farlae almost laughed. “Why would I want him when I have you, lad?”


“You do not even deny it.” He nodded toward the balcony. “That is why you are there, peeking through the curtain. You have been following him everywhere. You want to do things with him, don’t you? Things you’ve only done with me.” His voice rose to a higher pitch. “Things you said you would only do with me—”


“Shhhh.” Farlae gripped his shoulders to give him a shake. “Must you shout it to the whole of the keep, you idiot?” As he saw the hurt in his lover’s eyes, he eased his hold. “I want nothing from that mortal.”


“I know I am an idiot,” the big man said with great dignity. “I am very good at it, am I not? But I have never fancied anyone else but you. I love you and only you, even as I know I am going to burn in hell for it for all eternity. If you would allow me, I would shout it to the rafters. But you wish to keep it all secret, so that no one will think less of you.”


Was that what he imagined? “Lad, you are mistaken—”


“I am not so much the idiot you think. You never speak of us to anyone and I know why.” He jabbed his finger into Farlae’s chest. “You are ashamed of me.”


Farlae rubbed his head. “It is not my way to natter on about how I feel, especially to others. Christ Jesus, Rain, you ought to know how I feel for you. I bought you out of slavery. I taught you every pleasure you know. I saved you from Sherwood and execution and anything that has tried to harm you these seven hundred years.”


“But you do not love me, not as I love you.” Rain shrugged off his hands. “You may have the mortal. He is not so handsome, but he is clever, like you. I am sure he will never disgrace you, as I have.” He trudged off.


Farlae started after him, swore under his breath, and returned instead to his listening post. When this was over, he decided, he would make it up to his lover. He would take Rainer away with him on a journey. What did the mortals call it? A vacation.


Aye, he would find a patch of woods where they could camp and hunt as they had in the old days, and bathe out in the open, and love each other without fear of being seen or despised.


A look through the curtain allowed Farlae to see Leeds, now dabbing at a large wine stain on the front of his immaculate white shirt. Behind him, Byrne held an empty glass and was trying very hard not to look pleased.


If the tresora hadn’t been under suspicion, Farlae would have felt pity for him. Such accidents that will happen every time you try to take Byrne’s place beside his lady.


He heard Leeds excuse himself in order to tidy up, and glanced down to see him retreating from the room. Farlae had to trot out to the corridor and down the back staircase before he could pick up the mortal’s scent from a safe distance.


Leeds’s trail ended at the door of the nearest unoccupied guest room, and Farlae could hear him moving around inside. Quickly he entered the next chamber and went to the adjoining door, feeling along the surface until he found the plug of wood concealing the peephole, and tugged it out.


Leeds had bolted himself inside the chamber and now stood before a mirror. After rubbing the back of his right hand as if it pained him, he unbuttoned his ruined shirt, frowning at his reflection as he removed a handkerchief and a small container from his trouser pocket.


Farlae watched the mortal shed his stained shirt, his eyes widening as he saw the large black cameo tattoo on his shoulder, and in the mirror the smaller, fainter mark of another over his heart. Leeds used the handkerchief to remove some smudged, flesh-colored paint from the chest mark, revealing it to be strangely done, like a compass. In the center, however, the profile of whatever Kyn lord he had once served had been removed so savagely that all that remained was scar tissue.


Farlae knew exactly what that meant. Byrne had been right. There is a traitor come to the Realm.


As he watched the mortal reapply a new layer of cosmetic, Farlae longed to jerk open the door. He could attack Leeds from behind, and snap his neck before the man’s black heart beat twice under the mutilated mark. But even as he relished the thought, he knew the mortal would be more valuable alive than dead. If he was lucky, perhaps the seneschal would permit him to interrogate the turncoat. He’d enjoy making the bastard scream for mercy.



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