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The thought of her career self-destructing no longer frightened her; she’d hardly given her ambitions a single thought since making love with Beau. Not that they had ever been her ambitions—Robert had trained her like a performing chimp. She didn’t want to think about her guardian, not here, where her real life was finally beginning. What will it be like, to be his wife, and spend the rest of my life with him? She couldn’t see the future, but ever since walking into the castle, she’d felt as if she’d finally come home.

A commotion outside the chamber made her climb out of bed and peek out of the door. A group of warriors, visibly angry ones, stood arguing over someone named Leeds.

“I say we go to the dungeons and deal with him now,” one thin, stern-faced man snapped. “Whatever he meant to do, I will get it out of him.”

“He’s mortal, Lasander,” another said. “He’ll not live long enough to tell you.”

“Why should that be a problem for you, Revus?” Lasander demanded. “The coward attacked Farlae from behind, and now he has poisoned the ladies visiting. What more must he do before we put him to the blade?”

“We will take the matter to Harlech,” Revus said. “If he gives us leave, Lasander, I’ll be happy to stretch the mortal’s neck for you.”

As the men disappeared down the passage, Alys slipped out of the chamber and quietly went in the opposite direction, retracing her steps until she reached the passage leading back to the main hall. There she hesitated until the scent of warm strawberries enveloped her, and a towheaded giant dressed in bright pink and green clothes came out of a side passage.

“Hello,” he said, smiling as he approached her. “You’re a mortal.”

“Yes. I’m Dr. Alys Stuart.” She held out her hand, and was charmed when he took it and bestowed a decidedly theatrical kiss on her knuckles. “Beaumaris brought me here. I needed a safe place to stay.”

“I have heard your name spoken. You are the new kyara everyone talks of. I am Rainer.” He bowed. “You must be the reason that Beau has not gone wenching of late.”

“So everyone knows about this wenching.” She’d have to discuss that with him.

“It is what the men do. I thought it most perverse of Beau to give it up, but now that I look upon you, I understand.” The big man pulled an enormous bunch of flowers out of his pocket and offered them to her. “I like women. Not in the way Beaumaris does, or used to, but you are lovely things, and you wear such pretty clothes.”

“Thank you.” Cautiously Alys accepted the bouquet, the flowers of which were made of thin silk and collapsing springs. “You’re a magician?”

“I am a fool,” he said, very seriously.

“Great.” Alys was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed, too. “I was hoping to explore the castle a little on my own. I hope that’s okay.”

“You belong to Beau now, so you may do much as you wish. Do not take the next passage left,” Rain advised her, “for that leads below, to the dungeons. We have a traitor down there, and he is an evil, cunning snake. You will not wish to meet him.”

“No, of course not.” Alys smiled. “Thank you for warning me.”

“You are welcome. I must go now. My lover is very sick and I must talk to him a great deal so that he does not die.” He bowed. “Until we meet again, my lady.”

Gay medieval vampires, Alys thought as she watched him go. Well, why not?

She took the next passage on the left, and the long staircase at the end of it to a deep underground level shrouded in darkness. If she was caught down here, she’d probably end up locked in a cell herself, but something kept pushing her on, as if everything depended on her talking to the assassin.

At the base of the steps she encountered two guards, both of whom eyed her but didn’t move or speak.

“I’m just going to say hello to the prisoner.” She watched their faces, but they didn’t twitch a muscle. “I’m guessing that’s okay with you.”

“They will not object,” a man’s voice said from the shadows. “Unless you try to release me, and then they will cut off your head.”

Alys touched her neck before she followed the voice to a cell occupied by an average-looking man wearing a bloodstained white shirt and dark trousers.

“Hello.” She surveyed the chains manacled to his wrists and ankles. “Did they hurt you?”

“An earlier accident.” His chains rattled as he showed her a new, wide pink scar on his wrist. “You’re Dr. Stuart, I presume.”

“Yes. They said your name is Leeds?” When he nodded, Alys glanced back at the guards and lowered her voice. “Why did you do this to them?”

“Why must you know my reasons?” he countered.

“There are a bunch of very angry men upstairs who want to torture and kill you,” she said. “I’d like to persuade them not to.”

“That’s very kind of you, but you assume I wish to live.” He drew back out of the light. “You should not be here.”

“I agree.” Jayr came to stand beside Alys.

“I’m sorry. I heard some of the men talking, and, well, I really don’t know why I’m here.” Alys looked at Leeds. “I suppose I thought I could talk to him, one mortal to another.”

“That was kind of you.” The suzeraina gave the prisoner a disgusted look before she said, “You should return to Beaumaris’s quarters now.”

Alys glanced at Leeds. “I think he wants you to kill him, my lady. Be careful.”

Leeds suddenly shot to his feet, jerking the chains that manacled him to the wall. “Attend to yourself, Dr. Stuart. You are not safe here, and you cannot trust the Kyn. Leave.”

“Why?” Alys asked. “What do you think they’re going to do to me? They’re protecting me.”

“You are a mortal, and there is nothing that will keep you safe in this place,” Leeds predicted. “Leave now, if you value your life.”

With Leeds still shouting after her, Alys fled for the stairs.

Chapter 16

Once Alys had disappeared, Leeds stopped shouting and sat back on the floor of his cell. “She will not go, will she? She smells of Kyn. Of course. That is how he is manipulating her.” He spoke as if he was talking to himself.

“I know nothing of your schemes.” Anger kept Jayr from looking directly at the tresora; she focused on the welds at the base of his cell’s bars. “We found Christian and Simone. What did you do to them?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Just as you did nothing to Farlae.” Jayr clamped down on her temper before she added, “These women are not part of my household. Whatever grudge brought you here to take your vengeance on me has nothing to do with them. Tell me what you used to harm them, and how it may be reversed.”

“I did nothing to Christian, Simone, or you.”

He was such an accomplished liar that as he spoke, his scent never changed. Jayr knew he would never tell her, not while the women still lived. She would inform him of his fate, then, and leave with dignity. But when she spoke, the words came not from her cool head but from her bruised pride.

“You did nothing to me? You had me trust you, Devan. You convinced me to welcome you into my household, and accept your counsel, and verily believe every falsehood you uttered.” She reached out for the bars, and drew back her hand, clenching it into a fist. “You betrayed me in every manner imaginable.”

“As you say, my lady.” Leeds’s chains rattled as he rose and shuffled across the pitted slate to the cell door. “If I may know, when am I to be put to the sword?” When she didn’t answer him, he said, “Perhaps you have something else in mind. Do you mean to starve me, or let me rot? Perhaps have the men use me for a target?” Heavy manacles clanked against the bars, and gentle fingertips touched her arm. “You could enrapture me, you know.”

“Get off.” She spun around, thrusting her arm between the bars to shove him back. “You think yourself so tempting to me. You, who are everything vile and twisted. Rather I would feed on rats for all eternity than let a drop of your blood pass through my lips.”

Leeds staggered before he slowly straightened. “I know that, my lady. I know because you are everything that is honorable and true. I think I would kill for you.”

“Never say you did this for wanting of me.” But she could see it on his face, forlorn with longing. “Have you lost your wits? I am bonded. I belong to Byrne.”

He smiled a little. “That was evident from the first moment I beheld you with your seneschal. Do you even know how you look at him, as if he were all the world? Not even he knows the depth of your love, I suspect. As for me, well, we so often covet that which can never be ours. And I knew I could never have you.”

He was toying with her, Jayr thought. Scheming to once more get inside her trust by making such a pathetic excuse. “You never knew me before you came here.”

“Also true. I was sent to this place to carry out several unpleasant tasks. I anticipated every danger except you, my lady.” He braced his forearm against the bars, his eyes boring into hers. “I am in love with you, Jayr.”

She backed away from the cell. “You are mad.”

“I should have left as soon as your spy found me out, but I could not leave you.” He curled his fingers around the bars. “My orders were to kill you. That was why I came to the lists tonight. I meant to run my blade through your heart.”

That was why he had taken that final, deadly lunge. “I should have cut off your hand and your head.”

“But instead you healed me, my lady.” He showed her the scar. “I am forever marked now by your blade and your blood. That was why I confessed to stabbing your wardrobe master. I knew I would never leave here. I have nothing left to me but you.”

He spoke of her as if she were already his possession; that was how disturbed he was. “You truly believe you have some chance with me.”

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