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Beau wondered what she would say if she knew a former Templar was standing right in front of her. “Your colleagues sound small-minded.”

“They’re limited by ego and fear. I’m not, although I do understand the risk I’m taking. Failure on my part will put an end to my career, and the connection to me has the potential to damage the foundation’s reputation.” Alys watched his face. “So, Mr. York. If you’re not here to monitor me, then why would they give someone with no archaeological experience this assignment?”

He grinned. “Oh, to manage things.”

“And that.” She shook a finger at his face. “That is the other problem I have with you. You’re far too attractive. Half of my interns are young, impressionable girls. I don’t want them distracted from their work, especially if you decide to tackle one of them.”

So she thinks me handsome. Beau had never been especially vain, but her compliment pleased him. “You seem to think I can do nothing but roll about on the floor with women.”

She gave him a tight smile. “I can only go by experience.”

“Well, Doctor, I don’t. And if your young interns are hoping to impress me, perhaps they’ll work harder.” Someone knocked on the door behind him, and he glanced through the peephole. “There’s an Asian lad standing in the hall. He’s carrying a very large case.”

“One of my interns. I have some equipment to check.” She offered him her hand and, when he took it, gave him a brisk handshake. “Thank you for stopping in to meet me, Mr. York, but I really can’t use you on the project. Please give my regrets and my regards to Mr. Tremayne.”

Chapter 3

Although Jayr usually held meetings with the mortal staff in the expansive area of the reception hall, she preferred to conduct personal interviews in the old armory that Byrne had converted into a study for her.

“I’ve yet to fathom why you need to acquire a new tresora at all,” Byrne grumbled as he poured a glass of bloodwine for Jayr. “We’ve dozens of them about the place. Pick one from our own, and train them to suit you, I say.”

“Most of our tresori are performers, laborers, or office workers,” she reminded him as she accepted the glass. “None of them have any experience with overseeing an entire household or serving the suzerainty. Also, most of them are female.”

“Aye, for we’ve a progressive household, where women are respected and valued.” He lifted his glass to toast her. “As well you know, my lady.”

“As I do, my lord.” She inclined her head. “I might point out that you’ve also slept with most of them.”

He nearly choked. “That was before you confessed your love for me. Since I’ve had you, I’ve naught touched another.” He gave her a suspicious look. “Never tell me you are jealous of the house wenches.”

“Considering that I once handpicked your bed companions for you, no. I’ve no quarrel with them.” His visible relief made her smile a little. “I am accustomed to working with men, however, and as I am still new to rule, I would prefer a tresora with significant household experience.”

Being named a lady paramount had made Jayr the first female to rule over a Darkyn jardin. Since she had also been the only female seneschal among the Kyn, she had not expected her new position to prove particularly trying. Shortly after being elevated to suzeraina, however, Jayr had discovered she was not, in fact, a nameless orphan, but the bastard daughter of Robin of Locksley.

It had taken a long time for Jayr to accept that stunning revelation, as well as Robin’s reasons for never claiming her. Her sense of self-worth had gradually recovered, but there were moments still when Jayr felt as if she were an impostor in her own life.

Here in the study, surrounded by the books and artworks that she and her lover had collected over the centuries, Jayr felt more at ease with her role as suzeraina. She needed that if she was to choose the right candidate to serve her and the Realm as their new chief tresora.

The latest aspirant, an Englishman from a very old and venerable tresoran family, arrived at the precise time for his interview. After Byrne made the formal introductions, Jayr shook his hand in American fashion and invited him to sit with her beside the fire.

Jayr knew from the file provided by the tresoran council that Devan Leeds was single, thirty-two, and the youngest member of an ancient tresoran bloodline. Dressed in an immaculate, beautifully tailored navy blue suit, Leeds wore his fair hair very short and neat. Jayr liked the calm directness of his blue eyes; they made his otherwise unremarkable features seem friendlier. His quiet demeanor and economical movements clearly demonstrated that he was accustomed to service.

Leeds had served as an assistant to his father, the chief tresora in an Italian stronghold. Such arrangements were common among their most faithful human allies, with fathers training sons in apprentice fashion to take their place after they retired from service. The practice ensured that the Kyn lord would not have to bring a stranger into his household, nor would he have to devote any time to teaching the mortal his personal customs and preferences. Tresoran families prided themselves on serving the same lord for centuries; a few had served their masters even before they became immortal.

“I’m flattered that you would take interest in this position and my household,” Jayr told him, “but I find myself puzzled as well. Your bloodline is English, and yet your family has served an Italian suzerain for well on five hundred years. After such long and distinguished service, why would you wish to relocate to America?”

“It does sound confusing, doesn’t it?” Leeds smiled. “Suzerain Marietto, whom my family has served since he rose to walk the night, was exceedingly fond of his mother. She was an Englishwoman who met and married his father while making a pilgrimage. Even when our lord was mortal, he would hire her countrymen and import them to serve in his household. Every child in my family has been raised and educated in England specifically to preserve those qualities he enjoyed so much.”

Jayr detected an abrupt change in his scent, one that indicated he was saddened. Then she realized how he had referred to his master. Enjoyed. “Did something happen to alter this arrangement?”

“Four years ago the Brethren attacked our stronghold in the middle of the day.” He related the details in spare but unflinching terms. “They burned everything to the ground: the villa, the garrison’s quarters, the staff’s cottages. Our lord and his lady, their warriors, my parents, and every mortal on the property perished in the flames.”

Byrne, who stood behind Jayr, stirred. “Yet you survived.”

“I would have died with them, Seneschal, but two days before the massacre my master sent me on errand to Rome.” His mouth took on a bitter curve. “He wished to move our entire jardin to England, and bade me put the matter before the council. He wished them to approve the relocation before he petitioned the high lord. It is ironic. In another month or two, we would have been safely beyond their reach.”

Jayr knew of the Brethren’s brutal campaign to drive the Kyn out of Europe; like the other American suzerains, she had offered sanctuary to as many refugee warriors as she could absorb into her jardin. She’d never given much thought to how the horrific attacks impacted their mortal allies, however. “Such a grievous loss renders all words inadequate, Mr. Leeds. Please accept my sympathies.”

“You are very gracious, my lady.” Leeds bowed his head. “I count myself fortunate in that I am young enough to start again, and do what I can to preserve my bloodline. To serve in your household would be a very new experience for me, a chance at a new beginning, if you like.”

Jayr was struck by how practical he was; she suspected, like her, he handled his difficulties by working through them. “Some of the tresori I have interviewed did not seem comfortable with the thought of making their oath to a lady paramount. How do you feel about the prospect of serving a woman instead of a man?”

“You are the first lady to rule the Kyn, and I imagine all you do is subject to special scrutiny.” Now he sounded sympathetic. “It is apparent that you need a well-trained tresora who can adapt to this new order of rule. One who has the appropriate standards, who can serve your needs without reservation or prejudice, and who will run your household flawlessly. I believe I am that man, or I would not be here.”

“And modest to boot,” Byrne muttered.

Jayr frowned at him. “You say our need is apparent, Mr. Leeds, as if there is something wanting.”

“Many things, I fear, my lady. This chamber, for example.” The tresora gestured around him. “I can tell that this was once your armory. Converting it to a study makes it a very welcoming room, but what was done with the weapons that were stored here?”

“I believe my seneschal moved them to our underground storage rooms,” Jayr said. “What does it matter where they are?”

“If the keep were suddenly attacked, your men would waste precious time retrieving what they needed for defense from the lower levels.” He clasped his hands, bracing his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. “As I was escorted here, I noted a number of unoccupied rooms which could be used for weapons storage. You should also have caches hidden on every level for the same purpose.”

“We are open to the mortal public, lad,” Byrne said, sounding peevish. “The Brethren do not skulk about here torching the unwary. They hardly have any presence in America.”

“As you say, Seneschal,” Leeds agreed, “but now that they have caused so many to flee Europe, I fear they will soon be crossing the Atlantic in pursuit.”

Jayr knew Byrne’s moods better than anyone; for some reason he had taken an instant dislike to Leeds. She didn’t understand why, but she couldn’t discuss it with her lover in front of the man. That she didn’t share Byrne’s odd antipathy made the matter even more complicated. She liked Leeds, who was far more qualified than any of the other candidates, and wanted very much to offer him the position.

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