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“Deal with it,” she told her image before she shut off the light and went back to work.

Byrne patted the neck of the sick, weary mare before he said to the stable master, “’Tis not colic giving her the bellyache. More likely she’s foraged on buttercups or nightshade. It’ll pass, but keep close watch on her tonight, and tell your lads to check the pasture where you last turned her out.” He saw his wardrobe keeper hovering just outside the entrance to the stables. “Have them dig up whatever they find, drench the soil, and keep the horses out of there until spring.”

As he walked out of the barn, a slim form emerged from the shadows. “You sent for me, Seneschal?” Farlae asked.

“Aye.” He glanced at the castle, and felt again the prickle along his backbone that never boded anything good. “We need to talk.”

The wardrobe keeper, who as always was dressed in black, wrinkled his nose. “Do we? I hope we need not adjourn to my workrooms for this tête-à-tête.”

Byrne sniffed at his sleeve. “You’re as priss-nosed as my mother was.”

“Knowing how often she wanted you kept chained in the outer ward, I shall take that as a compliment.” Farlae inspected him with his strange gaze. While one of the wardrobe keeper’s eyes moved normally, and was the color of the sea under a sunny sky, an enormous black mote paralyzed and engulfed the other, making it appear like some bizarre window into the abyss. “But you did not summon me to discuss your lady mother.”

“No.” He gestured toward the citrus groves. “We’ll walk out there.”

The frosty wind that accompanied them didn’t bother Byrne; winter in Florida was like a balmy Scottish summer. What had chilled his blood was watching his woman warm to that mortal. Leeds had conducted himself with exquisite manners, admirable confidence, and every appropriate protocol. For if he hadn’t, Byrne would have seized on it to have the man marched off his land.

No longer my land, he reminded himself. The Realm belonged to his lady now, along with his men, his castle, and his rule, and it was past time for him to accept that.

“We’ve gone outside the range of any ear, human or Kyn,” Farlae mentioned as they made their way down two rows of grapefruit trees. “You are safe to tell me what has your spleen in a knot.”

“We’ve a new tresora in the keep. English, from the Leeds bloodline.” Byrne described the man to Farlae. “He’s to give a month’s trial to prove himself as bright and shiny as he looks.”

“Leeds.” Farlae’s expression grew thoughtful. “I thought I knew all the English tresoran families, but the name escapes me.”

“Aye, but you see, he’s English by way of Italy.”

The wardrobe keeper halted in his tracks. “He can’t be Nottingham’s man. Cyprien packed off the few you didn’t slaughter to the Orient.”

“To hear it told, this one served Marietto. His loyalty is unblemished, and the council has even vouched for him. You know those old bastards. They wouldn’t stick out their scrawny necks for just anyone.” He reached out and cradled a ripening grapefruit with one hand. “And I have heard of the Leedses myself. ’Tis an old and respected bloodline.”

“Then why are we out here inspecting fruit?” Farlae asked.

“It seems he was on errand in Rome during a Brethren stronghold attack. They put to the flames everyone, even Marietto. This one is the only Leeds left alive.” Byrne glanced back at the keep. “I dinnae trust sole survivors, Farlae.”

“Escaping a horrible death does not automatically warrant suspicion.” Farlae’s brows drew together. “What is your thinking? That this Leeds betrayed his lord and his mortal kin to the zealots, and now comes here to do the same to the Realm?”

Byrne was not willing to cast that much suspicion on the man, not without proof. “He is here to do something, and the knot in my spleen tells me it has nothing to do with serving my sygkenis.” He hesitated before he added, “You know of this new group of traitors among the tresori, the ones who were hunting those Kyn-maker jewels.”

“You mean the Emeralds of Eternity, which were not actually destroyed during the battle in South Florida?” Farlae smiled. “I may have heard a word or two. As for the traitors, they are said to mutilate their Kyn marks, steal our ancient treasures, attack our kind, and commit suicide when cornered.”

Which was why Byrne had sent for him: Farlae had spies everywhere. “I should’ve asked what you dinnae know.”

Farlae considered that. “Well, I’ve yet to fathom the motive behind this rebellion. Tresori are trained from birth to love and serve us, and we have always cherished them. Those who prove unsuitable are never permitted to know us. There seems little motive for either sort turning traitor.”

“As you say. Yet if this Leeds is one of them, come here to bring down our household…” Byrne felt wetness on his hand, and saw that he had crushed the fruit to pulp. “Damn me. Four years I’ve not felt this—not even a twitch—and all my hand wants is a battle-ax. Why this, why now, when I’ve everything a man could dream?”

“A beast will not sleep when something prods it.” Farlae drew a snowy kerchief from his sleeve and handed it to him. “Leeds will have to be shadowed, his rooms searched, his movements tracked. I take it you have not spoken to Jayr about such things.”

“She believes his tragedy.” He wiped the pulp from his hands. “Aye, she even likes him.”

“Then you must keep your distance, Aedan.” Farlae nodded toward the jousting field, where Byrne had last descended into the killing madness of his affliction. “Else this mortal sends you in search of your battle-ax, and this dream of yours becomes a nightmare.”

Chapter 4

On the table in his chamber Beau rolled out a map of the Central Florida region, on which he had marked the survey site.

“This is where I’ll be working with the mortals for the next month,” he told Harlech. “The land is undeveloped and deserted. As an additional precaution against attracting attention, the high lord has instructed Dr. Stuart and her team to excavate only at night.”

Harlech peered at the symbols on the map. “I’ve ridden that way a time or two. There’s an old Spanish mission, and some sort of Indian settlement near a pond.” He glanced up. “How will you feed, and where will you take your rest during the daylight hours?”

“The mission has a large cellar level. I spent some hours last night making it habitable and laying in a concealed supply of bagged blood.” Beau rolled up the map. “The high lord has me acting as an overseer so I may remain on-site. I will call in when I can, but it is likely that I shall return before February.”

“You’ve never operated from within a group of mortals,” his captain said, “and they are not as oblivious as we would like. Remember not to use ability or your strength, and avoid wounds so they do not see you heal. You must keep to well-ventilated areas whenever possible. What of eating and drinking with them?”

Beau hadn’t considered that. “I will find an excuse to be busy when they have their meals.”

“Mortals dine three times a day,” a sweet voice said, “and will use any excuse to pop corn or roast marshmallows or consume bags of crisps while sitting about a fire swapping ghost stories. They will grow suspicious.”

“Never fear, brother.” Harlech turned to smile at the red-haired woman looking in on them, and held out his arm. “Viviana has learned a few tricks on how to break bread with them, haven’t you, my love?”

“Aye.” The skirts of her amber velvet gown swirled as she joined her husband. “Beau, say to the mortals that you have many food allergies and as such you must prepare all of your own meals. You can then arrange this preparation so that you will dine alone. If you must share a table with them, first mix a little of your bagged blood in whatever you put on your plate. At best ’twill hold off the sickness only a few minutes, so eat quickly and then visit the privy at once. If they find you emptying your belly, blame your allergies.”

“You might eat with your hands, and belch very loudly,” Harlech added. “Whenever Rainer forgets himself and does that during the dining hall performance, the mortals vacate his table at once.”

Beau thought of Alys on the floor, her bare body trapped under his. As he did, he felt his cock stir, as it did every time he remembered having her beneath him.

Enough of Alys.

“I’ve no wish to disgust them.” Beau went to his armoire and began selecting the garments he would need.

“Why do you say that?” Viviana asked as she came to help him. “Have they some maiden among them who has caught your eye? Or do they not permit women to do such work?”

“No. In fact the team is led by a woman.” He carried his garments over to his cases. “Alys Stuart is her name. Dr. Alys Stuart.”

“How interesting.” Viviana’s brows arched. “What manner of leech digs in the dirt for things forgotten?”

“She is a doctor of archaeology, not medicine.” Beau saw the look Harlech’s wife gave him. “And yes, Vivi, she is young and lovely and, as far as I know, unattached. Unfortunately she is also immune to l’attrait.”

Viviana grimaced. “Oh, bad luck. Is there anyone else, perhaps? For if there isn’t, I could surely send along one of the household girls to visit you. Several of them are very taken with you, you know.”

“Are they?” Beau regarded his captain, who cringed a little. “I thank you, but I think I should be able to bear the burden of an empty bed for a month.”

“Well, if you change your mind, you have only to call.” She gave his hand a fond pat before she said to her husband, “Harlech, I will be supervising the fittings tonight, so do not expect me before midnight.” She kissed his check before she swept out.

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