Sorry for the delay in putting up a new chapter. My SAD hit me a little harder than usual this winter. Couple that with a consistent Vitamin D deficiency, and I've been a little under the weather for the last couple of months. It's been all I can do to get new pages written, much less blog posts edited..
Also, I finally came up with a title I like! Yay!
I walked across
the street when bells at the Temple
of the Mother tolled first evening. The one grace was that the rain had
stopped, but the thick, heavy air said more was on its way.
me, but she had the foresight not to take my arm. Since my trial for Samael
DiRoy’s murder last summer, everyone knew I was sighted even if my staff
occasionally forgot out of sheer habit. Besides, traffic on the main
thoroughfare had died down for the day. Not that it had been as congested as
normal between the rain and rest day.
After my encounter
with my mother this afternoon, I could understand my wardens insistence that I
have an escort in the city.
Goddess, I missed
having Luc around from sunrise to sunrise. I could trust him to watch my back.
Was it my own
stubbornness that prevented better relations with my staff? They seemed so
eager to please. Or were they terrified I would blame them for hiding my
predecessor’s instability? To be released from temple service would be the
On the other hand,
I couldn’t get myself disgraced no matter how hard I tried.
I was escorted to
the chief priest’s private dining room. It hadn’t change a bit since Luc had
taken over from Kam, and I said as much to the two men.
Luc laughed. “I
wish had the time or inclination to redecorate, but Kam here has been keeping
me quite busy. I think he saved his entire workload from last spring for me.”
The elderly priest
chuckled. “Running a temple is a young person’s game.”
“And cooking a
fine dinner takes an experienced hand,” I remarked.
“Just so, my
lady.” Kam took my hand looped it around his arm. The gesture was sheer
graciousness, not a suggestion that I was helpless, and he did it every time I
came to the Temple of Truth for dinner long
before I was condemned to the Orrin temple seat.
“And at the rate
he’s going, I won’t fit in my smallclothes by next winter,” Luc grumbled
good-naturedly. To Tyra’s shock, he copied Kam and took the warden’s arm in
Even after half a
year, it was odd to see Luc at the head of chief priest’s private table,
instead of Kam. He kept with Kam’s tradition that business was not to be
discussed until after the sweets course. Tonight’s specialty was mountain ice
mixed with cream and flavored with honey and dried blackberries.
I licked the last
bits from my spoon before I said, “You’re right, Luc. You’re going to end up
fatter than a bear before hibernation at this rate.
“After the day
we’ve had, I told Kam we deserved a treat.” Luc dropped his own spoon into the
bowl with a clatter. “I hope your day was more productive than mine.”
“Nothing from any
of the duke’s household?”
“Not a damn
thing.” He raked his hands through his hair. “In fact, the only quirk was Lady
I sat up
straighter. “What do you mean?”
“If I didn’t know
better, I’d say she was fighting my spell, but the idea is ridiculous.
According to our records, none of the DiMaras have ever shown a flicker of
“Are you sure?” I
“No.” He speared a
piece of cheese from the platter in front of him. “She was one of the last
people I questioned, and I could have imagined it.”
A shiver ran up my
spine. The last thing I wanted was to drop more trouble in Marco’s lap. Other
than Luc, he was the only person who’d ever defended me against an attacker in
every sense of the word.
I relayed what
Master Healer Devin had said about the attacker having small hands. That story
spilled into events at the Temple
of Death, and my
encounter with my mother.
Luc and I
exchanged looks, old habits falling into place. He had the same feeling that we
were missing a major piece of this puzzle.
looking at this from the wrong angle.” Kam poured more wine into his goblet.
“How so?” I asked.
“It could have
been a jealous worshipper who viewed Sister Gretchen as his. When she refused
to run away with him, he became enraged. If he couldn’t have her, no one else
I turned to Tyra.
“What’s your analysis, Warden?”
She stammered a
couple of times before she said, “I’m happy Sister Gretchen wasn’t found in one
of our temple’s wine barrels, Justice.”
released the neck of the decanter he was reaching for. “Oh, my.”
The same worry had
plagued to me, but I folded my fingers and rested my chin on them. “Why so?”
More stammering. I
waited patiently, Little Bear’s assessment of Penelope’s behavior foremost in
my mind. If I wanted the Balance staff to trust me, and vice versa, I needed to
extend the offer.
that Duke Marco swore for your conduct at your own t-t-trial for murder, if the
body had been discovered at our temple, people would blame you without
evidence, and the duke’s enemies would use it against him.
would claim Orrin’s Temple
of Balance was corrupt,
and jurisdiction would fall to him. Given his assumption of guilty until proven
innocent and his lack of investigative skills, both His Grace and you would be
executed.” Her green lashes fluttered with her nervous energy.
Warden. My thoughts as well. Which means someone is specifically targeting the
duke for scandal—”
“Or it was still a
method of killing two quail with the same arrow,” Luc added.
“She knows a lot
of Gerd’s secrets, and with Marco’s father imprisoned for life for kidnapping
and attempted memory alteration, Gerd doesn’t have the nobility completely
under her thumb.”
“But most of the
local lords aren’t happy with His Grace either,” Tyra offered. At least, the
girl no longer stuttered.
“Which brings us
back to the original problem.” I fished the vial out of my pocket. “I’m hoping
this will help.”
“What’s this?” Luc
asked as he took the stoppered glass from my hand. He held the vial up to the
nearest oil lamp to examine the contents.
“I’m praying it is
skin scrapings from Gretchen’s attacker. Master Devin pointed out all her nails
were packed with this substance.”
Luc met my gaze.
“That’s assuming the wine didn’t overwhelm his essence.”
“Or hers.” I
frowned. “At this point, I’m not ruling anyone or anything out. I know it’s not
much to start with, but on the chance, Gretchen tore her attacker’s skin, and
he’s still alive.”
“I’ll have to do a
little research for this fine of a tracking spell. Otherwise, we may end up
finding the grapevines that were the source of the wine. Do you have a problem
with me consulting the Wildling chief priest—”
His recitation was
interrupted by Tyra yawning, a wide, jaw-cracking one. Blood rushed to her face
as she realized what she’d done. “I beg forgiveness, Brothers, Lady Justice.”
“Pish,” Kam said
as he waved his hand. “Anthea and Luc are simply more adept at hiding theirs
while listening to an old man ramble.”
“Because we’ve had
far too much practice,” I said into my cup.
wrong with my hearing, young lady.” He waggled a finger at me.
“You were meant to
hear, old man,” I shot back.
“Well, it’s about
time you two experience the other side.”
Luc leaned closer
to Tyra. “It’s permissible to laugh at them, Warden. I do all the time.”
“You were on last
night’s watch, weren’t you?” I said.
“Go back to the
temple and get some sleep.”
“But I can’t leave
“I’ll escort her
home, Warden,” Luc said.
Warmth filled me.
It had been weeks since we’d had any time alone.
“But—” she tried
one more time.
“That’s a direct
order, Warden. I don’t need my staff nodding off in the middle of court
She tried to hide
her relief as she stood. “Thank you, m’lady. Good eventide, Brothers.”
Once she left, Kam
rested his chubby arms on the table service. “Anthea, be careful with Gerd.
Don’t take power in this city, her wrath or her ego for granted.”
with an investigation.” Damn, now I sounded like the sullen, petulant child.
expecting any type of maternal consideration—”
I snorted. “Oh,
believe me, I am not.”
“I’m too old and
too tired to argue with a mule-headed justice.” He climbed to his feet with a
great deal of puffing. “Do something with her before she does something stupid,
Luc. Good eventide.”
For an elderly,
overweight man, Kam did a remarkable job of stomping out of the dining room in
a huff. The door slammed behind him, and the dishes and utensils vibrated in
everyone with a stick tonight, Justice.” Luc’s amused tone irritated me.
“This would all be
so much easier if I didn’t have half the city playing idiotic games.”
“That means you
have to play the game better than anyone else.”
“I can think of
games I’d rather play.” I smiled at him.
He was out of his
chair and pulling me into his arms before my next heartbeat. Our lips met, and
I felt as if I’d been trapped in the Salt
Desert for days, and
finally taking a sip of fresh, sweet water.
The kiss was far
too short. Or so I thought until I realized he pressed me against the wall and
my legs were wrapped around his waist.
“Goddess, I miss
you,” I whispered.
Luc leaned his
forehead against mine. “Not as much as I miss you.” His breath was warm against
my skin, reminding of all those mornings he’d woken me with sweet kisses.
His hands slid
from my buttocks. “But we can’t. Not here. Not now.”
“When?” I hated
that the single word sounded like a sob, that I sounded like a lovestruck fool.
“I don’t know.” He
pulled my arms from his neck. “You need to go back before anyone starts rumors.
We have enough trouble on our tables, my love.” His words were followed by a
light kiss on my neck, the tender spot where I was most sensitive.
When he stepped
away, I felt as shaky as if I’d been sword training during a severe ground
quake. And I wished I’d argued harder that we run away to Cant six months ago.
* * *
The thought of
escaping my duties crawled through my mind long after the temple and
outbuildings had quieted for the night. But amid the desire to saddle Nassa and
gallop south to the border, the mutilated body of Sister Gretchen taunted me.
Maybe if Luc could trace who, then we would know why.
Which brought me
back full circle to Luc and abandoning the temple again.
I sighed, sat up
and punched at the down pillows. I still hadn’t gotten used to the finery
afforded my new position. Luc and I had slept on the ground more often than not
as we traveled the circuit of villages and towns between Orrin and the
mountains. I threw myself back down on the bed.
situation was ridiculous. I was fretting about things I had no control over.
Without sleep, I’d be crankier than usual during court tomorrow morning.
The faint scrape
of stone on stone cut my self-pity off at the knees. I froze and scanned the
room through slitted eyes. My hand reached between the mattress and the bed frame
for my dagger.
There. A small
section wall to the left of my wardrobe separated from the rest of the
blue-green marble. The brilliant yellow of a living being appeared. It stepped
through the opening and straightened. A man.
tightened around the dagger handle. Fool. I could see in the dark. He couldn’t.
Despite the chill
in the air, I had kicked up my blankets long before. It was a simple matter of
rolling off the bed and crouching on the icy floor.
unerringly to my bedside. This was someone who knew the lay of my chambers or
had been in here before. Neither boded well.
When he reached
for the spot where my head would have been, I grabbed his collar and yanked. He
lost his balance and landed on my mattress with a whoof. The tip of my dagger rested along the pulse point of throat.
The feel of his
skin and his scent registered a heartbeat before Luc said, “Is this how you
greet all your lovers?”
“You scared the
piss out of me,” I hissed. “By our gods, what are you doing here? How did you…”
I glanced at the opening he’d slipped through.
“If you put away
the dagger, I’ll tell you.”
“I’m glad you find
this amusing,” I muttered, but I released him.
himself to lie lengthwise on my mattress. I set my weapon on the lamp table and
circled the room, laying wards so we wouldn’t be interrupted.
When I returned to
the bed, he snagged my hand and pulled me on top of him. My body heated as his
hands roamed and his arousal pressed against me.
are not the first of our temples to have an illegal tryst.”
I waited for him
to continue, but it was growing more difficult to think with the things he was
doing to me. Finally, I tore my mouth from his. “The secret passage?” I
“Kam was waiting
in my bedchamber when I returned.” His chest rumbled beneath me. “Would you
believe he lectured me on taking the edge off your irritability?”
flipped me so I was underneath him. Little kisses followed the hem of my
audacious of him.” A disturbing thought hit me. “Wait a moment. Kam
Luc buried his
face against my inner thigh to stifle his laughter. “Light, no. Thalia.”
justice had been Penelope’s predecessor. She died defending the city from a pirate
attack nearly a generation ago. Her sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. The battle
had broken the marauders power on the Peaceful Sea.
whispered. “I didn’t realize Kam had been here that long.”
I wove my fingers
through Luc’s hair as he layered more licks and kisses along my skin. “But the
“Was built long
before either Thalia or Kam were assigned here. They’re part of the original
structures. There’s another tunnel between Light and Father. He believes they were
escape routes during the demon wars.” His breath brushed my flesh, shooting
prickles all over my body. “Now will you be quiet and let me love you, or do I
have to gag you?”
I sighed. “I
suppose. If you must for my mental health…”
Thankfully, my wards blocked the rest of the temple
from hearing my shrieks as Luc showed me how much he missed me.