"Uncle?" Giff wandered out of her bedroom, wearing a carry sac that held her baby pouch slung over the opposite shoulder. She'd just wakened, it appeared.
"Child, I am sorry you went through such misery on my account," Roff pulled his oldest child against him, and kissed the top of her head.
"Father, do you remember?" Giff wept as she turned her gaze on Roff's face.
"Yes, my little one. I remember."
"Lord Warlock." Rigo nodded to Erland, who appeared in Lissa's library. "How goes the assignment?"
"Good and bad—I found the information, but it wasn't good news when I found it. Nice work on Satris, by the way. My spies tell me the whelp now has a disease the physicians can't cure."
"Many years of research and working with poisons, venoms and such," Rigo shrugged off the compliment. "If they find the cause after his death, they will only believe he was bitten by a spider during his travels. It is uncommon but not unheard of."
"How long will it take?"
"Perhaps a few months, at the most. We will achieve our objective in the long term. At the end, he will wish for the quick death our Queen would have commanded."
"Tsk, tsk," Erland muttered, shaking his head in mock sympathy. "Perhaps Lissa should raise the topic of Diplomatic Immunity at the Conclave."
"That, my friend, would be inadvisable. She is new and many will be waiting, as vultures do when an ox is dying."
"I know. At times, I feel the need to cover myself in oil, just to slip through the tripe and garbage of Wylend's court. Lissa will have to contend with five hundred times that when she goes to Conclave."
"I fear that no amount of diplomatic oil will keep her from the shock that is coming. She will be snubbed and mistreated by many, I fear. Not only because she is a new monarch, but because there is a price on her head. Most will be placing as much distance between that and themselves as they can get. It is never wise to befriend one who is marked by the Assassin's Guild. That is usually a death waiting to happen. And if one gets too close, one might be targeted as well."
"Sadly, it's true," Erland agreed. "But they don't know what Lissa is made of, or some of her mates."
"You know I wish to be included in your number," Rigo didn't meet Erland's gaze.
"We know. All of us do. We're just waiting to see if she offers a ring now or waits awhile." Erland cleared his throat.
"You have bets riding on this, don't you?" Rigo lifted an eyebrow.
"Yes, but it's embarrassing to admit it."
Rigo surprised Erland by laughing out loud.
I had a private meeting with Erland to discuss his spying assignment, and Erland wasn't willing to let me get away afterward. Well, my desk got broken in, that night. Nobody can accuse Erland of being unimaginative—in bed or out. I met up with Solis and Hardin, formerly Captain and General, as we walked out of my study. Solis and Hardin were now part of my palace guards. They were patrolling the halls as Erland and I made our way to the dining room after a quick cleanup.
"Solis, Hardin," I nodded to both of them.
"Liss, we seldom see you," Solis smiled.
"I hear that a lot," I said.
"Mostly from her mates," Erland gave a long-suffering sigh.
"Oh, you poor thing," I swatted at Erland, who managed to evade my hand. "Did they find a good home for you?" I asked, turning back to Solis.
"They did. We travel to the light side on off days and have sun bulbs installed in the bedroom for the days we stay on this half of the planet. Flavio told us not to invite any vampires inside."
"Well, not unless you want them to fry," I said. "Only a few of us can stand the light of day."
"I wasn't sure what you talking about when you told us you were vampire on Vionn," Hardin told me. "I'd never heard of anything like that."
"There aren't any vampires on Vionn," I explained. "If there were, they'd likely have been hidden. Even on the worlds that recognize vampires as citizens, they don't mingle much with the general population. They're just too vulnerable during the day. No sense in inviting trouble, don't you think?"
"I understand that part of it," Solis said. He and Hardin were both armed with laser rifles and long, heavy steel blades strapped at their side.
"Have Drake and Drew offered to teach you to fight with two blades?" Just the thought of it made me smile.
"Yes, and we've started the training. We were also informed that they won't let us wear two swords until we're proficient." Hardin was smiling, now.
"Let me know if you need anything," I said, when Erland took my elbow to coax me away.
"We're fine," Solis called after us, and I was ushered into the dining room.
Adam, Merrill and Kiarra had come for dinner, which was served the minute Erland and I were seated. Gavin was seated on my right, so we would be going to bed as soon as he could get me there. "Tomorrow is our anniversary," Adam said, putting his arm around Kiarra. "So I'd like to invite all of you to the Chessman tomorrow night for dinner. I have a private room reserved." Well, he ought to be able to reserve it, since he owned the thing and all. Looked as though we were going to get dressed up and go to Casino City. Honestly, I hadn't been there since the first day it had opened.
"You know who I am?" Connegar and Reemagar blinked at the one who'd come to them inside Lissa's library. Lissa and her mates, including a few extras, had gone to The Chessman Casino in Casino City to celebrate Adam and Kiarra's anniversary. Connegar and Reemagar had been invited, but they had no desire to sit in the midst of such a crowd so they'd stayed behind, choosing Lissa's library to relax and talk instead.
"Of course. Many Larentii would recognize the Mighty Hand," Connegar bowed deeply and respectfully to the tall man.
"I have an assignment for you," the man said. Although he was tall, he was still three feet shorter than Connegar, who was nearly ten feet tall.
"We are honored to accept," Connegar bowed again. "What is it that you wish, Bright One?"
The Mighty Hand outlined exactly what he wanted from the Larentii, who readily agreed. After all, it would protect Le-Ath Veronis and thwart those who sought to bring harm to Lissa. Under normal circumstances, Larentii wouldn't be allowed to interfere past the protection of their mate.
"It will be done swiftly," Reemagar spoke for the first time.
"Thank you," the tall man said, offering a crooked grin. Connegar and Reemagar couldn't help but smile back.
"We were married in Vegas," Adam said. He'd been asked to tell the story by members of the Saa Thalarr. I could tell it was a favorite and one I'd not heard before. "Kiarra wanted no part of it," Adam added, grinning. "I had to force her to marry me."
"You should have seen the look on her face when we made her march down the aisle," Lynx snickered. "She wouldn't buy a dress, either, so the rest of us picked it out. Tiger and Wolf had to dress her. She wouldn't put the thing on."
I'd only met Tiger and Wolf that evening. They were retired, but both were members of the seven Saa Thalarr when I'd helped Dragon on Refizan.
"She didn't have a ring for me, either," Adam laughed. "I ended up getting a piece of her unicorn horn." He held up his hand to show me the pale, gold band. It matched the ones worn by Merrill and Pheligar, too, I recalled. She'd given them a piece of herself. That was amazing, in my book.
"Heathe, if I give you my blood, then you'll be able to go with us," I told him. I'd waited until the following afternoon to make the offer, so we could wade through a pile of work first. He'd sleep afterward, that was a given, so I had to time it right. Heathe was shocked out of his shoes, I could tell, when I offered him blood. Thurlow and Rigo had come immediately after I made the suggestion; I'm sure Thurlow had known this was about to happen.
"Will you allow one of us to hold you, while Heathe takes your blood?" Rigo wanted this, I could tell. Very much. After thinking about it for a moment, I nodded to Rigo. He pulled me against him and gestured for Heathe to approach.
"No climax, Heathe," I whispered, before reciting permission.
"Shhh," Heathe said, and breathed on my neck. Rigo held the back of my head cupped in his hand, my body tight against his as Heathe leaned in for the bite. He was careful and it didn't hurt much. As soon as Heathe licked off the last of the blood, Thurlow folded him to his suite. Rigo stayed behind. Grant cleared off the sofa in the corner and Rigo took me there to sit and recuperate for a while. Grant offered a bottle of blood substitute, but Rigo was already pulling his collar open.
"Come, tiessa, take from me," he offered.
"Honey, I don't know how to hold back the climax," I whispered.
"I am hoping that remains true," Rigo smiled. The corners of his eyes crinkled a little when he did that and I think I was lost, then and there. Well, I might have to talk with my mates. I sure didn't know what they were going to do if they had to add somebody else to the roster. Grant stole quietly from the room. "Come, tiessa, do not feel embarrassed or afraid," Rigo leaned in to kiss me lightly. "You are not obligated; still, I just want this one small thing from you."
"All right," I leaned my forehead into the hollow of his shoulder, right against the tattoo of the night flower on his neck. He didn't hurry me so I sat there, breathing in the scent of him for a while. If duty, loyalty and honor had a scent, I think it would smell like Rigo. I lifted my hand and slipped it around the back of his neck, placed a kiss of my own and bit. Rigo held me tightly against him as his body convulsed with the climax. Thurlow found us like that, still sitting together minutes later, neither of us willing to move for a while.