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    Chapter 1

    "Bring everything out that you have taken." Gavril had to be held back by Aurelius; the full force of his compulsion might have torn the woman's mind apart. Her husband stood nearby, restrained by Garde and Jayd.

    Reah had been folded away by Nefrigar, and multiple attempts at reaching the Larentii Archivist via mindspeech yielded no results. Lissa, expressing her extreme anger at Gardevik and Kifirin, insisted that they do what they could to retrieve Reah's things. Now, all those who'd gathered at Baetrah's rim stood outside the cottage Reah had occupied for more than twenty years. The new grove supervisor's wife cowered before Gavril in the tiny front yard.

    "My wife didn't tell me that she found anything of value in the house," the supervisor denied any part in the theft.

    "Lie," Jayd said casually. "Garde, did you even interview these before you hired them?"

    "Not nearly long enough," Garde blew smoke. The woman, frightened by Garde and Teeg's anger, rushed inside the cottage and returned quickly with a small, carved box.

    "Here's the jewelry, but I sold some of it," the woman's hand trembled as she offered the box to Gavril.

    "What is missing?" Aurelius demanded.

    "My ring," Gavril muttered angrily, searching swiftly through the box. "You will tell me what you did with it," he snapped.

    "This is ridiculous," Lok growled. He'd been silent until then, settling for pacing back and forth and casting black looks at Kifirin.

    "It didn't look real, so I sold it for two credits," the woman wept.

    "It's Tiralian crystal," Aurelius said, "and worth millions. Where is it?"

    "One of the hands bought it for his daughter's wedding."

    "Bring them in," Garde snapped. "Bring all the employees in. Now."

    * * *

    "This was hers? I never saw her wear it," a man brought the ring forward with shaking hands.

    "Because you don't wear Tiralian crystal to repair the sprinkler system," Gavril said dryly. "Here. As compensation for the ring. There should be ten thousand credits on the chip." He handed a chip bracelet over.

    "Thank you. I'll buy a replacement for my daughter," the man nodded respectfully and backed away. "I was hoping Reah would come back. Those two over there are terrible. I only bought the ring because they offered it to me."

    "Reah won't be back. We'll try to find someone else who will be better than these," Jayd jerked his head toward the overseer and his wife. "Those two are going back where they came from."

    * * *

    "I know it looked that way to Reah." Jayd paced while Tory sat and watched. His father, Garde, stood off to the side. Tory was angry. With both of them. "Garde said we could give the girls the best of everything here at the palace, so he told Reah that this is where they'd stay."

    "So Kifirin waves his fingers and everybody worked together to keep the girls away from Reah, and to keep her poor and in the groves."

    "I didn't know how bad it was. I get complaints every day from the disabled, asking where their medications or their socks or their new blankets are," Jayd sighed. "And of course they complain about the food they're being served."

    "I thought we were doing what was best for the girls," Garde offered.

    "Dad, that's bullshit. Mom said you were pissed at Reah. She said you blamed her for my disappearance. We both know who was responsible for that, now don't we?"

    "And we were only listening to what we wanted to hear." Glinda walked into Jayd's study. "We wanted those girls as close as we could get them, so we didn't argue with whatever Garde did to get them here. The truth is that Reah should have been here, too. We left a precious High Demon female out in the groves on the Southern Continent, alone and unguarded. Anything could have happened out there. Admit it."

    "Something almost did happen. Today." Tory stood. "What would you do, Dad, if Reah had taken that last step? Would this be your chance to do what you wanted to do all along, and hand all the rights to my girls over to Jayd and Glinda?"

    "Son, it isn't quite like that," Garde said.

    "Then how is it? How's Mom, Dad? She okay? What if that had been her out there about to kill herself?" Tory skipped away.

    "You f**ked up," Jayd turned to Garde.

    "We all did," Glinda pointed out.

    * * *

    "Again." Lok gestured for Drake to come after him. Drake obliged, both blades flying. Sweat poured off Lok's body, the dragon tattoos glistening in the early twilight. Aurelius stood nearby, watching both Falchani spar. Drew stood next to Aurelius, who wasn't doing very well.

    "He's trying to punish himself, isn't he?" Drew said.

    "Yes. But not all of us have such a convenient outlet."

    "How close was it?" Drew asked. He wanted to gauge how upset Aurelius was.

    "A few inches, if that. If the Larentii hadn't come, she'd be gone."

    "I heard Kifirin showed up, too."

    "He almost drove her to it. Nefrigar stepped between them. The rest of us just stood there, too stunned to move, I think. We're having a meeting later tonight. Everybody mated to Reah will come, except Nefrigar, I think. We still don't know where he took her."

    "Would you mind if some of the rest of us come? We know Reah, too."

    "I don’t mind, but if the others reject outsiders," Aurelius shrugged.

    "Then we'll either plead our case or leave," Drew agreed. "I don't believe it was only her mates who were blinded for the past twenty-five years. If we thought about Reah, it's as if the thoughts slipped away and we forgot again. When Kifirin removed the mute, it felt as though we'd been asleep all that time."

    "I think that is an apt way to put it," Aurelius agreed. "Farzi and Nenzi turned and went hunting, earlier. I'm not sure anything they came across lived over the encounter. Lendill went off with Norian to question more prisoners. I wouldn't want to be those prisoners, right now."

    "Lissa says that those controllers even convinced that young Surnathan's mother to shoot one of those things into his neck and then ordered him to kill all those workers at the electronics plant."

    "And then to kill himself," Aurelius nodded. "Dantel Schuul was twisted, as was his daughter. Lendill told me that father and daughter were lovers, likely since she was ten."

    "Twisted and sick," Drew sighed.

    * * *

    "What if she doesn't come out of this?" Tory sat on the corner of a low table and stared at Gavril.

    "If anyone can do this, it will be the Larentii," Ry said. "Look what they did for you, bro."

    "But I just had some anger issues and holes in my memory," Tory pointed out.

    "We're here," Lok and Aurelius walked into Lissa's library, where the meeting was to be held. Farzi and Nenzi were among the stacks, gabbling about the books on the shelves.

    "Present," Lendill appeared with Norian close behind.

    "Erland is managing the palace on Karathia for me," Corolan appeared beside Ry. "If there's an emergency, he'll send mindspeech." Ry knew why Cory had come. He loved Reah still and they'd all gotten the full brunt of the released mute around Reah. Corolan had cursed long and loudly over it.

    "We may have extras coming," Aurelius announced, getting everyone's attention.

    "What extras?" Gavril looked about, worried that someone unbidden and unwelcome might appear. Farzi and Nenzi had come out of the stacks and settled on a sofa nearby.

    "You know, extras," Drake said as he and Drew appeared, closely followed by Lissa, Gavin, Thurlow, Aryn, Winkler, Rigo, Tony, Roff, Connegar and Reemagar. Norian was already there, so only a few of Lissa's mates were missing—most notably, Kifirin and Gardevik. Gavril sighed deeply and nodded with relief at their absence.

    "Before we start on anything else, Ildevar has ordered that half the funds confiscated from the pirates go to Reah. And that's turning out to be quite a lot," Norian said. "We've tapped into hidden accounts where the credits were dumped; Dantel Schuul had Matiss Meldrim acting as bookkeeper for Nedrizif and his Greater Demons. Meldrim was quite adept at hiding funds, but thanks to Rigo and Aryn, we got all the information from him before he was, ah, digested."

    "Darletta was Dantel's front for a lot of other things, too," Tory said. "He owned Stellar Winds and Starshine through her. Of course, Daddy's little girl got everything she wanted."

    "Including Daddy, or so I heard," Drew remarked dryly.

    "I was never forced to watch the two of them together," Tory shuddered, his dark eyes filled with remembered pain and confusion. "And she lost interest in me over the last five years or so. She couldn't wait to get rid of me at the end."

    "Likely because you wouldn't cooperate all the time," Lissa said. "She didn't count on the fact that you weren't human or mortal."

    "Because she never knew," Tory agreed.

    "But what are we going to do about Reah, if she comes out of this? Or even if she doesn't? She's still pregnant and it could take a while," Aurelius observed. All of them agreed that there'd been a breakdown of some kind.

    "I don't know about you, but I'd like to sit down with her quietly, maybe over dinner or something, and let her know how much I care about her." Corolan wasn't waiting; he wanted everyone to know where he stood.

    "I think one on one, or perhaps two won't be so overwhelming," Aurelius said. "As soon as she's up to it. Provided we can get past the Larentii."

    "If he hadn't been there today," Lissa shivered. Gavin reached out and lifted her hand, kissing it gently. Gavin was going to be a grandfather for the first time. He wouldn't have been if Reah had taken one more step.

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