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how to answer. No would mean he disbelieved her. Yes would mean she had been at fault in the past. As was often the case, she would not be pleased with either answer. "I love you," he repeated, wishing she would release him.

"Your father's a selfish, power-hungry bastard. He wants the corporation. He wants you. He wants any woman who catches his fancy."

That was true. But then why was she spending such time on his present? "Why do you stay with him?"

She released him, pulled back. "I stay with him for you, darling. I couldn't leave you. I want only the best for you." She took his hand, rubbed the burned skin there. Pain shot up his arm. "I have to protect you. And I can't just give over the corporation to him."

She picked up the ring, slipped it onto his finger. "There. How do you like that."

He nodded, though it was far too big for him, and the stone had fallen to one side as soon as she'd put it on. He pulled his hand away from hers with the excuse of righting it. "The ring should be very useful."

She fixed him with her cold blue gaze. "A Trojan horse," she said, in the ancient Greek dialect she'd taught him so they might share secrets. She continued in English. "No one would guess what it can do. We wizards are subtle."

Down the hall, the front door opened. "Apprentice!" his father yelled.

He jerked to his feet, quickly returned the ring to his mother. He ran to answer his father's summons.

He stopped a few feet away from the tall, dark figure, surprised to see that his father was accompanied by Elric. No one had told him Elric was visiting. Whenever they had a guest, things became much more complicated.

His father came at him and embraced him, wrapping him in the smells of sweat and resin soap. Embraces between them happened only in front
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