Draca put her hand on his arm, forcing him to turn and look at her. "Sshe iss more than Blood. Sshe iss Witch."
"It doesn't matter if she's Witch. She's still Blood."
"Sshe iss Blood and sshe iss Other."
"No." Saetan backed away from Draca. "She's still Blood. She's still one of us. She has to be." And she was still his gentle, inquisitive Jaenelle, the daughter of his soul. Nothing anyone could say would change that.
But someone had taught her to hate.
"Sshe iss Witch," Draca said with more gentleness than he'd ever heard from her. "Sshe will almosst alwayss sspiral, High Lord. You cannot alter her nature. You cannot prevent the ssmall sspiralss, the flashess of anger. You cannot prevent her from sspiraling down to her core. All the Blood needss to desscend from time to time. But the maelsstrom . . ." Draca slipped her hands into the sleeves of her robe. "Sshield her, Ssaetan. Sshield her with your sstrength and your love and perhapss it will never happen."
"And if it does?" Saetan asked hoarsely.
"It will be the end of the Blood."
Daemon shuffled the deck of cards as Leland glanced at the clock—again. They'd been playing cards for almost two hours, and if she followed the routine, she would let him go in ten minutes or one more hand, whichever came first.
It was the third night that week that Leland had requested his company when she retired. Daemon didn't mind playing cards, but it annoyed him that she insisted on playing in her sitting room instead of the drawing room downstairs. And her coquettish remarks at breakfast about how well he'd entertained her annoyed him even more.
The first morning after they'd played cards, Robert had flushed burgundy and blustered as he listened to Leland's chatter until he noticed Philip's silent rage. After that, since a pleasure slave wasn't considered a "real" man and, therefore, wasn't a rival, Robert had gleefully patted Leland's hand and told her he was pleased that she found Sadi such good company since he had to work so many evenings.
Philip, on the other hand, became brutally terse, tossing the day's itinerary at Daemon and spitting out verbal orders. He also joined Daemon and the girls for their morning walk, putting Jaenelle and Wilhelmina on either side of him, forcing Daemon to follow behind.
Neither man's reaction pleased Daemon, and Leland's pretending to be oblivious to the mounting tension pleased him even less. She wasn't as frothy or feather-headed as he'd first thought. When they played cards alone and she concentrated on the game, he saw the quiet cunning in her, the skill at dissembling so that, superficially at least, she fit into Robert's circle of society.
None of that explained why she was using him as a tease. Philip was jealous enough of his brother's right to stretch out in Leland's bed. She didn't have to flaunt another male at him.
Daemon curbed his impatience and concentrated on the cards, Leland's reason for watching the clock was no concern of his. He had his own reasons for wanting the evening to end.
Finally dismissed, Daemon headed for the Craft library. Finding it empty, he throttled the desire to destroy the room out of frustration.
That was the most irritating part about Leland's sudden attention. Jaenelle always took a nocturnal ramble around midnight, ending in the library, where he usually found her poring over some of the old Craft books. He kept his intrusions brief, never asked why she was roaming the house at that hour, and was rewarded with equally brief, although sometimes startling, snippets of conversation.
Those snippets fascinated him. They were an unsettling blend of innocence and dark perception, ignorance and knowledge. If, during their conversation, he managed to note the book and the section she was reading, he could sometimes, if he worked at it, untangle a little of what she'd said. Other times he felt as if he were holding a handful of pieces to a jigsaw puzzle the size of Chaillot itself. It was infuriating—and it was wonderful.
Daemon had almost given up waiting when the door suddenly opened and Jaenelle popped into the room. Twitching his hips out of the way so she wouldn't brush against him below the waist—something he'd taken great care to avoid since he wasn't sure what his physical reaction would be—he put his hand on her shoulder to steady her and keep her from bolting when she realized someone was in the room.
He felt a giddy pleasure when she wasn't surprised to see him. As he closed the door and lit the shaded candlelight, her right hand fluffed her hair, something she did when thinking.
"Do you like to play cards?" she asked when they'd settled on the dark brown leather couch, a discreet distance between them.
"Yes, I do," Daemon replied cautiously. Did nothing go on in this house that she didn't know about? That idea didn't please him. If she knew about his playing cards with Leland, what did she know, or understand, about his required visits to Alexandra's room?
Jaenelle fluffed her hair. "If it rains some morning and we can't take a walk, maybe you could play a card game with Wilhelmina and me."
Daemon relaxed a little. "I'd like that very much."
"Why doesn't Leland say you were playing cards? Why does she make it sound so secretly? Does she always lose?"
"No, she doesn't always lose." Daemon tried not to squirm. Why did she ask so damn many uncomfortable questions? "I think ladies like to seem mysterious."
"Or they may know things that need to stay hidden."
For a moment, Daemon forgot how to breathe. His right hand clenched the top of the couch and he winced. Damn. He'd let it slip up on him. The snake tooth had to be milked, and he hadn't taken the time to find an easily obtainable poison that wouldn't make him ill.
Jaenelle looked intently at his hand.
Suddenly uneasy, Daemon shifted position, casually dropping that hand in his lap. He'd guarded the secret of the snake tooth for centuries, and he wasn't about to tell a twelve-year-old girl about it.
He hadn't counted on her tenacity or her strength. Her hand closed on his wrist and pulled upward. He made a fist to hide his nails and pulled back, trying to break her hold. When he couldn't, he snarled in anger. It was a sound that had made strong men back away and Queens think twice about what they had ordered him to do.
Jaenelle simply looked him in the eyes. Daemon looked away first, shaking slightly as he opened his hand for her examination.
Her touch was feather-light, gentle, and knowing. She studied each finger in turn, finding the length of his nails of particular interest, and finally focused on the ring finger for a long time.
"This one's warmer than the others," she said, half to herself. "And there's something beneath it."