"May the Darkness help me, Surreal, this is no joke."
Surreal looked up at him. Fear, too, was something she'd never heard in his voice. She braced herself and stepped away from him. "Titan is dead," she said tightly.
Jaenelle looked even more puzzled. "Yes, I know."
"How do you know Titian?" Daemon asked quietly, but his voice vibrated with tension. He shivered, and Surreal knew it had nothing to do with the fresh little breeze that had sprung up.
"She's Queen of the Harpies. She told me her daughter's name is Surreal, and she told me what she looked like, and she told me her Jewel's setting might look like the family crest. The Dea al Mon usually wear it in silver, but the gold looks right on you." Jaenelle looked at them. She was still pleased that she'd been able to deliver the message, but their reactions made no sense.
Surreal wanted to run, wanted to escape, wanted to hold on to this child who didn't think it strange to be a bridge between the living and the dead. She tried to say something, anything, but only an inarticulate sound came out, so she looked to Daemon for help and realized he wasn't standing on solid ground either.
Finally he shook himself, slipped an arm around Jaenelle's shoulders, and led her toward the private gardens.
"Wait," Surreal called. She swayed but stayed on her feet. Tears filled her eyes, filled her voice. "If you should see Titian again, send my love in return."
The smile she saw through the blur of tears was gentle and understanding. "I will, Surreal. I won't forget."
Then they were gone.
Surreal stumbled to a tree and wrapped her arms around it, tears streaming down her cheeks. Dea al Mon. The family name? The people Titian had come from? She didn't know, but it was more than she'd ever had before. She felt torn apart inside, and yet, for the first time since she'd stumbled into that room and saw Titian lying dead, she didn't feel alone.
As Cassandra opened the cupboard where she kept the wineglasses, she felt the dark male presence at the kitchen door, that unmistakable scent of the Black. Without turning, she reached for a wineglass and said, "I didn't expect you until later."
"I'm surprised you expected me at all."
She missed the glass. Only one male's psychic scent could be mistaken for Saetan's. Buying time while she vanished the Red Jewel and called in her Black, she took two glasses from the cupboard and set them on the counter before turning around.
He leaned against the door frame, his hands in his trouser pockets.
Ah, Saetan, look what you've sired.Cassandra's heart beat in an odd little rhythm as she admired his body and the almost too beautiful face. If there had been the merest hint of seduction in the air, her ancient pulse would have been racing. But there was only a bone-chilling cold and a look in his eyes that she couldn't meet.
Think, woman, think.She was a Guardian, one of the living dead, but he didn't know that. If he damaged her body, she could instantly make the transition to demon and keep fighting. She doubted he had the knowledge or skill to destroy her completely. Black against Black. She could hold her own against him.
She glanced at his eyes and knew, with shocking certainty, that it wasn't true. He had come for the kill, and he knew exactly who and what she was.
"You disappoint me, Cassandra. Your legends paint you differently," Daemon said softly, his voice thick with malevolence.
"I'm a Priestess serving at this Altar," she said, working to keep her voice steady. "You're mistaken if you think—"
He laughed softly. She stepped back from the sound and found herself pressed against the counter.
"Do you think I can't tell the difference between a Priestess and a Queen? And the Jewels, my dear, name you for what you are."
She bent her head slightly in acknowledgment. "So I'm Cassandra. What do you want, Prince?"
He eased away from the door and stepped toward her. "More to the point, Lady"—he put a nasty edge on the word—"what doyou want?"
"I don't understand." Training demanded she stand her ground. Instinct screamed at her to run.
He kept moving toward her, smiling as she edged around the table to keep it between them. It was a seducer's smile, soft and almost gentle, except it was carved from ice. "Who are you waiting for?" He withdrew his hands from his pockets.
Cassandra glanced at his hands. The momentary relief of not seeing a ring on his right hand was stripped away by the realization of how long he wore his nails. Mother Night, he was his father's son! She kept easing around the table. If she could get to the door . . .
Daemon changed directions, blocking her escape. "Who?"
He shook his head in mocking sadness.
Cassandra stopped moving. "Would you like some wine?" He was dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.
"No." He paused and studied the nails on his right hand. "You don't think I can create a grave deep enough to hold you, do you?" His voice was silky, crooning, almost sleepy. Terrifying. And familiar. Another deep voice with a slightly different cadence, but the crooning rage was the same. "For your information, just in case you've been considering it, Iknow you can't create one deep enough to holdme. "
Cassandra lifted her chin and looked him in the eye. She'd used that pause to put a strengthening spell on her nails, making them as strong and sharp as daggers. "Maybe not, but I'm going to try."
Daemon lifted one eyebrow. "Why?" he asked too gently.
Cassandra's temper flared. "Because you're dangerous and cruel. You're Hekatah's puppet and Dorothea's pet sent here to destroy an extraordinary witch. I won't let you. I won't. You may put me in the grave for good, but I'll give you a taste of it, too."
She flung herself at him, her hand curved and ready, the Black Jewel blazing. He caught her wrists, holding her off with an ease that made her scream. He hit the Black shields on her inner barriers hard enough to make her work to keep them intact, but they wouldn't keep him out for long. She was draining her Jewels and he hadn't tapped his yet. When her Black were drained, there would be no way to stop him from shattering her mind.
She tried to twist away from him, tried to eliminate the immediate physical danger so she could concentrate on protecting her mind. Then she froze as his snake tooth pressed into her wrist. She didn't think his venom would be deadly to a Guardian, but if he pumped his full shot into her, it would paralyze her long enough for him to pick her apart at his leisure.
She looked up at him defiantly, her teeth bared, ready to fight to the end. It was the look on his face, the change in his eyes that arrested her. There was wariness there. And hope?