Jaenelle stared at him, her eyes huge, her mouth dropping open. Daemon did nothing, said nothing. He simply waited for the inspection, waited for the damning words.
She started at this feet, her eyes slowly traveling up his body. His breath hitched when she reached his hips. He waited for the all-too-familiar speculation of what hung between his legs or the quick, flushed glance back down after hurrying past. Jaenelle didn't seem to notice. Her inspection never changed speed as she studied the shirt, the earring, the face, and finally the hat. Then she started from the hat and went back down.
Jaenelle opened her mouth, closed it, and finally said timidly, "Do you think, when I'm grown up, I could wear an outfit like that?"
Daemon bit his cheek. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Buying time, he looked down at himself. "Well," he said, giving it slow consideration, "the shirt would have to be altered somewhat to accommodate a female figure, but I don't see why not."
Jaenelle beamed. "Daemon, it's a wonderful hat."
It took him a moment to admit it to himself, but he was miffed. He stood in front of her, on display as it were, and the thing that fascinated her most was hishat.
You do know how to bruise a man's ego don't you, little one?he thought dryly as he said, "Would you like to try it on?"
Jaenelle bounced to the mirror, brushing against him as she passed.
The sudden heat, the jolt of pleasure, the intense desire to hold her against him shocked him sufficiently to make him jump out of her way. His hands shook as he placed the hat on her head, but a moment later he was laughing as the hat rested on the tip of her nose and the only part of her face he could see was her chin.
"You'll have to grow into it, Lady," he said warmly.
Using Craft, he positioned the hat above her head and locked it on the air.
He instantly regretted it.
She was going to be devastating, he realized as he stared at the face looking at his reflection, his nails biting into his palms.
In that moment he saw the face she would wear in a few years when the pointed features were finally balanced out. The eyebrows and eyelashes. Were they a soot-darkened gold or a gold-dusted black? The eyes, no longer hiding behind childish pretenses, summoned him down a darker road than he had ever known existed, one he felt desperate to follow.
For the first time in his life, Daemon felt a hungry stirring between his legs. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and dug his nails deeper into his palms.
No, he pleaded silently. Not now. Not yet. He couldn't, mustn't respond yet. No one must know hecould respond. They were lost, both of them, if anyone felt that physical response through the Ring. Please, please, please.
Daemon opened his eyes. Jaenelle the child watched him, her forehead puckered in concern. He smiled shakily as he slowly unclenched his hands and took the hat.
"Leland's guests will be arriving any time now and I still have to dress, so scat."
There was something strange about the way she looked at him, but he couldn't figure it out. Then she was gone, and he slumped on the bed, staring at the open trunk. After a minute, he took off the shirt, pants, and boots and returned them and the hat to the trunk. He vanished both private trunks, taking the time to make sure they were safely stored, before dressing in formal evening attire.
The painted face and the earring would have to do for Leland. The clothes in that trunk would be worn for only one woman's pleasure.
Daemon woke instantly. Something was wrong, something that made his nerves quiver. He lay on his back, listening to the hard, cold rain beat against the windows. Shivering, he tossed back the covers, pulled on his robe, and pushed open the curtains to look outside.
Only the rain. And yet . . .
Taking a deep; steadying breath, he began a slow descent into the abyss, testing each rank of the Jewels, waiting for the answering quiver along his nerves.
Above the Red, nothing. The Red, nothing. The Gray, the Ebon-gray. Nothing. He reached the level of the Black and pain flooded his nerves as an eerie keening filled his mind, a dirge full of anger, pain, and sorrow. The voice that sang it was pure and strong—and familiar.
Daemon closed his eyes and leaned his head against the glass as he ascended to the Red. No one else here would be able to hear it. No one else would know.
He'd known since he met her that she was Witch—and Witch wore the Black Jewels. He'd known, but he'd been able to deceive himself into believing she'd wear the Black at maturity, notnow. In all the Blood's long history, only a handful of witches had worn the Black, and they had been gifted with it after the Offering to the Darkness.No one had ever worn the Black as their Birthright.
It had been a foolish deceit, especially when the evidence was right in front of him. She could do things the rest of the Blood had never dreamed of. She had sought out the High Lord of Hell to be her mentor. There were facets of her that were breathtaking and terrifying.
Birthright Black. She wore Birthright Black. Sweet Darkness, what would become of her when she made the Offering?
Daemon opened his eyes and saw a small white figure moving slowly along the garden path. He opened his window and was instantly soaked by the cold rain, but he didn't notice. He whistled once, softly, sharply, sending it on an auditory thread directed toward the figure.
It turned toward him, resigned, and made its way to his window.
Daemon leaned over as Jaenelle floated up to him, grasped her beneath the arms, and pulled her in. He set her on the floor, closed and locked the window, pulled the curtains together. Then he looked at her, and his heart squeezed with pain.
She stood there, shivering, dripping on the rug, her eyes glazed and pain-filled. Her nightgown, bare feet, and hands were muddy.
Daemon picked her up, took her into the bathroom, and filled the tub with hot water. She'd been unnaturally quiet all day, and he'd feared she was becoming ill. Now he feared she was in shock. There were dark smudges beneath her eyes, and she didn't seem to know where she was.
She struggled when he tried to lift the nightgown over her head. "No," she said feebly as she attempted to hold the garment down.
"I know what girls look like," Daemon snapped as he pulled off the nightgown and lifted her into the tub. "Sit there." He pointed a finger at her. She stopped trying to get out of the tub.
Daemon went into the bedroom and got the brandy and glass he kept tucked in the bottom drawer of the nightstand. Returning to the bathroom, he sat on the edge of the tub, poured a healthy dose into the glass, and handed it to her.
"Drink this." He watched her take a small taste and grimace before he put the bottle to his own lips and took a long swallow. "Drink it," he said angrily when she tried to hand him the glass.