"I've always been in danger here, Daemon," Jaenelle said quietly in her Witch voice.
"More so now. You don't understand what's going to happen here."
"Don't I?" Her voice was whispery thunder.
"Jaenelle . . ." Daemon closed his eyes and leaned forward until his head rested against her small, too thin, fragile chest. He felt her heart beating. It made him desperate. He would do anything now to keep that heart beating. "Jaenelle, please. The Priest . . . The Priest would let you stay with him, wouldn't he? I mean, you wouldn't have to live in the Dark Realm. He'd find another place, like he found for Tersa, wouldn't he? Jaenelle . . . sweetheart . . . you can't stay here anymore."
"I have to, Daemon," Jaenelle said gently. Her fingers stroked his head, tangling in his hair.
"Why?" Daemon cried. He raised his head, his eyes pleading. "I know you care for your family—"
"Family?" Jaenelle let out a small, bitter laugh. "My family lives in Hell, Prince."
"Then why won't you go? If you don't think the Priest will take you, at least go to Cassandra. A Sanctuary offers some protection."
Jaenelle backed away from him, troubled. "Saetan asked me to live with him, and I promised him I would, but I can't yet."
Daemon leaned back on his heels. This was brutal, and it was blackmail, but she wasn't leaving him any choice. "I know about Briarwood."
Jaenelle shuddered. "Then you know why I can't go yet."
Daemon grabbed her with bruising force and shook her. "No, I don't know why. If I tell him—"
Jaenelle looked at him, her eyes huge and horrified. "Please don't tell him, Daemon," she whispered. "Please."
"Why?" he snapped. "He won't turn on you because of what's been done. Do you really think he'll stop caring for you if he finds out?"
Daemon leaned back, stunned. Since it made no difference to him, except that it made him want to protect her more, he'd assumed Saetan would feel the same.Would it make a difference?
"Daemon," Jaenelle pleaded, "if he finds out I've been . . . sick . . . if he thinks I'm not good enough to teach the Craft to . . ."
"What do you mean, 'sick'?" But he knew. A hospital for "emotionally disturbed" children. A child who told stories about unicorns and dragons, who visited friends no one else saw because, wherever they existed, it wasn't in Terreille. A child whose sense of reality had been twisted in Briarwood for so many years she didn't know what to believe or whom she could trust.
Daemon held her close, stroking her hair. He felt her tears on his neck and his heart bled. She was only twelve. For all her Craft, for all her magic, for all her strength, she was still only twelve. She believed all the lies they'd told her. Even though she struggled against them, even though she tried to doubt the words they'd pounded into her for so many years, she believed their lies. And because she believed, she was more afraid of losing her mentor and friend than she was of losing her life.
He kissed her cheek. "If I promise not to tell, will you promise to go—and not come back?"
"I can't," Jaenelle whispered.
"Why?" Daemon said angrily. He was losing patience. They were losing precious time.
Jaenelle leaned back and looked at him with her ancient, haunted eyes. "Wilhelmina," she said in a flat voice. "Wilhelmina's strong, Daemon, stronger than she knows, strong enough to wear the Sapphire if she isn't broken. I have to help her until she makes the Offering. Then she'll be stronger than most of the males here, and they won't be able to break her. Then I'll go live with the Priest."
Daemon looked away. It would be at least four years before Wilhelmina could make the Offering. Jaenelle, if she stayed in Beldon Mor, would be long dead by then.
A sharp rap on the door startled them. A woman called out, "You all right in there, missy? Hurry up, now. The girls are selecting partners for the dance."
Daemon slowly got to his feet. He felt old, beaten. But if he could keep her safe until tomorrow, Saetan might have more persuasive weapons at his disposal. Wrapping the sight shield around himself, he opened the door and slipped out behind Jaenelle. The woman, impatiently waiting outside, took a firm hold of Jaenelle's arm and steered her back into the ballroom.
Daemon slipped along the edge of the room silently, invisibly. It was such a small thing to stop a heart, to reach in and nick an artery. Was there any man here who wasn't expendable, including himself? No, not when the ice whispered in his veins, not when the double-edged sword was unsheathed. He slipped up behind his cousin and heard Kartane say, "That one? She's a whey-faced little bitch. The sister's prettier."
Daemon smiled. Still wrapped in the sight shield, his right hand reached out toward Kartane's shoulder. For a moment, before his hand tightened in a malevolent grip, he felt Kartane lean against him, enjoying the sensuous, shivery caress of the long nails. Daemon enjoyed feeling the sensuous shiver change to shivery fear as his nails pierced Kartane's jacket and shirt.
"Cousin," Daemon whispered in his ear. "Come out to the terrace with me, cousin."
"Get away from me," Kartane growled out of the corner of his mouth as he tried to shrug off Daemon's hand. "I've business here."
Daemon continued to smile. Foolish of the boy to try to bluff when he could smell the fear. "You've business with me first." He pivoted slowly, pulling Kartane with him.
"Bastard," Kartane said softly, walking toward the terrace to keep from being dragged there.
"By birth and by temperament," Daemon agreed with amiable coldness.
When they were out on the terrace, Daemon dropped the sight shield. Compared to the fiery cold he felt inside himself, the air seemed balmy. While he waited for Kartane to stop looking at the garden and face him, he absently brushed the branches of a small potted bush. He smiled as ice instantly coated them. He kept stroking the bush until the whole thing was coated. Then, with a shrug, he took his gold case from his pocket, lit a cigarette, and waited. He was between Kartane and the door. His cousin wasn't going to leave before he was ready to let him.
Shivering violently, Kartane turned.
"The whey-faced little bitch," Daemon crooned while the cigarette smoke ringed his head.
"What about her?" Kartane asked nervously.
"Stay away from her."
"Why?" Kartane said sneeringly. "Do you want her?"