Jaenelle gave both of them a choke-hold hug and raced to the door. It flew open before she reached it.
Smiling at her stunned expression, Saetan pushed her into the house at the same time Khary and Morghann pulled her forward into the crowd.
His throat tightened as he watched Jaenelle being passed from friend to friend for a birthday hug. Astar and Sceron, from Centauran. Zylona and Jonah, from Pandar. Grezande and Elan, from Tigrelan. Little Katrine, from Philarf. Gabrielle and Chaosti, from Dea al Mon. Karla and Morton, from Glacia. Morghann and Khary, from Scelt. Sabrina and Aaron, from Dharo. Kalush, from Nharkhava. Ladvarian and Kaelas. Had the Shadow Realm ever seen a gathering such as this?
The years when the coven and the male circle had gathered at the Hall had passed so swiftly, and the youngsters were no longer children to be cared for, but adults to be met on equal ground. All the boys had made the Offering to the Darkness, and all of them wore dark Jewels. If the strong friendship between Khary, Aaron, and Chaosti survived the demands of young adulthood and serving in different courts, they would be a formidable, influential triangle of strength in the coming years. And the girls were almost ready to make the Offering. When they did ... ah, the power!
And then there was Jaenelle. What would become of the lovely, gifted daughter of his soul when she made the Offering?
He tried to shake off his mood before she felt it. But today was a bittersweet day for him, which was why the family had celebrated her birthday—together, privately—a couple of days ago.
A roll of thunder silenced the chatter.
"There now," Karla said with a wicked smile. "Let Uncle Saetan give Jaenelle the grand tour while we finish setting out the food. This might be the only chance we'll get to play in the kitchen."
The girls scampered off to the back of the house.
"I think we'd better help them," Khary said, leading the young men, who hustled off to save the house and edibles.
Lucivar promised to be back, muttering something about unhitching Daffodil before the horse tried to do it himself.
"Duana said that any furniture you don't want to use can be tucked in the attics," Saetan said after he and Jaenelle explored downstairs.
Jaenelle nodded absently as they headed upstairs. "I've seen some grand pieces that would be perfect for this place. There was a—" Open-mouthed, she stood in the bedroom doorway and stared at the canopied bed, dresser, tables, and chests.
"The horde downstairs bought this for you. I gather you had admired something similar often enough that they figured you would like it."
Jaenelle stepped into the room and ran her hand over the dresser's silky maple wood. "It's wonderful. All of it's wonderful. But, why?"
Saetan swallowed hard. "You're twenty years old today."
Jaenelle raised her right hand and fluffed her hair. "I know that."
"My legal guardianship ends today."
They stared at each other for a long moment.
"What does that mean?" she asked quietly.
"Exactly that. Mylegal guardianship ends today." He saw her relax as she assimilated the distinction. "You're a young woman now, witch-child, and should have a place of your own. You've always loved Scelt. We thought it would be helpful to have a home base on this side of the Realm as well as the other." When she still didn't say anything, his heart started pounding. "The Hall will always be your home. We'll always be your family—as long as you want us."
"As long as I want you." Her eyes changed.
It took everything he had in him not to sink to his knees and beg Witch to forgive him.
Jaenelle turned away from him, hugging herself as if she were cold. "I said some cruel things that day."
Saetan took a deep breath. "I did use him. He was my instrument. And even knowing what I know, if I had the choice to make again, I would do it again. A Warlord Prince is expendable. A good Queen is not. And, in truth, if we had done nothing and you hadn't survived, I don't think Daemon would have either. I know I wouldn't have."
Jaenelle opened her arms.
He stepped into them and held her tight. "I don't think you've ever realized how strong, how necessary the bond is between Warlord Princes and Queens. We need you to stay whole. That's why we serve. That's whyall Blood males serve."
"But it's always seemed so unfair that a Queen can lay claim to a man and control every aspect of his life if she chooses to without him having any say in the matter."
Saetan laughed. "Who says a man has no choice? Haven't you ever noticed how many men who are invited to serve in a court decline the privilege? No, perhaps you haven't. You've had too many other things occupying your time, and that sort of thing is done very quietly." He paused and shook his head, smiling. "Let me tell you an open secret, my darling little witch. Youdon't choose us.We chooseyou."
Jaenelle thought about this and growled, "Lucivar's never going to give that damn Ring back, is he?"
Saetan chuckled softly. "You could try to get it back, but I don't think you'd win." He rubbed his cheek against her hair. "I think he'll serve you for the rest of his life, regardless of whether or not he's actually with you."
"Like you and Uncle Andulvar, with Cassandra."
He closed his eyes. "No, not like me and Andulvar."
She pulled back far enough to study his face. "I see. A bond as strong as family."
Jaenelle hugged him and sighed. "Maybe we should find Lucivar a wife. That way he would have someone else to pester besides me."
Saetan choked. "How unkind of you to dump Lucivar on some unsuspecting Sister."
"But it would keep him busy."
"Consider for a moment the possible consequence of that busyness."
She did. "A houseful of little Lucivars," she said faintly.
They both groaned.
"All right," Jaenelle grumbled. "I'll think of something else."
"You two get lost up here?"
They jumped. Lucivar smiled at them from the doorway.
"Papa was just explaining that I'm stuck with you forever."
"And it only took you three years to figure that out." Lucivar's arrogant smile widened. "You don't deserve the warning, but while you've been up here busily, but futilely, rearranging my life, Ladvarian's been downstairs busily re-arranging yours. The exact quote was 'We can raise and train the puppies here.' "
"Who's we?" Jaenelle squeaked. "What puppies?Whose puppies?"