Titian twisted around in her chair. "Do you really believe no one in the Shadow Realm knows you're a Guardian? Did you really think your masquerading as one of the living had fooled anyone?"
Anger flared in Cassandra's eyes. "I've always been careful—"
"You've always been a liar. At least the High Lord has been honest about what he is."
"But heis the High Lord—and that's the point."
"Thepoint is you want to be the one who shapes Jaenelle just like Hekatah wants to shape Jaenelle, to mold her into an image ofyour choosing instead of letting her be what she is."
"How dare you speak to me like that? I'm a Black-Jeweled Queen!"
"You're not my Queen," Titian snarled.
"Ladies."Saetan's voice rolled through the room like soft thunder. He took a moment to steady his temper before turning his attention back to Draca.
"Sshe will live at the Hall," Draca said firmly. "It iss decided."
"Since you haven't discussed this with any of us until now,who decided this?" Cassandra said sharply.
"Lorn hass decided."
Saetan forgot how to breathe.
Hell's fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.
No one argued. No one made so much as a sound.
Saetan realized his hands were shaking. "Could I talk to him? There are some things he may not understand about—"
"He undersstandss, High Lord."
Saetan looked up at the Seneschal of Ebon Askavi.
"The time hass not yet come for you to meet him," Draca said. "But itwill come." She tipped her head slightly. It was as much deference as she ever showed to anyone. Except, perhaps, to Jaenelle.
They watched her leave, listening to her slow, careful footsteps until the sound faded away completely.
Andulvar let his breath out in an explosiveffooooh. "When she wants to cut someone off at the knees, she's got an impressive knife."
Saetan leaned his head against the chair and closed his eyes. "Doesn't she though?"
Cassandra carefully rearranged her shawl and stood up, not looking at any of them. "If you'll excuse me, I'll retire now."
They rose and bid her good night.
Titian also excused herself. But before she left, she gave Saetan a sly smile. "Living at the Hall with Jaenelle will probably be difficult, High Lord, but not for the reasons you think."
"Mother Night," Saetan muttered before turning to the other men.
Mephis cleared his throat. "Telling the waif she has to leave isn't going to be easy. You don't have to do it alone."
"Yes, I do, Mephis," Saetan replied wearily. "I made her a promise. I'm the one who has to tell her I'm going to break it."
He said good night and slowly made his way through the stone corridors until he reached the stairs that would take him to Jaenelle's suite. Instead of climbing them, he leaned against the wall, shivering.
He had promised her that she could stay. He hadpromised.
But Lorn had decided.
It was long after midnight before he joined her in the private garden connected to her suite. She gave him a sleepy, relaxed smile and held out her hand. Gratefully, he linked his fingers through hers.
"It was a lovely party," Jaenelle said as they strolled through the garden. "I'm glad you invited Char and Titian." She hesitated. "And I'm sorry it was so difficult for Cassandra."
Saetan gave her a considering look through narrowed eyes.
She acknowledged the look with a shrug.
"How much did you hear?"
"Eavesdropping is rude," she said primly.
"An answer that neatly sidesteps the question," he replied dryly.
"I didn'thear anything. But Ifelt you all grumbling."
Saetan drifted closer to her. She smelled of wildflowers and sun-drenched meadows and fern-shaded pools of water. It was a scent that was gently wild and elusive, that captivated a male because it didn't try to capture him.
It relaxed him—and slightly aroused him.
Even knowing it was a Warlord Prince's natural response to a Queen he felt emotionally bound to, even knowing he would never cross the distinct line that separated a father's affection from a lover's passion, he still felt ashamed of his reaction.
He looked at her, wanting the sharp reminder of who she was and how young she was. But it was Witch who looked back at him, Witch whose hand tightened on his so that he couldn't break the physical link.
"I suppose even a wise man can sometimes be a fool," she said in her midnight voice.
"I would never—" His voice broke. "You know I would never—"
He saw a flicker of amusement in her ancient, haunted eyes.
"Yes, / know. Do you? You adore women, Saetan. You always have. You like to be near them. You like to touch them." She held up their hands.
"This is different. You're my daughter."
"And so you will keep your distance from Witch?" she asked sadly.
He pulled her into his arms and held her so tightly she let out a breathless squeak. "Never," he said fiercely.
"Papa?" Jaenelle said faintly. "Papa, I can't breathe."
He immediately loosened his hold but didn't let go.
Soft night sounds filled the garden. The spring wind sighed.
"This mood of yours has something to do with Cassandra, doesn't it?" Jaenelle asked.
"A little." He rested his cheek against her head. "We have to leave the Keep."
Her body tensed so much his ached in response.
"Why?" she finally asked, leaning back far enough to see his face.
"Because Lorn has decided we should live at the Hall."
"Oh." Then she added, "No wonder you're moody."
Saetan laughed. "Yes. Well. He does have a way of limiting one's options." He gently brushed her hair away from her face. "I do want to live at the Hall with you. I want that very much. But if you want to live somewhere else or have any reservations about leaving the Keep right now, I'll fight him over it."
Her eyes widened until they were huge. "Oh, dear. That wouldn't be a good idea, Saetan. He'smuch bigger than you."
Saetan tried to swallow. "I'll still fight him."
"Oh, dear." She took a deep breath. "Let's try living at the Hall."
"Thank you, witch-child," he said weakly.
She wrapped an arm around his waist. "You look a bit wobbly."
"Then I look better than I feel," he said, draping an arm around her shoulders. "Come along, little witch. The next few days are going to be hectic, and we'll both need our rest."