"He'snot aboy," the boy said.
"Mikal," Saetan said sternly.
Leaning away from Daemon, Tersa looked at Mikal, then back at Daemon. "He is a large boy," she said firmly. She pulled Daemon toward the table. "Sit down. Sit. There is food. You should eat."
Daemon sat across from the boy, who openly regarded him as an unwelcome rival. "Shouldn't you be in school?"
Mikal rolled his eyes. "It's not a school day."
"But you did finish the chores your mother assigned to youbefore you came here," Saetan said mildly, accepting the glass of red wine Tersa offered him while his eyes never left Mikal.
Mikal squirmed under that knowing stare, and finally muttered, "Most of them."
"In that case, after we've eaten, I'll escort you home and you can finish them," Saetan said.
"But I have to help Tersa weed the garden," Mikal protested.
"The weeds will still be there," Tersa said serenely. She looked at the two "boys," frowned at the glasses of milk she held, then put both of them in front of Mikal. She patted Daemon's shoulder. "He is old enough for wine."
"Thank the Darkness," Daemon said under his breath.
The meal was eaten with little conversation. Saetan inquired about Mikal's schoolwork and got the expected evasive answers. Tersa tried to make mundane comments about the cottage and garden, but each time the remarks became more disjointed.
Daemon clenched his teeth. He wanted to tell her to stop trying. It hurt to watch her struggling so hard to walk the borderland of sanity for his sake, and seeing the concern and resentment in Mikal's eyes as her control continued to crumble stabbed at him.
Saetan set his wineglass on the table and rose. "Come on, puppy," he said to Mikal. "I'll take you home now."
Mikal quickly grabbed a nutcake. "I haven't finished eating."
"Take it with you."
When they left, with Mikal still loudly protesting, Daemon looked at Tersa. "It's good to see you again," he said softly.
Sorrow filled her eyes. "I don't know how to be your mother."
He reached for her hand. "Then just be Tersa. That was always more than enough." He felt her absorb the acceptance, felt the tension drain from her body.
Finally, she smiled. "You are well?"
He returned the smile and lied. "Yes, I'm well."
Her hand tightened on his. Her eyes lost focus, became distant and farseeing. "No," she said quietly, "you're not. But you will be." Then she stood up. "Come. I'll show you my garden."
7 / Kaeleer
Saetan shifted to a sitting position on the couch in his study. He didn't need to use a psychic probe to know who was on the other side of the door. The scent of her fear was sufficient. "Come."
Wilhelmina Benedict entered the room, each step a hesitation.
Watching her, Saetan tightened the reins on his temper. It wasn't her fault. She had been barely more than a child herself thirteen years ago. There was nothing she could have done.
But if Jaenelle hadn't stayed in Chaillot in order to protect Wilhelmina, that last, terrible night at Briarwood wouldn't have happened. She would have left the family that hadn't understood or cherished what she was. She would have come to Kaeleer, would have come tohim— and would have escaped the violent rape that had left her with so many deep emotional scars.
It wasn't fair to hold Wilhelmina in any way responsible for what had happened to Jaenelle, but he still resented her presence in his home and her reappearance in her sister's life.
"What can I do for you, Lady Benedict?" He tried, but he couldn't keep the edge out of his voice.
"I don't know what to do." Her voice was barely audible.
"All the other people who signed the contract have something to do, even if it's just making a list of their skills. But I—"
She wrung her hands so hard Saetan winced in sympathy for the delicate bones.
"He hates me," Wilhelmina said, her voice rising in desperation. "Everyone here hates me, and I don't know why."
Saetan pointed at the other end of the couch. "Sit down." As he waited for her to obey, he wondered how such a frightened, emotionally brittle woman had managed to make the journey through one of the Gates between the Realms and then tried to acquire a contract at the service fair. When she was seated, he said, "Hate is too strong a word. No one here hates you."
"Yaslana does." She pressed her fists into her lap. "So do you."
"I don't hate you, Wilhelmina," he said quietly. "But I do resent your presence."
Faced with her hurt and bewilderment, he was tempted to blunt the truth, but decided to give her the courtesy of honesty. "Because you're the reason Jaenelle didn't leave Chaillot soon enough."
Her swift change from frightened to fierce startled him, and he realized it shouldn't have. He should have looked for the common ground between her and Jaenelle instead of letting the past cloud his judgment.
"You know where to find her, don't you?Don't you?"
She looked like she was about to shake the answer out of him. Intrigued by the change in her, he wondered if she would actually try.
"Not at the moment," he said mildly. "But she'll be home soon."
"Home?" Her fierceness changed back to bewilderment and then thoughtfulness as she looked around the study. "Home?"
"I'm her adopted father." When she didn't react to that, he added, "Lucivar is her brother."
She jumped as if he'd jabbed her with a pin. Her blue eyes were filled with something close to horror as she stared at him. "Brother?"
"Brother. If it's any comfort to you, while you're both related to the same woman, you're not related to each other."
Her relief was so blatant he almost laughed.
"Does she like him?" Wilhelmina asked in a small voice. He couldn't help it. He did laugh. "Most of the time." Then he studied her. "Is that why you came to Kaeleer? To find Jaenelle?"
She nodded. "Everyone else said she had died, that Prince Sadi had killed her, but I knew it wasn't true. He never would have hurt Jaenelle. I thought she had gone to live with one of her secret friends or with her teacher." She looked at him as if she were trying to measure what she saw against something she knew. "It was you, wasn't it? She came toyou for lessons."
"Yes." He waited. "What made you think of Kaeleer?"
"She told me. After." Wilhelmina brushed a finger against her Sapphire Jewel. "When Prince Sadi unleashed his Black Jewels to escape the Hayllians who had come for him, I heard Jaenelle yelling 'ride it, ride it.' So I did. When it was over, I was wearing a Sapphire Jewel. Everyone was upset about that because they thought I had somehow made the Offering to the Darkness. But it wasn't my Jewel. It was Jaenelle's. I couldn't actually use it, but it protected me. Sometimes, when I was scared or didn't know what to do, it always gave the same answer: Kaeleer. I left home because Bobby—" She pressed her lips together and took a couple of deep breaths. "I left home. As soon as I was twenty, I made the Offering. I got this Jewel. The other one disappeared."