He could wait. Magstrom couldn't have seenthat much. And if anything was questioned, it was easy enough to dismiss a clerk or two for negligence and offer profuse apologies.

But when the time did come

10 / Kaeleer

Alexandra huddled in the chair in front of the blackwood desk.

The High Lord requests your presence.

Requests?Demands was more like it. But the study had been empty when that large, stone-faced butler had opened the door for her and, after fifteen minutes, she was still waiting. Not that she was in any hurry to face the High Lord again.

She strengthened the warming spell she'd put on her shawl and then grimaced at the futility of seeking a little warmth in this place. It wasn't so much theplace —which was actually quite beautiful if you could get past the oppressive, dark feel of it—it was thepeople who produced a bone-deep chill.

She didn't think it was out of courtesy that she and her entourage had been given dinner in a small dining room located near the guest rooms. He wouldn't have cared that she was too physically and emotionally exhausted to cope with meeting whoever else lived there. He wouldn't have cared that she wouldn't have been able to choke down a mouthful of food if she had to sit at a table with Daemon Sadi.

No, she and her people had dined alone because he hadn't wanted her presence at his table.

And now, when she wanted to do nothing more than retire to her room and get whatever sleep she could after an exhausting day,he had requested her presence—and then didn't even have the courtesy to be there when she arrived.

She should leave. She was a Queen, and the insult of keeping her waiting had gone on long enough. If the High Lord wanted to see her, let him come to her.

As she stood up, the door opened and his dark psychic scent flooded the room. She sank back into the chair. It took all her self-control not to cower as he walked past her and settled into the chair behind the blackwood desk.

"When a male asks to speak with a Queen, he doesn't keep her waiting," Alexandra said, trying to keep her voice from quivering.

"And you, being such a stickler about courtesy, have never kept anyone waiting?" Saetan asked mildly after a long pause.

The queer, burning glitter that filled his eyes scared her, but she sensed this was the only chance she would have. If she backed down now, he would never concede anything.

She filled her voice with the cool disdain she used whenever an aristo male needed to be put in his place. "What a Queen does is beside the point."

"Since a Queen can do anything she damn well pleases, no matter how cruel the act, no matter how much harm she causes."

"Don't twist my words," she snapped, forgetting everything else about him except that he was male and shouldn't be allowed to treat a Queen this way.

"My apologies, Lady. Since you twist so much yourself, I'll do my best not to add to it."

She gave herself a moment to think. "You're deliberately trying to provoke me. Why? So you can justify executing me?"

"Oh, I already have all the justification I need for an execution," Saetan said mildly. "No, it's simpler than that. Your being terrified of me gets us nowhere. If you're angry, you'll at least talk."

"In that case, I want my granddaughters returned to me."

"You have no right to either of them."

"I have every right!"

"You're forgetting something very basic, Alexandra. Wilhelmina is twenty-seven. Jaenelle is twenty-five. The age of majority is twenty. You have no say in their lives anymore."

"Then neither do you.They should decide to stay or leave."

"They've already decided. And I do have far more say in their lives than you. Wilhelmina signed a contract with the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih. He, in turn, serves in the Dark Court. I'm the Steward. So court hierarchy gives me the right to make some decisions about her life."

"What about Jaenelle? Does she serve in this Dark Court, too?"

Saetan gave her an odd look. "You really don't understand, do you? Jaenelle doesn't serve, Alexandra. Jaenelle is the Queen."

For a moment, the conviction in his voice almost convinced her.

No.No. If Jaenelle were really a Queen, she would haveknown. Like would have recognized like. Oh, theremight actually be a Queen who ruled this court, but it wasn't,couldn't be, Jaenelle.

But his declaration gave her a weapon. "If Jaenelle is the Queen, you have no right to control her life."

"Neither do you."

Alexandra clamped her hands around the arms of the chair and gritted her teeth. "The age of majority acknowledges certain conditions that have to be met. If a child is deemed incapable in some way, her family maintains its right to take care of her mental and physical well being and make decisions on her behalf."

"And who decides if the child is incapable? The family that gets to maintain control of her? How very convenient. And don't forget, you're talking about a Queen who outranks you."

"I forget nothing. And don't you try to take the moral high ground with me—as if you had any concept of what morality means."

Saetan's eyes iced over. "Very well, then. Let's take a look atyour concept of morality. Tell me, Alexandra. How did you justify it when it was obvious Jaenelle was being starved? How did you justify the rope burns from her being tied down, the bruises from the beatings? Did you just shrug it all off as the discipline needed to control a recalcitrant child?"

"You lie!" Alexandra shouted. "I never saw any evidence of that."

"You just tossed her into Briarwood and didn't bother to see her again until you decided to let her out?"

"Of course I saw her!" Alexandra paused. An ache spread through her chest as she remembered the distant, almost accusing way Jaenelle would look at them sometimes when she and Leland went to visit. The wariness and suspicion in her eyes, directed at them. She remembered how much it had hurt, and how Leland wept silently on the way home, when Dr. Carvay had told them that Jaenelle was too emotionally unstable to have any visitors. And she remembered the times she had felt relieved that Jaenelle was safely tucked away so others wouldn't have firsthand knowledge of the girl's fanciful tales. "I saw her whenever she was emotionally stable enough to have visitors."

Saetan snarled softly.

"You sit there and judge me, but you don't know what it was like trying to deal with a child who—"

"Jaenelle was seven when I met her."

For a moment, Alexandra couldn't breathe. Seven. She could imagine that voice wrapping itself around a child, spinning out lies. "So when she told her stories about unicorns and dragons, you encouraged her."


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