"She is the living myth, dreams made flesh," Saetan said coldly.
"Well, she wasn'tmy dream," Alexandra snapped. "How that repulsive, distorted creature could beanyone's dream—"
"Don't cross that line again, Alexandra," Saetan warned.
Hearing the edge in his voice, she hunched to make herself smaller. She could grit her teeth and hold her tongue because she had no choice, but she couldn't stop thinking about that creature. It had lived in her house. She shuddered.Every year at Winsol, we dance for the glory of Witch. Every year, we celebrate that.
She didn't realize she had spoken out loud until the room turned to ice. "I want to go home," she said in a small voice. "Can you arrange that?"
"It would be my pleasure," Saetan crooned.
4 / Kaeleer
Daemon stared with intense dislike at the blackwood hourglass floating outside Jaenelle's door. When he'd noticed it the first time he'd tried to check on Jaenelle, Ladvarian, the Sceltie Warlord, had explained what it meant. So he had accepted Ladvarian's offer to act as guide and had done a little exploring of the Keep. Returning an hour later, he'd discovered that the hourglass had been turned, the sand trickling into the base to mark another hour of solitude. This was the third time the sand had almost run out, andthis time he was going to be waiting at the door when the last grain of sand dropped.
"You are impatient?" asked a sibilant voice.
Daemon turned toward Draca, the Keep's Seneschal. When they had first arrived at the Keep, Lucivar had given him a cryptic warning:Draca is a dragon in human form. The moment he'd seen the Seneschal, he'd understood what Lucivar meant. Her looks, combined with the feel of great age and old, deep power, had fascinated him.
"I'm worried," he replied, meeting the dark eyes that stared right through him. "She shouldn't be alone right now."
"Yet you sstand outsside the door."
Daemon gave the floating hourglass a killing look.
Draca made a sound that might have been muted laughter. "Are you alwayss sso obedient?"
"Almost never," Daemon muttered—and then remembered who he was talking to.
But Draca nodded, as if pleased to have something confirmed. "It iss wisse for maless to know when to yield and obey. But the Conssort iss permitted to bend many ruless."
Daemon considered the words carefully. It was hard to catch inflections in that sibilant voice, but he thought he understood her. "You know more of the finer points of Protocol than I do," he said, watching her closely. "I appreciate the instruction."
Her face didn't alter, but he would have sworn she smiled at him. As she turned away, she added, "The glasss iss almosst empty."
His hand was on the doorknob, quietly turning it as the last grains of sand trickled into the hourglass's base. As he opened the door, he saw the hourglass turning to declare another hour of solitude. He slipped quickly into the room and closed the door behind him.
Jaenelle stood by a window, looking out at the night, still dressed in the black gown. As a man, that gown appealed to him in every way a woman's garment could, and he hoped she didn't just wear it for formal occasions.
He stepped away from those thoughts. Not only were they useless tonight, they teased his body into wanting to respond to her in a way that wouldn't be acceptable.
"Are they gone?" Jaenelle asked quietly, still staring out the window.
Daemon studied her, trying to decide if it was meant as small talk or if she had withdrawn so deep within herself she really didn't know. "They're gone." He moved toward her slowly, cautiously, until he was only a few feet away and at an angle where he could see her profile.
"It was the appropriate punishment," Jaenelle said as another tear rolled down her face. "It's the appropriate punishment when one Queen violates another's court to do harm."
"You could have asked one of us to do it," Daemon said quietly.
Jaenelle shook her head. "I'm the Queen. It was mine to do."
Not if you're going to eat your heart out because of it.
"There's a traditional way to break one of the Blood, to strip away the power without doing any other harm. It's quick and clean." She hesitated. "I took her deep into the abyss."
"You took her to the misty place?"
"No," Jaenelle said too sharply, too quickly. "That's a special place. I didn't want it tainted—" She bit her lip.
He didn't want to examine the relief he felt at knowing Alexandra hadn't fouled the misty place with her presence.
As he continued to study her, it struck him with the force of a blow: she hadn't withdrawn so far into herself because she grieved over having to break another witch; she had withdrawn in order to deal with some kind of personal pain.
"Sweetheart," he said quietly, "what's wrong? Please tell me. Let me help."
When she turned to look at him, he didn't see a grown woman or a Queen or Witch. He saw a child in agony.
"Leland... Leland cared, I think, but I never expected much from her. Philip cared, but there was nothing he could really do. Alexandra was the m-mother in the family. She was the one who had the strength. She was the one we all wanted to please. And I could never please her, could never be... I loved all of them—Leland and Alexandra and Philip and Wilhelmina." Jaenelle's breathing hitched on a suppressed sob. "I lovedher —and she s-said I was m-monstrous."
Daemon just stared at her, the sudden rage that engulfed him making it impossible to speak for a moment. "The bitch saidwhat ?"
Startled by the venom in his voice, she gave him a clear-eyed look before she crumbled again. "She said I was monstrous."
He could almost see all the deep childhood scars reopening, bleeding. This was the final rejection, the final pain. The child had defied that rejection, had tried to justify the sparse love given only with conditions placed on it. The child had tried to justify being sent to that horror, Briarwood. But the child was no longer a child, and the agony of having to face a bitter truth was ripping her apart.
He also realized that, faced with this emotional battering, she was now clinging to the one solid wall of her childhood: Saetan's love and acceptance.
Well, he could give her another wall to cling to. He opened his arms enough to invite but not enough to demand. "Come here," he said softly. "Come to me."
It broke his heart the way she crept toward him without looking at him, the way her body was braced for rejection.
His arms closed around her, comforting and protecting.