"I know," Saetan said. "You'll decide what is and isn't acceptable in Ebon Rih, and you'll stand as defender and protector. As volatile as your temper is, as physical as your responses are most of the time, I've never worried about you hurting the coven. If you're pushed, you push back. That's not a bad thing. I'm sure there were times in the past three years when something scraped a nerve and reminded you too much of what it was like living in Terreille, but you didn't lash out automatically. You won't now."
The temper faded, but his feelings were still raw. "Then why did you say that?"
Saetan smiled. "Because you needed to hear yourself draw the line. You're the strongest living male in this valley. The strongest Blood, regardless of gender, when Jaenelle isn't at the Keep or staying at her cottage. Having that much power isn't easy."
He would know, Lucivar thought. Saetan wore the Black Jewels. Until Daemon made the Offering to the Darkness and came away wearing the Black, Saetan had been theonly male in the history of the Blood to wear that Jewel. If anyone knew the price that came with that much power, it was the High Lord.
Lucivar glanced at the eyrie. "What should I do about them?"
"Hire a housekeeper."
He winced. "Hell's fire. Then I'll have a female underfoot all the time."
"From where I'm sitting, your choice is one hearth witch who works for you or dealing with this lot two or three times a week."
Lucivar felt his knees weaken. "Two or three…Why? How many times can they polish the same few pieces of furniture?"
Saetan just looked at him pityingly. "If you hire a housekeeper, your home is her domain, and if she's worth what you pay her, she'll be territorial enough to take care of any unwanted help without you having to do a thing."
That didn't sound bad. But he sighed. "I don't know how to hire a housekeeper."
Saetan stood up and arranged the folds of his cape. "Why don't we go to the Keep and discuss it over breakfast?" He looked back at the eyrie. "Or were you planning to stay here and get in the middle of the tussle over who would cook it for you?"
"I can cook my own damn breakfast."
"You could try, boyo, but the odds are against you."
Oh, yeah. If he walked back in there now,somebody would be pissed off at him before he even got close to a piece of toast, let alone something more substantial. "Let's go to the Keep."
"A wise choice."
As they walked back to the eyrie to inform Helene that they were leaving, Lucivar said, "If I'm so wise and so powerful, tell me again why I have to hire a housekeeper I don't want?"
"Because you're not a fool," Saetan replied. "And given your choices, only a fool would put up with this any longer than he had to."
"This is more than I bargained for when Jaenelle appointed me the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih."
"Everything has a price. This is yours. Deal with it."
Lucivar sighed and gave up. So he'd have to put up with having one little hearth witch underfoot. How bad could it be?
Saetan stepped out of the carriage and walked away from the Hall, wanting a few minutes to savor the sweet night air. It had been a pleasure escorting Sylvia to see her oldest son's debut theater performance. Watching her play the role of "Queen enjoying an amateur production put on by her village's theater group" had been more entertaining than the play. No one would have guessed she was a nervous mother…unless she'd been grabbing that person's hand and squeezing his fingers numb every time Beron came onstage.
He enjoyed spending time with Sylvia. They'd clashed sometimes, but she'd offered support and understanding…and, occasionally, a caustic tongue…while Jaenelle was an adolescent, and they'd become friends in the process. So it gave him pleasure to stand as her escort when she needed the company of a friend who wouldn't expect her to act like Halaway's Queen.
But it also had produced a dull ache inside him to watch Sylvia's face while she watched her son, to see her eyes shine with pride and remember the times when his wife, Hekatah, had sat beside him during an amateur performance, her face set in bored tolerance, or when the seat beside him had been empty because she wouldn't make an appearance at something so common…not even for one of her sons.
When he'd first met her, Hekatah had given a performance to rival any actress on the stage. She'd made him believe she loved him. But she'd never loved the man, just the dark power he wielded. She'd never loved her sons. She'd never loved anything but herself and her ambition.
He locked those thoughts away, as he locked so many away. He didn't want to think about Hekatah and a past that was long gone…and still had the power to hurt.
It was for the best that he and Sylvia could never be more than friends. Being a Guardian, he was one of the few Blood who straddled the line between living and dead in order to extend their lifetimes into years beyond counting. But everything had a price, and the sheer weight of the years he had lived had silenced the craving for sex.
Just as well. He could protect his heart while he and Sylvia were friends. If it had been possible for them to become lovers…
Too many years between them. And he was who and what he was.
It was better this way. He would continue to tell himself that. One day, he might even believe it.
Any thoughts of Sylvia fled when he walked into the Hall and found Beale, his butler, waiting for him. That wasn't unusual in itself, except… something didn't feel quite right. Something was missing.
He opened his psychic senses, searching, probing. It took a moment because her dark psychic scent permeated the walls of SaDiablo Hall, but he knew what was missing.Who was missing.
And yet the anticipation in Beale's gold eyes didn't seem anxious in any way, so Saetan removed his cape and used Craft to vanish it before making the opening statement in this game of verbal chess. "Good evening, Beale."
"High Lord," Beale replied. "You had a pleasant evening?"
"Yes, I did. The play was charming."
"And the dinner?"
Ah. "It was quite good. Not up to Mrs. Beale's standards, of course."
Now that he had given Beale the expected…and only acceptable… response, his butler was ready to move on to what he found a trifle more important…like the whereabouts of his daughter and Queen.
"The Lady went to the Keep about an hour ago," Beale said. "She left a message for you on your desk in the study."