"What in the name of Hell is wrong with everyone today?" Daemon snarled as he approached the glass display case that served as a counter.
"You've come for the rings?" Banard asked.
"Yes, I've come for the rings."
Banard cupped his hands over the display case. When he lifted his hands, two velvet-lined ring boxes rested on the glass.
Everything else was forgotten as Daemon picked up what he hoped would be Jaenelle's wedding ring. Simple and fluid, it held a sapphire flanked by rubies.
"It's perfect," he murmured, setting it back in its box before examining the other ring. Just a plain gold band. No etching in the gold or fancy embellishments. He didn't need those things, didn't want those things. All he wanted,everything he wanted, was what that ring would stand for when Jaenelle put it on his finger.
Closing both boxes, he vanished them and smiled at Banard.
Banard didn't return the smile. "Some distressing rumors have spread throughout Amdarh."
Hearing a warning under the words, Daemon inclined his head. "I believe I heard a bit of it this morning. Do you think it's true?"
Banard's certainty surprised Daemon, but before he could phrase a question, the jeweler added, "You wouldn't have asked me to make those rings if the rumors were true."
For a long moment, he just stared at Banard, unable to make sense of the words. Then cold rage flowed through him, sweet and deadly.
"Thank you for telling me," Daemon said too softly.
As he walked back to the town house, he took mental note of every person who shunned him and every person who made a point of acknowledging him. He saw everything… and he saw nothing because the city had faded behind a soft mist that held a terrible clarity.
Arms linked, Surreal and Jaenelle strolled to the registration desk at the far end of the two-story atrium that was decorated to feel tranquil and lush…and was a clear signal that pampering Ladies was a serious business.
"Mother Night," Jaenelle said, looking around with wide eyes. "Are there really enough female indulgences to take up a place this size?"
"You'd be surprised," Surreal replied, biting back a smile when Jaenelle groaned. The place was built on a much grander scale, but it reminded her of Deje's Red Moon house in Chaillot,Terreille…and made her wonder, since there were guest rooms, if there were a few accommodations that weren't advertised. Not that sex was on her list of indulgences right now. Not for herself, anyway. "We'll get settled in our suite, then I'll make the appointments for our pampering."
"You'll love it. Trust me."
Jaenelle gave Surreal a narrow-eyed stare. "You think painting your toenails is normal."
"And your point is?"
Sighing, Jaenelle slipped her arm out of Surreal's and turned away from the registration desk just as a trim man returned to the desk from the other direction.
"Good morning, Ladies," he said, giving them a warm smile.
Returning the smile, Surreal gave him her name…and watched hostility flash across his face before he managed to hide it behind a neutral mask.
"I am sorry, Lady Surreal, but there are no rooms available."
You're not sorry at all, you spineless little prick."I made a reservation, which was confirmed. Check your book."
"There's no need. I assure you…"
"Don't fret about it, Surreal," Jaenelle said quietly, turning back to face the registration desk…and the man. "If an error was made, we can stay at the family town house. There are other shops in Amdarh, and I'm certain this establishment isn't the only place that has people skilled at trimming and styling hair."
She wasn't sure which was more fascinating… the way Jaenelle bloodlessly gutted the little prick with a few words or the way the little prick scrambled to rectify his error when he recognized the golden-haired woman standing in front of him.
A minute later, Surreal tucked the key into her pocket, linked arms with Jaenelle to provide support without being too obvious, and headed for their suite of rooms.
"He didn't want us here," Jaenelle said quietly.
"Oh, he was thrilled to haveyou," Surreal replied.I'm the one he looked at as if I was shit on his shoes. Now why is that, I wonder?
The ground-floor suite had its own small, heated pool off the sitting room as well as two bedrooms with private bathrooms. At least the little prick was smart enough to give them one of the best suites.
"Why don't you rest for a bit while I go make the appointments?" Surreal said as she walked to the door.
"Are you going to take care of things, Surreal?"
Thinking Jaenelle hadn't heard her, she turned…and saw the look in Witch's eyes. And understood Jaenelle wasn't talking about appointments.
She smiled. "You can count on it."
She grabbed the first official-looking person she met, swung the other witch into a tiny alcove, and had the tip of her favorite stiletto tucked under the woman's chin before her prey had a chance to react.
"Listen up, sugar," Surreal said softly. "My cousin has spent months recovering from brutal injuries. Now that she's well enough, I brought her here for the kind of pampering I heard you specialize in. You understand me so far?"
"Y-yes," the witch stammered.
"Wonderful. So here's the deal. Whatever problem you have with me, you bury it while she's here, and you give her the best you've got. Because if you do anything to spoil this first outing, I'm going to tell her father, her brother, and her lover that you made Jaenelle very, very unhappy. By the time those three are finished expressing their displeasure, I sincerely doubt there will be anything in this place big enough to qualify as a pebble. Is that clear enough?"
The woman nodded.
"Good. I'm going to set up some appointments and give you a little time to pass the word." Surreal vanished the stiletto and stepped back into the corridor. "And, sugar? Jaenelle's male relatives aren't the only ones who are dangerous."
"My toes will be rose?"
"You'll love it. That polish will complement the sapphire jacket and trousers I saw in one of the shops we passed on the way to this room. We'll go there next so they'll have time to make any alterations by this afternoon."
"But… rose toenails? Who's going to see them?"
Daemon will when he's nibbling his way down your legs.
But there wasn't any reason to mention that right now.