“She did a bit more than that, actually. Sheyelled at the cat.”
“He woke her up.”
Another silence. “You were in bed with Witch?”
Sharp concern, Steward of the Court to Queen’s Consort. And the understanding that Jaenelle, allowed to wake up by herself, woke up grumpy. When startled awake, Witch was the side of her that woke first—and Witch woke up deadly.
“Then I’ll ask again, Prince,” the High Lord said. “Do you need a Healer?”
Daemon shook his head.
He raised a hand, then let it fall to his side. “Just a bruise. I was sitting at the desk. He came in too fast. I didn’t expect Kaelas to completely lose his brains and try to climb into my lap while I was sitting in the chair!”
“Kept me from getting impaled,” Daemon replied dryly. Didn’t do him much good otherwise. Lying there on the study floor, a little stunned, getting smashed between broken chair and anxious cat, whose huge paw—with claws thankfully sheathed—patted at his head while Kaelas’s thoughts batted at him. The Lady was upset. Daemon was the Lady’s mate. Daemon would make things better.
At the time, Daemon had been a bit busy trying to breathe.
Saetan rubbed his chin. “That was a nice chair. Wasn’t meant to take that kind of weight, though.”
Neither am I,Daemon thought.
“The name of the craftsman who made it is in the household files.”
“I’ll contact him to make a replacement.”
Another silence. Then Saetan said, “What else?”
“I like my life now. I truly do. I like waking up in the morning knowing the day will be full of small challenges and pleasures, that I’ll spend part of the day tending to the family properties and finances, as well as my own business ventures, and part of the day tending to Dhemlan. And through it all, there is being with Jaenelle. There is the wonder, and the joy, of being with Jaenelle.”
“But sometimes I wonder if I’ll lose the edge that makes me who and what I am. Sometimes I wonder, when the day comes for me to stand as defender, if I’ll have become too soft, too tame, to protect what matters most. Is that the price I’ll have to pay to have a pleasant life?”
There. He’d said it. Asked the question.
And Saetan just stood there, staring at the books, his fingertips gently brushing the topmost cover.
“You’ll never lose that edge,” Saetan said suddenly, quietly.
“Daemon, this life you have now is everything I could have wished for you, and I hope you have decades where the worst challenges you face are morning sex with your wife and dealing with an anxious cat. But I can tell you, here and now, you will never lose that edge. No matter how long who and what you are remains sheathed in that pleasant life, when the day comes for you to draw that cold blade of your temper, it will be as sharp and as honed and as deadly as it is now. Maybe even more so.”
A tension he hadn’t been aware of drained out of his muscles. This was the question he’d come to ask. This was the answer he’d hoped to hear.
“Now,” Saetan said, giving him a dry smile, “why don’t you go tend the family business and let me—”
The door opened. Lucivar walked in. Daemon felt his body freeze, felt Saetan stiffen beside him. Not because of Lucivar, because of—
“Unka Daemon! Granpapa!”
Daemonar held out his arms, little feet braced and pushing on his father’s hip, little wings flapping. A happy bundle of Eyrien boy…in a room full of priceless books.
The thought terrified Daemon.
“Hey,” Lucivar said, trying to control the squirming boy without setting off a full-scale tantrum. “Have you two heard about this spooky house Jaenelle and Marian are planning?”
Suddenly Saetan had Daemon by the arm and was hauling him toward the door with enough speed to have Lucivar backing up into the corridor.
“Yes, Daemon was just telling me about that. I think this is something the two of you should discuss, since this is something that should be dealt with by husbands rather than a father. But if I think of anything that might help, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
And somehow he was standing in the corridor, staring at a closed door, listening to the distinctivesnick of a lock.
“Well,” Lucivar said, “I guess that puts us in our place.”
Lucivar’s mouth was curved in that lazy, arrogant smile that usually meant trouble, but the tone of voice was wrong.
Daemon studied his brother. Half brother, but they had never made that distinction. What made the difference obvious was that Lucivar had the dark, membranous wings that distinguished Eyriens from Hayllians and Dhemlans, the other two long-lived races. And he had all the arrogance and attitude that came naturally to an Eyrien male—especially one who was a Warlord Prince and wore Ebon-gray Jewels.
“Do you want to—?” Daemon began.
“No.” Too sharp, almost cutting, even though the smile didn’t change. “Have things to do.”
Daemon felt a sudden distance between them. Why it was there, he couldn’t begin to guess. “Could we get together for a drink this evening? I could come—”
“I’ll come to the Hall. See you then, Bastard.”
“Take care, Prick.”
“Bye-bye, Unka Daemon! Bye-bye.”
He waved bye-bye until Lucivar and Daemonar disappeared around a curve in the corridor. Then he looked back at the locked door and sighed.
He might not need to dance on the knife’s edge the way he did when he lived in Terreille, but it didn’t look like his life was going to get complacent after all.
Saetan leaned against the locked door and stared at the ceiling.
Why did I want children?
He’d been rattled by the conversation with Daemon, had reacted instead of thinking. And the look in Lucivar’s eyes just before he’d closed the door had shown him the depth of his error. He’d fix it. He would stop by the eyrie this evening, and he would fix it.
He wasn’t sure how to fix the other problem. Spooky house. The words had become a sharp bone stuck in his throat, an insult to everything he believed in. An insult inflicted by his Queen.
He had two choices. He could swallow the bone or he could cough it out. Either way, it was going to hurt. He just had to decide which choice he could live with.
Pushing away from the door, he returned to the blackwood table just as Geoffrey stepped through one of the archways that led to the stored books. The other Guardian looked sympathetic and amused as he watched Saetan shuffle a few books.