Geoffrey approached the table, picked up a book, then opened it to read the title page. “How long do you think you’ll be able to keep this up?” he asked. “Sooner or later one of them is going to figure out these are new books with an illusion spell on the covers to make them look old, and you’re just using them for a prop.”

“None of them have figured it out so far,” Saetan replied, tugging the book out of Geoffrey’s hand. “If I’m occupied, they can take their time working their way around to whatever they’ve come to talk about. None of them look closely enough to notice that the condition of the paper doesn’t match the supposed age of the books.”

“And you used some of the real books to create the templates for the spell. Quite ingenious, Saetan. But from what I overheard before I retreated, you do have a problem.”

“I do.” The bone in his throat scraped a little more. “Yes, I do.”

Lucivar landed in the small courtyard outside his eyrie, shifted his grip on his bundle of boy, then turned to look at the mountain called Ebon Askavi.

He wasn’t like them. Could neverbe like them. His father. His brother. Two of a kind. The difference wasn’t so sharp when it was one of them or the other. But when they were together…

Educated men, with a passion for books and words and learning. He was the outsider, the one who didn’t fit.

It hurt. No matter how often he tried to shrug it aside, it still hurt. And now the hurt went deeper. Because of the boy.

He rubbed his cheek against Daemonar’s head, felt the sweet ache as little arms reached up to hug.

He knew why he’d been locked out of the library. Knew why he’d been excluded. But if he had to choose between them, he would choose the boy he held in his arms.

Giving his son a kiss, he said, “Come on, boyo. You get to play with your papa today.”

FOUR

The clatters, bangs, and curses coming from the eyrie’s kitchen were not sounds Lucivar usually associated with his darling wife. He hesitated a moment, then set Daemonar down near the side door that opened onto the part of the yard that could withstand the rough-and-tumble play of an Eyrien boy and a litter of wolf pups—and had a domed shield around the whole thing to keep boy and pups from tumbling down the mountain.

“Stay here,” he said.

Another hesitation as he stepped over the threshold. The command would keep the boy out for a minute or two, but not much longer. But if he shut Daemonar outside, he wouldn’t have even that much time to assess what was upsetting Marian before Daemonar voiced his unhappiness loud enough to be heard all the way to Riada. So he left the door open and strode across the large entry room to the archway that led to the kitchen.

“Marian?” he said softly.

His voice startled her enough that she kicked one of the metal buckets—and said words he’dnever heard her say before.

“Your sister,” she panted as she gathered up rags and mops and brooms. “Those maggot-brained littlebeasts. ”

He flinched a little over the word “maggot,” then shifted into a fighting stance. Just as a precaution. He wasn’t sure why looking at an old house would cause this reaction, but—Hell’s fire!—somethinghad her riled up.

“My home is going to beclean. ”

He wasn’t sure if that was a wail of despair or a declaration of war.

“Our home is clean,” he said calmly.

She turned on him so fast, he took two steps back before he was aware of moving.

“Don’t you patronize me, Lucivar Yaslana. Don’t you dare!”

He raised his hands chest high in a gesture of surrender and kept his mouth shut. There was no point trying to reason with her until she started sounding a little more like Marian and less like some hysterical, mop-wielding Harpy.

“My h-home doesnot have cobwebs in the corners or rats skittering in the walls or decaying bodies.”

Just as well he hadn’t told her about the partially eaten rabbit the wolf pups had left in one of the out-of-the-way rooms. He’d gotten rid of the carcass—and the maggots—hadn’t he? And he’d scrubbed everything down to get rid of the smell.

Maybe he hadn’t scrubbed everything down quite well enough?

“Mama!”

Lucivar shifted just enough to block entry into the kitchen. Daemonar, who was pelting toward the opening, smacked into his leg.

Before the boy could voice his displeasure, Marian wailed, “They think we live like that!” Then the wail changed to a snarl as she added, “I need to clean.”

Since he’d spent the past few years teaching her how to defend herself with objects she would normally have at hand, he was looking at a pissed-off woman whose hands were full of potential weapons.

“All right.” He nudged his son back with his foot. After Daemonar heard his mother snarl, instinct had kept the boy silent and cautious—and watching everything while hiding behind his father. “Why don’t I stop by The Tavern later and pick up something for dinner?” When she bared her teeth, he added, “It’s just a suggestion, Marian, not a criticism.”

The wild look in her eyes finally faded enough for him to see the wife he loved in the riled woman standing before him.

“That would be good,” she said.

Still watching Marian, Lucivar crouched and picked up Daemonar. “We’ll get out of your way for a while.”

He didn’t wait for an answer, just turned and headed back out to the yard. Once the door was closed and he was moving toward the far end of the lawn, he began to relax.

That’s when he fully realized what he’d done, and he jerked to a stop.

He was an Eyrien Warlord Prince. He wore Ebon-gray Jewels. He was the third most powerful male in the Realm of Kaeleer. And he’d just run from a hearth witch who wore Purple Dusk Jewels.

Of course, the usual rules of battle didn’t apply to a wife, which put him at a distinct disadvantage when it came to dealing with her.

A little hand pressed against his face, so he turned his head and looked at his son.

“Mama was scary,” Daemonar said.

“Ooooh yeah.” He gave Daemonar a smacking kiss that made the boy laugh. “Come on, boyo. We’ll just play outside for a while longer.”

And, he hoped, wife and son would both be tired out in a few hours, so he could tuck them in before heading to the Hall for his chat with Daemon.

“The house has a lot of potential,” Jaenelle said as she faced the mirror over her dressing table and fastened a sapphire and ruby earring to her left ear. Her eyes met Daemon’s as she smiled. “But I think the condition of the house had Marian a little upset.”

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