“In what context?” he asked.
She lowered the book. Since he’d acknowledged being awake, he raised his head and read the passage. Then he read it again.
“Sweetheart, if my penis ever does that, you will be the first to know. Not as my wife, but as a Healer.”
“That’s what I thought, but I wanted to be sure.”
Hearing the frown in her voice, he shifted, reluctantly, and propped himself up on one elbow. “What are you reading?”
She flashed him a guilty look. “A book by Jarvis Jenkell.”
At least you didn’t kick me this time.“That book doesn’t start with a body in a closet, does it?”
“Yes, it does.”
Hell’s fire. Well, Rainier would get to deal with Surreal when they reached that part of the story. And wouldn’t that be fun?
“Do you think there’s something wrong with his brain?”
He studied her expression. Not a flippant question.
“Do you think there’s something wrong with his sanity?”
Definitely not a flippant question when asked by a witch who was a Black Widow as well as a Healer.
“Are we talking about the writer or the character?” Daemon asked.
“I’m not sure,” she replied, looking troubled.
Uneasy now, he pulled the sheet up to his waist, a defensive gesture. “Why are you asking? Because Jenkell wrote a bad sex scene?” Appalling was a more accurate description.
“No, I’m asking because he seems to think this is normal behavior for the Blood.”
He hesitated a moment, then said softly, “It’s not that far off from what was done in some of the Terreillean courts.” Other places. Other beds. None where he served willingly. Those weren’t memories he wanted to stir up and bring to the surface. Not now. Not ever.
Jaenelle looked at him with those sapphire eyes. Looked through him. Saw him in ways no one else ever had—or could.
She vanished the book, then shifted so that she was propped up on an elbow, close enough to him that all she had to do was lean a little to kiss him.
Memories swam up to the surface. Ugly, hateful memories. As he looked at Jaenelle, his heart pounded, but it wasn’t from excitement or lust.
Submit. Serve. Play the whore.
He couldn’t do it. Not even as a game. Not with Jaenelle.
“Daemon?” Her lips touched his in a soft kiss.
He couldn’t do this, had to stop this before she became aroused. If he tried to oblige her while the memories churned inside him, it would damage the feelings between them.
“Do you want to sneak down to the kitchen and snitch whatever Mrs. Beale is hiding in the cold box?”
He blinked once. Twice. Waited for his heart to settle back down to a normal beat.
Love and mischief. That’s what he saw in her eyes. She, too, had emotional scars that had come from violence in the bed. She would recognize when something came too close to one of his scars.
As she looked at him, waiting for an answer, different memories washed through his mind. Memories of Jaenelle when she was twelve and he had been her grandmother’s pleasure slave. She had talked him into silly, mischievous adventures during those months, dragging him into the game like a well-loved toy that had half the stuffing hugged out of it. She’d given him a taste of innocent childhood.
She was making the same offer now.
“We do have our own kitchen and some food in the cold box.” Well,he had his own small kitchen where he could putter around when he felt like cooking. That recent renovation was a very large thorn in Mrs. Beale’s side, and he had the feeling that the negotiations required before she accepted that addition had just begun.
The fact that a Yellow-Jeweled witch, whom he paid very well to be the cook at the Hall, could make him uneasy about renovating his own home sparked a little, boyish flame of defiance in him.
“Do you think there’s anything worth snitching?” he asked.
“This afternoon, when I went to the kitchen doorway to ask for a plate of fruit and cheese, she seemed more territorial than usual.”
That was a terrifying thought.
He brushed a finger over Jaenelle’s shoulder. “We do own the Hall, and we do pay for all the food, so we are entitled to eat anything we want from either kitchen.”
“Uh-huh. If we’re caught, you should try that argument.”
A picture in his head: him with his hands full of pilfered food; Mrs. Beale and her meat cleaver, both wearing old-fashioned, frilly nightcaps, blocking the doorway and waiting for an explanation.
Since they were partners in this late-night venture, he reached for Jaenelle’s mind and lightly brushed against her first inner barrier. When she opened the barrier, he showed her his imagined picture of Mrs. Beale.
“Oh.Ick. ” Jaenelle scrunched up her face and made gagging noises. Then she stopped making noises and looked at him, her eyes owl wide. “Do you think she really wears one of those things? Does anyone wear those anymore?”
“I have no idea.”
“Beale sleeps with her,” Jaenelle whispered. “Do you think the meat cleaver has its own little bed?”
He shuddered. “If I were Beale, I wouldn’t share a bed with that meat cleaver.” Although Beale might think the same about him occasionally sharing a bed with an eight-hundred-pound cat.
“They have sex,” Jaenelle whispered.
“No. No no no.That is too scary to consider.” He swung out of bed. “Come on. Let’s do this before one of us remembers we’re supposed to be adults.”
She laughed, and that silvery, velvet-coated sound washed away the rest of the bad memories, leaving nothing but the anticipation of a mischievous adventure.
They were laughing at him.
He’d gone to the bookshop in Amdarh that afternoon to spend some time among his own kind, to give them a chance to recognize who he was—and to listen to their praise of his latest book.
The Blood hadn’t recognized him, hadn’t recognized the significance of his being in that store. As for praising his latest book…
Oh, they had liked him well enough when they had thought he was a clever landen who could spin a good tale, but when he had tried to show them who he really was, the truth aboutwhat he was,they had laughed at him.
Landry Langston wasn’t just a character in a story. Landry Langston washim. A half-Blood raised by a landen mother. A half-Blood who had matured into a man strong enough tobe Blood.
He didn’t know their customs, didn’t know their Protocol, didn’t know what it meant to be Blood.How could he? He hadn’t grown up in one of their precious villages, hadn’t grown up surrounded by this dance, as they called the constant ebb and flow of dominance that depended on who was in the room. Instead of being trained all through his childhood and youth, as he should have been, he had topay for information about his heritage. His “consultants” had been quick enough to take the gold marks he offered in exchange for “research,” but he now wondered about the accuracy of their information—and wondered if they’d given him just enough to make him look foolish.