Knowing why she didn’t want him there eased the hurt. She was making something for him, and she was afraid he would insist on seeing it before she had finished it.
He ducked his head and looked at her through his lashes. “When do I get my surprise?”
A moment’s startled hesitation. Then her gold eyes narrowed. “You are teasing me?”
“Just a little.” He gave her his best boyish grin.
Her eyes narrowed a little more, but he noticed the change in her psychic scent as she absorbed the fact that he was being playful instead of demanding answers.
“When do I get my surprise?” he asked again.
“Soon. But not today.”
He waited, watching her make the effort to hold on to the ordinary world.
“Today you can have nutcakes.” Tersa took his arm and tugged him toward the stairs leading to the first floor—and away from the surprise in the attic. “And milk.”
“I don’t need milk,” he said, hustling down the stairs to keep up with her.
“Boys get milk with nutcakes. It’s a rule. Manny told me so.”
He clamped his teeth together. He couldn’t argue with a rule that gave Tersa a way to cope with something other people saw as simple and mundane, not when he knew Sylvia’s son Mikal was a frequent visitor. Manny, no doubt, had established the rule for Mikal’s benefit.
“Fine,” he said, trying not to snarl. “I’ll drink the”—damn—“milk.”
Tersa stopped just inside the kitchen and shook her finger at him. “And no using Craft to vanish the milk. That’s fibbing.”
A mother’s gesture. A mother’s scold. Such an extraordinary thing to come from Tersa because it was so ordinary.
It almost broke his heart.
There were so many things he couldn’t say to her, his mother, because they would confuse her, tangle her up, threaten her fragile connection to the mundane world. But there were other ways he could tell her he loved her.
So he raised her hand to his face and pressed a kiss in her palm. “All right, darling. I’ll drink the milk. For you.”
“So,” Jaenelle said as they inspected the dining room in the spooky house. “We have the skeleton in the closet, the critters in the cobwebs, the snarl in the cellar, the glowing eyes and smoke, and the laughing staircase.”
Marian shuddered. “Can’t you fix that laugh to just one stair?”
Jaenelle turned to her and grinned. “It is much creepier now that I took the original laugh and played it in a cavern to get the final sound. But we don’t want it fixed to one spot. The next set of visitors would anticipate hearing it when they reached the sixth stair.”
“Exactly.” She’d almost wet herself when she’d carefully avoided stepping on the sixth stair and then had that sound rising up under her feet when she stepped on the eighth stair. “At least, fix it to one stair while we’re still working on the house.”
Jaenelle gave her one of those long, assessing looks. “Admit it. This has made you shudder and shiver a lot of the time, but you’ve also had fun.”
“I don’t have to admit anything,” Marian replied. But she smiled when she said it. Just outside the dining room, where people would be waiting for their turn to enter, was a dusty table with a vase of dead flowers. Swipe a finger in the dust—or even better, have one of the landen boys write his name in the dust—and the next thing that appeared was the words “hello, prey.”
She’d thought of that one all by herself.
It was the mix of the absurd, the creepy, and the real that was making the spooky house more than the dumb ideas the landen boys had originally told Jaenelle. Now there were ghostly guides directing people through the house and telling them bits of stories so they would know what to look for in each room. There were phantom shapes that would appear in one of the mirrors, but the spell didn’t engage until someone looked in the mirror. As you walked down one part of the upstairs hallway, you heard a heart-breakingly beautiful voice singing—Jaenelle’s voice, in fact—but if you backtracked to hear it again, it was gone.
And then there were the other guides.
“Nobody is going to be scared of a Sceltie,” Marian said as the two illusion-spell dogs—one black with tan markings on his face, the other brown and white—trotted into the dining room and stared at the humans, their expressions just a little too gleeful.
“That’s because these people don’t live with a Sceltie,” Jaenelle replied.
Marian studied the illusions, whose tails began to wag now that she focused her attention on them. “How complex a spell is this?”
“They’ll be able to interact with the visitors in the most usual ways.”
A wicked cheerfulness shivered through Marian. “In other words, they’re going to herd the landen children going through the house.”
“They can touch you; you can’t touch them,” Jaenelle said, tipping her head toward the dogs. “Your hand will pass right through, but you’ll certainly feel it if one of them nips you.”
She was starting to like this house better and better. Those landen boys wanted to see how the Blood lived? They thought it was all cobwebs in the corners and rats in the walls? Ha! Let them try to deal with the kindred!
“Howdid we end up with Sceltie ghosts?” Marian asked.
A blush stained Jaenelle’s cheeks. “When I went to Scelt to ask Fiona to polish up the little story bits we wrote, Ladvarian and Shadow heard us talking. And since Kaelas got to be the snarl in the cellar and the ghost cat that’s seen from one of the upstairs windows…”
“They nipped at you until you gave in, didn’t they?”
“Badgered. There were no teeth involved. Mine or theirs.”
Oh, the sour note in Jaenelle’s voice.
Marian turned away to hide a grin. The powerful men in Jaenelle’s life didn’t often win an argument with her. On the other hand,she seldom won an argument with Ladvarian. Did it annoy Lucivar, Daemon, and Saetan to see a dog that didn’t come up to their knees cornering Jaenelle into agreeing to things when they couldn’t get her to budge, or were they grateful thatsomeone could successfully herd their darling Queen when herding was required?
“All right,” Jaenelle said briskly. “We have one more room that needs significant work.” She left the dining room and led the way to the room that must have been a parlor. “This will be the scariest room in the house.”