“Well?” Saetan asked quietly.

Better this way. That lack of presence was better.

The room was safe again. Chaste again. And he wouldn’t . . .

He looked at the bed.

Mine!

“Daemon, back away from whatever you’re thinking. Daemon.”

The whiplash command and the power behind it was barely enough, but he leashed the desire—and felt disgust rising in its place.

He forced himself to say the words, to admit what he wanted to deny with all his heart. “The Sadist was in that bed with her last night.”

“Yes, he was,” Saetan said quietly. “And I imagine he enjoyed being there.”

He studied his father, not sure how to interpret the words.

Saetan sighed and rubbed two fingers across his forehead as if trying to ease an ache. “It’s unfortunate that this happened last night when you were churned up with memories of Terreille, but, Daemon, it would have happened. Because of who you are. Because of who Jaenelle is. This would have happened.”

“No.”

“Yes. You’ve twisted a part of yourself into a powerful weapon, honed it to the point people have given it a different name. You’ve given it a different name. But it’s part of your nature, Daemon. It’s part of your caste. It’s in every one of us.”

“What is?”

“There’s no name for it. It’s not like the rut, which is a kind of physical insanity that can be recognized by anyone who knows what to look for. This is emotional—and it’s darker, more dangerous when it happens. It’s the thrill of being feared while you seduce your lover to the point where she doesn’t want to refuse. And at the same time it’s the comfort of being able to reveal that side of your nature to a lover and know you’re still trusted.” Saetan lowered his hand and stared at the bed. “It’s a potential for violence that is transformed into a kind of ruthless gentleness.”

“If this is part of our caste, why isn’t it recognized like the rut?” Daemon asked. And why have I never heard about it?

“Because it’s something that shifts inside you for an hour, for a night—or sometimes for only as long as it takes you to feel that moment of possession, that moment when you look at a woman and think, Mine, and know it’s true.

“The potential to possess. The desire to possess. Warlord Princes are dominating, territorial, and possessive. Most of the time those traits are seen in relation to other males, to possible rivals.” Saetan looked him in the eyes. “But sometimes—especially for a Warlord Prince who is so strong, who stands so deep in the abyss—you look at the woman who pulls at you and the need to possess is overwhelming.”

Saetan rubbed his hands together, then looked at the Black-Jeweled ring on his right hand. “We’re guests most of the time and on our best behavior because of that. We come to our lover’s bed, and even if we share that bed ninety-nine nights out of a hundred, it’s still her bed. Our beds are for sleep, for rest, for solitude. But the rare times when we take a woman into our bed, it’s different. It feels different. No matter how gentle you are, how careful, it isn’t lovemaking. It’s not even sex. It’s possession. Her body belongs to you for that night, and you play with it. You bring her to a climax—or you deny her that completion. For a little while.”

He was hearing a description of the Sadist in his mildest form. He was hearing a description of what he’d done last night. And he was hearing something else.

“You’ve felt that way,” he said, looking at his father and seeing a man capable of playing those kinds of games. Seeing a man who had played those games. But not out of cruelty or rage. Saetan had played those games out of desire.

“I never looked at Hekatah and thought, Mine, which should have told me the truth about her feelings and my own.”

Daemon hesitated, but curiosity pushed aside caution. “Sylvia?”

Saetan closed his eyes. “Yes, Sylvia. There were a few times while we were lovers when she came to my bed and . . .” He swallowed hard.

A feeling in the room. They both had to step away from it, shake it off. For now. But he would have to circle around the subject with Jaenelle and find out if she’d found the Sadist thrilling or frightening. If she’d found him thrilling . . .

Step back, fool, before you become a danger to everyone around you.

Since he could see Saetan trying to shake off the feeling as well, he cast around for something else to talk about.

“Where’s Theran?”

A flash of amusement from Saetan. “I sent him down to the village. With Vae.”

“Vae?” Daemon stared at his father. “You sent him to Halaway with Vae?”

“Yes.”

“The young Sceltie who’s such a managing little bitch that Khary used up every favor owed him in order to get her out of his own village for a month?”

“That’s the one.”

“You sent her with a man who doesn’t know anything about Scelties or kindred?”

“Yes, I did.”

Daemon swallowed the sudden tickle in his throat. “That was mean.”

Saetan smiled. “I know.”

As he thought about Theran trying to cope with any Sceltie, let alone Vae, Daemon staggered back a couple of steps, hit the wall—and filled the room with laughter.

By the time dinner was half-over, Theran missed being around Vae. At least with the nippy little bitch, he had a clear idea of where he stood. Sitting across from Jaenelle Angelline, with her husband and her father the only other people sitting at the table, he felt like he was walking on a knife’s edge. Say too much or sound too flattering and he would be stepping on Sadi’s territorial toes. Say too little and he would be condemned by the father for his lack of courtesy.

Either way, it wasn’t making dinner sit easy. And Lady Angelline’s refusal to say anything about her meeting wasn’t helping his digestion. Neither was the way she looked at him, as if she knew something about him that amused her.

When the fruit and cheese arrived at the end of the meal, along with squares of thick chocolate and coffee, Saetan said, “All right, witch-child. Share the joke. What is it about Prince Theran that you find so funny?”

“Prince Theran has some traditional tastes,” Jaenelle said with a sweetness that made Theran’s palms sweat. “Apparently he has the same resistance toward women wearing short hair and trousers that you do.”

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