“Former Queen,” Jaenelle said.
“—or as his sister. And before you use ‘former’ in front of ‘Queen’ again, Lady, I suggest you review what the term ‘life-time contract’ means.”
She blinked. Shifted her weight from one hip to the other. Frowned at him. “You’re really feeling pissy about this.”
Insulted because the word “pissy” dismissed his feelings in a way he wouldn’t tolerate, he let his temper slip from its sheath, sharp and lethal. He pushed away from the sofa, allowing himself one slash of power to relieve some of the rage.
Jaenelle pressed her lips together and studied the pile of ash that, moments before, had been a sofa.
“My apologies, High Lord,” she said quietly. “Please tell me what I’m not seeing.”
The formality of the words no longer made this discussion personal. He appreciated that. He didn’t want to fight with his daughter, but he was more than willing to enlighten his Queen.
“First,” he said as he prowled in front of the destroyed sofa, “you’re forgetting that when Daemon was a pleasure slave, the kind of gathering Rhea had arranged at her country house had been his hunting ground. Better than anyone else there, he would have recognized another hunter.”
“Hunter.” She didn’t make it a question, which could be interpreted as doubt, but her tone asked for confirmation.
“Indulge me for a moment in a possible scenario.” Saetan waited for her nod of consent. “Daemon walks into his room at the Province Queen’s country house and finds a woman waiting for him, a woman who has been openly flirting with him and now indicates that she wants the kind of attention a married man reserves for his wife. He demands that she leave, and she does, wearing his shirt. A month later, a package arrives at the Hall, addressed in such a way that you’re the most likely person to open it, even though it’s not blatantly aimed at you. And inside the package is your husband’s shirt, smelling of another woman’s perfume. Smelling of another woman. And there’s a note, carefully phrased, that says something like ‘Hope your wife didn’t notice that a shirt was missing.’ What would you do?”
“Since she was clearly trying to hurt my husband by sending that package, I would find her, and we would have a little chat.”
A razored chill in her voice. A look in her sapphire eyes.
Yes, she and the woman who sent that package would have a little chat—and the webs Jaenelle would weave around the bitch would be a far more terrifying punishment than the physical penalty Daemon had devised.
And that, Saetan realized, was the reason Jaenelle didn’t understand. She knew the depth of Daemon’s loyalty, so she would react as though he was under attack and move to defend her husband—in the same way she had always responded whenever she thought her father was under attack.
Remembering how she responded to attacks on her family, he pulled back. Chained his own temper as he considered the best way to explain.
“Although,” Jaenelle added thoughtfully, “I suppose another woman would either file a complaint with the Province Queen or the District Queen who ruled her hometown.”
“And some of the men would have filed a complaint as soon as they got home, especially if they felt vulnerable because they had young children, and a charge of infidelity could end with paternity being denied at their children’s Birthright Ceremony.” Saetan shook his head. “I think once Daemon begins making discreet inquiries about that Lady’s activities, he’ll find that a number of complaints had been submitted—but were somehow lost before they reached someone with enough power or authority to make the woman’s activities public.”
“You don’t think this was about Daemon?”
“It wasn’t about Daemon—and it wasn’t about you. Not this time. Oh, I think she would have enjoyed the opportunity to bed him—which only proves she’s an arrogant fool—but I think she was more interested in having the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan owing her for her silence.”
“I see. Blackmail.”
Saetan nodded. “She’s not the first to play this game. She won’t be the last.”
“You didn’t know about her?”
“Things can always be hidden, witch-child. The ruler of a Territory depends on the integrity of the Province Queens and District Queens to keep the land and the people in balance. If I’d known about this bitch, she wouldn’t still be among the living.”
A memory. A flash of thought that made him wonder if he had known about her.
He locked that thought away until he could consider it in private.
“What happens now?” Jaenelle asked.
“That will be for Daemon to decide,” Saetan replied. “The real question now isn’t about the witch who likes to play this game. The real question is whether Lady Rhea was aware of the game. Did she know what her friend was doing at these house parties? If she did, her silence was tacit approval. Even if she didn’t know, even if she disposed of the complaints because she didn’t believe they could be true . . . Well, everything has a price.”
As he came abreast of her, he stopped his prowling.
“Daemon is going to ask Rhea to dissolve her court and step down,” Jaenelle said.
“Won’t the rest of the Queens and their courts wonder why she’s stepping down?”
“He rules Dhemlan, witch-child, and he wears a Black Jewel,” Saetan replied dryly. “I doubt anyone is going to ask.”
Obviously there were a few things Daemon left out when he’d told Jaenelle about this incident. Like the fact that Rhea had pissed herself when Daemon exploded into the drawing room. His rage and his opinion of her friend left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Prince Sadi now viewed Lady Rhea and her friend as enemies.
“I imagine Daemon was quite upset when he arrived home,” Saetan said.
“You could say that,” Jaenelle replied, sounding vague.
“Is everything all right between you?” He hadn’t seen any signs of distress or sensed any distance between Daemon and Jaenelle when they arrived at the Keep. But Daemon had side-stepped questions about what had happened after he told Jaenelle about this incident. Not that it was any of his business, but . . . Hell’s fire. They were his children, so he was damn well going to make it his business. “Did you work things out?”
Jaenelle’s face blazed with color, and she looked everywhere but at him.