“What do you want?” she cried.
The shirt got wetter and heavier, clinging to her skin. Her legs trembled with the effort to remain standing.
“Odd how much terror can be produced by a piece of cloth,” he said in that singsong croon. “Don’t you think it’s odd? A simple shirt can destroy a person’s life. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of that fear?”
She heard the splat of blood dripping off the shirt and hitting the carpet.
“I’ve learned my lesson. Do you hear me? I won’t play with married men ever again.”
“I know you won’t.” There was nothing gentle about the gentleness in that deep voice.
“Why are you doing this?” she screamed. “I never played with you!”
He took a step closer. Got a good look at her face.
And felt something inside him snap.
A man’s anguish. What was left of a child’s face. A ceremony. A betrayal. Rage.
Memories collided, spun, became a twisting storm that hurled him over the border and into the Twisted Kingdom—where a terrible, and familiar, clarity waited for him.
“Who are you?”
She knew. How could she not know? But he would play her game a little longer, since it would be the last time.
“I’m the Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell. And Daemon Sadi’s father.”
The storm inside him gathered speed, gathered power, gathered the cold, deadly rage. The sweet, cleansing rage.
“You took my boy.”
She shook her head.
“You tried to hurt my son.”
“I wouldn’t have done anything,” she cried. “It was just a game!”
“It’s always just a game, isn’t it?” he said too softly. “You like playing games, shattering lives.”
“I—” She sank to the floor, too weak to stand.
He breathed in the exciting scent of blood but had no desire to taste it. Not hers. Not that disgusting, foul brew that flowed in her veins.
But after this first payment was made . . .
She was . . . but she wasn’t. It didn’t matter. She and the other were enough alike.
She tried to hurt his son—and everything has a price.
He smiled a cold, vicious smile. “Dorothea, my darling, it’s finally time to pay the debt.”
Someone tapped lightly on the first of Daemon’s inner barriers, waking him from a sound sleep.
*Beale?* The butler wasn’t in the bedroom, but Daemon still pulled the covers up around Jaenelle’s delightfully naked body before he shifted far enough to turn over without disturbing her. *Beale?*
*You’re needed downstairs, Prince,* Beale said.
He took a moment to sift through the messages coming from the controlled tone of Beale’s voice on the psychic thread as well as the butler’s psychic scent. Whatever brought Beale up here to wake him required his immediate attention but didn’t require a Warlord Prince rising from sleep primed to fight.
Understanding the careful line the man needed to walk in order to get the desired response rather than the instinctive one, Daemon realized just how skilled Beale was at his job. *What time is it?*
*A little after three in the morning.*
Daemon slipped out of bed, pulled on his robe, and went into the Consort’s bedroom, where Beale waited. After putting an aural shield around the room so Jaenelle wouldn’t be disturbed, he said, “What’s wrong?”
“A Warlord arrived a few minutes ago,” Beale said, keeping his voice quiet despite the shield. “From the Province Queen’s court.”
Dhemlan had several Provinces, each ruled by a Queen. But there was an edge in Beale’s voice that told Daemon exactly which Province Queen was asking for help.
Something must have happened to make Rhea desperate enough to ask for his help.
“Apparently there has been some trouble,” Beale said. “Under other circumstances, I would have assigned the Warlord to a guest room and had him wait to speak with you at a more convenient hour.”
“He’s very frightened, Prince. Whatever he heard, whatever he saw . . . He’s very frightened.”
“All right. I’ll see him.”
“Mrs. Beale is making coffee and will have a plate ready for you. Just a little something until she can make you a proper breakfast.”
“Thank you. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Beale hesitated, and Daemon noticed a curious kind of tension in the other man.
“Something else?” Daemon asked.
“You’ll be going to that Province to talk to the Queen?”
The thought of going back to that damn Province and being a guest of Rhea’s again made his chest muscles tighten so much it was hard to breathe. “Probably.”
“One of the SaDiablo estates is in the neighboring Province, almost at the border of the two,” Beale said, sounding as if he was feeling his way over very shaky ground. “It’s a short distance to travel when a person is riding one of the darker Winds. I could send a messenger and let the staff there know you’ll be staying for a day or two.”
He hadn’t thought that far ahead, but now that Beale mentioned the ease of staying somewhere else, he realized it would be some time before he viewed any Queen’s residence as anything but a potential battleground.
Which was exactly how he had viewed the Queens’ courts when he was a pleasure slave in Terreille.
“Thank you, Beale.”
Why had Beale mentioned it?
Look at his eyes, old son. When he did, Daemon felt the ground shift under him just a little.
“It is not always a pleasure to work in an aristo house,” Beale said. “Even among the Blood, sometimes the employer forgets that the servant is also a person.”
What are you driving at, Beale?
“The High Lord was an excellent employer. No man who worked on any of his estates or in any of his houses needed to fear that he would be cornered into doing something that would smear his reputation, perhaps irreparably. No woman needed to fear the males around her during the days when she was vulnerable. The High Lord took care of his own. Always.” Beale paused. “And so do you. The small courtesies have not gone unnoticed by those who work for you, and the feeling of safety is still here.”
“I appreciate you telling me.” But they hadn’t gotten to the point of this conversation.
“You take care of your own, Prince.” Beale tapped a finger against his own chest. “So do we. Which is why, when you need to visit the Provinces from now on, the nearest residence that belongs to the SaDiablo family will be ready to accommodate you.”