“Lady,” he said. “Prince Grayhaven.”
“I’m returning to Kaeleer,” Kermilla said, raising her chin. “Please summon whoever opens the Gate.”
Those black eyes glittered queerly. “I’ll ask the Seneschal if the Gate is available.”
“How can itnot be available?” Kermilla demanded.
“We don’t let everyone into the Shadow Realm. However, if you wanted to go to Hell, that could be arranged easily.”
“Geoffrey, why don’t I handle this?”
Theran trembled at the sound of the High Lord’s voice.Never thought I’d be glad to see him.
“Why?” Geoffrey asked as Saetan joined them.
“Because for some reason, you’re even more pissed off with this Lady than my sons are, and I wouldn’t have thought that possible.”
“Maybe it’s because I read history—and have a long memory,” Geoffrey replied too softly.
“I, too, read history and have a long memory,” Saetan replied just as softly. “But the Queen commands, Geoffrey. The Queen commands.”
Tension hummed between the two men as black eyes stared into gold.
Then the tension eased and Geoffrey smiled. “In order for our guests to remain safe, she tossed your boys out of the Keep, didn’t she?”
“She did. It was quite entertaining—and exciting—to watch.”
Geoffrey laughed. “In that case, High Lord, I will yield and leave our guests in your care.” As he turned to leave, he added, “In whichever Realm you care to have them.”
Kermilla looked like she was ready to faint, so Theran cupped a hand under one elbow to offer a little warmth and support. It was damn cold up in the mountains, but when he obeyed Saetan’s subtle gesture and led Kermilla into the Keep, the outside cold couldn’t compete with the freezing remnants of temper on the other side of the door.
Kermilla linked an arm through his and held on as Saetan led them deeper and higher into the mountain. When they reached the room that held the Gate, Theran gently unhooked her arm from his.
She looked at him. “Aren’t you coming with me?”
“No.” He smiled sadly. “This is as far as I go.” As far as he dared to go. “May the Darkness embrace you, Kermilla. I’ll never forget you.”Or stop loving you.
He stepped back, stepped out of reach.
Saetan opened the door.
*High Lord?* Theran said.
“Why don’t you go in?” Saetan told Kermilla. “I’ll join you in a moment.”
She walked inside the room. Saetan closed the door and looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
Theran called in a package that was carefully wrapped in paper and sealed with wax. He held it out and waited for Saetan to take it.
“Four hundred gold marks,” Theran said. “I’d like Kermilla to have it. That’s a year’s income for me, and she’ll probably spend it in a week, but I’d like her to have it.”
“Why didn’t you give it to her yourself?” Saetan asked.
I didn’t want her to think it was a payment of some kind—or that she would get any more.“It’s complicated.”
“I’ll see that she gets it.”
“High Lord? Is Kermilla going to be all right?”
Saetan stared at him for a long time. “Lady Sabrina and her Steward are on their way to the Keep. They’ll see that Kermilla gets back to Dharo safely.” He looked behind Theran. “This Warlord will escort you back to the Coach and retrieve Lady Kermilla’s trunks.”
Nothing more to say, so he bowed to the High Lord of Hell and followed the servant to the Coach.
On the way back to Dena Nehele, Julien fixed him coffee and a plate of food. He didn’t touch either. He sat in the passenger compartment of the Coach, breathing in Kermilla’s lingering physical and psychic scents—and wondered if this feeling of being torn and broken would ever go away.
After going through the Gate and arriving at the Keep in Kaeleer, Kermilla followed the High Lord to a sitting room. He’d been awfully scary when she’d first seen him, but hewas a handsome man. A little too old for her tastes. Older men could be soserious abouteverything. And they didn’t have enough stamina to be fun. But the way he had handled that other strange man . . . Yes, he could be helpful.Very helpful.
“I’m glad Theran didn’t come with us,” she said, giving him a sideways glance through her lashes. “That way we can get to know each other better.”
She started to link her arm through his, but when she touched his jacket, the air turned so bitingly cold it burned her skin.
He said nothing about the cold or the way she jerked away from him. When he opened the sitting room’s door, she darted inside and went straight to the fireplace, hoping to warm up.
Her hands finally thawed enough to stop burning. She turned around and found him staring at her, his gold eyes glazed and sleepy.
“I was ordered to give you a gift,” he said. “It was created especially for you.”
“A gift?” That warmed her even better than the fire. She clapped her hands in delight and gave him a brilliant smile. “What is it?”
He stepped closer, raised his right hand, and pressed his fingers lightly against her chest.
At first it felt like a delicate necklace that rested on her skin in a web of fine metal. Then it meltedinto her skin, and threads of power flowed around her and through her, creating an odd flood of warmth that was there and gone.
Only moments passed before he raised his hand and stepped back to look at her.
“How appropriate,” he said in a singsong croon.
She placed a hand on her chest, but she felt nothing.
“Look,” he said. A turn of his hand, and a large gilt-framed mirror floated in the air nearby. “Look.”
She looked. Then she screamed.
And the High Lord of Hell laughed.
“Don’t worry, my dear. It’s only an illusion spell, but it’s a powerful one—and unbreakable. You’ll wear that face for a year and a day. Then the spell will fade gradually over the months that follow. Within two years, you’ll have your own face again and, hopefully, a great deal more.”
“Why?” Kermilla wailed as she stared at a face that was even more homely than Freckledy’s. Everyone would seethis when they looked at her? “Why?”
“The tangled webs all said the same thing,” the High Lord replied. “If you continue to be nothing more than a greedy little girl, you will be dead within a year. While some of us welcomed that solution to a noxious problem, the Queen decided to give you a second chance. Your pretty face was the tool you used to get what you wanted, regardless of what it cost anyone else. Now you’ll have to earn what you want by proving your worth as a Queen. You’re being given a chance to grow up, Lady Kermilla, instead of dying young. I hope you eventually appreciate the gift. If you don’t, we’ll meet again soon in Hell.”