“I don’t think Eyriens created the hunting camps just to train boys to become warriors,” Daemon said thoughtfully. “I think they created them to send young males away from home because that was the only way Eyrien males would have siblings other than older sisters.”

Saetan’s lips twitched. “You could be right. Yes, I think you could be right.”

“Hello, witch-child.” Saetan pushed the books aside and turned to lean on the blackwood table. He’d been expecting her. That was why he hadn’t retired to his suite to rest during the harsher midday hours that were so draining for a Guardian.

“Hello, Papa,” Jaenelle replied.

She didn’t come to him for a hug. She didn’t look away. In fact, the fingers twining around and around one another was the only sign of nerves.

The living myth. Dreams made flesh. The daughter of his soul. They had almost lost her when she purged the Realms of the Blood who were tainted by Dorothea and Hekatah. Now she was whole and healthy again, if still a bit too thin in his opinion. The golden hair, cut short while she was healing, looked shaggy now. He couldn’t tell if that was a deliberate style or the result of letting it grow.

But it was the sapphire eyes that held him now as they had held him the first time he met her.

“What is said between father and son is private, and I appreciate that,” Jaenelle said. “But I need to know if Daemon is all right.”

“Are you asking about his back?”

“I know about his back, Saetan.”

And there it was—that hint of caverns and midnight in her voice that told him he was no longer talking to his daughter; he was talking to his Queen. To Witch.

“Daemon Sadi is the most powerful male in Kaeleer,” Witch said. “He’s a Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince with a temper that cannot be dismissed or taken lightly. He’syour equal.”

“Actually, he’s dominant,” Saetan said quietly. “His power is a little darker than mine. Which makes himthe most powerful male in the history of the Blood. I’m aware of that, Lady. What is your point?”

“He slunk out of the bedroom this morning. Heslunk out, Saetan. I need to know why.”

“He was embarrassed because he had fallen asleep before making love to you last night. He thought there must be something wrong with him.”

Jaenelle’s mouth fell open. She stared at him. Finally she said, “Well . . . Hell’s fire. He’s been chasing after Daemonar for two days. Why was he surprised that he fell asleep?”

“Because, like his brother, he hasn’t taken into account that having the stamina to run other grown men into the ground is not the same thing as trying to keep up with a small, bright boy who leaps into exploring the world with all the arrogance of his race—to say nothing of having inherited Lucivar’s confidence in being able to meet any challenge the world foolishly chooses to toss at him.”

“Oh.”

“Were you disappointed that you didn’t make love last night?”

She gave him a dry smile. “Frankly, I’m not sure either one of us could have stayed awake through the whole thing if we’d tried.”

End of discussion,Saetan thought. Except it wasn’t. Not quite. “He’s also concerned about how you’ll respond to him the next time he goes into rut—which will be fairly soon.”

The look in her sapphire eyes sizzled along his nerves. He was her adopted father, and he had never thought of her physically in any other way. But he was also a man and a Warlord Prince, and there was always a sexual awareness between a Warlord Prince and his Queen, even when there was no desire to do anything with that awareness.

When Daemon was caught in the rut’s sexual madness, how much of his relief came from physical sex and how much came from the knife-edged dance of being with Witch in the Misty Place deep in the abyss—of being with the living myth when she revealed the Self that lived within the human body? The Self that was not completely human.

The sizzle faded. He had to clear his throat before he could speak. “I’ll tell Daemon not to worry about the rut.”

*I’ve never worried about the rut,* she told him using a psychic thread.

Now he understood why she didn’t.

Jaenelle closed the distance between them and hugged him. Then she gave him a bright smile. “I’d better get back to the Hall before Daemonar gets his Unka Daemon into trouble.”

“I thought Daemonar had given up the baby talk.”

“Oh, he has for the most part. But he likes the sound of ‘unka,’ and his uncle doesn’t insist that he say the word correctly.”

Saetan smiled. “I see. Off you go, witch-child. Try to keep them both out of the trees, will you?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Later, when he was alone in his suite, preparing to sleep through the midday hours, he allowed himself to remember her in that moment when she showed him a side of Witch a father would never see.

And he allowed himself one moment to envy his son—and to wish he could have been the lover instead of the father.

CHAPTER 3

TERREILLE

Propped up on one elbow, Ranon watched Shira’s slow return to awareness after the climax that was the finale of a long, slow, intense evening of lovemaking.

Before coming together in Cassidy’s court, they’d had five years of fast, furtive coupling because his interest would have drawn the wrong kind of attention to the Black Widow Healer. Five years when he’d tried to stay away from her and had been unable to resist being with her. Five years of love always being entwined with fear.

Twice that five years, actually, if he counted the years before they became lovers. He had been twenty and still adjusting to the Opal power that coursed through him after he’d made the Offering to the Darkness. She had been sixteen—a young Black Widow, born to the Hourglass Covens, who was just beginning the secret training that would hone the Craft she instinctively knew, as well as the open training required to be a Healer.

They had both been visiting friends in a village that wasn’t home to either of them. They had met by chance when their companions had chosen the same dining house for the midday meal. And that meeting had shaped their hopes and dreams for the next ten years.

Now, thanks to Cassidy, he and Shira could spend time together openly, could spend the night together, could begin to build alife together. That alone would have earned Cassidy his loyalty. The fact that she was proving to be a far stronger ruler than any of them had expected from a Queen who wore a Rose Jewel had earned his respect and a different kind of love. Her will was his life, and he would do everything he could to help her rule Dena Nehele—and by doing so he would do more than he’d dreamed possible for the Shalador people.


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