“She’s not a natural Healer—wasn’t born to that caste—but she has good instincts and a keen interest. She wants to specialize in healing kindred.”

He tried to keep a straight face—and couldn’t. “Does she practice her bedside manner on KaeAskavi?”

“Every chance she gets. Which is another reason I’m here today. If you want to know about kindred, you ask Jaenelle. Of course, Della and KaeAskavi are only together these days when we’re at the country house. The house in Sidra is too frustrating for him.”

“City streets would be hard for a cat that size.”

“Oh, it isn’t the confined space,” Karla said, a wicked twinkle in her glacier blue eyes. “It’s the frustration of having all that prey wandering around and not being allowed to catch and eat any of it.”

“We’re talking about horses, right?”

“You know better than that.”

Mother Night.

“So,” Karla said, “we have a plate of goodies and a pot of coffee, and I have another hour to visit before I have to be heading back home. Why don’t you tell me all the things you don’t want the coven to know?”

Since he’d rather chew off his own hand than get backed into that particular corner, he took the easy way out—he put the nutcake back on the plate and gave her all of the goodies.

“Coward,” Karla said.

“Damn right.”

She laughed. “Even if you are a cock, you’re all right, Sadi.” She held out the plate. “Here. We’ll share. No gossip required.”

“Why do you need to go back so soon? Glacia is on the other side of the Realm, and that’s a long way to come to spend so little time here. You and Jaenelle haven’t had an evening together in quite a while.” Putting a touch of persuasion and a hint of seduction in his voice, he purred, “Stay. You can head back early in the morning. I’ll arrange for a driver and Coach so you can work or nap on the way home. Stay.”

She blinked at him. Then blinked again. “Hell’s fire, you’re good. I could feel my bones starting to melt.”

He smiled at her and let the spells fade.

“I had said I might stay over,” Karla said. “But I didn’t want to make it a certainty.”

“Are you worried about Della being home alone?”Would any of the Blood who had supported Karla’s uncle and survived the fighting two years ago try to hurt the girl?

“Yes, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. You’ve got that look in your eyes, Sadi. The ‘I’m ready to bristle and attack—where’s the enemy?’ look.”

“So what is the concern?” he asked too softly. Because she was right—he wouldn’t think twice about going to Glacia and eliminating any problems that might be plaguing Karla or a young girl.

“Prince Hagen, my Master of the Guard, likes children but has none of his own. So Della has found a surrogate father and he has found a daughter.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Rules have a way of getting . . . lost . . . when I’m gone for more than a day. It’s the most amazing thing. No one can remember why vegetables are supposed to be part of a meal. No one can tell time to figure out when a girl Della’s age should go to bed. On the other hand, the man can be so strict about other things, I’d swear he took lessons from Uncle Saetan.”

“So while Auntie Karla is away . . .”

“They’ll have a good time.” She sighed with too much drama. “Fine. I’ll stay.”

“And I’ll be more than happy to entertain you with gossip.” Just not about me. He took the nutcake. “Why did Jaenelle go to the Keep?”

Karla hesitated before answering. “I think she wanted a second opinion.”

“Witch-child.” Saetan leaned against the blackwood table in the Keep’s private library and crossed his arms. He hadn’t known what would cause it, but he’d known this day would come. And because he’d known, he tightened the leash on his temper a little more. It was almost Winsol. He didn’t want a fight to smear the celebrations.

But there was going to be a fight. He could read that truth in the way she moved and the look in her eyes.

“Should I start sorting books?” he asked.

She looked at the empty table and smiled as she shook her head.

It had been a useful ploy, pretending to sort old books while some member of his extended family eased into talking about whatever the trouble was. Useful until he’d discovered the coven knew it was a ploy and were pretending right along with him.

None of the boyos, including his own sons, had figured out the deception, which embarrassed him a little on behalf of his gender. On the other hand, with them it was still a useful tool.

“No, there’s no need to sort books,” Jaenelle said. She hesitated. “Papa, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“Subject?”

“Rainier.”

Not what he’d expected. He relaxed a little.

“He’s not healing the way he should.”

She grabbed her golden hair and pulled hard enough to make him wince.

“Maybe it’s because I can’t . . . because I’m not . . .”

“No,” he said softly, a clear enough warning to anyone who knew him. And Jaenelle, his daughter and Queen, knew him.

She lowered her hands and looked him in the eyes. “Maybe if I took back the power—”

“No.” Saetan straightened, then lowered his arms so that his fingers rested lightly along the edge of the table. “That part of your life is done.”

“I didn’t lose the Ebony like everyone thought. Maybe I can—”

“Damn you to the bowels of Hell, you will not do this.”

He saw the change in her and recognized the instant when it was Witch staring at him through Jaenelle’s sapphire eyes.

“You don’t know why things are different, High Lord,” Witch said in her midnight voice.

“Yes, I do, Lady. I went to Arachna. I met the Weaver of Dreams. I saw the tangled web that made dreams into flesh. And I saw that one slender strand of spider silk that changed the dream when she came back to us. There was another dreamer. You.”

She stepped back, wary now. “How long have you known?”

“A while now. Before you and Daemon married.” He paused, then added dryly, “Well, between the secret wedding and the public one, anyway. The point—and I hope you believe I will do what I say—is that my daughter has the life she wanted for herself, and taking back the Ebony would ruin that life.” And there was no certainty—none at all—that Jaenelle could still be a vessel for that much power, that taking back the Ebony wouldn’t kill her. “So you need to understand that I will fight my Queen into the ground in order to protect my daughter’s life. Witch-child, you never wanted that kind of power, so the only way you will take it back is by going through me. You’ll have to destroy me completely, because I will fight you with everything I am.”


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