“Why would you say that?” Marian asked as she reached over and held one of Surreal’s hands.

“He flinched when I slipped the wedding ring on his finger.”

“I didn’t see that, and I was standing right next to you.”

“I doubt anyone saw it, but I felt it. He’d been steady until that point, but he flinched when it came time to wear a wedding ring again.”

Marian looked alarmed. “It’s not the same ring, is it?”

“No. He had a new one made, but what it stands for . . .” Surreal sighed. “He’ll never get over Jaenelle. She will always be the love of his life.”

“That doesn’t mean he won’t love you.”

“I didn’t ask him to.” She rested her head on the back of the sofa and looked at the ceiling instead of at Marian. “When the conditions for the marriage were set, that was something he couldn’t promise, so it’s nothing I can expect.”

She sat up, brushed her hair back, and stood up. “Enough melancholy. I hope this baby is in a better mood once it’s outside the womb. If these moods are an indication of its temperament, this is going to be one blubbery child.”

“Get some rest,” Marian said gently. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

She walked to her old suite. At Daemon’s request, she’d chosen another suite of rooms as their private living quarters within the Hall. It was still in the family wing, but away from the rooms Jaenelle and Saetan used to occupy. Her new bedroom connected with Daemon’s but also had access to the baby’s room, making it a family suite until the child was old enough to have a suite of its own.

That suite was still being renovated. Daemon could be subtle about visiting his new wife’s bed, but she wondered how often he would force himself to make the walk while his bedroom was still distant from hers.

As she began to wonder if tonight would be one of the nights when he chose his own bed, he knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

She’d bought a deep green gown and robe shot with gold threads for this night. It took effort to pretend a calm she couldn’t feel, especially when he leaned back against the door and did nothing but look at her.

Just when she started to fidget, he pushed away from the door and walked up to her. His gold eyes stared at her lips until they started feeling kiss-swollen. She felt the room do one slow spin when one fingertip finally brushed over her lower lip.

Seduction spells. Or maybe it was just his presence when he didn’t try to leash all that sexual heat.

With his hands on her shoulders, he backed her up to one of the bedposts. Removing her robe, he raised her arms just above her head and guided her hands around the post.

“Hold on,” he said.

Be passive. Don’t push me.

She heard those silent commands. He would walk away if she couldn’t give him what he needed tonight—and he might not come back, despite his promise that she wouldn’t spend her marriage being celibate.

He touched her face, her neck, her chest, her belly. Butterfly caresses that whispered over her skin. Heat that reached her through the gown. A touch. A kiss. Sometimes just his breath against her skin. But he didn’t touch her br**sts until her ni**les hardened from wanting him. Then he touched, kissed, bit just enough to keep her still while his fingers drifted up her thighs and began teasing her until she moaned out of need. Her nightgown vanished as he sank to his knees and used his mouth to finish what his fingers had begun.

She didn’t remember him tucking her into bed, didn’t remember him getting undressed. By the time her brain started working again, he was suckling her br**sts and playing with her until she was desperate to have him. That was when he mounted her, pinning her hands over her head as he moved with a lazy rhythm.

Was he moving like that because he was afraid he might hurt the baby? No, she realized in the last moments before her body surrendered to him completely and she couldn’t think at all. He played like this because he liked it—and making her mindless with pleasure was one of the things he liked.

NINE

The birthing room was ready, the adjoining room where the family could wait was ready, and the Healer and her assistant had arrived.

Beale was guarding the Hall’s front door from any premature well-wishers; Helene was giving the family suite another quick cleaning and the crib a last polish, and making sure there were plenty of linens, diapers, blankets, towels, and whatever else a newborn might need. Holt was sorting through the correspondence and business papers so that the new father could make the most efficient use of his available time. And he, the about-to-be new father, was apparently doing nothing but being a pain in the ass.

“I don’t need to sit,” Surreal snarled as she waddled around the birthing room.

She most certainly did need to sit, Daemon thought, but he couldn’t shove her into a chair. Not in her condition. “You’re not comfortable standing,” he pointed out in a soothing voice.

“Whose fault is that?” She grabbed the back of a chair and pressed the other hand to her belly, her face tight with pain.

“Remember what the Healer said about breathing,” Daemon said.

“Go take a piss in the wind.”

He slipped his hands out of his trousers pockets and made an effort to unclench his teeth as he took a step toward her, one hand extended. “Let me help you.”

“You and your c**k have done quite enough already,” she snarled as she moved away from him.

“Surreal . . .”

Lucivar walked into the room and gave Surreal a lazy, arrogant smile. “Want to shred something, darling?”

“Yes,” she snapped, “but since he likes his balls, I doubt he’d stand still for it.”

“Surreal . . .,” Daemon soothed.

“Stop hovering over me!” she shouted. “This baby will come when it wants to come, and your pushing at me isn’t going to make it come any faster!”

“I’m not pushing. . . .”

“You prick-assed son of a bitch, get out of here!”

Daemon looked at Lucivar. “I was told she’d be bitchy, but is it normal for her to sound insane?”

“Insane?” Surreal shrieked. “You think I sound insane?”

“Yes,” Lucivar said to Daemon. “Right now, she doesn’t like you much, old son, so come into the next room and give her some peace.”

“Why are you taking my side?” Surreal demanded.

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