He studied her, and she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“There’s not much room,” he finally said.

And if she called in a knife, his throat would be in easy reach.

“There’s enough.” She thought for a moment. “But it would be smart to put a light shield along the sides so neither of us accidentally rolls off the bed.”

He stretched out on his left side, the head of the baby basket brushing his chest, and put up the shields as she requested. It hurt her heart to see him moving so carefully because of the wounds and the pain. When the Healer came back tomorrow to check on her, she would make sure she knew what he was supposed to do to heal fully—and she would make sure he did it.

She looked at him, intending to ask if he’d taken the healing brew he was supposed to before bedtime. But Daemon was already sound asleep, his body curved protectively around the basket holding his daughter.

TEN

Daemon looked up when the study door opened, and watched Surreal walk toward the blackwood desk. Judging by that particular expression on her face, he knew he was in trouble. He just didn’t know why.

“You’re the parent on duty this morning,” he pointed out.

“I’m aware of that, Sadi.” Surreal pressed her hands on the desk and leaned toward him. “Before I decide if you deserve to have your ass kicked, I want to know one thing: Did you give Jaenelle permission to ride the horsie all by herself?”

Why was she pissed off about that? “The wheeled toy horse in the playroom?”

“No, the big live one outside.”

He blinked. Sat back. “What, exactly, are we talking about?” Because she couldn’t mean what she said. Jaenelle was much too young to mount a horse and ride alone.

“A black horse showed up this morning. When Jaenelle went outside to play, they made friends. Now they’re cantering around the backyard, having a grand time.”

“A groom put her up in front of him?” He couldn’t approve of that, since the man hadn’t asked permission from him or Surreal first, but Jaenelle loved the horses and she could be a persuasive little witchling. Of course, a groom being present didn’t fit with Jaenelle being “all by herself.”

“There’s no groom,” Surreal said. “There’s no saddle or bridle. And he’s not from our stables. His name is Nightwind, he comes from the Isle of Scelt, and he’s an Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince.”

Daemon shot to his feet. Seeing the look in Surreal’s eyes, he sank back down. She hadn’t called in a weapon—yet—but he knew better than to push her when she was in a riled-mother frame of mind.

“She’s riding an unfamiliar horse—,” he began.

“Who is an Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince,” she added.

“—bareback?”

“Yes. The grooms tried to approach him, but every time they got close, he took off—with her. The humans have retreated because they’re afraid he’ll bolt or try to jump something in his path. No one is sure how she’s keeping her seat, although the stable master assures me that she’s riding as if she’d been born knowing how to ride. Fhinn and Sorca are watching her, since the horse doesn’t mind Scelties running along with him. So Jaenelle is fine for the moment, which is why we have time to discuss this.”

He shot to his feet again. “Hell’s fire, Surreal! Why haven’t you done something?”

“Like I said, I wanted to make sure you hadn’t given her permission.”

“Why would you think I would give my permission?”

“Because you have a firm no and a soft no, and I had the feeling that Jaenelle heard whatever you said about the horsie as a soft no.”

“There was no no, and there was no yes,” Daemon snarled. “I didn’t know about him!”

“Now you do. This one isn’t about who’s on duty, Sadi. This is about a pissing contest between two Warlord Princes and establishing now that Prince Nightwind gets his orders from you and not Jaenelle.”

Daemon narrowed his eyes. Surreal didn’t need him for this. She wore the Gray. She could slap that horse from one end of the estate to the other if that was what it took to convince Nightwind that he had to follow the rules they set for their daughter. Convincing the daughter, on the other hand . . .

“Why do you want me to be the strict parent who draws the line?” he asked.

“Because a line has to be drawn and held. She’s too young to be galloping off without supervision. When that line gets drawn, there are going to be tears. She’s having a wonderful time right now, so you know there will be tears. And we both know you tend to buckle when there are tears.”

“I don’t buckle,” he snarled.

Surreal just looked at him.

“Not always.” Actually, it wasn’t the tears that gave him trouble; it was his fascination with how her little mind worked that usually tangled him up. He’d been stumbling over Jaenelle’s logic since the day she figured out how to string words into complete sentences adults could understand. “All right. Fine. I’ll draw the line.”

“And I’ll back you up all the way,” she said sweetly.

He came around the desk and headed for the door. “You owe me.”

Surreal laughed.

As he entered the great hall, he noticed Beale and Holt, but they didn’t try to talk to him, so he kept going. If Jaenelle was having a grand time with the horsie, she was going to be one unhappy little witch when he put a stop to her playing with her new friend. And wouldn’t that be pleasant to deal with?

He would be calm but firm with horse and child. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that his little witchling had needed to hold on to him in order to walk. Of course, now she was running all over the place, and the Scelties were the only ones besides himself and Surreal who could keep track of her. But that didn’t mean she could go riding by herself. No, it did not.

He stepped out on the back terrace, saw his little girl and the young black stallion, and thought, Shit.

They looked beautiful together—and they reminded him of another young girl and a horse named Dark Dancer who had looked just as beautiful as they flew over the ground.

But it wasn’t the same. Jaenelle Angelline had been twelve at the time, not a little girl like Jaenelle Saetien. Still, he had to admit Surreal was right—he’d have a much harder time holding this particular line if he wasn’t the one drawing it.

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