Memories swam too close to the surface. Memories of a place called Briarwood and men who were called uncles—men who violated little girls. Memories of Jaenelle Angelline’s body torn from a savage rape. And blood. So much blood. That terrible night had been the first time he’d seen Witch in the Misty Place after he’d fallen too far in the abyss and shattered his mind.
He dropped from the Black Wind to the landing web below Lucivar’s eyrie. The air around him turned frigid, and the green leaves of the nearby plants frosted as he climbed the steps to the flagstone courtyard.
He walked into his brother’s home without knocking, then twisted the chain on his temper a little more when he heard Daemonar and Titian chattering in the kitchen—and heard Lucivar answer some question that had been inserted in the chatter.
Maybe it was better this way, with the children here. If Lucivar had been alone . . .
He walked into the kitchen. Titian looked up and gave him a cheerful, “Hi, Uncle Daemon,” before she picked up his mood and hunched in her seat.
Lucivar gave him one measuring look, then continued cooking breakfast.
Daemonar stood up, a young Warlord Prince prepared to die defending his father and sister. The boy swallowed hard and said, “It wasn’t Jaenelle’s fault.”
“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Lucivar said with such dismissive certainty the tone pierced Daemon’s cold rage, leaving behind a moment’s doubt.
“But something did happen,” Daemon said too softly.
Lucivar shrugged, then filled two of the plates on the counter with eggs and bacon, adding slices of toast and a bowl of summer berries. Calling in a tray, he stacked it with the plates, silverware, the butter dish, and a jar of Marian’s jam. He took two glasses from a cupboard and filled them with milk.
“Daemonar, take the tray into the dining room. You and your sister have breakfast in there. Titian, can you carry the milk?”
“We’re supposed to eat where?” Daemonar asked as Lucivar handed him the tray.
“Dining room,” Lucivar replied. “You know. The place you only see on special occasions. Now go.”
Daemonar glanced at Daemon, fear in his eyes. “Come on, Titian.”
Daemon said nothing, did nothing except assess every move and every sound Lucivar made. When the children were in the other room, he wrapped a Black shield around the kitchen, then added an aural shield. Whatever they said to each other would remain private—providing they were both still alive when the discussion was done.
Lucivar took two white mugs from the cupboard. “Coffee?”
“Not yet.” He didn’t eat with an enemy. Refusing the coffee right now was a warning that while he and Lucivar would always be brothers, they might no longer be friends.
Lucivar filled one mug, then set the coffeepot back on the stove. “I’m surprised you didn’t show up sooner. And frankly, Bastard, I’m surprised you’re this pissed off about it.”
“My daughter was exposed to a naked male. You knew and didn’t tell me.You’re damn right I’m pissed off about it.”
“I told her to tell you.” Lucivar sighed. “I guess she didn’t.”
“Now you will,” he said coldly. “And the first thing you’re going to tell me is who displayed himself to a girl her age.”
Lucivar took a slow swallow of coffee. “Me.”
It crushed his heart. He suspected that would be the answer and had hoped he was wrong.
Then he considered Daemonar’s words and Lucivar’s dismissive response. Jaenelle had been equally dismissive about whatever had happened. Was he wrong?
“Explain.” He could barely force out the word.
“Do you want the short version or all the details?”
“Oh, I want all the details, Prick. I do want the details.”
“All right.” Lucivar huffed out a breath and told him.
Lucivar rested in the small pool that was one of his favorite places in Ebon Rih, lulled by the twitter of birds, the easy fall of water, and the voices of young girls doing happy girl things. He’d checked the area before setting up a perimeter shield that allowed Titian and Jaenelle Saetien to have a feeling of independence while never being beyond his awareness.
After a quick dip to cool off from the summer heat, they’d said they wanted to pick wildflowers so that Marian could teach them . . . something. Since he and Daemonar had the pool to themselves, they stripped completely and settled into water he considered sun-warmed to perfection, since it was still first-gasp cool.
Through half-closed eyes, he watched his son trying to act relaxed and lazy, but the boy was too focused on the sound of the girls’ voices to be either.
No. Daemonar still acted like a boy at times, but he was well into the adolescent stage, both physically and emotionally, and the aggressive temper of a Warlord Prince was now added to the possessive, protective side of their caste.
Daemonar sighed and ducked under the water. When he surfaced, he sighed again. “They giggle a lot. Especially when they’re together. Why do they giggle like that?”
“Because they’re girls.”
“That’s not much of an answer.”
“It’s the only one I’ve got, boyo. Young females are still females, and their minds are wondrous, strange, and confusing.”
Daemonar rolled his eyes. “It makes Titian and Jaenelle sound dumb, like some of the older girls in school. Except Jillian. She wouldn’t act dumb.”
Quick to defend, Lucivar thought. “Anything I need to know about?”
And a little too quick with that answer. Might be nothing, but Lucivar wouldn’t dismiss it until he’d had a chat with Jillian and knew it was nothing. Daemonar saw Jillian as an older sister, which meant she was his to protect and defend. So the boy would never admit to an adult that she was doing something dumb even if he thought she was doing something dumb.
Looked like it was time for a reminder talk about the difference between doing something dumb but not dangerous and doing something that put one of them in the position of needing the intervention of an adult—namely, him.
“They’re going to pick all the flowers,” Daemonar said.
Lucivar studied his son. “If you want to do something for your mother, you can help her weed the garden this evening. Then you can have some time alone with her. She’ll like that just as much as picked flowers.”