“I what? Cat-puffed? What in the name of Hell is that?”
“I’m guessing it’s what a pissed-off feline does.”
“Well, that makes me sound scary.”
“No, it makes you sound like a rolly ball of fur. Regardless ...” Surreal grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him closer. “I’ll give you a choice. You can go up there and settle things with your daughter and her new friends, or you can take the second part of the discussion about why boy parts wiggle.”
He felt all the blood drain out of his head. “Why would there be a second part if the two of you already discussed this?”
“Because with Jaenelle Saetien, there is always a second part to a discussion.”
That was a frightening truth. “All right. I’ll meet these new friends.”
“One of them is in her room. The other is in the stables.”
“I take it these new friends have boy parts?”
Surreal released his shirt and leaned back. “Trust me, Sadi. Their boy parts are the least of your problems.”
Once Daemon was on his way to meet his daughter’s new friends, Surreal breathed out a shuddery sigh. No sign or scent of blood or wounds, so it wasn’t likely that he and Lucivar had done more than yell at each other.
If it had been anyone other than Lucivar, even if the man’s actions had been innocent or unintentional . . .
Sadi hadn’t looked like a man who had shattered the family by maiming or killing his brother. No, her sense of him when he’d walked into the study was that of a man who knew it would take some work to clean up the emotional mess he’d left behind when he’d thundered out of the Hall.
She called in her favorite stiletto and studied its edge.
She’d been twelve when she was raped, but the man hadn’t been strong enough to take more than her virginity. She’d come away from that bed with her Birthright Green Jewels and her power still intact.
Jaenelle Angelline had been twelve when she was raped. No one could have taken away Witch’s power—she stood too deep in the abyss for anyone to do that—but she had abandoned her body for almost two years, traveling roads in the Twisted Kingdom, and maybe even the Darkness itself, that no one else could walk. And what had been done to her in Briarwood had left emotional scars that had haunted her all her life.
Daemon had married two women who had been scarred by rape, and he wasn’t without scars himself—not with what she guessed had been done to him as a child and what he’d endured as a pleasure slave. So any hint that his daughter might be at risk of having the same kind of scars was enough to have his temper turn cold and brutal and committed to slaughter.
That was the mess Daemon had left her with this morning—trying to find a way to explain to a frightened girl why her darling papa had been so angry about the boy parts. Jaenelle Saetien had been more worried about getting Uncle Lucivar into trouble than whatever punishment she might face for failing to tell her father about the incident at the pool—and she’d been worried that she had somehow hurt her papa’s heart.
Which was true.
Surreal vanished the stiletto, grabbed two fistfuls of hair, and pulled gently to ease some of the ache around her skull.
Old memories were bound to start surfacing now that they were this close to Jaenelle Saetien’s Birthright Ceremony.
But old memories weren’t the only things surfacing now, and she didn’t know what to think about that.
Jaenelle Saetien’s new friend was a half-grown Arcerian cat named Kaele. A Warlord Prince who wore a Green Birthright Jewel.
May the Darkness have mercy on me, Daemon thought as the cat put himself between man and girl.
Kaele looked at Daemon and snarled.
Daemon looked at Kaele and snarled—and let his Black power thunder softly through the room, leaving no doubt about who was the dominant male.
“No no no,” Jaenelle said, throwing herself on the cat and clamping both arms around his neck. “Do not snarl at Papa! He won’t let us play if you snarl at him.”
*Why are you here?* Daemon asked on a spear thread.
*To be friends with your kitten,* Kaele replied. *And with you. The Weavers said it was time.*
There were rules for the wilder kindred to follow when they stayed at the Hall. He just couldn’t remember any of them.
Well, there was the most important one.
“Do not swat anyone or eat anyone without asking me first,” he said.
*I could ask the dogs,* Kaele said, clearly preferring to communicate with other kindred.
“No, you’ll ask me.” He trusted the Scelties for the most part, but the ones who lived at the Hall came from the Sceltie school Jaenelle Angelline and Ladvarian had begun and that he now co-owned with Ladvarian’s descendants. So these dogs were loyal to his family and very protective of his wife and daughter. Usually he was grateful for that, but with the presence of an Arcerian cat, he could see Morghann and Khary happily pointing out a human they didn’t like and putting the label of “dinner” on the fool.
“Are you mad at Uncle Lucivar?” Jaenelle asked in a small voice.
Daemon shook his head. “No, we got that sorted out. But I wish you had told me about it when I was more awake to understand what had happened.”
“I know.” She hugged Kaele’s neck hard enough to produce a grunt from the cat.
Daemon went down on one knee. “Come here, witch-child.”
She released the cat and came to him. Of course, the cat, being a Warlord Prince, came too.
He rested his hands on her shoulders, giving Kaele time to accept that he could touch his own daughter.
“Uncle Lucivar is going to hold you to his rules—and so am I. Do you understand that?”
“I’ve seen too many bad things, Jaenelle, and I’m afraid of what I would do if someone hurt you.”
“That’s what Mama said.”
“Your mother is a very smart woman.”
Jaenelle smiled. “She said that too.”
He kissed her cheek and hugged her, as much to reassure her as to comfort himself. As he held her, he sent out a delicate psychic probe. It wouldn’t invade her mind or thoughts, but it would give him a sense of her emotions, of whether she was as easy about seeing a naked man as she seemed to be.
And found something he hadn’t expected.
His daughter was keeping secrets from him.
He eased back and looked at her. Nothing haunted those gold eyes, but something was there. Something, he suddenly realized, that had been there on and off for the past few years—and more so in the past year as she got closer to her Birthright Ceremony.