“I guess I should introduce myself to your other friend,” he said as he rose gracefully.
“You’ll like him.” She gave him an unsure but game smile that made him tremble.
He wasn’t sure he would like this friend, but unless he hated the male on sight, he’d let things slide. At least for today. But before he met this second friend, he wanted to have a word with his wife.
Surreal was still sitting on the sofa in his study, so he didn’t have to hunt for her.
“Hell’s fire,” she said, grinning. “If your father could see the look on your face, he’d laugh himself silly.”
He sank down beside her, feeling boneless. “There is an Arcerian cat in the Hall again.”
“I know. I met him. You need to put strengthening spells on Jaenelle’s bed—and think about getting her a bigger bed if he’s intending to be a frequent visitor.”
“Since he’s in the stables, I’m assuming her other friend has fur and boy parts?”
“He does. He also has a spiral horn—and his name is Moondancer. He can trace his bloodlines back to a Warlord Prince named Kaetien.”
Daemon heard the wobble in her voice. He turned his head and studied her, seeing enough in her eyes before she looked away.
He cupped her face in his hands. “Talk to me, Surreal. What do you know?”
Shaky. Of course, this whole day must have stirred up memories for her too.
“Jaenelle Saetien is keeping secrets. Even if she had a reason for not telling me, she might have told you.”
“Let it go, Sadi.”
“I can’t. Not today.”
Surreal pulled away. He released her face but closed one hand around her wrist.
“Surreal,” he said gently. He could see her struggling to decide what to tell him.
“A special friend,” she finally said. “A secret friend. Someone she’s known ‘forever,’ which I take to mean these past few years.”
“How could someone have slipped into the Hall without our being aware of it?”
“No one could. But she doesn’t see this friend here at home. She meets this friend in dreams.”
Daemon forgot how to breathe. “Have you asked . . . ?”
Surreal shook her head. “She was upset about telling me. She didn’t want to break Lucivar’s rules, especially now that she knew how upset it would make you, but she didn’t want to tell me because it wasn’t time for us to know about this friend. So I told her it was all right to keep the secret for a while longer.”
She meets this friend in dreams.
He didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what to feel.
“Daemon?” Surreal wrapped her hand around his other wrist. “Aren’t you wondering?”
He felt dizzy, off balance. “About something in particular? I’ve wondered about too much already today.”
“The wild kindred races withdrew from most human contact decades ago. Even most of the wolves don’t talk to us directly; they maintain contact with the two packs who have stayed connected to the family. Now there’s an Arcerian cat descended from Kaelas visiting here. There is a unicorn descended from Kaetien. The Scelties who live with us now are named Morghann and Khary, and we didn’t name them. Are a tiger and dragon going to show up in the next few weeks?”
He rested his forehead against hers. “You think this has something to do with Jaenelle’s special friend?”
“I don’t know, but what I’m wondering is this: What do the kindred know that we don’t?”
The Birthright Ceremony. A rite of passage. One of the most important days in a child’s life.
And in a father’s life.
A dozen aristo families gathered at a Sanctuary in a central Dhemlan Province to witness the children who would be gifted with their Birthright Jewels—and to witness the fathers who would be legally gifted with their children.
Because one of those children was the daughter of Prince Daemon Sadi and Lady Surreal SaDiablo, the Sanctuary grounds were packed with Queens, both District and Province, and aristos from every Province in Dhemlan as well as the whole SaDiablo family.
Surreal stood apart from the rest of the parents, ignoring the nervous glances being cast her way by the Queens and other adults. Sometimes several children went through the Birthright Ceremony on the same day. Sometimes only one child stood at the altar and resonated in the Darkness, drawing the particular Jewel that matched who and what she was.
They had decided to let Jaenelle Saetien participate at the same time as other children—which meant the second part of the Ceremony would also be public. That was the reason everyone was keeping their distance from her. There was one father who was a danger to them all if anything went wrong today.
“And they still brought their children here,” she growled.
“Did you really think they wouldn’t want to watch the spectacle?” Lucivar asked as he came up beside her.
“If I were them, I would stay far away from this place today.”
“Is that why we’re doing this at a Sanctuary near one of the family’s estates instead of in Halaway?”
“This was Sadi’s choice. I think . . .” Because it was Lucivar, she slipped an arm through his and voiced the worry that had gnawed at her ever since Daemon announced where the Birthright Ceremony would take place. “I think he chose this Sanctuary and this estate so that he would have someplace to run to if anything went wrong. There won’t be memories of this day at the Hall.”
“Is something going to go wrong?” Lucivar asked, giving her a sharp look.
Surreal shook her head. “No, I made my choice the first time I saw Daemon’s face when he looked at his daughter. I’m just not sure what his choice will be after today.” She tried to smile in response to Lucivar’s unspoken question. “After today, when his daughter is irrevocably his, he may not feel the need to stay married.”
“Is that your way of warning me that you’re leaving him?”
“No,” she said softly. “I’m not leaving him.” Don’t do this. Not today. “I did want to warn you about something else.”
“Has Titian said anything about the incident this summer when you and the children were at the pool?”
“She said something to Marian.”
It was obvious he wasn’t thrilled about what was said, but he was accepting it—and maybe even felt a little relieved.