“Then Lucivar and I can just . . .” What? Put Ebon-gray and Black shields and locks around the room? That would keep Daemonar out, but it would also keep everyone else out of the room—including wives who wouldn’t appreciate being locked out.

“All right,” Daemon said, trying not to sigh. “Guard the room when it’s my turn. Don’t shield all the gifts.” He nudged the broken gift. “If you tell me where you got this, I’ll get it replaced in time.” I hope.

“That? You can dispose of it. It’s just a box of chipped teacups and broken figurines. Helene and Mrs. Beale keep a box of that stuff for just this kind of present.”

A red haze appeared in front of Daemon’s eyes. “What kind of present?”

“The kind that rattles enough to sound interesting. Especially once things inside the box start breaking.”

“You did this deliberately?”

“Yes.”

He was trying very hard to remember why he had looked forward to Winsol this year—and why he’d been happy to see his father a few minutes ago.

“Lesson two,” Saetan said. “Fragile or delicate gifts go in the back where they’re less likely to be noticed by inquisitive children. Even so, they are shielded individually and then are grouped together before a shield ‘netting’ is put over all of them, and that netting is then connected to the floor with Craft. However, there should be one breakable, disposable gift positioned in the front of the tree to catch a boy’s eye. That way, you have a chance of stopping him while he’s distracted by the fake present, and you’re not trying to explain the loss of an expensive gift.”

Daemon looked at the mounds of gifts. All this work to keep out one boy? What would happen if . . .

“Marian wants another baby,” he said.

A stiff moment of silence. Then Saetan said, “In that case, my darling, you’d better learn some of these spells and work on them until you can pull them together in a heartbeat.”

Or they could just all celebrate Winsol at the eyrie, and then it would be Lucivar’s responsibility to guard the gifts.

He considered the probability of getting out of guard duty no matter where the family gathered for Winsol—and sighed.

“Lesson three.” Saetan called in a small hourglass, turned it over, and set it on air. “Stay focused on the task. When I saw Lucivar racing away with Daemonar, I asked Jaenelle and Marian to have a leisurely cup of coffee before returning to this room.”

“Aren’t they going to suspect there’s a problem and that you were stalling them until it’s fixed?” Daemon asked.

“Of course they know there’s a problem. But this request is as time-honored as Protocol—and as strictly observed. All things considered, since those two do understand the males involved, I estimate you have ten minutes left to put everything back the way it was.”

Maybe he could tie a ribbon around his neck and curl up with the other fragile, delicate gifts.

“Gather up the pieces of wrapping paper that have the ribbons and name cards,” Saetan said.

He crawled around until he was fairly sure he’d gotten them all. Then he picked up the first box.

“That one is yours,” Saetan said.

“Mine?”

Warm pleasure flowed through him. A present. From his father.

As he started to coax the top part of the box off, Saetan reached over and clamped one hand on the box, holding it shut. When Saetan released the box . . .

Daemon wiggled the lid, then looked up in disbelief. “You locked the box. You Craft-locked my present.”

“On Winsol, when the gifts are being opened, this is your present,” Saetan said. “Until then, it’s still my box. And it stays locked.”

Fine. Ha! Saetan wore the Black. So did he. He wasn’t going to let . . .

There was some Red power twisted into the Black, changing a simple lock into a deviously elegant puzzle that would have to be untangled in order to open the box.

“You locked my present,” Daemon said, feeling sulky. “I’m an adult, and you locked my present.”

“You’re a son who was about to open a present before it was time to open the present,” Saetan replied mildly. Then he looked pointedly at the hourglass. “Do you really want to argue about this right now?”

He had to think about that for a minute.

“Find the name tag,” Saetan said, taking the box from him.

After handing that over too, he sat back on his heels.

Saetan set the piece of wrapping paper on the box and smoothed out the wrinkles. “You and Lucivar should be the ones handing out the gifts. Each person won’t notice one gift wrapped like this, but anyone handling several . . .”

As he watched, the wrapping paper grew out of the scrap and formed around the box.

“It’s best to work out your own illusion spell for this,” Saetan said. “That way, you’ll be able to do it quickly, since it usually needs to be done quickly.”

The illusion spell was good. If he hadn’t seen the paper forming around the box, he doubted he would have noticed the difference in texture. He wasn’t sure how someone “unwrapped” an illusion, but he’d find out on the day.

All the wrappings had been restored, he’d gathered up the rest of the scraps of paper and vanished the disposable gift, and he still had a few grains of sand left in the hourglass when he stood up and brushed himself off.

Saetan vanished the hourglass and returned the chair to its usual spot in the room.

They were both standing there, guarding the mound of perfectly wrapped presents, when Marian and Jaenelle walked into the room.

Jaenelle studied the two of them. Marian walked over to the tree, pursed her lips, then reached between two gifts and picked something up.

“The Prince and I have something to discuss, so we’ll leave you Ladies to finish sorting out the gifts,” Saetan said.

*We have something to discuss?* Daemon asked on a spear thread.

*Yes, we do.*

Judging by Saetan’s tone, he wasn’t expecting a pleasant discussion, but anything was better than staying in that room.

He reached the door when Marian said, “Daemon?”

Saetan left the room. Having no other safe choice, Daemon turned and waited for the Eyrien hearth witch.

There was something purely female about her expression as she walked up to him, adding to the impression that she was laughing at him.

He broke out in a cold sweat.

“You missed a piece,” she whispered as she held up a scrap of wrapping paper.

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