He took the paper, vanished it—and fled.

Catching up with Saetan, the two men retreated to the study, where Lucivar met them.

“I promised Kaelas and Jaal I’d get them a steer for Winsol dinner if they don’t let Daemonar out of the room where I stashed him,” Lucivar said.

“You promised them the equivalent amount of meat or a live animal?” Saetan asked.

“Apparently it doesn’t taste as good if it’s already cut up,” Lucivar muttered. “Or maybe it wasn’t as much fun to eat. They were a little vague about that.”

“I see.” Saetan delicately cleared his throat. “So you will get them to promise that they won’t eat their dinner within sight of the dining room windows, won’t you?”

Lucivar’s mouth opened and closed, but no sounds came out.

“Mother Night,” Daemon said. If people lost their appetites because a six-hundred-pound tiger and an eight-hundred-pound Arcerian cat were gorging on a fresh kill, Mrs. Beale would . . .

He wasn’t going to consider what Mrs. Beale would do to him and Lucivar.

“I’m almost sorry I’m going to miss this,” Saetan said with a smile. “Almost.”

In a heartbeat, Lucivar went from stumbling man to warrior. He shifted—one easy side step that effectively blocked any escape through the door.

Daemon moved in the other direction, drawing the eye, keeping the prey focused on what was in front of him instead of the danger behind him.

He and Lucivar had played out this game dozens of times. Hundreds of times. Once they had their prey caught between them . . . Concentrate on one of them, and the other one would be the attacker.

Saetan watched him. Being an intelligent man, he would know exactly what his sons were doing—and what role remained in their little three-person drama.

“I won’t be joining you for Winsol,” Saetan said quietly. “I stopped by today to drop off the gifts—and to tell you I’ll be staying at the Keep.”

“No,” Lucivar said.

“I don’t want to discuss this,” Saetan said, still watching Daemon. “I don’t want to argue about this. I’m asking you to accept this.”

“Why?” Daemon asked softly.

“I love you both. I do. But this . . . frenzy . . . is for young men.”

“Well, Hell’s fire,” Lucivar growled. “We’re not going to drag you to parties and things you don’t want to attend.” He looked at Daemon. “Right?”

“It’s not just that,” Saetan said. Then he raked one hand through his hair and sighed. “I did this. For decades, for centuries, I did this. The large parties. The social functions that I attended because it was expected of me as the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan. Houseguests and noise. You both have those responsibilities now, and that’s as it should be. But this year, I want peace during the longest night of the year. I want to walk in solitude through one of the gardens at the Keep. I want this. And I think I’ve earned this.”

Before Lucivar could snarl about it, Daemon said on a spear thread, *Don’t argue about it. Let it go.*

A slashing look was Lucivar’s only answer.

“That’s really what you want?” Daemon asked Saetan.

“It really is.” Saetan’s smile held a hint of sorrow—not for the decision, but for the argument he anticipated was still to come. “I don’t expect you to understand, but I’m asking you—both of you—to accept. As a gift to me.”

Daemon waited a beat, as if he were discussing it privately with Lucivar. Then he said, “All right. We’ll accept your decision—as our gift.”

“Thank you.” Saetan turned and raised an eyebrow at Lucivar, who reluctantly stepped aside.

The moment the study door closed behind their father, Lucivar turned on Daemon. “Are we really letting him do this? We’re going to let our father be alone for Winsol?”

“Yes, we are,” Daemon replied, moving closer. “He’s feeling his age, Prick. Andulvar, Mephis, and Prothvar are gone. Being here without them is hard. You know that was a large part of his decision to retire to the Keep.”

“They were gone last year too,” Lucivar argued.

“He was taking care of us last year. Me more than you. Jaenelle was so fragile, and I . . .”Wasn’t sure she would survive the winter. Wasn’t sure he would want to survive if she didn’t.

“I know.” Lucivar drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I don’t like it. He shouldn’t be alone on Winsol. None of them should, when it comes down to it. Geoffrey, Draca. Even Lorn. They shouldn’t be alone. Not for this celebration.”

“They won’t be.”

Lucivar frowned. “But you gave him your word.”

Daemon nodded. “He asked for a solitary Winsol, and we’ll give him that. Or something close to it. But we’ll find a way to give him family too. All of them.”

“When you figure out how to do that, you’ve got me for whatever you need.”

He smiled. “I love you, Prick.”

That lazy, arrogant smile. “Will you still say that if I decide to pour the contraceptive brew down the sink?”

“Yes. But not as often.”

Daemon eyed the plate of fudge that had ended up between Marian and Jaenelle and decided trying to take a piece wasn’t worth losing a hand. So he chose grapes and cheese to go with his after-dinner coffee.

It had been a fairly quiet dinner since Daemonar had fallen asleep halfway through the meal. Now that he wasn’t moving, he looked sweet and cuddly. At some point during the day, he had acquired a string of bells that he was wearing around his neck as his “Jewel.”

Daemon smiled at the sleeping boy. Daemonar had been delighted with the jingling sound. He and Lucivar had been even more delighted when they realized how easy it was to locate the little beast. Neither man had much hope of convincing Marian to make the bells a permanent accessory for the boy, but they were sure going to try to talk her into it.

“So,” Jaenelle said as she selected a piece of fudge. “I think we’re ready for Winsol.”

“I think we are,” Marian agreed.

“And I think the two of you are handling the High Lord’s decision very well,” Daemon said, raising his coffee cup in a salute.

“Decision?” Jaenelle asked. “Oh! That reminds me. Papa did say there was something the two of you needed to talk to us about.”

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