Daemon felt the meal he’d just eaten solidify into solid rock and sink his stomach to the floor.
*He didn’t,* Lucivar said on a spear thread.
*Oh, I think he did,* Daemon replied. He looked at Jaenelle and Marian—and wondered if he could run fast enough to get out of the room before one or both exploded. “He didn’t say anything to either of you?” “About what?” Jaenelle asked.
“About not joining us for Winsol?”
Their answer was a thunderous silence.
Wearing nothing but a long winter robe, Daemon slipped into the bedroom and joined Jaenelle, who was standing at the glass door that overlooked her private courtyard. Wrapping his arms around her, he drew her back against him to keep her warm and rubbed his cheek against her short golden hair.
“Are you upset about Father’s decision?” he asked.
“A little,” she replied. “But not surprised once I had time to think about it.”
Something more. He could see it in her face, reflected in the glass.
“Before I reached the age of majority, there were parties,” Jaenelle said. “Lots of them. The coven was still living here most of the time. The boyos too. Saetan attended an exhausting number of formal celebrations as the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan and stood as my escort for almost as many others. Then the coven and the boyos would go home to celebrate Winsol with their families.
“A dazzling whirl of people for six days. But on the eve of Winsol, just before midnight, Saetan would bring two cups of blooded rum to my sitting room. A toast to the living myth. I always found it embarrassing, being toasted like that. And then we would dance. A court dance. Very formal. Very traditional. A pattern that was only performed during this time of year.
“The next evening, the longest night of the year, was for family. No visitors. No outsiders. Just Mephis, Prothvar, Uncle Andulvar, Papa, and me. A simple dinner. Afterward, we would open the gifts from each other.”
“I don’t remember you and the High Lord having a private celebration,” he said.
“We didn’t these past two years. He stepped aside. For you.”
“I see,” Daemon said quietly. And he did. The Steward yielding to the Consort. The father yielding to the lover. The fact that he was the lover must have weighed heavily in Saetan’s decision.
He looked at their reflection in the glass. It was like watching Jaenelle delicately unwrap layers of her heart.
“What else?” he asked.
“Those years were a dazzle of people during Winsol,” she said. “A kaleidoscope of colors and faces. Even more so after I became the Queen of Ebon Askavi and had my own list of social events to attend as part of my duties as Queen. But the moment I remember clearly, the moment that stands out from each of those years, is that dance with Saetan.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”
He saw her lips press together in a tight line, could feel her breath shudder in and out. He held her and waited, watching their reflection.
“One day I’m going to wake up and realize I’ve gotten old.” She lifted her left hand. “You knew when you gave me this ring what the difference in our races would mean.”
“Some people spend a few years together and then part for one reason or another. Others have a few decades. And other people have a lifetime. I know what the difference in our races means, Lady. I’ll take every day that you’re willing to give me.”
She nodded. “That’s the point. You have social duties. We have social duties. But I don’t want these days to be a blur of events and faces. I want memories, Daemon. Of you. Of us. I want those clear moments that the heart holds on to. With you.”
“And with him.”
“Yes. With him too. You waited seventeen hundred years for the Queen you wanted to serve. Saetan waited fifty thousand.”
“A few days out of this celebration for just the two of us? That’s really what you want?”
“Yes, that’s really what I want.”
Something inside him relaxed. He kissed her temple. “Then that’s what we’ll do. And we can start with this.” He called in a rectangular box and held it out.
Jaenelle shook her head and turned as she took a step away from him. “We open the gifts on Winsol.”
Daemon smiled a very special smile—and watched her blush in response to it. “You need to open this one now so you can plan ahead for when you’ll use it.”
She hesitated, then took the box and opened it.
Watching her, he swallowed the urge to laugh and wondered how long she would stare at that little bit of nothing.
Finally she lifted the triangle of richly embroidered gold fabric out of the box. “What . . . ?”
“The ribbons circle your hips,” he said helpfully.
“Oh.” She vanished the box and held the triangle in position. “Oh.”
Seeing that bit of nothing in place, even held over a bulky winter robe, was enough to make his blood simmer.
“I thought we could have a private dinner sometime during Winsol,” Daemon said. “You could wear that under the dress you had made for our dance in the spooky house. Nothing but that.”
Even the thought of seeing her in that wisp of a dress made his c**k hard.
Blushing and still looking baffled, she said, “This is my present?”
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, leaving her in no doubt about the kind of memories he wanted to make tonight.
“No, lover,” he purred. “This is my present.”
On the third day of Winsol, Daemon walked into Lucivar’s eyrie and caught the boy who half leaped, half flew at him.
He gave Daemonar a smacking kiss on the cheek. “Hello, boyo. Are you being good?”
He and the boy both ignored the snarl that came from the kitchen in response to that question.
“You read me a story?” Daemonar asked.
“I guess we could read a story after—”
“You read me a story now?”
“Let me ask your papa.”
“We gotta tree. I show you!”
The boy was damn hard to hold on to once he started wiggling. Daemon put him down and watched him run to the other end of the room where another Craft-made tree sparkled.
“Look, Unka Daemon!”
Before Daemon could growl “No,” Daemonar kicked at the wrapped presents.
Then the front door opened, Marian and Jaenelle walked in, and Daemonar raced to meet them. Since it didn’t look like he was going to go around his uncle, Daemon prudently got out of the way.