“Oh, no, Lady, you’ve—” He paused. Considered. Smiled as he opened a wall cabinet behind him, removed a key, and handed it to her. “You were quite forceful in your insistence that I give you the spare key so that you could put the Prince’s gift in his apartment rather than leaving it here at the desk.”
“Since he’s been on the receiving end of my insistence often enough, he’ll believe the part about my being forceful,” she said with a wink.
She climbed the stairs slowly and steadily, but she still heard the rasp in her lungs by the time she reached Rainier’s floor. How was he managing the stairs on that leg? Did he have sense enough to float down the stairways?
When she reached his door, she took a moment to catch her breath. No point starting a fight if she couldn’t yell at him.
She vanished the present, unlocked the door, and walked into his parlor, only to find Rainier standing there waiting for the intruder, looking pale and furious.
“Surreal . . .”
“You wear Opal; I wear Gray. I outrank you. Shut up.”
She could feel his temper taking a sharper edge, but he wasn’t a fool. His being a Warlord Prince couldn’t make up for the difference in their power.
“You were supposed to be visiting your family,” Surreal said.
“I did visit. Now I’m back.”
And sounding more bitter than when he’d left.
“Well, that’s good, actually, because the family is gathering at the Keep for Winsol. You and I will have a quiet dinner at the town house tonight, and tomorrow afternoon we’ll go up to the Keep.”
“Surreal, it’s a family gathering. I’m not family.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem.” She walked up to him, smiled, and slugged him in the shoulder hard enough to almost knock him off his feet. “Now you’re an honorary cousin. If you get pissy about this, I’m going to tell Daemon and Lucivar that you didn’t want to be family for Winsol because you didn’t want to be related to them.Won’t that be fun when they show up wanting an explanation?”
“Boyo, you have no idea.” She gave him a minute to appreciate just how cornered he really was. “So, are you still packed or do you need help?”
“I can take care of it tomorrow if you want to go back to the town house now,” Rainier said.
She bared her teeth in a smile. “You and your luggage are coming with me to the town house. Where you’ll be staying tonight.”
“I’m not going to run away.”
“Damn right, you’re not. I’m not going to face all of them by myself.”
He studied her. Then he sighed. “Fine. I’ll swap out some clothes. Give me a few minutes.”
“Don’t take long. The driver is waiting, and Helton will worry if I’m late.”
Rainier huffed out a laugh and limped to his bedroom.
Surreal closed her eyes. He didn’t need tears or pity or whatever else was being dished out. And he wouldn’t get those things. Not at the Keep.
But he would get the warmth of friends who cared about him. And he wouldn’t be alone for Winsol.
“Are you sure she’s home?” Lucivar asked as Daemon opened the cottage door. “There aren’t any lights on in the sitting room.”
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Daemon replied, touching the hallway candle-light so they could see as they headed for the kitchen. “Allista left this morning to spend a few days with her family, and Manny is celebrating with friends in the village. Tersa told both of them she was staying home tonight.”
As they walked into the kitchen, they saw her silhouetted against the open back door, oblivious to the cold air streaming into the cottage.
“Tersa,” Daemon called softly.
“It’s the boy,” she said, sounding puzzled as she looked from him to Lucivar. “Both my boys.”
“Yes,” Daemon said.
“Why are you here?”
Lucivar nudged her into the kitchen and closed the door. “We’ve decided to establish some family traditions. Winsol Eve is going to be a time for fathers and daughters to spend together.”
“And mothers and sons,” Daemon added.
“So we’re here to spend the evening with our mother,” Lucivar said.
“But . . .” She looked around, as if finally noticing where she was. “There is no food. I should prepare food?”
“We did that,” Daemon said, calling in several dishes and settling them gently on the kitchen table. “A couple of things need to be heated, and a few other things need the finishing touches.” He took off his overcoat and wrapped it around her, adding a warming spell.
Did she even realize she was shivering?
Lucivar pulled out a chair. “You sit down, and we’ll take care of things.”
“That does not seem fair,” Tersa said. “You are doing all the work.”
“Fine,” Lucivar said. “You can do the dishes after.”
“That is not fair!”
Lucivar grinned at her and winked at Daemon.
They talked, they laughed, and they ate. And as Tersa’s mind flowed between past and present, they learned more of who they had been when they had been her boys.
“We’d like to ask a favor,” Daemon said when he set out the plate of baked goods he’d wheedled out of Mrs. Beale. “A special gift we’d like you to give both of us if you can.”
She looked at them—not with the lucidity of madness, but with clear-sighted eyes. “Ask.”
So he asked. And after thinking about it for a minute, she said yes.
Saetan walked through one of the enclosed gardens at the Keep. Stark at this time of year, but not barren. Life slept beneath the snow, beneath the earth, waiting for the light to return.
The Blood came from the Darkness of the abyss—a power inherited from another race whose time as the guardians of the Realms had ended. So they honored the Darkness that separated them from the landens, that shaped their preferences and needs and desires.
Especially their desires.
“I understand now.”
Jaenelle’s voice came out of the darkness around him.
No, not Jaenelle’s voice, he thought as he turned. Too much midnight in that voice, too much of the abyss.
For a moment, when she took the first step toward him, he saw the Self that lived beneath her skin. Saw the living myth, dreams made flesh.