“Yes, you can. Just sit and read him stories. He loves that. And he’s housebroken, so you don’t have to worry about changing diapers.”

He couldn’t pay her enough to change a diaper. “I have to go.”

Lucivar gave her a smacking kiss on the forehead and was moving toward the door, saying, “Daemonar! I’ll be back soon.”

Little feet running. The sound of small boots smacking on a stone floor as Daemonar raced into the large front room. “Papa! I want to go with you!”

“Not today, boyo. Play nice with your auntie Surreal.” Lucivar looked at her. “One hour.”

He was outside and flying off before she reached the door.

“Lucivar!”

Sick shivers. Feverish heat. Too damn hard to breathe.

She closed the door and turned around. Daemonar gave her the sweetest smile.

She hadn’t been alone with a child since that night in the spooky house. Had made sure she was never alone with a child. But maybe this wouldn’t be too bad. After all, this was Lucivar’s home, not a place that had been designed as a trap to kill members of the family. And he’d promised he’d be back in an hour.

She slipped out of her coat and hung it on the coat tree near the door.

“You want to play a game, Auntie Srell?” Daemonar asked, following her into the kitchen.

“All right.” Her heart gave her chest another kick. “Let me put this food away first, and then we can play a game.”

Steak pie. Vegetable casserole. A small jar of chopped fruit to be served over sweet biscuits. She put everything but the biscuits in the cold box. Leaving those on the table, she set the basket on the counter and looked around.

“Daemonar?”

A little-boy giggle. “Come find me, Auntie Srell. Come find me.”

No.

She crept toward the archway that led to the large front room. “Daemonar?”

The patter of small boots on stone.

She moved fast, following the sound. The eyrie was a warren of rooms, but the boy should be easy enough to find. It wasn’t like he was being quiet.

Then there was no sound. None at all.

“Daemonar?”

She headed for the bedrooms, then heard, from behind her, “Come find me,” and the sound of feet running back toward the kitchen.

She dashed back to the kitchen and took a quick look under the table. It would be easy enough for a boy his size to dart between the chairs and hide.

No little boy under the table.

So damn hard to breathe. Had she drunk her healing brew this afternoon? Couldn’t remember.

She moved through the rooms, searching. Sometimes she heard a giggle, sometimes the scrape of boot on stone.

The worst is still to come.

The bad things hadn’t happened yet. She had time to find the boy. Lucivar’s little boy. Couldn’t let him get hurt by twisted bitches or lethally honed blades. Couldn’t let the bad things happen to him. Not to Lucivar’s boy.

The worst is still to come.

She opened a cupboard and saw serving bowls, platters, and other kinds of dishes—and heard a boy screaming and screaming and screaming. Then the screaming stopped, and she knew what that meant.

“Come find me.” Was that Daemonar saying that, or Trist?

The worst is still to come.

Her breath hitched, rasped in her chest, hurting her as she tried to draw in enough air to think, to move, to act. This time she wouldn’t fail. She would find the boy and get him out of this damn house, and she would find a way to get Marjane out of that tree before the crows took the girl’s eyes, and . . .

She dashed into the front room and glanced at the door. “Kester, no!”

A flashed image, as if a sight shield had dropped for a heartbeat. Just enough time for her to see the wings and the blood spraying everywhere as the Eyrien bastard ripped into the boy. Then gone.

Kester. Not Daemonar. Like Trist, Kester had died in the spooky house. She still had a chance to save Daemonar.

She tore through the bedrooms, opening every door and drawer she could find. She tore through the weapons room and Marian’s workroom and the laundry room, circling back to the kitchen, where she yanked out drawers and opened more doors.

She opened the cold box, then the door to the freeze box inside it—and stared at the little brown hand so freshly severed the fingers were still curling up against the cold.

She bolted across the kitchen, just reaching the sink before she vomited.

Then she stumbled out of the kitchen, stumbled around the eyrie, hearing Daemonar’s voice, sounding scared now, saying, “Auntie Srell?”

Couldn’t save him. Couldn’t save any of them. Not Trist, not Kester, not even Rainier. Not Jaenelle. Hadn’t been good enough, strong enough, fast enough to save them.

“Auntie Srell?”

And now the boy. Lucivar shouldn’t have trusted her with his precious boy.

She stumbled, hit a carpeted floor on her hands and knees, and went all the way down.

Tears and pain and poison. This time the poison would take her all the way down.

This time she wouldn’t fight it.

“Would you like some coffee?” Falonar asked.

Lucivar undid the buttons and belt on his winter cape but didn’t take it off. “No, thanks. I left Surreal alone with Daemonar, and I promised I would be back as soon as I could.” And I don’t want to drink whatever you’re offering.

A month ago he wouldn’t have thought twice about accepting food or drink at Falonar’s eyrie. When had that changed? And why? They’d always respected each other’s fighting ability and not liked each other much for anything else. That hadn’t changed. And while some of Falonar’s ideas about the Eyriens here had pissed him off, he wasn’t concerned, because he made the final decisions in Ebon Rih.

“We need more aristos living here to balance out the Eyriens who have common skills, to balance out our society,” Falonar said. “We should have another Healer. We should have a Priestess. If some of the Eyriens will be leaving Ebon Rih, bringing in others wouldn’t swell the numbers beyond what you’re willing to allow here. And aristo families would bring their own wealth, so they wouldn’t be a burden on your purse.”

Lucivar studied the other Warlord Prince and wished he felt easy enough to accept that cup of coffee. “I would be willing to consider Eyriens who have other skills to offer the community, whether they come from aristo families or not.”

Falonar looked puzzled. “Skills?”

“Healer. Priestess. Craftsman. Tailor. Seamstress. Although a couple of the women in the Doun settlement might be taking care of that last one.”

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