“Because I’m Dea al Mon.”


Hadn’t she thought along similar lines the day she’d clashed with Falonar in The Tavern?

“I’d like to make that visit, and I’d like some training with you, if you’re willing. But not just yet.” Weighing loyalties and confidences, she decided Chaosti was as much family to Lucivar as she was. “Something is going on here.”

“Lucivar’s decision to have some of the Eyriens leave Ebon Rih is not your concern, cousin.”

“No, it’s not, but he needs someone watching his back until they’re gone.”

“Isn’t that what his second-in-command is supposed to do?”

“That’s what a second-in-command is supposed to do,” she agreed. “But there’s more than one way to stab a man in the back.”

“Like striking at his family?” Chaosti tipped his head to indicate the other people in the eyrie.

She nodded. “Or good friends like Merry and Briggs.”

“Not wounds Lucivar would recover from easily,” Chaosti said.

“If at all.”

“Do you want me to stay?”

“No. But it wouldn’t hurt to have the Eyriens in Riada get a look at another side of the SaDiablo family.”

“Lucivar is with the other men now. I’ll go over there and personally give him the news that you’ve recovered.”

“Yeah. About that.” He helped her sit up, then pulled the covers away so she could swing her legs over the side of the bed. “Was Marian upset about me tearing up the place?”

“She said it has given her an opportunity to look at what’s been stored and pass along what is no longer needed.”

Meaning the hearth witch must have been shocked when she’d returned to her home. “Shit.”

He laughed as he helped her to her feet and bundled her into a robe. She didn’t need that much help. She was sure of it. But she wasn’t feeling steady enough to argue with a Warlord Prince and take care of herself.

He helped her to the bathroom, then helped her to the kitchen, where Jaenelle and Marian were talking.

“You’re looking wobbly, sugar,” Jaenelle said. “But you’ll do.” She sounded amused, but Surreal heard approval beneath the amusement.

“Jaenelle!” Marian scolded. “Be nice.”

“Instead of honest?” Jaenelle asked innocently.

Marian narrowed her eyes at Jaenelle, then gave Surreal a brilliant smile. “We’re glad you’re feeling better. Are you hungry?”

Surreal’s stomach growled. They all laughed.

“Auntie Srell!”

One moment she was standing on her own feet. The next, Daemonar flung himself at her and would have knocked her down if Chaosti hadn’t caught her. He positioned a chair behind her and laughed in her ear as he said, “We really do need to work on your defensive skills, cousin.”

She would have said something sharp and concise, but she was being hugged breathless by the boy in her lap.

“I’m sorry, Auntie Srell!”

“I know you are, boyo.” She gingerly put her arms around him. “I know.”

“Let Auntie Surreal sit by herself now and have something to eat,” Jaenelle said.

Daemonar scrambled off Surreal’s lap and into the chair next to hers. “Mama made good soup. You eat some. You eat too, Auntie J.!”

*Hell’s fire,* Surreal said on a Gray psychic thread aimed at Jaenelle. *He’s already got the bossy attitude.*

*Uh-huh.* Jaenelle set the table. *A Warlord Prince is born a Warlord Prince. Doesn’t take long for the personality traits of that caste to show up.*

*Any chance of me taking a bath by myself?*

*Only if you wait until nap time.* Jaenelle brought the bread and butter to the table while Marian ladled the soup.

They ate quietly. Surreal saw the fatigue in Jaenelle’s and Marian’s eyes, felt the fatigue in her own body. The past two days had been hard on all of them.

*One more step, Surreal,* Jaenelle said quietly. *You’ve cleansed your heart. In a day or two, when you’re feeling stronger, let Lucivar give you a chance to cleanse the past from your body.*

*I don’t understand.*

*You will.*

The door of the communal eyrie opened.

Since he was sparring with Zaranar, Lucivar didn’t look toward the door, but he noticed the refreshing scent of crisp, clean air—and he noticed the psychic scent of the male who entered.

Chaosti’s presence didn’t break his concentration, but it broke everyone else’s, including Zaranar’s. By rights, Lucivar should have thumped the man for getting distracted when an adversary stood in front of him, but he understood why Zaranar instinctively turned toward the door, so he deliberately stepped away, ending the sparring match.

Even when Chaosti was relaxed and wearing his Birthright Green Jewel, as he was now, there was something wild about his physical and psychic scents that made other men wary. That had been true of the young man Lucivar had met years ago, and it was more true of the mature leader who protected the people and land of the Dea al Mon. Hell’s fire, even Daemon recognized Chaosti as a serious adversary, despite the difference in the strength of Black against Gray.

It was fortunate for the Realm of Kaeleer that one man was married to Jaenelle and the other was related to Jaenelle. That connection was the only reason they were easy being in a room with each other—at least after the first minute, when they both struggled to leash their predatory natures.

So Lucivar didn’t take advantage of Zaranar’s distraction. Instead, he vanished his sparring stick and waited for Chaosti to cross the large room and join him.

No anger. No distress. But Lucivar didn’t feel the tight muscles in his shoulders relax until Chaosti smiled.

“Surreal is awake,” Chaosti said. “And since your boy has to divide his attention among his three favorite women, she’ll have some chance to eat in peace.”

Lucivar grinned. Surreal was back. Thank the Darkness for that.

“I’ve heard the Dea al Mon are skilled fighters,” Falonar said with a tight smile. “The most feared warriors in the Realm. Would you be willing to give us a demonstration?”

Chaosti turned toward Falonar. “The Dea al Mon and Eyriens don’t fight in the same way. I don’t think you would find our weapons impressive compared to your own.”

Having seen Dea al Mon weapons, Lucivar didn’t agree with that, but he recognized the diplomacy of a warrior who didn’t want to offend his hosts.

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