Sylvia looked back at Saetan. *Is that . . . ?*
*Haeze’s brother? Yes.*
She listened for a minute as the boy in charge explained the rules everyone had to follow in order to be a resident of the Hall.
Pushing against the panel, she floated back to Saetan. *Who is the Keeper of the Rules?*
*The first cildru dyathe to choose to live here instead of on their island. Daemon rescued him from the spooky house several years ago and brought him to me. In his way, he’s made the same choice another cildru dyathe made long ago—to be the leader of this band of children and help the others adjust and survive and let go when they’re ready.*
She caught something the boy said, and looked more closely at the man. *You can’t help the ones who don’t trust adults enough to accept help, but you help these children, don’t you? You’re the one who comes to read them stories or listen to them or give them a hug. Aren’t you?*
*Some came from loving homes. Others never knew the comfort of a hug. Not from a father or a mother.*
Everything has a price. Suddenly she knew what he was asking of her in exchange for spending time with her own sons—to be a maternal presence for the children who had never known any. To help them with their unfinished business. To give them a sense of family. With him.
Linking her arm with his, she tipped her head toward the door. He took them out of the room, then waited for her to indicate a direction. Instead she just looked at him.
“I asked you once, and I understand better now why you gave me the answer you did,” she said. “But everything has changed, so I’m going to ask again. Will you marry me, Saetan?”
She saw shock in his eyes, swiftly followed by joy, which was just as swiftly followed by caution.
“Can you promise me that you won’t stay one day longer than you truly want to?” he asked.
“I promise you that.”
“Then I will be honored to be your husband for all the days that come before that day.”
She threw her arms around him and held him as tightly as he held her.
“What kind of wedding would you like?” he asked.
She eased back enough to look at him. “A fast one.”
Sylvia had to wait a week for her wedding because Jaenelle wouldn’t allow Beron to travel to the Keep until every tiny part of his ears, eyes, and throat had healed completely. She chafed about the delay, but approved of the reason.
The Priestess from Riada came to the Keep to perform the marriage ceremony. The food for the living guests had been provided by Mrs. Beale from the Hall and Merry from The Tavern.
Sylvia’s father and brother had been invited. They weren’t able to smudge that line between the living and the dead and had refused to attend. But her sons were there, along with Marian and Lucivar, Daemonar, Jillian and Nurian, Tersa and Manny, Surreal and Rainier, Daemon and Jaenelle, and plenty of kindred who were also members of this pieced-together family.
Saetan slipped an arm around her waist and held out a ravenglass goblet of yarbarah. “How are you doing, Lady Sylvia?”
Accepting the goblet, she narrowed her eyes. “Mikal and Daemonar are about to get into some mischief. They’ve got that look.”
“You think so?” he asked, laughing softly.
The boys had barely taken a step before they were flanked by Scelties and blocked by Kaelas. In that moment, Sylvia saw three male heads turn in that direction—Daemon, Lucivar, and Rainier.
She pressed her lips together to keep from laughing aloud, since Mikal looked so annoyed at having his fun stopped before it started.
She took a sip of the yarbarah, then handed back the goblet. “I appreciate the sentiment, and the dress is gorgeous, but Jaenelle shouldn’t have harassed the dressmakers to get it made for the wedding.” The wedding ring, a square-cut ruby with flanking diamonds, had come from Banard’s shop. It wasn’t custom-made like the dress, but it had been chosen with care.
“My darling, Jaenelle would never harass a dressmaker or be as demanding about fit and style.”
Sylvia brushed a hand over the rich red fabric. “Then who ... ?”
“Daemon, however, makes up for being demanding by knowing exactly what he wants—and being a very generous patron of some of Amdarh’s more exclusive establishments.”
She felt the room tip a little when she considered the rest of the wedding gift. “The lingerie? Jaenelle or Surreal chose that. Didn’t they?”
Saetan just looked at her.
“Oh, Hell’s fire.”
“Has it occurred to you yet that Daemon and Lucivar are now your stepsons?”
“Don’t threaten me on my wedding day, SaDiablo.”
He burst out laughing.
A minute later, Jaenelle came up to them and gave Sylvia a bright smile that would have scared her right down to her toes if she’d still had any.
“I need to borrow your wife,” Jaenelle told Saetan. “Lady Sylvia and I need to have a little chat.”
Daemon picked up the first letter from the thick stack on his desk and swore softly. The swearing became more vigorous and creative as he worked his way through the stack. By the time Rainier walked into the study to go over the week’s assignments, Daemon was one wrong word away from exploding.
“What in the name of Hell are these?” he roared, dropping the letters on the blackwood desk.
Rainier winced. “Ah. I was hoping to get here before you saw those.”
“And they are?”
“Just what they seem—offers from District Queens all around Dhemlan to become the new Queen of Halaway. And the same offer from a few young Queens from other Territories.”
“I know who rules in my Territory, Rainier. Some of these women rule towns or cities that are larger—and more profitable—than a small village, and others already rule a handful of villages. They’re going to give up that income to rule Halaway?”
Rainier looked uncomfortable. “You read the letters? Of course you did.”
“So I know that the letters addressed to the Province Queen, of which there are few, are sincere offers to add Halaway to the villages under the Ladies’ rule because every village needs to be held by someone. But most of these . . .”
He stopped. Even after more than a decade of marriage, he still felt the raw fury of a vulnerable man whose reputation could be compromised. But that was his state of mind, and he had no right to whip Rainier with that fury.
“Why did we get these at all?” he asked through gritted teeth. “Shouldn’t a committee from the village or the Province Queen sort through these and present me with a short list for final approval?”