Now the illusion was gone and it was time to officially shoulder two other titles: patriarch of the SaDiablo family—and High Lord of Hell.

Daemon escorted Surreal to the large sitting room in the family wing of the Hall. He thought she’d been steady enough when they’d left the Keep, but maybe he shouldn’t have left her alone in the Coach. Maybe she’d been pushing grief away as fiercely as he’d been.

This sitting room had a lived-in shabbiness seen nowhere else in the Hall, a kind of broken-in comfort. Only family and close friends were invited to this room. Bookshelves held the books of immediate interest, cupboards held toys for Titian and games for Daemonar and Mikal, and there were separate cupboards for the Scelties’ toys and chewies. There was a hodgepodge of sofas, chairs, lamps, and tables, and a round table that served as a game table as well as a place to have a light meal.

It was a private room that wasn’t meant to be seen by any but the most trusted.

“Beale is bringing up something to eat,” Daemon said, watching Surreal weave around the room, barely avoiding the furniture. The last time he’d seen her this way, the last time he’d spent time with her in this room while she’d cried and sworn and ripped a chair to pieces before she’d fallen into an exhausted sleep, was the night after Rainier died and was taken to the Keep to make the transition to demon-dead.

“I’m not hungry.” Her voice was stripped of emotion.

“I’m not either, but we should both try to eat.”

She moved as if she were drunk, but that lack of grace was caused by exhaustion and the grief finally breaking through her control.

“Do you remember the first time the High Lord kicked you out of his study?” Daemon asked.

“He kicked you out too,” she grumbled as tears slid down her face.

“Because of you.”

“It wasn’t my fault Kaelas helped Graysfang get past the shields I’d put around my bedroom.”

“You didn’t see Saetan’s face when you said you’d rather have a wolf in your bed than a man because a wolf could lick his own balls.”

She laughed a little and wiped at the tears, but they kept flowing. “He let me be family. I wasn’t, not by birth or blood, but he didn’t care about that. He treated me like family, hugging and scolding and . . .”

The effort to hold back a sob seemed to break her completely.

“Surreal.” Daemon gathered her up and held her close. Not a child who needed protection. Not anymore. If he’d protected her at times in her life, she had also protected him. And Jaenelle. They had circled around it for a lot of years, but he recognized that he and Surreal had developed a partnership committed to Jaenelle.

“That stupid bastard!” Surreal cried. “I want to kick his ass for dying on us!”

“So do I,” he said, holding her tighter as his eyes filled with tears. “So do I. But it was time for him to go.”

“That’s not the point.”

That little bit of snarl helped her regain some emotional balance. When she eased back, he let her go—and felt strangely hollow.

“Surreal . . .”

She scooted around him, heading for the bathroom adjoining the sitting room. “I’m going to wash my face. If Beale hears me sniffling, he’ll have ten Healers up here trying to listen to my chest. My lungs healed decades ago, but if I so much as sneeze, he’s there with sweaters and blankets. And Helton is even worse about . . .”

Whatever else she said was lost when she closed the bathroom door.

Calling in a handkerchief, Daemon wiped his own face and was sufficiently tidy when Beale brought in the tray.

“It’s done?” Beale asked.

“Yes, it’s done. Saetan is a whisper in the Darkness.”

“Then please accept our condolences.”

“Thank you, Beale. And please tell Mrs. Beale that I appreciate her preparing something for Lady Surreal and me so late in the evening.”

“I’ll tell her. Holt is staying with your mother and Mikal tonight. Lady Tersa has been . . . distracted . . . today, and since there is no journeymaid staying with her at the moment, we thought it best if someone was at the cottage.”

“I agree. I should have thought of it myself when Tersa decided not to come with us.” Daemon glanced at the clock on the mantel. “There’s no point disturbing them tonight. I’ll talk to Tersa and Mikal tomorrow. And Manny.” He’d have to walk carefully around his chat with Manny. She’d been feeling her years lately and had begun fussing about what would happen to the Blood who became demon-dead when Saetan no longer ruled Hell. “Do you agree?”

If Beale was surprised to be asked the question, he didn’t show it. “Yes . . . Prince. I agree.”

High Lord. The title hung in the air between them, proving that Beale had been aware of a great many things these past years and had kept his own counsel.

“For now, it will remain Prince Sadi,” Daemon said, then added silently, At least in public and in this Realm.

“Understood.”

Surreal emerged from the bathroom a moment after Beale left the sitting room, making Daemon suspect that she’d waited in order to avoid the butler.

“Any better?” he asked gently.

She shook her head. “Sadi? Could I stay here with you tonight?”

He’d been reaching for one of the covers on the dishes. He stopped and looked at her. “Of course you can stay. Your suite is always ready for you.”

She swallowed hard. “No. Could I stay with you tonight?”

He stared at her, sure he’d misunderstood.

“I don’t want to be alone.” She let out a watery laugh as the tears started again. “There are probably a hundred people in this house, so it’s not like being alone . . .”

Yes, it is, he thought. He’d been surrounded by those people too, but he’d still felt painfully alone after Jaenelle died. And still felt alone most of the time—and still sometimes had the dream where he looked in a mirror and saw the hole in his chest where his heart had been.

“Surreal.” He put his arms around her, wanting to give her some measure of the comfort she was seeking—and found some comfort when she wrapped her arms around him.

My father is dead.

The two people who had truly understood him in ways no one else ever could were gone.

He brushed his lips over her temple and felt something inside him stir. It had been so long since he’d held someone, and even longer since he’d dared hold someone when he was feeling vulnerable.


Tags: Anne Bishop The Black Jewels Science Fiction
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