Darkness descended as palace residents and guests gathered for dinner, all dressed grandly for the occasion. Lilith had left the staff with orders to seat Dixon at her left, Edmond to her right.
Dixon was disappointed that Marshall would occupy the position directly across the table, as he would like to have spoken with the man. Now he couldn’t do so without speaking before Lilith.
Farther down the table, Rowena’s sisters, Sally and Janine, sat near their Oathtakers, Ronald and Gisele. A number of other palace regulars filled the remaining places.
Dixon had had no time to himself all day. Edmond, with him unceasingly, suggested one activity after another: a hike, target shooting, even ales before dinner. Dixon was getting the uneasy feeling that Lilith had called upon his friend to keep an eye on him. He knew Edmond was concerned for his welfare, but felt it insincere of him to do Lilith’s bidding without first apprising him of the details. And if all that wasn’t enough, now he had to sit through a stuffy, pretentious dinner.
Lilith had sent out a public notice earlier providing that the rank of leader of the first family had reverted back to Rowena’s siblings. More specifically, it had reverted to her. Accordingly, she was to be last to enter the dining room.
Only a few empty seats remained. In his frustration, Dixon leaned back and closed his eyes. He kept his hands clasped behind his head. He tried to breathe easily and to remain calm, but it was difficult, knowing that Lilith was taking Rowena’s place, and of course, he could tell no one the truth—that Lilith was not the ranking member of the first family—without also disclosing the truth about Reigna and Eden.
Minutes later, Lilith arrived. Guests pushed back their chairs, got to their feet and quietly applauded. Dixon huffed, then joined them. He didn’t care that he was the last to do so. He clapped once . . . twice.
She stood in the doorway, her right arm resting on Marshall’s, her left cuddled around Pompom. Her red dress—for Lilith always wore red—made her look as though she’d bathed in someone’s blood. It shone in the lamplight, spraying sparkles around the room. Cut to expose a great deal of flesh, it hugged her body like a second skin.
She sauntered toward the dining table, stopping momentarily to hand her pet off to an attendant. Pompom barked her discontent.
When Lilith arrived at her seat, she simply stood. The applause died away.
A moment passed.
Another moment passed.
Then, suddenly and simultaneously, both Dixon and Edmond rushed to pull out her chair. Edmond won the tug of war. He assisted Lilith, then remained standing until both she and Dixon sat.
The Oathtaker scowled. His frustration building, he remained silent. He was tired of Lilith’s games. He was tired of the band on his arm and the physical discomfort it caused by cutting him off from his magic. Strange how much more vivid something is when it’s absent. But most of all, he was tired of his inability to leave the palace and return to Mara’s side.
He wondered if his being cooperative and malleable was the right approach. It only seemed to encourage Lilith. Perhaps being surly would work better. He had nothing to lose in trying.
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