“Prince Grayhaven honors me.”
She sounded sincere enough, but he couldn’t read any emotion on that plain face.
“Shall we go in to dinner?” Saetan asked, stepping to one side.
Lady Cassidy hurried out of the room with Jaenelle right behind her. When the High Lord walked out of the room, the door began to close.
Theran took a step forward, then pulled up short when Sadi’s hand wrapped around his arm, the long nails pricking him through shirt and jacket.
“For a man who has lived in such a dangerous Territory, it’s odd that you’ve never learned to hide what you think,” Daemon said too softly.
“I didn’t say anything improper,” Theran snapped.
“You didn’t have to. You’ve made your opinion very clear, Grayhaven. So. Are you still going to join us for dinner, or should I make your excuses for you?”
“What are you talking about?” Theran pulled away, unnerved by the chilling contempt he saw in Daemon’s eyes.
“You rejected Lady Cassidy.”
“I did no such thing!”
“Don’t lie to me, boyo. You didn’t even try to hide your opinion when you saw her.”
“Well, what did you expect?” Theran let some of his own anger show. “Do you really think the other Warlord Princes will accept her?”
“That depends,” Daemon said with vicious control, “on whether they’re looking for someone to rule their people according to the Old Ways or trying to picture her riding their cocks.”
“This isn’t what I bargained for!”
“This is exactly what you bargained for,” Daemon replied as he glided toward the door. Then he stopped and looked at Theran. “Being the last of Jared’s bloodline got you this much and this far. But I’ll tell you this now. If you had declared yourself Consort instead of First Escort, I’d kill you where you stand to spare her enduring one minute with you in bed.”
Daemon didn’t open the door. He used Craft to pass through the wood.
Theran stumbled over to a chair and sank into it.
No wonder this Queen had been available. No wonder she hadn’t demanded more compensation for ruling a Territory. She was a Queen because she’d been born into that caste, just as he had been born a Warlord Prince.
But no one wanted her. Who in the name of Hell would want her?
They’d saddled him with a castoff, and he was stuck with her. Dena Nehele needed a Queen too desperately for him to go back home without her. So he would swallow his pride, go in to dinner, and bring Lady Cassidy to Dena Nehele to meet the rest of the Warlord Princes. And he would do the best he could for his people with what little she could offer.
A few steps away from the dining room, Jaenelle had linked arms with Cassidy and pulled her into another room.
“But,” Cassidy had protested, “dinner—”
“Will wait.” Jaenelle released her and stepped away. “What do you think of Grayhaven?”
Cassidy shrugged, not willing to voice her opinion.
Jaenelle pursed her lips. “As Lucivar would say, if you keep chewing on that gristle, sooner or later you’re going to choke. So just spit it out.”
Those last words were snapped out—and Cassidy snapped back.
“Did you see the look on his face when he realized I was the one who was supposed to go to Dena Nehele?”
“Explain ‘supposed to.’”
“He doesn’t want me in his precious Territory, doesn’t want me ruling his people, and as sure as the sun doesn’t shine in Hell, he doesn’t want to serve me. So why am I doing this?”
“Because no matter what he wants—or thinks he wants—his land and his people need you,” Jaenelle replied.
A truth lodged in her heart and throat, choking her. She tried to swallow it, because it shamed her, but the words tumbled out. “He feels like my old First Circle.” Like the men who had turned their backs on her for a younger Queen they found more exciting.
Jaenelle gave her a sharp look. “Yes,” she said slowly,“he would feel like your First Circle, since he has something in common with them. He doesn’t belong to you.”
“I don’t want him as a pet,” Cassidy snapped. Then added silently, Or anything else.
“Don’t be obtuse.”
Cassidy shivered at the hint of midnight in Jaenelle’s voice and remembered to whom she spoke. “My apologies, Lady.”
Jaenelle walked over to the windows and stared outside for a minute before turning back to Cassidy.
“A simple truth, Sister,” Jaenelle said. “Theran Grayhaven doesn’t belong to you. He never will. He doesn’t understand that yet, but you need to accept it. As First Escort, consider him your personal guard and your companion at official functions. In time you might be able to be friends, and even if you’re not, you may be able to work well together for the common goal of restoring Dena Nehele. But he’ll never be a member of your court in the truest sense. Don’t expect him to be.”
An awkward silence filled the room. Awkward for her, Cassidy admitted. Witch simply studied her—and waited.
“Shall we join the men for dinner?” Jaenelle finally asked. “Or should I make your excuses and send Prince Theran back to Dena Nehele alone?”
Remembering the previous evening, Cassidy gingerly pulled aside the curtains, looked out a grimy window, and thought, It’s only for a year.
And if the rest of the days were anything like the journey to Dena Nehele, it would be a long year.
Of course, she probably wasn’t the only one counting the days until Theran could take her back to Ebon Askavi. Especially after her rejection of the Queen’s suite.
It had been obvious that people had worked hard to clean up the suite, but she could barely stand being in the rooms. She couldn’t consider living there. She didn’t know what could have been done in a Queen’s bedroom to make the room feel like that, but an oppressive, gleeful cruelty seemed to pulse from the walls.
She had bolted. She’d stood in the hallway, trying not to be sick, trying to explain why she couldn’t use the suite.
Theran had listened, tight-lipped and angry, as if her inability to use the suite that had been prepared for her was an insult to his people—or confirmed his own opinion of her inadequacy to be the Territory Queen. Finally he’d said,“The Lady must do as she pleases.”
Close enough to Protocol. Avoiding the wing of the mansion that Theran had chosen as his family’s residence, she quickly explored the rest of the available living quarters and found a suite of rooms that seemed to welcome her, even though the rooms were dusty and clearly hadn’t been used in a long time.