Suspecting this would be the last bit of solitude she would have for most of the day, Cassidy sat down to eat a quiet breakfast.

Then a thought made her snort. She clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from spraying toast crumbs all over the table.

Theran Grayhaven would never be hers, but she wasn’t the one who would spend the next year on the receiving end of Vae’s attention.

*Theran? Theran! Those males are not herding properly. They are supposed to stay in this room to see the Queen. I will fetch them.*

“You don’t need—”

Why bother? Theran thought as Vae jumped off the platform that had been constructed for Lady Cassidy’s audiences. The little bitch didn’t listen to anything he said anyway, although she had plenty to say to him.

Of course, since the other men weren’t being held responsible for the dog’s welfare, they had no reason to pay attention to her.

But they were paying attention. Hard not to when a dog was standing on air so that she could bark in a man’s face. And she wasn’t floating at a height where she could nip at their heels, but was in a position to nip someone’s ass.

Vae charged around the room, nipping and barking and issuing orders.

*Come back here! It is time to meet the Queen! You there! Stop! Stubborn sheep.*

The men in the room moved closer to the platform. The ones who had been wandering returned, curious about what was causing so much commotion. Some of the men looked amused; some looked a little pissed off and were, no doubt, wondering what kind of trick he might be playing.

No question Ranon was more pissed off than amused. The Shalador Warlord Prince worked his way closer to the platform, gave the dog, who was now floating in front of him, a pointed look, then said, “Grayhaven, what is this?”

I am Vae. I am a Sceltie. I am kindred. I am a witch. I know my Craft. You are male and foolish. And human.*

Ranon blinked. “A witch? She’s a witch? That’s really a Purple Dusk Jewel?”

*Yes,* Vae replied before Theran could respond. *It is my Birthright Jewel. When I am older, I will make the Offering to the Darkness and get my other Jewel. I am going to help the Queen train her males. Especially Theran. It is time.*

Vae spun around and whapped Ranon in the face with her tail. *Theran? Theran! Go fetch the Queen.*

“Yeah, Theran,” Ranon said, stepping back to avoid being whapped in the face again. “Go fetch.”

Could be worse, Theran thought as he strode toward the previously unused wing of the mansion. At least Cassidy wasn’t a yapper as far as he could tell. And by the time he escorted Cassidy to the audience room, and the other Warlord Princes had spent that time with Vae, maybe they’d all find the new Queen a lot more palatable.

Maybe eating breakfast hadn’t been such a good idea, Cassidy thought as she and Theran walked down to the audience room.

He was ignoring Protocol by walking on her right to indicate his Jewels were dominant instead of walking on her left to indicate his power was in her service. He wasn’t offering his hand in the traditional escort position so that she could rest her hand on top of his. Maybe he thought it wasn’t necessary to follow those formalities until they were closer to the audience room, but the servants they had passed had noticed.

Prince Theran was sending a message that would trickle through the court and through the Blood who worked in the mansion: the new Queen wasn’t worthy of courtesy or respect.

He was setting her up to fail before she had a chance to try.

He doesn’t belong to you. Jaenelle recognized that the moment she saw the two of you in a room together.

But he was still Grayhaven. The Queen’s residence was his family’s home. The town was named after the Grayhaven estate. Theran’s opinion would matter far more than hers.

Theran opened a door and said, “The stairs to the platform are to your left.”

As she walked into the room and climbed the platform’s steps, she was aware of the silence that rippled from the front of the room to the back.

During the hours she’d spent at the Keep yesterday, Jaenelle had looked through her clothes and made suggestions for outfits appropriate for various functions. At first, she’d felt a spike of resentment. She wasn’t a child who needed to be told what to wear. In fact, she was five years older than Jaenelle. Then she realized she was being given the confirmation of a Sister, a fellow Queen, that her choices were correct—and the reason for the exercise had been to give her that confirmation, since she wasn’t likely to find any where she was going.

So she’d dressed with care for this first meeting, but she’d dressed for a working morning in a court—long skirt and matching jacket in a dark green that flattered her red hair and pale skin, along with a pale green shirt.

As she looked at the men who had made the decision to give their people a Queen from another Realm, she felt their disappointment roll over her like a heavy wave. She didn’t dress like a Queen. She didn’t look like what they had imagined.

Vae pushed her way to the platform, using shields to add heft to her small body to shove grown men out of her way.

*These males are grumpy sheep,* Vae said on a distaff thread, female to female. She floated on air above the platform to have the best view of the room. *You should choose the ones that belong to you so the rest can go outside and run.*

*I don’t think they want to run,* Cassidy replied.

*I will chase them. They will run. They will be less grumpy when they are tired.*

She doubted that the Warlord Princes would share Vae’s opinion about what they needed, but the Sceltie wouldn’t care about that. And she wouldn’t care that these men were bigger and some of them were more powerful. She had a job to do, and she would do it.

And so do you, Cassie. So do you.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” she said, using Craft to enhance her voice so that she could speak in a normal tone and still be heard at the back of the room. “I am Cassidy, from the Territory of Dharo in the Realm of Kaeleer. I’m here to help you restore Dena Nehele. I’m here to help your people.”

Disappointment. Despair. Bitterness. She felt those things flow around her. More than other men,Warlord Princes needed a relationship with a Queen to keep them mentally and emotionally balanced. All that power and lethal temper craved a leash. That was one reason so many bad Queens had come into power in this Realm. Once the good Queens were destroyed, the Warlord Princes gave their allegiance to whatever Queens were available—and became corrupted in the process. Or they held out, held themselves back from the very thing they needed, and served an ideal instead of a woman.