She looked at Theran. Was he relieved a formal court was established? Upset about her offering her blood to Talon? She couldn’t read him, couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

And she suddenly felt too tired to care.

“Gentlemen, it’s been a long day. Prince Powell, please send the Province Queens my regrets and ask them to meet me tomorrow morning.”

Tense silence.

“Aren’t the Province Queens aware that the Warlord Princes chose a Territory Queen?” Cassidy asked.

“There are no Province Queens,” Talon said.

“All Territories are divided into Provinces and Districts,” Cassidy said. “There must be Province Queens.”

“They all died two years ago,” Talon said. “The psychic storm that swept through Terreille took all of them.”

Cassidy sank into the chair behind the table. “District Queens?”

“A few,” Talon said. “The ones who are too old or weak to be a threat to anyone. Or the ones too young to form a court and rule anything.”

Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful. She’d thought the Warlord Princes of Dena Nehele had gone outside their own Territory because there wasn’t a Queen they were willing to have rule over all of them. Theran hadn’t said there weren’t any Queens to help her.

She pressed both hands flat against the table and closed her eyes. What was she supposed to do?

Poppi laying out the pieces of wood, the nails and screws, the tools.

“When you’re not sure of what you’ve got, Kitten, lay it all out and take a look,” he said. “Then you decide if you can make something out of what you’ve got, even if it wasn’t the thing you had in mind. Or you figure out what else you need in order to make what you want.”

“Prince Powell,” Cassidy said, keeping her eyes closed because it was easier to deal with them all when she imagined she was talking to Poppi or her brother, Clayton. “I need a map of Dena Nehele that will show me the whole of the Territory and the Provinces. Then I need maps of each Province that will show me all the towns, villages, and cities, both Blood and landen.”

“I’ll look in the Steward’s office and see what I can find,” Powell said.

“Then I need a list of all the Queens in Dena Nehele, where each one lives, and what Jewels she wears. That includes the girls who aren’t yet old enough to rule. I also need a list of the Warlord Princes, where they live, and their rank. Prince Talon, you’ll be in charge of obtaining that information.”

“That won’t be easy,” Ranon said. “The Shalador Queens who are left survived by not making their whereabouts known. None of them are going to want to be on a hunting list.”

Cassidy opened her eyes and looked at Ranon. “Then you’ll have to convince them.”

A flash of something in his dark eyes told her how deeply his loyalties were being challenged—and his choice would tell her whether she could trust him.

He looked in her eyes and said, “Your will is my life.”

“Anything else?” Cassidy asked. When no one spoke, she pushed her chair back and stood up. “In that case, gentlemen, I would prefer to dine in my rooms this evening, so I’ll bid you a good evening. Lady Shira, would you join me?”

Shira looked startled and stammered her answer. “It would be my pleasure, Lady.”

Cassidy didn’t give Theran time to protest or even think to offer himself as escort, which he should have done. She didn’t care how it looked or what the men thought. She hustled Shira out of the room, and the only person who made an effort to catch up to them was Vae.

“You didn’t want to dine with your court?” Shira asked.

“Not tonight,” Cassidy replied.

“Are you feeling tired because of the blood loss?”

*She is just tired of talking to males,Vae said, trotting ahead of them. *You are female, so you are not yappy like males.*

Vae turned a corner, leading the way back to Cassidy’s suite. The two women walked in silence for a minute. Then Shira said, “Is she always so honest?”

Cassidy sighed. “She’s a Sceltie.”

CHAPTER 12

TERREILLE

Gray rolled the wheelbarrow to the edge of the partially weeded flower bed, just as he’d done for the past few days. weeded flower bed, just as he’d done for the past few

Cassie hadn’t come back. She knew the land needed to be loved, and he’d thought she’d enjoyed working in the garden. So why didn’t she come back?

He’d felt good working with her, listening to that husky voice as she asked him questions about the flowers. Smelling her, although he hadn’t dared get close enough to get a good sniff.

He dreamed about her last night. Not a bad dream like he had sometimes about the other Queen. In this dream, Cassidy was helping him into a beautiful coat that had been made just for him. But it didn’t quite fit. It frustrated him—and scared him—that it didn’t quite fit. Then Cassie had smiled sadly and told him the coat couldn’t be changed. If he wanted to wear it, he would have to change until it fit him the way it should.

He woke up with his heart pounding, on the verge of tears. He wanted to wear that coat. Had been born to wear that coat. But he didn’t know how to change to make it fit.

Cassie knew. Cassie would help him change in the right way.

Why didn’t she come back?

Maybe he could find Theran. Maybe he could go inside the house long enough to find Theran and ask why Cassie hadn’t come back.

Shivering at the thought of being inside those walls again, Gray turned to look at the house . . . and saw Cassie standing right there, holding a large tray.

He yelped. She jumped back, and the dishes on the tray rattled. He jumped forward to grab the tray—and his hands closed over hers. Touched her skin.

He stared at their hands and wanted to touch her skin forever.

“Gray? Are you all right?” she asked.

“What?”

“I’m sorry I startled you. I guess you didn’t hear me calling.”

“You called me on a psychic thread?” His heart pounded, but he wasn’t sure if it was fear or happiness.

Cassie looked startled. “Oh. No. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“You wouldn’t be intruding.” He wanted to hear her inside his head, wanted to feel her inside him. But . . . maybe not too far inside him. Even if she already knew the secret the other Queen had tried to rip out of his mind, maybe it wasn’t safe to let her inside too many of his inner barriers. But he wouldn’t have to open any of his inner barriers in order to talk to her on a psychic thread.

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