“I brought some breakfast,” Cassidy said. “I wasn’t sure if you’d eaten yet, so I brought enough for two.”
“I could eat.” He’d gotten some food from the stable hands, but not enough to fill him.
Cassidy used Craft to balance the tray on air. Then she poured coffee for both of them. Splitting two rolls so they formed pockets, she handed one to Gray before spreading a thin layer of jam inside the other and filling it with scrambled eggs.
“Egg sandwich,” Cassidy said, smiling. “My father would make these out of whatever eggs were left over from breakfast, and put them in a chill box to eat later in the morning when he took a break from his work. For all the years they’ve been married, I’m still not sure he knows that my mother cooks extra just so he can make his egg sandwich.”
Gray stuffed the roll with scrambled eggs, then smeared a little jam on part of the roll. He took a bite and made a face.
“Too sweet?” Cassidy asked.
“Yes,” he said, glad he hadn’t smeared any more of the roll. “But it’s good,” he added quickly.
She laughed. She had a wonderful laugh, warm and earthy. Not the bright, brittle sound of cruelty.
“My mother and I like the jam with the eggs. My brother prefers this red sauce that’s a little spicy.”
“That sounds better.”
She gave him an odd look—and an even odder smile. Not bad, just odd.
He ate his sandwich and drank his coffee, not sure what else to do.
“You didn’t come back,” he said quietly. “I brought the barrow out for you each day, but you didn’t come back.” He’d also watered that flower bed late each night so the ground would stay rain soft and be easier for her to dig.
“I wanted to come back, but there’s been an awful lot of work to do. All these meetings and reports . . . Every time I’ve tried to take an hour in the garden, Theran has herded me to another meeting. I think he’s spending too much time with Vae, and he’s turning into a Sceltie.”
Gray laughed. He’d met the Sceltie and was more than willing to play a short game of fetch with her, but she did spend more time with Theran.
Cassidy poured more coffee for both of them. “Last night I decided I can only work so long and so hard without taking some time for myself, and I can spend some time in the garden each morning before getting cleaned up for the business part of the day.”
Gray felt light enough to float. “You’re going to come every day?”
She nodded. “I need some time to be Cassidy before I have to be ‘the Queen.’ I know there’s so much work to be done, but I need some time in the garden. I need this time.”
He set his cup back on the tray. “Then let’s not waste the time you have to be Cassidy.”
Smiling, Cassidy headed back to the house. Her arms and shoulders were a little tired and achy, but it was a good feeling to let her body work while her mind rested. Or while her mind focused on something besides maps and lists and persuading wary men to trust her enough to give her accurate information.
The Warlord Princes didn’t trust Queens. They needed them for themselves and for the rest of Dena Nehele, but they didn’t trust the caste of witches who had represented a brutal control for so long. Even the males who belonged to her were circling warily, and each action, each piece of information offered, was a way of testing the ground to find out what she would do, how she would respond.
Shira too was wary, but that had to do with her being a Black Widow and coming from the Shalador reserves. She wasn’t used to being accepted.
Were Shira and Ranon lovers? Or were they still dancing around each other?
Not her problem—she hoped. But wouldn’t it be lovely to watch two people fall in love?
About the only person here whom she could simply talk to was Gray, but even Gray was struggling with something whenever he was around her. At least they could talk about plants. At least there was the companionship and satisfaction of working together and seeing results.
Hours spent poring over maps might accomplish something in the long run, but an hour spent weeding a flower bed provided results she could see.
And Gray had provided her with something else this morning. She’d already sent her first report to Prince Sadi and a note to her mother, but now she had a reason to write to Clayton—and wouldn’t her brother be surprised at her request to send her a jar of the red sauce he liked so much?
Her smile widened to a grin as she pictured Clayton’s face when he read the note. Yes, this morning—
—had been a good morning. “Prince Theran.”
“Prince Powell has been waiting to go over the reports with you.”
“The Steward has plenty to do,” Cassidy said with stiff polite-ness. “Talking to me an hour ago or an hour from now won’t make any difference. And if I was truly needed for something immediately, I wasn’t hard to find.”
Theran’s lips tightened, as if he was struggling to hold back words that shouldn’t be said.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, Prince, I need to get ready for the day’s work.”
He stepped aside, letting her pass.
She wanted to like him, if for no better reason than he was her First Escort and that required them to work closely. But as she walked to her suite, she wondered if it was worth the effort to try to like a man who was making it more clear every day that he didn’t like her.
Theran stared at the gardens, at the plot of ground that was noticeably cleaner, and at his cousin who was still out there, sweating too hard over some damn patch of dirt. A wrong move when the back muscles were tight and tired and Gray would be down for days, sedated to quiet the pain.
But Cassidy had to have her ground cleared instead of focusing on what needed to be done, so Gray was out there working too long and too hard.
Damn her. Why couldn’t she leave the boy alone?
He’d done his best to keep her occupied, to pile up the work until she didn’t have a minute to think about playing with Gray and pushing the boy to tidy up the posies. But he hadn’t gotten to her room fast enough this morning to stop her, hadn’t even known she’d left her rooms until he’d knocked on her door to find out when she planned to get to work and Birdie had told him she was already gone.
Gone. Yeah, she was gone. And how long would it be before she got tired of watching Gray dig up weeds and figured out something else she could do with him?