Not going to happen, Theran thought as he went back into the house. He and Gray were the same height, the same build. They both had dark hair and green eyes. The women he’d bedded had considered him a good-looking man and skilled enough to be welcomed back for a second night.

He didn’t want Cassidy. Who would? But her voice was the kind that could heat a man’s blood—as long as he didn’t have to look at her face.

So he’d do his duty to court and family—and give Lady Cassidy enough reasons not to give Gray another thought.

Theran couldn’t put off the unpalatable duty any longer. Cassidy had retired to her suite, and the First Circle was ready to have an hour or two without dancing for the Queen’s pleasure. Not that there had been any dancing. Or much of anything else once they had gathered in this sitting room after dinner.

Picking up the shawl Cassidy had left behind, he smiled at the other men and started to open the sitting room door. “Guess this is my signal.”

Startled silence.

“Meaning what?” Ranon asked, sitting up straighter in his chair.

“You know.”

“I thought that duty wasn’t required of a First Escort,” Talon said.

Theran shrugged. “Not required, but it can be requested.”

He wasn’t sure about that. Wasn’t sure if offering wasn’t crossing some line according to those books of Protocol Cassidy had brought with her. But he figured a woman who hadn’t gotten a ride for a few days wasn’t going to turn down an offer, even if it wasn’t strictly following the damn rules.

“Theran,” Ranon said, sounding concerned. “Are you sure about this?”

He wasn’t sure about anything except that he had to do something to keep Gray safe. He smiled again. “I can fulfill my duties to the Queen. When it comes right down to it, all women look the same in the dark.”

A rustle of material outside the room, but no one was there when he opened the door.

Hell’s fire. Had a maid been standing there eavesdropping? Didn’t matter.

He took his time walking up to that wing of the house, but he still arrived at Cassidy’s door much too soon. He knocked twice, and when she finally opened the door, he noticed that the spots on her face seemed to be popping out of her pale skin more than usual.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

She just stared at him.

“You left your shawl down in the sitting room.”

No response.

“May I come in?”

“No.” Hoarsely spoken, as if she was fighting back some strong emotion.

“Lady?”

“All women may look the same in the dark, but all men don’t feel the same. In fact, a woman will find out more about a man’s true nature in the dark than she’ll ever see in the light of day.”

Hell’s fire. She was the one who had been standing outside the door. “Look, I just—”

“I don’t need your penis, and I don’t need your pity.”

She slammed the door in his face, and a moment later he felt a Rose lock on the door.

“Shit,” Theran muttered. He folded the shawl and left it outside her door—and wondered how much groveling he would have to do in the morning.

CHAPTER 13

TERREILLE

All women look the same in the dark.

Did you really think I was excited about being with you? I worked damn hard in your bed, Cassidy, and thank the Darkness you never wanted a ride in daylight.

All women look the same in the dark.

Five years when you were all I could have. At least with Lady Kermilla I won’t need a drug to keep myself hard in order to fulfill my duties.

All women look the same in the dark. All women. All women.

Dreams. Memories. Lashed by words spoken by her previous Consort on the day he left her court and by Theran last night, Cassidy headed for the gardens as soon as there was enough light. She couldn’t stay in the house, couldn’t breathe in the house.

It hurt to think, hurt to feel, hurt to remember.

Theran didn’t want her, wasn’t even supposed to make that kind of offer. A First Escort wasn’t a Consort. She didn’t want a Consort. Didn’t want another man telling her she wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, hot enough, arousing enough, whatever enough she wasn’t, because she could only be who she was, and she didn’t want to be hurt like that. Not ever again.

And even now, when she should have been free of that kind of pain because no man here was required to warm her bed, Theran had shoved that truth in her face.

She was good enough when bedding her could be used to feed ambition or provide relief, but she would never be wanted for herself.

“No tools,” she muttered. “Need tools.”

She entered the big stone shed as quietly as possible, but the clunk of shovels was enough to have Gray pulling aside the old blanket that served as a door to his room.

“Cassidy?”

Couldn’t talk to him now. Couldn’t talk to anyone. “Go back to sleep, Gray. It’s early. I just needed to get some tools.” Shovel, hoe, rake, short-handled claw.

“You’re going to start weeding now?”

“Yes.” Hard to hold all of them. Easier to vanish them and call them back in when she got to the bed where she planned to work. But she didn’t want easier. Not today. Easier wouldn’t help her run from the words.

“Okay,” Gray said. “I’ll just—”

“No.” Cassidy tried to hold back anger, hurt, all the feelings that wanted to lash out at someone, anyone. “I need to work alone. You need to leave me alone.”

She ran from the shed and stopped at a part of the garden that looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. The ground here wasn’t soft like the bed she’d been working on with Gray. This ground would require muscle, sweat, even pain.

Nothing easy. Not here.

All women look the same in the dark.

Did you really think I was excited about being with you?

She had to move. Had to. Work. Move. Keep moving. Don’t think. Because if she let the words keep ripping at her heart, she’d simply lie down and not get up again.

Ebon ASKAVI

Lucivar closed the door of the sitting room, took a moment to get a feel for what kind of temper he was about to meet, and didn’t like the answer. Didn’t like it at all.

“Draca told me you were here,” he said.

Daemon turned away from the windows. “I received the first report from Cassidy.”

“Is she doing all right?”

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