His back slammed into the house. The Eyrien’s forearm pressed against his chest, holding him in place.

Hell’s fire. He hadn’t even seen the man move.

“The only reason a woman does that to herself is because she’s running from pain that hurts a lot more,” the Eyrien snarled. “And in my experience, the source of that kind of pain is usually attached to a cock. I’m guessing you’re the reason she was out there this morning. Whatever the problem is, you’d better fix it. Because if I ever find her in that shape again, boyo, I will skin you alive.”

The Eyrien stepped back. Theran sagged against the wall.

The Eyrien looked at Ranon, who stiffened but offered no challenge. “Does the Master of the Guard live in this house?”

“Yes,” Ranon replied. “But he’s not available until sundown.”

“I’m aware of that. I have a delivery for him. And a few things to discuss.”

The Eyrien walked into the house. No one asked him where he was going.

“Mother Night,” Ranon said. Then he looked at Theran. “You all right?”

“Bruises. Nothing more.” Except he had looked at death.

The Eyrien wasn’t bluffing about skinning him alive.

Cassidy walked into the healing room Shira had set up in the wing that held the working rooms for the court.

“What’s going on?” Shira said. “Ranon keeps calling me on a psychic thread, telling me to get to the healing room as fast as I can, and I’ve never heard him sound so nervous. What’s . . . ?”

Cassidy held out her hands.

“Mother Night!”

Shira hurried around the table where she mixed her tonics and healing brews. Her hands hovered around Cassidy’s but didn’t touch.

Cassidy kept her eyes fixed on a spot over Shira’s left shoulder. “Can you fix them?”

Shira let out a quivering sigh. “I think so. It’s going to take a while just to clean them out and see how bad it really is, but I think so.” She led Cassidy to a chair at one end of the table.

Cassidy sat quietly, cocooned in pain. She didn’t pay attention as Shira hustled around the healing room, gathering supplies and starting a series of different brews to cleanse and heal. But she did look over when Shira placed a basin on the table.

“What’s that for?” she asked.

Shira gave her a long look. “This isn’t going to be easy, and I’m thinking one or both of us is going to need to puke in that basin before this is done.”

Gray followed the Eyrien who had dared to dump cold water over Cassie. Who had yelled at Cassie.


Why didn’t Theran or Ranon say anything? Why did they let him do that?

The bastard had no right. He—“had no right!”

The Eyrien stopped and turned his head just enough to indicate he knew someone was behind him. Had probably known all along.

The man was power and temper like he’d never felt before, but he would have his say.

“She’s our Queen!” Gray shouted. “Ours! You had no right to be scolding her or getting her wet.”

The Eyrien turned to look at him. “Your Queen,” he said quietly. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

His eyes filled with frustrated tears. “She wouldn’t let me. She ordered me to stay away, to leave her alone. And she got hurt.” His shoulders sagged. “She got hurt.”

The Eyrien took a step closer. “The first law is not obedience. The first law is to honor, cherish, and protect. The second is to serve. The third is to obey.”

“But if you don’t obey, you get punished.”

The Eyrien studied him. “Everything has a price. You take a chance of being punished, even killed, for challenging a Queen even if you’re doing it to protect her, but you accept that risk and do what you should. If the Queen is truly worthy of your loyalty, she’ll understand the reason for the challenge and back down. Doesn’t mean she’ll like it or be happy with the man, but she’ll back down.”

“She told everyone to leave her alone.” It had been so painful to watch her, to know she was hurting and not be able to stop her.

“Someone hurt her and—”

“Who?” Gray felt something in him stir. “Who hurt Cassie?”

“I don’t know, and that’s healthier for everyone,” the Eyrien said. “I do know she was hurting before she went out into the garden, and she was trying to sweat out some of the hurt and temper. Her First Escort should have given her an hour; then he should have used Protocol to stop her. And if that didn’t work, he should have fought her into the ground.”

Gray frowned. “Protocol? But those are just words.”

“Yeah. And one sentence that used the right words could have stopped this.”

He’d gotten a glimpse of Cassie’s hands. One sentence could have stopped that?

The Eyrien made a sound. Annoyance? Disgust? “This court is supposed to be learning the Old Ways. I know Lady Cassidy brought books of Protocol with her. Haven’t any of you looked at them?”

“Don’t know.” Gray rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “If I had said the sentence, she would have stopped before she got hurt?”

It was the way the Eyrien looked at him that made Gray wonder what the man saw.

“A Queen doesn’t like having a man set his heels down and get ready to fight her about something, so if you use Protocol to stop her, she’ll probably swear at you. A lot.”

“That’s it? She’ll swear at me?” He wouldn’t like it, but that didn’t sound so bad. “Will she hit?”

“Depends on the woman. I’ve gotten slugged in the arm more than once because I annoyed a witch who needed to be protected from herself.” The Eyrien shrugged. “I can take a bruised muscle a lot easier than I can take watching someone I care about get hurt.”

If he learned the Protocol, then . . .

Gray looked around and realized where he was. He’d been so focused on catching up to the Eyrien and yelling at the man for dumping water on Cassie, he hadn’t paid attention.

“Nothing is going to come at you,” the Eyrien said,“because there is nothing here that can get past me.”

He knew. Somehow this stranger knew.

“Who are you?” Gray whispered. He wanted to curl up and hide, wanted to run.

“Lucivar. And you?”

“Gray.” His body shook with the effort to stand there and not run, not hide, not scream out the old fear until his voice was gone.

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