TERREILLE

“You brainless, pigheaded ass.”

Theran stopped at the edge of the terrace and faced Cassidy, choking on the words that razored his throat. He wanted to fight, wanted to spew out his own opinions and disappointments, but he didn’t dare. Not after Talon returned from an unexplained visit to the Keep and told him flat out that from now on, the Master of the Guard would back the Queen in any dispute, no questions asked.

So no matter what Lady Cassidy did or said, if she complained about him, he would be in the wrong.

The only good thing about Cassidy snapping at him this morning was the look on Gray’s face. Maybe his cousin would start to realize Cassidy wasn’t so wonderful after all.

“No need to be pointing the way,” a rough voice said. “When her temper is on the boil, the girl sounds just like her mother.”

Cassidy’s eyes widened with a strange kind of apprehension. “Poppi?” she said as she turned toward the terrace doors and looked at the burly stranger. “Poppi?”

“Hello, Kitten.”

The look on her face as she launched herself at the man, who hugged her hard enough to lift her off her feet.

I’ve never seen her happy, Theran thought, feeling uncomfortable about that realization because he might be partly to blame.

*Who is he?* Gray asked as he joined Theran on the edge of the terrace.

The psychic communication startled Theran since Gray used it so rarely.

*I don’t know,* Theran replied. *But he seems to know her well.*

A flash of something from Gray, gone too fast to identify.

The man set Cassidy down, then smiled broadly as he ran his hands down her arms. But his smile faded as he held her hands, his thumbs brushing her palms. Sadness clouded his face as he looked at her hands.

“Poppi . . . ,” Cassidy began.

“No,” he said firmly. “It’s best if we not have words about this.” He nodded as if he’d made some decision. “Yes, I think it’s best.”

Theran caught sight of Ranon coming up behind the stranger and figured it was time to do his duty as First Escort before Ranon did it for him. So he said, “Lady?” in a tone that politely demanded information.

“Oh.” Looking flustered, Cassidy linked her arm with the stranger’s and turned to face him. “Poppi, this is Prince Theran Grayhaven, my First Escort. And that’s his cousin, Gray.” She looked over her shoulder. “And that’s Prince Ranon.”

“Gentlemen,” the man said, touching two fingers to the brim of an old brown hat.

Certainly doesn’t look worried about facing Warlord Princes, Theran thought.

“Prince Theran, gentlemen, this is my father, Lord Burle.”

Theran saw Gray’s eyes widen.

“Your father’s come to visit?” Gray asked.

“Yes,” Cassidy said.

“Not exactly,” Burle said. Letting go of Cassidy, he pulled a piece of paper from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to Cassidy.

She opened it, read it—and just stared at it until Theran wanted to rip it out of her hands and find out what in the name of Hell was going on.

“I don’t understand,” Cassidy finally said.

“Seems clear enough,” Burle said.

“I asked Prince Sadi to send a bed, a dresser, and a bookcase,” Cassidy said.

“You left out a few details, Kitten. Instead of sending something that may not be what you wanted, the Prince sent me. Four days of my time to cobble together the furniture you wanted. If it takes longer than that to get it all done, I might have some pieces already made that will do, or we can negotiate for more time. I brought tools and lumber and other things. Was brought down by Coach, courtesy of Prince Sadi. The driver says he can leave the Coach as a supply shed while I’m here, but it’s still sitting on the landing web beyond the gates and needs to be moved out of the way, so he’ll set it wherever you want before he heads back to Kaeleer.”

“I can take care of that,” Ranon said, looking at Cassidy. “You want it near the house?”

“Actually . . .” Cassidy looked flustered. “The furniture is for Gray, so somewhere near the back of the gardens would probably be more convenient.”

“For me?” Gray said, looking stunned.

“In that case,” Burle said, “perhaps Prince Gray could give me a few minutes of his time and show me the space and give me some thoughts about what might suit him.”

“But you just got here,” Cassidy protested.

“And I’ll be here for the next few days,” Burle replied. “But when I’m paid for a full day’s work, I give a full day’s work. So you get on with your work, and I’ll get on with mine, and I’ll see you at dinner. Go on, now. Git.”

“Are you allowed to talk to a Queen like that?” Gray asked.

“Hell’s fire, no,” Burle said, laughing. “But I’m not talking to a Queen now, am I? I’m talking to my daughter.” He gave Cassidy a comically fierce look. “You still here?”

“Fine,” Cassidy grumbled as a smile tugged her lips. “I’m going.”

Didn’t take much brainpower to figure out Lord Burle was going to be reporting personally to Prince Sadi when he went home, so Theran extended his right hand and said politely,“Lady, if you’re ready, the Steward is waiting to review some information about the Provinces.”

His conduct as he escorted her into the house was absolutely correct.

Too bad she looked so stunned by it.

Cassie’s father. This man is Cassie’s father.

Gray couldn’t keep his mind on anything but the big man walking beside him—including where he put his feet—so he kept tripping over nothing.

“I guess you’ve known Cassie for a long time,” Gray said.

“All her life,” Burle replied with an odd smile and a twinkle in his eyes.

Fool. Idiot. Gray wanted to smack himself. Now he was tripping over his tongue as well as his feet. Could he sound any dumber? Why couldn’t he sound like Theran or Ranon or any other grown man?

And why did it suddenly matter so much that this man didn’t look at him and see a boy easily dismissed?

“I guess Cassie was upset about the stuff in the shed,” Gray said.

“I didn’t see the note myself, but I gathered she was pretty riled about it,” Burle replied.

“She didn’t need to get riled. It’s not important.”

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