“Including you?”

Barely enough light to see his face, but enough to know it was a serious question.

“Sometimes I have an idea for a piece of furniture,” Burle said, “and I build it just the way I see it in my mind, exactly the way it suits me to build it out of particular materials. I take pride in the work. Some people will like it and some won’t, but it’s all mine. And then there are other times when I’m hired to help someone build a piece of furniture the way they want it built. Their vision, their design. I’ll make suggestions if I foresee a problem in the design or materials, but I’m not the designer, Kitten. I’m the skilled laborer who’s helping someone else create something that matters to them. And even if I think it could have been done differently—or better—I respect what they’re trying to do and give them the best work I can.

“You’ve been here a few weeks. Prince Theran’s been here his whole life, watching what bad Queens did to his land and his people. I’ve been working with Gray this afternoon, and he’s told me a fair amount about his cousin. Enough for me to figure out that Theran wants to do right by his people and do right by Dena Nehele. The name Grayhaven means something here, and it’s a weight as well as a privilege to carry the name.”

“So I should help him build a new foundation the way he thinks it should be built?” Which reminded her of one of Burle’s sayings: Don’t go knocking down a wall because you think the room will look better when all you were asked to do was paint.

“A year from now, you can walk away from these people and their problems. He can’t. Won’t. Is he pigheaded?” Burle shrugged. “Probably couldn’t have survived if he wasn’t.”

Nothing to say when Poppi put it like that.

“I’ll tell you what else I figured out in these few hours. You and Theran might not be as far apart as you both seem to think.” Burle smiled and patted her hand. “You’re looking to prove something to yourself. He’s looking to prove something to his people. Maybe, Kitten, the reason you’re scrapping instead of working together is that you both want too much too fast, and you’re getting in your own way.”



Cassidy pulled her nightgown over her head, then pressed a hand against her abdomen. A heaviness, settling low. A dull ache that got more pronounced every time she stood up this evening.

Well, Shira warned her that it would hurt more if she delayed her moontime. Looked like she was going to find out how much more.

She called in her supplies and tucked them in a bathroom drawer where they would be handy, then got into bed, feeling chilled despite the mild night. She plumped up pillows and opened the book she was reading. But she didn’t feel like reading.

When she first arrived in Dena Nehele, it felt like an adventure, like a chance to do something good. Since then, she felt like she was constantly slogging through emotional mud that was knee-deep and getting deeper. She could see the value of looking at this like a contract job, but that didn’t seem to be working either, because every time she’d asked Theran what he would like to do about anything, he danced away from giving her a straight answer. He opposed her suggestions but wouldn’t make any of his own because that wasn’t a First Escort’s duty.

And why not? If his reason for opposing her suggestions was superior knowledge of what was happening in the Provinces and villages, why didn’t he share the information?

Sweet Darkness, she missed her father, and he’d left only yesterday.

Cassidy snorted. “Left out a few details in my letter, my eye.” The dresser had already been made, and the wood had been cut for a small bookcase. Since he’d brought a mattress as part of the supplies, her father had had a good idea of how big the bed could be.

It had been an excuse to come visit, but she wasn’t sure whose idea it had been—her father’s, Prince Sadi’s, or the High Lord’s. Didn’t matter. Besides her own time with Poppi, her father’s visit had done so much good for Gray. One of Burle’s sayings was “Work hard, but work smart,” and his practical balance of when to use muscle and when to use Craft—and when to rest—helped Gray feel less wounded.

And the occasional silly smile on Gray’s face, combined with a twinkle in Burle’s eyes, meant her father had been telling tales about her. She might have wondered more about what was said if Gray hadn’t found the courage to enter the house and join them for meals the last day Burle was there.

That had been her father’s finest piece of work.

The only person who hadn’t warmed to Burle was Theran, who had remained freezingly polite. Even Talon, after he’d realized Burle wasn’t uneasy about being around someone who was demon-dead, joined them in the evenings to play cards or just talk.

Only Theran had viewed her less-than-aristo background as further proof that she wasn’t worthy of ruling Dena Nehele.

“Let him take a piss in the wind,” Cassidy muttered, putting the book aside, since even reading seemed too much effort tonight.

As she pulled the covers up and tried to find a comfortable position, she heard Craft-enhanced scratching on her suite’s door.

*Cassie? Cassie!*

To avoid getting out of bed, she used Craft to open the door to the suite and the glass doors that led into her bedroom.

*You are not downstairs with the males,* Vae said as soon as she entered the bedroom.

“Needed some quiet time tonight,” Cassidy replied. And needed some time to think about what she was going to do in the morning when every male around her would react to the scent of moon’s blood—and to the fact that she would be vulnerable, unable to use her own power during the first three days without causing herself debilitating pain.

*You are not well?* Vae asked.

An odd hesitation in the question, and the same phrasing a human would use to ask about such a personal subject. But why would the Sceltie know, or care, about her moontime?

“Want to keep me company?” Cassidy asked.

Vae jumped up on the bed and lay down next to her. Cassidy put her arm around the dog and cuddled closer, the warmth of that furry body soon easing the ache in her lower belly as her muscles relaxed.

Sighing, she shifted her head to a more comfortable spot on the pillows, and fell sleep.

Vae dozed on and off throughout the night, waiting for the change in scent that would tell her for certain if Cassie was moody because her sire had gone home or if it was the blood time that meant Cassie wasn’t safe around males. Even the males who were supposed to protect her.

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