As she rounded a corner, she thought, I guess I was worried over noth—
Theran drew in a breath, no doubt getting ready to “ask” why it had taken her so long to come down when the Steward and others were waiting for her.
Then his nostrils flared. His eyes glazed. And the look in those eyes was predatory, not protective.
“Cassidy,” Theran growled.
She took a step back. Took another. “I need some air. I’ll join you in the Steward’s office in a few minutes.”
“I need some air!”
She turned and headed for the nearest door that would take her out of the house. She almost made it, almost got the outside door open, when Ranon stormed into the room, moving with an intent that made it plain he had caught the scent and come after her.
The glazed eyes. The power and savagery. Warlord Princes rising to the killing edge and honing their tempers to lethal intensity because of a blood scent.
She knew she should direct that savagery, turn it into a fierce kind of service. She was a Queen, and dealing with a Warlord Prince when he rode the killing edge was part of her training.
“Lady,” Ranon snarled, taking a step toward her.
If she trusted him, trusted any of them, she could stand her ground and find a way to keep things from turning deadly. But she looked into Ranon’s eyes and realized he had taken advantage of those vulnerable days to kill witches he had hated, and right now, he was struggling not to see her as prey, not to see her as he’d seen most other Queens.
One hundred Warlord Princes in Dena Nehele. For the first time, she understood what they must have done to survive, how much blood they must have spilled to keep the failing heart of their people from being destroyed completely.
“I need some air,” Cassidy said, easing herself out the door. “Take care of your duties, Prince. I’ll join you shortly.”
Did he sense the lie?
Fool. You should have gone to the Keep last night when you suspected this would start.
But she hadn’t been frightened last night. Not really frightened. She’d had a false confidence, based on her experience with the Warlord Princes in Jaenelle’s court. She’d never felt threatened by those men, even the most powerful among them. Hell’s fire, Lucivar didn’t waste time discussing anything with a witch during her moontime. He’d simply pick her up and haul her to wherever he wanted her to be, and that was the end of it. If she was lucky—and he was feeling generous in a snarly kind of way—the witch would have a choice of what she was going to eat and whether she had one blanket tucked around her or two.
Despite his power and temper, despite what she’d heard he could do when he rode the killing edge, she had never had a moment when she’d thought Lucivar would hurt her.
Her thoughts fled in every direction. She kept her head down and her eyes focused on the ground as she hurried without considering where she was going. When strong hands grabbed her upper arms, she let out a breathless shriek.
“Cassie?” Gray asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Gray,” she gasped. “Nothing’s wrong. I was just . . .”
His nostrils flared. His eyes glazed. And a friend was replaced by a stranger whose hands tightened on her arms when she tried to step back.
“You’re hurt,” Gray said, his voice roughened by a temper turned unpredictable. “You need the Healer.”
He started to pull her toward the house. She dug her heels into the ground, resisting.
“I don’t need a Healer, Gray. I’m not hurt.”
“You’re bleeding. I can smell it.”
Mother Night. “It’s moon’s blood, Gray. You know about moon’s blood. Don’t you?”
Did he? Boys didn’t notice the smell of moon’s blood until they began to mature sexually. When she’d first met him, Gray’s psychic scent had said “boy” despite his physical maturity.
“I know about it,” Gray finally said.
There was just enough hesitation in his voice for her to wonder if she could believe him.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” Gray said. “You should be inside. Someone should be looking after you.”
Well, he knew that much.
She thought of going back inside, thought of the look in Theran’s eyes—and Ranon’s eyes—and shuddered.
“Too many people in the house.”
“You mean too many males.”
His hands gentled. His voice gentled. “You need to rest, Cassie.”
“I—” She couldn’t deny it without lying, so she said nothing.
Gray released her, then slid a hand down her arm until he could take her hand. “Come on. You can take a nap in my bed. You’ll be safe there.”
Gray’s little room in the shed. A quiet, private place where she could gather her wits and her courage.
She didn’t argue with him when he coaxed her to lie down on the bed her father had built. She didn’t argue when he removed her shoes.
She didn’t resist when he tucked himself in beside her.
“Get some rest, Cassie,” he said quietly. “You can rest.”
His fingertips gently stroked her forehead, stroked her hair. Such a soothing motion. When he told her to close her eyes, she obeyed.
Cradled by the warmth of him, she fell asleep.
Gray watched her sleep. That sunset hair, with its streaks of honey, was spread over his pillow. He studied that wonderful face with its crop of freckles. An honest face. A face he could trust.
Just like she trusted him. She hadn’t stayed in the house with Theran or Ranon. She’d come to him, trusted him to keep her safe.
And he would keep her safe. He’d put a Purple Dusk shield around the gardening shed, as strong a shield as he could make. It wouldn’t keep the other males out if they were determined to get in, but it would give him the precious moments he’d need to prepare for a fight.
*Leave me be,Theran.*
*Are you all right? Why have you put a shield around the shed?*
*I’m fine.* More than fine. His blood was singing in his veins, potent and ripe.
*Have you seen Cassidy?*
*Leave me alone.*
When a minute passed without another call from Theran, Gray relaxed again. Turned his attention to the woman.
Cassie. His eyes focused on her neck. He bent his head as he carefully pulled her sweater away from the spot that intrigued him so much. Then he breathed in the scent of her. His lips pressed against her skin, and his tongue got the taste of her.