He raised his head and looked at her, seeing something different. Something wonderful.

Mine.

In response to the thought, a strange feeling flooded him, body, heart, and mind. A feeling fierce and powerful. A feeling that shattered the husk he’d lived inside for so long—and no longer wanted.

“Cassie,” Gray whispered. “Cassie.”

He pressed his lips once more to that sweet spot, feeling a hunger stirring his body, arousing much more than his cock.

Smiling, he looked at her, asleep in his bed, and whispered, “Mine.”

Theran watched Gray and Cassidy walking toward the house, hand in hand.

“That little prick,” Theran growled. “He was hiding her in the shed.”

“At least we know where she was,” Ranon said, rubbing the back of his neck to ease some tension.

“He could have said something,” Theran snapped.

The whole household had been in a state of quiet panic since Cassidy walked out the door.

A vulnerable Queen is a dead Queen.

Even if you couldn’t get the Queen the first time, you could start picking off her protectors, could get a feel for who was loyal—and, therefore, a traitor to his own people—and who wouldn’t get in the way of the fighters trying to hold on to the little in Dena Nehele that hadn’t been corrupted.

He hadn’t been out in the open—not like Ranon or some of the others—but he’d done his share of fighting. And he knew there were plenty of men out there—including some of the Warlord Princes who had presented themselves for consideration—who wouldn’t hesitate to attack a Queen because that’s what they’d spent a lifetime doing.

“Is she all right?” Shira asked, rushing up to them.

Theran glanced over his shoulder and swore silently. With the exception of Talon, who would surely have a few things to say when he joined them at sundown, the whole damn First Circle was there, waiting for Gray and Cassidy to take the last few steps across the terrace and enter the house.

He didn’t give anyone else time to voice an opinion. As soon as Gray crossed the threshold,Theran stepped forward.

“Gray, what in the name of Hell—”

Gray snarled at him, and the glazed green eyes that stared at him held no recognition.

“It’s all right, Gray,” Cassidy said quietly, trying to slip her hand out of Gray’s grasp. “It’s all right.”

Gray tightened his grip and snarled, “Mine.”

Before Theran could respond, a sharp whistle from the back of the room caught their attention. Power and temper formed a wedge that had the rest of the men scrambling to get out of the way as Lucivar crossed the room and stopped when no one stood between him and Gray.

“Mine,” Gray snarled again.

“I don’t hear anyone challenging your claim, boyo,” Lucivar said,“but there are things that need to be done, and we’re going to take them in order. First.” He pointed to Gray’s Jewel, then his own. “Purple Dusk. Ebon-gray. I have no quarrel with you. In fact, I’m here to help. But if you start a pissing contest with me, I will rip you apart. Are we clear on that?”

Gray nodded once, sharply.

“Second, ease up on her hand before you crack a bone.”

Theran saw Gray’s hand jerk open, then close again. But not as tight.

And he noticed how intensely Cassidy watched Lucivar.

“Third,” Lucivar said, “is the Healer present?”

Since Shira was standing beside Ranon, it was obvious she was present, but she stepped forward and said, “I’m here.”

“Do you know how to make moontime brews?” Lucivar asked.

“Of course I—”

A small sound from Cassidy.

Shira pulled back. “Yes, Prince,” she said courteously. “I’m well versed in brews that can ease moontime discomfort.”

Lucivar nodded, his gold eyes fixed on Gray. “The Healer will go with Lady Cassidy up to the Lady’s suite. The Healer will make the brew and Lady Cassidy will have some private time to take care of personal needs. Vae will go with them. If there’s anything that needs our attention,Vae will let us know. We clear so far?”

Gray nodded.

“Let go, Gray,” Cassidy said. “It’s all right. I need to go with Shira now.”

Reluctance. Resistance. Theran watched Gray struggle with conflicting instincts—and knew the only reason things hadn’t turned bloody was Lucivar’s overpowering presence.

The moment Cassidy eased her hand out of Gray’s grasp, Shira hustled her out of the room, followed by Vae.

“Now,” Lucivar said to Gray. “You’re going to go outside and clear your head of the blood scent enough to have your brain working again. Then you come back in, and we’ll all work out an agreement for taking care of Cassidy during her moontime.”

“Mine!”

“She’s a Queen,” Lucivar said firmly. “She has a court. You have to share.”

Gray bared his teeth and snarled at Lucivar.

Lucivar just looked at him until Gray subsided, yielding to the dominant power.

“Even the sweetest-tempered witch turns bitchy during the first three days of her moontime,” Lucivar said. “Why should you be the only one on the receiving end of her temper? Let her court shoulder some of it. That’s part of what it means to be First Circle.”

Gray, don’t be a fool, Theran thought. He’s giving you a chance to back down. Take it!

“How much sharing?” Gray asked, sounding wary.

“That’s what we’re going to decide. Go on,” Lucivar added gently. “Get some air. The first time it matters always hits a man hard.”

Theran didn’t take a full breath until Gray retreated.

“Hell’s fire,” Ranon said. “What got into him?”

“His temper and his balls woke up,” Lucivar replied. “Since they woke up about ten years late, you all need to be very careful with him.”

“Gray wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Theran said.

“A week ago, I’d say you were right,” Lucivar said, giving Theran a long look. “But he’s a Warlord Prince who has staked a claim. Until Cassidy accepts him or rejects him according to Protocol, he won’t see you as a cousin when you’re in the same room with her. He’ll see you as a rival. And Grayhaven, if he believes you’re trespassing, don’t think for a moment he won’t do his damnedest to rip your throat out.”

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