The search wasn’t meant to be hard, because she wasn’t meant to search.

Rule the people. Live your life.

“Neither is as easy as you might think,” Cassidy muttered as she put the key in a trinket box her father had made for her years ago. “Your descendant is a very stubborn, pigheaded man.”

Live your life.

Her life. Not the same thing as her duties as a Queen.

She might have to allow Theran to restrict her actions as a Queen, but it was time to reclaim her life.

When she reached the breakfast room, Ranon looked like he was about to be backed into a corner, Shira looked amused, and Theran looked wary. Powell was clearly lingering over his breakfast, and Cassidy didn’t think her Steward was waiting because he needed to discuss some business with her that couldn’t wait for an hour. He probably didn’t want to miss today’s chapter of the Grayhaven drama.

“Where is Gray?” she asked. He’d relaxed enough about being in the house to come in and eat with the rest of them, so she felt worry scratching her heart when he wasn’t there.

“He’s on the terrace, explaining the facts of life to the honey pears,” Theran said.

Cassidy clamped her lips together and didn’t dare ask what that meant.

Shira carefully spread some jam on a piece of toast. Since it was the second one on her plate, Cassidy figured Shira was doing it simply to have something to do.

“Do you play an instrument, Lady Cassidy?” Shira asked.

Ranon growled in response, so the question clearly wasn’t as innocent as it sounded.

“That depends on how you define ‘play,’ ” Cassidy replied, quickly filling a plate and pulling out a chair next to Shira. “I can read music, and I can pick out a tune on a piano. Why?”

“Gray thinks the honey pears would enjoy having someone play music to them for a little while each day, and I think you’re the only one he hasn’t questioned yet about your proficiency with an instrument.”

Ranon seemed to be giving his scrambled eggs a lot more attention than they required. Or deserved.

“Do you play?” Cassidy asked Shira.

“Drums,” Shira replied as Cassidy took one of her pieces of toast. “Too much sound for tender seedlings-to-be.”

Theran snorted.

Powell fiddled with his coffee cup but didn’t try to drink—and didn’t look at anyone else around the table.

“Ranon plays the Shalador flute,” Shira said brightly.

“I am not going to stand out there and play music for thirteen pots of dirt,” Ranon growled.

“I’ve never heard a Shalador flute,” Cassidy said—and watched the color drain from his face as he realized playing for the pear trees really wasn’t his choice to make.

“Whenever it gives the Lady pleasure,” Ranon said.

Either that phrase had remained in the training, or Ranon had been studying the books of Protocol.

Live your life.

“Speaking of music,Theran,” Cassidy began, noticing the way his body jerked and the wary look he gave her,“I’m planning to attend the outdoor concert. I heard this was a weekly event in the town. You and the Master of the Guard may take whatever precautions you feel necessary, but this isn’t a formal visit by the Queen, so discretion is preferred.”

“No,” Theran said. “It isn’t safe.”

Cassidy pushed her plate away and locked her fingers together. “Prince, I’m not talking about visiting a Province that is still recovering from all the things that have caused upheaval in this Territory. I’m talking about spending a few hours in what amounts to the home village. Grayhaven is the town connected with this estate. It grew up around this estate. This is the place where I’ll do my personal shopping, attend the theater and concerts. This is the town where I live. If I’m not safe here, I’m not safe anywhere. If you can’t relent enough for me to informally meet the people in this one town, then my being here is nothing more than a fool’s dream. On both our parts,” she finished softly.

Theran looked shaken—and even more wary.

She intended to visit the town. She couldn’t spend the rest of the year confined to this estate.

Now there was a bitterness in his face—a look that was, sadly, becoming too familiar.

He called in an envelope and slid it across the table. “That came for you this morning.”

She wasn’t sure she recognized the writing until she turned the envelope over and saw the SaDiablo seal pressed into the black wax. Feeling a flash of concern that the High Lord might be writing to tell her bad news about her family, she relaxed when she opened the envelope and realized what she held.

“It’s an invitation,” she said, smiling in anticipation. As she absorbed the significance of the phrasing, a trickle of worry began to seep in. “You, Gray, and I are invited to dine at the Keep.”

Theran clenched his hands. The muscles in his tightened jaw twitched. “Invitation.”

“More or less.” She held out the invitation so he could read it.

He hesitated, then took the invitation and read it. And relaxed. “It isn’t convenient to go.”

He’s afraid, she thought. And if he’s afraid of spending an evening with those men, how will Gray react?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as Theran seemed to think.

“Look at the phrasing,Theran,” Cassidy said.

He read it again, and she saw no understanding in his eyes.

“There is only one correct response to an invitation like this when it is made by someone like the High Lord,” she said.

He understood her then. “But . . . Gray.”

She nodded. “That has been taken into account. Lady Angelline being the kind of Healer she is . . . Believe me, that has been taken into account.”

“No choice, then,” Theran said.


“Then going to the town and hearing some of our music would be a good idea,” Shira said, her voice sounding far more confident than the look in her eyes. “It will give you all something to talk about.”



Daemon glided through the Hall’s corridors, a vessel for the cold, silent fury that held a single thought: how many of these bitches would he need to kill before the rest of them finally learned to leave him alone?

The silence held until he reached his suite. Then he slammed the door, letting temper and Craft enhance the sound until it thundered through the Hall, warning everyone of what they faced if anyone dared disturb him.