*Cassie? Cassie! You are not sleeping. Why aren’t you sleeping? It is sleep time. Everyone is sleeping. Except Talon. But it is not his sleep time.*
Cassidy barely had time to settle into a corner of the sofa before Vae was beside her, pressing close.
“You need to be brushed,” Cassidy said, noticing how much loose fur was now coating her trousers.
*I will nip Theran tomorrow,* Vae said. *Then he will brush me.*
Oh, good. Serves you right, Grayhaven, for being a brainless ass.
*You have smells,* Vae said happily.
Cassidy was about to remind Vae that it wasn’t polite to talk about human smells—especially the female kind. Then she realized the Sceltie was focused on the key in her hand.
“It’s a key,Vae. It’s made of metal. It doesn’t have smells.”
Vae sniffed the key again, jumped off the sofa, and trotted into the bedroom. *I will find the smells.*
“You do that.” If the dog was hunting for nonexistent smells, at least she’d stay out of trouble. Maybe.
Keeping one ear cocked toward the bedroom in case Vae began rummaging where she shouldn’t, Cassidy slumped in the corner of the sofa, feeling frustrated and wrung out.
Sometimes when Gray kissed her, she knew she was being kissed—and held—by a grown man. But other times, she felt like she was kissing a fifteen-year-old boy who was fumbling through his first exploration of a female body. And in some ways she was. But she wasn’t fifteen anymore, and those times when he seemed more boy than man made her uncomfortable.
And yet she couldn’t back away from the intimacy or end the relationship altogether, because her heart recognized something in Gray that she had never felt with or for any other man.
Maybe it was for the best that Lucivar had set such firm boundaries around what Gray could—and couldn’t—do in terms of sex. Physically she was ready—more than ready—for more. Emotionally . . .
“What?” She felt frustrated and snappish, and her voice proclaimed her mood.
*I found the smells.*
*The smells that match the key.*
Cassidy tangled her legs and almost fell off the sofa in her haste to get to the bedroom.
She didn’t see anything messed up or displaced. She also didn’t see a Sceltie.
*Here! The smells are here!*
The tip of Vae’s tail suddenly stuck out from under her bed, wagged at her, then disappeared again.
Cassidy hurried to the bed, dropped to the floor, and lifted the bedcovers. “Get out of there before you get stuck.”
*Won’t get stuck,* Vae said. *Smells are here.*
Under the bed. The treasure had been hidden for centuries. Wouldn’t someone have looked under the bed?
That wish pot had been in the shed for centuries too and hadn’t been found.
“Get out of there,Vae,” Cassidy said. “I have to move the bed, and I can’t do that while you’re under it.”
She waited impatiently while Vae wiggled out from under the bed. Then she used Craft to lift and shift the bed as far as she could.
Vae went back to sniffing the carpet, then began scratching.
“Wait,” Cassidy said firmly. She moved the night tables and rolled up the carpet.
No trapdoor. No visible sign that there was anything different about that part of the floor. No lock embedded in the wood.
*Here,*Vae said, placing a small white paw near the spot that held the smells.
Cassidy ran her fingers over and over that spot. And found nothing until she held the key over that part of the floor.
A shadow so subtle she wasn’t sure she was seeing anything. But the key slipped into that shadow like a well-oiled lock, and when she turned it, a rectangle of floor as long as her arm popped up. When she moved it aside . . .
Vae sniffed. Sneezed.
Ignoring the box in the secret compartment, Cassidy took out one of the books and opened it to a random page.
Like the letter in the wish pot, the ink had faded, although not as badly.
“A journal,” she said softly.
Paper?Vae asked, sounding disappointed.
“Yes, paper. But valuable.” It didn’t take more than reading a few lines to realize this was Lia’s journal—and a few lines more to realize the entries were made near the end of her life.
Cassidy riffled the pages until she found the last entry. Which was written by a different hand.
Lia is dead. And Dena Nehele grieves.
Without the Gray Lady, Dena Nehele will fall to the twisted ideas Dorothea SaDiablo spews. It won’t happen next year, or the year after that. The dreams and visions I see in my tangled webs all show me the same thing—Lia’s granddaughter will hold the land for a while. Long enough to keep the bloodline from dying out with so much else that will die in the years ahead. And Jared and his grandsons will continue fighting to keep the shadows at bay.
I will die before the seasons change, slaughtered here at Grayhaven, which should have been the safest place, while Jared, Blaed, and Talon are fighting elsewhere. I will not tell them because if they are here, they will not survive—and they must survive a few years longer. They must.
Lia is dead. Tomorrow I will grieve. Tonight I will set in motion all the spells we created to keep the treasure safe—and the hope that is hidden with it.
Cassidy closed the journal and started to put it back. Then she hesitated. If she left it all where it had been safely hidden for so long, would the key work a second time? Or was this part of the spell done, and this was the only opportunity to retrieve these items?
Not willing to take that chance, she pulled all the journals out of the compartment and set them aside before she removed the last item—the trinket box.
During all this, Vae stayed with her, not really interested or curious, but still watchful.
Cassidy opened the trinket box and smiled as she lifted a few pieces from the jumble of jewelry.
No expensive pieces here, no precious stones. She imagined that, during Lia’s lifetime, the pieces weren’t jumbled to deceive someone into thinking they weren’t important. Because these trinkets were important. When she went through the journals, she’d find each piece recorded. Gifts from Lia’s children. Sentimental presents from her husband. Not expensive, but priceless nonetheless.
She spent an hour wiping the journals and trinket box clean of dust before hiding them in the bottom of a trunk of her own belongings.
Then she put the piece of floor back in place.
*The smells are gone,* Vae said.