Boy. Bakery. Memories of Clayton, the time he’d gone into a bakery with a fistful of coins and no parent to hold him back.
Ah, well. Theran wasn’t eleven. Surely he had enough self-discipline to avoid eating himself sick.
When they entered the bakery, she wasn’t sure if the baker was going to fawn or faint, but they walked out with a box of treats that Theran was more than happy to carry.
The morning was turning out better than he’d expected—although he probably shouldn’t have eaten that last cream-filled pastry. But, Hell’s fire, he’d always had a weakness for the damn things, and it had been a long time since he’d eaten one with any enjoyment.
Twelve years, as a matter of fact.
A boy who was hunted couldn’t afford to have weaknesses—or habits that people noticed and would share for the right price.
There had been a handful of villages near the Tamanara Mountains that had been considered safe ground. Places where the rogues would get supplies, visit lovers or whores, collect news. Armed camps of a different kind, where people were trusted because they were loyal to Dena Nehele rather than the puppet Queens.
But everything has a price—including information about a boy with a weakness for cream-filled pastries.
Except, at fifteen, the lure of a woman proved stronger than the lure of a box of treats.
A young whore, not that much older than he was, who was willing to show one of the “brave fighters” some pleasure. He and Gray had slipped away from their escort—something that would have earned them a few licks of a strap if they’d both come back that day—so that he could romp with the girl. But he’d wanted that damn box of sweets too, so Gray went alone to the bakery they visited every time they came to that village, even though sweets of that kind didn’t have much appeal for him.
That too was known. Which was why the Queen’s guards who caught Gray coming out of the bakery were sure they’d captured Theran Grayhaven.
Gray still screamed when he saw one of those pastries, which was another reason it had been so long since Theran had tasted one.
None of which excused him from eating himself stupid this morning.
Still, Cassidy wasn’t a torturous companion on a shopping trip. He’d caught a few wistful glances from her as they passed shops where, given a choice of going in or being whipped, he’d take the whipping, but she hadn’t insisted on going inside.
Sadi would walk into a shop like that, Theran thought as he waited for Cassidy to finish purchasing a few books. Hell’s fire, Sadi wouldn’t just walk into a shop like that; he’d dominate the place and have opinions about satin and lace and the advantages of each when worn against a woman’s privates.
Would Gray walk into a shop like that?
Cassidy turned away from the counter and studied him. “You look a little green.”
Well, wasn’t that just fine?
She shook her head. “I guess males don’t outgrow it.”
“Outgrow what?” Glad to be out of the stuffy shop, Theran took a deep breath. Didn’t help. It was a fine summer morning, but it was starting to feel a bit too hot and sticky.
But that might have been him and not the weather.
“Put a man in a bakery and he turns into a boy.”
“You’re starting to sound like Vae.” Who was home sulking because he wouldn’t let her come with them. The townsfolk had enough to contend with, having a Queen trying to act like she was one of them, without a yappy dog around telling everyone what to do.
Cassidy bit her lip and shook her head.
Damn. And the morning had been going well. For the most part.
“It’s almost time for the midday meal,” Cassidy said.
“I don’t think so.”
“I want a steak, and you need one. Choose a dining house, Prince.”
You turn Queen fast enough when you want something, Theran thought. But the idea of a steak—and just sitting still for a bit—had more appeal than he’d first thought, so he led them to a dining house that had an enclosed courtyard for private outdoor dining.
The courtyard needed to be cleansed by a Black Widow. Blood had dined there—and done other things there.
It was clear that the owners of the establishment had made an effort to scour away the past, so Cassidy said nothing to upset anyone. Such things were best done quietly anyway. And since they had been outlawed, finding a Black Widow might not be the easiest thing.
Maybe Shira would know how to get in touch with other Black Widows.
A task for another day, Cassidy thought. The food was excellent, and even though she was less comfortable than she might have been, she could see herself being a regular guest here.
As forTheran . . . Well, the steak was waging war on the pastries, and judging by the color of his skin now, the steak was winning. So was the way a man who wore a Green Jewel burned food.
She waited until he’d eaten three-quarters of his steak. Then she reached over and snagged the rest with her fork.
“Hey,” Theran protested. “I wasn’t finished eating that.”
“Yes, you were,” Cassidy replied, setting that piece and the one she’d kept from her own meal on her bread plate.
“What . . . ?” Theran stared at her as she put the bread plate on the ground beside her.
“There you go,Vae,” Cassidy said.
Theran’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped as the Sceltie dropped the sight shield and gave him a tail-tip wag. She sniffed the steak and wagged her tail with more enthusiasm.
“When did she get here?” Theran asked.
“She caught up to us when we left the carriage park,” Cassidy said, giving him a wide smile.
“How’d she avoid being stepped on when no one could see her?”
Guess Vae is still sulking, Cassidy thought. At least where Theran is concerned.
“She can air walk,” Cassidy said. “She was trotting above us.” She fiddled with her spoon and wondered how to ask a question she knew wouldn’t sit well with a warrior. Especially a Warlord Prince. “You weren’t aware of her, were you?”
“No, I wasn’t. Were you?”
“Yes. But kindred have a different feel from the human Blood, and it takes practice—and awareness—to detect their presence.”
“If they’re sight shielded and not yapping, they’d be hard to find,” Theran said.
“Grf,” Vae said, finishing the last bit of steak.
“They don’t have to sight shield to go undetected,” Cassidy said. “If there were twenty Scelties in a yard, could you pick out the one who was kindred? Especially if you weren’t aware of the existence of kindred? Kindred Scelties and horses lived around humans for a lot of years with no one realizing they were Blood. They don’t reveal their presence unless they choose to, Theran.”