As he took the box, his eyes asked the question.
“I found the treasure,” Cassidy said, her face glowing with excitement under the grime. “It’s up there, Theran, along with so much of your heritage.” She took a step toward Gray, then turned back. “You look like him, you know. Jared. You look like him.”
Stunned, he watched as Gray clasped her hand and tugged her to the surprise in the garden. Talon had told him that a few times, but how would Cassidy know?
“Gray, wait,” Cassidy said. Too many emotions pouring off him.
She couldn’t tell if he was happy or upset, angry or excited.
Maybe all of them. Which meant her court would be equally upset by her unexpected absence.
Assuming any of them noticed or gave a damn.
You’re tired, so you’re bitchy, she scolded herself. “Gray, wait.”
He stopped, but he looked like he was about to receive a crippling blow.
“I’m parched. Can I have some water before I see the surprise?”
“How did you know it was a surprise?”
Hell’s fire. She wasn’t supposed to know that. “Since I don’t know what you want to show me, it must be a surprise.”
As he rubbed a thumb over her cheek, he made one of those lightning shifts from boy to man.
“You’re not hurt?” he asked.
“No, Gray, I’m not hurt. I was up in the attic and lost track of time. I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“Scared me, Cassie. That’s a lot more than worry.”
“Yes, it is, and I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “There were too many years when someone going missing meant they weren’t coming back. Captured or killed. Sometimes Talon found what was left of them. Most times not.”
He shook his head again. “Dena Nehele isn’t a safe place yet. It will be, someday, but for now it’s still not safe to go off on your own and not leave a direction for someone to follow.”
“I’ll remember that.” I’ll miss you, Gray.
“Let’s get you some water.”
She drank her fill. Then Gray worked the pump for her so she could wash some of the grime off her face and hands.
He called in a small towel and handed it to her, and there was a question in his eyes that she couldn’t figure out.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
When she obeyed, he put an arm around her shoulders and guided her around the garden.
“Open your eyes now.”
She looked at the flower bed and thought, Home. Then she looked more closely.
“Common ground,” Gray said quietly. “Not quite the same, but similar. Not quite home, but it could be home—if you wanted to put down roots. And if you don’t, if you can’t, maybe I could put down roots in Dharo.”
It was her mother’s garden, and yet it wasn’t.
Then what he said sank in all the way.
“Dharo?” she asked, finally looking away from the flowers. “You want to live in Dharo?”
“I want to be with you.” He drew her into his arms.
“Theran needs you,” Cassidy said.
“And I need you. I know it’s not easy for you because your ways are so different from what we’ve known here, but maybe we can find some common ground there too. Can’t we try, Cassie? Can’t we at least try?”
He kissed her slowly, deeply, as if she truly mattered.
As if she were the only thing that mattered.
She looked into his eyes. Not quite a man, but no longer a boy. She didn’t know if they had a future together, but she did love him—and wasn’t love the most fertile ground of all?
“I’d like to try, Gray,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I really would like to try.”
His alarmed expression changed to thoughtful. “Are those happy tears?”
She hugged him hard. “Yes, these are happy tears.” Then she stepped back, rubbed her face, and smiled. “Show me the garden.”
Theran watched Gray kiss Cassidy, but that quickly felt intrusive, so he turned away and opened the box.
“To the Heir of Grayhaven.”
Under the wax-sealed paper was a Green Jewel that still held some of the psychic resonance of the woman who had worn it.
And some of the power,Theran realized as he felt that power fade, its last task completed.
The wax seal was so old, it crumbled when he tried to open it, but the words were clear enough.
To the Heir of Grayhaven,
If you are reading this, the treasure stands before you. Not the gold and jewels, although we hope those will help you rebuild what was destroyed, but the Queen who has the strength and heart to care for our land and our people. That is a treasure beyond price.
But you already know that. Something has happened that tested her commitment and her courage—and you chose to stand with her. If you hadn’t, the last key would have never been found, and Dena Nehele would fail within a decade, splintering until it was nothing more than a memory.
Now you have a chance to remember who we were as a people. You have a chance to be a strong land again.
The treasure stands before you. I hope you can cherish her as Jared cherished me.
May the Darkness embrace you.
Talon stood inside the open terrace doors, out of the afternoon sunlight.
His throat was too tight for words, so Theran handed the letter to Talon and focused on Gray and Cassidy, who had their arms around each other’s waists and were pointing at parts of the new flower bed Gray had planted for her.
“Mother Night,” Talon said as he finished reading.
Theran opened the box.
“Lia’s,” Talon said, sounding hoarse. “I recognize it. It was her Birthright Jewel.”
“I wish I could see her the way he does,” Theran said as he turned, again, to watch Gray and Cassidy. “Not romantically. He loves her, and he deserves to be happy. But I wish I could see the Queen he sees when he looks at her. The Queen you see when you look at her. I didn’t stand with her for her sake,Talon. I did it for Gray. I did it because it would destroy him if something happened to her.”
“You still made the choice to stand with her. First time in a long time the Grayhaven line has defended a Queen. I guess that was enough.” Talon folded the letter and gave it back. “What are you going to do?”
Theran vanished the box and letter. “I’m going to learn how to be a good First Escort.”