He’d been right. Kermilla didn’t think much of his gift. There was only one good jeweler left in Grayhaven. He’d been honest with the man about how many gold marks he could spend, and he’d thought the delicate silver bracelet was as fine a piece as any he’d seen in Lia’s jewelry box—the old box Cassidy had found that had contained the gifts Lia had received from her husband and children.

“Thank you.” Kermilla closed the box and vanished it.

Not even good enough to put on so he could see her wearing it before she left. Not even good enough for that.

The front door opened. Julien stood in the doorway, letting fresh cold air fill the entrance.

“The carriage is out front, if Lady Kermilla is ready to go to the Coach station,” Julien said. When Theran didn’t move, he came in and closed the door.

“It was a lovely visit,” Kermilla said. She couldn’t quite make the words sound sincere.

“I’m glad you were here,” Theran said. “I’ll miss you.”

He waited, still blocking the steps.

She gave him a look that was polite but a trifle annoyed. “I have to get to the station. It’s a long journey, and there will be a lot to do when I get home.”

He hesitated a moment longer, then stepped aside. He escorted her out to the carriage and watched until she passed through the gates of the estate.

“Would you like some coffee brought to your study?” Julien asked.

“Yes, thank you.” He could occupy himself with paperwork. There was always plenty of paperwork.

Once he was inside the room, he looked around carefully.

Nothing out of place. Nothing added.

He had hoped, but it appeared that had been foolish.

Despite what she’d hinted, despite what she’d told him, apparently none of the gold marks she’d spent had been on a gift for him.

KAELEER

Kermilla huddled in the back of the horse-drawn cab. Damn driver hadn’t even offered her a lap rug to ease the chill inside the cab, let alone the spell-warmed lap rug heshould have offered the Queen who ruled his village. He hadn’t put a warming spell on the inside of the cab, either, which he also should have done. She could create the warming spell herself, but that wasn’t the point. A Queen shouldn’t have to do menial spells when there were others around to tend to her needs.

And that was a lesson this particular driver was going to learn very soon.

Having made that decision, she stared out the cab’s window.

Snow. Big, fluffy flakes of snow. Wasn’t that festive? Wasn’t that a lovely way to return to sheep-shit Bhak?

Thank the Darkness she had a few dresses that would be suitable for the Winsol celebrations, including the red dress she’d bought yesterday. It wasn’t the quality she was accustomed to, but people would be impressed that she’d lowered her standards in order to be a gracious guest and buy some dresses in Dena Nehele.

Her court would have to spread the word of her return quickly so invitations that might have been discarded in her absence could be sent again. And if all the invitations didn’t make it out, some families would be honored by her presence and the others not only would feel the social sting of their error, they also would feel a sting in their income when she, as their Queen, made a few adjustments to the tithes.

Why had she wasted so much time in Dena Nehele? Why had she wasted herself onthose people? They wouldn’t have anything resembling polite society in years, if ever. And the men! Even a standard five-year contract would have been too long to survive among them.

Could she have survived five years among them? Or would one of those Warlord Princes have honed his knife on her bones over something that should have been overlooked in the first place?

She would miss Theran. He’d made her feel special in a way no one else ever had. She would miss him for that.

She called in the jeweler’s box and studied the silver bracelet. Then she vanished it again and sighed. A trinket gift that no one would notice—unless they noticed its lack of quality. How could a man live in a place like the Grayhaven mansion and not understand the difference between a gift of quality and a trinket gift?

The driver pulled up at the Queen’s house. The private side,her side, was completely dark, including the globes that should have lit the front door. On the side reserved for the business of the court, light shone from the window of the Steward’s office, and globes of witchlight lit the public door.

The driver handed her down and drove off without a courteous word or a backward glance. At least the bastard had known better than to ask her to pay a fare.

Despite the lack of welcome, she tried the private door first. Her key wouldn’t open the lock, and the shields permeating the door and walls kept her from using Craft to pass through the wood.

Having no choice, Kermilla stomped to the public door of her house and pounded on it. Hell’s fire! There were lights in the windows, sosomeone should be around to answer the door. It wasn’t that late.

The door finally opened. A stranger stared at her. “May I help you, Lady?”

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“I’m the butler.”

“What happened to the other one?” She couldn’t remember his name.

“He resigned.”

She took a step forward. He didn’t step back. “Don’t you know who I am?”

“No, Lady. You have not yet presented a card.”

Stung, she blinked snowflakes out of her eyes. “I’m Kermilla. The Queen of Bhak. This is my house.”

He studied her much too long before stepping back. “In that case, if you would like to step inside, I’ll inform the Steward that you’re here.”

“Never mind that,” she said, storming past him. “I’ll speak with him later. Right now I want to go up to my suite and clean up. Have the cook come to me so I can tell her what I want for dinner.”

“I can’t do that.”

She stopped short when a shield came up in front of her, effectively blocking all access to any of the rooms. She whirled to face him.

“What’s your name?”

“Butler will do.”

Not an answer. Before she could give him a blast of temper, she took a good look at him.

A Purple Dusk Prince. His caste didn’t outrank hers, but his Jewels did.

Footsteps along another hallway. Then Gallard turned the corner and stopped.

“Lady Kermilla! We didn’t expect you,” Gallard said.

“What in the name of Hell is going on?” Kermilla shouted. “Why is thismale refusing to let me into my own house?”

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