“You think it’s simple,” he said with strained patience. “It’s not.”
“Keeps you in control, doesn’t it?”
He stared at her. Where was that bitterness coming from?
“You control the money, so I can’t buyanything without coming to you first,” she said.
“Would you like me to show you the accounts and how much is still owed the merchants from the last time you went shopping without being ‘controlled’?” he asked.
“You control access to the other Warlord Princes and the aristo families, so I can’t make friends on my own or establish any bonds with other men that don’t go through you.”
“That’s not true.”
“You treat me like a child, but I’m not a child.”
“I’m a Queen, damn you!I’m a Queen, and I’m the one who should be controlling the purse and the men and the land! Me! Not you!” She grabbed the rock. “Not you!”
She threw the rock.
He didn’t know—would never know—if her aim had been bad or if she hit exactly what she had intended to hit.
The rock missed him completely and struck the old wish pot that held the honey pear tree.
For a long moment they stared at each other.
She looked magnificent in her fury, and he wanted, more than anything, to yield to her temper and her will.
Then he looked down at the pot that was now in pieces and the honey pear tree lying in the spilled dirt, its roots exposed to the too-cold air.
“Julien!” he shouted. “Julien!”
When the butler appeared in the doorway, Theran said, “The pot broke. See what you can find to replace it and do what you can for the honey pear tree.”
Theran picked up part of the broken pot, a piece about the size of his fully stretched hand.
“Oh, Theran.” Kermilla stood there, looking pretty and contrite. “I’m sorry I threw that rock, but you made me so angry.”
He could feel something breaking inside him, and he needed to get away from her, from everyone.
She studied him. “I know you were fond of it but, Theran, it was just an old pot.”
Something inside him breaking, breaking.
“It wasn’t an old pot, Kermilla. It was a family heirloom, and because of who it belonged to, it was priceless.”
Her mouth fell open in shock.
And a truth ripped through him and left him bleeding.
He walked away from her and passed by Julien as the butler rushed back to the tree. He didn’t allow himself to think or to feel until he was safely behind the locked door of his study.
Then he set the remnant of the wish pot on his desk, sat down . . . and cried.
For a day and a half, Theran tried to reconcile a dream and a hard truth, but no matter how he looked at it, it came down to choosing between two loves.
It is better to break your own heart than to break your honor.
He finally understood Talon’s words.
Kermilla mattered more to him than anyone he had ever known. But in the end, Dena Nehele mattered more. So he made his choice and wrote the letters that would bring the Warlord Princes to Grayhaven.
He still wanted Kermilla. Mother Night, how he wanted her! But every time he wavered, he looked at the two objects he’d placed on his desk—objects that reminded him of the difference between two Queens.
One was the piece from the broken wish pot.
The other was a leather-bound copy of Jared’s story.
Two days later, twenty-seven Warlord Princes walked into a meeting room at Grayhaven.
This time, Theran didn’t stand on a platform to address them. This time, he didn’t try to stand as their leader. This time, they told him what he had to do.
Kermilla huffed andtsk ed and made unhappy sounds as she pushed dress after dress aside. Shehad to have some new clothes. When she became Queen, shecouldn’t be seen in these old things!
And she wasfinally going to be Queen. The Warlord Princes had come. Theran hadn’t said anything about this meeting, but she’d seen the men arriving. Theran would give them a stern talking-to first, and then he’d request her presence so that she could select her court. She really didn’t want a First Circle made up completely of Warlord Princes—they were so prickly!—but she’d settle for it to get the court established and then select more congenial men for her Second Circle. And once she was Queen, she could select a man with better training for her bed.
Not that she wasn’t still fond of Theran, but he was better suited to being a First Escort or her Master of the Guard. He just didn’t have the proper skills to be a Consort—or even a lover.
So important to make the right impression this time. So important to look like what these men wanted.
But how was she supposed to do that withthese clothes?
Alone again, Theran closed his eyes and swayed as the pain raked through him.
It was done. The Warlord Princes would help him save what was left of Dena Nehele.
Now all he had to do was fulfill his part of the bargain before time ran out.
A handful of outfits were strewn on her bed and the chairs, souring Kermilla’s mood as the inadequacy of her wardrobe became more and more clear. But she had to findsomething before . . .
She glanced out one of her bedroom windows, then stopped and stared at the Warlord Princes walking down the long drive toward the landing web just beyond the estate’s double gates.
They were leaving? Why were theyleaving ?
She pulled on a simple housedress, stuffed her feet into soft house shoes, grabbed a shawl, and rushed downstairs to find Theran.
Theran went into his study and gave Julien a psychic tap on the shoulder. Within a minute the butler knocked on the door.
“Lady Kermilla and I have something to discuss,” Theran said. “While she is here with me, you and Hanna need to move fast.”
After receiving his instructions, Julien hurried out of the room. Moments later, Kermilla rushed in.
“They left!” she said. “Why did they leave without seeing me?”
“Sit down, Kermilla.” Theran waved her toward a chair. “I have to explain some things.”
“What things?” She sat on the edge of the stuffed chair.
He nudged the footstool back and sat down. He didn’t touch her. He didn’t want her to realize he had a skintight Green shield protecting his skin, his face . . . his eyes. He felt foolish—and deceitful—doing that with her, but he couldn’t ignore the warnings the other men had given him about how previous Queens had reacted to disappointment.