Cassidy flopped on her back. This was getting worse and worse. Then she struggled upright again. “Family?”

“Mother, father, brother—and your cousin Aaron.”

“Mother Night.”

“And may the Darkness be merciful. My darling, everything has a price, and scaring the shit out of that many Warlord Princes . . . Well, how you’re feeling physically is only the first part of the payment. There were so many who wanted to express an opinion about what you did, they ended up drawing straws. The two short straws get to yell at you.” Karla called in a small hourglass and set it on the bedside table. “Here. A gift. Ten minutes of sand in the glass. That’s how long each of them is allowed to voice his full opinion of what you did.”

“Who . . . ?”

“Ranon and Gray drew the short straws. However, I’ll warn you now that I don’t think your father is going to hold back his thoughts on the matter. And neither is Lucivar.” Using Craft, Karla floated a mug over to the bed. “Here, drink this. When you showed signs of finally waking up, I made this tonic for you.”

Cassidy leaned back against the headboard and took the mug.

“You’ll have the remainder of today to rest and recover. After that, darling, you face your family and court. And Lucivar.”

Cassidy took a sip of the tonic and fought the desire to gulp it down. Her body craved whatever was in this brew. Craved it as much as the land had craved the connection with her.

She took another sip, then remembered the last thing she’d seen before the world had gone dark. “Gray. Is he all right? He must have been upset when I . . . fell.”

A strange look came into Karla’s eyes. “You woke up more than the land, Cassidy. Much more.”

Ranon cautiously approached the vegetable garden. He didn’t want to deal with Lucivar’s thunderous temper or Prince Aaron’s snarling restraint—or the worry he saw in Lord Burle’s eyes. And even though the boardinghouse’s grounds gave him plenty of room to maneuver, he didn’t want to be caught alone with the witch who had brought Cassidy’s family to Eyota. The Gray-Jeweled Queen was intimidating enough, but she had stayed inside with Cassidy. Surreal SaDiablo was a long step past scary as far as he and all the other men were concerned, andshe had been prowling the house and grounds—and the village.

Going down on one knee, he reached out to brush a fingertip over the leaves of one little plant. A strong, healthy plant growing vigorously now. All the plants in the garden were growing vigorously now—had started growing within hours of Cassidy’s collapse.

Gray had noticed the blood soaked into the ground, but the cuts on Cassidy’s palms hadn’t looked that deep, and Shira hadn’t thought Cassidy had lost enough blood to account for losing consciousness. Andnothing Shira or the Queens knew could explain what had drained Cassidy’s Rose Jewel to such a dangerous level so quickly.

If there had been some kind of attack, why hadn’t she called for help? And how could she have been attacked when he and the others had been standing right there? Gray was the first to realize something was wrong, had snatched her up and run into the boardinghouse. But they still didn’t know what had happened—or why.

Shira wouldn’t talk about the vision she’d seen, wouldn’t confirm if this was the danger that might have cost them the first Queen to give them hope since Lia.

Was this his fault somehow? Had he failed in his duties? How?How?

Ranon felt the other presence, picked up the psychic scent, and knew who was about to join him.

Theran gave them all cold silence, which was understandable since Daemon Sadi was holding him personally responsible for Cassidy’s well-being and Grayhaven hadn’t wanted her to come to Eyota in the first place. But Gray’s anger and distress was a hot, pulsing, living thing. Until they knew what was wrong with Cassidy, Gray was an unsheathed weapon, and no one knew the sharpness of that blade or how deeply it could cut.

He waited until Gray knelt beside him. Neither of them could resist coming out to this spot several times a day.

“They grew even more overnight,” Ranon said, keeping his voice quiet. “We’ll actually get a decent crop from this garden.”

“She can’t do it again,” Gray snarled. “This almost killed her.”

“I know that.” And he did. He also knew the Queens had looked upon this garden in shock initially, thenalmost understood how this had happened. Almost.

“Company,” Gray said, not turning his attention away from the plants.

Ranon looked over his shoulder and sighed. Reyhana and Janos. The young Queen had been out to look at this garden as much as he and Gray, and Janos had assigned himself as Reyhana’s escort whenever she left the boardinghouse.

Then he stiffened and tapped Gray’s arm before rising to his feet. “More company.”

Gray sprang to his feet. Ranon grabbed one arm to keep Gray from rushing toward Lady Karla—especially because Aaron stepped out of the house and leaned against the wall, clearly not interfering and just as clearly standing watch over the Gray-Jeweled Queen who walked with a measured step that had nothing to do with dignity and everything to do with needing the support of a cane.

Whatever was wrong with her body, there was nothing wrong with her mind—or her power.

Grizelle had been like this,Ranon thought.Lia had been like this.

He’d grown up on stories of Grizelle and, especially, Lia. Had grown up fantasizing about what it would be like to be in the presence of a Gray-Jeweled Queen. He’d always thought of Grizelle and Lia as protectors of Dena Nehele—and they had been—but it hadn’t occurred to him that the power that protected the land also made those women very dangerous witches. Not until Karla had stepped out of the Coach that had brought her to Eyota.

“Prince Gray,” Karla said when she reached them. “Prince Ranon.” She tipped her head in a silent greeting to Reyhana and Janos.

Janos hesitated, still not certain of how to respond to a Queen who wasn’t from the Shalador reserves. Reyhana, on the other hand, took the greeting as an invitation to join the adults.

“Cassidy is awake,” Karla said, looking at Gray. “She’ll be fine. She needs to stay quiet for the rest of today.”

“Can I see her?” Gray asked. “I won’t yell at her yet. I just want to see her.”

Karla’s lips curved in a wicked smile. “Darling, her body has been working hard to regain its balance and, quite frankly, the girl smells a bit ripe. Until she has a chance to bathe and clean her teeth, you’re the last person she’s going to want to see.”

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