She trailed after him as he walked to the sitting room’s door. Then a gleam of silver caught her eye, drawing her toward one of the small tables scattered around the room. Plenty of expensive little nothings in this room. Who would notice if there were one or two less?
The silence turned heavy and cold and peculiar.
She looked at the High Lord, who studied her with those sleepy gold eyes.
“If you steal something from the Keep, what guards this place will let you take it,” he crooned. “But they will take your hand in exchange.”
He walked out of the room and closed the door.
Something moved in the wall. A shadow where there shouldn’t be a shadow.
Kermilla backed away from the table. Curling up in a chair, she remained there until Sabrina arrived to take her back to Dharo.
“Is it done?” Witch asked.
“It’s done,” the High Lord replied. “Will it make a difference?”
She rolled up the threads of her tangled web and dropped them in a shallow bowl of witchfire. “That’s up to Kermilla now.”
Frustrated and heartsore, Theran sat at his desk, his head braced in his hands.
What was the point of the other Warlord Princes making him the ruler of Dena Nehele if they weren’t going to work with him, weren’t going to help him?
They didn’t trust him. That’s what it came down to. As far as they were concerned, his bond with Kermilla had not only fouled his judgment, it had ruined the opportunities they would have had to bring in needed help for their people. And every time his efforts to restore Dena Nehele failed, he lost a little more of their conditional support.
They wanted the same things people were receiving from Cassidy’s court, so he tried to approach Daemon Sadi about a loan similar to the one Gray had negotiated for Cassidy. Sadi’s coldly civil reply made it clear that Theran would get no help from the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan.
He tried to contact the Queens in Kaeleer to hire Protocol instructors to teach the courts in Dena Nehele. The Queens didn’t answer him at all.
He tried to talk to Cassidy, but her First Circle refused to grant him an audience. The only thing he received from that visit was an assurance from Talon that Lady Cassidy had no desire to start a war and no intention to seize any land. The Warlord Princes of Dena Nehele didn’t need to worry about having Lady Cassidy for a neighbor.
No one wanted to work for him. The people in the town barely spoke to him.
And too many nights lately, he wondered if the Warlord Princes were waiting for him to fail enough for them to justify using their knives.
Julien rushed into the study without knocking and thrust an envelope into Theran’s hand. “You have a visitor. Lady Rhahn from the Isle of Scelt. She said you should read the letter before you speak to her.”
Theran stared at Julien. The butler looked dazed, dazzled, almost giddy with excitement.
“Read it,” Julien said. “Hell’s fire, man,read .” He sprang for the door. “Refreshments! I should get the Lady some refreshments!”
He was gone as quickly as he’d come in.
“What in the name of Hell is wrong with him?” Theran muttered as he broke the black wax seal and removed the single sheet of paper.
I am aware that you have become the Warlord Prince of Dena Nehele and have taken responsibility for ruling your people. I am also aware that you still need a Queen who can help your people remember Protocol and the Old Ways. Therefore, I have asked Lady Rhahn to stay with you for a year.
A second chance, Theran. If you turn away from this one, there will be no other.
Theran folded the letter and vanished it.
Mother Night. Witch was giving him a second chance.
He straightened his clothes, ran his fingers through his hair in an effort to tidy it, and sprang to the study door much as Julien had. Then he paused. Would the Warlord Princes accept another Queen from Kaeleer if she was associated with him? Could they ever trust her with the well-being of their people?
He opened the study door.
The answer to those questions looked up at him and wagged her tail.
“It was a lovely wedding, Daughter.” Devra lifted Cassidy’s left hand.
“And that is a beautiful ring.”
A lovely, dizzy warmth spread through Cassidy. “Yes, it is.” Not just the amber ring’s design, but what the ring stood for. Something she knew her mother understood.
She looked at the people milling around the backyard of the Residence and was glad her First Circle had declared the sitting area under the tree to be the Queen’s private spot—a place to catch her breath and a moment’s quiet before talking to the next group of well-wishers.
“This was supposed to be a small wedding,” she said as she caught sight of her cousin Aaron and his wife Kalush talking with Ranon, Shira, Reyhana, and Janos.
Devra chuckled. “I imagine it is for a Territory Queen. You managed to limit the guest list to two Warlord Princes and two Queens from each of your Provinces, plus the elders and Tradition Keepers in Eyota, plus your court, family and personal friends. And everyone you invited accepted the invitation.”
Except Theran.A small nugget of sorrow because of his rejection, but not for herself. Not anymore. Not when her life with Gray would be so full of dreams and challenges and work and love. Most of all, love.
Her eyes skipped over the crowd, searching for Gray. She found him talking with her father, and there was something in the way they were gesturing . . .
Devra sighed. “Can’t put those two anywhere near each other before they start talking about work and new projects. I’ll just go over and . . .”
“No need,” Cassidy murmured, feeling laughter bubble up as she watched Lucivar Yaslana and her cousin Aaron deftly separate her father and husband, herding them in opposite directions. “I wonder. Did Scelties learn to play cows and sheep from Warlord Princes or did Warlord Princes learn from the Scelties?”
Grinning, she and Devra slipped arms around each other’s waists and went out to meet the next group of well-wishers.
“Prince Grayhaven and Lady Rhahn have arrived,” Dryden said quietly. “He asked to see you. I put them in the visitor’s parlor.”
Gray felt the bright joy of his wedding day fade. Cassie had insisted on sending Theran an invitation to the wedding. He was family, and their wedding was about friends and family, and not about courts and boundaries. So he—and the rest of her court—had yielded to her wishes, but no one had been disappointed that Theran hadn’t come.