“But . . .” Gray paused. Looked thoughtful. “Oh. Because I’m courting her? But I don’t care if she smells.”

Karla stared at Gray until he muttered, “Well, Idon’t care.” But the stare ended that part of the discussion.

“I think Cassidy would appreciate some assistance from her mother and the court’s Healer,” Karla said. “And I think everyone with a penis should stay away from that hallway and those rooms for the next couple of hours. Is that clear enough?”

Seeing Lucivar come around the corner, Ranon said, “That’s clear. Can you tell us what happened to Lady Cassidy?”

“Do you want it in simple terms?” Karla asked.

He nodded.

“She was an idiot.”

Gray snarled and took a step toward Karla.

Aaron sprang away from the house but stopped and looked at Lucivar, who held up a hand to signal Aaron to stay back while he headed for their happy little group—slowly.

“She ignored her training and her common sense and almost damaged herself beyond repair,” Karla said. “What would you call it? There was no need for what happened. In fact, there was every reason for caution and restraint. She could have made her point without risk to herself, and without the anguish she caused all of you. It was an irresponsible thing for a Queen to do, and the Darkness only knows what possessed her to do it.” Her eyes turned a colder blue as she focused on Gray. “And if you think I’m being harsh, go up to the Keep and talk to the High Lord. Having been on the receiving end of one of his verbal lashings when I did something stupid, I can tell you Cassidy is getting off lightly.”

Gray took a step back. “The High Lord would have yelled at Cassie?” “When he’s really pissed off about something, the High Lord does not yell,” Karla said. “He doesn’t have to.”

“I’ve heard him yell,” Gray said. “Sort of yell.”

“Then you heard surface temper, which is a very mild thing compared to his real temper.”

“Oh.”

“Could I learn to do that?” Reyhana asked, pointing to the garden.

“No,” Ranon, Gray, and Janos said.

Karla looked at the men and shook her head. “Yes. I can show—”

“No,” Reyhana said.

Ranon turned on the girl. Reyhana was the most promising young Queen in the Shalador reserves, and bringing her to Cassidy’s attention was enough of a risk. The girl could not be allowed to challenge a Queen as strong as Karla.

Before he could say anything, Reyhana raised her chin and took a step toward Karla.

“I mean no disrespect, Lady,” Reyhana said. “But if I am worthy of learning this Queen’s duty, I should be taught by the Queen of Dena Nehele.”

The men held themselves tense and silent as the two witches measured each other.

“From what I’ve been told by Prince Aaron, the last young Queen who apprenticed with Cassidy caused her a great deal of pain,” Karla said. “That kind of betrayal isn’t easy to forget. What Cassidy did here is important for you to learn. Vital, in fact, for the land as well as benefiting you. If she doesn’t feel comfortable teaching you, then I will before I return to Glacia.”

Reyhana hesitated, and in that breath between one moment and the next, Ranon saw a young Queen mature a little more.

“Is that what happened to your legs?” Reyhana asked. “Betrayal?”

Karla nodded. “I was poisoned by a member of my court. Someone who was loyal to my uncle instead of being loyal to me. I should have died from that vicious stew of poisons. Damaged legs are a small price to pay for surviving.” She raised a hand, a simple gesture that ended that conversation. “Now. If the young Lady is going to learn this particular bit of Craft, you three—yes, that includes you, puppy—need to learn how to deal with a Queen. Lucivar will teach you.”

“Teach them what?” Lucivar asked, finally stepping up to join them.

“Teach them what to do when a Queen is being stupid,” Karla replied.

“Before or after you knock her on her ass to get her attention?” Lucivar asked.

Karla bared her teeth in what might have been a smile and said, “Kiss kiss.”

Ranon blinked. He’d never heardanyone say that and have it mean “shove a knife up your ass.”

Lucivar bared his teeth in an equally insincere smile. “Cassidy’s awake?”

“Yes,” Karla said, her whole demeanor changing from challenging to cautious as she studied Lucivar.

“Someone else is staying with her for a while?”

“I was about to talk to Devra and Shira about giving Cassidy a bit of company and assistance.”

Lucivar nodded. “Fine. Then you can strip down and sweat a little. I want to have a look at those legs when they’re working.”

“I don’t think—”

“Witchling, what part of that sounded like a choice?”

Gold eyes locked with glacier blue. Glacier blue looked away first.

“Prick,” Karla muttered.

“Always,” Lucivar replied. Then he pointed at Reyhana. “She can join you and learn a few basic moves for defending herself. And you, Gray. I’ll teach you a few things that will help you strengthen those back muscles.” He turned and whistled sharply. “Surreal! You’re helping me with this.”

Ranon felt an odd twitch in the belly. Surreal was standing in the yard, halfway between the house and their group. Open ground. Sure, she had probably used a sight shield to get that close without being noticed. Sure, Lucivar and Karla had been a distraction, but . . .

Lucivar had known she was there.

. . . this wasn’t a witch a man wanted coming up on him without warning.

“Helping you with what?” Surreal shouted back.

“With making this lot sweat,” Lucivar replied.

Surreal laughed. “In that case, sugar, I’ll go hone a knife.”

“What?” Ranon said.

Karla laughed and headed for the house, while Surreal moved to join her.

Lucivar gave Ranon a lazy, arrogant smile. “Show some balls, Ranon. You’re not afraid of one little assassin, are you?”

“Assassin?” Reyhana squeaked. Or maybe that was Janos.

Lucivar shrugged. “Surreal is Dea al Mon. I think they’re born knowing what to do with a knife.”

“Mother Night,” Ranon muttered—but not until Lucivar walked away. Then he looked at Gray, who was staring at the house with a strange, thoughtful expression in his eyes.

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