“Lady Cassidy will meet you under the tree,” Ranon said a moment later.
Gray looked at the tree and smiled. “You cleaned up that sitting area.” Ranon shrugged. “It was a way to stay close but not underfoot.” Gray shifted, as if he was about to walk away. Then he looked at Talon. “I’m sorry I worried you and the rest of the court.”
“Most times it’s the Steward or the Master of the Guard who is informed, but anyone in the First Circle would do,” Talon said.
“Yes, sir.” Gray walked over to the tree to wait for Cassidy.
All three men watched him. Then Talon rubbed his hands over his face. “Mother Night.”
Turning his back on Gray and struggling to keep his voice low, Theran fixed his anger on Talon. “We spent half the day searching this village for him, and you’repolite when he comes strolling back? Why?”
“Two words,” Talon replied. “ ‘Uncle Saetan.’ ”
Ranon huffed out a breath. “Yeah, that changes a few things, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Talon agreed.
“Changes what?” Theran demanded.
“Gray is not a boy anymore,” Talon said. “I taught him what I could. Now the High Lord of Hell will teach him the rest. Theran, no one would callthat man ‘uncle’ without being invited to do so. And the simple truth is, he understands Gray better than I do.”
“Then lethim go looking the next time Gray acts like an ass,” Theran snapped.
He walked away. Had to. Nothing was the way he’d hoped it would be. This visit to Eyota had shown him just how unsuitable Cassidy was to rule Dena Nehele. She had no sense of style, no sense of decorum, nosense. She was a handyman’s daughter who, through some freak combination of bloodlines, happened to be a Queen.
He had promised to try to be a good First Escort, but every day the court had spent here had made it harder to keep that promise.
The problem was there wasn’t any other choice.
She was wearing a hat. So were Shira and Reyhana, even though their skin wouldn’t burn in the sun the way Cassie’s did.
She removed the hat and vanished it the moment she reached the shade under the tree, which made him grin.
“You requested an audience, Prince?” Cassie said.
Still bitchy. Well, he probably deserved that.
“Does turning firewood into wood chip mulch work for female temper or just male?” he asked.
“What?” A moment’s puzzlement. Then her eyes widened as if the question suddenly made sense. “Gray, exactly where did you go today?”
“I went to see—”Uncle Saetan. Saying that to Talon was a message. Saying it to Cassie might be bragging. “—the High Lord.”
“You told me to talk to someone.”
“I know, but . . .” She stuttered over to a chair and sat down. “What did he say?” She raised a hand. “No. Don’t answer. What is said between you is private.”
He was glad she appreciated that a man needed to keep some thoughts and feelings private—even from the woman he loved.
“He didn’t say much,” he offered, taking the other chair. “Mostly he taught me how to use Craft and power to change firewood into wood chip mulch.”
Cassidy looked around. Then she shook her head. “SaDiablo Hall has acres of gardens and interior courtyards, and they all had this woody mulch I thought was wonderful. I remember asking Tarl, the head gardener, where I could find some for my mother’s garden, and he asked if I had a brother. But he never explained further. You don’t think . . . ?”
Gray snorted. “I filled half a barrel before the High Lord decided I had worked out enough of the temper. I think he’s a practical man whose groundskeepers get a lot of help for free.”
She laughed, and the sound of it eased something inside him.
“Do you want to yell at me?” he asked. He saw warmth and humor in those wonderful hazel eyes.
“I’m thinking about it,” she replied.
A ritual question and answer, something that belonged to them.
He held out his hand. She slipped her hand into his without hesitation.
“We’re heading back to Grayhaven tomorrow?” he asked.
Cassie nodded. “It’s time. Powell will send some of the Protocol books so Reyhana, Janos, and a few others can start learning the basics.”
“Janos? I thought he’d be more interested in weapons than books.”
“He is.” Cassie’s smile widened. “But he has an older brother who has decided that he will learn Protocol—or else.”
“Ranon’s going to be at Grayhaven,” Gray pointed out. “Easy enough to forget about the books when the older brother isn’t breathing down your neck.”
“Harder to forget the books when he’ll be tested the next time I come to visit and his ability will determine whether or not he’ll be Reyhana’s escort, since she’ll also come back to visit.”
“Ah. Bribery.” He looked at the boardinghouse. It needed attention, but he felt good in this house, in this village. As if he belonged. “So we’ll be coming back to visit?”
Cassie nodded. “Hopefully I’ll have a chance to meet some of the other Queens who survived the witch storm and are ruling pieces of Dena Nehele. If they don’t know about siphoning power into the land, it’s something I can teach them.Carefully. ”
A psychic tap on the shoulder had him looking toward the house. “Ranon’s signaling. I guess it’s time for dinner.”
“I guess it is.”
They walked into the dining room hand in hand. Gray noticed how every man in the First Circle deliberately moved to catch his eye and offer him a nod or a smile.
Every man except Theran.
The study door opened without a knock or any other kind of request to enter.
Mildly annoyed at the intrusion, Daemon looked up—and annoyance gave way to warm pleasure. He pushed away from the desk and glided to the spot where Surreal waited for him.
“Welcome back,” Daemon said, kissing her cheek.
“It’s good to be back,” she replied, hooking her long black hair behind one delicately pointed ear. “Although I may have caused a small domestic crisis.”
“Oh?” Daemon raised one eyebrow. Since no one had come pounding into the study to report on the crisis, it couldn’t be that bad.
“The Dea al Mon have very . . . fluid . . . ideas about what kind of greenery belongs inside their homes. When Beale escorted me up to my suite here a few minutes ago, I got so excited about not having a tree growing in the middle of my bedroom . . . Well, I hugged him.”