She was already a little in love with him, and she didn’t even know his name.
“Who . . . ?”
“I am Kermilla.” She offered her hand.
He raised her hand to his lips andkissed it. Not lips held a breath away from skin, but a real kiss.
“Why are you distressed?” he asked.
“Well, Cassidy and I had a little disagreement, and she ordered me to leave.”
He stiffened. “Leave?”
Maybe she had an ally in this place after all. She gave him a wobbly smile. “As in, ‘Get out of my house.’ ”
A weird, chilling heat filled his eyes. “It’s not her house. She has no right to toss you out as if you were a landen.”
“But . . . doesn’t she live here?”
“This is my family home. I offered its use for the Queen’s residence, but this is stillmy house, not hers. And if Lady Cassidy has forgotten her manners, I have not. I would be honored if you would bemy guest for as long as you want to stay.”
“Oh, that is most kind of you, Prince Grayhaven. Or may I be so bold as to call you Theran?”
His smile made her feel wonderful.
“I would be honored to be addressed as a friend.”
She vanished the handkerchief, then slipped her arm through his. “In that case, perhaps you would indulge me by showing me around and telling me about the history of this place and your family.” Men usually liked talking about such things.
He searched her face, but she had no idea what he searched for—or if he found it.
“Do you really want to know?” he finally asked.
No, but she could see it mattered to him. “Yes, I really want to know.”
“It would be a pleasure, Lady.”
He sounded like he meant it, and wasn’t that the loveliest thing of all?
Gray yanked out weeds with controlled savagery. A few days gone at this time of year and the weeds crept in. Had to be vigilant. Always vigilant. Or the weeds crept in.
Snarling, he twisted around and threw the weeding claw as hard as he could.
Ranon shouted and swore as the claw hit the shield he threw around himself.
“Hell’s fire, Gray! What’s the matter with you?” Ranon roared. “No one shields on the home ground. You threw that damn thing hard enough to hook into someone’s gut.”
Gray rose to his feet and waited for Ranon to get within reach. “Maybe everyone better start shielding, home ground or not.”
Ranon stopped. Stared. Looked at the mansion—and swore. “You feel it too.”
“Wouldn’t turn my back on her,” Gray said.
“Yeah.” Ranon stared at the flower bed. “Got no proof she’s a bitch, except the snotty way she spoke to Cassidy. Got no proof she’s done any harm to her people. But I wouldn’t trust her with anyone I cared about. She’s . . . off. Not twisted, not evil like the Queens who had ruled here before the witch storm swept them away. But something isn’t right.”
“Vae says Kermilla smells bad. Not her body, her psychic scent.”
Gray looked toward the mansion—and went rigid. “What in the name of Hell is Theran doing? I thought she was supposed to leave.”
But there was Kermilla, walking arm in arm with Theran, who had the balls to point to the place where the dead honey pear tree had stood for so long—until Cassie had started unlocking the spells that revealed the treasure hidden within Grayhaven.
A treasure that included thirteen honey pears that had survived centuries and were now the seedlings that would be the start of new orchards.
“Gray, don’t,” Ranon said softly. “Cassidy isn’t feeling well. Too much upset.”
“Only a fool would expect her to sit down at the same table withthat. ” And he had a sick feeling that Theran was going to expect exactly that—and be pissy about Cassie not coming to the table.
“She’ll have dinner in her suite tonight with Shira,” Ranon said.
“Let it go, Gray. Both of us need to let it go. Whatever business Kermilla had with Cassidy is done. Tomorrow she’ll go back to where she came from, and we’ll get on with our lives.”
Gray nodded again.
“Are you going to sleep inside tonight?” Ranon asked.
He hesitated. Drought. Plague. Weeds creeping in and choking the good plants. That’s what he felt when he looked at Kermilla. He didn’t want to get anywhere near her, didn’t want to be locked behind walls where she could reach him. The old fears gnawed at him, but something else, something new pushed at him harder.
“Do you think Cassie would mind if I slept on the sofa in her suite?” he asked.
“I think she would understand if you felt uncomfortable being in the family wing.”
With no one but Theran nearby, and the “guest” too close for comfort.
“I am afraid to sleep alone tonight, but that’s only part of it,” Gray said.
“What’s the other part?”
He looked at Ranon. “If I’m sleeping on the sofa, the only way someone can get to Cassie is by going through me.”
Talon leaned against a tree, another dark shape in the night, and waited. Which one of the First Circle would come out to find him?
Hell’s fire. He’d gone to sleep in a Coach full of men feeling hopeful and pleased, and woke to find the Grayhaven mansion inhabited by two armed camps that were barely obeying the command to keep the peace. Ranon and Theran looked ready to tear out each other’s throats, and Gray . . . He wasn’t sure what was going on inside Gray’s head, and that was a worry—especially since Cassidy had retired to her suite before dinner, claiming to feel ill.
And all of this was because of the visitors from Dharo.
When he saw the man coming toward him, he was a little surprised that it was Powell instead of one of the Warlord Princes, but when he gave it a moment’s thought, he realized it wouldn’t have been anyone else. The Steward would be the one to approach the Master of the Guard to discuss how to direct the rest of the First Circle to best serve the Queen.
“Talon,” Powell said.
A middle-aged man whose left hand had been badly broken by the last Queen he’d served, Powell’s steadier temper was proving to be a good balance for the more volatile members of the court.
“Out to get some air?” Talon asked.
“Might blow over.” They weren’t talking about the weather. Talon huffed out a breath. “What in the name of Hell happened? All I’ve heard from both sides is a lot of crap.”