Kermilla wasn’t like the Queen who had tortured Gray. Shewasn’t. But she’d made an error in judgment that would not be fixed easily. If he could fix it at all.

“Theran?” Kermilla climbed into his lap and pressed against him. “Theran, I’m sorry about this little trouble.”

“One of your men died. That’s not a little trouble,” he said wearily. “Talon, the most respected man in this land, is against you. That’s not a little trouble. The fact that Talon isn’t making a distinction between kindred and human Blood in this instance . . .” He sighed. “In a couple of days, every Warlord Prince is going to know that you sent a man to Eyota to abduct a young Warlord, and no one is going to care if you intended to take a boy or a dog.”

She snuggled down and put her head on his shoulder. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.” He put his arms around her, unable to deny her whatever comfort he could give. “I really don’t know.”

Ranon stood in the parlor doorway, unable to take that last step into the room. Vae looked up from her spot on the sofa and gave him one tail-tip wag. Darkmist, who was on the floor in front of the sofa, gave him no greeting but also didn’t challenge his presence.

A hesitant touch of a hand on his back. He turned and followed Shira to the healing room in the Residence. As soon as she closed the door, he pulled her into his arms and held on.

“I was ashamed that the least of them had chosen me,” he whispered into her hair. “I felt embarrassed when Ferall and the others saw him that day. And now . . .”

“Hush, Ranon, hush,” she said as she stroked his back.

“Is he coming back to us, Shira?”

“I don’t know, but I’m hopeful.”

He eased back enough to rest his forehead against hers. “Where is everyone?”

“Gray took Cassie upstairs. She’s distraught. Powell has been in his office since you left. The rest of the First Circle and the guards have been patrolling the village in shifts. I sent Reyhana and Janos to your grandfather for the night. They spent hours in the parlor this evening, taking turns readingSceltie Saves the Day, and they both needed to be away for a while. Vae and Darkmist have been here all the time. The other Scelties come for an hour, then go out with one of the men to patrol.”

“Shira . . .”

“He’s hiding under your shirt.” She said the words quickly, as if she needed to silence any questions she couldn’t answer. “Vae thinks that’s a good sign because he’s been making tiny movements to get himself completely covered. You can’t see anything but the tip of his nose now.”

“I’m so tired, love. I was in a fight once that lasted a whole day. It was a relentless battle on a killing field, so we were all committed to winning or dying. Barely had time for a sip of water or a mouthful of food in the rare spaces between one enemy and the next. When I finally walked off that field, I didn’t feel this tired.”

“Come to bed,” Shira said, caressing his face. “We’ll take Khollie up with us. Maybe we’ll both get a little rest that way.”

He followed her back into the parlor and very carefully lifted the bundle hidden in his shirt. They went up to their room, and he tucked Khollie on the bed between them.

The last thing he remembered after stretching out on the bed was linking fingers with Shira.


A scared little whisper of a voice, but enough to have his eyes opening to stare at the bedroom ceiling.


Ranon turned his head to look at the bundle on the bed. *Khollie?*

Pinching a little of the shirt, he eased it back until he could see the dog’s head—and the dark eyes staring at him.

*Hey, little brother. We were worried about you.*

Khollie peered at his surroundings. *I am on the bed. I am not supposed to be on the bed. It is a Shira rule.*

*I know. But she said you were allowed this one time.*

*Ranon? I need a tree.*

*You want some food too?*


*Come on, then. We’ll see what we can find.*

He helped Khollie untangle himself from the shirt, then eased out of bed.

Shira immediately woke up. “Ranon?”

“It’s all right,” he said quietly. “Khollie and I are going to get something to eat.”

She rolled over to look at Khollie, who gave her a quick lick on the chin before jumping off the bed.

“Oh,” she said. “All right.”

As Ranon let them out of the room, he heard her muffled sob.

He closed the door as quietly as he could, but he’d barely taken a step before Cassie’s door opened and Gray stood there.

He knew about Yaslana’s rules concerning Gray and Cassie’s physical relationship. Hell’s fire,everyone knew about Lucivar’s rules. But he wasn’t going to ask where Gray was sleeping tonight.

Gray looked down and smiled. “Hey, Khollie.”

Khollie wagged his tail and whined softly.

“We’re going downstairs,” Ranon said.

Gray nodded and closed the door.

When they reached the back door, Khollie stood in the doorway, trembling.

*Khollie?* Vae joined them. *Are you going outside? I have to go too. We will go together. Ranon will guard us.*

“Yes, I will.” He put an Opal shield around the backyard. Nothing would get in—or out—without him knowing about it.

He stood in the doorway, watching, and didn’t turn when Gray came up behind him.

“I told Cassie that Khollie woke up,” Gray said. “She wants to cry by herself for a little while.”

“Shira is crying too.” Maybe it wasn’t fair to ask, but there was no one else he could ask. “Will Khollie be all right, Gray?”

Those green eyes held too much knowledge. Then Gray said, “We’ll help him be all right.”



Saetan sat on the wide arm of a stuffed chair and watched a storm gather in one of the Keep’s sitting rooms.

The first warning of trouble had been the two Warlords who arrived at the Keep a couple days ago. They wanted passage through the Gate in order to return to Dharo—and they brought the body of another man.

The second warning had come in a note from Daemon yesterday, requesting his presence at a meeting. Official, careful wording. Not a message from son to father but from Consort to Steward.

When Jaenelle was pissed off about something, she didn’t seem to remember that she no longer had an official court.

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