She didn’t know who, if any of them, had contacted the silver twins to bring the horse and pony cart, but Lloyd and Kief were waiting for them. They piled in, Ranon and Shira on the driver’s seat while she and Gray shared the back bench seats with the Scelties.

They piled out again in front of the Queen’s Residence. The silver twins headed back to the stables with the horse. Ranon and Shira headed around the back of the house while Gray grabbed Cassidy’s hand again and headed into the house.

Ranon and Shira hadn’t moved into their own place yet, but it seemed they were going to spend the night there. Probably just as well, considering the way Gray hustled her up the stairs and into her room.

He took her in his arms and pressed a soft kiss on her temple—a kiss that trembled with tenderness as well as the violence inherent in a Warlord Prince.

“Cassie,” he whispered. “Let me love you. Let me be your partner in this dance.”

She shifted enough to look at his face, to look into his eyes. The Fire Dance had burned out what was left of the scarred boy he had been. A man stood before her, waiting for her answer.

“What about Lucivar’s rules?” Not that she gave a damn about Lucivar’s rules right now, but she had to ask while she could still think.

“A useful leash that kept us both safe. But a man doesn’t need someone else to hold the leash. This has nothing to do with Lucivar. Not anymore. Just you and me, Cassie. Now it’s just you and me.”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll take you as my partner, as my lover.”

“Cassie.” That was all he said. All he needed to say.

Soft. Sweet. Hot. Hard. They touched and tasted, learning each other’s bodies as sweat-slicked skin slid across skin. He surrounded her—and she surrounded him—a claiming that went beyond the body. When he brought her up and over the crest a final time and poured himself into her, she knew everything had changed.

Gray woke instantly, his arm tightening over Cassie as he listened for whatever had snapped him out of a sound sleep.

Nothing. And yet,something kept scratching at his senses, demanding acknowledgment.

He slipped out of bed and pulled on a robe. Whatever he was sensing wasn’t in this room.

He reached for the door that opened onto the hallway. The scratchy, demanding feeling faded. When he stepped back from the door, the feeling returned.

He probed the room again—and felt his temper sharpen, felt himself rising to the killing edge as a natural response to a potential threat to his Queen.

Thatsomething wasn’t in Cassie’s room and it wasn’t beyond her room either. That left . . .

He slipped into the adjoining bedroom. His room.

A glint of light near the dresser caught his attention. Despite the scratchy feeling, he sensed nothing dangerous, so he walked over to the dresser, then used Craft to form a small ball of witchlight.

He stared for a long time as his temper eased back from the killing edge. Then he extinguished the witchlight and went back to Cassie’s room.

“You okay?” Cassie murmured when he slipped back into bed.

“I’m fine.” He wrapped an arm around her and kissed the sweet spot on her neck. “Go back to sleep, love. It’s early yet.”

She dropped back into sleep instantly, but he didn’t. He waited until there was enough daylight; then he went back to his room and stared at the globe Tersa had given him.

The dragon, the symbol of himself as a whole man, stared back at him.

CHAPTER 27

TERREILLE

Julien stood in the breakfast room doorway. “There is a man digging in the garden. He says he’s your cousin.”

Theran set his coffee cup down, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and pushed away from the table. “Gray’s here?”

Gray. Digging in the garden. Not coming near the house.

Mother Night.

He glanced at Kermilla and suppressed a sigh. This morning she wasn’t pleased with anyone who had a cock. Jhorma hadn’t returned. Neither had Bardoc. And the escorts who should have arrived for their rotation of service were still in Dharo.

She’d accused him of not sending her letters to her court, claiming he was jealous of her men. That was true, up to a point. He craved her in a way he’d never craved anything else. She was a fever in his blood, and even when she did things that made him uneasy or they argued about money, heknew the problems were simply because she was a young, inexperienced Queen—and because she came from a family who had wealth he couldn’t imagine—and he still wanted to shape things to meet her wishes and will as much as he could.

So, yes, he was jealous. But he was practical enough to recognize that having a couple of her First Circle here to help entertain her would have worked to his advantage.

All in all, this wasn’t a good day to ask her to talk to Gray.

“I’d better go out and see him,” he said.

“Your cousin is the gardener, isn’t he?” Kermilla spread jam over her toast in a fussy manner and didn’t look at him. “It’s good he’s come back. The flower beds have been looking very weedy and unkempt lately. It gives visitors a bad impression.”

Theran saw Julien’s face tighten. The butler worked in the garden as a way to relax and was doing what he could to keep things tidy. But the grounds weren’t part of Julien’s duties, and Kermilla preferred to enjoy the results of someone else’s labor—and complained when the results didn’t meet her expectations.

“Julien, bring another pot of coffee,” Kermilla said, not looking at either man as she continued to spread the jam on the toast. “And tell the cook to pay attention to what she’s doing this time. This last pot tasted like wash water.”

Julien turned and walked away. Theran followed him.

“Julien?” Kermilla yelled. “Did you hear me?”

Julien stopped and turned to Theran. There was a queer look in the butler’s eyes. “I’m not going back in that room. I have other duties.”

“What are you doing this morning?” Theran asked.

Julien’s mouth curved in an unnerving smile. “I’m sharpening the cook’s knives.”

Theran hurried out to the garden. He hadn’t heard from Gray since Cassidy ran away to Eyota. Talon had written to him a couple of times early on, Master of the Guard to First Escort, and news filtered through from some of the Warlord Princes he knew, but he hadn’t heard from Gray.

A large woven basket sat at the edge of the Queen’s flower bed. The bottom of it was filled with bulbs.

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