“That’s why I want to train to be a Consort,” he finished. “So I can take Theran’s place and keep the court intact.”
Silence. Then Daemon said, “First Escort, not Consort.”
“Cassie and I are lovers. I should be her Consort.”
“When did this happen?” Lucivar asked. “I don’t recall discussing it—or giving my permission.”
The mildly curious tone made Gray nervous. Then he remembered the fire dance and the primal power that he’d finally welcomed without reservation. He was no longer just Gray, the man. Now he was also Jared Blaed, the Warlord Prince. “With all respect, Prince Yaslana, the rules you set in the spring protected me as well as Cassie because I wasn’t emotionally ready to be a lover. Now I am, and we don’t need those rules anymore—and frankly, what she and I do together is none of your business.”
Lucivar smiled. “You can look me in the eyes and say that, so you’re right. It’s none of my business anymore.”
Thank the Darkness for that.
“First Escort, Gray, not Consort,” Daemon said.
“You were Jaenelle’s Consort,” Gray said.
“And make no mistake, I still am. But the Queen’s Triangle is about the court, and while the Consort provides a very intimate kind of service, his position and his status are still about the court. In terms of the court, a First Escort performs the same function except for the sex. Your relationship with Cassie is personal. You want to keep it that way. She was hurt by the last man who served as her Consort. You don’t ever want her to wonder if you’re in her bed because you want to wear the Consort’s ring and have the status and reputation that goes with it.”
Gray sat down. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
“You’re into the last of the harvest now, aren’t you?” Saetan asked.
“Yes, sir. Except for the autumn squashes that we’ll harvest next month, the rest has been brought in.”
“All right,” Saetan said. “You’ll come here once a week, late afternoon. Plan to stay over until the following morning. You’ll be studying Protocol with an eye to how it applies to a First Escort.”
“What should I tell Cassie?” Gray asked. “I don’t want her to know about this. Not until she has to. It will break her heart.”
“Tell her I’ve decided you require more training, and I’m going to personally provide that training. If she has any problem with you spending time at the Keep, she may discuss it with me.”
“Do you think she will discuss it with you?”
Didn’t think so.
“You’ll also work with Daemon and Lucivar.”
“We’ll let him practice with Jaenelle,” Lucivar said. “When he can keep up with her—and keep track of her—for half a day, he’ll be able to make the run with any other Queen.”
“That’s settled then,” Saetan said.
“What happens when Theran breaks Cassidy’s court?” Gray asked.
“If Theran has the same misunderstanding about courts that you do, he’s in for a rude awakening,” Saetan said. “Except when a court is first formed, not everyone joins at the same time. People come in, people move on.”
“And sometimes timing can be a delightful knife rammed up someone’s ass,” Daemon purred. “The moment Theran announces his intentions to make Kermilla the Queen, Cassidy can demote him to a regular escort in her First Circle and you can sign a contract to serve as First Escort. That gives her thirteen males in the First Circle. If Cassie chooses not to dismiss him, Theran has to fulfill his contract to the last minute. Next spring, she already has a court that stands, and he’s left trying to build one around a Queen of questionable morals.”
Gray looked at Daemon. “Did you know he would do this when you let Cassie come to Dena Nehele?”
Daemon stared at him for a long time. “If I’d known, I would have buried him in a grave that could never be found. But that’s done now, and we have to let this play out as it will.”
He looked at the three men who watched him with such predatory patience and knew the answer.
If Jaenelle thought Cassie could win against Kermilla without direct help from these men, then she could win. Would win.
In the next few months, he was going to learn everything he could from these men to make sure of it.
“When do we start?” he asked.
“Since we’re all here, now would be a good time,” Saetan replied.
Cassidy glanced out the window again. Gray had left very early that morning, and no one had seen him since—or knew exactly where he’d gone.
“He had to have told someone where he’d gone,” she said to Talon. “Could he have told one of the Scelties? Someone we didn’t think to ask?”
“Ranon received a message from Gray around midday saying that he had an appointment and would be back late this evening,” Talon replied. “Cassidy . . .”
“But he didn’t saywhere he would be! That’s not like him, Talon. You know that.”
“I’ll send word through the rogue camps. Maybe he’s up in the mountains somewhere.”
After a couple of nights in her bed, was he already looking for a way to leave?
“Cassidy . . .”
She finally heard it. She’d been so preoccupied about Gray, she’d ignored the obvious. Talon had something to tell her, and he wasn’t comfortable saying it.
“I made a promise a long time ago,” Talon said, “and twice a year I keep that promise. It means I’ll be gone for a day. Maybe two.”
“I can’t tell you. Saying more would break a long-standing trust.”
If she ordered him to, he would tell her—and that would break the trust building between them.
“Can you promise me that what you do will not harm Dena Nehele or any of its people?” she asked.
He relaxed. He even smiled. “That I can promise with everything in me.”
“Then we’ll look forward to your return.”
“Thank you, Lady.”
After Talon left the room, Cassidy curled up in a window seat.
It wasn’t fair to compare Gray and Jhorma, to compare a man who said he loved her with one who had wanted to list being her Consort on his credentials. It wasn’t fair, but Gray’s unexplained absence made her wonder if he would continue to want her now that he was emotionally healed. Being his first lover didn’t mean he wanted her to be his last.