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  • The Shadow Queen(Black Jewels,Book 7)(93) by Anne Bishop
  • “Ah.” Burle nodded. “Heard of them. Haven’t met one.”

    “You will,” Gray said darkly. “Vae has opinions about everything.”

    Burle looked at the room. “Tell you what. I’ll trade you. You help me for two hours and learn a bit in the process, and I’ll give you two hours of labor to help take care of your work. And we’ll see how it goes.”

    “Okay.”

    Burle didn’t think less of him for not being able to work a full day. Didn’t say anything about the torture. Was just as matter-of-fact about it all as Lucivar had been.

    Something inside Gray relaxed.

    “Let’s start by taking some measurements,” Burle said. “Then, while we’re taking care of some of your work, we can talk about how to make some furniture that will suit you and still make my girl happy.”

    Later that evening, after a meal when no one seemed able to relax enough to just talk, Cassidy and Burle went out walking, heading toward open fields that were away from the house—and the people.

    “You want to tell me what’s wrong?” Burle asked.

    Cassidy linked her arm with her father’s and said nothing.

    “All right,” Burle said after a minute. “Let me put it this way: what’s wrong?”

    “Theran is a pigheaded ass.”

    “You’re entitled to your opinion, Kitten, but I’m not sure you’re entitled to shame him in front of the people he has to work with.”

    “Why not? He does it to me.”

    Burle stopped walking, and Cassidy felt an odd chill in the air.

    Mother Night. Her father was a Warlord who wore Tiger Eye, and under most circumstances, Burle wouldn’t think of going up against a Warlord Prince. But fathers weren’t always careful when they stepped up to defend a daughter.

    “He blocks everything I try to do,” Cassidy said hurriedly. “He won’t let me go out to the Provinces to meet the remaining Queens and see who might be willing—and capable—of doing more than they’re doing now. Hell’s fire! He doesn’t tell the housekeeper how to do her work, but he’s trying to make every decision for me!”

    Burle hesitated—and the air around them changed back to evening cool.

    “From what I’ve gathered, going out and about just yet may not be the wisest—or safest—thing for a Queen to do,” he said.

    “But Theran won’t let those Queens come to Grayhaven either. He even got his back up when I wanted to go into town with Gray and look at plants for the garden.”

    “He might have his reasons.”

    “I’m not pretty enough to impress anyone,” Cassidy muttered.

    “That’s foolish talk, and you know it.”

    Is it really that foolish? she wondered. Since she didn’t want her father challenging Theran—and getting killed because of it—she held her tongue.

    “Time for plain talk, Kitten,” Burle said. “Queens do important work, and they are as necessary to a land as they are to its people. They can make or break a Territory. Hell’s fire, they can make or break a Province or a village. But you’ve missed something along the way, my girl. What you do is work, and when you accepted this contract, you were hired for a particular job.”

    “No one seems to want me to do that job,” Cassidy said, her voice roughened by frustration.

    “Including you?”

    Barely enough light to see his face, but enough to know it was a serious question.

    “Sometimes I have an idea for a piece of furniture,” Burle said, “and I build it just the way I see it in my mind, exactly the way it suits me to build it out of particular materials. I take pride in the work. Some people will like it and some won’t, but it’s all mine. And then there are other times when I’m hired to help someone build a piece of furniture the way they want it built. Their vision, their design. I’ll make suggestions if I foresee a problem in the design or materials, but I’m not the designer, Kitten. I’m the skilled laborer who’s helping someone else create something that matters to them. And even if I think it could have been done differently—or better—I respect what they’re trying to do and give them the best work I can.

    “You’ve been here a few weeks. Prince Theran’s been here his whole life, watching what bad Queens did to his land and his people. I’ve been working with Gray this afternoon, and he’s told me a fair amount about his cousin. Enough for me to figure out that Theran wants to do right by his people and do right by Dena Nehele. The name Grayhaven means something here, and it’s a weight as well as a privilege to carry the name.”

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