I lay on my bed half dressed, Tristan on top of me, kissing me, stroking me, whispering over and over that he loved me.
I don’t know if he was drunk, or upset, and in that moment, I didn’t care, which I think makes me awful, but I didn’t care about that either. I had Tristan, he was saying the things I’d always wanted him to. He went to unlace himself, and I stopped him.
“It’s alright, love,” he said.
“No,” I whispered, “I love you, but not that, not like this, not when she,” he nodded and rolled off of me. “Besides which, I’m not ready.” He nodded.
“Alright,” he mumbled, and we kissed again.
“Tell me again,” I whispered.
“I love you,” he said. We kissed deeply. “I love you.” He drew back and placed his hands on my hips. I spread my legs, and there was a knock on the door.
“Marina?” The voice on the other end was Athena’s. “Are you in there? We saw you leave.”
“I’m here, give me a few moments.” I said. Tristan looked at me. I pulled my dressing gown on. I went to the door and cracked it open.
“Are you feeling well?” Athena asked. “You left so suddenly.”
“I’m alright,” I said, “just, it’s been a trying day.” Athena nodded. “Does Annalise need me?”
“No,” Athena said, “she’s with The Prince. She wants to go riding all together tomorrow though. Will you be up for it?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll see that her things are set.” Athena nodded. “Anything else?”
“Have a lovely evening Tristan,” she called, pushing the door open. He was on his back with his hands against his forehead. “I suggest you go back to your own rooms. You’ll both think better of this in the morning.”
I looked back at him.
“How did she know?” I asked. He sighed.
“Because she’s Athena, and she knows me,” he said. “Marina,” he said as I sat down. He kissed my shoulder. “How I feel about you isn’t new. When we were younger I didn’t know how to love you.” He kissed me. “I’ve learned.”
“I know,” I said and pulled away. “You learned by loving Annalise.” He exhaled. “Tristan, we can’t do this. Like I said earlier, it isn’t fair.”
“To Annalise,” he said standing up, “she’s abandoning me for him.”
“It isn’t fair to her, but it also isn’t fair to me!” I said. “Or you. It isn’t what any of us want.”
“I want you,” he said. We kissed again. I pulled away.
“Please go,” I whispered. “I won’t be able to say no again.” He nodded and left, silently. I’d only seen that look on his face a few times before, now it was worse, tempered by hurt and pain.
“I saw he left,” Athena said softly. I nodded. “You didn’t, it didn’t finish?” I shook my head. “She wouldn’t forgive you, you know.”
“I know,” I whispered. “I didn’t care. Tristan,” I sighed, “he said he loved me, I’ve waited half my life to hear him say it.”
“This afternoon, while you were studying,” she said, “he asked Annalise to marry him.” I swallowed and nodded. “She said no, obviously, I’m sorry, I know this hurts you, but he’s angry and confused and.”
“I should have known,” I said. “I mean, I did, I knew he wouldn’t have come to me if they hadn’t quarreled, but,” Athena hugged me close. “He’s given up on her.”
“For now,” she nodded, “but when Prince Eric leaves, and our Lisette is free to look at Tristan again,” she sighed, “I don’t want you to be left in the dust over it, that’s all.” I nodded.
“I appreciate it,” I said softly. “You won’t tell Annalise?”
“No,” Athena said softly. “I won’t. I might even have a solution, that would help Tristan and keep you from being hurt.” I looked at her. “My grandfather and aunt spoke to me tonight, they’re eager to reunite Tristan and I with The Dumanis.”
“A merchant marriage,” I whispered. “For Tristan?”
“For both of us, actually,” she said. “But I have Aaron, and no merchant in their right mind would want to alienate Pantona, it’s too much good territory.”
“Tristan would go to Dorin,” I whispered. She nodded. “Leaving Annalise free to pursue Eric without him looking over her shoulder and giving him a chance at something.” Athena nodded. “Have you mentioned this plan to him.”
“No,” she said, “I was going to find him, and here we are.” She stood up. “I’ll see to Annalise tonight. We are actually going riding in the morning, so be sure to dress up. Lieutenant Lestoff asked if you would be coming. Sir Raymond too, you’ve clearly made an impression.” I wrinkled my nose. “Being the belle of court is fun, Marina, I promise. I even thought it was fun under Brayton, with Annalise it will be an absolute scream.” I giggled. “Tristan does care for you, I think he always has he’s just abominably stupid.”
“I know,” I said. “You’re going to make a very good Countess of Pantona you know.” She laughed.
“Olivia has very large shoes to fill when it comes to providing comfort and counsel, but I’ll do my best,” she said softly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a brother to go castigate.” She got up and bounced out.
I sighed and leaned back into bed, knowing that I was moments away from having the thing I’d dreamed of since I was twelve.
And knowing that it wasn’t the right thing anyway.