I woke up and walked downstairs to the parlor, where Father was sitting at his desk scowling over another letter, while Mother hummed happily over her embroidery. I hadn’t seen Emily, which meant she was probably still in bed.

“Good Morning, Caro,” Mother said with a grin, “a note for you.” I smiled and took it. Tristan sent notes most mornings. I looked forward to them almost as much as his visits.

“Thank you,” I said and opened it.

Dear Miss DuKarras,

I hope this finds you well. If you’re available some time today, I would very much appreciate a private conversation, followed, if possible, by an interview with your father.

Please respond promptly. As you saw yesterday evening, I am low on patience in regards to the matter I wish to discuss.

You Humble Servant

Commander Tristan Dugarry

“Father,” I said, he looked over at me, “did Lady Athena’s most recent letter meet your standards?” I swallowed. I hoped he didn’t see how much I was blushing. At a dinner party that Cassidy Weirs threw last night, Tristan had practically bitten the head off of Galen DuTrin, who’d remarked that the commander seemed singularly focused, when surely there were other amusements available. He’d later kissed me so fiercely, I thought my gown would catch on fire.

I could easily live the rest of my life vexxing him, if it meant I could get more kisses like that.

“Yes,” he grumbled, “she’s being quite generous, a place in The Guard if you want it, a townhouse in Dorin and a place, exact location to be determined on her husband’s land.” Mother dropped her embroidery. “Is he going to propose? Or has he already?”

“He asked to see me today,” I said, “and then to speak to you after. So I think he’s going to, yes.” Father nodded.

“And you’d take the place in the guard,” he said, “I assume. I know his grandfather was hoping you’d influence him into the busissness.”

“I don’t think he has any interest in that,” I said, “but that isn’t what I asked.” He sighed, as Mother glared at him.

“I am comfortable with the terms, yes,” he said, “and if you’re going to accept him, I won’t push back.” I nodded quickly. “Are you going to accept?”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Mother said, “of course she is. The boy’s here nearly every day, and she’s been walking around with her head in the clouds.”

“I have not,” I said. She rolled her eyes. “And I do plan on saying yes.” Mother pressed her hands against her mouth.

“Whatever shall you wear?” She said exclaimed, “and we must get your hair up.” I twirled an end around my finger and thought of Tristan’s hands tangled in it.a v

“He likes it down,” I said softly. She nodded. “I hadn’t considered what to wear.” She frowned.

“I wish there was time to find something new,” she sighed. “Go wake your sister, I’ll consider it.” I nodded and ran up to Emily’s room. I was excited to tell her. I burst open the door, thinking I’d see her with the covers over her head. Instead I saw a very surprised Alex sitting up quickly, while Emily, horrified jumped to her feet.

“Good morning to you both,” I said, flouncing to and plopping in a chair. Emily swallowed.

“Oh you won’t tell Papa, will you Caro?” She said. I glanced at Alex. “We’re getting married anyway, after all, and well,” I glanced at Alex, who at least looked marginally ashamed of being caught.

“Of course I won’t tell,” I said, “but he should slip out, Mother wants to see you, we have to pick something for me to wear.”

“Ah,” Alex said, standing up and pulling his pants on. “Tristan has gathered his courage then?” I rolled my eyes.

“Tristan marched into Dovetail on the day The Queen captured Lord Brayton,” Emily said, “I’m sure he’s not afraid of Caro.”

“I’ve met Brayton,” Alex said and took my hand and squeezed it, “Caro is much scarier.” I giggled. “My love,” he kissed Emily. She smiled as he slipped out the door.

“How often does that happen?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Not often,” she said, “never really, last night we just got more carried away than usual.” I nodded. “Are you excited?”

“I am,” I said softly. She smiled. “Em,” I whispered, “I worry about my leaving though.” She looked at me. “I know you love Alex, and he loves you, but that family,” I drifted. She sighed.

“You’re marrying into that family too,” she pointed out.

“It’s different and you know it,” I said. She looked at me, slightly amused. “You could come with me, we could get away.”

“That’s what you want,” she said softly, “it’s never been what I wanted, if it was, I could have had it.” She’s right of course. “Tell mother I’ll be right in, but I think the green dress, with the gold sash. The Uniform colors. He should know where you stand.” I’m so used to my perky little sister that I forget this side of her. The merchant side, cold and calculating.

“Right,” I nodded.

After my attire was chosen, the decision was made that Tristan would come after lunch, and when things were settled we would send for Alex, and his aunts and uncles. Not the old man, who wouldn’t deign to come into this house until after the wedding.

Emily and Mother posed me on a bench under a flowering tree. The whole thing felt stupid and faked and not like Tristan and I at all, with our blunt conversations and long walks, but I’m tired of fighting with everyone. I just want him.

And when he walked through to the garden, dressed in his simple training uniform, I couldn’t help smiling. He looked so shy and yet also firmly sure of himself.

“Hello,” he said softly.

“Hello,” I managed to exhale. “You wore the uniform.”

“You like the uniform,” he said softly. I nodded. “Carolina, I,” he swallowed, “remember, when we first met and I said I didn’t like games?” I nodded. “I want to marry you, do you want to marry me.” I swallowed.

“Yes,” I said softly, “yes, I do want to marry you,” he smiled and pulled me close and kissed me. His hand slipped to my backside and then my thighs, still over my skirt, I hadn’t let him under it yet. “Tristan,” I whispered, “not here.” He sighed, resting his forehead against mine.

“I want you so much,” he said. I smiled, Emily owed me for this morning, so I knew tonight wouldn’t be a problem.

“Tonight,” I said, “but now you have to talk to my father.” He groaned.

“Tonight,” he said softly, he lips barely brushing my ear. “You promise?” I nearly relented there. But the idea of my first time with Tristan being rushed and against the tree, his hand over my mouth so no one could hear me.

“I promise,” I exhaled.


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