Dinner seemed to crawl, though I couldn’t help but relish the toasts to my and Tristan’s happiness, his hand protectively on my back and beaming down at me in adoration.

Or lust. It might just be lust, but at this point I’d take it.

After when we adjourn to the library, I can feel his impatience as we sit quietly and Geno DuFrey pontificates on legacy and the deep connections between The Dumanis and all merchants as well as the crown.

“You promised,” he says cheekily. I smirked. “But Uncle Geno might ruin my mood.” I giggled and sidled next to him.

“I can wait as long as you need,” I whispered and slid my hand to his thigh. “Or restore the mood, if you’d rather.” The sound he made was somewhere between an exhale and a growl. I wasn’t surprised. Andrei had very much appreciated my abilities in that department.

I’d been thinking about Andrei a lot recently. I knew I had to tell Tristan about him. And I was wondering if I’d compare the two of them, I already had in a few ways. From just our fumblings I could tell that Tristan was, well, bigger than Andrei, and as I understood it this matters to men quite a bit, but I don’t quite see how it translates to my pleasure. Not that it was something Andrei was particularly attuned to, anyway. Our nights often ended with him whispering how wonderful I was while I touched myself to finish.

“I don’t think it will be difficult,” he said softly. “How will this work?”

“When they leave,” I explained, “Emily will detain my parents and Alex will bring you upstairs.” He smirked. “They owe me.” He laughed.

“I heard,” he mumbled and kissed me again.

When we did finally adjourn, six toasts later, Tristan departed, or acted like he had with a gallant kiss of my hand, and while Mother wanted to stay up and talk more, I insisted I needed to go to bed.

I was nervous just, waiting. Should I undress? He might want to undress me, though. I did decide to talk off my jewelry and the take my hair down, when the door opened.

Tristan was standing, so tall and proud, and all of his attention was focused on me. It was spellbinding. I swallowed as he walked over and took me by the waist.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind,” he whispered. I smiled.

“No,” I said, and we kissed again. We fell back against the bed and he began kissing my neck softly. “Mm, Tristan wait,” I whispered. He stopped and looked down at me. “I need to,” I paused and exhaled.

“Carolina,” he whispered. “It’s alright, you’re nervous, so am I.” I looked at him. “I’m not that experienced, but I’ve never had complaints.” I giggled.

“I feel like I’ve lied to you,” I whispered. He carefully pushed my hair off my face. “This isn’t the first time,” I sighed. He nodded. “And I thought I loved him, and that he loved me, but then he disappeared and,” he kissed me gently.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered. I looked at him. “I don’t care, about what happened before. After what I’ve done, everything seems small.” I pressed my forehead into his chest. “We have our whole lives.” He kissed me. “And you’re so beautiful, I knew it wasn’t actually possible that the only time anyone noticed you was my idiot cousin.” I giggled. “Now, where were we?” I smiled and slowly undid the buttons on his shirt. He slid my dress off my shoulder and then past my waist. “Is this alright?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. He pulled the rest off, then he starting touching me. I exhaled as his fingers worked me gently. “Oh, Tristan, mm,” I managed.

“You like it then?” He asked. I nodded. He kissed me and carefully moved down my body with the kisses. Each kiss felt heavy with his desire and when he reached between my thighs I whimpered and pulled back, “it’s alright, sweetheart, let me please you.” I closed my eyes as he kissed me gently and then harder.

And what came next felt so overwhelming. I was overwhelmed with haze and explosion of pleasure. I’m sure I was shouting his name. I gasped for breath when he came up and kissed my lips gently.

“Oh Tristan,” I whispered.

“Mm,” he nodded. “I’m glad you’re happy, darling.” I smiled, and my hand crept between his legs.

“And what about you?” I whispered. He grinned and rolled me over onto my back and I squealed.

“I,” he said while kissing me again, “am easily pleased.” I gasped as he pushed into me. That part was over rather quickly, but it felt much better than anything I’d done with Andrei. “Tell me,” he said, “this man who left you, was he perhaps missing part of his brain?” I giggled.

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said softly. He stroked my hair softly. “I’m using you as an excuse to keep wearing my hair down.”

“Mm,” he smiled, “good, because I like it. I can even drop a hint that it’s the fashion in Dovetail if it will stop your mother pinning it up every night.” I looked at him.

“Is it?” I asked. He laughed.

“Sort of?” He said. “Lisette and Marina wear theirs up, but their hair is curly and often braided, so a lot of women follow that. But a lot of women, including my sister and our friend Elodie wear theirs down.” He kissed my neck softly. “I like yours, I like being able to touch it.” I smiled. “When do you want to get married?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “as soon as we can, I suppose. Father and your sister need to sit down before we do.” He nodded. “So after we’re in Pantona.” He kissed my hair again.

“And do you want all of it?” He said softly. “Married by my grandfather, in the guild hall? A reception here and a ball at the manor?” I rested my chin on his chest.

“No,” I said quietly, “although the look on everyone’s faces would be delightful.” He laughed. “But I’d just as soon return triumphantly as Lady Dugarry at Emily and Alex’s wedding.” I paused. “But then what are our options?

“Well,” he said softly, and kissed my hand, “A Mastero would usually preside over a guardsman’s wedding, and Anselm doesn’t seem to hate me,” I laughed. “It could be quiet, simple, in Dovetail.” That sounded like heaven.

“I like that,” I admitted softly. He pressed his forehead to mine. “What do nobles do?” He exhaled.

“The reigning monarch,” he said softly, “or a chosen, usually in the palace, or on a home estate, which I don’t have.”

“Oh,” I rolled onto my back, “that would mean,” he nodded. “Well, I think that would be an awful idea then.” He laughed.

“I wouldn’t mind Marina doing it,” he admitted, “but it would a little uncomfortable.” I kissed him.

“Yes, I think so,” I agreed. He nodded. “Will she hate me?” He sighed.

“I don’t know,” he said softly, “I hope not, I don’t think so.” I looked at him. “She’s a complicated person,” I looked at him. “I wouldn’t expect a warm welcome, though. She’ll keep her distance, most likely.” I swallowed.

“I see,” I whispered, “I suppose you have to leave, in case they check on me.” He laughed at that. “After Andrei, Mother became very strict.” He kissed my forehead.

“Alex is waiting at a tavern to toast me some more anyhow,” he said softly, and stood up. Just watching the way his body moved was entrancing. His muscles were so disciplined, nothing was out of place, I could see how each ripple would effect the next. “I’ll come for breakfast.”

“I’d like that,” I cooed as he kissed me again. “Tristan,” I said softly.

“Yes, Carolina,” he said softly.

“I just,” I whispered, “I’m so happy.” He smiled.

“Me too,” he said gently. “Get some rest.” I snuggled back under the cover. He walked towards the door. “Caro,” he said softly, he’d never shortened my name that way before, it melted me. “I don’t want to lie to you, I’m not sure if I,” he exhaled. “I want to love you.”

“I know that,” I whispered softly. He nodded. “I’m glad that you can,” I looked at him, “thank you for telling me the truth.” He smiled and left. I sighed and flopped back into the covers. I’d been content, happy to be wanted and not even thinking beyond that. But somehow, him stating outright, so plainly that he didn’t love me. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

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