I looked in the mirror and straightened my hair and uniform. Aaron looked at me with a lopsided grin.

“All this for your grandfather?” He teased. “I thought you didn’t care what he thought.” I frowned.

“I don’t,” I said, “but we need him, so now I have to.” Aaron sighed and nodded and kissed me. “Plus Tristan’s future inlaws will be there and I want to make a good impression.”

“Of course,” he said. “Come on, we should meet my mother and head down.” I nodded and we walk solemnly down into town and to where we knew the ships would be docking. Olivia looked even more nervous than I did and I realized that was terribly sweet.

“I’m sure he’s dying to see you,” I whispered to her.

“I’m dying to see him,” she sighed, “but it’s also the first time I’m seeing Trey since,” she exhaled, “one does feel a bit guilty.” I smiled at her.

“I doubt Trey blames you,” I said. She smiled softly. We stood as a gang plank was rolled out reveal the very grand party of my grandfather, Trey, Tristan, Martin, and two people I didn’t recognize, a man, who had a haughty and annoyed look on his face and a very beautiful young woman, who looked pale and nervous.

“That must be them, then,” Aaron said with a grin. “Tristan’s letters didn’t do her justice.”

“Down boy,” I said with a wink.

“I’m merely noticing, my love,” he said as they walked down. “Chancellor DuManis,” he said, using my grandfather’s guild title. A well done flattery, “Master DuManis, General, Commander.”

“Count,” Grandfather smiled and shook Aaron’s hand, “Countess Olivia, what an unexpected pleasure.” Then he regarded me. “Athena.”

“Grandfather,” I said, accepting his kiss on my cheek. “Hello Uncle,” I said and embraced Trey, “General,” I said squeezing his hands. Tristan grinned wildly at me. “You look terrible.” He laughed and hugged me tightly.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said softly. I laughed. “Hello Aaron.”

“Hello Tristan,” Aaron laughed and hugged him. “And who is this vision?” He moved to Miss DuKarras. I sighed. “Count Aaron of Pantona.” He took her hand.

“Stop it,” Tristan said, “may I present my intended, Miss Carolina DuKarras, and her father, Mr. Angelo DuKarras.”

“Your Grace,” Miss DuKarras dipped to Aaron as he kissed her hand. “It’s an honor.”

“Yes, yes,” Mr. DuKarras said and looked at me. “We’re all quite honored. Lady Athena, I believe we have a great deal to discuss.”

“Of course you do,” Olivia said in her most graceful and welcoming voice, “but please, let us help you all get settled first.” Martin raised his eyebrows at me. “Please, Mr. DuKarras, Duchess Marina and I were quite busy finding a house for your daughter and you.” She slid her arm through his and they started walking.

“She is really good at that,” Trey sighed and laughed, Martin shook his head.

“She is,” he said. “We should follow them,” they walked on, and I took Tristan’s arm, and the four of us started walking slowly.

“How was the voyage?” I asked. “Marina and Lisette were practically throwing their jewels in the sea to appease Rana.”

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “Carolina wasn’t well.” I looked back at her, giggling as Aaron teased her. “Where are they?” He asked.

“Annalise is in negotiations with Admiral Franz, with Duchess Norvine representing the council,” I explained. He nodded. “Marina is with Elodie, preparing the healers in case of battle.” He nodded.

“How are the negotiations?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t think it will matter in the end,” I said. “Franz isn’t seriously here to invade, he’s here to sweep Marina away.” Tristan looked at me. “He is not doing particularly well, she mostly ignores him or when forced answers him sarcastically.” He smiled.

“She’s grown up,” he said, “remember how she used to simply go pale and silent whenever Brayton would force his attention.” I smiled.

“I do,” I said. “There’s going to be a dinner at the palace tonight, to welcome Grandfather and so you can present Carolina.” He sighed.

“Right,” he mumbled, “the sooner the better, I suppose.” I looked at him.

“It won’t be bad,” I said, “she’s ready to like her, Tristan. She’s moved on.” He exhaled, I looked behind me. “Miss DuKarras,” I said bouncing over to them, “You’re to ignore everything he says.” She laughed. Aaron shook his head.

“Didn’t I say it?” He shrugged. “I’m horribly abused.” I rolled my eyes.

“Count Aaron was telling me about your plans in Pantona,” she explained. “Apparently his manager has found three houses for us to choose from. It’s awfully generous of you both.”

“It is the opposite of generous,” I said pulling her away. “These past few months have been the longest of my life and if I’m forced to live apart from Tristan again, I might explode, or Aaron will kill me.” She laughed.

“He missed you too,” she said. “He was practically vibrating with excitement all last night.” I laughed. “I hope when you speak with my father you don’t,” she sighed, “An old suitor came back into orbit recently and he’s suddenly more resistant to this match than he was. I also think he’s a little insulted you haven’t mentioned my dowry.” I stared at her.

“Oh,” I said, “I hadn’t thought of that.” She nodded. “Should I be demanding he pays us more? We don’t need it, you know! We’re Trey’s heirs and we have money from our father’s family and well,” she smirked at me and shrugged.

“It’s about his pride,” she explained, “Tristan mentioned the Count doesn’t approve of any of it, but you’re still having contracts.” I smiled.

“That’s true,” I said. “Do you care?” She bit her bottom lip.

“No,” she said, “I love Tristan and I want to marry him.”

“That was the correct answer.” I smiled as we walked up to the town house.

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