“You’re very impressive tonight,” Mercy said, fastening a sash across my chest. I looked at her. “I understand it. I helped Marina pick her dress for tonight, and she might as well be Rana herself.”

“It’s mostly because between Franz and the merchants I can’t appear even human, let alone,” I swallowed.

“Sir Tristan looked well enough when I saw him,” Mercy grinned. I glared at her. “I’m only saying. And Elodie said he and Marina were practically dancing together when he came to camp.”

“You and Elodie see too much,” I grumbled. She giggled.

“Perhaps,” she said, “but neither of us have seen Miss DuKarras.” I rolled my eyes.

“Aaron said she’s perfect,” I mumbled and fidgeted with my necklace. She touched my wrist to stop me and took my hands.

“When my father used to parade me in front of his friends,” she said softly, “before I met Elodie,” I looked at her. “I made sure I couldn’t be missed. That was my armor. They would see me.” I looked at her. “I think you’re just hoping to be seen tonight, Your Majesty.” I kissed her on the cheek.

“Remind me to humiliate your father every night when we get back to Dovetail,” I said. She laughed.

“He won’t return to court,” she said, kneeling down to settle my skirts. “And I’m reasonably sure if he tried, Elodie would take a knife to him and that wouldn’t be much fun for me.” I laughed and the door opened.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t,” Tristan stopped and I turned and looked at him. “I thought you’d be dressed.”

“I am,” I said. “Thank you, Mercy.” She nodded and walked out, whacking Tristan in the arm.

“Mistress Graves,” he grimaced.

“Commander,” she said. He sighed. I held back a laugh. Mercy’s loyalty was unwavering.

“She’s never liked me,” he said. I smiled. “I wanted to,” I glanced at the bed and nodded and we stepped into the sitting room. And there she was. “Your Majesty, I’d like you to meet my intended, Miss Carolina DuKarras.”

“Oh,” I said softly. I didn’t know what I expected, but when our eyes met I felt two feet tall. She was beautiful, I’d Seen that. But she seemed to fit at Tristan’s side, he seemed to gravitate towards hers, and I wanted to hate her for it.

It was also impossible to miss that she looked terrified.

“Lisette,” he said, “Athena thought this would be be better,” he looked almost ashamed. Carolina looked at me.

“It is,” I finally managed and walked over. “Miss DuKarras, I’m so happy to meet you.” She swallowed and curtsied.

“Your Majesty,” she said, “I am honored. And I hope you’ll accept my service.” I grinned in spite of myself.

“Oh Tristan,” I shook my head, “please tell me you didn’t,” he shook his head. “Your service is accepted, please stand up.”

“What didn’t he do?” Miss DuKarras said and looked at me and then him. “Did I do it wrong?”

“You were perfect,” I said, lacing my arm through hers and walking her out onto the terrace, “when Tristan first learned who I was he dropped to one knee and pledged to die for me.” Tristan looked furious. “So clearly you two are well suited.” She burst out into a laugh.

“He didn’t tell me that!” She said and settled on a chair, “he told me about the lemon orchard in Pantona.”

“Well he comes off as a dashing hero in that story,” I shrugged, “so obviously that’s the one he’d tell.”

“He is right here,” Tristan grumbled and sat down with us. “Please don’t repeat humiliations to my bride, Lisette, she thinks I’m wonderful.”

“Hm,” she nodded, “he was rather wonderful when we were in Dorin. Though he often lost his temper when teased.”

“Oh he hates being teased,” I grinned. Tristan was flushed. “Thomas tells me you wish to enlist.” She sat up straight.

“Very much,” she said, “I want to do my part and I know as Lady Dugarry it will be expected.”

“I happily accept,” I said, “we’ll talk with Thomas in the morning about your assignment. Obviously if you and Prince Eric get on,” I stopped and looked at Tristan. “Well, I suppose we can cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Yes,” Tristan said. “We should go downstairs,” he stood up, Miss DuKarras placed her hand on his arm.

“I’ll go,” she said, “I think you two need to talk.” I swallowed and nodded as she walked out. He watched her go and then cleared his throat.

“Lisette, I,” he started. I smiled.

“She’s wonderful, Tristan,” I said. He smiled. “You’re lucky.”

“I am,” he admitted. “I should have come to see you this afternoon, but there was so much,” I exhaled.

“I know,” I said. We were standing opposite one another. “It’s so good to see you, I was worried,” he nodded.

“Were you?” He swallowed. “Lisette, I,” I stepped closed and wrapped my arms around him. “Gods, I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” I said. “So much, Tristan. I was so lost sometimes, and I love Eric, I do, but, it’s not,” he lifted my chin.

“I know,” he said, “I love Caro, but it isn’t the same. It isn’t us.” I smiled.

“You must have coached her,” I laughed, “I couldn’t believe she practically, mirrored you.” He laughed.

“She didn’t promise to die for you, I still reserve that right,” he said, running a hand over my braids. “This suits you,” I smiled. “Rina almost feels like a stranger.”

“She has grown hasn’t she?” I laughed. “I’m so proud of her. Aaron and I fought and didn’t speak for weeks, did Thena tell you?”

“No,” he said, “what did you fight about?” I swallowed.

“I was,” I sighed, “well, Harran was involved.” He exhaled.

“Of course,” he said softly. I sighed. “I don’t want to,” he laughed. “This was always going to be impossible, wasn’t it?” I nodded.

“I think all of us acknowledging that it’s impossible is the first step here,” he smiled. On instinct I stood up on my toes and kissed him gently. We then passed gently pretty quickly as he pulled me close and I pulled him down onto the seat. It felt so good to be close to him again. He pulled away and sighed pressing his forehead to mine.

“And we probably shouldn’t do that again,” he said softly. I nodded.

“Yes,” I said softly, “that is absolutely the last time we do that.” He laughed and stood up. “Tristan,” I whispered and he looked at me. “I wish you’d said goodbye.”

“I wish I had too,” he said softly. “But that night, I just,” he exhaled, “I couldn’t, Lisette, I just needed to be away from you, and from Marina too. I could barely breathe, we were all so wrapped up.” I looked at him. “Why Harran?” He asked gently.

“Because Eric wanted something real, and I wasn’t ready,” I said softly. “And you weren’t here.” I swallowed. “And I wanted you, I mean, not that way.” We started walking. “I just wanted to talk to you. To ask why you loved me, why,” I exhaled. “Why I should keep trying.” He smiled.

“As if I could explain why I love you,” he shook his head, “loving you is like breathing for me, Lisette. Like I wasn’t even a whole person until we met.” I nodded.

“Don’t leave me again,” I said softly, “that’s an order.” He smiled.

“Understood, Your Majesty,” he said and opened the door and I walked past him.. He slid his hands to my waist and nuzzled against my neck. “I wanted you too, nearly every night.” I exhaled. “I dreamed about you. About us, about the first time I touched you, about your coronation night.”

“Tristan,” I whispered, “don’t,” I whimpered. “We can’t do this.” He sighed and let me go.

“I love you,” he said, “and I always will.”

“I’ll always love you too,” I said, “that doesn’t make it right.” I looked at him. “But we can’t go in circles anymore, and it isn’t just us anymore.” He swallowed. “I have to go. I have to welcome your intended to court.” I realized I was crying and I rushed away.


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