Entering the ballroom with Mr. DuKarras actually feels much better than if I were on my own. I don’t think I’m ready to talk to Damian again, and now I’m petrified to see Nika. I’d been thinking about her nearly all day.

The way she smiled shyly when she looked at me. The way she understood me without having to explain myself. And that warm feeling that filled my body when she’d touched me today. I caught Raymond’s eye and he walked over.

“Mr. DuKarras, may I present my cousin Sir Raymond Quents,” I smiled. “Raymond this is Mr. Angelo DuKarras, his daughter is marrying Tristan.”

“Of course,” Raymond said, “do you have a moment?” I nodded and followed him out to the terrace. “Are you alright?” I frowned at him.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked. He rolled his eyes. “I am fine. It isn’t my fault Damian has decided to be unreasonable.”

“He’s terrified.” Raymond said softly. “We all are, you see that don’t you?” I sighed.

“I’m terrified,” I said sharply, “none of us know what will happen next and I won’t let him act like he’s the only one struggling with this.” Raymond sighed. “He knew Tristan was coming back, and he either trusts me or he doesn’t.” I frowned. “And I really don’t appreciate him sending you to fight his battles.”

“Rina,” Raymond said with a frown, “what else is it?” I swallowed.

“It’s not important,” I said, “I have to go. Annalise is going to need me.” He nodded. “Raymond,” I whispered, “is he angry?”

“He isn’t here,” Raymond said gently, I looked down, “I think that’s some indication of his feelings.” I nodded. “You’re angry though, and that matters. He’s taking you for granted, isn’t he?”

“It can feel like it,” I said softly. “I’ll find him when I can.” He nodded and I walked inside. I saw Nika standing with her sister and Harran and looked away before our eye contact lasted too long. I had to decide how I felt about that before I could engage with her.

I went to the throne and stood with Aaron and his mother who were looking at me.

“You look flushed, Marina,” The Dowager said softly. I exhaled.

“Do I?” I said softly. She nodded. “I suppose I’ve just been rushing around a little.” She smiled.

After the presentation I found myself on the terrace again.

“Duchess?” I turned and Nika was standing behind me. “I wanted to apologize.”

“You don’t need to,” I said softly as she walked over. “I wasn’t offended.”

“I would hope a daughter of Anessa wouldn’t be,” she grinned. I laughed. “But I was too forward. I know you aren’t interested,” I stopped her.

“Who says I’m not?” I said softly. She shook her head. “I mean, I,” I swallowed, “I Dreamed you, and since this afternoon, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of you.” She swallowed and looked away.

“You are spoken for,” she said gently. I swallowed and nodded. “And we have work to do.”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose.” I stepped closer to her. “Do you think about me?” I whispered. She nodded. Slowly our hands touched. “Nika,” I said softly.

“Please don’t play with me,” she said gently, “please.” I shook my head.

“I wouldn’t,” I said softly, “I don’t know what this is, but it’s not a game, I promise.” She smiled and leaned closer. Our foreheads touched.

“Do you know that you shine?” Nika whispered. I swallowed. “I know the Queen must see it. My sister sees it, and it blinds me.” I felt like I was drawing breath from her and her from me. “Whatever the Goddess poured into you is singular.”

“You’re warm,” I said softly. She looked at me. “You fill up a the room with warmth when you walk in.” She smiled and kissed me then. Softly, slowly, I drew closer to her, her black robes tangling with my silver dress, as we let go. She swallowed.

“I won’t lie, or sneak with your,” she said softly. I nodded.

“I love Damian,” I said in the same tone. “But I want to know you.” She smiled.

“Well, then,” she said. “We’ll get to know each other.” I laughed.

“Nika,” Brea walked out, “I think we should go to bed.”

“Alright,” she said softly and walked away I swallowed and walked down to the beach and then home. I was ready for bed and I didn’t want to lose the floaty feeling that kissing Nika had given me. I walked into the hall and went upstairs. Damian was already in my bedroom.

“Oh,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting you.” He nodded.

“Clearly,” he muttered, “I think we need to talk.”

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