I was trying to remain calm standing next to Papa waiting for Tristan. Should I not have left them alone? I trusted him. But there was something nagging me about it. Duchess Marina had been pulled away and was now I noticed having a very animated conversation with the man she’d introduced as her cousin.
“Oh good,” Athena walked over. She looked beautiful, dressed in her formal uniform, the same jacket as I’ve seen Tristan in, but tailored to her curves, and a long green satin skirt rather than the crisp black pants. “You look wonderful. Are you nervous?”
“A little,” I admitted. I was happy with the dress. It was a simple gold satin, with a few flounces of lace. Ever since Emily took control of my wardrobe from Mother, I’ve been more comfortable. I suddenly felt a pang, wishing desperately that my sister was here. “She was very kind. Thank you for suggesting we talk before.”
“Mm,” Athena nodded. “Well, I’m glad. Where’s Tristan?” I exhaled. “Oh,” she said softly. “Well, I’m sure he’ll be along soon.” I swallowed and nodded.
“Will I have,” I looked her up and down. She looked down. “well, this?”
“Oh,” she laughed, “perhaps not this elaborate, but yes, you’ll have a dress uniform. Count Caleb gave Tristan and I ours when we were inducted. I’m sure you’ll be able to afford one.” She stopped. “Or perhaps I’ll give you one.” I nodded. “Hello, Mr. DuKarras.”
“Lady Athena,” Father smiled distractedly at her. I glanced across the room and saw Andrei lazily leaning against the wall, sipping out of a glass. I glared at my father. “I couldn’t well stop him from coming.”
“Clearly,” I gritted my teeth. Athena looked at me. Tristan walked in and the knot in my chest released. He looked vaguely worried but I hurried over to him. “What kept you?” His face immediately softened.
“I’m sorry,” he shook his head. “As you said, we had a lot to talk about.” I nodded. “I promise to tell you all about it.” I smiled and kissed him. “Are you alright?” He asked gently.
“Just nervous,” I said softly. “Andrei is here. I don’t know why.” He nodded.
“I think I do,” he said, his eyes sliding to his grandfather. He kissed my forehead. “Are you ready?” I nodded. A large bell was rung and two large doors I hadn’t noticed swung open. I watched Annalise walk through the ballroom, people sinking into bows and curtsied as she did.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The girl who I’d spoken to earlier seemed gone completely. In her place, might as well have been the Goddess herself, all poise and calm.
“I can’t do this,” I said. Tristan looked at me. “Tristan, you don’t understand, when we met, I’d already given up, you didn’t see the years before. Tripping over gowns, Alex apologizing for me when I said the wrong thing to your grandfather, ” He looked at me. “I can’t, I’ll fall on my face, and humiliate you.”
“Caro,” he said softly, “it’s alright. You’ll be fine. I’ll be with you, and you don’t have to do anything at all. We did the hard part. This isn’t really her, you saw the real her.” I swallowed and nodded. But I knew it wasn’t that simple. A few other people had walked through the crowd and gotten a nod. I noticed Count Aaron and his mother standing beside her.
Tristan’s hand was in the small of my back and I swallowed.
“Your Majesty,” he said gently and bowed, “Your Graces,” I also noticed a Phanian man on her left. “Your Highness,” Tristan’s voice seemed higher and tighter when he addressed the Prince. “I would like to present, my intended, Miss Carolina DuKarras.” I swallowed and sunk into a low curtsey.
“Miss DuKarras,” Queen Annalise smiled, “we are honored to have you here with us, and hope, that on your marriage you will choose to serve.”
“No-nothing could bring me more pleasure, Your Majesty,” I said, meeting her eyes. There was the softness in them, that had been there when she took my hands earlier and laughed. She nodded and I stood up.
“Sir Tristan,” The Dowager Countess said, “perhaps, you and Miss DuKarras would honor us all by opening the dancing.” He glanced at me. I nodded.
“We would be honored, Your Grace,” I said gently. My voice was barely above a whisper, it was all I could manage.
“Good then,” The Count winked at me, “you two will start, and I request at least one, Miss DuKarras.” The exasperated sigh The Queen let out then almost made me giggle. It certainly made me miss Emily less. We moved away then and I exhaled happily.
“That went well,” Trey walked over to us. I smiled at him. “You’re very pale, Caro, would you like some wine.”
“Oh Gods, yes,” I said, reaching for the goblet he held out. I took a long swallow. “That was awful. I never have to do anything like that again, do I?”
“Of course not,” Tristan said, “well, your induction, but that will be smaller.” I nodded and took another long sip. He laughed. “Please slow down,” I frowned at him.
“Fine,” I said softly. But the wine was wonderful, sweet and light, compared to heavier dark reds I drank at home. “But I will be dancing with the count.” He laughed.
“As if I thought I could stop Aaron from doing just as he pleases,” he said. I laughed. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” I said, “I know he’s only teasing. I watched the sunrise in his eyes when he looks at your sister.” Like I saw in your eyes when you saw her. He smiled gently and kissed me. “Tristan, I don’t want to be a burden while we’re here.”
“You couldn’t be,” he whispered softly and kissed me again. “You’re upset, did someone say something to you?” I shook my head.
“I’m fine,” I said, “it’s been a very long day.” He nodded. “I want to dance. Like we’re back in Dorin.” He smiled then, and cupped my face.
“Of course, I want that too,” he said. “In Dovetail there’s usually food at these things and I’m starving.” I laughed, taking his arm and going in search of food.