I was standing quietly as Bethany did up my laces and jumped hearing the voice.
“If you were more serene, you’d be an actual statue,” Tristan’s voice was flat. “Mistress Bethany.”
“Sir Tristan,” Bethany blushed. “Are you alright my lady?” I rolled my eyes.
“I am,” I said, “Thank you.” She nodded and bounced out. “What are you doing here?”
“Caro’s asleep,” he explained, ” andI barely got to see you before.” I nodded. “Is something wrong?”
“Of course not,” I said and pulled a dress over my head. “Do me up?” He nodded and walked over carefully strung the delicate pear buttons through their loops up my back. I suppressed a gentle shudder. That was behind us, and by the end of the night, my body might remember what my mind and heart knew. “It’s been a while since you saw me in my underthings is all.”
“True,” he nodded. “The view hasn’t changed much though.” I sighed and looked at him. “A bit more filled out, but pleasantly.”
“Tristan,” I said, “what in the name of Rana are you babbling about?” He looked at me and sighed.
“I need to talk to you about William Santino,” he said. I blinked oddly at him.
“About William?” I said. He nodded. “I haven’t spoken to William in,” I paused, “well, three years? When did he end his engagement? Stupid idea.” He raised his eyebrows. “What did you need to talk about?”
“What is appealing about him?” He asked. I laughed. “Rina, I’m serious.” I sat down with him.
“Something happened, between him and Caro?” I asked. He nodded. “Oh,” I leaned back, “I don’t think that I’ll be terribly helpful,” he looked at me, “I was fifteen Tristan!”
“You were sixteen when we were together,” he pointed out, “and when you met Lestoff.” I sighed.
“William is,” I exhaled, “attentive, I suppose is the right word. I’d spent so long sighing after you having someone pay attention to me was intoxicating.” He nodded. “And he knew how to kiss, and he was quite good with his hands,” I exhaled.
“Alright, enough,” Tristan sighed. “I don’t know what to do, Marina.” I looked at him. “I can’t hold it against her, I was away for so long, and well, there’s you, and Lisette,” I sighed.
“Poor Tristan,” I said and rested my head on his chest. “Poor Carolina.” He laughed and kissed my hair.
“I missed you so much, love,” he said.
“I wish I could help you more.” I said. I listened to his breath rise and fall. The door opened and I shot up as Nika walked in, her eyes narrowed. “Nika,” I said and walked over to her. “I thought that the blessing,” my voice felt feeble, and she looked unbearably hurt.
“It was fewer people than anticipated,” she said, “Commander.” She seethed at Tristan.
“Lady Nika,” he said softly, his voice full of shame, he straightened his coat. “I’ll see you both at dinner.”
“Tristan,” I said gently as he walked out. Nika looked at me. “He was asking me for advice.”
“And you needed to be in his arms to provide it?” She snapped. I frowned at her.
“Nothing happened, nor will it,” I said and reached for her hands, but she pulled them away.
“I don’t ask much of you,” she muttered, “but I won’t be made a fool of. Aside from that, it’s cruel, to Carolina, to Annalise, to each other.”
“We were talking,” I said. She rolled her eyes. “You’re being unfair.”
“It’s always just talking,” she shouted. I swallowed, “Or just a dance, or too long a glance at dinner, or just a touch,” she exhaled. “There’s no just about it, and I’m sick of pretending it doesn’t happen.”
“I don’t want Tristan.” She laughed. “I don’t, it’s the past, I can’t erase it, but it isn’t,” I inhaled, “I don’t, not anymore.”
“Now you’re just lying, my love,” she said. I swallowed. “Of course you want him,” I stared her down, her amber eyes dancing with fire. “Don’t pretend one hurried night quenched a lifetime of flames.” She turned around and left. I swallowed and sat down.
She wasn’t wrong. I did want him, desperately sometimes. But it didn’t matter. Nika was right, it was cruel. I looked in the mirror, straightened my gown and wiped my tears. I walked over to the Princess tower, where everything had been set for dinner.
“Marina,” Carolina rushed over to me and took my hands and kissed me on the cheek. I suddenly felt like my stomach had been ripped out. “I’m sorry I rushed off before, the last leg of the journey disagreed with me.”
“Nothing to be sorry for,” I said with a smile. She nodded. “How are you feeling?” She sighed.
“Much the same,” she admitted. “But now jealous too.” She looked at Athena. I squeezed her hands. “It’s wrong I know, but,” she sighed. I looked at Nika across the room. “Marina, I,” she sighed, “he said he talked to you and I know what you’re thinking,” I smiled softly.
“No,” I said, “you don’t know what I’m thinking, but you must know that I of all people am in no position to judge you.” She smiled. “And you have Calla.” She nodded with a sad smile.
“I do, and I adore her,” she whispered. “Nika seemed to have a storm cloud over her head when she came in.”
“I think she’s reached the end of her patience,” I sighed. “She’s not as good as you at hiding it.” Carolina laughed.
“It takes practice,” she admitted, “and a certain resignation to the facts.” I looked at her.
“I want so badly for it to be different,” I said.
“I know you do,” she kissed me on the cheek. “That’s why I can forgive it.”