She’s not as good as you at hiding it.
There’s a certain irony to her saying that to me. All I could think of was three years ago when, after Tristan told me about their night together, I’d cornered her and screamed. Screamed about betrayal, screamed that I’d trusted her, screamed that hours after being in bed with my husband she’d dared to witness our vows.
And she took it. She didn’t apologize or beg for forgiveness. She’d simply stood, her brown eyes lightly filled with tears and listened. And then she’d explained.
“I love him, Caro,” were the only words. “I was alone, for so long except for him, and when I was alone again, he was there. If I’m alone again and he’s there, I can’t promise it wouldn’t happen again.”
I suddenly understood, and I couldn’t resent either of them, for whatever it was between them. A history full of wounds so deep that I’ll never understand them, or that string that held them tightly together.
“May I?” I asked softly, joining Nika on the terrace. She looked at me.
“Of course,” she said softly. “Are you here to tell me that I’m overreacting?” I laughed.
“No,” I said, “this is where I tell you there’s no point, if you can’t accept it.” I picked at my dress. She looked at me. “When I thought I couldn’t,” I looked down. “Annalise I could bear, because she’s so far away from him now, it’s all theoretical, which is sort of worse, and sort of better, you know?” Nika looked at me, her face inscrutable.
“Yes,” she said, “I could stand it if Lefty came back, then it would simply be over.” I nodded. “But this limbo, it hurts too much.” I looked at her.
“She loves you,” I said, “she’s with you, she’s chosen you. It has to be enough.” She looked at me and smiled gently.
“Does it?” She said. “I don’t know anymore.” She swallowed. We stood in silence.
“My ladies,” a page walked over, “dinner is being served.” I nodded and followed after him. I looked back at Nika who didn’t follow.
“She’s had a difficult week,” Evan said settling next to me. I smiled. “How are you? I saw your sister a few days ago, she and Alex were in town on their way down to the midlands.” I smiled.
“How did you find them?” I asked and sipped my wine.
“Well enough,” he shrugged. “Their boy is a fine little man.”
“I’m jealous,” I said, “I haven’t met Carlo yet.” He nodded. “I have to ask, and the others will laugh,” he raised his eyebrows, “are we supposed to give Raymond a gift? When he takes his vows?” Evan smiled at me.
“I don’t know if it’s traditional,” he admitted, “but nothing about Raymond is, and I think he’d appreciate it. Especially as you’re merchant, and he knows gifts mean a great deal to you.” I smiled at him.
“Thank you for putting me at ease, Lord Evan,” I said and raised my glass.
“My infinite pleasure, Lady Dugarry,” he grinned, clinking his glass against mine. Moving into this circle at the same time, we’d managed a careful friendship neither one of us wanting to upset the cart. “What would you give him?” I chewed my meat and frowned.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “a book I suppose. If they’re in town, there’s seller who I think would know the proper history or esoteric magic book.”
“Please, I beg you, no more esoteric magic books,” Evan groaned. “We’re full up of those.” I laughed. “A history might be nice. Maybe something about Mariah’s connections to Phania. He’s found fragments but never anything solid.” I smiled and nodded. “But you don’t have to.”
“I’ll consider it.” I said. “And how are you? Apparently your father has abdicated council again?”
“Mm,” he nodded. “Prior seems worried about him marshalling separtist forces. Annalise thinks it’s impossible.”
“It is,” I smiled, “unless he’s found a way to make money appear from nowhere.” Evan nodded.
“It would also be far too much work,” Evan noted. “But your evidence is firmer, I’m sure.” I laughed.
“It is,” I said, “I watch your father closely. His tantrums are far too public not to.” Evan nodded. “I sympathize, by the way. My own father’s public fuming has made my life heinously complicated.” He nodded.
“Oh I know,” he said. “But at least yours is personal it’s not literally treason.” He sighed. “Annalise is patient with him, which I appreciate.” He paused. “Will you see your sister, while you’re both here?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” I said softly. “I want to but, there’s still a lot of hurt there.” Evan nodded. “What will your father do if Annalise marries your cousin?”
“Spontaneously combust from happiness and rage combining, probably,” he laughed. “It serves his ambition for our family but he hates her so much.” I laughed.