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.

The Little Duchess


I was fully dressed and pacing in the hall of the house we’d be staying in. It was lovely, I couldn’t argue with that. The dress I was wearing had been especially made for whenever I was being presented to the Queen and now I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe.

“Miss DuKarras?” A maid stepped in. “There’s a carriage here,” I nodded. “And The Lady Marina is in it.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I whimpered, “I thought we’d be going soon. Has there been any word from Sir Tristan?” She shook her head. “Alright, the parlor, I suppose.” She nodded again and I walked into the parlor and waited.

She walked in, practically floating. Her hair was arranged artfully in curls and she was dressed in a silvery blue color and smiled so gently.

And she was tiny. I’d heard her teasingly called The Little Duchess and I could see why now.

“Your Grace,” I said softly and curtsied.

“Miss DuKarras,” she said and walked over to me and sat down. “I’m sorry I couldn’t greet you this afternoon, and I’m sure you were expecting Tristan but he’s been detained.”

“Of course,” I sighed, “I imagine he has a lot to catch up on.” She nodded. “I’m glad to meet you, finally. Tristan speaks of you often.”

“That’s nice to hear,” she said softly. “I don’t want things to be awkward between us. Tristan is my oldest friend and I adore him and it’s clear that you make him terribly happy which is nice because he’s almost never happy.” I laughed.

“You flatter me, Your Grace,” I said softly.

“Marina,” she said, “please.” I nodded and then Father walked in. “Oh, you must be Mr. DuKarras.”

“Yes,” he said shortly.

“Father, Duchess Marina came to meet us and escort us to the palace,” I said standing up and taking his arm. “Tristan was delayed by work, wasn’t it kind of her?”

“Very kind,” he said, “thank you, Your Grace.”

“Not at all,” she stood up and began walking out. “My own father won’t be there, I hope you won’t take offense. He absolutely refuses to attend any event that Admiral Franz will be present at for personal reasons.”

“What are those reasons?” I asked as we climbed into the carriage. “I thought your father was Phanian?”

“Oh he is,” she nodded, “but Papa is rather eccentric. And he deeply disapproves of Annalise and I and well, our attachments to the Island, shall we say. He thinks it’s dangerous.”

“He may not be wrong,” Father said. “I recall some of the talk around Phania when your aunt became queen, none of it particularly kind.” I looked at him. “You look shocked, Caro. You know I spent time in Vacana during my apprenticeship.”

“I long to go,” The Duchess sighed. “I think the Goddess wants me to, but she certainly isn’t being helpful.” I stared at her.

“Isn’t that disrepectful?” I said softly. She smiled at me.

“Oh terribly,” she sighed, “but while losing the blessing is traumatic, I sometimes think it might be worth it.” Father and I both stared at her baffled. “Ah, here we are!” I looked out the window and saw the palace. “Don’t be nervous, Annalise is wonderful, really. She might be a bit stand offish at first, but that’s because she’s a bit shy of new people.” She happily bounced out of the open door and I swallowed and stepped out.

Tristan was smiling waiting for me. I exhaled and took his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Rina insisted.”

“I did not,” she said sticking out her tongue. I laughed. “Mr. DuKarras, would you mind escorting me inside?”

“Of course not, your grace,” he said offering his arm. She winked at me and continued chattering to my father.

“Did she frighten you?” Tristan asked with a soft smile. “I warned her not to.” I laughed.

“No,” I shook my head, “no, she’s lovely. A bit odd.” He laughed.

“She is that,” he sighed. “She’s lived a peculiar life so far. I doubt it will get more normal.” I nodded. “I’ve missed you all day.”

“Don’t be silly, I’m sure you’ve been very busy,” I said and straightened his jacket. “I was worried when you didn’t come tonight, but Duchess Marina explained you were working.” He nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “and Athena had a thought. We’re going to see Annalise.”

“Well, yes,” I nodded as we started walking inside. “That is why I’m here.”

“No,” he sighed. “I mean, yes, but I meant now, before the presentation. I think it will be easier.” I stared at him.

“What?” I said, “Just waltz into the Queen’s bedchamber like,” I stopped. Of course, it wouldn’t seem at all strange to him. He looked down. “Oh Tristan, I don’t think it is a good idea.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “I understand if you want to speak to her first, I can find my father and your uncle and be fine until,” I swallowed. “Duchess Marina said she’s shy of new people?” He smiled.

“I don’t know if shy is the right word exactly,” he said. “But she’s not good at it. Most of her life it was just her and The Count, you see, she never really could make friends.” I nodded. I was familiar with that idea.

“Alright,” I said softly. “I mean, I suppose so.” He smiled. “But my father,” I drifted. I was making an excuse, he knew I didn’t really care about my father’s comfort and it seemed he and the Duchess were getting along just fine.

“Caro,” he said softly, the softness in his voice, that he usually used just for me, returning, “it’s alright.” I smiled and nodded and followed him upstairs.

At Sea


It had been two days at sea and I was only growing more anxious by the minute. I’m not doing well when it comes to the voyage. I’ve been sick every day, and Papa appears to be punishing us for insisting on me coming by placing us on Andrei’s ship.

“How are you feeling?” Tristan walked into my cabin. I smiled at him and held out my hand and he came and walked over to me.

“Better,” I said softly. “The waters seem calmer, don’t they?” He nodded and kissed my hand.

“We’re closer to Brightcoast,” he said, “I think Rana’s kinder here.” I laughed as he lay down next to me and kissed me.

“I think so too,” I whispered. “Are you nervous to arrive?” He sighed.

“I’m excited,” he said softly. “Nervous too, but mostly excited. I’ve missed my friends, and Athena.” I smiled and he kissed me again. “I’ve missed you so much.” I whimpered and pressed against him.

“I’ve missed you too,” I said. Between my sickness and not wanting to alert my father, sex has been off the table for us. “Tristan,” I whispered as he he slid my skirts up and his hand in between my thighs. I whimpered as his fingers worked their way in me. I pressed against him.

“I don’t know why I bother with this,” he whispered in my ear and then kissed it. “You’re always so ready for me.” I giggled and kissed him.

“I do like it though,” I whispered.

“I know you do,” he muttered. He started moving faster. I gripped the sheets and groaned. “That’s right, Caro, let go for me.” I kissed him and pulled away.

“I want you,” I said softly. He smiled. “I want to come with you in me.” He nodded and rolled me onto my back. He pressed into me.

“Like this?” He whispered and kissed me, sliding arms above my head. I nodded. “I need your voice, Caro.”

“Yes,” I said as he started stroking in and out of me. “Faster,” I moaned and he obliged, “oh gods, Tristan,” I cried out. He hands curled around my wrists.

“I love you,” he groaned and grunted. I tightened around him, letting go and falling backwards away from him as he finished. He swallowed and held me close. “You finished?”

“You didn’t feel it?” I teased him. He laughed. I stretched and rolled onto my side and looked at him. “I had missed it.” He kissed me gently.

“Me too,” he whispered. “Your Captain Arain says we should be in Brightcoast by tomorrow.”

“Don’t call him that,” I said. He pushed my hair behind me ears. “I know you’re teasing but I don’t like him being my anything.”

“I’m sorry,” he said and kissed me. “I don’t like being near him when I can’t strangle him.” I laughed and sat up.

“I admire your restraint,” I whispered. “You can take your satisfaction in knowing I never,” I rolled over and kissed him, “ever,” I slid my hand down and gripped him, “felt as good with him as I do now.” I kissed him and he groaned.

“That does take the sting out of it,” he smirked. The door opened and I squeaked pulling the sheet over myself.

“Well this looks cozy,” Andrei said lazily. “You’re feeling better, then, Miss DuKarras.”

“Yes,” I squeaked, grabbing a robe. Tristan was blushing and rushing for his pants. “Much.”

“Hm,” he nodded, “Captain Dugarry, General Martin was looking for you, something about making sure tomorrow’s landing is handled properly.”

“Alright,” Tristan said, “thank you.” He left quickly and Andrei stayed looking at me.

“Can I help you?” I said, having recovered my voice.

“Just remembering,” he smirked. “Tell me Caro, did it take him all three nights? Or did you move up your time table?”

“You’re a pig,” I said. He looked down. “Did it really mean so little to you? I was terrified, and I thought,” I swallowed.

“It meant a great deal to me,” he said softly. “I had every intention of marrying you.” I looked at him. “Rastan didn’t pan out how I’d hoped.”

“You could have written me,” I said. He frowned.

“Is that what’s different?” He said softly, “with him?”

“What’s different with him is that he refused to leave me behind at all.” I said. “But then again he also doesn’t answer to my father, so that’s a benefit.” I went to walk past him and he grabbed my arm.

“I am sorry,” he said softly. “Please know that.” I swallowed.

“What possible difference could that make now,” I said and slipped past him. I walked up on deck and paused, hearing voices.

“Who do you think it will be then?” Tristan said. “Surely not Lisette?”

“No,” the General said. “She’ll be busy. Marina maybe, certainly Aaron and Olivia.” Tristan sighed.

“He won’t like that,” Tristan frowned, “her snubbing him.”

“Trust me, I’m aware,” the General sighed. “Olivia wrote that everything social has moved from the palace to the manor, but I doubt he’ll like that either. But we’re trying to avoid war, and he’s already too involved.”

“Right,” Tristan said, I could hear his frown but I rounded the corned then.

“Hello Miss DuKarras,” The General smiled at me. “I see you’re feeling better.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “I am, I overheard, you’re worried about the old man?”

“Not in any real way,” Tristan said. “Just that he’ll be irritated we aren’t making enough of a fuss.” I laughed.

“Oh,” I smiled. “I think I can help with that.” Martin looked at me.

“He does seem to like you,” Martin said, “what’s that like?” I laughed. “How would you help?”

“Well,” I swallowed, “I could make a fuss. How grateful I am to be allowed to come along, knowing how it isn’t normally done this way, but it means so much to us, and how grateful Tristan I are at his unfailing support of our future, especially his,” Tristan beamed at me.

“Cornan save me, you both found politicians,” Martin mumbled. “Yes, that will work.” I giggled and kissed Tristan. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attempt to get some sleep, lest Olivia and Athena lock me in a bedroom for a day when we arrive.”

“Of course,” Tristan said and we walked over to the railing. “Are you alright?” I nodded. “What happened with Andrei?” I shrugged and leaned forward.

“He called me a slut and then apologized for abandoning me,” I said. “So old territory.” Tristan frowned and cupped my face. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” he whispered. I swallowed. “I hate that you would ever think such a thing about yourself.” I looked at him.

“I don’t,” I said softly. “And I love that you didn’t.” He smiled. “You don’t think the Queen will greet us?”

“It’s unlikely,” he sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “She didn’t even greet Prince Eric herself. She sent Marina and Aaron. That’s what’s most likely for us too.” I nodded. “And that wasn’t even because she was in war meetings, that was just because we,” I smirked at him and he cleared his throat. “Let’s just say what happened earlier is something of a theme for me.” I giggled.

“I see,” I smirked. “Well, we’ll have to ensure our privacy from now on.” He laughed. I thought of him how I’d first met him. So serious and awkward. He seemed lighter now, although not as light before we learned we had to leave Dorin.

“You’re sure your father is going to insist you stay with him,” he asked. I frowned.

“Yes,” I sighed. He sighed.

“Maybe I can convince Lisette to take you into the household, that’s how we freed our friend Mercy,” he started. I took his hands. “I just want to be near you.”

“You’ve said it yourself,” I whispered and kissed him gently. “We have our whole lives. This will only be a few months. We’ll survive.” He sighed. “Tristan,” I whispered.

“Caro,” he said softly. “You’ve asked me a hundred times how I feel about this.” I nodded. “How are you feeling?”

“I um,” I sighed, “I don’t know. I know it’s awful, that it’s because we’re probably going into war, but it’s also,” I exhaled. “It’s what I’ve always Tristan.” He kissed my forehead.

“Good,” he said. “Taking you away from everything you’ve ever known is not how I wanted this to go.” I smiled. “Alex told me I was overthinking it.”

“Well, by Alex’s metrics you overthink everything,” I shrugged, “because you think about things at all.” He laughed and kissed me. “You should get some sleep. The General is right, your sister will be furious with me.”

“Oh Athena doesn’t care if I sleep,” he chuckled. “That fussing is reserved for Martin.” I smiled. “But for you, I will.” I smiled.



I woke up in the morning to my mother throwing open the drapes of me room.

“Mother,” I groaned and pulled my covers over my head. “No one will be calling this morning. Please.”

“What about Tristan?” She said. I grumbled and rubbed my eyes sitting up. “And the general? They said they’d be at breakfast.”

“They’ll train first,” I yawned. She glared at me. “Oh alright,” I mumbled. I pushed out of bed and got dressed quickly. “Mama,” I said softly as she tightened my laces, “Last night, Tristan asked me to go to Brightcoast with him, if they have to leave.” She frowned.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said, “you aren’t married yet and it will be very dangerous.” I swallowed.

“Yes, but,” I said softly, “if I’m going to join the guard, and we’re going to war, I should start training.” She looked at me.

“Your father won’t like it,” she said softly. She cupped my face. “There’s no rush, my darling.” I swallowed.

“But,” I stuttered, and she left. I sighed and sat down. Emily walked in after her. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” she said softly. “Are you alright? I can’t believe Papa brought Andrei to your engagement party.” I shook my head and laughed.

“That’s the least of my problems right now,” I said. She looked at me and frowned. “Did you and Alex have a nice evening?”

“Yes,” she said and bit the inside of her cheek. I looked at her. I wondered if they’d quarrelled. Knowing just how fickle Alex could be, I didn’t think that was good, “I just wish that now that it’s all settled with you and Tristan, we could begin getting settled.” I laughed and hugged her.

“I agree,” I said, “you should absolutely be getting settled as soon as possible.” She looked at me.

“Are you feeling alright?” She said. I nodded. “I can tell you, Alex and his mother aren’t at all happy about General Martin showing up.”

“Tristan mentioned that The General often clashes with the family,” I explained, we walked out and downstairs to the dining room. Father was sitting at the table, anxiously drumming his fingers.

“Papa,” Emily said, “you look perturbed.” He frowned.

“Caro,” he sighed. I looked at him and poured myself a cup of tea, “as I understand it my delayed breakfast is Tristan’s fault.” I swallowed.

“I’m sure he’ll be along presently,” I said. I was done managing my father. Last night was my last straw. “Is Captain Arain not joining us?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Tristan mentioned he was interested to speak further with him.”

“What’s this?” Tristan said walking in, followed by General Martin.

“Nothing,” I smiled as he kissed me on the cheek. “Hello General.” He smiled and sat down next to me.

“Good Morning, Miss DuKarras,” he grinned, “Mr. DuKarras, thank you for having us.” Father snorted

“I don’t believe you had a chance to meet Emily last night,” Tristan said motioning to me sister. The General took her hand and kissed it. She blushed a little. I didn’t blame her. Old enough to be our father, maybe, but the General is incredibly handsome.

“I did not, but I’m glad to,” he said. “Trey tells me that Alex is quite attached to you. I hope we can count on you influencing him to be as supportive as the family’s been in the past.”

“Of course,” she said, “I’m a loyal subject of Queen Annalise, and as my sister will be in the guard as well,” she shrugged. He winked at me and I smiled. “Are we really going to war?”

“Hopefully not,” The General sighed, and picked up a pastry from a tray that had been brought out, “Annalise and Prince Eric had been arguing but they seem to have mended things. Of course there’s always the possibility that their courtship was always just a delaying tactic for King Daniel, but,” Tristan caught his eye and with pursed lips, shook his head once. He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, I’m out of practice with company. I was exiled from Brayton’s court for a year and Annalise and The Dowager Countess never really expect conversation from me.”

“That’s a lie,” Tristan said with a laugh, “The Dowager Countess expects conversation from everyone. She just loves you enough to put up with strategy talk at dinner.” I laughed. “You slept alright?” He asked me.

“Yes, very well,” I said. “General, my mother and I were disagreeing this morning, but I felt it was important for me to go to Brightcoast as soon as possible to begin training.”

“Oh certainly,” Martin nodded. “I think that’s for the best.” I smiled and sipped my tea. “We’ll have to decide where to best place you of course.”

“I would have thought with Prince Eric,” Emily said, her voice very chipper, “isn’t that traditional? Tristan, didn’t you say that your mother was placed with Queen Marie for that reason?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to presume anything,” I said. I looked at Tristan, I wanted reassurance from him.

“Regardless, Tristan tells me you’ll come with us when we leave soon?” The General said. I nodded. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Hold on,” Father said, “I don’t believe we agreed to anything of the kind.” I looked at him.

“We’re discussing it now,” I said, “after all before our engagement I was going to go to Rastan, wasn’t I? How is this different?” He glared at me. I knew exactly why it was different. Rastan was his plan, Andrei was loyal to him, would keep me close. Tristan turned and looked at him.

“I can assure you, Mr. DuKarras,” Tristan said, “everything will be perfectly appropriate. I’ve already written a letter to Duchess Marina asking if Caro could stay with her until our plans return to normal.” I looked at him. Mama’s eyes grew wide.

“Really?” She said. I swallowed and Tristan slid his hand into mine. “And you think the Duchess will accept?”

“Yes,” Tristan said with a shrug. “Why wouldn’t she? We’re old friends, she’s been very supportive in her letters.”

“She’s quite young, isn’t she?” Emily said. Tristan smiled at her.

“She’s your age,” he said, “so old enough to know her own mind.” Emily giggled. “She’s looking forward to meeting you, Caro.” I swallowed.

“I’m looking forward to meeting her as well,” I said softly. “Papa,” I looked at him. He frowned at me.

“I won’t stand in the way,” he sighed, “but I don’t approve.”

“Good then,” the General smiled, “if you have a few moments, sir, perhaps we could discuss what can be spared to defend your country.” Father’s eye twitched and they stood up and walked out. Emily frowned.

“Well that was awful,” she muttered. Tristan sighed and looked at me.

“You did very well,” he smiled. I sighed.

“I can’t be left behind again,” I swallowed. He nodded. “I mean it, Tristan, I just can’t.” He stood up and sat down next to me and took my hand.

“I know that,” he said softly, “I won’t, ever, I swear it.” I nodded and kissed him gently.

“Alright,” I said. Emily snorted. “Oh what.”

“Nothing,” she said, “but you two are never allowed to mock Alex and I again.”

Surprise Visitors


I’ve never seen my mother how she’s been for the past few weeks, certainly not with me. Perhaps when I first came out and they thought that Alex and me were going to happen, but now she’s a full whirlwind. We’ve hosted people every day, either for tea or dinner, well wishers, and gawkers.

It would be hideous, if it weren’t for Tristan being by my side in all of it. I suddeny realized how wonderful it was to be marrying a courtier. He always said the right thing.

And when we were alone, well that was a completely different thing entirely. We didn’t manage every night, but enough of them, that I’d completely lost any sense of self consciousness about it. His hands on me, him inside of me, the way he kisses me and whispers my name, it’s the most comfortable thing in the world.

There have been gifts and gowns and the one I’m treasuring the most, lost in the mess of silks and jewels that my new in laws to be have sent over, is a simple gold pendant with a crest on it, strung on a simple green velvet band Tristan sent it with a simple note.

I felt the need to have this made. It’s The Dugarry Crest, and you certainly never have to wear it, I know my grandfather is sending over something far more elaborate.



I haven’t taken it off, much to my mother’s irritation.

“I just don’t see why,” she sighed. I looked at her.

“Mama,” Emily shook her head, “Caro is going to be Lady Dugarry, not Madame Dumanis.” I smiled warmly at her. “I think it’s fitting.”

“Perhaps,” Mother said, and tied a pink sash around my waist, accenting the white dress I’d put on. “But for tonight, darling, maybe at least the earrings the old man sent over.” I frowned.

“I’ll wear the whole set, though I’m wearing the gown he sent,” I sighed. It was our official engagement party at the manor tonight. I slipped the pendant off and instead pinned it inside my sash. “Where’s Father?”

“He said he will join us there,” she said, “several ships came in this afternoon and it’s delayed him.” I frowned. My father was less enthusiastic about my engagement than I expected. For the man who was so intent on unloading me that he basically sold me to someone who abandoned me, he’s been curiously distant and stoic about the situation. To the point that my mother is worried The Dumanis are going to be insulted. I’m starting to see her point.

“Madame,” our butler walked in, “the young gentlemen are here to escort the ladies.” Emily squealed and flew off.

“Emily, do try to,” Mother called after her, “oh never mind, she’s hopeless.” I laughed. “Darling, I know you’re fed up with all of this, but it’s important to me, so I am glad you’re going along with it.” I smiled in the mirror and he squeezed my shoulders. “You shouldn’t keep him waiting.” I stood up and hurried to the front hall. Emily and Alex were already bundled in their carriage and Tristan was standing waiting for me.

“I was lucky they got out the door,” Tristan said softly. I laughed. “I’m an apalling chaperone.” I kissed him and he pulled me close. “I’ve missed you.”

“It’s been two days,” I said, “you couldn’t have missed me much.” He laughed.

“And yet, here we are,” he sighed, we walked outside. “I like this one,” he said, sliding the light linen of my gown between his fingers. “Is it from me? I’ve lost track.”

“From your grandfather, the jewels too,” I said. He nodded helping me into the carriage, where Emily and Alex were fully entwined. “Emily, Mother is joining us.” She sighed and pulled away, straightening herself. “Hello Alex.”

“Caro,” he smiled at me. Once Mother joined us the carriage carried us over to the manor and we walked inside, I relaxed into Tristan’s arm around my waist. I was surprised that not only were most of the merchants I’d ever known or seen here, so were many of the officers from the fort.

“Oh no,” Tristan said, as another one of them walked in. But he didn’t actually sound upset, he seemed, elated.

“What?” I said. He took my hand.

“I’m going to apologize in advance for how my entire family is about to react to something,” he said and we started walking. He looked excited though, even though there was a sudden hush in conversation. “Hello General.” He was beaming.

“Well, this is certainly something,” the man standing in front us laughed. I tried my best to take in General Thomas Martin, and he was quite something. If I’d thought Tristan was born to wear the uniform, it was clearly something he’d learned from The General. “You’re being rude, Tristan.”

“I’m sorry, you caught me by surprise,” he said, “This is Carolina DuKarras,” he looked at me. “Caro, love, this is General Thomas Martin.” My heart leapt.

“Oh!” I said, “Oh I’m so happy to meet you!”

“And I you,” The General said, gently, “I must say, it’s strange to be back here.” Tristan laughed and hugged him.

“Is Thena with you?” He asked.

“No,” he sighed, “honestly, this just happened to work out, I’m actually here to beg a favor if you can believe it, there have been some, developments.” Tristan frowned. “I don’t want to ruin your night, boy, we’ll discuss it later,” The General sighed. “I suppose I have to say hello to your grandfather, hm.”

“On your own head be it,” Tristan shrugged. “Trey is over there.” The General sighed.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “lovely to meet you Carolina, we’ll speak more soon.” I nodded as he left. I looked at Tristan.

“You really didn’t know he was coming?” I said. He shook his head. “I’m glad for you, and to meet him.” He kissed me gently. “You’ve gone, what is it?”

“Something must be very wrong, if he won’t tell me,” he frowned. I swallowed and turned his head, to look at me. “I’m sorry, I’m back.”

“You aren’t,” I said gently, “go speak with him. You’re useless to me in this state.” He laughed and kissed me softly. I exhaled and decided to explore a little, walking out into the hall, my father had walked into the door. “Kind of you to join us.”

“No need to be so prickly,” he said. “I’m here, I’ll make my apologies.” I frowned. “Would you prefer I hadn’t come at all?” He kissed me on the forehead. “And where is Tristan?”

“General Martin surprised him by arriving today,” I explained. Father nodded.

“Honestly, Angelo,” the man who swept in behind him, made my heart jump. “I’d rather not have come here first,” but then he smiled at me. “Well, hello Caro.”

“Andrei,” I managed a whisper.

“Ah, there’s the bride,” Trey Dumanis came in, “I was sent to fetch you.” I nodded, numbly and followed after him. I swallowed. “Are you alright?”

“I, thought,” I exhaled. “My father arrived.” He nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “and with Captain Arrain at that.” I nodded and took a glass of water he offered me. “May I give you some advice?”

“Yes,” I said, taking a large sip.

“Don’t let him rattle you,” he said. I swallowed. “Tristan knows everything?” I nodded. “And he’s standing by you?”

“He says so, but it was different, when he wasn’t,” I sighed, “he’s here.” Trey smiled softly. “Do you know everything?”

“I know that you and the Captain were involved,” he said, “and that you were rather changed after he left.” I smiled softly.

“Are you happy to see General Martin?” I said. Trey let out an indulgent sigh.

“Yes, I am always happy to see Tom,” he admitted, “though his appearance doesn’t bode well for how things are going in the south. Apparently he’s here to see about using guild ships for some conflict with Phania.”

“Oh,” I whispered, “I should find Tristan.” He nodded and I went back to the ballroom. Tristan was standing by his grandfather who looked, for probably the first time in my life, not just mildly irritated, but genuinely furious. Tristan’s brow was furrowed, and he’d lost all of his color. I walked over to him. “Are you alright?”

“I will be,” he said softly and kissed my forehead. My heart stopped beating so quickly. “I may have to leave earlier than I planned.” I looked up at him.

“I’ll come with you,” I said simply, “whenever.” He smiled. “My father finally arrived.” He smiled.

“A relief,” he said. He paused and saw them walking over to us. “Who’s that with him?”

“Commander Dugarry,” my father said and shook his hand. “May I present Captain Andrei Arrain? He’s the reason for my delay.” I exhaled and stared at the floor. “We had some matters to settle.”

“Of course,” Tristan’s voice was ice cold. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Captain Arrain.” Andrei looked at me then.

“Yes,” he said cautiously, “I imagine you have. I want to wish you both immeasurable joy.” I swallowed.

“That’s kind of you,” I said softly. He nodded and they walked away. “I was coming to warn you.”

“I could kill him,” Tristan said evenly, “would you like that? I bet Lisette would even pardon me for it.” I burst into a laugh and then kissed him. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” I whispered, “I was shocked, and I don’t know what my father was thinking bringing him here.” He bit his lip. “Why is the old man so riled?”

“Oh, Martin always riles him,” Tristan shrugged, “they can’t stand each other. I’m sure Grandfather will threaten to kill him six times before breakfast.” I giggled. “Can we go to the gardens, I want to tell you everything, and I can’t here.” I nodded and we walked out into the courtyard. “I have to leave as soon as possible.”

“We have to leave,” I corrected him. He frowned. “Why?”

“There is a flotilla of Phanian ships in the Brightcoast Harbor,” he swallowed. “The General came to ask Grandfather for ships.” I sat down on a bench.

“My father,” I said. He sighed and nodded. “My father manages all shipping under your grandfather.”

“Yes,” Tristan said, “he does.” I looked at him.

“This will not look good, for us,” I said. “My family I mean, not you and I. Suddenly, we’re married and Alex and Emily,” he sighed. “But my father is now indispensable to The Old Man.”

“Look at me,” he said, “I don’t care about any of that. I want you with me, I want to marry you, I love you Caro,” I swallowed realizing it was the first time he’d said it out loud. “But it won’t be the same, if you come to Brightcoast. I thought we’d have time to figure out our new life.” I looked at him.

“Are you worried about seeing her again?” I whispered. I realized that’s what was worrying me. He swallowed and cupped my face.

“No,” he said, “I am worried that she’ll hate you though. And then I’ll have to hate her and that’s very complicated.” I kissed him. “You don’t have to come, I could send for you when we go to Dovetail.”

“No,” I said, “I’m coming with you. You aren’t leaving me behind.” He smiled.

“Alright,” he said softly. “You’ll forgive me for not coming over tonight?” I nodded. “You’re wonderful. I’ll come in the morning and bring the general. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you.” I laughed.

“I look forward to it.” I whispered. He slipped his hands through my hair. “What is it?”

“I lived most of my life in war,” he said, “it was a secret one, but still. I don’t know that I’ll like the open kind any better.” I kissed him softly. I didn’t know what else do. “Being here has been so different and wonderful.”

“I don’t,” I sighed and pressed my forehead to mine. “We’ve talked about me wanting a different life, but if you,” I drifted off. He swallowed and shook his head.

“I didn’t mean that,” he said, “besides, Athena would never forgive me.” I laughed. “Are you alright?” I nodded. “I didn’t want to make a scene, that was right, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I giggled, “that was right.” He smiled.

“You’re doing what?” We heard Trey shout from the terrace. Tristan grimaced.

“Well, I think Martin just told him that he’s been involved with Dowager Countess of Pantona,” Tristan sighed. “I didn’t expect him to take it well, but a public outburst is something else.” I smiled. “I said it earlier but I really do apologize. I love him but Martin brings out the absolute worst in The Dumanis.”



Dinner seemed to crawl, though I couldn’t help but relish the toasts to my and Tristan’s happiness, his hand protectively on my back and beaming down at me in adoration.

Or lust. It might just be lust, but at this point I’d take it.

After when we adjourn to the library, I can feel his impatience as we sit quietly and Geno DuFrey pontificates on legacy and the deep connections between The Dumanis and all merchants as well as the crown.

“You promised,” he says cheekily. I smirked. “But Uncle Geno might ruin my mood.” I giggled and sidled next to him.

“I can wait as long as you need,” I whispered and slid my hand to his thigh. “Or restore the mood, if you’d rather.” The sound he made was somewhere between an exhale and a growl. I wasn’t surprised. Andrei had very much appreciated my abilities in that department.

I’d been thinking about Andrei a lot recently. I knew I had to tell Tristan about him. And I was wondering if I’d compare the two of them, I already had in a few ways. From just our fumblings I could tell that Tristan was, well, bigger than Andrei, and as I understood it this matters to men quite a bit, but I don’t quite see how it translates to my pleasure. Not that it was something Andrei was particularly attuned to, anyway. Our nights often ended with him whispering how wonderful I was while I touched myself to finish.

“I don’t think it will be difficult,” he said softly. “How will this work?”

“When they leave,” I explained, “Emily will detain my parents and Alex will bring you upstairs.” He smirked. “They owe me.” He laughed.

“I heard,” he mumbled and kissed me again.

When we did finally adjourn, six toasts later, Tristan departed, or acted like he had with a gallant kiss of my hand, and while Mother wanted to stay up and talk more, I insisted I needed to go to bed.

I was nervous just, waiting. Should I undress? He might want to undress me, though. I did decide to talk off my jewelry and the take my hair down, when the door opened.

Tristan was standing, so tall and proud, and all of his attention was focused on me. It was spellbinding. I swallowed as he walked over and took me by the waist.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind,” he whispered. I smiled.

“No,” I said, and we kissed again. We fell back against the bed and he began kissing my neck softly. “Mm, Tristan wait,” I whispered. He stopped and looked down at me. “I need to,” I paused and exhaled.

“Carolina,” he whispered. “It’s alright, you’re nervous, so am I.” I looked at him. “I’m not that experienced, but I’ve never had complaints.” I giggled.

“I feel like I’ve lied to you,” I whispered. He carefully pushed my hair off my face. “This isn’t the first time,” I sighed. He nodded. “And I thought I loved him, and that he loved me, but then he disappeared and,” he kissed me gently.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered. I looked at him. “I don’t care, about what happened before. After what I’ve done, everything seems small.” I pressed my forehead into his chest. “We have our whole lives.” He kissed me. “And you’re so beautiful, I knew it wasn’t actually possible that the only time anyone noticed you was my idiot cousin.” I giggled. “Now, where were we?” I smiled and slowly undid the buttons on his shirt. He slid my dress off my shoulder and then past my waist. “Is this alright?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. He pulled the rest off, then he starting touching me. I exhaled as his fingers worked me gently. “Oh, Tristan, mm,” I managed.

“You like it then?” He asked. I nodded. He kissed me and carefully moved down my body with the kisses. Each kiss felt heavy with his desire and when he reached between my thighs I whimpered and pulled back, “it’s alright, sweetheart, let me please you.” I closed my eyes as he kissed me gently and then harder.

And what came next felt so overwhelming. I was overwhelmed with haze and explosion of pleasure. I’m sure I was shouting his name. I gasped for breath when he came up and kissed my lips gently.

“Oh Tristan,” I whispered.

“Mm,” he nodded. “I’m glad you’re happy, darling.” I smiled, and my hand crept between his legs.

“And what about you?” I whispered. He grinned and rolled me over onto my back and I squealed.

“I,” he said while kissing me again, “am easily pleased.” I gasped as he pushed into me. That part was over rather quickly, but it felt much better than anything I’d done with Andrei. “Tell me,” he said, “this man who left you, was he perhaps missing part of his brain?” I giggled.

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said softly. He stroked my hair softly. “I’m using you as an excuse to keep wearing my hair down.”

“Mm,” he smiled, “good, because I like it. I can even drop a hint that it’s the fashion in Dovetail if it will stop your mother pinning it up every night.” I looked at him.

“Is it?” I asked. He laughed.

“Sort of?” He said. “Lisette and Marina wear theirs up, but their hair is curly and often braided, so a lot of women follow that. But a lot of women, including my sister and our friend Elodie wear theirs down.” He kissed my neck softly. “I like yours, I like being able to touch it.” I smiled. “When do you want to get married?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “as soon as we can, I suppose. Father and your sister need to sit down before we do.” He nodded. “So after we’re in Pantona.” He kissed my hair again.

“And do you want all of it?” He said softly. “Married by my grandfather, in the guild hall? A reception here and a ball at the manor?” I rested my chin on his chest.

“No,” I said quietly, “although the look on everyone’s faces would be delightful.” He laughed. “But I’d just as soon return triumphantly as Lady Dugarry at Emily and Alex’s wedding.” I paused. “But then what are our options?

“Well,” he said softly, and kissed my hand, “A Mastero would usually preside over a guardsman’s wedding, and Anselm doesn’t seem to hate me,” I laughed. “It could be quiet, simple, in Dovetail.” That sounded like heaven.

“I like that,” I admitted softly. He pressed his forehead to mine. “What do nobles do?” He exhaled.

“The reigning monarch,” he said softly, “or a chosen, usually in the palace, or on a home estate, which I don’t have.”

“Oh,” I rolled onto my back, “that would mean,” he nodded. “Well, I think that would be an awful idea then.” He laughed.

“I wouldn’t mind Marina doing it,” he admitted, “but it would a little uncomfortable.” I kissed him.

“Yes, I think so,” I agreed. He nodded. “Will she hate me?” He sighed.

“I don’t know,” he said softly, “I hope not, I don’t think so.” I looked at him. “She’s a complicated person,” I looked at him. “I wouldn’t expect a warm welcome, though. She’ll keep her distance, most likely.” I swallowed.

“I see,” I whispered, “I suppose you have to leave, in case they check on me.” He laughed at that. “After Andrei, Mother became very strict.” He kissed my forehead.

“Alex is waiting at a tavern to toast me some more anyhow,” he said softly, and stood up. Just watching the way his body moved was entrancing. His muscles were so disciplined, nothing was out of place, I could see how each ripple would effect the next. “I’ll come for breakfast.”

“I’d like that,” I cooed as he kissed me again. “Tristan,” I said softly.

“Yes, Carolina,” he said softly.

“I just,” I whispered, “I’m so happy.” He smiled.

“Me too,” he said gently. “Get some rest.” I snuggled back under the cover. He walked towards the door. “Caro,” he said softly, he’d never shortened my name that way before, it melted me. “I don’t want to lie to you, I’m not sure if I,” he exhaled. “I want to love you.”

“I know that,” I whispered softly. He nodded. “I’m glad that you can,” I looked at him, “thank you for telling me the truth.” He smiled and left. I sighed and flopped back into the covers. I’d been content, happy to be wanted and not even thinking beyond that. But somehow, him stating outright, so plainly that he didn’t love me. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.



I woke up and walked downstairs to the parlor, where Father was sitting at his desk scowling over another letter, while Mother hummed happily over her embroidery. I hadn’t seen Emily, which meant she was probably still in bed.

“Good Morning, Caro,” Mother said with a grin, “a note for you.” I smiled and took it. Tristan sent notes most mornings. I looked forward to them almost as much as his visits.

“Thank you,” I said and opened it.

Dear Miss DuKarras,

I hope this finds you well. If you’re available some time today, I would very much appreciate a private conversation, followed, if possible, by an interview with your father.

Please respond promptly. As you saw yesterday evening, I am low on patience in regards to the matter I wish to discuss.

You Humble Servant

Commander Tristan Dugarry

“Father,” I said, he looked over at me, “did Lady Athena’s most recent letter meet your standards?” I swallowed. I hoped he didn’t see how much I was blushing. At a dinner party that Cassidy Weirs threw last night, Tristan had practically bitten the head off of Galen DuTrin, who’d remarked that the commander seemed singularly focused, when surely there were other amusements available. He’d later kissed me so fiercely, I thought my gown would catch on fire.

I could easily live the rest of my life vexxing him, if it meant I could get more kisses like that.

“Yes,” he grumbled, “she’s being quite generous, a place in The Guard if you want it, a townhouse in Dorin and a place, exact location to be determined on her husband’s land.” Mother dropped her embroidery. “Is he going to propose? Or has he already?”

“He asked to see me today,” I said, “and then to speak to you after. So I think he’s going to, yes.” Father nodded.

“And you’d take the place in the guard,” he said, “I assume. I know his grandfather was hoping you’d influence him into the busissness.”

“I don’t think he has any interest in that,” I said, “but that isn’t what I asked.” He sighed, as Mother glared at him.

“I am comfortable with the terms, yes,” he said, “and if you’re going to accept him, I won’t push back.” I nodded quickly. “Are you going to accept?”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Mother said, “of course she is. The boy’s here nearly every day, and she’s been walking around with her head in the clouds.”

“I have not,” I said. She rolled her eyes. “And I do plan on saying yes.” Mother pressed her hands against her mouth.

“Whatever shall you wear?” She said exclaimed, “and we must get your hair up.” I twirled an end around my finger and thought of Tristan’s hands tangled in it.a v

“He likes it down,” I said softly. She nodded. “I hadn’t considered what to wear.” She frowned.

“I wish there was time to find something new,” she sighed. “Go wake your sister, I’ll consider it.” I nodded and ran up to Emily’s room. I was excited to tell her. I burst open the door, thinking I’d see her with the covers over her head. Instead I saw a very surprised Alex sitting up quickly, while Emily, horrified jumped to her feet.

“Good morning to you both,” I said, flouncing to and plopping in a chair. Emily swallowed.

“Oh you won’t tell Papa, will you Caro?” She said. I glanced at Alex. “We’re getting married anyway, after all, and well,” I glanced at Alex, who at least looked marginally ashamed of being caught.

“Of course I won’t tell,” I said, “but he should slip out, Mother wants to see you, we have to pick something for me to wear.”

“Ah,” Alex said, standing up and pulling his pants on. “Tristan has gathered his courage then?” I rolled my eyes.

“Tristan marched into Dovetail on the day The Queen captured Lord Brayton,” Emily said, “I’m sure he’s not afraid of Caro.”

“I’ve met Brayton,” Alex said and took my hand and squeezed it, “Caro is much scarier.” I giggled. “My love,” he kissed Emily. She smiled as he slipped out the door.

“How often does that happen?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Not often,” she said, “never really, last night we just got more carried away than usual.” I nodded. “Are you excited?”

“I am,” I said softly. She smiled. “Em,” I whispered, “I worry about my leaving though.” She looked at me. “I know you love Alex, and he loves you, but that family,” I drifted. She sighed.

“You’re marrying into that family too,” she pointed out.

“It’s different and you know it,” I said. She looked at me, slightly amused. “You could come with me, we could get away.”

“That’s what you want,” she said softly, “it’s never been what I wanted, if it was, I could have had it.” She’s right of course. “Tell mother I’ll be right in, but I think the green dress, with the gold sash. The Uniform colors. He should know where you stand.” I’m so used to my perky little sister that I forget this side of her. The merchant side, cold and calculating.

“Right,” I nodded.

After my attire was chosen, the decision was made that Tristan would come after lunch, and when things were settled we would send for Alex, and his aunts and uncles. Not the old man, who wouldn’t deign to come into this house until after the wedding.

Emily and Mother posed me on a bench under a flowering tree. The whole thing felt stupid and faked and not like Tristan and I at all, with our blunt conversations and long walks, but I’m tired of fighting with everyone. I just want him.

And when he walked through to the garden, dressed in his simple training uniform, I couldn’t help smiling. He looked so shy and yet also firmly sure of himself.

“Hello,” he said softly.

“Hello,” I managed to exhale. “You wore the uniform.”

“You like the uniform,” he said softly. I nodded. “Carolina, I,” he swallowed, “remember, when we first met and I said I didn’t like games?” I nodded. “I want to marry you, do you want to marry me.” I swallowed.

“Yes,” I said softly, “yes, I do want to marry you,” he smiled and pulled me close and kissed me. His hand slipped to my backside and then my thighs, still over my skirt, I hadn’t let him under it yet. “Tristan,” I whispered, “not here.” He sighed, resting his forehead against mine.

“I want you so much,” he said. I smiled, Emily owed me for this morning, so I knew tonight wouldn’t be a problem.

“Tonight,” I said, “but now you have to talk to my father.” He groaned.

“Tonight,” he said softly, he lips barely brushing my ear. “You promise?” I nearly relented there. But the idea of my first time with Tristan being rushed and against the tree, his hand over my mouth so no one could hear me.

“I promise,” I exhaled.



I bounced out of bed the next morning. I happily sniffed the little yellow rose from the night before. I hadn’t been this excited to greet the day in a while. Everyone was shocked by it as I made my way to breakfast, Papa was eyeing me most carefully.

“Could everyone excuse Caro and I,” he said. I swallowed as Emily hesitated and Mama after her. “We need to have a blunt conversation.”

“Do we?” I said and took a long sip on my coffee. He sighed and looked at me. “What about?”

“I received a letter from Captain Athena Dugarry,” he said.

“Commander,” I corrected. He sighed.

“Whatever,” he said. “She’s an imperious one, but seems uninterested in your dowry.” He produced the paper and handed it to me. I looked down stifling a giggle. “One dinner and one dance, and we’re already here?”

“I thought you’d be happy,” I said, looking over the note. “It’s more for Emily. I don’t see Brie DuCray as an easy negotiator.” He snorted.

My understanding is that my brother and your daughter have begun a courtship. My intended and I would be thrilled if your family attended our wedding in Pantona this autumn.

“She’ll put the press on in Pantona, I assume,” he said, “regardless, do you think you can keep his attention?”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean, I think so.” He raised his eyebrows. “Papa, I don’t know what you want me to say. I barely know him.” He frowned. “What are you so concerned about? Of course she isn’t interested in my dowry, they’ve got DuManis money and she’s about to marry a count and from what I understand it’s all ceremonial down there anyway.” He nodded.

“Well,” he said, “I want to see you settled. I was thinking we were going to have to send you to Rastan.” I sighed.

“I was never going to Rastan, and I think it’s time we stopped pretending I was.” I said, “Are we through?” He nodded I stood up and marched out of the room. I landed in the library, and grabbed a book and settled in to get lost for the day. Or at least a few hours. There would probably be callers at some point.

Do you think you can keep his attention?

Could I? I think I knew what my father was asking and I resented it. I’d resented it when Alex had noticed Emily and moved me to the side. I’d resented it when for months after he brought ship captains under his supervision, many nearly twice my age to the house, all with the same silent command from him. Get their attention, keep it, however I possibly could.

The dowry would never be enough, certainly not my personality, or my looks. But a girl like me, who’d already been shunted aside as a debutante didn’t need to worry as much about her reputation. My bed was open to prospective suitors, at least as far as my father was concerned.

I tried once. Andrei was young, and dashing and had spent a decent amount of time hanging around our house trying to convince Papa he was a worthwhile business prospect in addition to a potential son in law. Papa had agreed to give him his own ship and he’d promised to send for me in Rastan when he’d settled. He obviously hadn’t.

“Caro,” Mama walked in, “Sir Tristan is here.” I nodded and stood up. “Look at you,” she cupped my face. “I’ll send him in.” I nodded went over to the mirror and primped, turning as he walked in.

“Hello,” I said softly.

“Hello,” he said, he wasn’t in uniform, for the first time, I’d seen him. Instead he was in a pair of plain dark blue pants, and simple white shirt, with a brown vest over it. He was holding now a bouquet of the roses. “I thought, the one last night was a thank you, but these are just a token.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, taking them, “They’re lovely.” He smiled. “Please sit, do you want tea or coffee, or something? I could ring for it.”

“I’m alright,” he said, “I might never eat again after this trip, my aunts have wildly overestimated my appetite.” I laughed. “How are you? I’m sorry for losing track of you last night.”

“I can’t expect you to spend every minute on me,” I said. “Your sister wrote to my father.”

“Of course she did,” he sighed, “I haven’t heard from her in weeks, but your father needed to know what was happening.” I smiled.

“She invited us to her wedding,” I said. He rolled his eyes.

“She’s showing off,” he mumbled, “but I’d be glad, if you came to Pantona.” He looked sad again. I nodded and stood up to put my book away. He followed after me.

“Good then,” I said, “did you enjoy yourself, last night?” He was closer to me than he’d ever been.

“Some of it,” he said, “I was disappointed, to not say goodbye,” his hands were holding mine. I swallowed.

“My mother is terrible about that,” I said, “and we keep having to sweep Emily away from Alex,” I babbled, “she’s still so much younger, and well, everyone knows they’ll get married but,” he pulled me close and kissed me. I melted against him.

“I hope I didn’t overstep,” he said softly, “but I’ve wanted to do that since that infernal dinner.”

“I’ve wanted you to do that since you walked in the door,” I admitted. He laughed and pressed me against the bookcase, I wove my arms around his neck. He was a very good kisser. “Is this how it’s done in Dovetail?” I teased as he moved to my neck. “You dance with a girl and then give her flowers and she’s yours?” I exhaled.

“Something like that,” he said, pulling my hips close to his. “Should I have written five letters to each of your family members appraising them of not only my intentions but every item I own, and then walked you through town a few times before I kissed you?” I giggled and kissed him again.

“The walk would have been nice,” I said. “Then there’d be less of a chance of my father finding us.” He smiled and stepped away. My father wouldn’t care. But I needed to slow down. If he’d kept kissing me, touching me, I knew how quickly we’d be in bed.

“In that case,” he said, and offered me his arm. I laughed and took it. We stepped out into the sun. “Well, this is your city, where should we go?” I looked at him. “Alex mentioned a few places but I got the feeling they weren’t appropriate to bring you.” I raised my eyebrows.

“I’m sure they weren’t,” I said, “before my sister and me, Alex had quite the reputation.” He smiled. “Most people go to the park by the harbor.” He nodded.

“And you want to show me off?” He asked. I blushed again. I did, a little. But there were also places in the park, mazes and clearings where there would be privacy. I thought of how he’d pulled my hips to his with such confidence and couldn’t think of anything else.

“You’d be better to show off in your uniform,” I said. He laughed. We arrived at Harborside Park and walked carefully down one of the paths, a few people glanced at us and said hello, and Tristan seemed distracted as I walked us into a small walled garden. Thankfully there was no one else there.

“I think I understand the appeal of the park now,” he smirked as I settled in on a bench. I giggled as he sat down next to me, and turned my face towards him. “Can I kiss you now?” I nodded and he kissed me softly again. Then harder, pulling me close. “Gods, you’re beautiful,” he muttered. I exhaled.

“Kiss me again,” I said. He nodded and obliged. “Tristan,” I whispered. He looked at me, I carefully unbuttoned the front of my dress he took the invitation and moved his mouth to my chest and then my breasts, sliding my chemise down below my nipple. I groaned softly as he began sucking on it. He moved back up to my neck, his hand staying on my breast, the other going to move my skirts. “Wait,” I said softly. He exhaled and pulled away.

“Alright,” he said confused. “But isn’t this why we came here?” I nodded. “If you’re not ready, you don’t have to stall, you can just say so. We did only just meet.”

“No, I,” I swallowed, “I am ready, that is, I was, but, well, like you said, we just met and,” I paused. He looked at me. “You’re wonderful, and I want you. But this, us,” I exhaled, “it has to work. It just has to, for me.” He pressed his lips into his mouth.

“You’ve said that,” he stood up. “And Alex was so eager for us to meet.” I swallowed. “Are you two,” he exhaled, “what happened?”

“Oh,” I laughed, “with Alex nothing. I mean, some kissing, but the problem was once he and Emily, well, you’ve seen them, it’s disgusting,” he laughed. “But to the rest of the city, well, they saw The Dumanis Heir moving past me to my younger and prettier sister, so clearly I must be deficient in some way.” I swallowed. “I wasn’t in love with Alex, but my pride was wounded, I’ll admit that. I think he’s just trying to make it up to me, for Emily’s sake.”

“I see,” he nodded.

“What about you?” I asked. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him about Andrei, not yet. He frowned. “Why did you come here? Why are you going along with any of this?”

“Last summer,” he said softly, “my sister and I were sent to Pantona to get to know Annalise,” he exhaled, “Lisette,” his voice was soft. “And she was, well, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but it’s all true, probably. She’s brilliant, and kind, and beautiful, and powerful, and,” he exhaled, “and we fell in love. We knew we shouldn’t, that it couldn’t ever last, but it didn’t matter, not then, not there.” He looked so sad, so broken, whenever he talks about her, “Anyway, we kept trying and it kept hurting us both, and then there was Marina.” He exhaled. “Have you ever had someone in your life who just, knew you?”

“I don’t think so,” I admitted, though honestly, the first person to enter my mind was Alex.

“Well, that’s who Marina is,” he whispered, “she just saw me, she always did.” He looked at me. “But I hurt her, I kept her at arms length and she moved on. I wanted to start over, and I couldn’t do that in Dovetail.”

“Oh,” I said. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I had pictured Annalise on her throne, playing with him and then casting him aside when he wasn’t convenient anymore. Duchess Marina being almost pressed into a place as his consolation prize, or perhaps not actually figuring into things at all, just a rumor because they were a boy and a girl people liked talking about. But this wasn’t a story or rumor, it was just a mess, and a mess he was running away from.

“I know none of this is terribly romantic,” he said softly and sat down again. “I behaved horribly. I treated two people who mean a great deal to me very badly.” He looked down. “But I like you, and I want you, and I think that’s as good a place as any to start.”

“I like you too,” I said softly, “and I want you too, but today, I just,” I swallowed, “I can’t, yet.” He smiled and nodded. We kissed again.

“I should get you home,” he said, “that Annabeth girl’s mother invited us for dinner and Aunt Brie says I have to go until you and I declare ourselves officially.” I giggled. “How long will that be, by the way?”

“I’m reasonably sure once my father responds to your sister, we’re official,” I shrugged, rebuttoning my top. “It would have been easier if you would allow your uncle or grandfather to negotiate.”

“You haven’t met Athena,” he shook his head. “I can assure you, that would not be easier for me in the slightest.”



“I heard he cut off Lord Brayton’s head himself, even after Her Majesty ordered he live,” I heard Cassidy Mainer whispering to Annabeth Weirs, two girls my age, as we walked into the Manor ballroom, “and that’s why he had to leave Dovetail.”

“I heard she found him in her cousin’s bed,” Annabeth giggled. I pressed my lips into my mouth. “And insisted he be dismissed from the guard.” Tristan was standing beside his grandfather, looking what to most probably seemed stoic, but I knew was likely him trying to mask awkwardness. “Not that I blame her.”

“The Queen or her cousin?” Cassidy giggled.

“Both,” Annabeth said, “or either. Gods, he’s perfection.” We reached the room and I made eye contact with Tristan.

“Caro!” Emily exclaimed running excitedly up to me. “Come on, Alex said Sir Tristan is going to open the dancing.”

“With Mistress DuFrey and you, surely,” I said. It was what made the most sense. I was fond of Charlotte Dufrey, for all that she was ten years older than us, she was always kind. Tristan walked over and smiled at me. Cassidy looked at him. “Sir Tristan,” I curstsied.

“Miss DuKarras,” he bowed, “I apologize, perhaps I should have sent a note?” I smiled at him. “I’m being unspeakably rude. Commander Trisstan Dugarry,” he nodded to Cassidy and Annabeth.

“Oh,” I said, “this is Miss Cassidy Mainer and Miss Annabeth Weirs. What would this note have entailed?”

“That I’d like to dance with you, first, if you don’t mind,” he explained, “Charlotte isn’t feeling well and retired early.” I smiled.

“I’d be honored,” I said softly. He nodded.

“Ladies,” he bowed to Cassidy and Annabeth, and quickly departed. They both looked at me.

“Are you serious?” Annabeth’s voice was so high pitched I could barely hear it. I shrugged as non chalantly as I could. Cassidy’s mouth was still hanging open in disbelief. “How do you know him?”

“Alex came by to call on me,” Emily explained, “and Sir Tristan came with him. Then we came to dinner here last night.” She looked deeply proud, “I should find Alex, at that.” She bounced away.

“Is he courting you?” Cassidy managed. Unlike Annabeth’s shriek this was more of a disbelieving hiss.

“It isn’t that serious yet,” I said shaking my head. “From my understanding he’s quite shy is all, so because we were introduced,” I shrugged again. “Excuse me.” I walked over to the front of the room, feeling like I had clouds under my shoes. Tristan smiled at me. “How did you know to do that?”

“Oh,” he said, “well, I saw you standing there, looking absolutely lovely, by the way,” I blushed, “and I saw those two whispering and I know the type.” He looked down. “You seemed to need a rescue.”

“They’re furious,” I admitted. He chuckled. “I was certainly not supposed to be the one you noticed first.” He looked at me and then back across at Annabeth and Cassidy. “Are you prepared for jealousy and rumors as part of our little game here?”

“After nearly a lifetime under Brayton,” he offered me his hand as the music started, “I think I can handle it.” I smiled as we danced. “I plan to pump them for information about you when I’m forced to dance with them.”

“Mm,” I nodded. “You will be deeply reassured that I’m nothing special. Also, that I’m shy and snobbish,” I shrugged.

“Well, then we have lots in common,” he said. “I am stoic and stand offish, and have been instructed many times to remove the stick from my,” he cleared his throat and I giggled. “Regardless, I’m happy to be of help.” I looked at him.

The music started, and he took my hand and started the simple steps. Emily giggled as Alex danced with her. I looked over at Cassidy and Annabeth. Cassidy was still staring daggers at me, while Annabeth had started scanning the room for open partners.

“Can I call on you?” He asked as we finished. “Alex tells me this is what I’m supposed to do next.” I smiled and nodded.

“It is, and you certainly can,” I said, “what would be next in Dovetail?” He grinned sheepishly at me.

“My experience was atypical,” he admitted. “But it amounts to the same,” he kissed my hand, “spending time together.” I nodded.

“You should see to your other guests,” I said and started walking away.

“Carolina,” he called after me, I turned, “Do you have a favorite flower?” I smiled widely.

“Yellow roses,” I said softly. He nodded. I stepped out onto the balcony and pressed my hands against my face, which felt unbearably hot.

“So I’ve done well,” I rolled my eyes seeing Alex appear next to me. “Grandfather is thrilled.”

“We all live to please your grandfather,” I said. He nodded. “You shouldn’t neglect Emily.”

“Emily couldn’t possibly care if I spend five minutes on you,” he pointed out. I frowned. “Is Tristan not a big enough sacrifice to absolve me?” I looked at him.

“I forgave you a long time ago, Alex,” I said. “Now you just irritate me,” he smiled and leaned against the railing.

“I kissed you here,” he smiled.

“I remember,” I said softly. “I was so embarrassed.” He nodded. “Don’t break my sister’s heart, Alex.”

“For you,” he whispered and pushed a hair off my forehead. “Anything.” I swallowed and looked away and walked inside. Tristan had been swarmed. I giggled as he sent me a pleading look.

“Miss DuKarras?” A page walked over.

“Yes,” I said. He handed me a small box and I opened it, revealing a clearly hastily cut yellow rose with a white ribbon ties around it. “Thank you,” I whispered. He nodded and left. I smiled and stuck the flower into my sash. It didn’t quite go with the soft pink of my gown, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

The Manor


“Red, I think,” Mother said, as a maid nodded going into my wardrobe as she herself tightened my corset. “It sets off your hair, and he won’t be used to it. As I understand it everyone in Dovetail wears blue and green.” I sighed.

“Mother,” I said, “I don’t want you to invest too much in this,” I didn’t want to. It was too much to hope for. A path away from the guilds.

“Nonsense,” Mother said taking the red satin dinner gown from the maid and sliding it over my head. “Your father already spoke to Trey Dumanis about the whole business.” She turned me and looked me in the glass. “You’ll be Lady Dugarry by midwinter, darling.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Hair up,” she instructed the maid sharply. “Her neck is her best feature.” She walked out. I slid my hand to my throat.

Arriving at The Dumanis House, a large palace like mansion on a promontory above Dorin city proper always feels like an occasion, even if this time it’s only for a small family dinner. We stepped out of the carriage and Emily giggled squeezing my hand. I nodded and went to follow after her when I felt my father’s hand circle my upper arm.

“Do not embarass me, Caro,” he whispered. I nodded. We walked in and were greeted and then escorted to one of the many parlors. Alex quickly swept Emily away to a corner. I looked around, it really was just us and the family. I took a drink off a tray and quietly sat down in an arm chair.

He wasn’t even here. I sipped lightly on my drink when Trey Dumanis walked over and sat down with me.

“You look lovely Miss DuKarras,” he said. I nodded. “And disappointed?” I blushed. “Tristan should be on his way. He had to go to the fort and pay his respects to the Garrison Commander.”

“Oh,” I said quietly. “I suppose that makes sense.” We didn’t mix much with the guards.

“He takes his responsibility very seriously,” Trey said, there was more affection in his voice than I’d ever heard from a member of The Dumanis. “Even if he is supposed to be on hiatus for his stay here.”

“I didn’t mean to assume,” I muttered, but Trey simply laughed.

“It wasn’t an incorrect assumption,” he said, “as much as we are very happy about that Alex has settled on well, anyone, and we especially like your sister, this particular honor is very much about making sure you and Tristan get to know one another.” I blushed again. “And speak of the devil.”

My next breath caught in my throat. He’d seemed attractive that afternoon in his travelling clothes, but walking into this stuffy room, in his simple, well cut guard uniform, it was impossible not to look at him. He looked how I imagine Cornan himself to look.

“Grandfather,” he walked over and cautiously bowed to Carland Dumanis, “I apologize, Commander Varys was enthusiastic for me to see her whole operation. I didn’t want to insult her by running off.”

“Of course, my boy,” Carland grinned and glanced over at me and winked. Tristan looked embarased and walked over.

“Hello Uncle Trey,” he said. “Miss DuKarras.” He took my hand and kissed it again. This I could get used to. “I’m very sorry for keeping you waiting.”

“It’s alright, really,” I said softly. He smiled and sat down next to me. “Your Uncle was saying you’re on Hiatus from the Guard?” He sighed and shook his head.

“An unfortunate stipulation of my grandfather’s,” he said, “and General Martin. If I were to stay active in The Guard I’d have to be residing in the fort, which was unacceptable.” I laughed at that. “It will be strange, it’s been my life since I was ten.”

“Ten?” I said. He nodded. Trey excused himself, with a cough then. “That is quite young. Is it normal?”

“No,” he said, “and yes. If Annalise hadn’t been,” he paused, “if things were as they were meant to be we might have been even younger. The protectors usually grow up with their charge.”

“Then why ten?” I asked.

“That was when my parents died and Trey and The General took us,” he explained. I looked at him. His face didn’t betray anything. Not grief, or regret.

“Why didn’t you come here?” I asked softly. He looked at me.

“Because,” he said, “I am a part of this family, but I’m also a Dugarry, and we serve Cammadan.” He smiled sadly. “And Athena would have murdered someone by now, probably. She carries a lot of aggression.” I laughed.

“It must have been lonely though,” I said. He shrugged.

“I had Athena,” he pointed out. I smiled. “And we had a job to do.” He looked down. “And my mother didn’t want this for us. I keep thinking she’d be very disappointed in me.”

“As someone who is a deep disappointment to her parents,” I smiled nodding towards mine, “I somehow doubt it.” He laughed.

“Tell me about you,” he said softly. I looked at him and sighed, a bell rang and we all stood up to go into dinner.

“There isn’t much to know,” I whispered, “I’m not that different from every debutante in Dorin.” He nodded, and pulled out my chair so I could sit.

“But that’s the thing,” he said, “I’m not from Dorin, the last time I was here I was seven.” I laughed. “So I am going to find everything you do endlessly fascinating and novel.”

“Or unbearably dull in comparison,” I pointed out. He grinned. “I read, and I go to parties and dinners like this one. I pick out clothes. You’re used to queens and warriors.” The grin stayed but his eyes became sad. “Is it true?” I managed.

“Yes,” he said, “I mean, I don’t know how much or what the stories,” he sighed, “but yes, we were. She, I,” he stopped, “it’s complicated.”

“Well, the only boy who ever showed interest in me moved on nearly instantly to my younger sister, so obviously, I understand complicated,” I stabbed a fork into the salad that had come been served. He nodded. “Not that I begrudge them, they’re much more suited than Alex and I.” He smiled. “Are you in love with her?” He looked me in the eyes then, and I swallowed, the intensity of his gaze is something else. He looked as though he were sizing me up, trying to decide if I could handle his answer.

“Yes,” he said simply, “I am.” I nodded. “Is that,” he frowned. “Does it matter to you?” I bit my lip.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I don’t think so. But I’m glad you were honest.” He nodded. “And it really doesn’t make to much of a difference as my father and your uncle have already discussed the situation.”

“I’m sure they have but my uncle isn’t my negotiator,” he said. I looked at him.

“It isn’t my business, but you should not trust Alex with that job,” I said softly. “He isn’t, well, reliable.” He laughed.

“No,” he said, “my sister.” I looked at him. “I’m negotiating for her too. Though hers isn’t particularly complicated. Her first born inherits Tumona, and the weapons are to be evenly distributed and if our grandfather ever sets foot in Pantona he is to be arrested on sight.” I laughed.

“And The Count’s demands?” I asked. He smiled.

“To and this is a direct quote, ‘stop being bothered about this nonsense Tristan, I mean it, I don’t want to hear it again,'” he shrugged. “The nobility considers the contracts passé. Especially the inner circle. Anton and Marie had a love match and it’s now unfashionable to claim anything else.” I looked at him.

These people were myths to me. Stories I’d heard third hand. They were his family, his whole world. He said Inner Circle like it was something he was outside of and yet told casual stories about The Count of Pantona and called the King and Queen who’d died when we were children by their first names.

Before this morning I’d expected to be the old lady who my sister’s grandchildren whispered about and threw pastries at at parties.

He couldn’t actually want me. It isn’t possible. But the way he’s looking at me and smiling feels earnest.

“I’m used to being unfashionable,” I said. He nodded and smiled awkwardly, then I paused. “Did you say that your sister is concerned about the weapons in her dowry?” He shrugged.

“The Dugarrys have been in the guard for nearly two hundred years,” he explained. “There are a lot of weapons.” I laughed again, mid sip of my wine and it went up my nose. My mother sent me a glare and I swallowed.