I was sitting in the parlor of the apartment. I was still a little overwhelmed by the luxury of life here. It made Dorin feel simple, and Dorin made Dovetail feel like hovel. I was longing for my quiet, comfortable life in Pantona. My little house, and garden, my long talks with William, and watching Calla run through the wheat.
I hadn’t thought of him in so long, my friend, my lover, the only person who saw me. I’d been so unfair to him, used him so awfully.
“Lady Dugarry?” I looked up from the book I was attempting and failing to read, and saw Princess Karina and Lady Katrin standing before me. I smiled at them. Everyone staying in the palace seemed to appreciate the sheer warmth and light these two girls seemed to bring into every room they entered. The Princess was exceptionally lovely. I’d never seen her mother, but had heard her compared to Marina a few times, but I didn’t think they were much alike. Karina was darker and softer than my friend. Katrin, however, shared her older brother’s sharpness and sly good looks, I think if she hadn’t been handed over to mind her cousin, she’d be quite the trouble maker. In some ways they reminded me of me and Emily. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”
“Not at all, Your Highness,” I said. Karina smiled shyly. “What can I do for you?”
“There are a few ships that entered harbor today,” Katrin said quickly. I nodded.
“Merchant ships, mostly,” Karina explained, “and a market set up on the docks.”
“Really, just some stalls,” Katrin said, “but news from everywhere, and shopping and food and well,” she sighed. “We’d like to go.”
“I see,” I nodded. “And what is stopping you?”
“Well,” Karina explained, “we really aren’t allowed to go alone.”
“And my brother claims to be too busy,” Katrin said, “though with what, I haven’t the slightest idea. And he suggested we ask you to come with us.” I laughed at that. “We understand if you don’t want to.”
“But we thought you might like news from Cammadan as much as we would from Phania,” Princess Karina explained. “And well,” she looked down a little ashamed.
“And I’m a merchant and know my way around,” I finished. The princess looked at me and nodded. “Of course I will take you.” They smiled broadly. “But Lady Katrin, I insist you tell your brother while I change into something appropriate, I’ll meet you at the gates.”
“Oh Damian won’t,” Katrin went to speak, and Karina elbowed her. “Of Course, my lady, thank you.” They giggled their way out and I shook my head.
I went to my wardrobe. It was the first time in a long time I realized I’d be a representative of a Cammadie merchant family as well as The Dugarrys. I landed on green wool gown and a fur cloak. I hurried to the palace gates where Princess Karina and Lady Katrin were waiting. Captain Lestoff was with them.
“Captain,” I smiled, “I had been told you could not spare the time.” He shook his head.
“My schedule opened up,” he said. Lady Katrin let out an annoyed huff and rolled her eyes. He offered his arm and I took it. He was up to something. “They’d never have invited you if I hadn’t said they had to, and the thought of shopping with them alone terrified me.” I smiled.
“You could have simply asked.” I pointed out. He smirked at me. “Goddess, poor Marina, she must have been putty in your hand.”
“Don’t tease me about Marina,” he said. “To be honest seeing you every evening is the only time I’ve felt warmly towards Tristan, he was in Dorin a whole twenty minutes before they put you in front of him? I’d have spent every minute chasing you too.” I wrinkled my nose at him. We reached the docks and watched the girls scurry. “Kat!” He called out, and sighed.
“They’ll be fine,” I said. “Honestly a makeshift dock market is too hastily organized to be much danger to them.” He sighed.
“Lady Dugarry!” A voice called from a table. I smiled and walked over. Ralph DuParin was a friend of my father’s I’d known since I was very small. “My, how our little Caro has grown.”
“Master DuParin,” I smiled. “May I introduce Captain Damian Lestoff,” I said. Lefty smiled. “Master DuParin used to bring my sister and me chocolate from up here when we were little.”
“Your mother asked me to look for you or Madame DuCray,” he bowed. “I may tell her you’re well?”
“Yes,” I said, “Emily and I are both quite well.” He smiled. “You’ll excuse us?” We continued on. Lefty eventually found the girls and I wandered a bit. I stopped at one stall and bought a lemon, the merchant claimed it was from Pantona, and even if he was lying, just holding it made me feel better.
“Caro,” I turned and inhaeld, “I mean Lady Dugarry.” In four years, Andrei Arrain had barely changed. His light hair was brushed back, and his cool dark eyes pierced mine.
“Captain Arrain,” I said softly. He exhaled.
“Just Master Arrain, now,” he said softly. “I no longer have a ship.” I nodded. “I had heard you were in the city. And alone.” I stepped past him but he followed me. “Caro,” he whispered, taking my waist.
“I’m not alone,” I said sharply stepping away. “Emily and Alex came with me.” He exhaled.
“I meant, your husband is not here,” he said. “Caro, come see me. Even I’ve heard that you’re not happy, and I think I could,” I glared at him and was grateful as Lefty came quickly to my side at that.
“Lady Dugarry, Princess Karina is quite ready to return if you are.” He said. “Damian Lestoff,” He extended his hand.
“Andrei Arrain,” He said. “I trust you’re enjoying Rastan?”
“I’ve been here many times,” Lefty said. “You’re from here? I think I remember seeing you in Brightcoast when Lady Dugarry and her husband came there before their marriage.”
“May I call on you at the palace?” Andrei asked me. I nodded, not wanting to prolong this. “Captain,” He nodded to Lefty, and he bowed.
“Rana be praised you were saved from that one,” he said as we found Katrin and Karina, both carrying canvas bags full of parcels and gigglin. “When I saw him in the Brightcoast ballroom it was shocking since I’d only known him from brothels before.” I looked at him. “I don’t pretend to be virtuous, Carolina, but I am faithful to Marina.” I smiled.
“He maintains that he’s actually my husband legally, if you can believe it,” I said. “My father sides with him too. I think if Tristan weren’t Carland Dumanis’s grandson, I’d be stuck with him.”
“It’s funny,” he said, “my father marrying Aimee changed the course of my whole life,” he said, “I would have lived very comfortably, I think drinking myself into a stupor and collecting from my father’s business until he made me pursue someone respectable. Like say, the charming daughter of a wealthy and upcoming merchant family.” I laughed.
“Well, if that was your plan, if we’d have met incidentally, my father would have deeply approved,” I shrugged, “so long as you agreed to pay.” He smiled.
“Yes, in another life, I think I would have very much enjoyed being reformed by you,” he teased. I smirked.
“I repeat my earlier assertion,” I said. “Marina had no defenses against you, it was unfair.” He smiled and leaned close to me.
“When I made my intentions to Marina known,” he said, “and told her to run in the other direction, she reminded me that Brayton forfeit his soul for her, your husband had betrayed the queen for her, William Santino declared her the most beautiful woman to ever live and she was running a kingdom,” I smirked at him. “She was well armed.” I smiled.
“Lady Dugarry,” Princess Karina walked over and slid her arm through mine, “do you know Queen Annalise well?” I looked back at Lefty.
“Reasonably,” I said. “Why do you ask?” She sighed.
“My mother insists she is my ally,” she explained, “and obviously my Uncle, Prince Eric, has his opinions. But my father thinks she’s untrustworthy.”
“If I can set your mind at all at ease, Your Highness,” I said gently, “if there is one thing that Queen Annalise is absolutely sure on in this world, it is that she wants you named officially as your father’s heir.” She smiled. “She suffers, daily, with the Prince’s absecence.” She smiled at me.
“I am glad to hear it.” she said. “I know that were Kristoff and I were divided now, I’d been absolutely devastated.” She sighed. “My Uncle has not taken their separation well.”
“Nor did the queen, at first,” I said gently. I had no intention of betraying Prior to the princess. I knew that Prince Eric knew about him, but I didn’t know how far that extended. “But four years is a long time.” She nodded.
“I think it is harder on my uncle that Captain Lestoff is so stalwart,” she said. I looked at her. “Is Duchess Marina truly so wonderful? He was so wild before.”
“I don’t know if it is that Marina is so wonderful,” I said, “though she is, well,” I sighed, “it’s difficult to explain when you haven’t met her,” she looked at me, “but she’s equally as dedicated to him. Even her relationship with Lady Nika was always conditional on his return.” She looked at me.
“And what can you tell me about Lord Evan Allred?” She asked. “My Uncle Raymond was my closest companion until he went away and they gave me Kat. At home they talk like he’s a demon.”
“Evan is the best of the nobility in Cammadan,” I said softly. “Besides my brother in law, obviously,” she laughed. “His father is the worst of them.” She nodded. “But your Uncle Raymond is a dear friend to me as well, and he worries about you constantly.” She beamed at that.
“I love his letters,” she admitted, “I felt I knew you before we met because of them.” She sighed. “Kat is more wary because of how Lefty and Uncle Eric feel about Sir Tristan.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, is it difficult for you?” I looked at her.
“It’s complicated,” I said gently. She smiled. “But I’m glad we’re friends, Your Highness. Your Uncle Raymond will be glad too, I promise you.” She sighed.
“I hope he’s proud of me,” she said softly. I thought of Prior for a moment, and how he spoke about how much Annalise carried, I saw the same weight sitting on Karina. She brightened as we reached the palace gates and Kristoff was waiting.
“Princess,” he grinned at her. She smiled. “Lady Dugarry,” he said, “a guest came for you, we sent him to your parlor.”
“Thank you, your highness,” I curtsied. “Princess Karina,” I nodded to her.
“Kat,” Lefty looked at his sister and the prince and princess scampered off. She groaned and followed them. “Do you want me to come with you?” I looked at him softly.
“I’ll be alright,” I said, “but thank you.” I walked back to my suite and Andrei stood up quickly. “I don’t know how many more ways I can tell you this is over for me.”
“Caro,” he mumbled, stepping closer to me and lifting my face. “You never heard me out.”
“You left me,” I reminded him, “and then humiliated me. And you did the second one at the behest of my father because he didn’t get his way.”
“I loved you,” he said, “what was I supposed to do? I was penniless and stranded and then The Dumanis were throwing an heir at you.” I rolled my eyes and pulled away.
“You were gone for months before anyone introduced me to Tristan and I hadn’t heard a word from you,” I said. “And that doesn’t excuse the challenge.” He frowned. “If you loved me, why would you,” I choked back a sob. “I can’t go home, Andrei, because of you. Because you made me a scandal.” He nodded.
“I don’t suppose there’s any point in telling you I could give it to you now,” he said, his voice sad. “I have a good business here, a house,” he sighed. “Asking you to stay when they call you back.” I glared at him.
“Even if I wanted to, which I do not,” I squared my shoulders. “I couldn’t.” He stared at me. “I’m pregnant.” I couldn’t believe he was the first person I was telling. More humiliation.
“I see,” he whispered. “So it’s over then.” I swallowed.
“Andrei, it was over years ago,” I said.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you, then.” He left and I collapsed on the couch, my hand on my middle. I prayed that Tristan arrived soon, we’d received word they were on their way, but nothing since. I couldn’t even go to a healer because I didn’t trust anyone. I was alone.
“I saw him go,” the door creaked open and Katrin walked in. “Who is he?”
“A mistake I made when I was your age,” I smiled at her. She blushed. “Shouldn’t you be with Karina?”
“They don’t need me for what they’re doing,” she shrugged. I laughed. “I can’t wait until they’re married and I can have a life again.”
“Marina says your brothers used to talk about you coming to Cammadan,” I said. She rolled her eyes.
“Like everyone else, my brothers assume I want what they want,” she said and collapsed on the couch. I nodded.
“What do you want?” I asked. She sighed.
“Something exciting,” she said, “an adventure.” I nodded. “I’d really like a ship of my own but girl’s aren’t allowed, not in Phania.” I smirked at her.
“Perhaps that’s why they want to bring you to Cammadan,” I shrugged. She smirked.
“Perhaps,” she said.