Slumber Page 18

Having sent one of the men ahead to let Grof Krill Rada know we were arriving, we were met at the gates by Grof Krill’s guards and escorted through Peza to the Grof’s home. I stared in wonder at Peza, completely oblivious of the people and their waving and exuberant calls of welcome. I was amazed by the similarities to Silvera. It was as if Silvera had been copied by a master artisan and plunked down in Peza. The architecture was the same, the street plan was the same; even some of the market square seemed the same, if only a little smaller. The difference, however, was the awesome splashes of vibrant colour everywhere. Tapestries hung on the outsides of buildings, murals painted on brick work. I winced at the thought of having to clean and replace those tapestries, and at having to refresh the murals every few years. But this was the city of art and it made sense that the people wished to display it wherever they could

The Lieutenant caught my astonished look and grinned at me. “Remarkable, isn’t it?”

“Extremely.” I smiled, truly charmed by the colourful city.

The Grof’s guard quickly led us out of the hubbub of the city to a gated district, where large mansions surrounded a beautiful park. When they pulled to a stop outside the largest mansion, I gaped openly. The building with its pillared columns and gothic arches was a jumble of architectural ideas… and yet somehow it worked; intimidating and palatial.

“Captain Stovia,” the Captain of the Grof’s guard announced loudly, “Vikomtesa Laurel Sans,” he pointed to the smaller mansion next to this one, “Has graciously offered her house and stables for some of your guard. The rest of your men will find rooms and shelter with his Lordship. However, some will have to sleep in the stables, but I assure you they are large and comfortable, Captain.”

Wolfe nodded. “Thank you, Captain.” He turned to Chaeron. “Take some of the men to the Vikomtesa’s and introduce yourselves. Get some rest. We leave early tomorrow at sunrise.”

“So soon, Captain?”

We all turned towards the voice that belonged to a tall, elegant man, who drew towards us from the house, a huge wolfhound following at his heels. A footman opened the massive gates for Grof Krill Rada. His eyes immediately found me. “Rogan,” he called up to me familiarly and I noted both Wolfe and the Lieutenant share a disapproving look. “It’s been a while.”

The last I had seen Grof Krill was three years ago. I had taken him for a quiet man, watchful and intelligent. We had barely spoken, at least not enough for him to speak to me as if we were old friends. Remembering why I was there, however, I offered a polite smile. “My Lord.” I bobbed my head. “It is good to see you. I trust you are well.”

He smiled, his eyes travelling down the length of me. “I am now.”

I narrowed my eyes at his open flirtatiousness. I didn’t remember this side of him.

“Well, someone help the Lady Rogan down from her horse,” Grof Krill snapped and Wolfe dismounted quickly, his jaw taut with anger at having to be told to act like a gentleman. For some reason that annoyed me and I reached for him without complaint as he drew me down from my horse. His eyes widened marginally at my acceptance of his aid. He held me a moment too long, my heart picking up speed as our suspicious gazes clashed with one another. Seeming to remember himself, Wolfe shook a little and stepped back.

“Rogan.” Grof Krill breezed past Wolfe to loop my arm through his. His eyes were half-closed, seductive, as he said, “I have such grand plans for us this evening. How does dinner and the Opera sound?”

Exhausting, I thought.

“Wonderful,” I mumbled.

“I’ll accompany you,” Wolfe’s tone drew us to a halt inside the driveway.

Grof Krill arched an eyebrow at him. “Oh you will, will you?”

Wolfe strode towards us, his face stony and dangerous. He matched Grof Krill in height and outweighed him in strength. “Lady Rogan goes nowhere without a Royal escort, my Lord.”

The Grof sniffed, quite obviously put out. “We’ll be accompanied by my guard.”

“I said Royal escort, my Lord,” Wolfe reiterated arrogantly and then dismissed the Grof by turning to the Lieutenant. “Take the men to the Vikomtesa’s now, Lieutenant Chaeron. Have the men ready to leave by sunrise tomorrow.”

***

Dinner was a strange affair.

Over and over I was befuddled and astonished by Grof Krill’s outrageous flirting. He had never treated me with such overt flattery before; nor Haydyn even. And surely the women at court would have mentioned Grof Krill if he was such a lady killer. No. I definitely remembered a sombre man, refined, reserved. I hadn’t known him very well but I had thought him one of the more intelligent members of the Rada. What on haven had happened to him?

I patted Strider’s (the wolfhound) head as it lolled in my lap, his eyes staring up at me adoringly. I really shouldn’t have slipped him that little bit of chicken. We shared a frustrated look with one another as Grof Krill told me how beautiful the ladies of the opera were this season, although nowhere near as beautiful as me, he added. I nearly snorted at that. Just what did this character want from me?

Somehow I managed to get through dinner, despite the Grof’s appalling bad flirting and Wolfe’s monosyllabic responses to questions posed by the Krill. I felt so tense I was sure one pull of the laces on my dress and I would snap like a piano wire.

Then things got worse. I had no dress to wear to the opera so Grof Krill provided me with one. I flushed as his maids helped me into the red dress. Red. I had never worn red. And it was a deep, scarlet red in plush velvet. Not to mention I had never worn my neckline low like that before. Oh it was very fashionable, and all of Haydyn’s dresses were cut just so, but I had never really been comfortable with my figure, which was perhaps a little more voluptuous than some. I blanched as they pulled my hair up off my neck, fastening pins here and there with an expertise that boggled the mind.

I bit my lip as I saw the finished result in the mirror. I looked like a fashionable lady of Peza. But I wasn’t fashionable. If you were clever like Haydyn, fashionable was elegance and refinement without being flashy and bold.

Fashionable on me was a little too dark and declaring.

“I can’t wear this.” I turned on the two girls who had made me up so prettily. “Isn’t there another dress I could wear, in a style not so bold?”

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