Riulono came to see me again. Tanith called me to the servant’s entrance where she left him outside inspecting his jaunty footman’s cap any specks of dust. “Ria, your catch is here to see you.”
“He’s not a fish, Tanith.”
“He is! He has no soul. I like him, Ria, he’s handsome and funny, but he’s cold. Be careful. He’s not your kind of man.”
Tanith had the worst taste in men I’d ever seen; her advice was barely worth hearing, much less following.
Riulono didn’t seem to care about her opinion of him. He winked at her and then laughed easily when she rolled her eyes. “Beautiful Riona, dearest, could you spare a moment for me? I have something to show you.” He was nearly grinning.
I showed him to a table in the kitchen and sat across from him. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be alone with him yet. Joran was there, and he made me feel safe.
“Ria, darling, I have something for you.” He was proud, white teeth flashing in another quick grin. “I found it at the market last week, but I couldn’t get away until now. Here.” He pulled a small wooden box from his pocket and gave it to me, leaning forward in anticipation.
I wish I could describe what I felt. Hope, anticipation, quite a bit of fear. I opened the box tentatively. Inside the box was a fine golden necklace, several thin chains linked together. They glittered in the sunlight streaming through the window.
“Do you like it?” he watched my face.
I smiled and nodded.
“I got a deal. It was only twelve golden eagles.” He shrugged carelessly. Sinta rolled her eyes as she passed behind his back. It was quite a bit of money for a servant, even a footman in a noble house.
He leaned forward again, elbows on the table. “I could get the papers next week. Marry me, Riona.”
I licked my lips, my heart racing.
“Here, I’ll put it on you.” He stood and walked around behind me. He fiddled with the clasp a moment, with one quiet oath under his breath. “Here.”
I bent my head forward and he let his fingers linger on my neck, one hand trailing down much lower than it needed to.
He bent to speak into my ear. “Tell me, Ria, dear. Shall I get the papers?”
I tensed as he ran his hand down my arm. “Can I think about it?”
He let out a quick breath and straightened. “What’s to think about? Darling, take all the time you want, so long as it isn’t more than a week. I’m getting impatient.” He grinned wickedly. “Am I competing with anyone for your affections?”
“No.” My answer was quiet, and I glanced at Joran who was working steadily two tables away. I wondered if he could hear.
“Then I suppose you’ll see reason soon enough. I can wait.” He grinned and leaned down to kiss my cheek. “You’re beautiful. The gold matches your hair. I need to go, Kally wants me back soon. I know my own way out.” He whistled as he left.
Kally. Everyone else called him Lord Kalyano. It was another thing that bothered me. Riulono wasn’t as respectful as I thought he should be. Not to Lord Kalyano. Not to me. I fingered the chain on my neck.
Joran slid into the chair across from me, frowning. “Ria, are you really going to do it?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I should. He made me feel desired. A woman needs a man, at least in Stonehaven. I wanted children. I wanted a family, and I was tired of being alone. And Riulono was right; he had no competition.
Joran’s soft face frowned more and he scraped at a spot on the table with one fingernail. “You can do better.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Joran, I’m twenty six. How many other men have you seen in here courting me?”
He shrugged a little uncomfortably. “You don’t love him, do you?” His eyes flicked to my face and then away.
I hesitated. “Not everyone has the luxury of love.”
I didn’t really know if he loved me, or if I loved him. It was a lot of money for a footman to spend on a necklace. I wanted to believe that meant something, but sometimes when I thought about how he spoke to me, I felt a crushing weight on my chest. I felt trapped. Hemmed in.
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