September 21, 2016

In Which Celina Is Almost Accused

May 9, 1202

Celina gritted her teeth as she sat up, only bothering to rise because the conversation at hand would be counter-productive to relaxation. For the present term, the only students at Scorpio House with no classes scheduled for Thursday afternoons were herself and Dani. On most Thursday afternoons, they had little reason to talk to each other and more or less made a mutual point to avoid doing so.

Most Thursday afternoons didn't follow an ill-timed meeting of Dani's insomnia and Celina's slip-ups on Wednesday night.

"Look, there's no use in trying to blackmail me, if that's what you're thinking. No one in their right mind would believe you."

The other woman sniffed. Not for the first time, Celina fought off the bewilderment that two reasonably attractive people such as Sir Neilor and Lady Tivie had produced a pug-faced perma-scowler like Dani. Her cousin Severin had either terrible eyesight or a gross misconception of Dani's personality, if not both. The room was a less comfortable place for her mere presence in it, even if she'd been minding her own business and Celina hadn't seen her enter. "I have no interest in blackmail. I doubt you have anything I want, and I couldn't care less about whatever the hell it is you do to yourself anyway."

Whatever the hell it is you do to yourself. A phrasing both shockingly apathetic and insultingly unimpressed. What Dani had stumbled across the night before was bound to be the most remarkable thing she'd ever see in her life, and yet here she was, rolling her eyes as if forced to tell yet another distant relation how her studies were going. "Then why bother with this conversation, exactly?"

"Because." With an uncharacteristic swiftness, Dani strode toward her and set herself on the other bench like a judge commencing court. "While I don't fault you your curiosity, I'm compelled to point out the element of non-disclosure in your liaisons."

"Pardon?" There had to have been a plainer way of saying it. Dani must have figured that roundabout language demonstrated her moral high ground. Bitch. "First of all, you don't even know that I'm having liaisons."

"Actually, I do. One of the guards here on campus also works for my father, and I know for a fact that he's a man of... certain tastes, shall we say? He and I are on friendly enough terms, so I happened to mention a classmate of your description who might have been interested--but, as it turns out, you already were interested."

"What of it? He wasn't any less interested than I was."

"Yes, but that might have been different had he known that you only came to him as a man because he wouldn't have had you as a woman, or that you're only after whatever fun you can have while technically telling the truth when your betrothed takes your maidenhead. Same with some of the other men you might have bedded--and the women, if your obvious drooling over Nearina is anything to go by. Yes, they might enjoy it, but it's occurring under false pretenses."

"It's not--look, do you really think most of them would want to know the truth? Or that I shouldn't make good use of a gift that for all I know is unique to me?"

"It's not as if there aren't people who aren't particular about sex, you know--yourself obviously being one of them. I won't indulge you by pretending to care about how many people you sleep with, but I hope you know you're walking a fine line. Willingness can have its terms, and ceases to be willingness if those terms are disregarded. A violation may as well be--"

A writhing discomfort in Celina's gut guessed at what terrible word Dani had been about to say, but it was left to speculation by a man's knock. Celina bit her lip. She almost wished they hadn't been interrupted, so Dani might have said something less accusatory, or so she could have defended herself had she not. But she wouldn't pretend she'd be sorry to have a less repugnant face to look at. "Come in."

"Celina," her cousin greeted her as he did as she said, fist clenched at his side and his mouth drawn in a wary frown. Celina squinted. Even if Rio--who had already graduated from the university, whose lady love did indeed live at Scorpio House but wasn't there presently--made a habit of calling on her, he wouldn't have done so with such a grim countenance. "Dani."

"Rio." Celina's toes curled inward as he approached. It had to have been bad news, but of what? Of who? She couldn't think of any relatives in particularly poor health. "What's wrong?"

"It's your friend. Nearina."

Her blood froze in her veins and left her flesh for a minute both heavy and numb.

But how smugly self-righteous Dani would have been had she known just how short-lived that feeling wound up being.

"Her husband is dead."

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