January 30, 2011

In Which Evera Is Tried

December 13, 1171

"Oh, Ev, you're back. I was just wondering, have you seen my--"

"Shut up!" Evera stormed into the house and slammed the door behind her. Her stepfather was at the castle, her mother and the housekeeper had taken the children visiting in Armion, and her stepbrother was sprawled out on the couch as he often was, all smug and mock-innocent--as if he didn't know what he'd done. "God! I don't even want to look at you right now!"

And yet, she continued to do so; she watched as Setran twitched and stood and stepped toward her. As little as she wanted to look at him, she had to hear him confess it. She couldn't even say why--she just had to. "Uh... what did I do?"

"Don't play the fool with me!" Her fists flew to her hips with such force that her knuckles might have been dented, but she was almost too furious to notice. "I was just visiting the girls at Veldora Keep, and Aldara and Viridis and I went down to the village and guess who we saw? Riala--and she was just leaving Laveria's shop!"

Setran shrugged, his face that of a man on whom the accusation was lost; if he wasn't playing the fool, then she supposed he actually was one. "So? A lot of people come and go from any given shop on any given day."

"You don't get it, do you?" What a stupid boy! Had she possessed any control over her shaking arm, she would have slapped him. "Do you know, pray tell, what unmarried girls can only get from Laveria's shop?"

Her stepbrother sighed. "Ev, maybe she was just visiting with Aerina, or maybe--"

She silenced him with a stomp of her heavy riding boot. Her mother wouldn't be too happy if it had left a dent, but that was a problem for another day. "Don't bother covering your tracks, Setran! She left with a little red pouch--and by God, everyone knows what it means to leave Laveria's shop with a red pouch!"

Setran blinked, tense and confused, his face obscured in frustration as he tried to put two and two together--then, out of nowhere, he began to laugh.

"Wait, you... you think I got Riala pregnant?"

Evera scowled. "Is that supposed to be funny?"

"What? Christ, Ev!" His hysterics unrelenting, Setran shook his head. "When was the last time you saw Riala around here? She's not my sweetheart anymore--and even if she was, I never slept with her. I didn't think she was the sort of girl to randomly get herself knocked up, but if she is, it certainly isn't mine!"

"...Oh." Her face flushed to an uncomfortable warmth. She felt rash and stupid and embarrassed--had she really stormed all the way back home without even thinking things through? What had possessed her to do that? Setran, she supposed, wasn't the fool after all. "I, uh... oh dear. I'm sorry, Setran."

An amused smile on his face, Setran shrugged. "Honest mistake, I suppose. Come here."

She stumbled forth into his outstretched arms, the tension in her veins melting away as he wrapped them around her. Even when they were children, Setran had always given the most comforting hugs. "I just... I can't believe I did something so stupid. I wasn't thinking, I guess."

"It's all right." His hand dropped to hers as he pressed a kiss to cheek. "We don't all have to be rational all the time."

"Mmm." Evera stole a brief chance to grin, then pulled herself back to meet her stepbrother's eye. "Setran, if you don't mind me asking... what went wrong between you and her? I mean, you never seemed that close to begin with, but... well, you know."

Setran chuckled under his breath. He had a way of warming a room with a laugh. "Yes, I know. As for what happened... well, Riala was always just sort of a distraction. I feel bad about using her like that now, but I sort of had feelings for someone else--someone I probably shouldn't have had feelings for--and I had to come to terms with that."

Evera took a moment to study his face; Setran wasn't usually one for such personal admissions, but he didn't look to be lying. "Did you?"

He pursed his lips, as if trying to think of a reply, so she expected that it would only be a moment before he did just that--she was wrong. What he did was a different sort of response entirely.

At sixteen, Evera had danced and winked and flirted, but she'd never been kissed before--at least, not like this. This was more than a brief token of thanks after a dance, or a silly over-the-face dare. His lips left a tingling sensation on her own, like the clear ring of a crystal goblet after one flicked it with her finger. He tasted of cinnamon and felt like silk, but more than anything else, he was water; it had never occurred to her just how thirsty she was.

At last--too late, too soon--they parted. Both shocked and strangely satisfied, Evera stared up at Setran's grinning face and raised her eyebrow. "Uh... what was that?"

"I just wanted to try it." His fingers running through her hair, he shrugged. "Now, if you don't mind... I kind of want to kiss you again."


January 28, 2011

In Which Raia's Mind Is Read

November 27, 1171

"Brought the duchess along, I see," noted Raia's father as Lorn ushered Leara into the room. "Dear God--I'm never going to get used to saying that, am I?"

In a bit of a teasing mood, Raia sent a wink Leara's way. "I imagine Lorn's never going to get used to hearing that."

Leara smirked. Lorn had been a regular visitor over the course of the past few months, but Leara's father had forbidden her from seeing Raia while she was still living under his roof. After the wedding, she'd called a couple times, but a slight bit of illness had been sweeping through Armionshire and from what Raia had heard, Leara had come down with a terrible case of whatever it was. It was good to see her back on her feet again--not to mention, here.

"Funny that you should mention things we're never going to get used to saying, really." Lorn sent a sly smile Raia's way, then turned back to her father. "What's it like to be old enough to be a grandfather?"

Raia's father granted the conversation a brief pause; she couldn't see his face from where she was seated, but she didn't doubt he was annoyed. "You damn kids these days have no respect."

Looking cheeky, Lorn shrugged. "Well, at least I don't have grandchildren."

"That's just because of the two of us, you're the only one who hasn't spent the better part of the past three decades getting laid."

Raia rolled her eyes. Only her father--and maybe her grandfather, she supposed--could take a joke about his age and turn it into a compliment to his own masculinity. It could have been worse, though. He could have been angry--about Lorn's jokes, everything.

In any case, Lorn didn't appear to know how to respond, or if he even wanted to; if that was it, Raia didn't blame him. "Well, I suppose I'll probably have grandchildren at a younger age than you anyway."

Raia's father sniffed. "Known ones, perhaps. Anyway, what was it you wanted to discuss with me?"

"Ah, yes!" Lorn snapped his fingers, a devious sort of twinkle in his eye. Having spoken with him earlier that week, Raia had a feeling she knew what he wanted; an exchanged glance with Leara told her that she wasn't the only one. "It's about my sister. You see, I can't help but notice that she and your son are rather--"

"Save your breath, Lorn," Raia muttered as she fiddled with the laces at her side; she knew she didn't look nearly seven months along, but at times she did feel it. "You're not going to win this one."

A sigh confirmed her father's agreement. He, however, could not afford to be so blunt; he was a diplomat, after all. "Lorn, kindly step into my study."

Lorn did as he was told, the newly-oiled door swinging shut behind him. Raia's father nodded toward Leara, then turned to follow, stopping at Raia's feet.

"Would you like me to put on a fire? I'd prefer it if you didn't do so yourself."

Raia groaned. Most fathers punished their knocked-up daughters by locking them in convents or quickly marrying them off or otherwise disposing of them; Raia's, whether he meant it out of spite or not, took the opposite approach and stifled her with constant patronizing. "Christ, Father! I'm not an invalid!"

"I know." He bent down and kissed her brow, then placed his hand on the doorhandle and pulled it open. "I just don't want you to worry about anything other than growing my little granddaughter in there."

"It could be a boy, you know," she ventured, if only because she thought it might bother him.

Indeed, she seemed to have succeeded in that regard. "It had better not be! Your stepmother and I have a wager, and believe me when I say that you don't want to know what I have to do if I lose." His mouth twitching into an indulgent smirk, he stepped into his study and shut the door behind him.

Shaking her head, Raia eased herself to her feet and dragged herself toward Leara; walking was beginning to get a little difficult, but it was never long before she grew tired of sitting around all day. "Ridiculous."

Amused, Leara glanced behind Raia toward the study door. "He seems surprisingly all right with everything."

Raia shrugged. "Well, he likes to think he is. I don't know if that's really the case, but I suppose he gets points for trying."

"You got that right." Her friend shuddered. "I don't even want to know what my father would have done if it had been me--shipped me off to the nunnery, probably, or married me off."

"He already did marry you off."

As if stifling a laugh, Leara's face strained. "Oh Lord, no! I practically married myself off; why could I have possibly wanted to stay in the same castle as Laralita for any longer than necessary?"

"Granted." Raia's gaze fell briefly to the wedding band on her friend's finger, then traveled back upward to meet her eye. "I suppose I lucked out in the stepmother department. Nora's really the only source of fun I have these days, since she got knocked up around the same time I did."

"Oh?" Leara raised an eyebrow; having grown up with the queen, the idea of a reasonable stepmother was no doubt lost on her. "What have you two been doing? Making dresses?"

Raia snorted. "Oh God, no! We both hate sewing, and Viridis has made enough dresses for a whole army of babies by this point anyway. We've mainly just been making fun of my brothers. We even went through their stuff one day--did you know that Jadin keeps a diary?"

"No!" The duchess's breath escaped her mouth in the form of a giggle. "What does he write about?"

"Mainly his sexual partners; he keeps a chart and gives them a score out of ten in every act." She watched in amusement as Leara continued to fight back her laughter. "Your sister-in-law has a row, but all of her squares are blank except for the kissing one. He gave her a perfect ten, and has stars by her name, plus an arrow and a note reminding him to 'complete data collection soon'."

"Well, someone will be getting a chaperon from now on, that's for sure!" Her snickers fading out, Leara pushed back her hair and sighed. "I know I shouldn't be laughing, but it's a funny thought--Jadin and his chart. Anyway, what else have you been up to."

Raia felt her eyelids droop at the very thought. "My brothers' Latin lessons."

Leara raised an eyebrow. "Why would you do that to yourself?"

"The thought of them turning in perfect exercises and then failing to conjugate a single verb when called upon amuses me somewhat." The laces suddenly loose again, Raia bit her lip and tugged at them; she'd always been scrawny, but if this was the cost of curves, she didn't think them worth it. "As does the thought of pissing off Father Sextus. But obviously it gets tiresome--do yourself a favor and never get pregnant."

An odd, winsome smile playing on her mouth, Leara swayed somewhat to the side. "Funny you should say that, really."

Surging out of her slight slouch, Raia blinked. "You don't mean..."

The grin unchanging, Leara nodded. "Goodwife Diarn says it'll some time around Midsummer."

Midsummer! They certainly hadn't wasted any time--not that Raia was surprised, the way Lorn and Leara always looked at each other. Trying to be mindful of her stomach, she pulled the other girl toward her and hugged her as tightly she could manage. "Leara! You sneaky little thing!"

"Alas, I fear I shall never be a little anything again."

"Nonsense!" She gave her a quick pat on the shoulder before stepping back. "I hope they're the same type and they can play together."

Suddenly devious, Leara shook her head in disagreement. "I hope they're different types--and they get married."

"Ha!" Raia ran one loving hand down the bulge in her kirtle; it seemed the only way to break the harsh news to the thing. "As if Lorn would let his firstborn marry the child of a steward."

"Then perhaps they shall have a scandalous love affair!" She snickered at her own joke; Raia soon followed. "Really, my eyes and your nose on the same person? We'd have the most beautiful grandchild that ever walked the earth!"

Grandchild? Raia wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or vomit; perhaps this was how her father felt these days. "For Christ's sake, Leara! Neither of us even has a full child yet!"

"Yes, thank God." While Raia took to fiddling with the now-tight laces again, Leara placed her hand to her chin and frowned. "When did we get so old?"

Ugh... they really were old now, weren't they? Raia sighed. "I never thought we'd be boring enough to carry on a whole conversation about babies."

"I know." Impatient, Leara rubbed at the back of her neck; Raia didn't know whether or not to warn her that she'd be doing an awful lot of that in the coming months. "How about we pretend this conversation never happened?"

Uncanny--she'd read her mind. "Agreed. Now, how about we go see if the master diarist has added another page since yesterday?"


January 26, 2011

In Which Asalaye Employs the Intimidating Feature

October 15, 1171

"Oh dear God." Asalaye groaned as she caught sight of the dark-haired boy walking toward her from the direction of the village center. She supposed she was in a good enough mood to handle him, but she didn't want to run the risk of ruining her high spirits--she did have to make an impression, after all. "Why is it that every time I'm in town, you always happen to be here too?"

That same insufferable grin on his face, Lonriad came to a halt a few feet in front of her and rocked back and forth on his heels. "The universe is full of coincidences, you know; if you'd rather not run into me, then I guess you're going to have to take it up with the big man up in Heaven."

"Don't think I won't." Annoyed, she leaned back, resting her hands against the fence behind her, but sprang back when her palm caught a sliver--somehow, this had to be Lonriad's fault. "What are you doing here, anyway? Don't you have servants to run errands for you?"

"Actually, I was visiting my grandmother--she does live in town, you know."

Asalaye rolled her eyes. "Oh, I'm sure. Out with it; why are you really here?"

His smile never vanished; if anything, it widened. "Well... I did visit my grandmother, really. But I also heard that the chausser's wife had a baby that looked exactly like Jadin, and I just had to see that for myself."

She snorted; regardless of the source, that actually was rather amusing. "Are the rumors true, then?"

Lonriad nodded. "It's uncanny."

"Guess that's what you get for being a chausser--you spend so much time in tights that your wife has to find someone else who's actually willing to get out of his."

"Not that it's hard when you look like her!" Lonriad ran his hand through his hair, a dreamy look on his face. Asalaye glowered at him, but he was too far gone to notice--idiot! "I mean, have you seen that bosom? It's almost as magnificent as the baroness's! Lucky Jadin-baby, getting to suckle those puppies..."

That was not a mental image for the faint of heart; a bit of nausea welling at the base of her throat, Asalaye shuddered. "Ew."

"Speak for yourself, Laya--mind you, you'll probably fill out nice yourself. A pity you have such an enormous nose, really."

"All right, say that again, and don't think I won't knee you in the balls."

"What? You'll fill out nice? Your nose could cover the shire when it rains?"

"No." She crossed her arms and smirked. "My name is Asalaye."

Lonriad snickered. "Ass-lay."

...Oh dear God. "Laya it is, then."

"What?" The corners of his mouth hadn't turned downward in the entire time they'd been speaking, and clearly they weren't about to now; if anything, they rose. His teeth, she noticed, were a startling white. "All these years and you never noticed that--and your parents never noticed that? Where did they get the name from, anyway?"

"Oh, it was her grandmother's name."

Her heart suddenly a flutter, Asalaye turned around to see Cord stepping out of the shepherd's barn. It had only been a week or so since she'd last seen him, but he seemed to have grown taller in that time--broader too. Of course, he was fourteen--not some scrawny twelve-year-old imbecile with ridiculously great teeth. "Hello, Cord."

He sent a wink her way, then strode past the sheep lingering by the door and into the open pasture. "Hello, Asalaye--personally, I've always liked your name."

She turned around for a second just to stick her tongue out at Lonriad; oddly enough, he didn't return the gesture. "I thought he was your stepsister's sweetheart?"

"Oh, they decided to just be friends," Asalaye dismissed. "Melria's sweet on the bookseller's son now; I think he looks like a goat, but to each their own."

Lonriad sniffed. "I don't know--with a great big beak like that, you can't exactly afford to be picky, can you?"

Stopping just short of the fence, Cord sent a warm smile Asalaye's way, then glanced past her toward Lonriad. "Is he bothering you?"

"No, he was just leaving." She placed her hands on her hips and employed her steeliest stare; if there was one advantage to having a large, ugly nose, it was that it made it easier to look intimidating. "Weren't you?"

Lonriad's eyelid twitched For a triumphant, perhaps delusional second, she thought he might run away crying--but instead, he only shrugged. "Might as well, I suppose; between the two of you, my average-sized nose is starting to feel a bit out of place."


January 24, 2011

In Which Sparron Finds the Quiet

September 2, 1171

"You should wear lighter colors more often." Searle's reflection cocked its head to the sighed and beamed. Sparron swallowed; Searle shouldn't have even been here, much less saying anything about his appearance. "They make you look softer, more--" Sparron nearly jumped as an outstretched hand brushed against the small of his back "--touchable."

He felt his spine stiffen. Yes, they were alone, and yes, the door was locked, but it wasn't the time. There were people rushing down the corridors, in search of any misplaced flowers or extra ribbons or whatnot, and it wouldn't be long now before someone came along and knocked on the door, telling him to head down to the chapel. "Please don't touch me."

His smile wavering slightly, Searle removed his hand. "If you say so."

Sighing, Sparron turned around and looked the other boy over. Searle was so damn beautiful in that blue silk that he could scarcely bear it--oh, but who was he kidding? It would have been tough enough had boy been wearing a potato sack. "Look, Searle..."

"Do you need help?" Figured; he was about to say something serious and difficult, and here Searle was just doing as he always did, making himself cute. "I could comb through your hair or something, I suppose. I could be your valet for the day if you like."

"No." He crossed his arms and tried not to blink. "Searle--"

"Ah, you're right!" Searle's eyes were as wide and blue as ever, putting the sapphire silk of his tunic to sudden shame. Why did he have to make this so painful? "You look fine as it is. Camaline is one lucky girl--you know that, right?"

"Searle!" The force of his voice wiped the grin clear off the younger boy's face. Sparron twitched; he hadn't meant to snap. "Sorry. Anyway, I was thinking that maybe we should take a little break--nothing permanent," he added, noting the wounded look on Searle's face, "just a few months, just with my marriage and all. Camaline and I have an understanding, but I don't want to rouse any suspicion in anyone else."

Searle's mouth fell to a frown, his lips full and pouty and moist. Of all the times for anyone to look so kissable... "But no one's ever suspected anything..."

"Yes, but if I have a beautiful wife at home and I'm always out on mysterious hunting trips with you, they might." Tense, he scuffed his boot across the floor, leaving a not-so-subtle smear across the polished hardwood; the queen would have his head for it, but that was the least of his concern. "Please don't look at me like that. I'm only doing what I think is best."

Searle sniffed. "I know you are."

"Thank you for understanding, then." He took a second to think ahead, trying to determine what might have been a reasonable time limit. How long had his cousin Valira and her husband been in that newlywed phase? Hell, they were still in the newlywed phase--hell, his parents sometimes slipped back into the newlywed phase. He couldn't have waited that long. "Uh... how does the new year sound?"

The other boy shrugged, a deadened glaze on his usually glowing features. "Fine."

"Are you all right?"

Searle swallowed audibly, then leaned forward and hugged him, his fingers lingering a few seconds in Sparron's hair. "I'll survive."

Was that a joke? Sparron tried to smile, but it seemed he'd forgotten how difficult it could be. "You'd better."

He gave the other boy a quick pat on the shoulder, then stepped back and allowed himself to relax somewhat. It had been tough--it had been arduous--but at least it had been said. At least they were on the same page.

And yet... "You seem quiet."

Searle seemed to fall rigid--something he rarely did. "I don't know."

A small tear sparkled in those clear eyes. Sparron raised his hand to wipe it away--only for Searle to shove him aside and storm off, the door slamming behind him with an all-encompassing thud!.


January 23, 2011

In Which Leara Sees the All and Only

September 2, 1171

"...so just as long as you stay confident and don't end up pushing away and crying, it'll be just fine." Behind Leara's own reflection, as well as young Rona's, Raia's wore a teasing grin; Leara tried to return it, but if the mirror was any indication, she hadn't succeeded. "It hurts a little the first time, but it's indescribably fun; you'll know what I mean tomorrow. I know your stepmother told you it was a bother, but it's really not--it's what comes after that gets bothersome." She crossed her arms over the slight-yet-not-insignificant bulge beneath her gown and sighed.

Thank God for Lorn's mother. For all Raia's family was trying to keep the pregnancy under wraps, word did tend to spread like wildfire once it leaked, and it went without saying that Leara's parents did not approve. Her stepmother had spent weeks telling anyone who'd listen about how her dearly departed sister was tossing in her grave, and her father had asked Raia's point-blank why he hadn't sent her off to the convent already; Leara, of course, hadn't been allowed within spitting distance of her friend until today. Her father had made a point not to invite Raia's family, but they had shown up anyway as Lorn's guests--and when the duchess had told her daughters to go and help Leara get ready, she'd sent Raia along with them, her eyes on Leara's father as if daring him to protest. It was not something Leara would have expected from her sweet, gentle soon-to-be mother-in-law, but it was much appreciated.

Although, she did wish they they could have talked about something other than sex. Not that Leara was a prudish girl--far from--but now that her wedding day was finally here, the act no longer seemed like something to be joked about. All of a sudden, it was sacred in the most untouchable of ways--immediate, inevitable, and frightening beyond belief.

"Oh! And don't worry if you start feeling like you don't know if you should be moving around more or anything; it's mainly instinct, and even if you don't get it right away, you'll learn later."

"Besides," piped up Lorn's little sister Rona, as if she could have possibly known what she was talking about, "men have sex all the time; he'll probably make sure you know what to do."

Xeta's jaw dropped and Leara's throat swelled. She'd known that--everyone did--but only now did it occur to her that it applied to Lorn as well. A silent sort of panic brewing in the pit of her stomach, she looked to Raia for reassurance--but Raia only looked away. "So... it's true, then?"

"Well... maybe not?" Her eyes alight with false optimism, Raia turned to Xeta. "Your brother, does he ever... well, you know. Visit brothels? Disappear into empty rooms with chambermaids or anything?"

Xeta shuddered. "I don't know--and frankly, I don't want to."

Raia frowned. "Rona?"

"Lorn?" The blood rushing from her face, the younger girl gagged. "Who in their right mind would want to have sex with--oh. Sorry, Leara."

The three of them then proceeded to pass along a series of awkward glances, the silence growing heavier by the minute. It was getting to the point where it was hard to breath; she had to break it.

"Ah, well... no worries, right?" She tossed back her hair and grimaced; she didn't believe a word coming out of her own mouth, but at least if she pretended to be all right, they might move on and change the subject. "Just as long as he keeps it in his pants after today, that's fine; besides, I guess a little practice on his part might make it more pleasurable for me?"

Though not looking convinced, Raia nodded. "That's a... healthy way of looking at it."

"It is." Restless, Leara tugged at her sleeve; she wasn't the sort of girl who fidgeted, but she needed some sort of a distraction. "I think I might step outside for a minute--is that all right?"

Like a Greek chorus, the other girls nodded in unison. Careful to maintain her fake smile, Leara crossed the room and entered the sitting area beyond it, closing the door behind her. There were too many thoughts racing through her head, not many of them positive; she needed a moment alone.

Except, she soon noticed, she wasn't alone.


"Lorn!" Horrified, she clapped her hand to her mouth to silence her impending scream. "What are you doing here? You're not supposed to see me--it's bad luck."

His grin unfading, Lorn shook his head. "You don't look like bad luck to me." He pushed himself up from the couch and stepped toward her; she hurried to meet him in the middle. "Is something wrong? You seem a little overwhelmed."

"I'm fine." She took to fiddling with the chain around her waist, but stopped when he took her hand and held it still. Leara sighed; she couldn't lie to him. "I'm just... worried about tonight, I suppose. I'll probably disappoint you."

Lorn raised an eyebrow. "Sorry?"

"Well, I won't know what I'm doing." Did she really have to explain this? It was painful enough to even think it--much less, tell him. "And you're probably used to the sort of girl who does know what she's doing, so you won't like--"

He placed his finger to her lips, silencing her, his expression unreadable. Helpless, she could only stare at him until he brushed his hand toward her cheek and began to stroke her face. "You won't disappoint me."

"But I--"

"I know--but you won't disappoint me." He removed his hand to briefly replace it with his lips, then stepped back and sighed. "Actually, to be honest, I might disappoint you."

Leara blinked. Even if she hadn't just had that talk with the girls--even if she'd never even thought about it-- "You mean... you've never..."

Looking just as embarrassed as she felt, he nodded. "No. I've never."

She wasn't exactly sure what to do with that; all she could manage was to look up at him and gape. "But you're a man!"

He shrugged. "I know, but I didn't think it was fair that you were expected to wait and I wasn't, so I figured I'd wait too."

His smile taking a turn for the sheepish, he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer; she felt as though she could have died right now and gone out fulfilled. "Besides, if you must know... well, I never really wanted anybody but you."

Her heart skipping within her chest, Leara stood on her toes and kissed him. One of the things she had always loved about kissing Lorn was the knowledge that he and only he had ever met her lips with his; now that she knew the same held true with their places reversed, it was an even sweeter sensation. "I'm sorry I doubted you."

"It's all right." He released her from his embrace, though he did take hold of her hand once again. "Anyway, I guess tonight... I don't know. Maybe it won't be all that great for either of us, but who knows? I can't imagine it's too difficult to figure out--and even if the physical aspects are a bit messy, we've still got the emotional side, right?"

She felt herself grinning again--truly this time. "I guess so."

"I guess so too." He pulled her hand to his mouth and anointed it with a kiss. "Still, I'm sorry if it doesn't measure up to what you were expecting."

"It's all right." She took a moment to look him over: his tall frame, his silky hair, his startling eyes. He was all hers. He was only hers. "We'll get better--together."