January 29, 2012

In Which Ashe Is Confronted with the Unfamiliar Game

September 19, 1177

Ashe flipped the page and found the next no less indecipherable. His father had been a man of action with no use for books and of course his mother was dead long before learning to read was an option, so if young Aspen had ever aspired to literacy then her wish had gone unfulfilled. She'd been granted an opportunity to learn later in life--from Rona of all people, who had resolved to do all the teaching herself--but they'd only been a couple of lessons in when Lorn had sent Aspen packing. Interaction with books had been limited since, but he figured he'd have to puzzle it out sooner rather than later.

'Later', however, was looking increasingly more likely. Most of these symbols didn't look at all like the ones Rona had explained all those months prior. Perhaps it had been stupid of him to fill his bedroom with books. He'd thought they might motivate him, but just looking at them he felt like more of a fraud than ever. If he had an ounce of sense left he would have told Lorn to let Rona do as she pleased before exiling himself into obscurity along with everything else that shouldn't have existed.

Someone knocked at the door. The steward, probably. That was such an odd thought. It hadn't been all that long ago when he'd taken orders from stewards. "Come in."

"Uh... you know that your book is upside-down, right?"

It was Rona. He couldn't remember his face ever going so damn hot. "Right. Uh... I don't read very well."

He shut the book and watched as she surveyed the shelves. "I see."

"I've been trying to learn." Last time he'd said something like that to her, she'd launched herself into a flurry of excitement, swearing that by the end of the year Aspen would be able to read whatever she pleased. There was no such show today. It appeared that her cold spell of a few days earlier had not yet subsided.

"Good luck with that, then."

The lining of his cheek tasted bitter as Ashe eased himself off the bed. He loved her more than life itself and didn't want to pressure her, but all this back and forth was starting to take its toll. There were days when she'd leap into his arms at the first sight of him, kiss him and stroke back his hair and beg him to stay just a few minutes longer. There were other days when she wanted little to do with him and practically pushed him out the door.

Jadin had said not to worry, that it was just a little game women liked to play. Ashe had actually been a woman and had no knowledge of such things. He must have made one lousy woman. Ah, but who was he kidding? Not like he was much better at being a man.

"I heard you finally moved in and I wanted to see what you'd done with the place." It did answer why she was here, even if he hadn't thought to ask.

He set the book on the floor and met her by the foot-board. At least she wasn't going out of her way to keep their distance. "It's quite bare so far."

"I'll say." Frowning, she took a look at the bed--or, more specifically, the bedding. "Are you using my family colors?"

Did that count as pressure? "No," he lied. "I just... like red."

Rona sniffed. "Kind of a pinkish red for a bachelor."

"The fabric was on sale." She raised an eyebrow. Great. Now he was illiterate and cheap. "Besides, I can always replace it."

"Shame. It's quite nice."

Was that a part of the game or not? He didn't want to play, but he couldn't say that just in case it wasn't. He'd already hurt her enough. "I'm glad you like it."

He wasn't sure what he expected her to say after that, but it didn't matter much because she didn't say anything. She looked almost nervous just glancing down at the toes of his boots and he shouldn't have doubted her. She was just as new to this whole courtship thing as he was and it had been selfish and petty of him to forget it.


She looked up, golden brown eyes almost doe-like. He wasn't sure what that meant. He hoped he wasn't scaring her.

"Would you maybe like to stay for supper?" He reached for her arm, but thought better of it as her muscle twitched. "I haven't tasted my cook's food yet, but it would be nice to try it with some agreeable company."

"Yes, well..." Swallowing, she glanced toward the door. Was a dinner invitation really so forward? "I actually had plans..."

Maybe she didn't know what her brother would think of her being here unchaperoned. Or maybe she just didn't want to eat with him. Either way... "That's all right. Maybe some other time."

"Right." And yet, she didn't seem so sure. "Um... I have to go."


In Which Vera Wouldn't Lie

September 10, 1177

"Can you believe it? Six siblings before me and I got the best room in the castle." It was mostly true. It had been Raia's room when she'd still lived here, but Vera left that part out. "Not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter, just perfect for everything in between. Feels nice, doesn't it?"

Lucien flashed her a smile that was altogether too big for the cause, but she was used to that by now. He did tend to underestimate the elasticity of his own mouth. "I guess so. Uh... why are we here, though?"

"Oh." In truth... well, they could have done this anywhere, and it probably should have been up to Lucien's valet. But was it really so wrong, dragging a boy into her bedroom? Raia and Riona had both gotten away with much worse, after all. "Your new clothes are finally here." And hopefully no one's noticed that I've stolen them.

"...oh." He sounded a little disappointed--not that she blamed him, given that he couldn't even see the things. Still, he'd been traipsing around in his old rags for long enough. Surely he'd find the new garments more comfortable?

Then again, getting them had been quite the ordeal, seeing as he'd always been so fidgety whenever they'd tried measuring him. This set would be attempt number five.

"Mm-hmm." Vera ducked toward the dresser and pulled out the fresh outfit; Lucien tried to follow, but misjudged the angle and ended up near the other side of the foot-board instead. No matter. He could stand where he liked. "Here." She set the pile of clothing on the floor and stepped behind him. "Let me help you."

"Uh... all right..."

Mindful of any possible slips, she unhooked his belt and flung it to the side, then pulled the ratty surcoat over his head. The scratchy tunic followed, and then the old shirt beneath. He lowered removed his own hosen after she took off his boots; she wasn't sure what to make of that.


He nodded.

"All right, then." The new hosen were bright blue and silky, a vast improvement on the old wool he'd been wearing before. Vera unfolded them and held them as Lucien stepped inside, his stance a little hesitant until she began to pull them higher--and a little moreso as his feet reached the toes and she let him take over from there. "I'll smooth out the wrinkles later if you like."

He didn't answer. He just fumbled with the ties until he had something that held while Vera studied his frame. He'd gained a little weight since he'd come to stay with her family but he was still so thin. She'd have to get some cake into him later, after she saw to it that his new clothes fit. "Hold out your arms?"

He did as he was told and let her feed him into the sleeves of two shirts: a barely-there white silk and a smoky cotton with blue and green plaid. She stepped around him and yanked the shirts over his head, then tugged at the bottom edge to straighten them. He stiffened as one of her hands brushed his ass by mistake. "Oh my God! Sorry!"

"Er... it's fine?"

Was it? Blushing, Vera reached for Lucien's tunic, a forest green with a rare frontal lace. The tailor must have been in an experimental mood. "Hold out your arms like you would for a coat?"

Lucien obliged. Vera dressed him one arm at a time, then started with the laces. Why did they have to begin in the groin area? After the ass incident, she strung the eyelets with a particular caution, sighing in relief as she finally bowed the lace at the top. "Comfortable?"

He nodded. She grabbed the last piece--his belt--as he fumbled into the boots on his own. It was just a black leather strap with a simple buckle, the sort that rested lightly on the hips, more for stylistic purposes than anything else, but she had to say it completed the look.

"There!" She stepped back and allowed herself to admire him. The layers added to his small frame--not much, but more than enough so far as Vera figured. The dark tunic was a stark contrast to his pale complexion but somehow it worked. And everything seemed to fit perfectly. The tailor had more than earned his wage. "Very handsome."

She'd sounded sincere, she was sure of it. And yet, his eyebrow twitched. "Are you lying?"

"What?" Vera blinked. Lucien was never so blunt. "No! Why would I lie to you?"

Despite not making a difference, he closed his eyes. "Because it's funny?

"At least... that's what the last person who got me new clothes thought."

"...oh." She thought she could fill in the blanks, or at least the ones that mattered. Still... "What happened?"

"One of the postulants at a monastery Remiel sought refuge at. He gave me something new to wear and told me it looked good. Everyone laughed, though. Do people laugh when you look good?"

"Uh... maybe they were laughing about something else?" He didn't look to believe her. She didn't believe herself either. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Lucien tried to smile. He didn't quite succeed, but she'd give it to him anyway. "Not like it was your fault."

"Mmm. Still." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. He always blushed when she did that, but if anything she liked the warmth on her lips. "You look great in this, I swear it."

"You're sure?"

"Very sure." Grinning--even if he'd never see--she took him by the hand and pulled him toward the door. "Let's go show Nora. She'll agree with me--I promise."


January 27, 2012

In Which Sparron Is Told What Would Be Rude

September 1, 1177

"So." Camaline kicked the study door shut and stared. The corners of her lips were turned upward but Sparron knew her better than to think she was smiling. It was her trying-to-stay-calm face, her I'm-furious-but-you're-not-worth-the-yelling face. Sparron swallowed. He didn't think he'd ever been on the receiving end of that particular glare. "You'll never guess who was just here."

He thought he could. Shit. "You didn't speak long, did you?"

"We spoke long enough." Her nostrils flared as she flipped her hair with a toss of her head. It wasn't a promising sign; Camaline was not a hair-flipping girl. "Why didn't you tell me Searle had an idea?"

"I don't know, maybe because it's stupid and I'm not going to go through with it?" Sparron pushed himself out of his father's chair and stepped around the desk. Did he really have to explain that to her? In all his years of knowing her, she'd never had a problem recognizing idiocy when she saw it. Maybe her father had finally cracked her.

Camaline sniffed. "You really think so?"

Yes. Yes, her father had definitely cracked her. "You really don't?"

She shrugged. "It's a little risky, but so long as Lettie agrees and knows what she's agreeing to, I can't say I'd have any objections."

Oh dear Lord. Maybe he'd start trolling the whorehouses himself soon if it would get him his level-headed, rational wife back. "If Lettie agrees, then all three of you are fucking insane--and this coming from me."

If the remark stung at all, it didn't show. Princess Camaline was every bit as stoic as her father tried and failed to be. "You must admit that it would yield a higher chance of resemblance, though. Lettie is a fairly close cousin to both of us. It would be a safer bet than finding a whore."

"If you think this is 'safer', then you haven't thought much about Lettie herself." And what does that say about you and Searle if I'm the only one who has?

"I have thought about Lettie--and I think she's capable of figuring it out for herself, thank you very much."

She ought to be. Who wouldn't be able to figure out that this is a horrible idea? Well... Searle. Searle, and apparently Camaline as well. God damn you, King Roderick.

"Look, I know you're not exactly a fan of sex with ladies, but would you at least consider it? Maybe this time next year we'll have a baby boy with your eyes and my nose." She gave him a quick, almost insulting pat on the shoulder, then reached for the doorhandle. "But just so you know--if you do end up having an orgy, it would be quite rude of you not to invite me."


January 25, 2012

In Which Severin Finds Solace

August 26, 1177

The fire's dying flicker left the hearth a gloomy grey that was never unwelcome in the late summer heat, but nonetheless Severin prodded the last spark with a stare. The flames shot right back to their former glory as lightning struck the front of his brain.

"A little warm in here, don't you think?" The wardrobe door shut and Nora's slippered footfalls rang artfully out-of-time with the sparking of the fire. On a better night, he might have made some teasing comment about taking off her nightgown if she was so hot, but he just didn't feel up to it. He didn't feel up to much of anything.

And yet--for all he'd rather be doing pretty much anything else--he just kept playing with the goddamn fire. "Sorry."

"I thought you said it gave you headaches."

"It does." He drummed his toe against the floorboard, if only to assure himself of his own mobility. "I don't know. Just looking for answers, I suppose."

Nora sat down beside him and craned her neck toward the ceiling. "I take it you haven't found any."

"You take it right."

She edged a little nearer. All these months later and it was still a relief to wake beside her. Most people would have left a freak of nature. Maybe when the logs were gone, his next batch of kindling would comprise of everyone who was still giving him hell about having married beneath him. In truth it was she who could have done much better. "Severin?"


"Did you ever do something like that before you found out about your mother?" The skirt of Nora's nightgown rustled as she crossed her legs. "Not this specifically, but something you couldn't explain?"

Severin closed his eyes. Nora wouldn't have taken his silence as a 'no', but she didn't press. For all she must have been curious, there was solace to be found in her understanding.

"How did Lucien's check-up go?"

"Well enough." At least they'd reach the point where he didn't need Vera to share his whisperings--even if he did still seem to prefer it. "My mother thinks he's regained most of his strength. Strength of body, at least. Not much she can do for his spirits." He fanned the flames with a summoned gust and sighed. That poor boy hadn't asked for this any more than his mother had. Any more than he had. "Do you think Remiel's out there torturing some other child?"

Nora didn't respond right away. Given the question, he might have been unnerved if she had. "They're... supposed to be rare, aren't they? He didn't have anyone between your mother and Lucien."

"Maybe he got lucky." Luck. As if that was a word for a twisted man who'd found some poor placeless youth off whom he could leech. "Son of a bitch. If he ever comes back, I swear to God I'll kill him." She might have expected him to say something like that. He wondered if she knew just how well he meant it.

Maybe she did. "A couple months back I would've asked how you planned on getting around the touching thing, but..."

She trailed off as the fire gave another burst. "Exactly."


In Which Rona Embarks on a New Lifetime

August 24, 1177

"Maybe it's just late this year?" Electra ventured, half-smiling in an attempt to cheer up Rona. The effort could be appreciated, Rona supposed--even from Aspen's young, barely competent replacement--but it was still in vain. Maybe it was a small, trivial thing, but it had been all Rona had to look forward to all summer and its failure to appear was almost soul-crushing.

The worst part was that she felt stupid for caring. She'd sworn she was done with all that garbage.

"But it's never late! That's half the point!" As if she hadn't told the story half an hour prior! Her past four birthdays, she'd woken to find a rose on her bedside table--a white rose, her favorite, a red ribbon around the stem. There was never a note, nor had anyone ever confessed, but if anything that made her relish it all the more. It might not have meant much to some child servant who probably hadn't even bled yet, but the mysterious birthday roses had been the only romantic thing anyone had ever done for her. Sixteen today and she'd never even been kissed.

"Maybe whoever was bringing them got tied up with something else?"

Oh what a sad day it was if the least painful option was admitting that Electra was right. "May--"

She was spared that humiliation by a knock at the door--and not an unfamiliar knock, at that, even if it had only been in her memory for a month or so. He had made good on his intention to call a few times a week, she'd grant him that.

"Ooooh!" Electra squealed, writhing in excitement that probably should have been Rona's. "It's your sweetheart!"

"He's not my sweetheart." Regardless, if he'd bothered coming all the way out here yet again, she supposed it was only polite to receive him. "You can come in if you want."

The door opened just widely enough for Ashe to slip through, his eyes toward her even as he nudged it shut behind him. He was holding something behind his back, but she was at no angle to see what it was--and didn't care much in any case. "Happy birthday."

He had a twitchy, nervous sort of smile that never failed to remind her of a squirrel. He wasn't a miserable sort, but he was rather shy and a little awkward and she got the impression that he wasn't used to smiling often, or at least not so widely. Maybe he'd get better at it--as silly as a thought that was.

But result aside, the undertaking probably deserved a greater reward than the half-grin Rona flashed in turn. "Thank you."

His smile dampened somewhat. Rona swallowed. Had she hurt his feelings with her lack of enthusiasm? She hadn't meant to... "Um. I got you these."

Front still facing her, he approached her with a sideways shuffle and a few nervous forward steps. Electra caught sight of the present before Rona could and gasped. "No way!"

Ashe took a quick breath and held out the offering. Rona could only blink. "How...?"

"Sorry. I heard someone say they were your favorites." Whatever remained of his grin wavered. She tried to revive it with a smile of her own but the shock wouldn't quite allow it. "Uh... I didn't hear wrong, did I?"

"What? No! I love them!" Rona shot to her feet and held her nose to the bouquet. The flowers smelt just like the one she'd been expecting. How on earth could he have known? Who had he heard it from? "I used to get one every year on my birthday, but it didn't come this year. But you... you brought me a lot of them..."

"It wasn't presumptuous of me, was it?"

Oh the poor, silly boy. "No, of course not. Actually, I was pretty upset until just now." Had that maybe been too much? She wished she could take it back. If only she wasn't too old to ask for help with these things! "Ellie, would you be a dear and put these in a vase with some water? And then you can put them on my bedside table."

Electra giggled. Good to know that she hadn't let the rare kind tone get to her head. "Yes, my lady."

The girl took the roses from Ashe and hurried off, practically skipping out the door. Rona sighed. "Aspen's replacement. She's... well, she's just a kid. Her father got her the job." She half-expected Ashe to say something, but he only shrugged. Just as well; she didn't want to talk about it either. "Uh... would you like to sit down?"

He took up the offer and settled on the far couch cushion. Rona waited the polite number of seconds, then collapsed into Electra's vacant spot. She didn't think she'd sat on that particular couch with anyone since Aspen had been around; the distance between seats was greater than she remembered.

"So... you're sixteen."

It was a weak attempt at conversation and they both knew it--but having finally received her coveted white roses, there wasn't much she wouldn't have let slide. "You remembered." Not that it was much of a feat, remembering ages. Then again... "Um. How old are you, again?"

"Seventeen." Odd. She would have guessed a year or two older. "To be honest, sixteen was... kind of another lifetime ago."

Even odder. "You say the strangest things."


"Don't be. It's amusing." He raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment. Maybe a girl with some life in her would have giggled. "I just hope fifteen and prior turns out to be a lifetime ago."

Ashe squinted. Rona supposed she was the odd one now. "Hmm?"

"I don't know. I just feel like the past couple years were a bit of a waste. I did nothing with my life and fretted over silly things that didn't matter." She slumped away from him and pouted. Ashe was far from her initial choice of confidant, but he was all she had right now and it had been months since she'd had a chance to unload. "And now I'm bitter--which I guess is better than being pathetic and stupid, but I'm still not doing anything. I'm sixteen years old and I've never even kissed a boy." Had that been too much? It wasn't exactly something she cared to admit. Still, it was nice to see that he hadn't laughed. "What's kissing like, anyway?"

Ashe sighed. "Honestly? Your guess is as good as mine."

What? "You're kidding!" He shook his head. Rona gaped at him. It wasn't as if he was ugly... or unpleasant... or poor... "Why not?"

He shrugged. "Desire and opportunity never met."

"Oh." She wasn't sure why that hurt, but it did. "So you never met anyone...?"

"I wouldn't say that. There was one girl I really wanted to kiss." His lips twitched in some private, self-deprecating joke. "I don't think I was her type, though."

"Oh." She almost regretted bringing it up. Why was he telling her this, anyway? They'd only known each other a month. Still... there was something a little odd about the way he was around her. Like he'd known her forever. And maybe he wasn't that much of a stranger to her either anymore. "Can I ask you something?"

He nodded. She took a quick second to stare at his lips. They looked so much like his cousin's and she wondered why that didn't feel odd. "If I said that you could kiss me, would you?"

His face arranged itself in an expression she couldn't fathom. Her best guess was startlement, but it lacked the accompanying distaste. "Um... are you saying I can?"

Rona shrugged. "I guess so."

A tentative arm reached around her shoulders and pulled her nearer. It felt a little strange, sitting so close to him--strange, and maybe a little good. "I'll warn you again that I don't know what I'm doing."

"It's all right. I won't know the difference."

"And you're sure you want this? You only get one first kiss."

"I'm sure. I've waited long enough." Or was it a matter of waiting at all? It hadn't sounded like he felt that way. "What about you? Are you sure?"

"Very sure." And yet, as he looked at her as if confronted by a daunting puzzle. "Just give me a minute? I've gone over this in my head so many times and I don't want to ruin it."

Had he? She'd forgotten what it was to feel flattered. "Take all the time you need."

He started his approach from one angle, but changed his mind halfway through and tried another. He nearly met her the third time--she could feel his breath on her lips--but he made another retreat and took a minute to study her before trying again. And again... and again...

Oh, to hell with it.

Sixteen years' worth of ladylike sensibilities flew out the window as she sprung herself onto his lap and mashed her mouth against his. She didn't stay long, nor did she use her tongue--she didn't know him that well--but she felt his bottom lip slide between hers, and then back out and in again. He must have had strawberries for breakfast.

"Well," he choked as she pulled away, grinning like she'd never seen anyone grin before, "I... hadn't imagined it happening quite like that."

Rona smiled shyly. The words could go either way, but his eyes... "I hope it wasn't too much worse."

"Actually, it was... rather better." He reached behind her back and took to twirling a lock of her hair. She supposed she'd allow it. "Do you want to go for a walk or something?"

She nodded. There was nothing special about a walk, but she figured she'd had enough excitement for one day. "That might be nice."


January 23, 2012

In Which Searle Presents the Set to be Observed

August 22, 1177

"Why the hell would I agree to that anyway?"

Nearly four years of marriage now and Searle had yet to see Lettie angry. He'd feared he might when he asked her--it was enough to anger most people, no doubt, even if there were altruistic intentions behind the idea--but it was just her typical brand of disbelief, that glare she always shot him when he did something stupid. "Er... good Christian charity?"

Lettie snorted. "Well, what else would you call fucking one's husband's lover?"

"Sparron's not my lover anymore."

"Yes, but you wish he still was." Shaking her head, Lettie fiddled with her wedding band. He didn't think he'd seen her do that before. "Look, if you want him back in your bed, that's between you and him. Don't drag me and Camaline and any hypothetical children into it."

Searle sighed. His wife was of the cerebral variety, the sort who could balance equations and reimagine trade routes and debate philosophy all night long but saw emotions mainly as something to be studied--some alien set better observed secondhand. At the same time, she wasn't frigid. He couldn't have asked for a better combination when he'd come up with the idea, or so he'd thought at the time. Maybe she couldn't experience the 'why'. It was made of unsterile things she was unwilling to touch. "It's not about me and Sparron. I just want to help out some friends."

"Quite the favor, don't you think?"

It was. But there wasn't much more rewarding than paying a favor... was there? "Lettie, if you do this one thing for me, I swear to God I'll never ask you for anything else ever."

"You don't even know what you're asking me." The wedding band twirled around her finger once again. A nagging fear in the back of his head warned him not to let it twist right off. "I've already been through two pregnancies, in case you've forgotten. It's awful--and ask any other woman and she'll tell you the same. Why would I go through that again for a baby I don't even get to keep?"

"I don't know." God, she just wouldn't stop with that ring! Not sure how much more he could take, he took her by the hand and pulled her a little nearer. "What about the experimental value?"

Lettie raised an eyebrow. "Experimental value?"

"You know." It was a long shot, but if Lettie had an Achilles heel, it was her curiosity. "Take it as a learning experiment. You can compare and contrast and... you know. Broaden your horizons."

"Broaden my horizons." Eyes rolling--eyes exactly like a few of Sparron's half-siblings, Searle noticed--she grabbed a fistful fabric from her hip and sighed. "Your own two broadened everything quite enough, thank you very much."

What the hell was she talking about? She'd been a thin little thing when they'd met, but since birthing Rennie she had the most God damn perfect body he'd ever seen. Arkon had done little if anything. Maybe a third wouldn't change a bit. "They broadened nothing." A skeptical snicker caught itself in her throat; Searle twirled her about in an effort to coax it forth. "Come on Lettie, please? Don't you feel bad for poor Camaline? And wouldn't it be great if my two favorite people in the world had the most perfect child ever?"

At least she was laughing. "Now you're just being a kiss-ass."

"Say yes and I'll kiss your ass and everything else all night long."

"Oh, you lost your ass-and-everything-else-kissing privileges when you waltzed in here." She gave him a playful smack on the cheek and turned herself back around. "I'll tell you what, though; if you can promise me that certain conditions can be met--"

"You'll do it?" His heart was beating so fast he feared it might fly right out his grinning mouth.

"No. If you can make some absolute guarantees, then..." He didn't quite have a word for what was on her face. She must have meant him to think it a smile, but it lacked the effort required of a grimace. "Then I'll at least think about it."

"Oh." His heart slowed, but it could have been worse. Indeed, it probably couldn't have been much better. "What are the conditions?"

"Well, first of all--" she pulled her hand from his and wrung it with her other "--if we do this, we're doing it for the enjoyment value. And we're only doing it once. If I happen to get pregnant, fine. If not--or if it's a stillbirth, or a miscarriage--too bad."

Searle swallowed. That... certainly lowered the odds. But if she was actually willing to consider this, then he was in no position to argue. "Fair enough. And?"

"And Camaline only wants to relieve the pressure of having an heir; a daughter won't make that go away, so if the theoretical baby is a girl, then Camaline will be the one faking the stillbirth and we'll keep her ourselves. And you'll treat her just like any of your other daughters, because frankly you'll be just as responsible for her birth as you were for Rennie's."

She did have a point. "All right. Anything else?"

"One more." She brushed back a stray orange lock, the gold of her wedding bland glinting all the while. It looked a little more stable now. "If we do this, it won't be until after the baroness's baby is born, for a couple reasons. Firstly, because that family has been through more than enough and should the worst happen, Sparron and Camaline don't need the stress of all this weighing down on them too. And secondly..." She trailed somewhat, eyes to the ceiling as though she might find the words up there. "Well, even if I say yes, I reserve the right to reconsider--and since Holladrin isn't due until October, that would give the me the time to do so."

Of course. Yes, of course she could reconsider. He couldn't think of what he wouldn't give her just for considering at all.

"Lettie, you're the best. You know that, right?"

His wife groaned. "Slow down, Champ. I only said I'd think about it, remember?"