In the highest room of their splendid family townhouse on the highest part of the Hill, Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, sat in a window seat and surveyed her city.
Below the sweeping lawns of Tremontaine House the river roiled under the dull grey skies of a windy, rainy day. Across the river, prosperous houses sent up trails of smoke from their many chimneys. But beyond them, in the older part of the city, only some of the ancient buildings of the University bore these flags of prosperity. Many students went cold for their learning. But for a clever man not born to land or riches, what else was there?
Diane smiled. Her husband the duke loved the University. He believed in clever men, and he had some pretensions to learning, as his extensive library testified. He served on the University’s Board of Governors, and was happier there than in the halls of the Council of Lords. She didn’t object. It gave him something to occupy his mind, while she occupied hers with weightier matters.
She clutched the sheaf of papers in her hand and craned her slender neck, looking down the river past the Council buildings to the docks, where every day she hoped for her salvation.
The docks were impossible to see from the Hill, of course. The river bent through the city like a bow, crossed by bridges connecting the older side of the city to the new. And theEverfairwas lost; the papers told her that, leaving no room for hope any more. But there was a Kinwiinik Trader ship due in soon. There always was, this time of year, daring the first of the spring storms, bringing things exotic and delightful to the city’s inhabitants: bright feathers, exotic spices, colorful cloth... and chocolate. These things were always welcome. But this time, the duchess had a particularly urgent use for them.
There were footsteps on the stairs. She shoved the papers under the generous folds of her skirts.
Her husband knew she loved it up here.The servants had instructions not to trouble her when she was in her retreat—her “bower,” William romantically called it; or, sometimes, her “gentle falcon’s nest.” But he could visit when he liked.
The little door opened. She did not turn her head. Let him find her lost in thought, gazing dreamily out the window.
William Alexander Tielman, Duke Tremontaine, bent his long body to her. When his lips touched her neck, she arched it and smiled lazily, leaned into the warmth of his chest, then turned her lips up to his.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said. For a moment, they looked out over the city together. William rubbed her satin-clad arm. “It’s gotten cold,” he said gently. “Your fire is low, and you haven’t even noticed.”
“No,” the duchess said; “I hadn’t. What a good thing you came.” She snuggled into his coat again. “So why are you here? Surely you can’t be missing me already!” They had spent the better part of the morning sporting in bed for so long that their morning chocolate had grown cold, and they had to ring for new.
“Why should I not?” he said gallantly. “But I wouldn’t disturb you for that. I just wanted you to look over my speech for tomorrow’s Council. My man Tolliver’s drafted it according to your notes, and I’ve tweaked it here and there... but I’m not quite certain yet. Will you...?”
“With pleasure.” She sat up briskly, folding her hands on her lap. “Read it to me, why don’t you?”
But he made no move to produce notes from his pockets. “And there’s something else,” he said.
“Really?” She had to struggle to make it sound like a question. She’d known he wanted something else from the moment he’d entered.
“It’s Honora.” The duchess waited, expressing just the right mix of politeness and disinterest. “She’s had another child.”
“Already? It must be the country air.”
On the subject of their married daughter, the duchess was intractable. But the duke pressed on: “It’s a boy, this time. They’ve named him David—for the old duke, of course, the King Killer. The family hero.” He risked a smile, inviting her to join him. “He’s David Alexander Tielman.”
“...Campion,” the duchess finished sharply. “Don’t forget theCampion.”
Duke William sighed. “You haven’t forgiven her, have you.”
The duchess bit her lip, and turned to look out the window. “No,” she said, “I haven’t.”
“But Diane . . .” He stroked her shoulder. “Honora does seem happy in her new life. If you could find your way to—”
“I am very glad that she is happy, William. Truly.” She did not try very hard to keep the rancor out of her voice. “In time, I am sure I will get over what she did to us.”
“I’m sure you will,” he said softly. His charm was in seeing the best in her, even when it wasn’t there.
“Oh, William!” She threw her arms around him, allowing herself the luxury of tears. “I had such hopes! The years I spent, preparing to bring her out to make a good—a fine, an excellent—marriage! The alliances, the parties, the dresses we could ill afford—”
He stroked her carefully arranged curls, and...