Diane de Tremontaine hesitated before the door.
She had been angry before starting out, angry at Applethorpe, at Fenton, angriest of all at Davenant, and the long ride from the City to Highcombe had done nothing to quell her fury at any of them. Applethorpe had failed her and Fenton had interfered with her plans yet again, but Davenant, far worse, had her trapped; it was either accept his repulsive proposal or give Tremontaine up to Honora’s mewling brat. She had less than a week to slip the snare, and she still had no idea how to do it. Yet, rather than sit in her bower at Tremontaine, with all the ducal resources—of which money was the least—at her fingertips, ready to be deployed, she had been forced to come here, to the country, to deal once again with a mess that Rafe Fenton had made.
But none of this was what caused her to hesitate.
No, the reason she stood in front of the door of an upstairs bedroom at the Tremontaine estate in Highcombe was that, no matter how furious she was, Diane de Tremontaine was never one to pass up an opportunity. And to take advantage of this one she was going to have to do something very unwonted.
For nigh on forty years, implication had been her compass as she navigated the squalls and stony reefs through which the gods had chosen to direct her course, and she was more adept at its use than any other on the Hill, in the City, in the Land. Bargains, promises, refusals, commands, threats—tools for lesser men and women. Diane could accomplish them all with a smile, a phrase, a glance. Words left unspoken were her meat and drink, the garment she wore, the air she breathed.
In the colloquy in which she was about to take part, however, Diane de Tremontaine was going to have to say exactly what she meant.
She opened the door.
“I cannot begin to express,” she said to the curious girl who sat at the table worrying at paper loops, “the horror and abject shame I feel at the treatment to which my servants have subjected you!”
Perhaps not exactly what she meant.
Micah was sure Rafe must have made a mistake.
He’d told her that he needed to rescue his boyfriend from some people who weren’t nice. Rafe was very smart about some things—a lot of things, actually—but he was very stupid about other things. He was smart about the stars, for example. And he was smart about how to make Micah feel better when she was feeling bad, which was one reason she liked him. But he was stupid about math, and he was very stupid about what Joshua called “the real world,” which, when Micah had asked, Joshua had defined as “anything that involved other people who were clothed.” And so, although Micah had been very nervous about the not-nice people, it had been obvious, since Rafe was her friend, that she needed to come with him on his trip, because rescuing Rafe’s boyfriend definitely fell into the category of things Joshua called “the real world,” and she didn’t want Rafe to hurt himself.
And he hadn’t hurt himself, mostly. He would have a little bump on the head, probably, from where Norris had hit him, but that would go away before long, and the man hadn’t even hit him that hard. One day on the farm when Micah had been milking the cows, she hadn’t been paying attention and she had squeezed too hard and Bessie had kicked her. It hadn’t been a hard kick, but it had hurt a lot. Bessie’s kick was harder than what Norris had done to Rafe.
So that was all fine, though Micah was very angry at Norris for hurting her friend. But there was still one thing that confused her, and that was what Rafe had said about the not-nice people, plural. He had told her it was important that none of the not-nice people find out that they were there. But everybody Micah had met here was very nice, except Norris, and it was obvious from the way everybody else talked about him that nobody thought he was nice. Even Dilkins was nice. So Micah was thinking that maybe Rafe had gotten it wrong and that there was only one person who wasn’t nice. To be sure, Norris was very not nice, but still. It made sense, though, because, as much as it annoyed her, Rafe did sometimes exaggerate.
She just wished she could see him. She had asked, but Wickfield had explained that Rafe was sick. This had worried her, because Rafe had seemed fine when they were in the cellar together before Thea had brought Micah upstairs, but Wickfield said that Rafe was only a little sick, and that Micah needed to wait until he was better to see him, or else she’d get sick too. That made sense; Freckles had gotten the pox once and they’d had to separate her from the other cows so that they didn’t get it from her. So Micah had decided to wait until Rafe was better, and spent her time wandering around the house instead and talking to people and learning from Wickfield about the gardens (though whenever she tried to explain to him why he should plant turnips, he suddenly had something important to do in another part of the house) and...