“No,” the Duchess Tremontaine managed to say. “No, Octavian, you do not want to meet my family.”
Octavian Perry played a little tune on her backbone. She thought she recognized it from the serenade he had been playing for her after supper on his flute, at which he proved to be very adept. Where was the flute, anyway? She remembered rolling onto it at some point, and throwing it across the room and miraculously nothing breaking in—what room were they in, anyway? What time was it? She needed chocolate. Or possibly more wine—
“But I do want to meet them. I most certainly do.”
Diane flipped herself over and propped herself on one elbow. Gold-and-cream-striped curtains met her eyes. That’s right, they had dined in the little salon with the dog Solange, feeding her scraps from the table and laughing at her antics, and arguing about whether the Council needed a strong leader or a biddable one, and how soon Chartil could be convinced that the Land’s long-staple wool was of value to them—because to her amazement, Lord Octavian Perry was the only other noble the duchess ever met who not only took an interest in commerce, but turned out to be profiting greatly by it (which finally explained his substantial rare book collection, Diane thought with satisfaction)—and somewhere in there Solange had to be taken for a walk in the wet garden, just so Octavian could kiss Diane in the rain with the smell of roses all around them, so silly! So there followed a hot bath, and, yes, that’s when the flute had appeared, she’d made him stand behind a screen not to watch her bathe, but of course he’d cheated and she could tell by the way his breath caught while he played that he was looking at her, and he knew that she knew it, and that must be when the flute was tossed into a corner, and the screen came down, at that—
Yes, they were definitely in the salon. Because her boudoir had gotten soaked. And the sun was weakly trying to stream in the windows, so the day was not too much advanced, and she needed chocolate, but first she needed to argue with her new lover.
“Good heavens, Octavian. Why on earth do you want to meet my daughter and her brood?”
“Selfish curiosity.” He handed her the silver beaker of water from the floor, still half full. The duchess drank from it directly, resting her elbow on his flank. “After all, my dear lady, if I am going to concede to your awful request—nay, insistence—that I take it upon me to begin attending Council—”
“If? But you just swore you would!”
“I would have sworn anything at that particular moment. As well you know.”
“Oh, I do know. And yet you swore. By some very powerful gods, too.”
Octavian Perry groaned, and shivered with the memory. “You are a complete and utter bitch.”
“I am. So I’m going to hold you to your promise.” She ran her free hand across his chest. “Land, Octavian, you’re nearly as hairy as Solange!”
“It’s a good thing I like bitches, then.” He pulled the hand down farther, and Diane allowed herself to hope he’d forgotten all about her family when he said, “Two children, yes? Two possible little heirs—after their mother, of course? The Lady Honora?”
She said haughtily, “I am the Duchess Tremontaine. The ducal houses have the right to choose their own heirs. Honora knows to expect nothing from me.”
“But the little ones? Don’t you want to see how they came out? Heirs or no heirs, they are your blood, and Tremontaine’s.”
If only you knew what my blood was, you would not be so insistent, my silly Perry.
It was always there, lurking in the background: the fear that her base ancestry would reveal itself in her descendants. Now that she was duchess in her own right, with William gone, Diane sometimes allowed herself to wonder if that had been the real problem with Honora.
She stretched herself luxuriously on the carpet to distract him from his question. “How will having my dreary daughter, her boring husband, and squalling brats here do me any good?”
“It is the logical next step in your plan to convince the city that you have suddenly gone blindingly and boringly domestic. Unnerved by the superior brains and diplomacy of the Council Lords, realizing your proper sphere is in the home and resolved to take no further interest in politics . . . what would be more natural than to wish to see your dear daughter and her darling little ones?”
She couldn’t help laughing. “Octavian Perry. You. Are. Dreadful.”
“So they say. But really: Unless you’re planning to make me Duke Tremontaine and start popping out new little heirs with ugly faces and beautiful minds—”
The duchess shuddered.