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In the course of her swathe through Vorbarr Sultana society, back before she'd retired to the District to look after Pierre, on one memorable winter's evening Lady Donna Vorrutyer had made a pass at Alys. Alys had been stunned, though she hadn't shown it. She knew there were women who preferred that sort of thing, but Donna had always been renowned for her male conquests. But watching her closely afterwards--especially after she took up with Ivan a year or so later and Alys began to fear that she might have Ges Vorrutyer's niece for a daughter-in-law--Alys had realised that Donna regularly had female partners as well as her notable collection of powerful and fascinating men.

Alys had turned Donna down that night, taking refuge in the best defence of a Vor matron: a pretence of complete sexual innocence. She still didn't think she had actually fooled Donna into believing that she hadn't understood the offer. Donna had been hard to fool, and it had aggravated Alys that Donna had been more interested in sexual than political games, because she would have been brilliant at them. Well, now Lord Dono was putting his hand to the political games with a vengeance.

And now Alys was wondering whether she should have taken a hand in the sexual games when she'd had the chance. Lord Dono was magnetic. He had all the famous Vorrutyer charm, that intoxicating mixture of danger and wildness and brilliance, and was stunningly handsome too. As he bowed over her hand and kissed it, Alys felt a pang of regret. And as Dono raised his head to meet her eyes, she had a sense that Dono was remembering that missed opportunity too. And was offering a second one in its place.

She closed her other hand on Simon's arm, a warning as much to herself as to Dono. They'd made no oaths, no promises to each other, and it wouldn't even be difficult to slip a quick romance under Simon's radar, not these days, but for that reason alone she knew she couldn't do it, however tempting the offer. Alys was Vor, and she was faithful. Dono looked at her arm in Simon's, smiled a little and took a half-step back. Message received and understood.

Alys had never imagined herself envious of Ivan before. Miles's little party was clearly going to be an unusual evening.