“Well. I am no longer a princess,” Josetta declared, coming to sit by Foley on the large stone steps. When he began to get up, she waved a hand at him dismissively. “You heard me. Since I am no longer a princess, I am at liberty to sit where I choose.” Her eyes found his, and he read the uncertainty in them. “And with whom I choose.”
He cleared his throat, intensely aware of the slender body so close to his. “How does it make you feel?”
“Like I don’t appreciate being told lies,” she said frankly. “Like I am not the person I thought I was. I feel-” She hesitated, and her hand found its way into the crook of his arm. “I feel as though I need to rediscover myself, but maybe I understand why I found it so hard to fit in the first place.”
Foley opened his mouth, to offer some reassurance that she had played her part well, but she anticipated his words and stopped them with a shake of her head.
“I am uncharted territory, Foley,” she said, her eyes sparkling in a way that made his heart leap. He should have known his princess - for princess she would always be, to him - was strong enough to withstand the revelations. “Perhaps it would have frightened me a few weeks ago. It certainly would have before I met Zoe. Now, though, now we are travellers. I am not restrained like I once was, in life or - or in love.”
That made him start, and his head snapped round to find those large eyes fixed on him intently. She could not have meant that how it sounded. “You are fifteen.”
She nodded, though the spark in her eyes had not dimmed. The short while on the road had made her so unexpectedly more dear to him, as she had grown in both confidence and capability. “Soon, I will be sixteen.” She scrambled to her feet, brushing down the back of her dress. “Zoe is expecting me for dinner now. I had better go, or they will come looking.”
He got to his feet also, feeling awkward and uncertain. “Will you live with the Lalindars? Or - the Ardelays?”
Josetta shrugged. “Nothing is decided yet.” Her lips parted in a soft, sweet smile - lips that, thankfully, had not yet lost their innocence and learned the language of love. He did not dare to believe that her newfound freedom would bring a suitable suitor from amongst the palace guard; she was still a highborn lady, after all, and her mother would not release hopes of a good marriage for her. “Goodbye, Foley. I will come find you tomorrow, if I am free.”
And, for now, he was satisfied with that, as he watched her dart down the stairs, away from him. Zoe had appeared at the bottom, waiting, and she raised a hand in acknowledgment to Foley. It gave him some comfort to know that at least one of Josetta’s relatives was not opposed to his spending time with Josetta in some capacity. It meant that whatever happened, however uncharted the road ahead, Foley would be there to help her face it.