Jill stared at her sister in horror. Had she really just said what she thought? “Marry Adrian?” She asked incredulously.
Lissa gave her a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, Jill. I’ve already made all the arrangements. The announcement will be made at the Christmas ball.”
She stepped forward, her skirts rustling noisily as she moved. She had liked it better when she was dressed in less cumbersome clothing while in hiding. The dresses she now wore were far too noisy. She groaned. “You can’t be serious, Lissa. Please, let me find my own husband.”
“You cannot. Do you think any man will have you with the connection you and Adrian share? He will accuse you of an affair where there is none, at the very least. At the most, any children you have would be held by him as questionable fathering. At least this way, you will be married to someone you know and trust. And we have negotiated that all your children shall have the Dragomir name so that we can continue the line. That’s the most important part. You and I are it.”
“You and Christian will be welcoming your first child soon. That has to count for something.” Jill pleaded. “I can’t marry Adrian.”
Lissa rested her hand on her stomach a moment as she examined her sister. She asked gently, “Is there someone else?”
A tear made a traitorous track down her face and she wiped it away angrily. “No one that could help continue the Dragomir line.”
Her sister nodded. “So it is decided. Congratulations.”
The younger woman sighed. “Does he even get to ask?”
“I’m sure he’ll think of something. He’s a bit of a romantic.”
Jill was suddenly pulled into Adrian’s head. He was raging at his father about the marriage to her. So he hadn’t known about this either. That made it a little better. Of course, if he had known, she would have. She blinked and came back to herself.
“I’m sorry.” Lissa said softly. She sounded sincere.
“May I go now, Your Majesty?” Jill asked coldly.
The queen nodded.
She rushed out of the room, nearly tripping on her skirts. She went straight to her suite, closely followed by her guardians. She snapped at them to go away, even though she knew they couldn’t. She slammed the door and locked it. No one would get in if she could help it. She went to her bedroom and threw herself across the bed. She should ring for the maid to help her out of her dress, but she didn’t have the energy. And it wasn’t that late, anyway.
After a few hours of staring at the ceiling, she heard a soft knock. A guardian called, “You have a visitor, your highness. He’s waiting for you in the queen’s personal sitting room.”
Eddie. She wished she could just pull him in with her and have him tell her it would be all right. She wanted nothing more than those same long talks they shared before everything was considered safe at Court and they had returned.
Jill stood and looked at herself in the mirror. A good thing she hadn’t called for her maid. She knew who it was. She’d seen his journey from arguing with his father to pacing his apartment and contemplating getting drunk and then here. She had hoped he would drink a little. It was the only thing that dulled the bond. She could barely stand the thoughts in her own head, let alone someone else’s.
She opened the door and smiled at Eddie. He was alone. “Where are the others?”
“I sent them away. Not too far, but far enough. I’ll have a word with Rose about the level of security you actually need within Court. I think it’s ridiculous to have so many following you.”
“It’s for my own safety.” She said, repeating what they always told her when she demanded fewer guardians.
He followed her closely. “It is. But I’ll fight to the death before I let anyone hurt you.”
She stopped and turned to him. She looked around to see other guardians at regular intervals down the hall. “Do you know anything about my meeting with Lissa?”
“The one you just had?” He shook his head.
Jill pulled him through a door that led to an unoccupied room. She left it open, but stepped close to him anyway. She took a deep breath. “She’s marrying me off. To Adrian. She and Nathan Ivashkov negotiated it without our consent. Adrian is here to talk about it.”
“Oh.” He said simply.
“Yeah.” She shook her head, angry when another tear fell down her cheek. “Eddie, I don’t know what any of this means.”
“Let’s not talk about it now. Go get engaged.” He sounded down-trodden and headed toward the hall.
“Don’t be angry.” She begged as she followed.
“It’s not your fault.” His easy-going manner was over.
Jill pushed into the room, not waiting to be announced. The conversation between the queen and her new fiancé halted. “I want a word alone with him.” She demanded of her sister.
Lissa stood gracefully, even with her obscenely large stomach. “I hope you both know that this is all for the best. I agreed to it because I care about you, no matter what you think of me.” She left.
As soon as she was out of the room, Adrian produced a silver cigarette case from his coat pocket. He put one in his mouth and leaned over a candle to light it.
“You want me to get down on one knee?” He asked.
She clenched her jaw and shook her head.
“I don’t want to marry right away. You’re only fifteen, after all. We should wait at least a couple years.” He took a long drag from the cigarette. He blew out the smoke slowly as he watched her.
“Where will we live?”
“Where would you like to live? We could go anywhere.”
“That depends.” She stepped closer. “Where is Sydney right now?”
His face softened. “Missouri. But she could be sent anywhere, so that’s not an option.”
She nodded. “Are you in contact with her?”
“I visit her when she sleeps.” He took another pull from the cigarette.
Jill sat down on the sofa. “I don’t want this.”
“I don’t either.” Adrian admitted as he put out his cigarette. He joined her on the sofa. “But we can’t get out of it. And I can’t deny that it’s a good idea.” He lifted up a hand and ran the tips of his fingers down her cheek. “We’ll make some pretty babies.”
“We’ll not talk about that yet.” He dropped his hand. “I could use a drink.”
“I wouldn’t mind it if you had a few. I’d like to be in my own head for a while.”
“I’ll try not to get drunk.” He promised.
“Thank you.” She stood. “I need to go.”
“What about Eddie?” He asked before she could move away.
She sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll make you a deal.”
“As long as we’re smart about it, we can have our affairs.”
She watched him a moment. “I wouldn’t expect you to be faithful to me, Adrian. Men of your station rarely are true to their wives.”
“Yes. But the wives are expected to be faithful regardless. What I’m saying to you is that you and I both know we cannot have a dhampir child. I don’t mind whatever happens with him. But if you do have an affair with him, be smart about it. Take every precaution.”
“The same to you and Sydney.”
Adrian smirked and pulled out another cigarette. “I don’t even know if she’d agree to an affair. She’s so straight-laced.” He blew out a plume of smoke. “But what I wouldn’t give to see what’s under all those layers.”
Jill gave him a no-nonsense look. “Yeah, I know.”
He grew compassionate. “Look, kid, I’m sorry about all that. We’ll just have to both keep working on blocking each other.”
She stepped up to him again. “Can you feel me in there?” She put a finger up to his temple.
“Sometimes I feel a tickling at the edges. I guess that’s you. Is it still pretty bad for you?”
She shrugged. “I’m used to it by now. But I saw your argument with your father.”
He nodded. “I’ll work on keeping calm.”
“No, don’t change everything for me. I know you’re already abstaining after that first time.”
“Well, you were so horrified.” He touched her arm. “I’m sorry.”
“We’re fine.” She assured him. She looked up at the clock. “It’s late. And I have an appointment with my pillow.”
He smirked again. “I, too, have an appointment.”
“I hope she’s not upset by this.”
“I think she’ll understand. And we’ll work it out.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I’ll get you a ring and ask you properly.”
“You don’t have to.”
“It’s the least I could do.” He kissed her hand again. “Goodnight, my future wife.”
“I still don’t know how I feel about that.” She admitted.
“We have at least two years to figure it out. Sleep well, Princess Jillian.” He smirked and walked away.
Once settled into his bed for the day, he closed his eyes and called up his magic. He created a quiet café, something one would find in France or Italy. Sydney sat in a corner table and smiled at the steaming cup in front of her.
“I was in the middle of a good dream.” She said as she took a sip.
“Oh, yeah? A sexy one? Was I in it?” Adrian sat in the seat across from her, his own drink appearing.
“No, you weren’t. My father was actually paying attention to me. And I was respected as an Alchemist.”
He reached across the table and brushed his fingers over the golden lily glittering on her cheek. “You deserve better respect, Sage.”
She smiled. “Nice to know someone believes it. My mother does, too.” She took his hand off her cheek and rested it on the table between them. “Something’s bothering you.”
He took a deep breath. “I have to marry Jill.”
She stared at him a long time in silence. “When?”
“We’re having a long engagement. Two years. Maybe more.”
“Are you going to live at Court?”
“It’s probably safer. But we both hate it. I want to get away, get her away. It’s going to be hard enough to be married to someone I don’t want to marry.” He sighed. “That’s not right. I don’t mind marrying her. I can’t marry you is all.” He squeezed her hand.
“Maybe we can figure something out. Maybe I’m not meant to be an Alchemist. Maybe I’m meant to be a servant in a Moroi household.”
Adrian shook his head. “You’re better than a servant.”
“Not according to my father.” She took another sip of her coffee. “The best thing about this is that you can keep my coffee hot.”
He chuckled. “Glad I could be of service, Sage.”
“I want to make something of myself, Adrian.”
“But I’m connected to you. When we’re apart…It just feels wrong. And I don’t know how we can make it better.”
“We’ll follow you.” He said suddenly.
“Wherever you’re assigned, we’ll take a holiday there.”
“Even if you have small children in tow?”
“Yes.” He smiled and watched her a moment. Then he stood and walked around the table. He picked Sydney up and sat her on a barstool nearby. “I could set you up somewhere.”
“Like being your mistress?” She asked, a challenge in her eyes.
“And why not? It would be better than just seeing you in your dreams.” He found her bare ankle under all her skirts and slid his hand up behind her knee. “And when I touch you, it will be more real.” He brushed a kiss across her lips.
Sydney placed her hands on his cheeks. “I don’t want to be a kept woman. I’d much rather see you sporadically or in my dreams than in a house you pay for, sitting around doing nothing but wait for when you come make love to me.”
“It would be more than that.” Adrian pressed himself closer to her, his hand slid a little further up her thigh.
She reached down and stopped. “Not any higher.”
He agreed, but covered her mouth with his again. He slipped his tongue out and licked the seam of her lips. She opened her mouth to him and let him explore it, massaging his tongue with her own. Her hand slipped into his hair and held him closer.
He broke the kiss and rested his head against hers. “I wish I could be with you.”
“Soon. I’m hoping for a permanent assignment any day. I heard rumors about being sent north, but I could be wrong.”
“I’ll wait patiently to find out more.” He brushed one more kiss across her lips and then stepped back. He pulled her dress back down. “I need to get some sleep and prepare to be an engaged man.”
“Do you have a ring and everything?”
“Not yet. I was thinking of looking through Aunt Tatiana’s things and finding a ring that works. I should just let her pick it. It’s not like we’re getting to choose much in this.”
“After you’re married, you will be.” She hopped off the stool and smoothed down her dress. “I’ll let you know more when I do.”
“Same time next week?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
He kissed her once again and then watched her as he let the dream dissolve. He lay on his bed, staring at the dark ceiling for a long time. He finally got out of the bed and opened a bottle of wine. He considered getting a glass, but decided that since he planned on drinking the entire bottle, there was no point.
He looked in the mirror and lifted the bottle. “To you and me, Jill. God help us.”