He knew his smile was not going to be well received but couldn’t help its spread. She’d been wanting to kiss him.
He was right. At the sight of the smile, her eyes opened wide, realising what she’d said, what she’d admitted.
“No. Don’t you dare be smug. You are not allowed to be smug.”
She writhed off his lap and stormed to the other side of the room. At least she hadn’t walked straight out the door, he still had a small chance to make up ground.
He slowly walked to her, admiring her stubborn determination to stand her ground, even when he reached out to touch the locket she still wore.
“It wasn’t empty when I sent it.”
“This. I found it in a jewellers in King’s Circle while I was there on an errand for your father. It looked like something you’d like.”
“In some ways. In other ways, very much the opposite.”
She gave him a stony stare, one she’d learnt from him. He was handing her snippets of interesting information she wanted to explore but this time she would not allow him to lead her off down other paths. He needed to do something, what she didn’t know, but something, to start to make up for the past six months. Of course later he would have to give a full accounting.
Alec shifted uncomfortably under her gaze and hung his head, reaching for her hand.
“I asked for it you know.”
“What?”, she was starting to sound like one of those strange southern birds that repeated things over and over.
He glanced up, then down again, focusing on where he entwined their fingers. She’d never seen him this uncomfortable and awkward before and, contrary to expectations, she didn’t like it.
“Our marriage. I’d been at Wolfgrove about three months and your father was looking to trade you off to some weasely baron in exchange for port rights. I told the king I wanted to marry you and he obliged, although not in a manner I was particularly pleased with.”
She somehow managed to swallow the next ‘what’, “Why are you telling me this?”
He shrugged, still focusing on her fingers. He was clearly looking for words and failing, another first. A rather nice realisation began to grow.
“Why did you ask the king to arrange our marriage?”
He breathed deeply and finally looked at her, “Because you’re the only woman I’ve ever met that I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
He looked down again, “I know I should have given you a choice, or at least a chance to get to know me first but if Lord Humphrey was going to trade you off for politics, at least you could go to a man who appreciates you.”
“You don’t appreciate me, I drive you crazy.”
“See, that’s part of it, you don’t let me get away with anything. The eligible women at court are so entranced by my title that very few will do anything other than simper and agree with everything I say.”
She looked at him quizzically.
“Mellisande, I need a partner, an equal, not another responsibility.”
“And you see me as that, yet spent the past however long nagging at me about your responsibility for my safety.”
“For your safety, yes, but not for you. Look at last night, most court women would have been screaming and fainting the minute they heard those things climb past your window. You assessed the situation like a general and took appropriate action, kept your composure under incredibly trying circumstances and then somehow soothed a child who was beyond terrified back down to a state where he could actually sleep.”
“I think you underestimate court women.”
“Can we agree to disagree?”
Mellisande stood in thought, looking into the serious face staring down at her. She thought back over their interactions, his words, her wishes. Their marriage hadn’t had the best start, but it had potential, a lot of potential. A slow smile spread over her face and she kissed him, arms sliding up around his neck.
“Are you being smug now?”
“Probably. Just so you know, you have a lot of making up to do for the ridiculous way this marriage started.”
He started smiling too, “Do I now. And I suppose I’m entirely to blame for your assistant steward’s actions too.”
“And what do I need to do to start this ‘making up’?”
“To start, I want more kisses, then a full explanation of the locket and why being in King’s Circle was inconvenient. Oh, and a proper wedding ceremony. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to have the two of us there this time.”
He laughed and obeyed on the kisses at least, the rest could wait.