“I’m so sorry.” He paused, swallowing hard. “Please Kati, how can I make it up to you?”
She refused to look at him, refused to move from where she huddled on the bed, back to the wall, eyes swollen and nose red. No doubt that perfect princess cried prettily. The snotty bitch.
Dylan knelt by the bed. “I know I should have told you who my parents were, but I loved being able to just be me with you. I was too much of a coward to believe you wouldn’t treat me differently if you knew.”
He sat on the floor with a sigh. “And being stupid enough to not tell meant you found out in the worst possible way and you’re definitely going to treat me differently.”
Katya shifted enough to look at him, at his bent head and defeated-looking posture. “I don’t care who your parents are, I care that you pretended to be courting me, while always having that bitch of a princess as your real intended. Did you honestly think I’d roll over and be your bit on the side?”
Dylan looked up at her. “What?”
She was on a roll now. “Were you planning on installing me here? Out of the way? Or somewhere a little more convenient to the castle, so you could nip out for a bit of fun with the peasant before heading back for a civilised evening?”
He was staring at her as if she’d lost her mind. “Who are you talking about? I’ve not looked at another woman since you hauled me out of the harbour a year ago.”
“A year? That was you?”
He flushed and looked down again. “Yes. I’ve been taking swimming lessons with Captain Grey since then.”
She uncurled a little. “That favour you owed my father…”
He shrugged one shoulder, still staring at the floor. “I set it up, heard he wanted a tutor to prepare you for the Assessment and I desperately wanted to get to know you better.”
He slumped again. “So I guess I lied to you twice. I’m finished aren’t I?”
She crawled forward and poked him on the shoulder, hard. “I don’t care how you ended up as my tutor, and I don’t care who your parents are. I DO care about you cheating on me.”
“But I haven’t.”
“Princess Oriana made a special trip down to the training yard today, especially to show me the lovely engagement ring you gave her at the banquet last night, in front of everyone.”
“Is that the skinny dark-haired girl who looks like she’s been sucking on a lemon?”
Katya’s lips twitched. “She’s very elegant.”
“She’s also clearly stupid, with bad eyesight. She’s betrothed to my brother, Matthew.”
“But she said Prince Dylan.”
“Well she’s wrong.”
She stared at him, he stood, holding out he hand. “Come on, let’s go up there right now. You can meet all of them, my parents, my brothers, my sister and that stupid cow who doesn’t know who she agreed to spend the rest of her life with.”
“I can’t go like this!”
“Like I’ve been crying for a week and been dragged through a hedge backwards.”
He crouched to be nearer again. “I never want you to cry.”
“Well you made me, and weren’t even able to work out why I was upset.”
“Well I didn’t know some random visitor was swanning around the castle making up stories.”
“A very glamorous visitor who you want me to meet while looking like a complete mess.”
“We’ll go by way of Peony’s then. He’s been dying to hear how Simon’s getting on and I know he’d love to have the chance to pamper you.”
She looked at him for a minute, then scooted forward and put her hand his. He pulled her up and into his arms, holding her close. “I’m so sorry I made you unhappy. Please promise, any time I do something wrong, you’ll tell me so I can fix it?”
She cupped his face. “No other women. That’s it.”
“You’ll need to meet my sister for sure then, so you don’t get upset when I spend time with her. You’ll like her Kati, she’s a little firecracker and father’s at his wit’s end trying to come up with an alliance marriage she’ll be happy in.”
She gave him a hint of her smile, then reached up and kissed him.
Dylan ushered Katya through a nondescript door in a back alley, then wound his way through the back passages of a house she hoped he was welcome in.
Eventually, he stopped in front of a door in a wide corridor with deep carpeting and intriguing paintings and knocked.
Whoever it was inside invited them in and Dylan opened the door and waved her through.
She stepped into a glorious whirl of colour and scent. As Dylan closed the door behind them, she tried to make sense of the gauzy drapes and screens and the gentle waft of spring flowers mixed with summer and hot chocolate.
Giving up, she followed Dylan’s winding path to the centre of the room, where a divinely elegant, strong-featured woman reclined gracefully on a chaise.
Dylan bowed. “Guildleader Peony.”
Ahh, that would explain the strong features. Katya smiled, she didn’t know a single woman in her village who had this man’s feminine panache.
Dylan was still speaking. “May I introduce Katya. She’s a long-standing friend of the lad I sent to you before the Assessment, Simon, and is now in need of your expertise as well.”
Peony turned to Katya. “Delightful to meet you, Simon spoke of you very fondly. But I believe you’ve already completed the assessment, so I doubt you need tutoring at this stage. The palace trainers are very accomplished.”
Dylan smiled. “They still refer to you as the gold standard GuildLeader. You’re right though, Katya isn’t here for training. We need to clarify some points with one of the visiting princesses and I would love to see that person’s expression when presented with Katya outfitted to her proper potential.”