Celta Thursday: Cut from Heart Dance:
Once again Saille Willow knocked on her door in the morning. Fairyfoot had announced his presence in the Residence – as if Dufleur couldn't sense him – and had pranced to the bedroom door.
When Dufleur opened it, he held a single bloom – a fancy orchid brilliantly yellow. She was glad she was wearing another new tunic and trous set – this one in teal. The flower's fragrance was outrageously strong, yet mingled well with the other blooms he'd brought her. She set it in the face, tilted her head. It didn't look quite right.
"May I?" Saille asked.
He gave it a twitch and it seemed to settle into perfect place highlighting some of the other flowers and still being a focal point. More. She narrowed her eyes. Somehow the orchid seemed to pick up a pale hue of yellow under the glossy white luster of the graceful urn. As the other blooms. There seemed to be a multitude of pale shifting colors just beneath the white surface. A Flaired urn. She looked at Saille who was staring with a wonderful smile at her. Gesturing awkwardly to the tall porcelein vase, she said. "I heard that your creative Flair was pottery, did you make this?"
"Yes." He tucked his hands behind his back as if defensive. "What do you think."
"I think you should have a show at Enlli Gallery."
He laughed and the sound rolled over her and sank into her and warmed her. She couldn't recall the last time she'd heard laughter in this house, and never a man's. She couldn't remember the last time her father had laughed and that thought lodged in her heart like a thorn.
Saille's smile faded. He touched her cheek. "How have I made you sad?"
"Not you." She cleared her throat. "Thank you for the blossom, for the flowers, for the vase."
"You're very welcome." He glanced around her bedroom and the secret ritual room that was now always open. She sensed he disapproved of the stark shabbiness. The vase and flowers were several classes of expensive elegance above her worn belongings. Just as he was several classes above her in station. "I'm glad they please you," he said softly. "I'm glad they add beauty to your surroundings."
"Yes," she said, then fell miserably silent, not knowing what to say next.
He straightened. "I would like to invite you to meet my Family. Tour T'Willow Residence. Have the midday meal."
She backed up until the bed hit her behind the knees and she abruptly sat. "N–"
"Don't say no. It's a casual invitation."
Crossing her arms, she said. "It's not. How many other women have you invited to meet your Family and eat with them?"
"SupremeJudge Ailim Elder."
"Since you used her title, I'd imagine that you consulted her."
"It was a social occasion."
"That she is. I invited her husband and child, too."
"That certainly isn't the same as inviting an unmarried woman to meet your Family and take midday meal. They would be bound to know that I was . . . ."
"Important to me? My HeartMate? My Family all has matchmaking Flair to some extent, of course they'd sense that. So what?"
Her fingers twisted together in her lap. "A bunch of strangers. Saille, I don't know how to act around a loving Family." She smiled her grim smile, threw him a glance, looked away. "I don't know how to act around an . . . a man who's attracted to me. For more than a few minutes of sex."
He picked up her hand and kissed her fingers. "It will be easy. They're nice people. They like me. You like me. You all have something in common."
She closed her eyes and felt his amusement through their bond, and attraction, and banked desire. She felt his need for her to meet his Family. His pride in her and them. "I'm going to mess** this up. I know it." With her free hand she tugged at her hair in distress.
He captured that hand, too and drew her to her feet.
"Come with me to meet my Family."
"They'll gossip. Everyone will know I'm your . . . your . . .
"I'm not ready. Please."
His pleasure dulled and guilt rose inside her.
"I'll ask them to keep our relationship secret."
"You'll be a target of rumor if you associate with the daughter of a man your MotherDam ruined."
"I don't care."
"You should. You're just firming up your alliances–"
"If my allies don't like my actions, I don't want them as allies." He pulled her to the closet, dropped her hands to take out her coat and hold it for her.
She just stared at him. She wanted to spend time in his company. Wanted to get to know him even better, especially out of bed. "They won't gossip?"
"Not if I ask them to keep quiet."
She didn't believe that for a minute.
"Why are you afraid to be singled out by me?"
She felt her mouth turn down. "Because you are a GreatLord and I am the daughter of a minor GrandLord. Because your MotherDam ruined my Family and that talk is still making the rounds and I'd prefer not to see it in the newssheets social columns. Because my mother would encroach upon you and your Family if she could. Because . . . . because I'd like to think I could be myself around you. Learn about you and let you learn about me without any pressure."
His expression sobered. "That last is a good reason." He studied her. "As I said, my Family members are matchmakers. They know that courtship can be touchy."
A chill went through her at the word, matching the cold anxiety that touched her spine when he'd said "HeartMate."
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