Heart Duel Original Opening
He grumbled inwardly. He'd known someday that this moment would come, but, as usual, they'd surprised him. It must have been T'Ash getting wed or Ruis Elder's love match.
But Holm had just run out of time. And he needed time. He wasn't ready to start his wooing. She wasn't ready.
"Please, sit, son," his father, T'Holly, rumbled and gestured to one of the large, comfortable wingchairs stationed in front of his desk.
Holm stared balefully at the chair. It represented all the reprimands of his childhood. When he became T'Holly and succeeded to the title and the estate, that chair would go.
He reminded himself that he respected his parents and had sworn a loyalty oath to T'Holly as GreatHouse Lord. But Holm's mind sharpened as he sat. He had to play this game of wills smoothly.
His father cleared his throat. "Your mother and I have been talking . . ."
Holm's gut tensed. The worst news always began: "Your mother and I have been talking." Whether it had been problems with manners, responsibilities, his tutor, his psi power -- his Flair -- he'd always sat in this chair and heard those words. Though his father said the words, Holm knew who prompted the little talks. He stared at his Mamá. She didn't meet his eyes.
His teeth clenched in anticipation.
His parents exchanged glances, then his father turned his pewter-gray gaze again onto Holm. "You're thirty-seven, and while that isn't the great age here on Celta as it was on Earth, it is time you married."
Holm would give a great deal of gilt for a stiff drink right now. He sucked in a deep breath, trying to keep his face impassive. "None of my three Passages, the emotional storms that freed my Flair, indicated a HeartMate. I want what you have." Maybe that would earn him a little more time.
His Mamá looked at him with sorrow in her turquoise eyes and moved closer to his father.
"We know you don't have a HeartMate, dear." She sighed. "Many don't." She nodded with determination. "But it's time you wed. A fine marriage can be had with a good woman. Love can follow, I'm sure." Her voice faltered at the end, since being a HeartMate, she couldn't know personally. She swept her hand wide as if encompassing the city. "The Alders have a perfectly happy marriage, and your Aunt Leea loves her husband . . . ."
T'Holly continued for his HeartMate. "We need to know the Holly line will continue. We need heirs. At least two sons from you." His father was being less than his usual diplomatic self. The fact that T'Holly found the topic distasteful didn't stop Holm from resenting him.
"A few daughters would be nice, too," D'Holly murmured. She flashed the charming smile Holm had inherited. "As many as you can engender."
A growl rolled from Holm's lips before he could stop it.
His father raised winged silver brows and looked down his nose. "We expected this reaction."
He tapped a crystal set into the desk. A calendar-moon holo materialized between Holm and his parents.
The ResidenceLibrary spoke. "An appointment with the matchmaker,
GreatLady Saille D'Willow, has been made for Holm, HollyHeir. The meeting was expedited for two days from now, on Quert. It is to be a full session, no gilt limit."
Holm winced. The globe spun faster until it disappeared in a flash of blue-white light.
"We want you to be happy, dear, that's why we're sending you to the foremost matchmaker on Celta. D'Willow shouldn't have any difficulty finding you a suitable wife." His mother sounded troubled but determined.
"But you don't want me to be as happy as yourselves, with a HeartMate marriage," Holm said.
His father snapped into straight rigidity. "You know, if you had a HeartMate, we would do everything in our power to welcome her to the Family."
Holm narrowed his eyes and let a faint smile play on his lips. "Would you?"
"Of course," D'Holly said.
Holm lifted his brows. "By your Words of Honor?"
T'Holly scowled. D'Holly furrowed her forehead. "Yes, by our Words."
"By our Words," T'Holly echoed. "Not that it is applicable. D'Willow's matchmaking ability is the best. She doesn't personally see very many." He cleared his throat and handed Holm a sheet of papyrus. "Perhaps this will help her, and you."
Holm didn't have to read the papyrus to know what was on it. "A list of eligible women from Families with whom it would be advantageous to form a close alliance?" he mocked.
"Don't take that tone with your father," D'Holly said, in reflexive defense of her husband. "I'm sure several of the ladies listed are women you could come to love. I quite like Hedara of GreatHouse Ivy and am very fond of Gwylan of D'Sea."
Holm had heard such names before in the form of dropped hints. He stood. "Speaking of alliances, I trust that this appointment with the matchmaker didn't also include an alliance."
"It's a straight gilt payment," his father gritted.
"Good." Holm went to his mother and lifted her free hand to his lips. "I will follow your wishes in this." But he didn't smile at her like he generally did.
He'd go to the matchmaker. Better to keep his parents in the dark about his mate. A situation they didn't know about, they couldn't meddle in. He'd have to revise his plans, move sooner than he'd wanted. "I trust you will be satisfied with my choice of a wife."
He squeezed his Mamá's hand and dropped it, then left.