Chapter 13: Casual Talk

The offer is a noble affair between two men of means. Rarely are women involved with the negotiations as it is their hand that is being exchanged.

—Elias da Wilim ho Martin, Brides of Tradition

After a month of going to balls and sporting events, Glorias didn’t need the country niece story anymore. Her forays into the light had gradually been getting bolder and she was comfortable chatting with the other debutantes and bedames.

It was exhausting. With her wider acceptance, more invitations came. Tonight was one night where she sat in her nightgown at her father’s work table, sorting through piles of perfumed letters and wax seals.

She caught one and sniffed it, smiling at the apple flower scent. It must be from one of her newfound friends, another country bedame from the opposite side of Tarsan and dangerously close to where they had placed Glorias’s false past.

Across the table, her father worked on his diagrams. They were convoluted and confusing, a mess of circles and lines that were somehow a magical spell he was responsible for. She didn’t understand exactly what he did but she didn’t really want to have him explain it again. Her own talent was more than enough for her happiness.

He suddenly stopped and peered over at the pile of letters. “Choosing one for tomorrow night?”

Glorias put down the letter. “I was thinking about going down to the river with Bedames Tiril and Natas.”

Storan frowned for a moment, his eyes flickering back and forth. “Tiril is the one that had the dark flecks?”

“Freckles,” supplied Maran. Glorias’s mother was sitting near the fire with a book in one hand and a nearly empty glass in the other.

“Right, freckles. Rare to see on debutantes, though. Don’t they usually cover them? You can usually see the paint or…”

Glorias thought about the men who flocked around Tiril when she was riding one of the new steam-powered carriages and it upended. “I think they’re cute.”

“Speaking of which, did I tell you about my lunch today?” Storan asked.

The book slipped from Maran’s hand as she turned around to stare at her husband in confusion. The book bounced off her lap, then the hearth, before it smacked against the ground.

Glorias’s mouth opened as she stared at her father. He rarely talked about his work and she couldn’t think of a single time he talked about a meal.

Storan cleared his throat. “It was a good day.”

“Storan? Are you okay? You didn’t lose your job, did you?”

He started to say something but then closed his mouth. It was obvious he wanted to say something but his attempts at a segue were confusing.

“Go on, Father,” encouraged Glorias.

“I had a visitor for lunch.”

“And…?” both Glorias and Maran.

“A young man by the name of Benard kia Kasin, that was that naval hero everyone—”

Glorias didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. The blood rushed to her ears as she pressed a hand against her check. Benard? He was looking for her father?

Maran scrambled to her feet. She rushed over to the table, hitting it hard enough the stack of envelopes dropped over. “What did he want!?”

Storan blinked at her. “I was trying to ease into it,” he said in his deadpanned voice.

“Did he make an offer!?” Maran was sweating, her fingers clutching the table as she peered at him with what looked like hope and excitement. From Glorias’s vantage, she could see her mother up on her toes.

Glorias could barely concentrate herself. Images of Benard flashed through her head. They had danced more than once in the last few weeks. Each time was close and intimate. She enjoyed his company as much as they had something in common.

“Storan!? Answer me! Did he make an offer!?”

Storan shrugged. “He did. It was a rather sizable one including taking her to his ocean-front estate that he just—”

If he tried to say anything else, it was lost in the scream of joy that ripped out Maran. She turned on her toes and grabbed Glorias, pulling her out of the chair and swinging her around.

Glorias gasped as she felt an indescribable joy rising inside her. Benard wanted her, he wanted to spend his life with her.

“He made an offer!” Her mother was screaming in joy, bouncing around with tears of happiness sparkling in the air.

“—of course, it would be rude to accept it immediately,” finished Storan.

Both of them stopped instantly.

Glorias let out a soft whimper.

“He was about to ship out for a month-long tour. When he got back, the Social Season would be over so he wouldn’t have the opportunity in case anyone else made an offer.” Her father looked at them impassively, his face blank.

“You didn’t accept the offer, Storan? You know that Glorias likes Benard! She really likes him! Why didn’t you accept the offer!?” Maran’s voice scraped against Glorias’s ears, high-pitched and frantic.

He blinked again. The corner of his lips curled up into a smile. “After we shared a lager, then I accepted the offer. I know enough not to be rude—”

Maran silenced him with a tight hug and kisses.

Glorias sank down in her chair. Benard knew exactly who she was and he wanted her for that. There wouldn’t be any secret between them. She didn’t have to give up her dreams.

Sniffing, she realized she couldn’t stop smiling or crying.