Peldirion did not look up from his writing. “I am always working,” he responded mildly.
Lothiel watched him from the door of his study, her presence an affront to the privacy of the entire house. “Not always. I saw you on a walk with Halethon earlier. It is kind of you to look after him.”
“He is my friend, Miss Lothiel. Such loyalty is not uncommon.” Peldirion’s dark gaze lifted from his papers, giving her a harsh, pointed look.
The woman shrugged off the look, and stepped inside the room. “He deserves the best, of course, for giving so much in the name of our freedom.”
“I will extend your compliments to him, then, as well as your sudden adoption of patriotism.” As she casually glanced about, Peldirion noted how carefully she had prepared herself. Everything was meant to appeal to him, from the simple, flattering cut of her dress, the color, and the way she stood to encourage any gaze that found her to wander. Then there was the lack of customary blood red on her lips, and the way her dark blonde hair, woven in an intricate braid, caught the light. Things he pined for ten years ago and would have had him sweeping her off her feet. Things on her that, since then, had repulsed him.
“Do not make fun. War will make patriots of us all. But not you… You’re a hero for saving him.”
Sighing heavily, Peldirion closed his ledger with a definitive thud. “What do you want, Lothiel?”
She drifted in like an independent breeze, toying with the sash of her dress. “I want to know why I am being forced to leave.”
“You know why,” he replied, as if softly reprimanding a child. “You are a widow, and it is improper that you remain here.”
She was suddenly beside him, leaning against the straight edge of the heavy desk. “It doesn’t have to be,” she said quietly. “This is my home, Peldirion. I am meant to be here. And we…”
He had to give her credit for the effort. She was a lovely woman, to be sure, but it took every effor to not to berate her and have her sent from his sight. “We what, Miss Lothiel? Whatever we once had is long dead.”
A hurt expression masked her frustration. “Is it? I am still me, Peldirion. You would leave me destitute, and alone? Surely you would not be so cruel as to abandon your brother’s wife… a woman who loves you, to the world?”
Pushing back his chair, Peldirion rose to his feet. He did not touch her, but he hovered, ever so close, dark blue eyes capturing Lothiel’s as he peered down at her. She responded just as he expected, her breath catching, and heat flooding her cheeks. “My dear lady, I do not believe you ever loved me, and if I were to pursue my brother’s wife if would be Adrovorn’s.”
Lothiel started out of the trace he had held her in, and scoffed. “That northern witch?”
“She outshines you in every way,” he replied coolly, ever so carefully tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “She is not a parvenu, and holds her own land and titles by right. But I doubt my station and accomplishments would be enough to even tempt her.”
Lothiel blinked in surprise. She probably only carried a promissory note. She drew a breath to speak in her defense, but had no chance to as he continued. “No, I have made other arrangements for my marriage. You can assure my mother of that. You will leave this house, as is proper, and stay with your family. The arrangements have been made and your dowry has been returned to your father.”
Her control snapped, and Lothiel recoiled a step from him. “How dare you do so without my consent!” she shouted.
“I do not need your consent.”
“So what? You think being Vice Consul gives you the right to –”
“Miss Lothiel, it gives me every right, though I do not need its position to give me authority in such matters,” said Peldirion calmly, stepping forward as he motioned to the office door.
Herded out from behind the desk, Lothiel scrambled for a response, advancing back to him as she gazed up with a sorrowful expression. “Is this how it ends, then? You banishing me because you cannot find it in your heart to forgive?!”
He caught her hands as they reached for him, and trapped her with a gaze that made her pull back. He did not let her. So many hateful, perfectly crafted words rose in his mind, and he wanted, more than almost anything, to destroy her. Lothiel struggled only for a second and was caught completely by surprise when he lifted one of her hands up to his lips.
“There is something….”Peldirion began, his breath warm against the skin of her knuckles. He hesitated, allowing a tormented shadow to pass over his hardened features. It was almost cruel… No, it was, and it was perfect.
“What?” she breathed in response, hope kindling in her eyes.
Lowering her hand, Peldirion kept the other as he slowly escorted her to the door of his office. “Go to your father’s. For now. In about a month I will be hosting a gala here, and as of yet do not have anyone in the city to accompany me.” He stopped at the door, gently releasing her before offering a small bow. “There are some important people you should meet. It would… mean a great deal to me if you would attend.”
“I… I would be honored to, my lord,” she said quietly, triumphantly, caught hook, line, and sinker as she curtsied.
The smile lines that tugged at the corners of his eyes were genuine. “Splendid. Till then, Lady Lothiel.”