“I would love to hear more about the kingdom,” Zari admitted. “Everything still feels surreal, especially the way we’re supposed to dress.” She glanced down at her dress, which was more like a gown, with its yards of muslin and lace.
“I understand how overwhelming everything is,” Soleil said gently. “So please don’t hesitate to let me know of any concerns you may have.” Her dimples flashed. “But I can also promise you, once you’ve gotten used to the way we live, you may not want to leave our kingdom again.”
Alexandru quietly followed behind the two, content to study the older girl as she spoke of Chalys’ history to his pet. He called to his brother through their blood bond. What do you know of this woman besides being the heartkeeper of Lunare’s marquis? For better or for worse, Lady Soleil Orpheline would be the one personally in charge of Zari’s studies in the two years she would spend in ANEX – and away from him.
Mihail, who stood in a semi-circle with the rest of the Galere and George, answered, Not much, I’m afraid. She works with the Enforcers, and so most of the information about her is kept confidential.
“I can’t believe she’s really your heartkeeper, Ilie,” George marveled under her breath. “She seems too wholesome for you.” Beside her, the demon duke grinned while Adrijan politely pretended to cough.
“I honestly thought you’d end up with someone born outside Chalys, probably someone who doesn’t mind wearing leather and collars—-”
“Will you stop it with that,” Ilie said irritably. “The only reason we had you wearing a collar that time because we were under disguise, and you know it.”
She said doubtfully, “But everyone thought it was normal—-”
Ilie glanced at Silviu. “May I kill her, Your Grace?”
“I’m afraid not, Ilie. She means too much to me.” The demon duke pulled George closer to him. “Stop teasing him, Georgina.”
She smiled innocently up at him. “But I was only telling the truth.”
As the conversation drifted to a different topic, Ilie said abruptly, Soleil doesn’t know anything about George. The permanent marks over their hearts burned as Ilie used the blood bond between the Galere to communicate.
Understood, Silviu replied. I will make sure George doesn’t slip.
Mihail and Adrijan only nodded, but this was more than sufficient for Ilie. Words were often unnecessary for the four of them, having been to hell and back together for several centuries.
When it was time for them to part, farewells were exchanged warmly but briskly, none of them wanting to linger too long. Unlike almost every nation, there wasn’t a place in Chalys that a helicopter or plane could safely land. The only way to access the kingdom was by sea, thus making the port also the least secure area in the kingdom.
And with it still being the wee hours of the night, threats to the demon duke and his human heartkeeper could be carried out more easily.
Alexandru and Zari climbed into a carriage prepared in advance by Sangre’s royal family while Soleil and Ilie returned to his carriage. Inside, he took one look at her face and smiled knowingly. “You are worried about what the duke and the rest of the Galere thought of you?”
“It is but natural to be concerned, milord,” she said primly.
His smile widened. “And if I say they hated you?”
He said solemnly, “It was a joke, milady.”
The vexed look she threw at him made Ilie laugh. It was his favorite look of hers, knowing that he was the only one who could see this side of Society’s prim and proper darling. He yanked her towards him, making her cry in protest even as she fell into his lap.
He kissed her hair, murmuring, “I just want you close. I actually found myself missing you the entire time you were apart from me.”
Her toes curled, but even so she mumbled against his neck, “You’re t-too good with words.”
“While you’re too good at ignoring everything I say,” he countered with a sigh.
Drawing back, she played with the button of his coat as she asked uncertainly, “So what did they say?”
He shook his head. “How can you even think there’s something to worry about? They all think I don’t deserve you, of course.”
He rolled his eyes. “Are you like this with everyone or is it my word that you only automatically doubt?”
She said promptly, “Only yours, milord.”
“Minx.” He stole a kiss from her as punishment, but since it made her heart skip a beat, Soleil felt more like she had been rewarded than chastened.
“They also asked why I haven’t made you my heartkeeper yet.”
Her brows furrowed. “Would they know if we did complete the process?”
He nodded. “They’d feel it through our bond.”
Still playing with his button to avoid his gaze, she asked slowly, “And what did you say about that?”
“Not the truth, of course.” The grimace in his tone made her smile, but it didn’t quite make her unease disappear. She knew, sooner or later, she would have to tell him the truth, but the more time passed, the harder it felt for Soleil to open up.