When they reached home, the marquis told her ruefully, “I would like to kiss you goodnight, but…I hear your curtains twitching again.”
She smiled up at him. “Let them twitch for all I care.” And so she rose to her toes and surprised the marquis by pressing her lips to his. When she drew back, the marquis was staring at her.
“Why did you do that?”
“Did you not like it?”
“You know I damn well did.”
“Milord!” She pretended to be offended. “Your words.” She stepped back. “And now, I really must go—-” She was about to turn when the marquis took hold of her hand and spun her back to face him.
“Your father asked me if I would like to accompany you tomorrow to a human ball. If this is alright with you, I would like to use the opportunity to formally announce our betrothal.” His jaw hardened. “Do you have any objections to this?”
Slowly, she shook her head. “I’m terrified, but…” She inhaled shakily. “No. I have no objection.”
“Thank fuck.” Ilie released the breath he hadn’t even noticed he was holding until that moment.
“Forgive me.” He lifted her hand to his lips. When he released her, he asked one last time, “You are sure about this?”
Thinking he was too intuitive for his own good, she lied, “It is only an announcement of our engagement, milord. It is not equivalent to agreeing to be your heartkeeper.” Flushing, she also added, “It is also to prevent any scandal from being attached to my name, in the event that people find out I’ve allowed you certain…liberties—-”
He laughed. “And for a moment there, I actually thought you were becoming biddable.”
“Also, liberties, you say?” He tweaked her nose, surprising her. “I know you can do better than that, milady, considering those books you secretly love to read——”
Picking up her skirts, she whirled away from him, saying in a huff, “Good night, milord.”
But again, he stopped her from leaving.
He pulled her towards him without turning her around, her back against his chest.
She had the craziest urge to cry.
“W-what is it?”
“Nothing is truly wrong?”
She bit her lip hard. Nothing. She whispered it in her mind because if she spoke, she knew she would not be able to stop herself from crying.
The ball, held by the Earl and Countess of March, was heralded a wild success, one of those events that would be talked about probably until the next Season and the one following. It was not because they had served the best food or prepared the best entertainment. Rather, it was for the simple reason that the ball was the only party that the esteemed Marquis of Lunare had chosen to attend.
Every unmarried female in the ball had their adoring gazes glued to him while their matchmaking mamas schemed of ways to lure him into a marriage trap. But first they had to get him alone, and that did not seem possible at all, with the marquis seemingly disinclined to leave the Orphelines’ side.
Granted, they were of a good family, and the eldest daughter, Soleil, was a diamond of the first water but, it must also be said, the matrons privately ranted, that Charles was a mere baron. Surely the marquis would wish for someone with bluer blood or perhaps a greater fortune?
And so they continued to vent their frustrations, but none of them were able to find the courage to approach the marquis. He looked too cold, too aloof, too…noble. It would be horrible, so very horrible, if the marquis gave any of them the cut direct!
“Good evening again, milord,” Fleur greeted the marquis as she took the vacant seat next to him.
“Good evening, milady.”
Following his gaze, she saw that the marquis was scowling at the way her eldest sister held court at the opposite side of the ball. It was a familiar sight for her, but she was guessing it was the marquis’ first time to witness just how many faithful swains Soleil held entranced.
“Jealous?” she asked mischievously.
The marquis turned to her. “You do know who you are talking to, yes?” An elegant brow lifted.
“My sister’s overly possessive betrothed?” she guessed.
Ilie ignored that. “Tell me. Have you noticed anything strange about her?” Something about Soleil had been bugging the hell out of him, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly.
Frowning, Fleur considered the question seriously, knowing that the marquis wasn’t the type to idly ask questions. “Well, she has become nicer than usual.”
Yes, that was it, he realized. Soleil had been nicer, but only someone like Fleur, who had known his heartkeeper her entire life, would have recognized it right away.
If only, he thought, he had known of her ten years ago.
But he had not, and he would not have those ten years back, no matter what he did. That missing decade would have Ilie bitter and furious if not for the fact that he had at least the rest of eternity to look forward to with his heartkeeper.