The Way of Shadows

Page 54

"You will?" Mags looked at the tiles. "You little snot. I, at least, am so glad you turned Pol down, Elene," Mags said. "But it does leave you without an escort to our party."
Elene had abandoned the quill and buried her face in her hands. She sighed. "Do you have any idea what I wrote to him last year?" She stared at the blank paper in front of her.
"I didn't know Pol could read," Ilena said.
"Not Pol. My benefactor."
"Whatever you wrote, he didn't stop sending money, did he?" Ilena asked, ignoring her sister's murderous glance. Ilena Drake was only fifteen, but most of the time, she seemed in pretty good control of Mags, if not her oldest sister Serah.
"He's never stopped. Not even when I told him that we had more than enough money. But it's not about the money, Lena," Elene said. "Last year I told him that I was in love with him." She couldn't quite bear to confess that she'd smudged the ink with her own tears. "I told him I was going to call him Kylar, because Kylar's nice and I never found out my benefactor's name."
"And now you do like Kylar . . . who you've also never talked to."
"I'm totally hopeless. Why do I let you talk to me about boys?" Elene asked.
"Ilena can't help but talk about Kylar," Mags said with the air of a big sister about to pull rank. "Because she has a crush on him herself."
"I do not!" Ilena shrieked.
"Then why'd you say so in your journal?" Mags said. Mags's voice lilted, mimicking Ilena's, "'Why won't Kylar talk more to me?' 'Kylar talked to me today at breakfast. He said I'm sweet. Is that good or does he still just see me as a little girl?' It's gross, Ilena. He's practically our brother."
"You wytch!" Ilena yelled. She leaped over the table and attacked Mags.

Mags screamed, and Elene watched, frozen between horror and laughter.
The girls were screaming, Ilena pulling Mags's hair and Mags starting to fight back. Elene got to her feet, figuring she'd better stop them before someone got hurt.
The door crashed open, almost blowing off its hinges, and Kylar stood there, sword in hand. The entire atmosphere of the room changed in the blink of an eye. Kylar exuded a palpable aura of danger and power. He was primal masculinity. It washed over Elene like a wave that threatened to yank her from her feet and pull her out to sea. She could hardly breathe.
Kylar flowed into the room in a low stance, the naked sword held in both hands. His eyes took in everything at once, flicked to every exit, to the windows, the shadows, even to the corners of the ceiling. The girls on the floor stopped, a handful of Mags's hair still clenched in Ilena's hand, guilt written all over their faces.
His pale, pale blue eyes seemed so familiar. Was it just Elene's fantasies that put that flicker of recognition in them? Those eyes touched hers and she felt a tingle all the way up her spine. He was looking at her-her, not her scars. Men always looked at her scars. Kylar was seeing Elene. She wanted to speak, but there were no words.
His mouth parted as if he, too, was on the edge of words, but then he turned white as a sheet. His sword flashed back into a sheath and he turned. "Ladies, your pardon," he said, ducking his head. Then he was gone.
"Good God," Mags said. "Did you see that?"
"It was scary," Ilena said, "and . . ."
"Intoxicating," Elene said. Her face felt hot. She turned away as the girls stood. She sat and picked up the quill. As if she could write now.
"Elene, what's going on?" Mags asked.

"When he saw my face, he looked like death warmed over," Elene said. Why? He'd barely even looked at her scars. That was what scared away most of the boys.
"He'll come around. You're an angel. Give him a chance. We'll ask him to the party for you and everything," Ilena said.
"No. No, I forbid it. He's a baronet, Lena."
"A poor baronet whose lands have been taken by the Lae'knaught."
"He's just another unattainable man. I'll get over it."
"He doesn't have to be unattainable. If he joins the faith . . . In the eyes of the God, all men are created equal."
"Oh, Lena, don't dangle that in front of me. I'm a serving girl. A scarred serving girl. It doesn't matter what the God sees."
"It doesn't matter what the God sees?" Mags asked gently.
"You know what I mean."
"Logan might marry Serah, and that's as big a gap as there is between a poor baronet and you."
"A noble marrying a lower noble is frowned on, but a noble marrying a commoner?"
"We're not saying you should marry him. Just let us ask him to the party."
"No," Elene said. "I forbid it."
"That's final.
" Elene looked at the girls until each grudgingly gave their assent. "But," she said, "you could tell me a little more about him."
"Kylar," Count Drake called out as Kylar tried to sneak past his office to get up the stairs. "Would you come in for a moment?"
There was nothing for it but to obey, of course. Kylar cursed inwardly. Today was turning into a long day. He'd been hoping to get a few hours of sleep before doing his predawn chores for Master Blint. He had a good idea what this was about, so when he stepped into the count's office, he had to try not to feel like a boy about to have his father explain sex to him.
The count hadn't been touched by the years. He would look forty if he lived to be a hundred. His desk was in the same place, his clothes were the same cut and color, and when he was warming up to a difficult conversation he still rubbed the bridge of his nose where his pince nez sat.
"Have you made love to my daughter?" the count asked.
Kylar's chin dropped. So much for warming up. The count watched him expressionlessly.
"I haven't laid a hand on her, sir."
"I wasn't asking about your hands."
Kylar goggled. This was the man who talked about the God as often as most farmers talked about the weather?
"No, don't worry, son. I believe you. Though I suspect it hasn't been for any lack of effort on Serah's part."
The blood rushing to Kylar's entire face was answer enough.
"Is she in love with you, Kylar?"
He shook his head, almost relieved to be asked a question he could answer. "I think Serah wants what she thinks she can't have, sir."
"Does that include making love to numerous young men, none of whom is Logan?"
Kylar spluttered, "I hardly think it's right or honorable for me to-"
The count raised a hand, pained. "Which is not the answer you would have given if you thought the charge was false. You'd have said absolutely not, and then that you didn't think it was right or honorable for me to ask. And you'd have been right." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and blinked. "I'm sorry, Kylar. That wasn't fair of me. Sometimes I still use the wits the God gave me in dishonorable ways. I'm trying to do what's right, whether or not that measures up with what men call honorable. There's a gap between those, you know?"