That made him sit up straight. “Do enlighten me!”
“He scolded me. He said, ‘Don’t you go getting drunk around men. What do you think will happen?’”
“Did he, now?” said the arrogant cold mage thoughtfully, drawing forefinger and thumb down the line of his jaw in a way that dragged my gaze toward his lips.
“Do you think I’m lying about that?” I snapped.
“Did I say I thought you were lying?”
“Are you going to ask me questions to annoy me?” I considered stabbing him with a pin.
“Who do you think can keep this up longer?” he said with an aggravating smirk. He rose, snagged a cup from a tray being carried past by Brenna—who smiled on him as if wishing him good fortune!—and handed it to me. “Have a drink?”
“Are you trying to get me drunk?”
“Why would I want to get you drunk, Catherine?”
“Isn’t that a way men seduce women—?” I broke off, so flustered and ashamed that all I could do was take a drink. It was juice, sweet and pure.
“I’ve heard it is the only way some men can manage to seduce women.” He took the cup from my hand, drained it, and mercifully changed the subject. “I wish I could know how you are able to stand hidden in plain sight in a chamber where I can see you but others cannot.”
I leaned toward him confidingly, and he caught in a breath.
In a low voice, I said, “The secret belongs to those who remain silent.”
He laughed quite charmingly, curse him, for it was the laugh of a man willing to be amused at his own expense. “How long have you been waiting to say that to me?”
“How long do you think I’ve been waiting?”
“I would suppose, since the very first time you heard me say it. Well, Catherine, I am nothing if not persistent. I also wish I could know if you sailed from Europa to the Antilles, or if you made the journey here while still in the spirit world.”
“And I wish I could know why you and your sister are here. I don’t believe the mansa is generous enough to let go of a girl who might be bred for the hope of more potent cold mages.”
He smiled in a way that made me wary. “There show the cat’s claws. It’s a fair assessment. I will not lie to you, Catherine. Like you, I have things I am not free to speak of. Let me know what I can do to help you with settling in.”
I bundled up the skirts. “I’ll sew in the mornings and serve in the evenings. I start tonight.”
I challenged him with a glare to protest that I needed to rest another day. He merely smiled a soft smile that made my heart turn over, an anatomically impossible maneuver that had the unexpected consequence of heating my blood to a boil.
I had been bound into marriage against my will and chained by magic in ways I did not understand. If the head of the poet Bran Cof had told the truth, I could be released from the marriage as long as I did not succumb to an inconvenient attraction to his physical form. I had a dreadful task assigned me. I could not afford sentiment, or distraction. The master of the Wild Hunt was not interested in sentiment, nor would he be distracted. Bee had already called me heartless, and years of living in an impoverished household had taught me how to be sensible.
Taking a deep breath, I began folding up the fabric. Having to be careful with the pins was good practice. Pins drew blood if they pricked you hard enough.
“Just so you understand, Vai. I am grateful for your help. But nothing has changed between us that we have not already discussed.”
I glanced up to see how he was taking my implacable declaration, only to surprise a look on his face which I could only describe as calculating.
“What?” I demanded. “You look like you’re plotting a crime.”
He looked away so quickly it was as good as a confession.
“We’re finished here.” I pressed cloth to my chest like a shield and stepped back from the table. Around the courtyard, people were pretending not to watch, but they were watching.
He let me go without saying one more word.
To wait tables, you had to have a good memory, be quick on your feet, and know how to keep men laughing while you avoided hands touching you in places you weren’t keen on being touched. Whatever tips they gave me—small coins but solid—were mine to keep. And I needed money, for Aunty was paying me in room and board. So I worked long hours, every afternoon and evening from the first arrival to the last departure.
At first I stuck close to the boardinghouse, going out only with Aunty, Brenna, or Lucretia as I got to know Tailors’ Row, the local market, and the larger neighborhood. I needed to reconnoiter my ground. Above all, I did not want to stumble across James Drake.