“Good morning, Fiona,” Lord Henry said as she approached. He pushed himself off the pillar and bent to kiss her hand in one fluid movement. Despite his gangly appearance, Fiona had to admit, the man—if a beardless, acne-faced nineteen-year-old could rightly be called a man—did have an alluring air of grace about him.
“And how went the drive?”
“Long and dull,” she said. “As expected.”
He held out his arm, his mismatched blue and brown eyes—the mark of a mage—boring into hers. “Walk with me?”
Fiona hesitated a moment, then hooked her arm around his. “You’ll have to ask my mother.”
They strode—or rather Henry strode, and Fiona trotted to keep up—back over to Sorcha and Duncan, who were waiting by the carriage while the driver unloaded their luggage from the compartment in the back.
“Mrs. MacInnes,” said Henry once they were within earshot. “May I have your permission to take your daughter on a walk about the grounds? We’ll have a—” he nodded to his dog—“chaperone.”
“Go right on ahead,” Sorcha replied.
“Thank you, madame.”
He started to walk away with Fiona in tow, but stopped abruptly, whirling around and releasing her arm simultaneously. In the blink of an eye, he had Duncan by the collar of his tunic and was yanking him away from Lupe, whom the boy had been reaching out to pet.
“Don’t touch her,” he growled, depositing him roughly by his mother’s side. “She hates children and she’s bred to kill. Heel, Lupe.”
Then, just as quickly as he had left Fiona’s side, he was back, linking arms with her again and leading her off while she tried to look back at her brother. Duncan was crying and holding his bruised neck.
“You hurt him.”
“Is that Sysaran for ‘Thank you, your lordship, for granting my dear brother the opportunity to live another day with all of his limbs still attached’? If so, your welcome. If not—may I suggest that you revise your moral priorities?”
“You could have been gentler.”
“Gentle takes planning. Planning takes time.” Henry shrugged. “Primal instinct, however, is instantaneous.”
“With all due respect, your lordship, swinging a ten-year-old around like a ragdoll is not primal instinct.”
The Lord of Carvil opened his mouth to reply, then thought better of it. “All right,” he conceded with an abashed smile. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s better, laddie.”
He tensed at that. For a moment, she thought he might hit her, or whip her around by the collar like he had done with Duncan, but he relaxed after a beat and settled on sticking his tongue out at her instead.
“I can touch my nose with it,” said Henry. “Look!”
Fiona grinned. “Lingual dexterity. Now that’s what a woman wants to see in a man.”
Henry blanched and retracted the offending muscle in a hurry.
“What? Cat got your tongue?”
“I…I just…just…it—” His heartbeat had risen to rabbit-pace. Fiona could feel it against her arm. “I-I’m not…not…I’m…”
“Honey, I already know that you’re gay,” she said. “You don’t have to hide that from me.”
He swallowed and stopped in his tracks. “H-how?”
“It was just a matter of putting together the pieces, really. You want to marry me, but you’ve never shown any sign of being attracted to me. No romantic gestures, just the chivalry you’ve learned by rote. Furthermore, for a young noble bachelor, your bragging list of sexual conquest is suspiciously absent.”
“But don’t you worry about it, Henry. You’ve got my whole family thinking you’re just an upstanding young gentleman, saving himself for marriage.”
Henry nodded slowly. “You won’t tell, will you? I mean, I would be in a very uncomfortable position if that bit of trivia were ever to leak, even though it isn’t illegal anymore.”
“Henry, I know that. Why would I ever tell—especially after what happened to Seoc? Those monsters took my little brother from me. I’m not going to feed them more.”
“I just wanted to make certain.”
“Does anyone else know, that you’re aware of?”
“Simon knows. I think he knew I was gay before I knew I was. No one else, though.”
“Well,” said Fiona, “I’m sure your secret is safe there, at least. Even if he did decide to spill the beans for whatever reason, no one would ever believe him.”
Henry chuckled dryly. “True, true.”
“And—just to clarify—there are no current or former lovers who might know your identity?”
“No,” he replied, shaking his head a bit wistfully. “I’m a virgin.”
“Great!” Fiona patted him on the back. “One less thing you have to lie about.”