Tainted Saint, Chapter Seventy-OneMature

Cassandra followed Gabelle into the upstairs, heart still pounding wildly. Even as Gabelle tried to engage her in conversation, she found her mouth dry. What was she supposed to say? How was she supposed to react to the letter she'd found? What if...oh, what if the letter really had been written by...by him?

If Gabelle noticed Cassandra's state of shock, she remained silent about it - for which Cassandra was thankful.

"I was going to pick out a certain dress for you, but then, I stumbled upon this one!" Gabelle exclaimed. She gestured toward the bed, across which was spread a dress the color of flawless emeralds. "It might be a bit large for you, but not by much. We're almost the same size, I think."

"It's lovely," Cassandra murmured, but already, her mind was in faraway places. Already, she was beginning to consider running away. How could she stay, when Amadeo deserved so much better than what she had to offer?

"Here's my jewelry box," Gabelle continued.

Cassandra's eyes flickered over to where Gabelle stood, expectantly holding out a beautifully carved mahogany box. Depicted on the sides of the box were flowers and hearts and vines, all swirling together. To Cassandra, though, they seemed to be naught but a mockery of her lack of beauty.

"I don't need to wear your jewelry," Cassandra began to protest, but her mind was only partially involved in the conversation. Thoughts of Hadrian whirred around in her brain, causing her head to ache even more. "Really, Gabelle, you don't have to do this."

"But I want to! I can't wait to see Amadeo's jaw drop when you walk into the room. Cassandra, come on. Pick out a necklace. You know I don't mind."

Still distracted, Cassandra chose a simple silver chain with an amethyst pendant. "Thank-you - " she said, her words cut off at the end by an involuntary swallow. It was dreadful, how one letter could so quickly affect her mood. "I don't quite know what to say." Swallowing again, she held the necklace to her throat and glanced in the mirror. I don't belong here. 

"Amadeo will be so excited. Come on, now, try on the dress!"

At the second mention of the King's name, a completely different emotion swept over Cassandra. Amadeo's smiling face popped into her mind, and it was then that Cassandra made her decision. She would stay, at least for the dinner. Perhaps longer, if she could manage it. For as she envisioned the delight on Amadeo's face when he'd seen her enter the castle grounds, she knew, deep within her very soul, that his smile would be gone, if she left again.

I will stay, if only to keep Amadeo from being heartbroken again. I will stay, at least for the evening. Despite the worry in the pit of Cassandra's stomach, she somehow knew she was making the right choice.

And so, trying her best to shove aside any thoughts of the letter, Cassandra slipped into the dark green gown.

She would allow herself to mull over the letter's implications later.

The End

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