Tainted Saint, Chapter Seventy-ThreeMature

Amidst the passing of fluffy pastries, breaded shrimp, sautéed onions, tender chicken, some kind of broth that Cassandra had never tasted before, and all other manner of carefully prepared and perfected foods, Cassandra's heart never ceased to pound mercilessly. She wondered if the beating was visible through her bodice.

Amadeo, Gabelle, and Xandria were constantly gracious, asking Cassandra questions, but never any questions with answers that would cause the other dinner guests to scoff.

Halfway through the meal, the doors to the dining room opened, and in walked one of the very last people Cassandra would have wished to see.

Marcos stood uneasily in the doorway for a moment, then slowly took his place beside Gabelle. Amadeo, clearly surprised and tentatively pleased at the turn of events, smiled cautiously at Marcos.

Marcos did not respond.

"Good to have you here," Gabelle whispered, patting her husband's hand. He did not respond to that, either.

Heart sinking, Cassandra dabbed at her lips with her napkin. She glanced over at Amadeo, who caught her gaze and tenderly held it for a moment. Then, the King gestured for one of the servants and requested that the food be passed around again.

I make everything awkward.

Xandria was the first to speak. "Well, Marcos, it's good to see you," she said. And then, in an attempt to make Marcos' late appearance a little less uncomfortable, she said, "It seems your work load just keeps getting worse and worse. I can't tell you how many times I've told Gabelle that you two need a break from all your hard work. And all those letters you've been receiving lately! However do you reply to them all?"

Cassandra squirmed slightly in her chair. One of the letters Marcos had received was concerning her.

As though sensing Cassandra's discomfort, Marcos studied Cassandra closely for the first time. His gaze seemed to pierce Cassandra's soul, as though to say, I know the snooping you did, and you deserve what you saw. Either that, or Cassandra's conscience was overactive, due to guilt. She desperately hoped it was the latter.

"Yes, well, some of the letters have been fascinating, recently," Marcos said, breaking his stare.

Cassandra lay her trembling hands in her lap. Was it just her imagination, or had her heartbeat sped up even more? It was all she could to do keep from rising from her chair and excusing herself. What, oh, what have I willingly walked into?

The End

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