Mirella caressed the platinum band of her wedding bracelet and counted her blessings, even though she was alone in her bedroom and missed her husband more than words could convey.
Her married life wasn’t the fairytale she had dreamed of, but Valentine was alive.
The shawl lying over her shoulders didn’t dissipate the chill in her heart. After he had visited her the night after the duel, she hadn’t seen Valentine in several days. Swept in the whirlwind of the swordfight’s aftermath, her husband had thrown himself into the investigation with a single-minded focus. Mirella told herself he was too preoccupied with everything that had happened. But even at night, when the mansion slept and he was free to use his time as he liked, Valentine had not come to her chamber. Still she waited and reminded herself life could be much worse.
At the moment, her indomitable husband was out with Dragon Sol. The dragon shifter would leave at dawn the next morning, and the preparations for his departure had the whole of Lobo Mansion busy. Even the mechanical workers seemed to move faster, their well-oiled gears chirping in the hallways, dusting the walls and the mirrors in a never-ending motion.
Looking outside the spacious bay window of her bedroom, Mirella watched Valentine and Dragon Sol take off on their draglets. Seeing the two men racing through the plains in a playful banter was hard to believe. Not even a week ago, they had been about to kill each other in a senseless duel.
After the turmoil of the previous days, even Lupine’s capricious weather had settled. Coral shone a pale orange in the purple sky, and the Great Plains mirrored the sun’s colors in a triumph of ochre and bright yellow. Higher than the clouds, Sidera Prime stood out, the large disk of the space station orbiting around Lupine in its lazy fashion.
Adjusting her body to the cushioned seat of the bay window’s bench, Mirella leaned on the windowsill, resting her elbows on the narrow shelf, and pushing her forehead against the glass. The two draglets cast shadows on the valley as they played with the thermals, their iridescent wings catching Coral’s rays and mirroring them back in a display of ever moving rainbows.
Mirella wanted to ride Valentine’s draglet, Dallian, with him. Her husband had promised he would take her for a flight over the plains, but so many things had happened during her short stay at Lobo Mansion, and he might have forgotten.
“Blessed Bride?” Crea whispered from a few steps away.
Her new lady’s maid had arrived in the morning, and Mirella had welcomed the girl with mixed feelings.
Despite the incriminating proof Mirella had found against Laura, her former lady’s maid, she still couldn’t accept the girl had betrayed her. Laura had drugged Mirella and Dragon Sol so that it would appear the Blessed Bride was having an affair with Master Lobo’s Solarian guest. Valentine found Mirella in Dragon’s chamber, naked and intimately embraced with the dragon shifter in his bed. Only the presence of Gabriel, Valentine’s vampire friend, and of Dragon’s entourage had prevented a homicide from being committed. Valentine then challenged Dragon to a duel. Mirella was able to stop the swordfight, but it had been a close call.
“May I brew some curcuma tea for you?” Crea asked, bringing Mirella back to the present.
“Yes, please.” Mirella didn’t want tea, but she wanted to be alone for the few minutes it would take the girl to go to the kitchen and brew some.
As Laura had been skittish, Crea was the opposite. Tall and curvaceous, the blonde was calm personified, for which Mirella had to thank Valentine, who had personally interviewed the girl, according to Aldo.
Earlier, the majordomo had introduced the new lady’s maid to Mirella, then informed her that Master Lobo would spend the whole day with Dragon. Every morning, Aldo had dutifully reported Valentine’s messages to Mirella, and she had smiled and thanked him as was expected of her.
Far away in the plains, the draglets’ aerial acrobatics kept Mirella entertained for several minutes until Crea stepped back into the room with a tray.
“I took the liberty to ask the kitchens for fresh rolls and passionberry jam,” the girl said, arranging the content of the tray on the breakfast table in the nook.
“Thank you.” Mirella unfolded from her curled position on the bench and moved to the sunny nook, her eyes on the plains as she sat on the high-backed chair. “I’ll go to the library later.” She tore a chunk from the soft roll and buttered it before spreading a generous amount of jam on it. “You can take the afternoon for yourself.”
“Blessed Bride, I’ve been given precise orders to accompany you wherever you go.” Crea bowed.
Mirella didn’t want her lady’s maid to be privy of her reading choices, especially when the book she wanted to check out had detailed pictures of couples enjoying the wilder side of lovemaking. Not so long ago, Valentine had suggested she continue her sexual education, and she intended to keep him interested in her long after she gave him the heir he needed, but she didn’t want the rest of Lobo Mansion to know how she planned to do that. Although, if he kept avoiding her, her plans of seduction would be pointless.
With the corner of her eye, she noticed that Valentine and Dragon were flying back. She would talk to her husband and end their estrangement today. “Very well, accompany me to Master Lobo’s study,” she said once she finished her roll and drank her tea.
Crea helped Mirella change into a lunch dress, a simple gown in aquamarine silk with cream lace inserts at the sleeves and bodice. Then the girl refreshed Mirella’s makeup and combed her long curls. Half an hour later, the Blessed Bride and her lady’s maid finally left the right wing.
It was the first time Mirella left her apartments after the duel, and she hoped to meet only mechanical workers on her stroll through the mansion. Although her innocence had been proved beyond doubt, she had been found in a compromising position inside the dragon shifter’s chambers, and she knew rumors had a longer life than the truth.
If there was something her mother had drilled into her head since she was a little girl was to never, under any circumstance, let the staff know of any squabble between the lady of the house and her consort. Too late for that, Mirella thought when she entered the first hallway and came across a few servants. She felt the men and women’s curious stares even from behind their low bows. Her cheeks burned, but she raised her chin and slowed her pace. She had done nothing wrong.
At the second-floor foyer, Mirella’s procession was halted by an unfortunate encounter. Ronda, Valentine’s head courtesan, was leaving the left wing where the harem was located and heading toward the staircase.
The redhead stopped before them and gave Mirella a good look before remembering to bow before the Blessed Bride. Hiding behind a fake smile, the woman radiated contempt and straightened herself in haste without following etiquette. “Blessed Bride,” Ronda said.
Mirella’s blood boiled inside her veins, but she said nothing, doing her best to ignore the woman and her insolence. One day, hopefully soon, she would get rid of Ronda and the rest of the harem. She didn’t care that Valentine had lived for a long time before marrying her and that courtesans were the norm in Lupine society. If she kept living at Lobo Mansion, she wouldn’t tolerate their presence longer than necessary.
The whole foyer stood still. Even the mechanical servants seemed to have stopped working all at once, their copper gears coming to a halt inside their glass bodies. Followed by Crea, Mirella took the stairs and descended amidst a silence that was unsettling. Once again, she was reminded of how lonely she was in a house filled with people. She missed Vera and Lucilla, her rambunctious sisters, more than ever.
After what felt like an eternity, she reached the first-floor landing and was surprised to see a large painting in place of the one now gracing her bedroom’s walls. When she first arrived at the mansion, she expressed her liking of the landscape portraying a Terran ocean. Valentine had the piece of art moved to her room a few days later. The new painting was a cityscape, but the architecture was nothing like Mirella had ever seen. Red-tiled roofs and brick walls framed by a clear blue sky towered over orchards and gardens. The placid waters of a lake lapped at the foothill of the city rooked on a verdant ridge.
Standing behind Mirella, Ronda commented, “Master Lobo has a penchant for painting Terran subjects and women.”
Mirella was taken by surprise and turned to face a triumphant courtesan who regaled her with a smirk. No wonder she had noticed the similarities between the paintings. Of course, her husband hadn’t seen fit to mention to her he was the artist. Mirella had to learn it from that redheaded viper who knew Valentine better than she did. What hurt the most was that the courtesan had done it in front of the rest of the staff.
“He’s very talented,” Ronda said, before curtseying.
The harlot’s plan to ruin Mirella’s composure had worked, but she would be damned if she let the other woman win. With a smile, she tilted her head toward Crea. “Let’s go for a stroll through the hanging gardens.”
Mirella wasn’t in the mood to see her husband anymore.