Before the Summit
Lord Clarmont stared at his packed bags, a slight frown on his face. There was a strict limit on the amount of luggage you could bring with you to the Isle so he had to make sure he had everything he could possibly need. Well, everything that wouldn’t get him in trouble and would fit in the three luggages allowed. He mentally catalogued everything he had packed, but he couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that he had forgotten something.
“Riding boots!” Finally, he had figured it out. “Nan! Have you seen my riding boots?” he called out.
But instead of the elderly woman who had taken care of him since he was a child, his rescue came with four legs and a ridiculous amount of fuzzy fur.
“Moncha! You brilliant girl.” His dog dropped his now slightly soggy riding boots at his feet and barked happily, her tail wagging. He leaned down to give her some well-deserved petting. “I don’t know how I ever got so lucky. We all know you are the brains in this family.”
She barked happily and nearly knocked him flat with her enthusiastic head butts. But the old dog’s happiness was short lived as she circled the luggage sighed and flopped down near it, giving him a pleading look.
Clarmont sighed bitterly. “I’m sorry, girl, they don’t allow pets to come to the Isle. You will have to stay here.” He tried to harden his heart against her mournful whining, but it was no easy task. Moncha had always been there for him, had always loved him and waited for him and accepted him. No matter what else was going on. And now he was considering leaving her behind…
“There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. But I should have guessed. Where else would you be but in your room packing, almost an entire week before you have to leave.”
Clarmont did his best to shake off his melancholy and forced a teasing smile as he turned around to face his steward and best, perhaps only, true friend. “Unlike certain people, cough, you, Lyall, cough, cough, some of us like to be prepared.”
“You are going to eat delicious food, dance with pretty ladies and try not to give in to temptation to murder our lovely royal offspring. How much preparation could you possibly need?”
Clarmont arched an eyebrow. “Easy for the person who gets to stay here and be lazy to say.”
Nyall grinned at him, a sparkling challenge in his eyes. “Are you saying you would trade places with me if you could?”
Clarmont swallowed a sigh. Nyall was almost never serious, but when he was he looked even less serious than usual. He was serious now. He deserved at least an honest answer. “No.”
Nyall dropped all traces of levity. “Clarmont-“
He interrupted, pasting a carefree smile on his face. “I need you here. There’s no one else I trust to look out for Moncha and Nan and everyone else.”
“Your entire staff is filled with orphans, widows and misfits. They all need you here, Clar.”
“I know you can take care of them. All of them, just as well as I could. Thankfully the estate isn’t entailed, so it’s all worked out.”
“Worked out? Clar! What are you planning?”
“Don’t worry so much. You are looking awfully like a nanny-goat. It’s just seven weeks of eating delicious food and dancing with pretty ladies, what could I possibly be planning?”
“So you are telling me we can all expect you back promptly on the eighth week, fat and happy and possibly bringing a blushing bride along?”
“That’s the plan.”
“I hate it when you smile like that, Clar. That’s the smile that means you are lying. And you never used to use it on me.”
His best friend stormed out of the room, but Clarmont didn’t follow him, as much as he wanted to. He couldn’t. He had made his choices long ago. Or rather, his choices had been made for him.
The Welcome Feast
He could feel the sides of his mouth get heavier, the strain of his smile growing greater by the second. It didn't help that he felt a moral obligation to keep an eye on the Crown Prince's victims. They weren't from Revaire, they would have no idea what they were dealing with. As soon as he finished yet another tedious and polite conversation, he smile frozen in place, he could feel the telltale pounding in his skull that meant he was going to earn another one of his terrible headaches as thanks for his evening's efforts.
Then she came up to him. Bright lively eyes and a smile that could melt the snow faster than the Revaire summer sun. As she talked to him, he could feel the pressure of his smile loosen into genuine pleasure for the first time all evening.
And then, like all good things, the Crown Prince had to ruin it. Just as soon as he felt himself wanting to let down his guard, he caught Jarrod stalking some poor terrified thing with a sweet face. With an inner sigh, he smiled down at the girl in front of him and prepared to make his excuses. Only to his surprise she proved to be more than a bright smile, she safely rescued the sweet princess herself.
Clarmont told himself to be careful. But that was the first moment when he knew he was going to be in danger if he couldn't keep himself away from this wonderful new acquaintance. But for the first time in long time, he wasn't sure if he was going to able to listen to his better instincts. Not when he remembered that determined glint in her eyes... And that smile. That smile was going to be trouble.
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