Basil walked. He needed to think, and he needed to make some important decisions. He could do neither in his current state of agitation. No house, nor office; no club, nor meeting room could be adequate to his current anxieties.
Some—the need to plan and the suspicion that people were not always as respectful of him as he was of them—were familiar. Others—anger, humiliation, disbelief—less so.
As Basil stalked the scenery of the Hill, he labored to convince himself that his wife taking up an affair was not particularly troubling. Everyone in these houses did, as did those in houses far less fine. Had Aurelia chosen anyone else and engaged in the matter with discretion . . . Basil might have been, if not exactly content, certainly in no great distress.
He knew he was easily distracted with matters of the City. Aurelia pursuing her own interests when work consumed him was expected. If those interests took the form of a companion who happened to enjoy home decor, fashion, or gossip like Aurelia herself, who was he to complain?
But Davenant. Of all people!
Basil considered the pieces of the puzzle as he considered the cobbles of the street. Intrigues were like the webbed streets of the City. Line everything up just so and it would lead to the beauty of its great houses and salons; walk until there were no more stones at all, and the destination would likely prove unsavory.
Lining everything up, however, was the problem. He had a hard time imaging Aurelia pursuing the Dragon Chancellor and an even harder time imagining Davenant—a man driven by status and challenge and pride—pursuing her. Meanwhile, Basil’s own professional parting with Davenant had been perfectly amicable. There was no point his former employer needed to prove, no revenge he might satisfy, by bedding Aurelia.
The puzzle, the city, and the steady rhythm of his steps slowly dulled some of Basil’s embarrassment. As he journeyed down from the Hill to the districts of trade and merchants, his thoughts drifted from his clumsy wife and his duplicitous former employer to the city itself, which was easier, in all its messy and audacious glory, to love.
Some people it made petty and narrow-minded, able to see only their own concerns of wealth, position, and desire. But others, like himself, it seemed to make greater than they would otherwise be. All he wanted was to serve his beloved, regardless of the stains of corruption and intrigue that played across its skin. Sometimes, that could be a lonely feeling, but increasingly he had realized he was not, in fact, alone. At least in this. The Duchess Tremontaine loved this city as well as Basil himself did, and quite similarly.
He stopped and inhaled sharply. The Dragon Chancellor and the duchess had quarreled. Basil had witnessed Davenant purposefully thwart her policy initiatives in public. What if this whole matter wasn’t actually about Aurelia and her charms at all? What if it was about Basil’s alliance with the duchess?
Basil turned quickly then, away from the solace and dust of the approaching market square. Back up the Hill he would go, to follow the stones, to see Diane de Tremontaine.
She would know what to make of this mess. More importantly, she would know what to do.
Thank goodness that even in the direst circumstances, Basil Halliday was a man who enjoyed looking at his city and not his feet. He kept his head up, happy to gaze at the ornate brickwork of grand edifices, the lush greenery of gardens and ivy, the drapes that caught the light of the city sun and the shadows of people moving about their beautiful lives inside their beautiful homes. Had he not, he might have run smack into Gregory, Lord Davenant leaving Tremontaine House. And once in a day—once in this day—was more than enough.
Basil jumped and tried to press himself against an oak so as not to be seen. He pressed a hand to his mouth lest he laugh or cry at the utter absurdity. He wasn’t generally prone to emotional displays, but this seemed like a reasonable time to start.
He peered around the tree as Davenant, all fine leather and brocade, strode away in the opposite direction. Basil exhaled in relief; his hiding place wasn’t very good. The only thing worse than hiding from the Dragon Chancellor would have been getting caught at it.
“If only you were braver,” he muttered to himself. But what then? Would he have accosted the man on the street? Would he have challenged Davenant at the very moment of disheveled discovery?
He frowned. If Lord Davenant was indeed quarreling with the duchess, what was he doing leaving her house a mere hour after departing Basil’s own?
Diane de Tremontaine was having a truly vexing day. No matter how skilled she was at wearing many masks, changing one’s mien so often was exhausting. And now here was Halliday...