The parlor adjacent to the library, with its high, narrow windows and thick wooden door, was the perfect room for a small gathering of young and not so young ladies who might wish to discuss matters not to be overheard by passing visitors or prying servants. Not that any member of the Tremontaine staff would be so presumptuous, but one must reassure one’s guests. Reassurance included allowing a few concerned mamas to sit at the back of the crowd so they could ensure that their daughters were being educated, not corrupted. No, hardly that. Why, the duchess herself had vouched for the instructor, who held the ladies raptly attentive with her gentle, distinct voice. Distinct in more ways than one. Her words revealed a slight accent (quite pleasing, really) and her dress was altogether foreign (so much silk, lovely but very ostentatious). They did things differently over there, which was why this woman, unmarried yet extremely experienced, was in a position to speak with authority on these delicate matters.
The duchess may or may not have insinuated that the delightful Mistress Jayasuriya and all her talents were held in high esteem in her far-off temples and drawing rooms. High enough to be consort in all but name to the Ambassador of Chartil, after all!
A few may have recalled the less prestigious beginnings of Esha’s career, but the allure of friends in high places had worked its usual spell and no sly words were whispered against the woman who had known the demimonde . . . at least not where the duchess might hear. Besides, not all the mamas were concerned about mere reputation. One noble lady, a Northerner to the bone, was already familiar with the idea of sex as part of divine ritual and magical binding, and she bluntly declared herself eager to learn something new from other traditions.
Octavian Perry, in the library adjacent, with his ear unapologetically glued to a strategically thin portion of the intervening paneling, murmured in agreement. “Well said, dear lady, well said.”
“Octavian, come away from there,” Diane whispered as sternly as she could manage. “I am trying to discuss politics.”
She firmly tugged him away from the wall and softly closed a heavy-framed portrait, backed with a thick padding of green baize, over the area. Octavian looked over his shoulder longingly as she led him to the other side of the library.
“It was just getting interesting,” he complained. “I am sure she was about to share a salacious family tale of an ancestor wizard.”
“I do wish you would pay attention,” Diane chided him as they settled into two chairs near the window to drink in the view of a perfect summer’s day.
“Oh, but I am paying attention. Young ladies and young politicians are very much of the same ilk. They must be wooed and seduced into their roles so they can give good service. Forcing them only embitters them.”
“Then, by your analogy, knowledge is as important for the virgin politician as for the blushing bride. How knowledgeable is our Basil?”
Octavian shook his head. “When it comes to the folderol of campaigning, he is even worse than I, but he is far better at listening, so I shall try to direct him to some good advisors . . . and vice versa.”
“Lord Durant is rumored to be angling for a spot on the ballot.”
“He was nearly Dragon twice,” Octavian scoffed. “Now he is well past his prime and aiming to fail higher.”
“Lord Ferris’s name has also been mentioned in my circles,” Diane continued in a tone of growing gloom.
“In mine as well. He is working very hard to remind everyone of his stint as acting Raven some years ago. Unfortunately for him, the men who were at the Council Hall on the day of the flood have an excellent memory of his more recent folly.”
“But will that be enough?” Diane asked seriously.
“Of course not,” came Octavian’s cheerfully brisk reply. “Men have elected fools before. We cannot be complacent, Diane.”
“You have never known me to be complacent, Octavian.” Diane smiled, leaned forward, and slid her little hand up the inside of his thigh. There were times when she liked to remind him, however teasingly, that she figuratively and literally held his balls in her hand.
“No indeed,” he said with difficulty as she reached her goal and began a gentle massage.
She suddenly dropped the smile and made her face stern. “Tread carefully, Octavian. Basil cannot know that he has Tremontaine support.”
Octavian swiftly touched her wrist with two fingers, using enough force to stay her motion without sinking to the discourtesy of a snatch. “Of course. Like you, I know how to keep a light hand in my affairs.”
Diane smiled again and brushed an appreciative forefinger over his erection. “It...