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‘Seems to be fine,’ he says.
‘Silly me.’
‘Do you need anything else?’ he asks, raising his eyebrows.
That’s my cue. A second later, I’ve woven a new moment into the room. Before I can speak, I’m in his arms. I bury my face in his chest, unsure where to start.
‘I don’t—’
‘Shhh,’ he hushes me. Taking my chin in his hand, he draws my face up to his. With his lips moving against mine, everything fades away. My pulse quickens, and I wrap my arms around his neck. I could stay here for eternity.
He pulls back first and I sigh, the shimmering dome and the frozen room resurfacing around us, along with all the problems of the real world.
‘Enora,’ I begin.
‘She wasn’t at dinner,’ he says.
‘She’s been acting strange, and I think I know why.’
‘Because she’s . . .’
‘In love,’ I confess.
‘I know.’ Jost pauses. ‘She’s in love with another woman.’
I stare at him. Maybe Valery was right and everyone knew about them. Exactly how had I missed this?
‘Not much gets past the head valet,’ he says, reading my mind.
‘Does everyone know?’ I ask a bit too sourly.
‘They probably do now. It was a rumour for a long time,’ he says, pulling me down to the floor. ‘Not the first time. Spinsters don’t exactly fall out of trees. The Guild is willing to overlook some things if a girl has the skill.’
‘So why the sudden interest?’
He pauses for a moment, not meeting my eyes. ‘Honestly, more attention has been on her lately.’
‘Because of me.’ It stings, but I know he’s right.
‘And with the new remapping tech—’
‘She didn’t stand a chance,’ I finish his thought, and just then something horrible occurs to me. ‘Do you think Pryana will report Valery for what she saw?’
‘I don’t know,’ he says, heaving a sigh. ‘It’s possible, and Valery doesn’t have the protection afforded a Spinster.’
‘Why do they even care?’ I groan. ‘She can’t be the only one sneaking around. I mean, look at us.’
Jost laughs as though I’ve said something insanely funny. Is that what he thinks about us? That we’re a big joke? I don’t know if I should hit him or cry.
‘What?’ I ask, trying to look defiant and hoping my blush isn’t too noticeable.
‘Of course they care, Adelice. What if women married other women? Or if men married other men?’
In a split second, I transition from relief to embarrassment. Of course he meant them. But then something stirs in my chest, and I remember how Valery yelled at me. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not hurting anyone.’
‘You’ve got it wrong,’ Jost says. ‘You asked why they care. The Guild. And I’m telling you, it scares them. A woman without a husband . . .’
‘I don’t have a husband,’ I point out.
‘You would have in a year or two if you hadn’t been retrieved.’
‘But Spinsters don’t marry – and no one seems threatened by us.’
‘Sure. You don’t marry, but you’re also locked up in walled compounds. And,’ he adds, his voice taking a mocking tone, ‘if you’re lucky you get to go out and hang off some official’s arm.’
My nostrils flare. Is that what he thinks of me? I’m leaning towards hitting him. I can cry later.
‘Fact is, the Spinsters are far from a pure bunch. Why do you think they keep male servants around? To do the heavy lifting?’ he continues, oblivious to the fact that I’ve pulled away from him.
‘You have a lot of experience with that?’ I ask, unsure if I’m mad at the other girls or myself now.
Jost’s eyes narrow, and he regards me closely. ‘Is this about us or Enora?’
‘Could have fooled me.’
‘If they ignore that we’re all secretly courting half the guard, why do they mind if she’s in love with Valery?’ I’m screaming, and I don’t even care.
‘Would you let me finish?’ he asks. ‘It threatens them – the officials – if a Spinster is loyal to someone else.’
‘Valery said there were others,’ I tell him, dropping the attitude a notch. ‘In Arras.’
‘Did you ever meet any?’
‘No,’ I admit.
‘They keep it quiet and everyone leaves them alone or they’re remapped. It’s not only them, though. If a Spinster falls in love with a man, even an official, they’ll put an end to it.’
‘Remap her?’
‘No, they’ve never done that before. Sometimes they remap him or rip him if he’s no one important. Others, they threaten. It happens more often than you think.’ Jost shakes his head. ‘How do you think I became head valet? I kept my nose clean.’
A mixture of excitement and fear churns in my stomach. So there’s no one else. ‘And if they find out about . . .’
‘About us?’ he finishes quietly when I don’t continue. ‘I’m no one important.’
‘Yes, you are,’ I say. ‘They won’t be able to control me.’
‘They have your sister.’
‘They don’t have my heart.’