Page 89


My mouth is dry. ‘I’m not playing a game,’ I say.
‘All the same, be more careful.’
She says nothing else, so I exit the room, arms still wrapped around my waist, guarding my secrets: the truth about Jost’s daughter, and a small patch of the weave from the studio’s screen.
I manage to sneak past the guard, who’s busy smoking a few metres from the door to the upper studios, but I don’t return to my quarters. As soon as I’m out of his sight, I shift into a confident stride, lowering my arms to my sides and straightening my back. There’s surveillance on me, and I don’t want to raise any suspicion. With trembling fingers, I remove the piece of the screen from Loricel’s wall from my pocket and hide it in my palm. It’s only a few inches wide and featherlight, but it reflects a bit of the default scenery of the studio walls.
I say only one word: ‘Jost.’
An image flickers in my hand and I take quick glances at it. Long steel tables run the length of the room and girls in short, fitted dresses carry trays of dishes to deep metal basins at the wall. Standing in a far corner, Jost directs a group of boys. As soon as they disappear from the scene, Jost closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. He looks tired as he leans against the far wall and I’m about to add to his stress. But if I don’t tell him now, I may not ever have the strength. With my free hand I draw out the digifile and consult the map. I’m right above the kitchen. For one moment, I consider turning around. I’ve already ruined everything between us, and nothing will be the same once he knows about Sebrina. But I think of Amie, and although it’s not the same, I know I can’t keep this from him. Moving to the right, I duck into the nearest stairwell. I don’t even have time to think of what I’ll say before the stairs deposit me near the doorway.
The maid nearest me whips her head around and stares at me, her mouth hanging open. Several others stop their dishwashing, but only one wipes her soapy hands on her apron and comes over to me.
‘Miss?’ she says, running her eyes over me doubtfully. ‘Can I help you?’
‘I need to speak with the head valet,’ I say, raising my chin as regally as I can muster.
She purses her lips and squints meaningfully at me. ‘Jost?’
‘If that’s his name,’ I say, waving her off dismissively. I feel like a total bitch, but the more I act like a Spinster, the less curious they’re going to get.
The maid curtsies once and heads back towards the food gens, but I catch her rolling her eyes at another girl, who giggles. One look at my face and the smile drops from hers, and she rushes back to work. They must hate me.
Jost peeks around a door in the back and his eyes widen a bit, but he keeps his expression blank. He exchanges some words with the maid I sent and then walks towards me.
‘Can I help you?’ he asks. There’s not even a hint of friendliness in his voice.
‘Yes, I need your services,’ I say, gesturing to indicate that he should follow.
‘I can send one of my men with you,’ he offers, his eyes flat. ‘I have other responsibilities. I’m not here for your amusement.’
‘I was specifically told to get you,’ I repeat.
A few of the girls around us slow their work to eavesdrop on our exchange.
‘In the future, you can use a companel to send for assistance,’ Jost says, turning to leave me.
‘I don’t think I’ll be needing assistance in the future.’
This stops him. To the others I’m sure my angry words sound spoiled and petty, but Jost knows me too well to dismiss them – even if he wants to.
‘Lead the way,’ he says with a sigh.
In the stairwell, I stop him. ‘We need to talk.’
‘I’m listening,’ he says, crossing his arms against his chest.
‘Somewhere private,’ I whisper.
Jost unfolds his arms and takes a deep breath. A muscle twitches in his neck, but he nods and takes me down to the basement. As we duck through a second door, I recognise the cold paving stones.
‘It’s been too long,’ I murmur, trailing my hand along the moist rock wall that makes up the cell area.
Jost leads me into a cell and pulls out a small handlight. It casts a harsh glow in the room. He leans against a wall and raises one eyebrow.
‘I know I hurt you—’
‘No,’ he says. ‘I can tell by the way you say it. You don’t know, Adelice.’
‘I was protecting you.’ I move closer to him.
‘I don’t need you to protect me.’
‘You’re such a man. Can’t trust a girl do anything.’
I try to turn away, but he catches my wrist.
‘I don’t need you to protect me,’ he repeats softly. ‘I need you to trust me.’
‘I do trust you, idiot,’ I snap.
‘Then let me in,’ he says, pulling me closer.
‘There’s more going on here than you and me,’ I say, inhaling the smell of him – smoke and sweat, something sweet like honeysuckle. I want to pull the strands around us and trap us like this forever. Safe and content, if not happy. I’m not sure happiness is possible for us any more.
‘Maybe,’ he whispers into my hair. ‘But that’s their problem. We need to worry about you and me.’
‘There can’t be a you and me here,’ I say. My whole body is cocooned in his arms, and I press my head to his chest and listen to his steady heartbeat.