Or is she? Bettina is his soulmate, to be sure, but otherwise she's not what she seems. Her reasons for avoiding Sev are complicated. Mates don't hide things from one another, and there is a lot Bettina is hiding. For one thing, she's not lowborn. Raised in the lap of luxury, she decided to run rather than embrace a power that threatens her mind and heart.
HEA-yes, VIOLENCE-moderate, LANGUAGE-moderate, SEX-erotic
Cover art property of Brenna Lyons.
Bettina pushed through the door into Lord Sevryn’s rooms. It was likely a wasted stop; the man was so organized and clean about his living space, she could come here twice a week, and no one would know the difference. Since Tanni had already collected his soiled garments--which were always neatly dropped in the bin for it--and Lord Sevryn typically smoothed and tucked his own bed, it was singularly the least mussed room in the house, whether the young lord was in residence or not.
She stopped two steps past his cabinet, scanning her eyes around for anything that might need her attention. The only item out of place was a book laid out open and pages down. Bettina winced at that; it would ruin a paper book to set that way. With the rains on Kielan, few people indulged in paper, as it was. Paper books meant costly machines to keep their storage rooms free of excess moisture. Who but nobles could afford such a luxury?
There has to be something...something to mark the page. Bettina stuffed her hand in her pocket. She tended to stuff odds and ends she found on her journey through the house in there to be sorted and stored or disposed of later.
She wandered toward the table, considering the contents of the pocket without looking at them. The loose beads from Lady Valree’s dresses would do more harm than good, but the scrap of ribbon...
Pulling it free, she gently turned the book pages-up and settled the scrap at the seam. Her gaze flicked to the poem on the right-hand page, and she swallowed a gasp of surprise. “Bettina,” she breathed.
In truth, the poem was titled “Spring’s Day,” a play on words to be sure. It had been her mother’s favorite, and so she’d named her only child Bettina in honor of the object of Spring’s obsession.
A bolt of happiness sliced through her. Bettina paused. What was she so happy about? Was she happy?
Not precisely. She was content, untroubled save this niggling question...but happy?
A sound behind her startled her. Bettina whirled around, reaching back to close the book on the ribbon. If she was very lucky, no one had seen her reading when she should be working.
Lord Sevryn stood at the far corner of the room, his arms crossed over his bare chest, his eyes crinkled in amusement. He’d been here all along, hidden by the cabinet as she entered. So, he’d seen her reading his book. She didn’t doubt he’d have something to say about that.
He didn’t. “You felt it,” he whispered instead.
Felt? In the face of him, all she felt was uncertainty.
Bettina never knew what to expect for Lord Sevryn. Why, the man was half-dressed when it was nearly time for meal. The trews he did wear were tight as if drawn on and quarter-length. She’d think them swimming trews, if they weren’t plastered to his body to show every line.
Her heart pounding in arousal at the state of his undress, she gazed at his well-toned chest. The man was a beauty, olive but not tanned as a lowborn might be. The golden curls on his chest were only shades darker than the locks reaching his collarbones. His chest hair created something of a sharp, concave vee that disappeared into those--
Bettina took a step back, grasping the edge of the table in outright fear when she ran aground on it. By the Goddess Mother, he was erect!
She’d heard tales of nobles who demanded bed service from maids. If they were refused, the servants were sometimes dismissed with a poor reference. What would she do if--
“Calm, Bettina.” His voice was soothing, and he made no move to advance on her. “You need not fear me.”
After her reaction, it would do no good to deny it. Instead, she met his fen brown gaze. “If there is nothing else Lord Sevryn,” she hinted, hoping he would release her.
“Sev. I’ve asked you to call me Sev.”
“Lord Sev,” she corrected herself.
His jaw tightened a notch, but he tipped his head in acceptance. “Stay a while, won’t you.” His lips curved into a sensual smile. “I promise to put on a shirt, if you do.”
Bettina forced herself not to look at the bed...or the cock outlined by his tight trews. “I have to work and...” And what? “Work,” she repeated dumbly.
He nodded. “This eve then, after dinner.”
Her gaze slid to the bed, and she shook her head, praying Lord Sevryn would lose interest in chasing an unwilling woman.
Unwilling? Her cheeks burned at the fact that she hungered for him.
His voice remained low and unruffled. “A walk in the gardens,” he suggested.
Bettina hesitated, at a loss. If she accepted, she’d encourage him. If she refused... Would any fine house or shop take her on when she was dismissed?
“What is it you fear, Bettina?”
“I am not...” She bit her lip in indecision. How did you address the subject without an accusation being implied?
“Not?” he prodded her.
Hells take it! If he was intent, it would only be a matter of time until she rebuffed him and faced his ire for it. The troubles in my life have always come down to time and the currents of might-bes. “I am not a bed servant, Lord Sev. I do not know what you were told, but--”
“Wait.” One hand came up in a halting motion, and his eyes hardened.
Bettina snapped her mouth shut, certain she would be packing before the hour was up. Anger poured off of him in waves that even her shielded and leashed sensitivities couldn’t ignore. Her stomach fluttered in response.
“You think I mean to force you to... Dearest Goddess, no.”
Were it not for her grip on the table, she might have swooned in relief.
He continued. “The garden is lovely at night, Bettina. I would like to share a walk with you.”
Her head spun at that pronouncement. “Why?”
“I enjoy your company.”
There was no response she could make to so outrageous a statement from a lord.
Lord Sev rounded the cabinet, heading for the door. “After dinner, if you wish to walk with me.” Then he was gone.
If... I need not go. But she suspected she might.
Why? The man has no shame or sensibilities! Bettina marched to the door, fuming at the idea of the man walking about in those unseemly trews.
At least he isn’t erect anymore. They weren’t quite so shocking when he wasn’t.
She stopped on a gasp, wondering when she’d noticed that. Bettina’s face burned at the thought that she’d been so aware of his state of arousal.