After relaying her decision to the earl, there was nothing Katherine could do besides waiting. Nervousness was sweeping through her whole being as the earl could throw her out every minute. Whatever, she wouldn't back out of this one.
When Sam came back, he looked rather apologetic, making her heart sped up.
"What did he say?", she asked anxiously. Hopefully there would be some backdoor, some way to get what she wanted without loosing what she already had. Her heart pounded vigorously.
Sam shook his head. "He didn't even ask for your proposal."
Katherine's heart skipped a beat. Did that mean he rejected her requests without even hearing the contents? Had she offended him so much with the kiss? No, no, please not!
"Instead he said he would discuss new terms with you on Monday at dinner. He doesn't like to talk over a third person. Until then the old terms will be valid."
Hearing that, Katherine heaved a sigh of relieve. At least he didn't reject it instantly. Still, the thought of discussing it face-to-face made her insecure. Would she be able to defend her interests so courageously if she had to face him personally? Surely not. He was a hard person to deal with.
"Very well. Dinner it is.", she nodded after taking a deep breath. "Before that, I'd like to visit the town. Tomorrow would be good. Help me ask for permission, please."
"Of course.", Sam confirmed, and excused himself.
Only when he was gone did Katherine show her gloomy countenance. "Hazel, you need to help me prepare everything for the worst case. I won't go back on my conditions, so maybe the earl will throw me out on Monday directly."
Hazel, who was watering the flowers on the side table, nearly let the can fall. Water splashed on the white table cloth but Hazel couldn't care less. "Y-you will be thrown out?!"
In her panic, she even forgot to call Katherine 'milady' like she normally would. "No! You can't - he can't do that!"
Tears glittered in these bright green eyes. Seeing what she'd done by dropping that info causally, Katherine rushed to her maids side and helped her settle down the can before embracing her tightly.
"Don't worry, don't worry. It's just the last resort. Surely we will find a different solution! You know, he doesn't want to let go of my talent either."
Sniffing, Hazel clutched Katherine's dress. "I don't want to serve anyone else... so you can't go away, okay?"
Katherine patted Hazel's back gently. "I will try my very best. Now, stop crying, dear. I need to make a shopping list for tomorrow."
But Hazel didn't want to let go of her lady's dress and pouted: "If you don't go, why do we need to go shopping?"
"Because that is the wise choice.", Katherine explained, and freed her dress carefully. "Hoping for the best while being prepared for the worst. The possibility to be thrown out may be slim, yet it does exist. If I neglect it, I will stay there with nothing when my plan fails. That would be really horrible."
Knowing herself, Katherine didn't think she could be happy while living like the common people. She was too used to the comfortable life of the nobles, where a woman mainly needed to look good and have a wealthy family or husband to do everything she wanted. Well, as long as the family or husband allowed it. That was the troublesome point.
Her situation right now was very tricky. The parents, who always supported her, were dead. That bastard cousin had gifted her with a few gold coins before sending her away, but it wasn't much. Furthermore, she absolutely didn't want to live off his 'charity', although it was most likely the gold of her parents to begin with. So much for family backing.
Now about the husband: she would still prefer the earl for that but it didn't seem possible after all that happened. However, another wealthy husband would be even more difficult. She was in a kingdom where she had no connections, and worse still, in the mansion of an earl, who wasn't part of her family. Who would believe her now that she wasn't his mistress? That they hadn't... done anything together?
Katherine's cheeks reddened. Well, she had given him her first kiss, if that counted. The memory was so embarrassing that she preferred to direct her thoughts to the list she needed to make. Yes, work. Better concentrate on work.
The earl, too, finally managed to concentrate again after finishing his meal. There was so much to do, he couldn't slack off for too long.
Once in a while he took a sip from a glass of red wine resting in his left hand, while his right held whichever record he was reading just then. With his white hair and the eyes only a note brighter than the wine, he looked like the devil going through a soul-selling contract.
Suddenly, he raised his gaze. "Sam, where is the report of our second man in the Dragsa capital?"
The old butler was already by his side again. Quickly, he searched through the papers on the table, before looking up. His blue eyes had a sharp gleam in them. "It is missing."
With a pensive expression, the earl took another sip of the wine before slowly saying: "So that cousin of hers already made his first move. A bit hasty, I think."
"I don't think he could convert this man.", Sam considered. "And he has no relatives to threaten."
"Well, not converting or threatening him still leaves one possibility.", the earl reminded with a sigh. "You know what to do."
"Yes, milord.", Sam replied, and left the study to inform his contacts. They would sent a group to recover the body and give it a proper funeral. That was the least they could do for a man who served the earl for five years loyally.
Taking up the record he read earlier again, the earl muttered: "Unfortunately for you, duke of Sleipnir, this spy was only one out of many. Otherwise, how would I dare to expose him in front of you?"
The spy Ethan had killed was the contact person between him and the earl. It was more of a sign that their cooperation had ended than meant as a real threat. Although Nathaniel knew Ethan's working ethics - which had no 'ethic' in them however one looked at it - , he absolutely didn't like his people getting killed merely for sending a message. So, he wasn't going to let it slip.
However, now wasn't the right time to retaliate. He had enough to do, not going to provoke another fight for now.
But this cousin of hers had always been a slightly dangerous cooperation partner, he mused. One of the kind who would kill his own mother for political benefits. Well, in this aspect his father had been faster, hadn't he? Really, what a messed-up family.
Nathaniel wondered, how much Katherine knew about these matters. As he confirmed himself on her arrival, she had quite an innocent - although temperamental - bearing. Maybe her parents had managed to shield her from the scheming side of the family, though her father... well, he, too, couldn't exactly be called 'clean'. But at least he seemed to love her mother or else he wouldn't have married a gypsy.
Noticing that his thoughts had wandered to her again, the earl's brows furrowed slightly before looking at the nearly empty wine glass. He set it down on the desk. Maybe he'd drunken enough for today.