It was a big surprise that Nathaniel didn't avoid her in the morning when she'd again collected her courage to face him. He even silently agreed to having breakfast together. The downside was that he was very distant.
Answering her questions with nothing but occasional 'nos' and 'yes' while reading papers most of the time, Nathaniel made her feel like a third wheel even though there were just the both of them. Well, as long as the papers didn't count. Obviously, Nathaniel preferred them over her.
Irritated, Katherine felt the urge to throw her croissant at him. Being ignored was one of the things she absolutely couldn't stand. Even worse than loud disputes. But the thought that he would see it as childish stopped her in action and she only ate the croissant in silence, chewing harsher than necessary.
Suddenly, Nathaniel turned over the pages for her to see. "Choose one."
"Out of these three, anything is fine." He pushed the papers into her hands. When Katherine had a closer look at them, she discovered that they were invitation letters to a birthday party, a private dinner, and a banquet respectively. The particular thing was, each of them was planned for this evening.
Astonished, she surveyed them before looking up again. "Did the sky turn upside-down today? You really ask for my opinion?"
"You have to sacrifice your evening for it after all. I don't want you to get bored there all on your own.", the earl declared nonchalantly, but on the inside, he was counting the seconds until she acted out. He didn't have to wait for long.
"All on my own?!" Katherine felt like she'd heard wrongly. "Why would I even go there? What about you?"
The earl smirked. Yes, she was still alright. He was already worried how much he'd hurt her when she didn't blow up after he provoked her the whole breakfast. "I'll be on the other end of the room, making political conversations. Maybe we get to dance once or twice, but that's it. We won't be there for amus.e.m.e.nt."
"Hmpf.", Katherine made. Of course, he had to suffocate her excitement before it even rose. "So, what else will we do there?"
"Not we. I will investigate. You will make connections. Wasn't that your plan when coming to the palace?" Nathaniel had a sharp mind, so he laid it out like it was supporting her goals when it was actually the very selfish wish to keep her out of the picture.
Katherine was twisted. Only yesterday she'd promised herself to help him with this secret organization, and now he was excluding her again. Should she insist on helping or follow her own goals? Wait, couldn't she investigate while building connections? Why was he so decisively dividing the two?
"Will it be dangerous?", she asked. "On the party, will you be in danger?"
"No." The answer was clear and distinguished. "I won't. But it might get dangerous later on, so it would be better if people don't think you're involved in - "
"Nathaniel!", Katherine interrupted him. "Did you forget we are engaged? I'm automatically involved! You can't just make the people forget this by separating yourself from me. If anything, this might invoke them to attack me instead because they think I'm weak on my own."
Nathaniel was silent for a whole minute, stunned. Slowly, he opened his mouth, sounding mystified. "You are right."
Seeing him like this, Katherine bit her lip to not laugh out loud. But of course, he noticed her action and gave her a dark look. "This isn't funny."
Now she couldn't control herself anymore, chuckling. "Sorry! Sorry! I just - you just looked so cute!"
His face turned dark as the abyss, the brows locked together. 'Cute' wasn't a compliment a man liked to hear. With a voice deep like thunder, he commanded: "Katherine!"
She clutched her hand before her mouth, stifling the last laugh to a hick-up. "I - hick - I'm really sorry."
The laugher was still in her voice, but at least she suppressed it from coming out. She didn't want to go overboard and offend him again.
Nathaniel rubbed his forehead. "Troublesome girl", he sighed, but the corners of his mouth were twitching suspiciously. "Fine, I won't let you alone. Now choose one."
Katherine's smile was as bright as the sun. "The banquet. I want to dance a lot! It's even better with delicious food."
"You know that we'll be conversing mainly?", he reminded her, irritated by her enthusiasm.
"Yes, yes." She nodded, in her option very obediently. Then her smile turned cheeky. "Let me tell you that I practice dancing for ten years. I hope you can keep up with me, milord!"
As the red eyes looked at her, she expected to see something, a small wavering, or the increasing coldness of annoyance. However, the face of the earl remained the same and his voice was light and friendly as if her words were well-wishes. "Likewise."
The River Lady received the shadow personally in 24th Winding Street. To be true, she didn't really have a choice, since he used the opportunity to practice his 'rusted' skills and sneaked around the guards and girl's in revealing dresses right to her room's door. He didn't like this environment but being here was a necessity. Since he was still a gentleman, he knocked on the door with temperate firmness.
A young girl opened, her eyes shy but not innocent. In front of the dark-clothed gentleman with a scarf and hood to mask his face, wariness invaded her. Half hidden behind the door, she asked: "What can I do for you?"
"I wish to see the River Lady. I believe we have common interests.", the shadow replied and took out a bone coin. He sighed inwardly when he noticed that the girl's only reaction to the coin was curiosity. "Take this to her. She'll know who I am."
With another wary glance in the sharp, but not cold eyes over the scarf, the girl took the coin and closed the door. The shadow waited patiently. He had no doubt that the River Lady would know who was behind the token. Even if his best time was over, there were still stories and rumors about him. The River Lady was intelligent enough to pay close attention to the past, for it could affect the present at any time. Such as now.
He couldn't hear what was spoken behind the thick wooden door, but it didn't take long for the girl to open it again. Respectfully, she stepped to the side. From a place he couldn't see, a smoky voice wafted over that gave the feeling as if it was murmuring directly into his ear. "Come in, dear stranger."
His mouth behind the scarf twitched in irritation, but he didn't show it otherwise. With light, soundless steps he walked inside and felt the girl slip out behind him, closing the door quietly.
Carefully, his eyes scanned the room and at the same time he noticed the scent in the air that was emanating from the various candles distributed regularly on surfaces. Lavender and vanilla, relaxing and alluring. They had been ignited not too long ago. His respect for the woman increased and so did his wariness.
He discovered her beside a low table, elegantly pouring tea into two filigree cups. The cut in her red dress revealed the side of her slender leg and the bare foots, the ankles adorned with strings of jingling gold bells. Dark brown hair flowed down her back, slightly curly at the tips. It bobbed up and down a bit then she straightened her back. Only now did the shadow notice the thin red veil that weaved the lower part of her face in mystery. Only her alluring dark eyes were visible.
"Don't be shy.", she said and moved to the big bed behind the table. It spread out like an ocean of silk. "Take a seat."