Giles was not a bad man, but he wasn’t exactly altruistic either. When the young lady love of Edmund Ormond came running up to him, he briefly amused himself by flirting with her and watching her turn various shades of pink.
The younger Wolfram cousins that lounged about the hallways watched with interest. They were well aware that the girl belonged to a hunter but also were intrigued by Giles’ reputation with the townspeople, particularly the female ones.
Elanore had no intent on including these cousins as an audience. After a suspicious glance in their direction, she whispered her request for advice about what to do when a couple fought.
Giles gave her a slightly flabbergasted look. “Look, princess. That boy is so besotted with you that if was really all that mad, you just need to cry some tears and drag him off for a few passionate kisses. It’s not all that difficult to mend things with that kind of guy.”
It took her a moment to process his sarcastic response, after which she became exasperated. “I didn’t mean Edmund!”
He chuckled, clearly finding her response amusing. “Oh, another boyfriend? How scandalous.”
“Oh you!” She might have stamped her foot if she weren’t impatient. “Come with me!” She dragged him off before he could say anything even more embarrassing.
His laughter stopped when they arrived at the kitchen and he saw who the advice she solicited was for. Giles’ eyes narrowed as they fell upon Lady Selva resting her head on a lion’s back while she spoke to them in low affectionate tones. Unlike many of his family members he could smell magic. It had been weak upon her arrival at this estate, but now the aura of power that clung to her was strong — even stronger than when he had unknowingly run into her at the inn.
He was not fooled by the meek appearance of the woman as she lifted her head to greet him. “You are Giles.”
“Yes ma’am,” he bowed carefully. “We’ve not really been introduced.”
His air of formality confused Elanore. She looked back and forth at the two, wondering why Giles’ look bordered on insolence.
“Hastings told me that you fostered here,” Selva’s eyes glittered with curiosity. “Yet you chose to act as a servant.”
“It was a rather tricky thing to negotiate,” he said flatly. “Uncle Marrok thought I was a handful but that I might do fine in this kind of environment. Of course, in light of your ‘sudden’ departure, I don’t think the Count was wholly enthusiastic to have another person around. I knew that when I came the best thing to do was to pick up odd jobs around the estate. It gave me every reason to follow him around without him understanding that I was making sure he didn’t do anything stupid. It worked out quite well. He’s still here.”
And then the reason for Giles’ suddenly prickly behavior was quite clear. Elanore wondered what she should do. Her presence was most unnecessary and likely unwanted. She started to quietly step back as if to leave.
“You don’t have to go,” Giles stopped her. “You’re the one who asked for my advice and I will give it. However well meaning you are, I think you need to hear me out before you ask me to help this lady. The others won’t dare ask what I will. I’m not as polite as the rest of them.”
The lions glared at the man, but Selva’s hands kept them still. “A lack of politeness has never offended me. I prefer your honesty.”
He swiped a piece of bread off the counter nearby and tore a chunk out of it, angrily chewing for a moment while the two women waited for him to speak. He put the bread back down and then crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you know he fears being alone?”
The fair-haired woman’s face could only be described as blank. “Has he said so?”
“Of course not,” Giles grumbled. “What man would confess such a thing? He acts like a loner, keeping others at arm’s distance. But in spite of what our clan rules are, he doesn’t cut ties with people who break them. If he did, you think I’d still be here otherwise? I’m not an obedient liege by any means.”
“So it is said,” the woman recovered, smiling for a moment as she reflected upon his apt description of himself.
The man looked annoyed, knowing it was Hastings who must have ratted him out. “Well, Maximilian is behaving like a proper lord again and you see how happy everyone is. They’re not squabbling because he’s given them something to rally around and a place to defend. You being here is a complication.”
To Elanore’s continued surprise, Giles’ dislike of Selva did not seem to offend or wound the lady. The lady sat up straight, her voice soft and complex as she was forced to respond. “And how would that be possible? What do you think I am doing wrong?”
“He’s chosen to bring you back in as his lady. And that’s all well and good that you’ve decided to come back to keep things running smoothly, have children, or do whatever else the older ones tell you is your duty. Being responsible means making sure he doesn’t have to fear you. It means letting him know you’re not going to be exiting his life whether it’s running away or throwing yourself away. If you can’t promise that, then don’t make the effort of trying to be close to him only to mess up and expect others to pick up the pieces!”
“Giles,” Elanore tried to interrupt. “You can’t force her into those kinds of promises.”
“You don’t understand,” he addressed her sternly. “This isn’t just about her and the lord anymore. I’m asking her to be what he needs and what we ALL need her to be. And if she can’t fathom that, then she’s going to bring us all down!”
What he said was brazen, even disrespectful. However, Selva did not appear to anger. Instead, she studied the younger man for a few uncomfortable moments before she spoke. “I have no intent on doing that,” she explained patiently. “I am not hedging my bets, biding my time to simply run away again. I chose to accept what he offered and likewise, he will have to throw me out or ask me to leave. In the meantime, I will hope that the outcome of this gamble favors us both.”
“It had better. We won’t idly stand by if it looks like you’re going to throw this all away.” His arms remained crossed. “But the young miss asked me to give advice, and so I’ll give you a choice. Sure, I can say a few things and make sure the others release him to perform his conjugal duties and whatever it is those old geezers want. But, you think that will impress him in any way? He doesn’t need a lamb, but a lioness. You should just grab him by his hair and drag him off yourself.”
“You’re right.” Selva patted the lions as she stood up and smoothed the front of her dress. “A lion of lions and a wolf among wolves. Directness always works best. Where might I find him?”
Her response surprised both Elanore and Giles. The lions twitched their tails uneasily, as if they, too, did not know what to make of the woman.
“Ah,” Giles recovered quickly and bowed. “Well he’s in the library. I can escort you there.”
“Of course,” the Lady placed her hand in the crook of his arm and turned an apologetic smile in the direction of Elanore and the lions. Her face was lit up from within; her eyes grew sharp and determined. “Gawain and Uwaine. I won’t forget what you asked. But I don’t think I can promise you this evening, after all.”