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She was asleep and dreaming, dreaming so vividly that she did not want to wake up. Cordaella pressed herself deeper into her pillows, her face flushed, warm from sleep and the stirred emotions. Dreaming, she was with Bran and he loved her. He had finally come for her and he was more handsome than she had remembered. As he bent his head to kiss her, his mouth brushing hers, she was falling in love with him all over again, falling in love with his eyes and mouth, his lovely face with the hard jaw and cheekbones. She reached up to touch his face, his skin so warm beneath her fingers, his mouth pressing into her palm. She smiled at him, smiled her love, her need. He was everything. Had always been everything. She would die if he left her now. She would die if she had to be alone. Lonely. Forgotten.
If she could only stay like this, if she could just keep dreaming she would never want anything again. But the more she clung to the dream the more it evaded her until she was lying on her stomach, a hand shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun. She didn’t think she could bear the pain, not like this, not after dreaming Bran’s face and voice. She hadn’t thought of him in weeks. Sometimes it was easier not remembering, easier not feeling.
Now the loneliness was worse. She was on fire, feeling, feeling, and all the feeling would come to nothing. Cordaella rolled onto her back, gripping the pillow to her stomach. And she was pregnant. She was sure of it now.
She could hear Marco playing quietly on the floor with two painted wooden figurines he called soldiers. Poor Marco. This was no life for him here. She wondered if her child would be raised at Rias Altas. Or would Pedro come to take the child back?
I don’t want the baby. She didn’t know if she thought it, or said it out loud, but the words stayed with her, unbidden, hard, cold. I don’t want his baby. I don’t want any part of him.
Once she had believed that a child of Pedro’s would change everything, that an heir would mean hope. And hope would save her. She was such a fool. Her courage disappeared. She felt like a weak woman. Helpless. Hopeless.
Tiny fingers touched her shoulder and she lowered the pillow. Marco. His own face was pinched, his eyes swollen with tears. “Why do you cry?” he asked.
She pushed the pillow out of the way and made room for him on the bed. “I don’t know why I cry.” She tilted his face up to hers, his long black lashes curling upward, his mouth a small pink circle of unhappiness. “Why do you cry?”
“I think my lady does not want me anymore.”
“Why do you say that, my darling?”
“She does not talk to me anymore and never plays with me.”
“I know. And I am sorry, Marco. I have not spent very much time with you.” She wiped her tears away, sniffling a little. “I have had much on my mind lately.
“Is it because you want a new boy?”
“No, Marco. I don’t want anyone but you.”
“Then why are you going to have one?”
“Who said that I am going to have a new boy?”
He shrugged, his blue and gold jacket loose on his small shoulders. “Your ladies. That is all they ever talk about now.” He blinked and a tear fell, one long perfect drop on his cheek. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, oh, Marco, it isn’t like that. And the ladies are wrong to talk about me having a baby. But if I were to have a baby, the baby would be a baby for a very long time and it could never replace you.”
“Will we go back now? To the palace?” He suddenly sounded eager.
“To the palace?”
“Yes, and will we see all of our friends again? Like Don Catalina and Don Martinez? I like Don Martinez very much. He told me funny stories—no, they weren’t funny, but the way he told them, that was funny. And we can go for walks again, to the big cathedral and the plaza, even to the market—”
“Wait, wait,” she protested as his words tumbled out. “His Grace doesn’t even know. How can we go back if he doesn’t approve?”
“Then write him. Write him today.”
“Yes. I think it is time. You are right.” She sat up, pushing her hair from her damp face. “You can help me.”
“Yes, my lady.”
She hugged him. “Get my paper for me. I’ll write the letter now. And who knows? Maybe he will listen. Maybe we can return to Santiago soon.”
He nodded. “Yes, he will send for us.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Marco. I am so glad you still believe, that you still can.” She kissed his soft cheek, smelling his skin, the sweetness of him. He was just a baby. An innocent in all this madness. “Now go and get my paper. Hurry.”
End of Excerpt