Chapter 78: The Color of Betrayal
Acheron groaned as he rolled his neck and stretched. “Enough talk of politics and finances, can we go out tonight, Nicholas? I need a drink and a beautiful woman in my arms.”
“Acheron!” Attwood growled with a sharp glare in the direction of his wayward son. ‘Honestly, when will he grow up and take this position seriously?’
“What?” Acheron muttered sourly. “I’m not married, and I’m certainly not a priest.”
“Perhaps I should change that,” Attwood replied sternly.
Acheron grimaced. “No, thank you, but both of those vocations are a little too permanent for my taste.”
“I can’t tonight,” Nicholas interjected with a sigh, his expression downcast. “I promised Grandmother I would meet with the new leader of the Aristocratic Party early tomorrow morning.”
Attwood’s left eye twitched as he turned towards the crown prince. “The Earl of Hawthorne?”
“Percy?” Acheron echoed with surprise and a hint of worry. “The Dowager isn’t trying to pin marriage on him now, is she?”
“No,” Nicholas snorted. “We’ll just be going over these negotiations again so Percy can convey our goals to the other nobles and hopefully rally enough support to keep Borghese in check.”
Attwood rubbed his tired eyes with a soft sigh. ‘Right, how could I forget.’
Two parties governed the power of Lafeara. The Sovereign Party, which supported the interests of the crown, and the Aristocratic Party, which supported the interests of the nobles. The Dowager reigned over the Sovereign Party, though Marquess Borghese was its more public figure when it came to enforcing the sovereign’s will. Traditionally, the Earl of Hawthorne had always maintained control over the Aristocratic Party, which consisted of many powerful Lafearian families. Up until recently, that position had been granted to the Countess of Hawthorne by King Henri, but now that Lord Percy had come of age, the Countess had relinquished her position to him.
‘The power of the Aristocratic Party is not to be underestimated. Especially since Percy will clearly support the interests of his cousin, the Crown Princess. How much longer will the young Earl patiently wait for us to offer him a seat at the table that is his birthright?’
“Which is why we should just nominate him as a member of the House of Lords,” Acheron stated as he impatiently drummed his fingers on the table. “Save yourself the extra meeting. Percy will have more of an impact here where more than half the lords respect his family name and power. I guarantee you there will be fewer meetings and arguments.”
Nicholas grunted as he interlocked his fingers, rested his chin upon them, and glanced towards the Prime Minister.
“As commendable as Lord Percy’s intellect and politics are,” Attwood said quickly. “Percy is not his father and still lacks experience. I have advised his Highness to give Lord Percy more time to take over the reins of the Aristocratic Party and Hawthorne estates before we add another burden to his shoulders.”
“Ah—Well then!” Acheron slapped the table and stood up. “Since you’re all busy saving the world and plotting against those of us that remain single—I’ll go make good use of my remaining days of freedom.”
“Perhaps you should take Beaumont with you,” Nicholas suggested with a mischievous smile.
Acheron flinched and glanced hesitantly towards the unfriendly expression carved upon his cousin’s stony face. “I said freedom, not premature death,” Acheron joked with a wry smile as he circled the table and exited through the back door.
Nicholas snorted and stretched with a yawn.
“Do I even want to know what they’re fighting about this time?” Attwood asked with a baffled shake of his head.
“They both got rejected by the same young woman,” Nicholas answered with a hint of annoyance.
“Beaumont?” Attwood’s eyebrows shot up as he glanced towards the silent giant in astonishment. ‘When did this happen? How did I miss it?’
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The lady turned them both down before it became anything serious,” Nicholas explained as he picked up his ceremonial sword from the back of the chair and headed towards Beaumont.
“What a shame,” Attwood muttered as he watched Beaumont open the double doors before Nicholas and head outside. ‘It would be nice to see him settled down with someone who could at least make him smile a bit more.’
Attwood still remembered the tall, lanky boy who had buried his mother without a single tear. It was at that point Attwood made an effort to try and get to know the solemn, silent boy. If Stryker wouldn’t look after his bastard, then Attwood would. He refused to let any member of the Hargreve family be treated like a vagrant.
‘It’s time they were both settled down. Though Acheron seems no closer to giving up his promiscuous activities no matter how much his mother and I reprimand him for it.’
Attwood sighed as he finished gathering his papers. “Still, I wonder who she was?”
Sunlight greeted Acheron’s bleary eyes as he stared up at yet another unfamiliar ceiling. “Pope’s Balls,” he growled and rolled over to blink languidly at the platinum-haired woman who slept soundly facing away from him. “Yeah—that happened, didn’t it.”
He sat up carefully and slid towards the side of the bed, where he stopped to support his throbbing head and waited for his stomach to settle. Strangely enough, he barely remembered much of the previous night after he arrived at the Jaded Vougal’s Tavern. A peculiar place where nobles could purchase a drink, a tongue lashing, and a bit more if coin and the flirtatious bar maid’s mood worked in one’s favor.
He muffled an uncomfortable burp with his fist as his stomach bubbled. Nausea sharpened the edge of his headache. ‘Whatever they served me at the bar last night—I need to avoid that drink in the future.’
Acheron glanced between his legs and confirmed that he had spent the night successfully enjoying the pleasures of his “sinful conquests” as his mother called them. In either case, what he did remember more than made up for a queasy stomach and pounding headache. ‘Red dress, mysterious mask, ample curves, and plenty of experience in bed. A good time by all accounts.’
Still, lingering any further—even for a bit more fun—went against his moral code. ‘The longer you stick around, the more they get their hopes up—or raise their price.’ He scanned the room for his clothes, spotted his trousers, located conveniently next to the bed, and cautiously stood up to retrieve them.
The bedroom appeared modest but clean with pale blue walls stenciled in flowers and an assortment of expensive vases and roses on nearly every surface. ‘She must get around,’ Acheron observed with a rueful grin. ‘That would certainly explain her performance last night.’
The furniture was tasteful, and the red gown he vividly remembered taking off suggested his mystery woman was already well kept by a man of wealth.
‘Not a member of nobility—thank the Saints!’
Acheron pulled on his last boot and located his shirt under the dress of his recent conquest. He scooped up both and returned to the bed.
He was debating whether to wake the seductive blonde angel and discuss payment when he caught sight of her clover green eyes staring at him from beneath those platinum blonde curls.
‘Oh, shit!’ Acheron’s morning wood wilted as realization sank in with a cold dose of reality. ‘I know her!’
Rosamund flung her disheveled curls aside as she jolted upright. Her expression equally horrified as she stared from his half-dressed state to her dress in his hands and then down at her exposed breasts.
‘Oh—Fuck—I’m so dead.’