Bernadine deflated in disappointment before she busied herself with sawing another slice of bread.

Heloise, however, smacked her open hand on the table, making a loud crack. Let me tell you something, missy. You young maidens now days get misty eyed thinking about true love and the fathomless adoration you will share. It’s not like that. Real love is looking at someone and knowing that you wouldn’t mind waking up to their bad breath for the next century, and you are fine with them seeing you before you brush your hair and fix your face for the day.


Elle blinked, surprised by the housekeeper’s sudden outburst, but Heloise wasn’t finished yet.

Loving a person isn’t a magical, sparkly passion. It’s hard work. It’s putting the other person before yourself. It’s companionship and being able to trust and depend on each other. That loquacious true love everyone spouts about is really finding a partner who will go through the heartbreaks and joys of life with you.

Heloise stopped writing only when Bernadine smacked her over the head with a wooden spoon. The housekeeper narrowed her eyes at the cook like a bird whose feathers had just been ruffled.

Be gentle, Bernadine wrote to her friend.

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Heloise scoffed and finished her tea. If you will excuse me, good evening, she wrote before swirling from the room.

Elle and Bernadine watched her leave before Bernadine continued. Heloise lost her husband when they were both dreadfully young. They had been married but five years. She still misses him.

“She is right, though,” Elle said. “I am terribly unromantic. The pretty stories about beautiful girls finding true love never caught my fancy. I thought love would be useless in the real world, where merchant’s shipments are delayed by muddy roads, countries are forever eyeing each other in thoughts of war, and one must work to live. Heloise’s explanation of love is perhaps the first definition I have ever felt to be true.”

Most dwell on the feeling of love, rather than the relationship itself, Bernadine nodded.

Elle rubbed the sides of her teacup in the following silence. “Thank you for the refreshments, and for the conversation,” she said, sliding off the stool when she finished her tea.

Has it given you anything to think of?

Elle considered the question for a moment. “It has. Good night, Bernadine.”

Good night to you, Elle. Sleep well.

“I shall certainly try.”

Chapter 12

Love and Squirrels

“Do I have something on my face,” Severin said. He didn’t even look up from his book.

Elle, who was leaning against a bookshelf and watching the prince, tilted her head. “What?”

“You’ve been staring at me. Is something wrong with my face—besides the obvious?”

“Oh, no. I apologize, I was merely thinking,” Elle said, clasping her hands behind her back before meandering to Severin’s table.

Stacks of neatly piled books were posted at the corners like paper watchtowers. Maps of the border Loire shared with Arcainia were spread around the table.

Elle peered over Severin’s shoulder to study his work. “So you’ve caved and have agreed to war on Arcainia?”

Severin twisted to stare at Elle.

Elle realized her mistake and tried to downplay her knowledge of the subject. “I’m just speculating. Your brother has been fairly vocal about the desire in the past year.”

Severin massaged his forehead. “Even his servants know? It is no wonder Arcainia decided spy infiltration was a necessary measure.”

“Only a minority know, if that’s any consolation,” Elle said.

“Servants talk. As soon as one of them knows, all of them know,” Severin sourly said. “And I say that without meaning any offense to you.”

“None taken,” Elle said, plunking down in a chair next to Severin.

“And no, I have not given in. I’m looking for a way to talk my brother out of a war,” Severin said. “Loire cannot handle a war right now, not to mention there is no reason for one.”

“He won’t accept that reasoning?”


“And you won’t flat out reject the idea?”

“He’s my brother. I would like to support him in everything he does.”

“Even if he does something stupid?”

Severin turned his cat head to give Elle another unnerving stare.

“I am not saying His Highness is stupid, or has done something stupid. I’m merely wondering what you will do if he asks you for something truly asinine,” Elle asked.

Severin sighed. “I do not know.”

Elle planted her elbows on the table surface and propped up her chin with her hands. She watched Severin half heartedly nudge a map, again scrutinizing the cursed prince.

Heloise’s passionate sermon had aroused an ill-fated curiosity in Elle. She surely was not in love with Severin, but she wondered what kind of woman would be attracted to the prince.

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