The Duke pulled himself up to his full height, his crossed arms suddenly becoming a barrier between them.
It was a perfectly reasonable question! Lili couldn’t think of any reason he would react so poorly to it. She had thought—perhaps foolishly—that she was getting somewhere with him.
Lili indignantly waited for his answer, not shying away from his glare She won the battle of wills after a chilly stalemate.
“It is of no consequence to you,” he said, and glowered at her.
Lili, for all that she was a lady, glared right back. “I would think it is! You can’t possibly think that I wouldn’t ask about my own involvement in getting myself kidnapped!”
He affixed her with his most piercing glare yet, but she held her ground and was proud of herself for it.
“What you sang has been dealt with appropriately,” he said. “The crisis has been averted and you are where you should be.”
“A prisoner?!” Lili bristled, hands clenched into fists at her sides. “My music must be helpful indeed if it averted a crisis! Or are you just overstating my importance for my pride? I promise you, I don’t need it.”
The Duke had heard her out with an increasingly tense jaw. She could practically feel his teeth clenched in her own skull, giving her a headache. Yet he, for all his rigidity and harsh words, hadn’t moved a muscle since she started yelling at him.
Lili realized, in horror, that she had indeed yelled at him.
“You did your job. Leave it be.” He took a deep breath to steady himself.
But she wasn’t there to be brushed off.
“Whatever I sang moved you. And your men, too, in a different way. I would like to know what it is! Not just as a musician, but as your prisoner!”
“I said, leave it. We’re done here.”
He left the parlor with his fists at his sides and his stride long and sure.
Lilinova was left standing in the room alone, practically ready to wage her own personal war against the man herself!
But Lili was a lady.
She turned on her heel and stomped out of the room, heading back toward her music room before remembering that she had “quarters’” in the castle of her enemy. She stopped short in the hallway.
An older gentleman appeared before her as if summoned. He bowed politely.
“I have been informed that Lady—excuse me—Little Aurora may enjoy an escort to her quarters?” He was dressed in castle finery but tailored as though he was a butler. He didn’t seem to mean anything by the correction to her name and was far too professional to let anything show in his expression or tone.
A long time family attendant, then.
She imagined she knew exactly who had told him to fetch her. The same person who wanted him to call her ‘Little Aurora.”
“Miss is fine.” She curtsied to him with the level of manners befitting a lady, a movement that was somehow much less elegant without the flowing skirts and pointed shoes she was accustomed to. “I would appreciate your guidance, thank you.”
If her attitude surprised the man, he didn’t show that either. He walked with her down the hall, into the residential wing, past blackwood doors marked with the crest of Neilsland, past a well-used drawing room, and to a nondescript little wooden door in back trimmed in gold, like everything the Duke owned.
Lili chafed at the gold edging even as the door was opened into what was, she grudgingly admitted, an absolutely sweet little room.
Though little might not be the right word for it, let alone herself.
The room was on the corner of the residential wing, composed of a sleeping area and a reading area with a fireplace and massive windows on two walls. Before Lili could think better of it, she was stepping across the plush carpet, running her fingers over the velvet chaise lounge by the fire and crossing the well-lit room to the windows, which looked out over the grounds and the courtyard fountain.
She pressed the pane of glass open and the breeze rushed in, bringing with it the scent of the well-manicured gardens. Lili breathed deeply, feeling the flow of air and the warm wood of the sill under her palm.
It was a much nicer room than she was used to. With windows that opened.
She tore herself away from the view and surveyed her new quarters, relishing the bright colors and the blue accents, as though the room had been furnished with her in mind.
Which was impossible, of course.
“It’s beautiful,” she admitted to the attendant, who was waiting patiently by the door.
At this, the man bowed, a small smile of pride twitching his cheeks. Maybe he was personally responsible for her room.
“This servant is pleased that the accommodations suit Miss Aurora.” He bowed again. “The Dark Duke requests your presence at the banquet tonight. Please ready yourself by the dinner hour.”
He took his leave of her with this formal delivery and a final bow.
Before she could process his words, her gaze fell on the dress laid out on her four poster bed.
It was ruffled in the style of Neilsland, a deep, burnt red accented in gold. It was cut tastefully, with sleeves and bodice enough to feel covered, but stylish enough to be provocative.
It was classic with an edge.
Lili thought it suited her.
Of course, then came the horrible realization that someone had left this dress out for her. Someone who wished her to know—through the language of fashion, of all things-—that she was both interesting and classy. Edgy but sensible.
Lili lifted the dress to herself and turned to see it in the mirror by the vanity.
She would look amazing in it.
With her current status in the castle, there were precious few people who could leave her a dress like this. And fewer still who would match her previously-untried-but-now-favored style so perfectly.
Was this the Duke’s apology?
Lili swished the skirts a little.
A show of ownership?
No, the cut of the dress was too deliberate.
Was he asking her to wear it for him?
She stared at herself in the mirror and wondered.