October 30, 2013 by Lyn
See also this story, which comes directly before the story below.
After that, things got easier. The wine helped. The wine helped a lot. But what helped more, for both of them, was the sense of finally. Finally, someone understood. Finally, someone who wouldn’t have unreasonable expectations. Finally, someone who would be willing to meet the expectations they both had.
“Not that long walks on the beach are actually a thing, here… oh, dear, I sound like a Playboy bunny.”
“Not on the beach, maybe, but we can definitely do long walks in the orchard. Maybe a picnic dinner?” Porter had claimed one of Bel’s hands across the table; he traced lines up and down her knuckles with his thumb.
“That would be lovely.” She smiled at him, the sort of warm smile that sent shivers up male spines. Even Porter’s spine. She was a beautiful woman. “It’s like you’re reading my mind…. are you?”
“I assure you, I am not reading your mind. Not literally, at least.” He gave her his crooked smile in return, although she definitely got short shrift in that exchange. “I think we’re just linked. Just on the right wavelength.”
“Soulmates.” She finished her second glass of wine and graved him with a warm smile. “I like that. So, Mr. Porter…”
“Mister Porter?” He twitched one tiger-ear at her, amused.
“Well, you don’t appear to have a last name. And ‘Mister cy’Solomon’ doesn’t really seem to work.”
“Well, I suppose you could call me sa’Porter. Or jae’Porter.”
“Are those…” She swallowed, and gave him a warm look he couldn’t interpret… “fairy words for something?”
“More or less. But just Porter is fine. I think we’re on a first-name basis… Belfreja.”
Her cheeks reddened, and her smile grew. It was a lovely smile, bright and warm and like he’d been just a little bit too naughty. “I suppose, if you really wanted, we could be on such a basis… Porter. Now, what was I saying?”
“I do not know… Belfreja.” It must be the wine. He was really enjoying saying her name, tasting it on his lips like chocolate. “You didn’t finish.”
“I didn’t. Something about…”
“Soulmates?” The idea made something in his chest flip and flop.
“Mmm. And the peculiar sense of dating around this school.”
“Oh.” That made decidedly different flip-flop feelings. “That.”
“I had a feeling you’d say something like that. Timora managed to explain a few things, but, frankly, the whole thing seems more than a bit strange.”
Porter swallowed. “It is. And there’s…”
“…reasons you can’t explain large parts of it. The loophole being, people expect upperclassmen to order their… ah…”
“Their ah, yes.”
“…to not tell others, because there’s this culture of ‘gotta catch ‘em all…”
“Not right now, right now we’re talking about the immediate future.”
She was, he noted, smiling at him over her glass, still, a warm and affectionate sort of thing. So, even though this was horrid, she wasn’t, yet, angry.
“And Timora’s been telling you things, then?”
“Yes. Not just her, but, well, mostly her. Gar mainly glowers.”
“That’s more or less what Gar does.” Porter shrugged. “Glower and complain.”
“That’s not a nice thing to say about your crew.”
“I know, but I didn’t pick him. Sylvia did. I mean, she picked us all, really. Except Timora.” Porter shrugged. “Arundel picked her on his own.”
Porter could smile at that one. That one was easy. “Timora picked you.” He nodded to her, twitching his ears as cutely as he could.
She chuckled, which probably meant he’d done it right. “Is that so? And what did you think of her choice?”
“I think you’re fishing for compliments and have no need to throw out a line, beautiful lady.” He tipped an imaginary hat at her, as his real hat was sitting on the coat-rack, where it belonged. “I also think Timora may have a hidden second innate as a matchmaker.”
“She does seem to have matched us pretty tidily, doesn’t she? And what does your Sylvia think of that?”
“I am not entirely certain.” Entirely came out a bit mangled. Perhaps they’d had too much wine. On the other hand, it made her giggle. “Sylvia keeps her own coun – coun- council.”
“Yes, she does seem like the type. Well. So you can’t speak to me about things.” She waved her free hand and wiggled her fingers. “And you can’t speak as to the opinion of your crew leader. But you have an interest in me beyond indulging Timora?”
“Oh, yes.” That was a bit enthusiastic, wasn’t it? “I mean, yes, yes. Yes-yes.” Still enthusiastic. Maybe he should just be okay with that. “I’m very interested in you.”
“In me being your Kept?”
“Uh.” She was more direct than – than anyone, even Sylvia. “I would be more than content to have you as my lady friend. And that is the gods’ honest truth, beautiful lady. But…”
“That’s the rub, is it not?”
“Yes.” He sighed. “Timora explained?”
“And I understand, at least to some extent. You’re certainly not the first person who’s been expressing an interest in me, let me just say, and the others, well… if Timora had not explained, it might have gone differently.”
“They do often rely on trickery.” He was relying on what? His cute ears? He twitched one of them again.
“They.” She smiled as if she was looking right through him. “And you?”
“I’m not very good at trickery. I prefer to bull ahead and hope for the best.”
“Is that so?” She had the most expressive eyebrows.
“It is.” He nodded, trying to be solemn. “So. I will take what you choose to give me, beautiful lady, beautiful Freya.”
“You’re drunk, tiger boy.”
“And you’re sober, goddess?”
“Hardly. Would you say getting me drunk was a non-tricky way to get me to agree to something?”
“No.” He made sad-kitty faces, ducking his head and making his ears go back. “But, to be fair, I wasn’t planning on asking you to agree to anything today.”
“I wasn’t, no. I swear to you that it’s the truth.”
“You didn’t strike me as the swearing type.”
This conversation was getting sillier and sillier. He stifled a chuckle and bowed to her again. “I bow… see.. bowing. To your superior judgement on the matter.”
“So, what was your plan, then?”
“Well, placate Timora, get to know you. Float the… issues at hand and let you think about them.” It sounded lame when he described it that way. “What about you? What was your plan?”
“Enjoy a nice dinner, placate Timora, and let you down gently when you asked for sex.”
“When? Not if?”
“It’s always a when. Well… it’s always been a when in the past.” Her lips touched her wine glass. Even that was seductive. Porter could understand – if not sympathize with – those people in her past. “I’ve been speaking to Professor VanderLinden.”
“The family resemblance didn’t escape me.”
“I assume that’s where half the attention came from. You put a ‘sh’Linden’ on the end of your name, and people assume it’s equivalent to a cy’Linden.”
“I’m sure some people do.”
Porter tilted his head, with a little bit of a smile. He might have, too, but it hadn’t interested him the way it would some. “You’ve been speaking to the professor, your mother…?”
“About the dynamics of the school, about my own proclivities, or lack thereof-”
“I’m sure you have proclivities.”
“I’m sure I do, too. About those dynamics and proclivities, and about certain tendencies of my half-siblings…”
“And Lolly. Ty, who I’ve never met. Mark.”
“Him, too. The professor is not entirely impressed with the family to date. He’s not completely impressed with me, either, but that’s for different reasons.”
“The lack of a family resemblance to your siblings?”
“To himself, at least.” She shrugged. “He doesn’t think that this, this collar thing…” Her fingers went up to touch the side of her neck. “He thinks that it would be a good thing for me to experience, with a good Keeper, a good… owner.“
Porter wrinkled his nose. “I’ve never liked that phrase. But…” He hurried on, because he was interested, and he was worried. “Do you know what sort of good guy you’d like?”
Her fingers found his across the table. “I do.”