“You did what?”
“I arranged for a squire to come here to assist you,” Chloe responded as if that was the most normal thing in the world to announce.
“He should be here in the next few days.”
Adelaide’s head swam with numbers. For the squire to be arriving in Lycaonia in the next few days, her mother must have made arrangements months ago.
“What? You need the help. It would be one thing if you simply mated into an equally stationed house, but you are the mate of the Unit Commander, thus, have to do more in the community.” Her mother sniffed. “Besides, I don’t want to give the Carthages a smidgen of room for complaint.”
Adelaide fought the urge to groan. Daphne Carthage had been a thorn in her side from the very first night she had met Byron a year prior. You would think mating someone would take them off the market, but the way Daphne acted, Adelaide was nothing more than a temporary distraction.
She looked around the estate Byron had built for her. It was as close to the Alpha estate as could be, but there were still nights when she keenly felt the distance.
Biting her lip she looked at her mother. “I could use the help. Longnight is just a few weeks away.”
Chloe nodded knowingly. “And you have the ball to finalize.”
Knowing a squire was on the way loosened some of the tendrils of anxiety. “What do you know about them?”
“Marius Steward was trained by the best. I made discrete inquiries of course, but, when they found out that the squire would be serving you, they of course turned it into a competition. Needless to say, Marius outperformed his competitors by a longshot.”
“Marius.” Adelaide turned the name over in her mind. Honestly, anyone competent to take orders would be a godsend.
“I have a good feeling about him, HoneyBear.”
Adelaide smiled at her childhood nickname. “Where is father anyway?”
Normally, he would be assisting her in planning the ball for Longnight. In the year since their arriving in Lycaonia, her father had become a local expert of etiquette and deportment. Evidently, the continent craved decorum.
Chloe sighed. “With Byron and the council again. The Elders wanted to create a set of local customs that would blend Old World elegance with New World practicality.”
Adelaide winced. Her father hated anything concerning modern thinking. In his mind, true noble manners had evolved over the centuries and were to be observed. “How are those conversations going?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Byron is acting as a mediator. If anyone can marry the two ideas it would be him. Thank all the gods for your mate. He can somehow walk the very thin line between both ideals. If anything comes to fruition it will because of his efforts.”
Adelaide smiled at the mention of her mate’s name. From the very second she had saw him, she had been swept away by his sapphire blue eyes.
Chloe chuckled. “Ahh, the newly mated. I see that even the mention of his name still makes you blush.”
Adelaide buried her face in her crossed arms on the desk. “Mother!”
She only heard a femmine laugh. “Good. Make me some grandbabies soon. That kind of heat cannot be ignored.”
“On that note, I’m due at Lady Cantor’s brunch. I will give them your apologies.”
Adelaide only lifted her face when she heard her mother stand. “Please do.”
Chloe kissed the air and headed toward the door.
Hearing the door close, Adelaide turned back to her writing desk where close to a hundred invitations still had to be addressed.
Sighing she stood and headed toward to the kitchen, she definitely needed tea to get anything done today.
A few days later Adelaide sat in Murielle Byrne’s salon gritting her teeth. Daphne’s squire had served everyone but her. The two women had planned a group luncheon and so far, she had only had a sip of terrible tea. The cup of what she hesitated to call tea was given to her by another of the lady’s squire.
Lady Cantor’s squire walked by, frowned and discretely place a roll on her empty plate. She smiled up at him and he gave her an apologetic wince. She gave a barely discernable shake of her head to let him know it wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t make waves if Lady Cantor didn’t, and Lady Cantor didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the Carthages.
She looked to the clock and barely stifled a sigh. She had only been here an hour. In the distance she heard the front door bell ring and the Carthage squire went toward the front of the house. It had to be Lady Rosethorn, the woman was constantly running late.
“So, Adelaide, how goes the Longnight planning?” Daphne asked, suddenly pulling her attention back to the room.
Adelaide? Not Lady McKenzie?
The subtle snub did not go unnoticed.
She smiled. “Very well. I am excited to see the outcome,” she announced vaguely. Despite working well into the night, she had only gotten half of the invitations done. When she realized Byron wouldn’t be coming home, she had gone to bed early with a heavy heart. She hadn’t seen him in days.
Daphne placed a finger to her cheek. “How strange, I have not received an invitation as of yet.”
Adelaide forced herself to smile wider. “Good things come to those who wait,” she said, then sipped her weak tea.
“My Lady, allow me,” a deep voice said at her left shoulder.
Looking up she could only stare. The man at her side had a head full of beautiful silver hair. “T-t-thank you.” She cursed herself for stuttering.
The man smiled and lifted her tea cup before placing it on the cart. He immediately poured a new cup, with hot water and plenty of tea leaves.
Looking around the room she realized no one had noticed her faux pas, because they were all staring at the hauntingly beautiful man.
“Lady McKenzie, your tea,” he announced, handing her the new cup and saucer.
“My thanks,” she murmured.
“I see another Lady’s squire felt sorry for you,” Daphne started.
Adelaide grit her teeth.
Daphne turned to the man preening. “Let me know who you work for, I would not mind you coming to serve House Carthage.”
The man simply placed a hand over his heart and bowed. “I serve Lady McKenzie. In Rome, many competed heatedly for the opportunity to serve a woman such as she, I am happy to have won. I decline your offer.”
It took everything in her not to inhale her tea and choke. This man was the squire her mother had arranged?! Was her mother trying to ruin her mating? Sneaking a glance, she looked the man over. Silver hair, kind eyes, well built, clean and perfect manners. He put nearly every man she had met thus far, saving Byron, to shame.
He noticed her looking and gave her a very covert wink. Blushing she turned her attention back to her tea. “Mother said she had arranged a squire for me.” Turning in her chair, she smiled genuinely at the man. “I am Adelaide McKenzie, it is very nice to finally meet you.”
“I am Marius Steward, I look forward to serving your house for many centuries to come.” He bowed to her before draping a tea towel over his forearm. Reaching under the cart he pulled out a plate with multiple small sandwiches and a piece of cake. “As I am still learning your preferences, please excuse the variety.” He smiled broadly.
She wanted to cry. Her stomach was seconds away from protesting and leaving her body in search of food. Taking the plate she ducked her head demurely. “I will let you know which I prefer,” she said, placing the plate before her.
Sighing happily she lifted the sandwich and began to devour everything on her plate. Across the room a fuming Daphne continued as if she didn’t exist. Glad to be ignored, she ate everything Marius handed her and only waved him off when she felt like she would be sick.
Nodding with satisfaction, he handed her a cup that smelled of mint.
“Peppermint tea?” she asked.
“It aids in digestion and keeps one looking young,” he advised.
Adelaide nearly snorted. Aids in digestion? He must have known she had made a glutton of herself, but dammit, she had been hungry.
Once the luncheon was over and she had said her goodbyes, Marius followed behind her and helped her up into her carriage. Seconds later he sat across from her.
Once they started rolling she looked at him. “How did you know where I was?”
He chuckled. “Your mother said, and I quote, ‘She’s probably being tortured by those local heathen females, due be a good fellow and save her’.”
Adelaide covered her mouth with her hands and laughed. “I can just imagine your first impressions.”
His expression turned frosty. “Those women, I dare not call them ladies, were atrocious. You are mated to the McKenzie, a man who is favored to be our Elder, and yet they let you sit there with flavored water.”
“It was tea,” she started.
He gave her a flat stare. “It was colored water. I would bite my tongue out before calling it tea.” He sniffed. “Your mother was kind in calling them heathens.” His expression softened when he looked at her. “And yet you sat there graciously, not wanting to cause a fuss.” He shook his head. “I have a feeling serving you will be the experience of a lifetime.”
“Serving…” She tapped her finger against the leather of her seat. “Does that possibly include helping me address invitations?”
He smiled widely. “Of course! We cannot allow those women to snicker up their sleeves can we?”
Feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders she sighed and relaxed against the seat. “Marius, I have a feeling you and I will get along perfectly.”
He nodded. “I agree.”
Adelaide rushed from her office to the front sitting room in her night robe waving a piece of paper. “Marius! Can you help me finalize this menu.”
“Be right there,” he replied, his voice coming from the kitchen.
Ever since his arrival two days ago, her life had become ridiculously easier. She didn’t have to worry about keeping the house, or ordering groceries. He was able to help her with the late invitations and even made suggestions regarding the ball. In truth he was a godsend.
Feeling someone walking up behind her. She turned smiling warmly. “Marius you always anticipate me,” she stopped short, looking up at her mate. “Byron!”
Fire blazed in the depths of her mate’s blue eyes. “Who in the hell is Marius!”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you yelling at me?”
He snarled and lifted his nose to the air, scenting out the other male. “Where is he!” he roared.
“Do not speak so to Lady Adelaide,” Marius said, as he walked in wiping his hands on a towel.
Byron strode forward until chests collided. “Get the fuck out of my house!”
Marius turned to her. “My Lady?”
Byron grabbed Marius by the throat. “You don’t speak to her, you don’t even look at her!”
Adelaide could only stare. Where was her normally sane mate?
“Byron McKenzie, if you do not release my squire in the next two seconds, you are going to discover why it’s in your best interest to never make me angry,” she said, growling low.
Byron paled, then slowly released Marius. He turned to her, pain emanating from his expression. “Addie?”
She stared at him. “What should you do first?”
Grumbling under his breath, Byron didn’t turn back to look at Marius. “Sorry.”
Adelaide gripped her arms tightly. “Marius Steward is the squire arranged by my mother. He will be assisting me here at the estate.”
Byron’s mouth dropped. “I can help…”
“Can you? When? Between drills and meetings? When you’re doing patrols or planning different training routines?” She waved her arms around the estate. “I cannot mange this place by myself anymore Byron! I didn’t realize how much I was drowning until Marius arrived. My mother in her infinite wisdom must have seen how much I was struggling and arranged for Marius to be sent to me.” She began pacing. “Not only do I have to keep the house clean, but I also have to maintain a social schedule that adequately represents both of us!” She threw her arms up in the air. “On top of all that it’s expected that I act as Lady McKenzie! The current elder’s mate is older and doesn’t host anything. Being younger and newly mated, everything is falling to me!”
She couldn’t hold back her frustation any longer.
“And everyone treats me horribly! Daphne laughs at me and they serve me water at tea parties!” she wailed.
“Honey!” Byron was at her side in seconds. “I will call their mates out…”
She slapped at his chest. “That will do nothing but reinforce how weak I am.” Speaking the words she realized how very little she had accomplished in the past year. She was still just an outsider, and hadn’t helped Byron in the slightest.
She felt Byron turn. “Well, don’t just stand there,” he ordered.
“My Lady, you are not alone, not anymore. Allow me to do what I do best,” Marius begged.
Lifting her head she looked from Byron’s panicked expression to Marius’s pleading one. She wiped at her tears. “And what is that?”
He smiled wickedly. “Serve.”
“Serve how exactly?” Byron groused.
She elbowed him.
Marius stepped back, placed his hand on his heart and bowed. “I have dedicated my life in service to Lady McKenzie and through her House McKenzie.” He straightened. “I would be a poor squire if I allowed other houses to treat my charge in such a way.”
Byron’s eyes darkened to pure ebony. “You help protect her and you will have my backing.”
Marius’ eyes lit up. “Thank you.”
Adelaide eyed the two men that had literally been at odds moments before. Turning to her mate. “When you say backing, are you promising to kill people?”
Both Byron and Marius’ expressions turned aloof at the same instance. Byron smiled. “You don’t need to worry about that darling.”
She sighed, but her heart felt full. She was no longer alone navigating this hostile world. She now had two allies at her side and honestly she felt sorry for those that stood against them.
Adelaide smiled until she felt like her cheeks would shatter. The ball, thanks to Marius had become a huge success. So far, Daphne had yet to make an appearance, but she honestly didn’t care if the woman never arrived.
“Lady McKenize, I must say, everything here is perfection!” Lady Cantor gushed.
“Thank you! Most of the support shown by our Noble and Founding Families will go directly to citizens in need.” Adelaide pointed to the raffle table and donation box she had arranged.
She had taken a chance trying to get donations on Longnight, but figured it was a night for new beginnings and sharing with others, what better time to ask for support.
“The Daughters of Lycaonia’s Sewing Circle had been trying to think of new ways to build up the community, this was pure genius. You really should join us at our next meeting Adelaide. I can see how much Lycaonia has come to mean to you,” Lady Cantor said, pointing to the donations.
Adelaide felt her heart skip a beat. She had just been invited to an extremely inclusive meeting of high society noblewomen.
Calming herself, she smiled sweetly. “If you don’t think I’ll intrude.”
“Of course not…”
Lady Cantor was cut of by a high pitched screech.
“How dare she!”
Adelaide looked around frantically until she saw the cause of the disruption.
“Oh gods,” she whispered.
Somehow, someway, Lady Daphne’s gown matched the decorations perfectly. The woman looked like she had wrapped herself in one of the table cloths and placed the centerpiece on her head.
She heard choking beside her and realized Lady Cantor was trying to keep her laughter at bay. Holding a fan up to hide her mouth. The woman turned to her. “Well played, my dear.” She nodded. “Yes, you must definitely attend our next meeting.” She walked away chortling.
By the door, Daphne flipped one of the tables before flouncing out, her two friends at her side. Once the door closed behind her, laughter erupted all around the ballroom.
“Wine, My Lady,” Marius asked, holding out a tray.
Dazed and a bit bewildered she took a glass.
Smiling smugly, Marius nodded. “Yes, I am glad we were able to change the linens last minute. They do look wonderful don’t they?” he asked, his eyes dancing mischievously.
She gasped and he winked, before heading toward Byron. “My Lord, wine?”
Byron smiling wide nodded and took a glass. Looking over to her he raised it. “To my beautiful mate,” under his breath he added. “…and to last minute linen expenditures.”
Adelaide laughed so hard, she had to set her wine down as she began to fumble around for a chair. Moments later both Byron and Marius were there.
“Happy Longnight, Byron, Marius.”
“Happy Longnight, my love,” Byron said, wrapping his arm around her waist.
Marius handed her, her wine again. “Happy Longnight, My Lady.”
‘The first of many, I hope,’ she prayed.