Tag Archive | Jervennon

Chapter Fifteen – Taslin – Here

“Here.” Reshnel pointed at a spot on the contract. “Sign here, and here; and you, Jervennon of Cecby, there, and there. It is done.” The Master of the Gladiators stood. “I will leave you two to get acquainted. Your next match is the day after next, Taslin. Sir, I will send a runner for your bank note.”

He left the room, leave Taslin and Jervennon sitting across a table from each other.

“That valet, really?” Jervennon barely waited for the door to be closed, but he waited that long. “I could send you one of my mother’s.”

“And when the year of my patronage ended, he’d leave me. Vinroth is part of the business here and he will work for me as well in private as he has in public.” She’d practiced that line. “Well, Dar Jervennon, I’m yours.” She fell to her knees in front of him. “What would you have of me?”

Taslin’s hands were behind her back, one hand holding the other’s wrist; her back was straight and her ass on her heels. She did break protocol enough, however, to look her new Patron in the face. And he was coloring hotly and not quite looking at her. “I have some ideas.”

A glance lower down gave a good impression of what those ideas were. “If you’re impatient, the pit keeps several rooms for just that purpose. We could requisition one, you know. Nobody would naysay you that.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Dar Jervennon, I wish to please you. You have just signed this expensive contact for my services, and I want to give you your money’s worth.”

“Don’t talk about it like that! I mean… I mean…” Jervennon’s hands flailed for a moment. Taslin watched, unsure what response would calm him, but in a moment, he seemed to calm himself. “Sar Taslin, it would please me if you would not talk about this like a transaction. I’m your Patron now; we are in a contract for mutual benefit, yes?”

She could work with that. “Yes, Dar Jervennon.”

Whatever Dar really meant, it seemed to soothe him so much more than anything else. His hands stilled in his lap.

“Then I’m asking you, do you want to go to bed with me?”

Taslin wondered, for a moment, if he knew there was only one right answer to his question. She was pretty sure that he didn’t. Well, that actually made giving the right answer easier.

“Of course, my… my Patron. I’ve been wondering when you’d ask that for a while now.”

“And these rooms they have reserved…?”

“I’ve never been in one, but I hear they’re laid out to make a man of your station happy so they should be good enough for this, wouldn’t you think?”

“You’re really quite striking when you smile, you know.”

“Thank you, Dar Jervennon. As are you.”

“Why… thank you. So, where are these rooms?”

“This way, I think.” She rose, and tilted her head in the right direction, hoping he’d take the cue. He hadn’t Patronized someone, before, but surely he’d grown up with some sort of staff?

It seemed that he knew a cue when it bit him in the ass. “Forward?” He stood up and headed in the proper direction.

“Out this door and to the left.” Taslin fell in behind him, just to his left, in the position of a bodyguard. In the annals of history, that was why rich oligarchs and their families had patronized Gladiators. To some degree, it was still true today. “And then the first door without a ribbon on it.”

“That’s very clever.” The third door was un-be-ribboned, and Jervennon opened it. “This is nice. Nicer than I expected in a place like this.”

She didn’t respond to the implied slight, because she was pretty sure he wasn’t aware of it. “It looks very nice,” she agreed instead. The bed was wide, the bedstead sturdy and made out of wood and twisted metal, the sheets fine linen, the lights covered gas lamps and not candles. It was luxurious to her eyes, although she didn’t know what it was to his. “It looks comfortable enough for…”

“Yes. Yes, it does.” Through his thin pants, it was once again clear that he was eager for this. “Taslin, come here and stand with your back to me, that I might undress you properly.”

An order, good. He needed to remember he was supposed to give those. And an order that she was becoming increasingly eager to obey. Taslin crossed the room and stood, her back to him, her arms loose at her side. “As you order, my Patron, so I do obey.”

“You make the words sound so dirty.” He purred it in her ear, making even that sound dirty. “So scandalous and sexual and lovely.”

“I always assumed they were meant to be sexual.” She took a risk, again, because his hands on her hips were making her twitch in interesting and entertaining ways, and leaned her head back until she could look up at his face. “The whole ritual, if you take it apart and listen to it, is all sex. ‘I kneel before you to service you…’”

“It doesn’t really say service, does it?”

“It says serve, but we always joked about it when we were reading the silly porns people made about it.”

“We read those, too.” His hands slid down to the hem of her tunic, and then back up to the buttons at the back. He was deft in unbuttoning her, even while his lips wandered over her ear and her cheek and her forehead. “I have a collection of them under my bed. I don’t know why I kept them. It was a little silly, I guess, but they were fun.”

“They are fun. I never kept any of them. We used them for fire fuel, a lot of the time, after we read them. When I was older, I actually bought a couple. I had to hide them from my mother, then, because that was a waste of mon…” She trailed off. “I’m sorry, m… master. You don’t want to hear that.”

“I want to hear everything about you, but now might not be the moment for everything.” He nibbled on her ear tip.

“Mmm. Yes, master.” Master felt warm and pleasant on her lips. Of course, his lips felt warm and pleasant on her ear, too. “What do you want to know about me right now?”

“I want to know what makes you moan with pleasure. I want to know what you’re like with your tongue and what you can do with your hands. I want to know what you feel like under me.”

“You’re a bit of a poet, aren’t you?” She arched a little further backwards, trying to get her lips onto his neck. Almost, almost…

“I have been, from time to time.” He leaned backwards, moving his neck just out of her reach. “And you?”

“I’m not the poetic sort. They don’t really teach it in the schools I went to.” She had one trick left up her sleeve – the sleeve that was on the floor over there. She tilt her head to the side and hooked her foot around his ankle.

“Not at all?” He seemed oblivious to her maneuver, or, rather, to its possible consequences. He used it to grind up against her, and moved from her ear-tip down to the side of her neck. “Not even the classics?”

“Well, that hardly counts, does it?” She did not want to throw her new Patron onto the floor. She wanted to move him, yes, but not throw him. She shifted her hip just so, and there was his neck tumbling into her mouth perfectly. “Classics are… mmm… classics.”

“Unh.” He caught a handful of her hair and held on. Taslin froze for a moment, but he didn’t seem intent on pulling her away from him. “You’re rather aggressive.”

She set her teeth into his neck, very gently, careful not to leave a mark. “Is that a bad thing, Master?” She moved from his neck to his earlobe in a series of small bites.

He cupped her breast, squeezed, and then squeezed again with every nibble. “No. No, at least, not yet. I like it.”

“Then I am glad to have pleased you.”

“So formal.” Somehow, a hand found its way between her thighs. “Are you always this formal with your lovers?”

“You’re my Master and my Patron, Dar Jervennon.” His ear tips curved differently than any she’d encountered before. She traced the lines with her tongue. “I believe you deserve a certain level of formality.”

“You make it sound like a punishment.” He took a step backwards, both hands still on her; she shifted with him and found her lips on his throat. “Are you punishing me, Taslin?” His voice vibrated against her lips; she kissed the vibrations and then bit them. “Unf. Careful.”

“Always careful. And no. I am not punishing you, my Master. That is not my place.”

“And is it my place to punish you?” His voice was still playful; she glanced at his face and saw he was smiling. The smile turned solemn when he saw her looking, however. “My apologies, Taslin. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you were doing anything to be punished, just…” He pinched the curve of her breast. “That it might be fun to leave a few marks on your perfect skin.”

She set her teeth into his throat again, waiting until he moaned before she released the bite. “We negotiated that.” It wasn’t so much a reminder as an agreement.

“We did. You surprised me with that.” He dragged painted nails down her stomach, leaving thin red lines.

“I surprise you quite a bit, Master.” She writhed away from his hands and danced away from his grasping reach. “Would you like me to surprise you again?”

“I do think I’d like that, yes.” His grin was very anticipatory. Good. She wanted him to be sure he’d gotten his money’s worth out of his Gladiator.

“Good.” She moved before he could even make a guess at what she was going to do, sweeping one leg out from under him and pushing him onto his back on the bed. “Because I’m full of surprises, Master.”

Chapter 11 – Taslin – Choose

“Choose.”

The barracks for the new and un-Patronized Gladiators were, by nature, not at all private. Thus, while Vinroth held up tunics for Taslin, most of the rest of the women were watching with interest.

“I like the violet one. I think it brings out your eyes.” Marrhi leaned over her bunk and fingered the soft fabric.

“But it’s going to make her skin look yellow.” Sellen wandered over. “The blue is nice, though. Where did you get these lovelies?”

Vinroth helpfully held up the three options – violet, blue, and a soft green color – for the other Gladiators to examine, and left answering that question to Taslin.

“The not-a-Patron. The first one, still.” Taslin took the green tunic from the valet and held it up to herself. “His gifts are getting more generous and less practical.”

“Why haven’t you picked him yet?” Lansesh plopped down on the bed next to Taslin. “Because, you know, there are others of us who are interested, too, and if you’re not going to take him, I’m sure he’ll start sending presents to the rest of us.”

“If Taslin is his type, Lan, do you really think you’ll be?” Corby shook her head. “Or me, for that matter. He’s clearly looking for a Tower sort and you, my dear, are a gate.”

“Hey! Take that back!”

“Nothing wrong with being a gate. You’re really good at what you do. The green’s good, Tas. I like the shape on it, if it works with the shape on you.”

The green one did have a nice shape. Taslin pressed it against her body, studying it. “This has to have cost him a fortune.”

“As I understand it, he enjoys spending his mother’s fortune quite a bit. And she indulges him, because he’s her only living child. His brother died climbing the Ladder a few years ago.” Vinroth had practice pitching his voice very low; Lansesh could probably hear him, but the rest of the barracks definitely couldn’t, not without magic. And while using the vepó in the barracks was not exactly forbidden, it was discouraged very strongly.

“So he has the money to spend. And he’s spending it on me.” The tunic was made out of thin silk, cut to skim along Taslin’s figure and end somewhere almost at her knees. It came with an under layer in a much darker green, and soft indoor boots the color of the walls. “I think I won’t really argue, although where am I going to wear something like this?”

“Well, today, to meet him. And you’re going to sit down and let me do something with your hair, too. Did you hack it with a knife?”

“Urm. Yes?” Her hand went to her hair. “All right. I’m meeting with him today, I take it?”

“Meeting? In that?” Lanesh reached over and touched the tunic. “You know this is embroidered in monk’s-tears, right? Nothing else makes that color.”

“How do you get thread out of monk’s-tears?” The multi-hued metal was generally found near Wellsprings of vepó; Taslin had never seen any before and now she was holding something embroidered in it.

“I think you liquify it?” Lanesh shrugged. “I’ve never seen it done, but my mother had a pair of slippers that were embroidered all over in that and silver.”

Taslin gulped a little at the excess that represented. “That’s… something.”

“They were very tough shoes, at least.” Lansesh stood up. “I like the green. Go with it.”

“She can go with whatever she likes, Lan. This is her engagement.” Corby swiped the air near Lansesh, not quite reaching her.

“Well, fine. If you’re not going to use the blue, I’ll buy it from you.” Lansesh grabbed the blue tunic and stood up.

“How do you have money if you don’t have a Patron either?” Sellen jumped off her bunk to look at the blue tunic.

“Well, my parents send me a little bit now and then. They’re not really happy about the whole Gladiator thing.”

“If your mom has slippers full of monk’s-tears, I can imagine they’re not. Wow.” Sellen shook her head. “You can afford this?”

“Maybe ten, twenty omeh? They can go as high as thirty, which would be pushing it. I can go up to seventeen with what I can get my hands on now.”

Taslin glanced at Vinroth. He nodded, a tiny movement. “Fifteen omeh, then.” She’d never had her hands on a tunic this nice before, so she didn’t know if it was a fair amount. But her mother could feed the family for at least two weeks on that, maybe as many as five if she stretched it. Or it would pay for a month of advanced classes for her brother and sister. Hel and Thet had promise, if they could just get a leg up.

“Fifteen it is! Hold on.” She fiddled around in her bodice and came up with a small packet of the spell-laced bills. “Seven, eight, nine… that’s a five, fourteen, and fifteen. Here. Oh, I know just where I’m going to wear this…”

“Should you be selling gifts your Patron gave you?” Sellen’s frown was purse-lipped and old-lady-ish.

“He’s not my Patron. Yet. And he said to me that I didn’t have to use them, that I could let my cat sleep in them. That I could give them to destitute Tenth Circle children.”

“People say things like that.” Sellen’s frown hadn’t unbent yet.

“Well, if he’s lying, then I’ll know he’s lying. If he’s telling the truth, then he won’t be in any place to mind. And if he minds anyway, then he can change what he says the next time he gives me tunics.” She stripped down to her britches and wrapping, then, giving it a moment’s thought, stripped all the way down to her skin. “Was there…”

“Of course there was.” Vinroth, his eyes on her face, passed Taslin the tiny silk breeches and the top-like thing that must be in place of her normal wrappings. “Here, let me show you how this one goes on.”

“You get a lot of practice with women’s underwear, Vin?” Corby’s tone was crude and the laugh she appended was even cruder. Vinroth, of course, ignored the tone.

“I am a valet to a stable of Gladiators. I have had more than enough opportunity to put such things onto to women, injured, indisposed, or simply wishing someone to do up the back fastenings. Here, Taslin, like this.” The vest wrapped around, holding each breast separately and buttoning in the back. It was nice, she mused, although a very different feeling from wrapped bindings. Probably not the best idea for the pit…

…but tonight was an entirely different sort of combat. She slipped the fifteen omeh into the vest and let Vinroth dress her.

Laces were laced, buttons were buttoned. The tunic was deceptive in its simplicity; if it weren’t embroidered in monk’s-tears, she could wear it under armor in the ring. But, like the vest, it fastened in the back, as if Jervennon wanted her to need help getting dressed.

“There.” Vinroth smoothed the tunic down and smoothed the boots up. “You look… very handsome. Here.” He steered her towards the barracks’ single mirror. “Don’t you think so?”

Taslin might have protested handsome; she had enough vanity and the thinnest urges of femininity. But looking in the mirror… “I do. I look sharp.” Something about the cut of the tunic made her look slender and minimized her already-small chest. “I don’t look sexy…”

“I think you’re hot.”

“You like boys, Sellen.”

“So? Maybe he does too.” Sellen threw a sock at Taslin.

Taslin dodged the sock and ignored Sellen. “What if he hates it on me?”

“Well, then you’ll wear something else the next time. There you go, you’re fine.” Vinroth did something to her hair with a bit of oil, and then something to her face with a bit of his pot of cosmetics. “You don’t look like a woman going on a date, but you look like a Gladiator on an engagement. And since that is what you are… it seems to be a good look. There.” He did something else to one lock of her hair, making it frame her face and somehow softening the sharp edges there. “Now, off to the meeting room with you, and good luck with your beau.”

“He is most definitely not my beau.”

“Oh, but he’d like to be. Remember what we talked about.”

“Are you her valet or her father?” Corby pinched Vinroth’s tush for punctuation. He barely twitched. “Neither. At the moment I’m the valet to the barracks. But not, I might point out, the barracks whore.”

“Soorrrr-eeee.” Corby held up both her hands and backed away slowly.

Vinroth smoothed Taslin’s hair. “You’re going to have a lovely conversation with him, and, with any luck, he’ll be as understanding as I think he is. Remember, he’s in a difficult position, and he’s going to have trouble thinking about anything else.”

“Difficult position.” Sellen’s scoff was soft enough that they could ignore it, so they did.

“And remember that you need to explain your position to him as carefully as you can. He doesn’t want to put you in a bad spot, or he’d be doing this far differently.”

“Can’t you explain it?”

“You know I can’t. Out with you.”

She fled, trying to make it look like a strategic exit and not an escape. Her boots sounded strange on the tile-and-rock floors: they were too soft to slap like sandals or thump like normal boots, but they weren’t bare-footed, so they made a shush-shush noise as she walked. She distracted herself by trying to make the movement silent. Shush, shush… nothing. She walked that way to the visitation room.

Oh. Oh, yes. She couldn’t ignore what she was here to do any longer. She took a measured breath, and then several more. The sword thrust is level. The opponent is clear. We step in, and we move the sword just so.

He was not the sort of opponent you could stab. Or, rather, she probably could, but her life would then be measured in hours and not years. Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, and center.

She had knelt for the collar. She could kneel again for Jervennon of Cecby.

His door opened. “Taslin Gladiator. Please, enter. You look wonderful in that tunic; is it the one I picked out for you?”

“Yes, s- Yes, Jervennon.”

“You remembered!” He clapped his hands together. “Lovely. I knew you were a good choice. I knew were brilliant.”

“I don’t know about brilliant, but I have a good sense of self-preservation.” Except when her mouth opened and words came out without running through her brain first; what had that been? Some suicidal bratty class-war remnant of her childhood?

Jervennon laughed. “I’ll take it. Come on in, please. Your valet sent word?”

Taslin dropped to one knee. “Jervennon. I am being pressured to choose.”

 

 


Sorry for the delay! (Nano <.<)

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Chapter 7 – Taslin – Come

“Come, Taslin Gladiator.” Vinroth touched Taslin gently on the elbow. “You have fought well, and now you must deal with another sort of battle.”

She blinked at him. The guards had taken away her opponent, and a medic had bound her wounds and fed her something that was supposed to make the pain go away. It had mostly made her muzzy-headed and a little bit silly.

“No more battles today. I’m not that good, yet.”

“No, not quite, although you were quite impressive out there on the field today.”

“You watched?” It must be the medicine that made her feel warm and silly.

“I always watch. But now you must stop fishing for praise and come with me.”

“I wasn’t…” She caught the look on Vinroth’s face. “I’m coming. What’s wrong?”

“There is nothing… wrong, not exactly. But you should hurry.”

“Hurry. Right.” She grabbed a tunic off of a hook and accepted the hip-wrap the valet handed her. “Where am I hurrying?”

“With me. This way.” He passed her a thin gold cord to wrap over the hip-wrap. “You still smell a little, but in this case I think that will work for you, not against you.”

“Well, I didn’t have time to get in an argument about showering with you right now, I was busy being drugged to the gills.”

“After the fight you’ve had, you’re allowed it, I’d say. Through here.”

The route finally worked its way through her drugged mind. “Vinroth, this is…”

“Yes. Now.” He brushed his hands through her hair and smoothed her tunic, her wrap, the cord, and everything else about her. “Be polite.”

“Vinroth, I’m always polite.”

“Be more polite than always.”

“I’m… all right.” They were upstairs. There was no reason to go upstairs unless an oligarch needed them for something – or an oligarch’s servant. This couldn’t be good. But she had been primped and smoothed, she was drugged and confused, and it would have to do.

“And remember to kneel.”

“Yes, of course.” She waited until Vinroth opened the door, taking the moment to take a few breaths. That ought to have steadied her; instead, it made her more nervous.

She took three, four, five measured steps into the audience chamber, dropped to one knee, and dropped her face to look at the floor. The single glance gave her a rough impression of the man standing there: he had black hair, copper skin, and nipples that were almost black through his white top.

“I live to serve.”

“You serve the Pit. I would like you to consider serving me.” She could hear his sandals slapping on the tile floor, moving closer to her. “I have been watching you.”

“Sir.” She kept her head down. The world was swimming, a bit. She hoped it was just the medicine.

“You fight very smoothly, despite being new.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I am very impressed. You’re still young, of course, still new and growing. But you could be famous with ease.”

“Sir.”

“You can call me by my name, you know.”

“Sir?” Oh, dear. Was he one of the famous ones? She risked peeking up at him.

In addition to the black hair, which was curly, the copper skin, which glistened, and the black nipples – which were actually black, she thought – he had astonishingly green eyes, lips the same black as the nipples – paint or nature? – and a body which was nearly as toned as a Gladiator’s, although in a much more sleek style. He was wearing the thinnest white shirt she had ever seen, and pants, also white, that were barely any heavier, as well as four earrings in his left ear and three in his right. His ears swept upwards into high points, the tips of which were also black.

“I’m sorry, sir.” She bowed her head. “I do not know your name.”

He laughed. This could be bad. “Ah. I see.” This could be very bad. “Of course you don’t. I am so used to the people who serve in the Inner Circle; I forget people outside of the Towers don’t know the families of the Oligarchs.”

The families of the Oligarchs. She snuck another look at him. He had to be at least as old as she was.

He chuckled again. “Oh, yes. In a year or two, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, my mother is going to have to send me down to the Tenth Circle, and I’ll have to live like the rest of the world. But until then, I might as well enjoy myself, no?”

“Sir.” She nodded her head lower. It seemed the safest option.

“You’re a cautious one, aren’t you?”

“I’ve been in the pit for less than a month, sir.”

“And you’ve been warned about patrons, haven’t you, or you’ve heard stories, either about the worst of the patrons or the children of Oligarchs.” His sandals slapped on the floor as he crossed the room. She held still, despite fighter’s training telling her to stand up, to get in a defensible position, to find a weapon.

He tapped her left shoulder, then her right, and then rested both hands on her head. “I understand. I’ve heard all the stories, too. You’re right to be cautious.”

“Sir.” Again.

“However.” His voice took on a little bit of laughter again. “If you call me sir again, I’m going to order all your hair shaved off.”

“Si… I’m sorry?”

“It would get your attention, it would remind you what not to do, and it would be visible to everyone without actually impairing your fighting ability.”

“You’ve thought this out, s…” Taslin coughed. “What should I call you, then? I have to be able to call you something.”

“My name is Jervennon of Cecby.” His hands moved back to her shoulders. “It’s lovely hair, please remember the name.”

“As you wish, Jervennon.” Taslin nodded her head. “What can I do for you?”

“For now? Accept my gifts. I don’t want you to accept my patronage yet, but you can take gifts from anyone you wish until you do accept a patron, I think.”

“You think?” She found her voice squeaking.

“I’ve never been a Patron before.”

“I’ve never been a Gladiator before.” Taslin glanced up at her possibly-would-be-Patron and risked a smile. “If you want to give me gifts, si – Jervennon – and the rules say I can, I will not turn them down.” There, that sounded sufficiently formal without sounding as if she was accepting a Patronage. She hoped.

“Who would know?”

“Vinroth will know. The valet who led me up here.”

“Within any reason, and if I know valets – I’ve known a few, let me tell you – this Vinroth will be waiting just outside the door.” His hands were gone from her shoulders, and his boots thudded on the floor. The door swung open. “Ah. Are you Valet Vinroth?”

“That is I, sir.” She could hear the swish of fabric as Vinroth, presumably, bowed.

“Tell me, as I have never been a Patron before and Gladiator Taslin never a Gladiator before, what protocol is in place for giving gifts outside of a patronage?”

“You wish to give gifts to someone… without a Patronage?” It sounded as if his eyebrows raised. Vinroth had very expressive eyebrows.

“I wish to court her into considering a Patronage.”

“Your lordship is very clever. Well, if that is what you wish, there is no reason you cannot give gifts to anyone you please, and there is no reason that an unassigned, unattached Gladiator cannot take gifts from whoever she pleases.”

“Very good. Then there are some gifts I would like you to take to her room for her, if you would.”

“You don’t wish to hand them to her?”

“No.” The change in tone was sudden. “No. The gifts do not need to pass from my hands into Gladiator Taslin’s. That can wait until the Patronage is accepted, if it is.”

“As you wish, sir. The packages?”

“Here.”

There was the sound of shifting material – something clanked – and then the softest of oof-sounds. “I will take this as required, sir.” Vinroth’s voice bore the slightest sound of strain.

“Very good. See that everything is proper. And you.” The boots again. Taslin’s shoulders twitched with the need to move, to watch. She did not. She held still, as if her life depended on it. “You.” His hands landed hard on her shoulders. “Look at me, Taslin Gladiator.”

She looked up at him. There wasn’t a lot of choice, when it was put that way. “Jerevnnon.” She tried to make it sound like sir.

“Understand. These are gifts. These are not payment for services. They are a token of my appreciation for your skill, and a sign of what could come, should you accept my Patronage. They’re gifts.” He squeezed her shoulders. “With no obligation, save that you look at them, and understand that I gave them to you because of the way you move in the pit.”

This was getting stranger and stranger. She nodded, carefully. “I understand.”

“That means, should they not suit you, you don’t have to use them. You don’t have to use them. They’re gifts. If you want to give them to destitute Tenth Circle children, I won’t argue. If you let you cat sleep in them, I won’t argue. If you wear them proudly, I will not argue.”

“S… Jervennon…”

“No, I’m serious. I need you to understand that, or these aren’t gifts, they’re very fancy shackles.”

She understood, finally, that he wasn’t really talking to her. She nodded, because that was what it seemed like he needed. “I understand. I appreciate that you like my performances enough to give me gifts. If they suit, I will wear them proudly.” She risked meeting his eyes again. “I really do appreciate that you liked it that much. I didn’t think today went all that well.”

“Today was a travesty. But that was not your doing.” His hands lifted off of her shoulders. “Go. And I hope you enjoy the gifts.”

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