Iskander Dukas was the second son of a disgraced noble house–disgraced, because his parents had been part and parcel of the White Mantle. Although he and his brother had been investigated and declared innocent, the stain on the family name wasn’t so easy to shake. How and why he’d been invited to this party was a mystery.

And yet he attended, because it was still important to try to salvage what allies he could. That he was currently standing in the corner drinking his fourth glass of wine just went to show how exhausting it was to socialize with people who didn’t like you.

“Lord Dukas.”

He started and turned to regard the woman to his left. The first thing he noticed was that she was taller than he was–and broader. Her hunter dress had been very carefully tailored to compensate for the fact that she was more muscle than curve, and he suspected that she was wearing gloves to pretend she didn’t have calluses on her hands. 

And yet it was with all of a noble’s grace and charm that she smiled at him. 

“My apologies, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.” He sketched a bow. It was a safe gesture, as almost everyone was above him in the social hierarchy these days.

“Lady Ambrosine Thalkor.”

He wasn’t old enough to remember the gruesome death of her parents, so the name meant nothing to him. But she was a lady, and could probably crush him to death with her thighs alone, so he smiled with his full charm. “Well, Lady Thalkor. A true pleasure to meet you. What brings you to my little corner of the party?”

“This and that,” she said simply, leaning against the wall beside him. She was nursing a drink of her own, although it appeared to be beer rather than wine. “We have friends in common, as it would happen.”

“Do we?” He resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow. He didn’t exactly have many friends.

“It’s no secret that you’re seeing Chris,” she said softly, sipping her drink. Her gaze was directed across the rest of the party, but her body was still canted slightly in his direction. 

Despite the oddness of the situation, he laughed and even blushed a little. “Yes, well. I suppose we’re not subtle, although I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in why a younger son of an impoverished house is dallying with the younger son of a trading family.”

“Politics,” Ambrosine said with a slight shrug. “The Ames family has a lot of money, and thus, a lot of pull should they choose to wield it. Old Man Ames tries to hold himself aloof of politics, but you can’t have money in Kryta and be completely clear of it. Rumor is that you are grasping after the Ames family influence to salvage your house.”

He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. “Of course they would say that.” He smiled, bitterly. “The simple truth is that Chris is very pretty and good in bed. I didn’t put more thought into it than that.”

“If it makes you feel better they say the same about me.”

His eyes popped back open and he turned more towards her. “Do they?”

She smiled, and it looked more wry than bitter. “Chris is my brother-in-law, it would happen. So we’ve heard about you, of course. At length.” Ambrosine chuckled. “So don’t tell me it’s just about a pretty face, Lord Dukas. I know better. I just wanted you to know that you have allies, if you want them. Tell your bother that if he’s willing to plant hops at his Gendarran farms, he has a ready buyer, would you?”

Iskander blinked as she nodded and walked away.

What? What was going on. What was he getting into?

Author Ambrosine
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