Symon did not look forward to the dancing lesson, even though he usually enjoyed it. Chance had paired him with Laurena tonight; it was the first time since he had recovered from his feigned illness.
"It was nothing," Symon told her. "I saw you talking to Prince Gerandar the other night. It looked like you enjoyed his company." Laurena tensed up in his arms.
"No. As a matter of fact, I did not," she whispered. "He is possessive, arrogant, and..." She pressed her lips together, she must have read the excitement from his face. "You would do well to concentrate on your steps," she said.
Symon pulled her closer, savoured her elegance and grace as the music guided them. When their training session ended, she told him she was positively elated with his progress. Intoxicated with happiness, he posed her the question he had put off for far too long.
"Do you have some time to spare tomorrow?" he asked, silently scolding himself for his bluntness, even though he had practised the words over and over. Laurena pressed her eyebrows into a quizzical frown, caught off-guard at the unexpected question.
"I can ask for an afternoon's leave if there is a compelling reason to do so," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"Would you like to spend an afternoon with me in the countryside?" He cursed himself for fumbling his words again, twice in a row now. "I'll bring some food and wine," he tried to recover. "We can spend the afternoon visiting one of the neighbouring villages. I have barely had a chance to see you these last few weeks."
"It depends on the occasion. Do I have to make arrangements for a chaperone or will it be a private affair?" Her surprise had turned into playful curiosity, and Symon fervently tried to work out if that was a good thing. Out of all the possible replies he had rehearsed, he had not prepared for that one. A tug on the elbow pulled Symon aside.
"Symon, can I speak to you for a moment?" Brian interrupted. A glowering heat flushed to Symon's cheeks. Why had that oaf picked this worst possible moment?
"Not now. Can't you see I'm busy?"
"Oh, that's all right," Laurena said. "I must return to the Courts promptly." Again, there was that small, formal curtsy and her radiant smile. "I really enjoyed our dancing tonight," she complimented him before she vanished.
"So, what do you want? You couldn't wait to punch me on the nose again?" Now that Laurena was gone, Symon concentrated his ire on Brian.
"I know. I'm sorry. Truly, I am. Can we please forget about that? I need to ask you a favour."
"You were right. They're cheating on me, and I need you to prove it." Symon swallowed the cynical remark that was on the tip of his tongue.
"How did you find the time to gamble?" he asked instead. "You've been taking dancing lessons every day with us."
"They wait up for me. I believed I was unlucky at first, but I've been losing money for over two weeks in a row. And each night it gets worse. They must be cheating, Sy. I can't have that much bad luck."
"You mean you gambled away your money? All of it?"
"Not all of it. I still have some left. If you can spare some silvers, you can use your magic to expose them."
"Silvers? What happened to betting coppers?"
"It's high stakes now. Ian said it's the only way to win again once my luck returns." Symon remained silent; Brian's hunched pose spoke volumes. He remembered Avelyn's advice to forgive.
"Tonight's another game night?" he asked. Relief washed over Brian's face.
"Every night is game night these days," his friend said.
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