“Tell me about Dorian Finley.”
“Oh, Dorian,” said Anne Iris. “I watched you dancing with him. He’s quite a piece, isn’t he?”
Eleanor ignored the question. “How is he related to Gregory?”
“He’s not,” said Eliza. “The Finleys are an old family from Harper’s Crossing. The senior Mister Finley drowned in the lake in front of his own house, and Dorian’s brother took control of the family finances. Everyone says they don’t get on.”
“Apparently his brother withdrew him from Academy early and forced him into the Army. Perhaps he hoped Dorian would be eaten by a dragon or skewered by a rogue Svelyan knight.” Anne Iris shivered at the thought, a wide grin plastered on her face.
Eliza threw a stale parrot cracker at her. “Anyway, Dorian gets by on a small stipend and his soldier’s salary.”
“How did he become so close to the prince?” asked Eleanor.
“He visited the palace six years ago with General Clayborne,” Eliza said. “At the time Gregory was fifteen and completely wild, so the king thought it would be good for him to have a companion, an older brother of sorts. The king liked him, and more importantly Gregory took to him right away.”
“Hero worship from the start,” said Anne Iris with a shake of her head. “So here he is, six years later, one of the most important people at court. It’s rather hilarious!”
“Hilarious, yes,” said Eleanor, uncomfortably aware that she, too, came here at the price’s whim. “What is it Gregory finds so appealing about him?”
Anne Iris leaned toward her. Her eyes were like saucers. “Oh, sweetheart, you have no idea. Dorian Finley is, well, how can I explain it?”
“He’s the man any man would want to be,” said Eliza.
Anne Iris nodded. “He’s an amazing unicorn handler and huntsman. His military commanders sing his praises to the rafters.”
“Everyone respects him, because he is known to be widely read on every topic imaginable,” said Eliza. “Even the king has come to value his opinion. Gregory rarely makes a move without discussing it with Dorian.”
“And of course…” Anne Iris paused dramatically. “He is just plain gorgeous.”
Eleanor picked at the coverlet. “I didn’t really notice.”
“Oh, please,” Anne Iris guffawed. “Just because you’re marrying Gregory doesn’t mean you’ve gone blind. All the women at court lust after him, married or not. Now that Gregory has left the market, Dorian Finley is the most desired man at Eclatant.”
Eliza cut in. “He’s probably always been more desired. Gregory just had one over him by being the prince.”
Anne Iris dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’ve heard he takes different lovers all the time, but no one can hold his attention for more than a few weeks. He’s supposed to be quite…” She fanned herself. “…skilled.”
Eliza rolled her eyes. “Please, Anne Iris, spare us your mooning.”
“Don’t let Eliza fool you, Eleanor. She only pretends to be a prude. She and Patrick-Clark are known for their undying passion!”
Eleanor stifled a giggle. Eliza’s husband, Patrick-Clark Harper, was a short, slight man who wore a seeing glass and spent most of his time in the country. He was kind, and not unattractive, but Eleanor had trouble imagining him filled with undying passion.
“My passion is of no concern!” said Eliza.
“You’re right. Mister Finley’s passion is far more interesting.” Anne Iris collapsed on the bed. She clutched a lace pillow and writhed against it. Eliza pursed her lips. Eleanor wondered if Eliza felt true offense until she saw the corners of her mouth twitching.
“I’m all hot just thinking about it. Chou Chou, bring me some water!” called Anne Iris.
Chou raised his head from under his wing, blinking sleepily. He glided to the bed. “Aren’t you girls asleep yet?” he asked.
“No,” said Eliza. “Anne Iris is just scandalizing us as usual. But it is true, Eleanor, Dorian Finley is sought after by the women at court. Whether it’s because of his friendship with the prince or his other endowments…” Anne Irish swooned again.“…one can’t really be sure. It’s rare, I’ll give you that, for noblewomen to desperately chase after a second son with nothing but a soldier’s salary.”
Eleanor tucked all this information away, adding it to her conversation with Dorian this evening. To her irritation, it made him more fascinating.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish