Lord Sevryn is home for a visit with his intemperate mother and spoiled siblings. Between rants about lowborns, courtesy of his mother, Sev makes a wondrous discovery; one of the maids his mother hired in his absence is his Goddess-destined soulmate.
Or is she? Bettina is his soulmate, to be sure, but otherwise she's not what she seems. Her reasons for avoiding Sev are complicated. Mates don't hide things from one another, and there is a lot Bettina is hiding. For one thing, she's not lowborn. Raised in the lap of luxury, she decided to run rather than embrace a power that threatens her mind and heart.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
The estate of Lady Valree Spring, Hanford, Planet Kielan
May 25th, 3756
"Really, Mother," Sevryn Spring drawled, sipping the brandy clenched between his fingers. Before the visit was over, he might need a bottle instead of a glass.
"The whole thing is simply scandalous," Valree continued.
"Scandalous?" he half-laughed. "Finding a soulmate is scandalous these days?" His humor was bitter and brittle. If Sev found his soulmate, her class was the last thing he'd worry about.
"He was the filthiest little rag, Sevryn...and he was all over her."
He didn't reply to that. Nothing he said would change his mother's mind, not even the fact that she knew herself how powerful the connection between soulmates was. By all accounts, Valree had been half-undressed and full of his father's cock within minutes of setting eyes on him. He sipped the vintage again, nodding to half-heard comments.
Father would have understood. There was little question about that.
But his father was dead, and his mother's dislike of lowborns got worse with every passing season. It was upsetting, in some way he couldn't define; his mother's bias made him uncomfortable with being in her company.
"What do you think you're doing?" Valree snapped.
"My apologies, mi'lady." The servant was already on her way back to the door. No doubt she'd come in, thinking the room was empty, simply following the schedule she'd established for her work.
"Rude little tramp," his mother grumbled over her blue amber tea.
"Really, Mother," he repeated, his cheeks heating as the servant stiffened at the insult.
"She probably came in here to catch your eye. All these servant girls want to bed noblemen with some thought of..."
Sev didn't hear the rest. His emotions were suddenly a riot of embarrassment, outrage, and indecision. He had to change the subject. "And how are Lewin's studies progressing?" he inquired.
Valree snapped her mouth shut, and a smile curved her lips at the mention of her younger son. "Splendidly. He's all the architect of your grandmother and more."
He took down a swallow of the drink instead of a sip. There it was again, the hint that there was something lacking in Sev, because he was neither a healer like his father, grandfather, and sister Elewyn were nor a creative type like the rest of his grandparents and Lewin were. Sev's talents ran to machines, and machines were simply too common a talent for his mother's tastes. They never spoke about his work.
His mother went on and on, gushing about Lewin. Sev let her, his gaze straying to the closed door, his mind to the woman who'd disappeared through it.
Bettina paused, staring the door blocking her way in frustration. It had been open a few moments ago, but that was life on the Spring estate. Some days, she swore Lady Valree and her children did these things of a plan to annoy her.
And now she had another room to clean. Lady Valree's elder son had come home for a visit. With all likelihood, he was the same sort of slob as his younger siblings were and more. Eldest noble children, especially eldest males, were insufferably spoiled and unwilling to take responsibility for themselves.
Then again... Memories of his protests in the lounge warmed her blood. The young lord had at least played at exasperation well.
Anti-rag sentiment has become dangerous ground, of late. With Lady Riann Summer-Night's new programs, one never knew who might have a new lowborn household member. She'd heard whispers that the mighty four had added a third again to their ranks, since the mixed meeting days had commenced.
Surely, Lord Sevryn was conscious of his family's social standing. A misplaced word could endanger alliances and business dealings. With his father dead, an eldest son would have to concern himself with such things.
It was a safe wager Lady Valree had never had to concern herself with much but her own amusements.
Time to work, she chided herself. It wasn't going to get finished by itself, and if she didn't finish before dinner, it would mean working into the night and cutting herself short on sleep.
Shifting her load onto one arm, she twisted the handle and swung the door in. Two steps into the space, she stopped in shock. Lord Sevryn's rooms were immaculate...not a thing out of place, not a wrinkle in the bedcovers.
Bettina shook off her surprise and set her load of fresh linens on the work table. She grabbed two towels and a washcloth from the top and hurried into the bath.
It was as clean as the rest. The used towels from that morning were hung neatly to dry. His soiled clothing was in the bin, not littering the floor like his brother's usually were or strewn on the bed like his sister's, when she visited. His toiletries were neatly placed on the shelves, and the sink and tub looked as if the lord had given them a rinse after use.
She forced herself on, collecting the clothes and used linens, then placing out new. Bettina stuffed the soiled laundry into her collection bag, picked up the clean linens, and headed for the door.
It was closed. Again. It had to be on purpose. Accidents couldn't possibly happen so often.
Bettina shifted the load onto her left arm and reached for the door handle.
She jumped away from the arm circling her body to grasp the handle before she could. Bettina turned, bumping against the wall. Lord Sevryn must have come in while she'd been picking up in the bathroom.
His hands closed on her shoulders, steadying her. His dark eyes narrowed. "Are you well?"
"Y-yes. Of...of course." Bettina was abruptly short of breath, and she couldn't state why she would be.
Lord Sevryn nodded and released her, but he didn't move away or reach for the handle. He stared at her. For a moment, it seemed he was about to question her.
A wild need to stop whatever query he was about to make assaulted her. Bettina forced the ever-present time currents back and searched for anything she could say to break the moment.
"Can I get you anything else before I leave, mi'lord?" Somehow that came out smooth and calm.
"Pardon?" His eyes were half-lidded, making her wonder if she'd interrupted a rest he'd intended on taking.
"Do you need any linens? Should I ask the cook to send you a repast, mi'lord?"
"Sev," he corrected her.
"Lord Sevryn? Should I ask the cook--"
He opened the door a bit for her and backed away to let her round it. "No. Thank you..."
For some reason, telling him her name frightened her. Bettina pretended to be oblivious to his hint at it and hurried toward the doorway.
His hand shot out and blocked her way. Bettina met his steady gaze, swallowing hard. Anger warred with fear and something she couldn't name but would call longing if she didn't know better.
"Lord Sevryn?" she gasped out.
"You are new here. Aren't you?"
"What is your name?"
That did it. He'd asked directly. She couldn't refuse him an answer to a direct question without risking her position. Still, her mouth went dry at the thought it.
"Bettina, mi'lord. Bettina Moon." Goddess help me if he learns the truth.
His hand retreated. "Welcome to my home, Bettina. I hope we will see more of each other."
There was something in his expression that warned it wasn't the simple greeting it pretended to be. For the first time in her life, Bettina considered using her power, crude and untrained as it was, to learn what might become. To learn why Lord Sevryn rattled her so.
Sev stared at her retreating back, his body aching in raw need. "Bettina," he whispered. "Bettina Moon." My mate.
There was little question she hadn't realized it yet. Her own emotions were such a riot, his were surely being drowned out in the tumble.
He ambled to the bed and stripped off his tunic, his mind full of plans he sifted through and sorted into mental bins that ranged from completely unworkable to possible routes to approaching her. Bettina's outright fear sealed the fate of more than one plan he'd usually think was a good one.
Sev wondered at that. Did Bettina fear all nobles? All men? Or was it specific to him? Had she felt the nigglings of their connection and been confused by it? Considering his mother's outburst, she may even have feared Valree's response to learning Sev's mate was lowborn.
In the end, he didn't know what he would do...save one thing. He had to ease her into the discovery that she was his mate. Bettina would react negatively to being rushed or pushed toward a choice.
One more thing. I will not walk away from her.