Lia wanted to run.
She wanted to escape.
She was not afraid of diving, but she wanted to be out of the water and away from Claude.
However, that wishful thinking met with an abrupt end as Claude dragged her into the water.
She met Claudes eyes underwater.
She had never seen such an innocent smile as he wove his hand through her hair.
His large hand was on the back of Lias hair and his lips moved as though he was saying something.
She blinked and the smile was gone.
She felt she was running out of air and swam up to the surface.
Claude laughed beside her.
“You cant last thirty seconds” he chuckled.
“That is indeed a very long time for me,” she said.
“Promise to last longer this time” he asked.
“No, I am getting out of the water,” said Lia.
Lia tried to hide her flushed face and ignored him as he offered his hand.
She got out of the water and accepted a towel from Betty.
Claude climbed out of the water and accepted a towel too.
He sat on the mat that was laid out.
“Sit,” he said.
He had a berry in his mouth, and he was leaning back.
Lia glared at him and covered herself with the towel as much as she could.
“Why are you all covered up” he asked, “Its summer.
You wont catch a cold.” The sun over them was already too hot and their hairs were already drying.
“Its alright,” she said, “I prefer this.”
“Arent you hot” he asked.
“I get cold very easily,” she retorted.
“If you say so,” he replied.
He closed his eyes and leaned back as though he was going to take a nap.
Lia felt frantic.
She could not get up and leave but she didnt want to sit too close to him, either.
She thought she could leave before he fell asleep.
“Your Highness, I will take my leave, then,” she said.
“Stay,” he said, his voice soft.
It didnt sound like an order but more like a casual request.
“Arent you going to sleep” she asked.
“Why” he shot back, “Do you want me to play with you” He looked at her and smirked.
“Stop with the teasing,” she complained, “I am not a child.”
“You are,” he said.
“I am sixteen!”
Lia avoided his gaze and said nothing at all.
Claude folded his hand beneath his head and looked up at the sky.
“What are you going to do when Kieran comes back” he asked.
Lia tried to maintain her calm composure.
“I do not know what you mean by that,” she said.
“You do realize that second sons arent worth much in the family,” he said, “According to the law, you will be given nothing.
And a job after graduating from the academy is not guaranteed.”
“I will figure something—”
“Come work as a steward at the Ihars,” he interrupted, “I will take you in.”
Lias eyes widened.
The position of a steward held power and authority.
It meant that she would have a title of her own with her own estate.
She would act as an advisor to Claude and would be respected as highly as him.
Many people would have gone down to their knees for such a position, but Lia shook her head.
“I have something else I need to do,” she said.
“And whatsomething else is that” he scoffed at her refusal.
Lia sighed and looked up at the clouds.
“Its not a steward to begin with,” she said.
“You wont earn much with whatever it is,” he said.
“I know but sometimes people have things that mean to them more than money.”
Lia wasnt sure what it was she wanted to do.
She knew she wanted to help poverty-stricken children.
She knew how difficult that life was.
She wanted to help them escape poverty and have a shot at real education.
But she didnt know how she would be able to accomplish something like that.
“Canillian,” called Claude.
“Yes” said Lia.
“Those are just nonsense,” he said, “Wake me up in an hour.
You and no one else.”
“Of course,” she said.
“Or lie down here with me,” he offered, “I am tired since I was riding a horse to here and badly need a nap.”
Claude closed his eyes and was asleep in moments.
Lia was relieved.
She almost laughed.
The sunlight illuminated his face and she wondered whether she should do something to shade him from it.
She covered him with a thin blanket.
He irked her a lot.
“Just one hour, then, Your Highness,” she said.
Claude did not respond.
She had almost expected him to respond.
She wrapped a thin blanket around her and lay down on a cushion and looked at him.
She was sad that he would be another beautiful thing that she would be leaving behind.
Lia took a deep breath upon opening her eyes.
She had expected to be outside, but she was in her room.
Pepe had woken her up late at night in her room.
“Pepe, how did I come here” Lia asked.
“The young Duke brought you in.
He said you fell asleep outside,” said Pepe, “I was so surprised.”
“What He did” Lia asked.
“Yes,” said Pepe.
“Where is he now” asked Lia.
“He went back to the capital,” said Pepe.
Pepe helped take off Lias clothes as she sat on the bed.
She helped her to the bathroom.
She smelt of damp after having fallen asleep in her damp clothes.
Lia entered the tub in the warm water and breathed in the lemon and herb scent.
Claude had carried her to her room.
She wondered why he hadnt woken her up instead.
She flushed thinking about it.
Knowing Claude, he would never have good intentions.
She wondered what he might be planning this time.
“Pepe, am I heavy” she asked.
“You are even lighter than me.”
Lia scrubbed herself with the sponge while she murmured to Pepe to not lie to make her feel better.
“He will ask how I can be so light despite being a boy.”
Pepe giggled and scattered petals in the tub.
She scrubbed Lias back.
“I am worried that you have grown into a lady now,” she said, “You have curves, and no one will be fooled any longer.
Since master Kieran has become well again…”
“Pepe, you are overstepping your boundaries,” Lia warned.
“I apologize,” said Pepe.
“Please dont say such things again,” she said.
“Understood,” said Pepe.
Lia went back to her bedroom after washing up.
Although she had skipped a meal, she didnt feel any appetite.
The Marquis was not here, he was busy with work.
Lia was alone in the huge mansion besides the maids and servants.
Lia asked for a bowl of fruits instead of food.
She opened her bag which had two dresses and a cocoa-coloured wig.
She had made Pepe buy them for her.
She tugged at the sleeve of the dress, while her mind was far away.
Pepe was right, she was growing into womanhood.
It would become increasingly difficult to hide her identity no matter how much she wanted to.
She understood why the Marchioness had explicitly said a year.
She thought of Ian Sergio, who had kissed her on the back of her hand.
She thought of Claude, when he had pushed the sandwich dish in front of her.
A man who already knew she was a woman, and another who suspected it.
Both were dangerous.
Lia should be wary of them.
She resolved to avoid them as much as possible.
She knew Anastasia would not keep her promise.
Lia closed the bag and helped herself to a helping of the cut fruits that Pepe had brought for her.
A light breeze rustled through the curtains covering the open window.
Kieran came running up to Lia the next day as she stood modestly at the entrance and hugged her.
Lia could not believe her eyes.
Kieran, who had been an innocent and tiny little boy, had returned as a grown man.
He was similar in height to Claude and was much more muscular.
However, his emerald eyes were the same as she had seen it four years ago.
His voice had become deeper.
Lia was so happy to see him again and hugged him back.
But she saw the Marchioness getting out of the carriage and shook Kieran off.
“Mother,” she said and bowed to Anastasia.
The Marchioness smiled and placed a gentle hand on Lias shoulder.
“You have done much while I was gone,” said the Marchioness.
“No, you have done much more than that,” said Kieran.
Well, shall we go in” said Lia, smiling brightly.
The Marchioness headed inside the mansion and Lia walked by Kierans side.
“You have changed so much!” said Lia, “But all for the better.”
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“You have also changed radically, Lian,” he said.
“I havent changed much,” protested Lia.
“Oh, you have,” said Kieran, “You look like a lady now.
Lets go in fast.
I have something to say.”
Kieran took her hand and they walked hand-in-hand inside the bustling mansion.
The luggage looked mixed.
Some luggage was carried inside while some were carried out.
It was a bittersweet thing that Lias luggage was being hauled out while Kierans had just arrived.
They stood and looked at the luggage being carried in and out and were about to head to Kierans outhouse when the Marchioness spoke.
“Lian,” she said in a tired voice, settling herself on the sofa.
“Let us talk for a while.
Now, please, if you dont mind.”