Capri’s apartment smelled of rose and vanilla.
Her closet was the same size as the one in the Maiden dorm, but it was filled with lavish dresses, jewels, and lingerie rather than modest clothes in hues of white. Instead of several beds, there was just the one, piled with pillows and set in an upholstered frame that matched the near-white blue of the walls. It was large and inviting. The crystal chandelier hanging above it made it clear that it was the main attraction.
In the back of the room was a private bathroom with a tub big enough for two. There was an alcove with two wingback chairs and a table between, perfect for intimate conversation. She had a small, carved vanity—a gift from the King—and a mini bar.
Most ladies, when they moved to their apartment, decorated with scarlet, silk, and furs. They were given free rein when it came to preparing the space in which they would entertain the king, and they fretted over it as if they were choosing their wedding gown.
Capri would be entertaining all kinds, and every part of the room was designed with her future role in mind. It could be anything she—or the person who won her—wanted it to be. Briony had tried to involve her in the design process, but Capri wanted nothing to do with it. The only choice she’d made was the artwork. A reproduction of Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa sat like an exquisite gargoyle in one corner of the room.
Capri glanced up from her reading assignment, a book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, to look at the nun. Her expression was the epitome of pleasure and pain. It made her feel less alone.
A knock sounded on the door by the vanity.
“Come in,” she called.
Briony’s room was adjacent to her own. She didn’t have to knock. She did it out of courtesy, but Capri felt it was all pretense. An attending lady was something like a lady’s maid, but, despite subservient appearances, Briony outranked her. She answered to Ekon. She used the power she had kindly and wisely, but she still held it.
The blond stepped inside. She wore a hunter green dress and held a paper note in her hand. Capri was lounging on the bed, naked beneath a soft robe. She hadn’t bothered dressing after her bath. Briony had told her she needed to learn to feel comfortable in her own skin. Spending time in the nude, in private, was part of her new curriculum.
The fact that she didn’t feel very motivated to dress, or do much of anything, was something she kept to herself.
“Hello, Capri,” Briony said brightly. “How do you like the book so far?”
“It’s interesting,” she said vaguely, marking her place with a stylus and turning off the reader. She gave her tutor her attention, but there was still a distance between them. She imagined there always would be.
“It’s good to know the philosophy behind various schools of sexual…flavor.”
Capri looked away and pretended to pick a piece of lint off her robe. The idea of ever dominating someone in the bedroom made her feel ill. The idea of doing anything in the bedroom made her feel ill. She didn’t want to talk about it. Her maidenhead had been stolen and with it the life she was supposed to have.
Briony was a woman who had gotten everything Capri never would, and a part of her would always resent her for that.
Capri was in a lady’s apartment, with a lady’s wardrobe, but she would never be a lady. A lady of Mars was a lover of the King—past or present. She would have the title, out of courtesy, but she would never be that. She was an other. A prostitute, if she thought about it too hard.
No part of her wanted that, but she wanted to please her king. She was willing yet unwilling. Her entire future, once so simple and bright, was now dark and dichotomous.
“You should dress for dinner,” Briony suggested, still trying to infect Capri with her chipper attitude.
She swept into her closet and looked through her clothes. Capri looked away. She didn’t like the closet.
White was prohibited for the ladies. Their dresses were colorful and daring. They still had to go past the knee, but attractive necklines and cutouts were encouraged.
“Here,” Briony caught her attention, and Capri looked back to her attendant.
She held a black chiffon number with floral detail. It was beautiful. Capri felt a small stirring of excitement. It took her back to when pretty things and the love of her king were guaranteed.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit much for dinner?” she asked.
“Not at all.” Briony held out the note to her with a look of triumph.
The paper was wax-sealed, and Capri knew who had sent it immediately. Once again, she felt a rush. Her heart fluttered—then fell as she read the words.
She was invited to the upper dining hall, but not to sit at Ekon’s table. Only to eat in his presence. It would be her first time seeing him since his visit to the infirmary, and he was asking her to take her place for all to see, not at his side on the dais—but at his feet on the main floor. She would sit beside those that the King was only fond of, next to those he had loved and those he never would.
Marianne would be there, and she would eat up Capri’s fall in station like the beautiful monster she was.
“I’ll be with you,” Briony said softly, breaking through her turmoil. “I’m on your side.”
Capri raised her hazel eyes to Briony’s green ones. For a brief moment, the air cleared between them. She believed the woman was genuine. She tried to smile, but this was her burden to bear and no one else’s. Briony couldn’t carry the weight. She couldn’t understand. This was Capri’s future now, and she’d just have to find a way to make it through. She’d have to make it through seeing Ekon tonight, the next two years of her unorthodox education, and being whored out by the man she’d once adored—instead of loved by him.
She dropped her robe and slipped into the dress. Briony zipped her in and then styled her hair and applied her makeup. By the time she was done, Capri looked stunning. It was the only power she had left.
Everything was different now, but she was still one of Ekon’s beauties. Tonight, she would remind him, his favorite, and everyone else present that she had been one of the chosen ones, too.
She would hold her head high. She would make him his money. And she would make sure he mourned the loss of her.