Chapter Seventy-Four: Part 2

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Piero's shoulders relaxed just slightly. "I believe she might have hit me from behind, Wellbridge, as I have no notion how it happened. She has been fuddling my thinking every minute of every day since we met. Do you know, when we met, she was looking for her book—on canine anatomy. In French. She was planning to set the broken leg of a cur she'd found in an alleyway beside the bookseller, then sew its wound shut with her needles and thread."

"That will be an almost-daily occurrence, should she take up residence with you."

"I have met the menagerie at Wellstone."

"Well, if they like you, what I think is entirely secondary. By the time she was fourteen, my father said she had halved his bill for veterinary services, and she was training horses with our stablemaster, to say nothing of saving every miserable creature with fur or feathers in a ten-mile radius. You will wish to add a surgery to your stables, and double their size, for I daresay she will refuse to be parted with at least half the cattle at Wellstone, and I will be delighted to charge you for each of them according to the depths of your lady's love."

Piero groaned. "You are going to turn me upside-down and shake everything out of my pockets during the settlement negotiations, aren't you?"

Toad just smiled for the first time since Piero came in.

"He will not!" Almyra stomped her foot on a stomped path to Toad's desk from the door, where, apparently, she'd been eavesdropping, who knew for how long. "You will not extort money from my future husband, Toad Wellbridge, when Papa already decided."

Piero stood and grasped Almyra's wrist, caressing the back of her hand with his thumb. "Almyra, cara, I have been longing to see you, and I will come to you as soon as ever I may, but you must allow me to finish speaking to His Grace."

Almyra snorted, pulled her hand away, and crossed her arms over her chest. "His Grace. I cannot believe you allow him to hide behind such pretensions with his best friend." She spat the words, glaring at Toad.

"Almyra, la mia tigrotta..."

"Do not call her that!" Toad knew exactly what happened when Piero started tossing Italian endearments at noblewomen. Almyra might as well already be naked and panting after him. "Almyra, out! I will invite you into this discussion when I require your opinions, and you may be sure that I will, which is more than I can say for our father."

"I will not be long, my dearest."

"Her name is Lady Almyra."

Almyra huffed, narrowed her eyes and gave Piero a kiss right on the mouth, while continuously glaring at Toad. Piero, seeing more of the danger than his sister from eyes as wide as wagon wheels, would have backed away in a shot, if his chair weren't behind his knees, especially after Toad began to step out from behind his desk. Once she had made her point, and before Toad could reach them to drag her away and throw him out the second-floor window, she tossed her hair back, thrust her nose into the air, and swept out of the room.

"I did not ask her to do that, Wellbridge! You must see—"

"You may call me Your Grace."

Piero sighed and tugged at a few locks of his curly hair as Toad regained his seat and felt the strange ducal mask descend again.

"What are your plans for my sister's dowry? I imagine my father discussed it with you?"

Shoulders stiff again, in a fashion Toad was beginning to like, Piero answered, "Both of your parents discussed it with me, and with your sister, over supper at Wellstone three months ago. Your mother suggested it be paid in shares of Seventh Sea. But she also suggested buying Delphinus, and there is no chance Firthley will sell."

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