How to Tame My Beastly Husband — Chapter 36. An Enigmatic Smile
This chapter has been re-worked by Regan
The poor maid was flustered.
“Yes, she went out somewhere…two hours ago?”
Where could she have gone now? What places would she have even gone to around here? The fact that she was not at home greatly displeased him. It wasn’t safe for a small, slender woman like Annette to go wandering around this time of night. Did she know what could happen to her? What if the Crown Prince appeared again for another emotional goodbye, or a crazy bitch like Diana McClaire pretended to be her friend so she could insult her about not being Crown Princess?
There were many varieties of hazard outside the mansion. Raphael scowled, and the maid paled still further.
“Did she go somewhere close by?” Raphael said, ignoring the maid’s nervousness.
“Yes, I think so. There is another girl named Mary who might know Lady Carnessis’s destination. Would you like me to call her, my lord?” The maid asked earnestly. She was only interested in escaping.
It wasn’t as if Raphael really cared enough to investigate, but the maid’s idea wasn’t a bad one. He had no intention of imprisoning Annette in the house or anything, but he was concerned about her safety. He just wanted to know where she had gone.
“Very well. Bring her to me,” said Raphael, nodding at his own rationalization. Instantly, the maid vanished to retrieve Mary. Raphael was pleased by her quick obedience. Of all the rewards he had earned, being raised to nobility was the most satisfying.
It was also the reason he had been able to marry Annette Bavaria.
The strange thought popped into his head and Raphael frowned, turning away. Why was he thinking of these things? His own growing affection for Annette made him anxious. He had always been alone. It felt safer that way.
And he had no intention of changing it.
* * *
An elegant white hand rose, circling like a white serpent around Annette’s hand, as if it were contemplating her bandage.
“You’re hurt,” said the owner of the hand, his voice chillingly soft.
“Ah, yes. There was an accident,” Annette replied casually, moving her injured hand out of sight. It would be another week or so before she could remove the bandage. But the gorgeous purple-haired man regarding the injury did not seem to think this was acceptable.
“Your hands are so beautiful, what a pity!” He said, clicking his tongue. “It would be difficult to embroider like this.”
Only then did Annette remember how she had boasted of her embroidery skills in their last meeting. Automatically, she covered her hands, ashamed.
“It will heal soon,” she said, relieved that she was wearing a veil to conceal her face. “It was just a minor injury.”
The man she was speaking with was of course Railin Mosley, who ran the Guild of Secrets. He had promised her at their last meeting that he would provide her information on smuggling, and had finally reached out to her again.
Railin handed her the thick report, his ruby-red eyes curving, and Annette flicked through the contents. There was information on several likely villages in Osland, recommended jobs, and even the average prices of both housing and land. This was sufficient for her to plan with her customary meticulousness.
“This is wonderful. I will read it carefully,” she promised. “Once I have decided, I will contact you.”
“I am glad it is satisfactory,” Railin said, amused. “Please feel free to contact us if we may help in any other way. We would never want to leave a customer…unsatisfied.”
Annette glanced automatically at his face. His curling purple hair was the color of hyacinths, and his hooded feline eyes were almost decadent in their beauty. The small beauty mark near his mouth was like the signature of some divine artist. If he had been born a woman, the men of Deltium would have been flinging wealth at his feet and offering him everything that had. Railin could have enslaved men and women alike with a wink and a smile.
Under her veil, Annette’s eyes were filled with envy. She had learned to keep a noble bearing, raising her chin, a dignified smile, graceful carriage. These things were useful in society, but they counted for little in her relationship with her husband. She would have liked it if she had been such a bewitching beauty.
“I’m sorry if this is a rude question,” Railin asked suddenly. “But I wondered why you want to leave this place at all. You certainly don’t seem as if you are lacking anything.”
The question startled her. She had never revealed her identity, but he spoke as if he knew who she was. And at her silence, Railin went on with careful nonchalance, as if he had been inquiring after a neighbor.
“I apologize if you found that question offensive. I only ask so we might be prepared if, for instance, there is a husband that might come looking for you.”
He definitely knew who she was. How? She had been so careful to hide herself even on the journey to this meeting. Annette sighed.
“You know who I am, don’t you?”
“My services are not limited to smuggling,” Railin said. “If my informants were so easily deceived, how would a beauty like me ever survive such a harsh vocation?”
His shoulders shrugged, but his eyes were proud. He had guessed her identity from the beginning. Her high status had made him wary, and it would also make it more difficult to smuggle her out of Deltium. He offered his precious customer an elegant smile.
Looking at her own bandaged hand, Annette suddenly understood how he knew. His guild must have discovered her physician, and perhaps even what treatment he had offered to the Marquis of Carnesis. It greatly displeased her that her identity was revealed, and her eyes chilled, putting up a perceptible barrier.
“Our guild serves our customers first,” Railin said softly, waving his hand. “How can we take pride in our work if our precious customer must trouble herself to hide her face? Please do not doubt our discretion.”
The reassurance was sharp with mockery, as if to say, I know who you are, why are you troubling with such childish games? Railin’s wits were much sharper than she had expected.
Sighing, Annette removed her veil. It had been very stuffy anyway, and it was true that so long as she was his customer, Railin was unlikely to reveal her secrets to anyone else. If he had been careless with such information, the Guild of Secrets would not have survived to become so powerful in the first place.
“My,” said Railin involuntarily as she revealed her face, and Annette looked away, uncomfortable. The fact that he knew who she was made her feel naked.
Perhaps this was what Raphael felt when I caught him sleepwalking…
It was an unlikely moment to be sympathizing with Raphael. Annette closed her eyes, but the reminder of her husband was opportune.
“Can I ask you to investigate something else?” she asked, aware of Railin’s many other businesses. “I want to learn more about my husband’s iron mine.”
“Of course, though I would like you to answer a question for me, first. If we were to smuggle you out of the kingdom, would your husband try to find you? That is something we need to know.”
He offered another slow smile, so beautiful she felt dizzy. That beauty was an effective shield to conceal his thoughts; really Railin was very inscrutable, and a tough opponent. It was clear he meant to give her nothing. But Annette was hardly going to let him drag her around at his pace, either.
“Why don’t you figure it out for yourself?” She asked, smiling her own beautiful smile. “You have a Guild of Secrets, I am sure you can find out.”
For a moment, Railin’s eyes widened and his smile stiffened at this riposte from the meek and docile-looking noblewoman, and for a moment she thought he might be angry. Then he burst out laughing.
“What a pleasant surprise! Very well, we will address the problem ourselves. Please consider it as amends for any offense we may have given.”
It had been a long time since Railin had laughed so spontaneously, and somehow it was even more effective than his enigmatic smile. Annette inwardly trembled at the sudden shift, and the realization that her counterattack had only amused him.
“Please contact me as soon as you have the information,” she said. “Thank you very much.”
The longer Railin upheld the bargain, the better she felt about it. Though it was annoying that her identity had been exposed, Annette decided to use it to its full advantage now. Rising gracefully from her seat, she lifted her chin, in every way the perfect aristocrat.
The more I see of it, the more I like it, thought Railin. His personal interest in her was growing. Of course, he knew that if Annette were asked whether she were interested in the opposite sex, she would have denied it immediately. But in his eyes, Annette was like a priceless treasure dangled before a very particular collector.
Railin might have been considered one of the high nobility of the underworld, and he had very expensive taste. His discerning eyes were as sharp as those of the Duke of Bavaria. There were very few people who could meet his standards, and Annette’s strict education had made her every motion a pleasure to watch.
It satisfies me just to look at her.
Railin’s ruby eyes examined every nuance of her posture, her elegant neck and slender waist, the way the hem of her exquisite gown swayed as she moved. She was the perfect aristocrat. When she took off her veil, Railin thought for the first time in his life that he would have wanted to preserve that moment forever, the revelation of her face protected under glass.
“Then I will contact you soon, customer,” he said, concealing all the urges of his dark heart under a bright smile. He saw her off and then at the last moment, bent his head to whisper in her ear. “Since I have had the honor to see your face, I desire good relations with you. So I will offer you a small favor. When you leave, you might find it preferable to use the rear exit of our establishment. You will find it a frightful nuisance, otherwise.”
Placing his fingers on his lips to indicate another secret, he smiled, a smile filled with many meanings.