Chapter Sixteen

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"Favorite song?"

Bundled in a very thick blanket, wearing my clothes, the minx blinks at me enthusiastically, impatient for an answer—her fifth in a row. Just before, she'd asked of my first lover, my favorite pastime, daily life as a courtier. She asked how I transitioned through centuries, how I chose Russia as a place of seclusion.

For song, I must contemplate the exemplary timeline stored in my mind over the centuries, choosing one. The first that strikes a chord. "Amarilli, Mia Bella."

"What century is that from?"

"15th century."

"Italian, right?" Unsurprised when I agree, she shifts on her side, grinning with intrigue. "You can actually remember the words?"

"I may be a little rusty, but I believe it goes something like..." Rethinking butchering a classic, I lay back on the incredibly loud bedding. The mattress is fashioned by hand, stuffed by hand, and the framing seems to be as well. "Ah, well, I don't think you actually need the lyrics. Next question."

She shakes her head, teeth clamped down on her bottom lip, which has recovered its normal, delicious shade. "No, I want to hear it. Sing it for me."

"I'm an abhorrent singer, you know that."

"So am I."

"I'd much prefer another question."

Her dainty arm escapes the blankets tight confines, circling round my waist. "Tough."

So be it. My eyes take to the ceiling to conceal the humiliation I will likely endure once I'm finished. The words come easily after a moment, a fond memory easily produced.

"Amarilli, mia bella, non credi—"

"In English, please."

With a roll of my eyes, I translate the madrigal, grimacing at my failed attempt to form a melody. "Amaryllis, do you not believe, sweet desired one, that you are my love? Believe only this: and if fear ails you, take one of my arrows, open my breast and see written in my heart, Amaryllis, Amaryllis, Amaryllis is my beloved."

She says nothing, and I'm reluctant to abandon the ceiling.

"I believe that is how it goes."

Why doesn't she speak? Decisively, I set my gaze on her.

Cassandra's smile is splitting her face.

"What? Did you expect a brooding tale of warfare, the importance of brotherly comrades?"

"A little."

"The renaissance was a revitalizing period. Love was deeply cherished. The music enchanted the soul... Mind you, there are plenty battle ballads I've enjoyed in my time."

Her brow lifts. "It's surprising your favorite song was a love song, though. I mean, you said you didn't know of love then."

"That's precisely the point." I lift myself onto my elbow, gazing down at her, seeing the founding's of the famous madrigal in her expressive eyes. "I could not fathom bearing myself to someone so openly. I'd lived centuries by then, seen the world—seen more than my fair share of women." Her eyes slant, delectable when jealous. "How could I dream such a fate would one day await me?"

She laughs, softly. "I'm your Amaryllis, then."

I slide closer to her, leaning down to plant a kiss on her mischievous lips. "Precisely."

When I'm pulling back, her tongue traces her mouth, as if seeking the taste of my skin. There's hardly a pause before she speaks again. "Favorite memory?"

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