WARNING: There is raw animal aggression, forced sexual acts and some brutality. Please read with caution as some elements can be triggering.
Bodin was a few years older than me, but painfully shy. I met him when we were still young. He looked stiff as a board and hardly said a word.
I wasn't having that.
"Who are you?" I demanded in my tinging youthful voice.
"Bo? Or Din?" I teased.
"Bo...din." He chewed his lip and shifted nervously.
"Well, Din," I caught his hand. "Let's go play."
"I don't care." I drug him behind me. Taking him to a chessboard.
"Do you know how to play?" I pulled out a chair.
He gave me a long look. "N-no..."
So I spent the next several months teaching him how. Until he substantially improved. Though I always still won.
His father and mine were close friends so he was around a lot. A fact which I didn't mind as I often found things to mentor the meek boy in.
When I was about fourteen and he was technically a young man learning the trader's market his father had flourished in, he kept sending me long looks across the banquet table during dinner.
I pulled him aside afterwards tugging him by the sleeve. "What's wrong with you, Din? You're acting weird."
"We should wed, Belle."
I scoffed. "I'm not marrying you, Din!"
"Why not?" His brows drew together.
"We're friends. It'd be weird."
"Not that weird..."
"Stop it, Din."
"Why don't you at least think about it?" His voice sounded a bit harsh.
"No!" I flounced off in a huff. He watched me go. His brown eyes narrowing.
It wasn't the last time he mentioned it.
He mentions it a lot.
Over the years it had increased in frequency.
Finally angry one day, I turned on him at the ball. "You only want to wed me because I'm the only woman that you can speak to."
"Are you, Belle?" His voice lowered and there was anger written over his face.
He lifted his chin. His jaw ticking. He liked to do that because he was already over a foot taller than me and I thought he liked to feel taller when he was irritated with me.
"Would you just go get me another punch." I shoved the glass at him. "Lord Vice is next on my dance card."
His cheeks sucked in and he gave me a hard look but walked off stiffly to do as I'd asked.
I blew a breath.
"Was he asking again?" My friend Sara Lance leaned over to ask.
"Yes. He's always asking." I groaned.
"He's a fine one. You'd do well to consider it."
"He's my friend."
"Even better." Sara proclaimed.
"No. I want more."
"Like what?" She tilted her head chidingly. Before tossing her arms and saying dramatically. "Like a man to write you grand sonnets and fall at your feet worshipping your fine face and figure?"
"I don't say it like that."
"It is what I want." I admitted.
"And you don't think Bodin up to the task."
"He's boring. And predictable. I've known him since childhood."
"Have you though?" Sarah asked.
"How do you see Bodin, Belle?"
I shrugged. Thinking it over. "He's fine enough of face-"
"Striking actually." She cut me off.
I gave her a sour look and she silenced to let me finish. "But I must teach him everything. He's dreadfully quiet and boring. Nothing is ever a surprise with him."
"And he's so afraid of people." I groaned as I added it.
"Doesn't look afraid of her." Sarah pointed out.
I turned to follow the line of her pointing finger.
Bodin was standing at the punch table with my full glass. A pretty brunette was stroking his forearm and speaking up to him.
He nodded a few times and flashed a wide grin. His brows lifting invitingly as he gave her a long look.
"Who is she?" I asked.
"Her name is Alessande. She's a singer. I've heard she's his mistress."
"Mistress!" I cried stunned. "He can barely talk. How could he-he..."
Lie with a woman?
"Oh." Sarah's head reared back. "He's had many. Don't you know? Since he inherited his father's trade, he has fair coin to spin and with his face and body those harlots line up for him."
I crinkled my nose. "No."
"Yes, Belle." She pointed across the room. "And look there. At Miss Teatree. She's had her eye on him for the last several months. Since he escorted you to the Summer Gala at their Townhome."
I recalled the event and did recall that girl following him around. I didn't particularly care for it and had asked her what she was doing.
She'd dismissed me and doggedly trailed his steps.
She'd touched his arm like that too.
"I must say." Sarah sipped her punch. "Were he not so besotten with you I'd have a go at him. He's quite fine."
"Well he is!"
He returned with my punch and handed it to me. Caressing my gloved wrist as I thanked him.
Miss Teatree scampered over to talk to him.
He turned to speak to her. Using his usual short phrases but I noticed he didn't seem to smile at her the way he smiled at Alessande.
Does he smile at me like that? I couldn't remember ever seeing him smile. He always looks uncomfortable.
But he didn't look uncomfortable talking to Miss Teatree.
His dark brows were drawn together over his nearly black eyes. His full lips were tight and that muscle in his jaw ticked.
A sure indicator he's irritated.
She asked if he would take her to the floor for her next dance.
He nodded and politely offered his elbow.
She took it and curved her hip into his. Clinging to his arm a bit desperately.
I eyed the touch.
"You see it now, don't you?" Sarah whispered laughingly.
"It's not. He's quite attractive. And there's more that'll have him soon if you won't."
"Fine." I lifted my nose and sniffed. "Let them have him."