Return to King's Landing

King's Landing, capital of Aemmeria and ancestral home of the ruling family of the Royal Line, has been liberated from the hands of the enemy. After nearly two years of the capital being under Stovakian control, His Majesty and his family have reclaimed their home.

With the cessation of hostilities, His Majesty King Aeron has been asked to put together a formal delegation to represent Aemmeria in the upcoming Peace Talks in Caprillon. The King and his advisors have hand-picked the delegates - some choices came easily, others were hotly debated. No one knows what other names might have been on the list, but the list has finally been established and released.

Over the next several days, missives have been dispatched, either electronically thorough what remains of the countries' internetwork facilities and phone and cell phone towers, or, less modern, through direct written orders for those buried near the front lines of the now quiet battlefield on both sides of the ocean. Each missive contains a Royal release from whatever duty the delegate was assigned to, and, by turns, each of them made travel arrangements and soon arrived at the Royal Castle for the planned formal engagement.

The trip through the city was heartbreaking for any Aemmerian to make. Everywhere in the once beautiful city was signs of the war and destruction. Overturned cars, demolished buildings, broken landscapes. A pall had been cast over the city, but the return of the King and brought a return of hope in the citizens that had remained captive during the occupation. Though the Stovakian tanks were gone, and their flags replaced with the Union Jack of Aemmeria, a stirring sight that brought with it hope and joy.

Regardless of the route they took through King's Landing, each Aemmerian finally arrives at the Walthamshire Palace, the seat of power and home to the King. A formal dinner and gathering was to be had, announcing the delegates and celebrating the return home and the future peace. As requested by the King, each delegate has been asked to arrive at the Castle several hours early, to give thm each a chance to settle in and relax before the formal, press-filled affair of the announcements and the following dinner.

Rosalind isn't surprised to receive the summons. It naturally followed from the last thing Aeron had told her - something to the effect of putting her money where her mouth is.

She arrives dressed casually in khakis and a lightweight green sweater, toting along a bag with her formal clothes for later. Sending her things up to whatever rooms have been prepared, she wanders through the palace for a time, looking out the windows at the view of desolation. This is the first she's seen of the city and the palace for a long while, and the ghosts are awake and astir. Eventually her steps find their way to one of the favored gathering places of the royal family - a cozy sitting room on the second floor with its large fireplace, bar, comfy furniture, an entertainment center in the corner, windows overlooking a garden.

Wandering the halls, the bag over her shoulder, Isla made her way to the second floor. For a moment, she thought she saw her cousin Rosalind before she went into a room just down the hall. Why is Aunt Rozzy here? Then she heard Aeric's voice and a smirk filled her face. Maybe this will be a little fun after all. Isla stopped in the doorway and watched as the scene unfolded.

Aeric was up in the sitting room. They had moved everything in last week and he was so happy to be back into his childhood home. He was lying on the chair with his legs hanging over one cushioned arm and his head lying on the oher watching tv. Hearing someone come in, he assumed it was a servant there telling him the delegates were arriving. He put up a hand, never turning toward the door. "Shh…Heroes is on. I'll be down later."

The servant apparently isn't terribly obedient, as s/he instead walks farther into the room to lean over the top of the chair. "You already know they save the cheerleader, right?"

Aeric looked up and that little boyish smile of his comes across his face. "Auntie Rozzy!" he exclaims as he jumped out of the chair and rounded it, grabbing Rosalind in a tight bear hug. She returns the embrace warmly, a smile on her face. After a second, he relaxed his grip and looked into her eyes. His smile faded to one of concern.

"How are you holding up?" he asks, but then his attention is diverted by movement in the doorwary. Seeing who it was, his expression turned to one of anger. What the hell is she doing here?!

Rosalind hardly has to look to see what has caught his eye, as that expression on his face is nothing new. She scowls in annoyance, but her face breaks into a smile again as she turns. Sure enough, Isla is standing in the door, and Rosalind leaves Aeric to go greet her other cousin. "Isla, dear. It's so good to see you looking well."

Isla smiles back at Rosalind. It wasn't exactly warm but it wasn't cold either. "Hi, Aunt Rozzy. It's nice to see you to. How are you doing?"

Rosalind gives Isla a hug just as she always used to, a tight squeeze followed by a kiss on the cheek. She steps back to look the younger woman up and down, then turns before Aeric has a much of a chance to say or do anything. She sizes him up, too, taking in the angry face that had briefly been so open and smiling and charming before he goes back to his chair.

She sighs.

"Well, and welcome back to everyone," she says, her voice laced with sarcasm. "So glad the war is on hold elsewhere, because we wouldn't want to be distracted from our own little squabbles."

"Sorry Aunt Rozzy. I'll leave you to talk with the prince and cuddle his ego." Isla walked over and gave the woman a kiss on the cheek before turning on her heel grabbing up her bag and going back the the hallway and as far away from Aeric as she could get.

It's been 9 years he could have forgive me by now. She thought as she stomped up the next flight of steps she came to. 9 God damn Years!! She found a window seat over looking a garden in poor repair and sat down. part of her want to just walk out now. What was the worst that could happen they disown her? It wouldn't happen they needed her even if they hated her they needed her. She was the best at what she did and both her uncle and Aeric knew it. "why am I here, what use does Uncle Aeron think I can do here?"

Rosalind watches her go, then turns back to Aeric, shaking her head. "It's the middle of a war, you haven't seen each other for years, and here you both are, whole, healthy, and alive, and you couldn't even give each other a cordial greeting." Her voice breaks on the end of the sentence.

"No, we couldn't. Not everyone made it out alive," Aeric answered Rosalind while never turning around to face her. He didn't want her to see his face, not with the scowl on it. Isla just had a way to rub him the wrong way, and he hated her for it. Not that there weren't other reasons, just that one too.

There's a long moment of silence. "Exactly my point," she says at length. She walks over to the door. "I'll be back later, when you're not grumpy anymore."

Aeric gave a long sigh as he sat up and just shook his head. "Auntie Rosalind, I'm sorry. But, let's not have that distract us." He got back up with at least a half smile back on his face. "Now, how are you holding up?"

Rosalind smiles just a little. "I'll make it," she answers. "With patient application of time and activity." She pauses for a second, and her expression changes subtly, determined, and he can tell she's going to give him a piece of her mind.

"Aeric, I love you like a son," she goes on, speaking quietly, but in her typical firm voice. "And whatever problem you have with Isla, that's your business. But she's probably here for the peace negotiations, same as you and me. That's bigger than all of us, so don't allow some petty grudge interfere with the bigger picture. This peace initiative is all I have at the moment."

"Well, it depends on what you consider petty." Aeric said with a hint of anger; but within moments, he was back to his old self. "But don't worry Auntie Rozzy. These peace talks have my undivided attention. No one wants them to succeed more then me. OH!.." Aeric reached into his pocket and fished out a small black felt box. He opened it and showed Rosalind a 3 carat diamond engagement ring. The diamond had perfect clarity and the cut caused the light shining down to prism into the rainbow over his hand that held it. "I'm going to ask Serena to marry me tonight at the press conference."

She smiles, delighted, letting him change the subject. She gives him another hug. "It's beautiful, Aeric! Congratulations!"

Aeric beamed when Rosalind congratulated him. Yeah, we've been waiting so long, it just seems right. I know dad doesn't approve of her, but it's my choice, right? I just hope he doesn't take it out on Thalia. That stupid arranged marriage tradition. She's been through enough already."

Rosalind's smile falters at mention of arranged marriages, but then she shrugs. "It's not as if they have royalty to marry to," she points out. "I mean, it's not to be a snob about bloodlines, but alliance marriages make more sense if the people marrying come from some sort of dynasty beyond Might Makes Right. Is Gorodetsky really going to pass power to his children, or will he have to step aside for a stronger military figure?"

"Well, what I've heard about their structure of government is that High Kommissar Gorodetsky will choose his successor from one of the Marshals." Aeric stopped and seem to think for a minute. "Does Gorodetsky have any children? I've been concentrating so much on his military career and the Stovakian rule of law that I haven't actually looked at his personal life."

Rosalind shakes her head. "I have no idea, but I'm sure intelligence was gathered on his family. You could ask your father."

"Dad's avoiding me today." Aeric said when she brought up his father. "Probably because he 'forgot' to mention that bi…um, my cousin was going to be here." Aeric just shook his head. "I don't know, Auntie Rozzy. I have no idea how we are going to negotiate with militants. How many times did dad ask for a cease fire and was refused while they thought they were winning?" Aeric then just shrugged his shoulders. "Now I'm expected to secure a peace treaty."

"We're expected to secure a peace treaty," Rosalind asserts, walking over to the bar and pouring herself a bouron. She looks at Aeric to see if he wants anything. "With them. It's simply a matter of reminding everyone that cooperation is more profitable. Or, killing them all." It's not… entirely clear whether or not she's joking.

"Rum." Aeric said as he raised his hand to the back of his neck and started to rub. It was one of the few tell tale signs that he was stressed. Of course only close family would know. "I know, I know. It's not just me. It just seems like everyone's judging me. That here, finally, is my chance to prove that can run this country." Aeric just shook his head once again. "I can do it, Auntie Rozzy. I know I can. Why do I have to prove it to everybody else?"

She pours a drink for Aeric and pushes it towards him, then turns to lean against the bar and sip her own. "I think because people are tired and scared, and because they like drama. There's a lot of things that will be out of your control in these talks. And it's just the way of things for young people to need to prove themselves to their elders. You just get a bigger stage than most."

Aeric takes the drink and just holds it there on the bar between his hands. "Yeah, I know. And I know that I've been the spoiled carefree kid all my life. You know that I've never cared about my public image and while I admit I was a good kid,…" Aeric gave her that innocent smile of his. "…I was too lazy to apply myself seriously and too insouciant to care." Aeric then lifted the glass to his mouth and took a sip. "But I've changed. War changes people. I've matured. I'm not the naive, nonchalant boy that I was two years ago. I mean, I still don't care what people think of me; but there is nothing I won't do for this beautiful country of ours. Not when others, like Lucian, gave so much more then I will ever be asked to give."

Thalia runs to the sitting room where Isla had come from. She wanted to get there as quickly as she could, it's not fair that Aeric gets to spend more time with her than I do. Thalia slowed to a walk just a few steps before reaching the room. "Did I happen to hear the voice of my favorite Aunt?" Thalia peeked around the door frame and saw her leaning against the bar, and that she had made a drink for Aeric. She hadn't changed much on the outside, but what about the inside. I'm about to find out I guess. Thalia walked into the room and pouted at her brother. "It's not fair that you get to spend more time than me with Auntie. I love her to!" Thalia smiles at her brother, she liked teasing him. It was so good to have him back, and to have her Aunt there also just made her even more excited that two of her favorite people were there in the same room with her.

Rosalind is thinking over Aeric's words when Thalia appears, and she is distracted. She beams at her young cousin, and sets down her drink before going over for a hug and a kiss. "Thalia! It's so good to see you!" Holding her at arm's length, she looks the younger woman up and down. "Still like always, still too skinny." The joke is an old one, from when poor Thalia was growing up so quickly she didn't seem able to keep any meat on her bones, as Rosalind would have put it.

Aeric just turned around when he heard someone else come into the room. "Oh, hey sis." Aeric didn't respond to what he was saying cause he knew she was just teasing. He just stayed back and watched the two women as they had hadn't seen each other since Lucian's funeral.

Thalia looks over her Aunt. "You are a sight for sore eyes! I have missed you so much. It's so good to be back home, and to see family on top of it makes it more wonderful." Thalia squeezes her Aunt tight, and gave her a big kiss on the check.

"Aeric I hope you've been nice to our Aunt. I don't want you to make her work as a mediator before she even gets settled." Thalia walks over to her brother and pokes him the side with her elbow. Thalia loved her brother, but some times he could really be a pain when it came to trying to protect her from experiencing the ups and downs of life.

Rosalind returns to the bar and reclaims her drink, then perches on the arm of a chair nearby. "I don't know, Thalia, it might be a good idea. I probably could use some practice mediating before we all jump into the fires." She glances at Aeric and then turns back to Thalia. "Aeric was just telling me before you got here about how the Stokavians weren't willing to talk until they realized they would soon lose everything. It's sad that it took such a significant blow before change could happen."

Aeric put his hand on the top of Thalia's head and rubbed it back and forth in a playful manner…and messing up her hair. "And talking about Dad marrying off a spoiled little brat. But what can I say? You'll always be my li'l Tally," he says with a smile.

"Aeric! You know I hate it when you do that!" Thalia reaches around and grabs Aeric's hand from her head, twisting his arm so he would stop frizzing her hair.

"Aunt Rozzy, can I have something to drink? My throat is dry from all the dust in here." She goes over to the window to look out over the garden. The flowers are withered and her favorite garden is entirely gone, razed for an extra barracks building. Like so much lately, just looking out the window was all it took to realize how different the world had become. Thalia begins to cry, but tries to hide it from her family. I don't want them to think I'm still a baby. I'm not. I've changed, and damn it I don't want to seem weak.

Rosalind obligingly pours whatever Thalia usually likes, and takes it over to her. She puts her free arm around her young cousin and gives her a squeeze. "It's okay to be sad, dear," she says softly. "Get those tears out of your system now, because very soon we won't have any place private to shed them." Her voice is gentle.

Aeric goes over to Thalia and puts his arm around her other side. "Hey hun, don't worry about it. Big brother will make it better. Don't I always make it better?" Aeric gives Thalia a big grin.

"Aeric there are many things in the past that you have been able to handle, but this problem is too big, even for you," Thalia says, pulling a hankie out of her pocket to dab her eyes. "I wish this was something you could take care of, but unless you can cause miracles I'm afraid our world as we know it is coming to an end."

There's a knock at the door frame, and a new voice calls out cheerfully. "Is this a private party, or can anyone join?" Noticing the tele in the corner, he blurts out, "Hey, Heroes is on!" The words pop out before he realizes what he is saying.

Thalia leaned into her brother for a little support while still looking out the window, but she turned as she heard the knock on the door. She knew she had seen one of the faces before, but couldn't place it, and more importantly they were interrupting family time without being properly introducted. "Excuse me, but this is a private room for royal family only! From now on kindly wait for an escort to introduce you!"

Carson blushed, and lowered his head. "The servant told us…" His simple country upbringing took over and he was at first furiously embarrassed by this breach of etiquette. Then his military training kicked in.

"Captain Carson Meade, ma'am. Reporting by Order of the King," he said, standing to attention and presenting his orders.

"Wow. Finally got that pretty face away from the mirror, huh?" Aeric said as he moved back to the bar and picked up his glass of rum. "Meade, this is my beautiful sister Thalia and my Aunt Rosalind." Aeric points at the man at the door for emphasis. "That, ladies, is the man that owes me his life 17 times at last count. Cheers!" He lifts his glass in a salute and then takes a sip.

"17! It went up … since the cease fire. Odd," Carson says and snapping a salute to the Colonel, even though both were in civilian clothes.

"Well, yeah. I'm just that good." Aeric said with a smile.

"Colonel, it's nice to see you. Though, I guess here, it's Your Highness?"

"No Colonel here. Hopefully, with these peace talks, it will no longer be necessary," the prince replies.

Rosalind also turns at their entrance, a restraining hand lightly on Thalia's arm. A frown crosses her face briefly before she assumes her polite, public persona, a smile coming over her face instead. She walks over to the two newcomers. "Captain Mead. A pleasure to meet you," she greets the one, then turns to the other. "And you are…?"

Not intending to interrupt, he had kept quiet during the initial exchange. The brown tweed jacket and tan slacks were a good choice. His tailor had been right; ostentatious would not have been right for a first meeting. He finally spoke when the others decided to take him in. "Robert DaVenci, Duke of Osceola," he replied with a small nod that could pass as a small and modified bow of courtesy.

Rosalind quirks an eyebrow, but simply nods in greeting. "A pleasure," she says to him as well.

Carson chuckled, self-conscious. "Talk about fish out of water, I'm the only non-Royal here," he says, smiling at Lady Rosalind's words to him and bowing respectfully.

"Please forgive me for my rudeness," Thalia apologizes. "It has been a rough few months, and thinking about all of the negotiations that are about to take place has me on edge. My brother has talked about you. It's nice to meet you in person," she says, giving him a hug.

He was expecting a polite bow, maybe a friendly handshake, but he certainly wasn't expecting a hug. Carson was actually a bit … starstruck! The thought surprised him so much, he hardly noticed when she broke the hug.

Thalia then steps back so she can shake Robert's hand. "I hope you both have a good day. If you will excuse me I think I better go lie down before the dinner tonight. See you all later." She gives everyone a smile and a little wave.

"Rest well," Rosalind wishes Thalia. "We'll chat later."

Aeric turns to Robert as his sister leaves. "Welcome Duke daVenci. I hope your trip was rewarding," he greets the other man before turning back to Carson. "Got another movie lined up? You're last movie Die Zombie Scum was…interesting?"

Carson shrugs. "Hey, Zombie Scum made 275 million pounds! Who knew the sequel would blow chunks? I blame the Stovies. They invaded a week later… and they didn't go to the movies," he finished with a smile, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "But I still have this other gig I'm doing until the official end of the war, so I haven't thought much about the next movie."

Rosalind shakes her head a little in bemusement. "Would either of you two gentlemen care for something to drink?" she asks, going back over to the bar.

"Yes, ma'am," Carson said, politely. "I'd love a scotch on the rocks, if it's not asking too much." He favored her with a smile.

"Bourbon, straight up if you would. Thank you," Robert replied after Carson had answered first, smiling softly to his hostess. "I find it a bit unusual having such a beautiful lady offering me a drink," he remarked as he politely admired what he saw.

Tom enters the room then, looking around before spotting the Prince and heading towards him directly. He was an elderly gentleman who had served for years beyond counting in the castle, and was well known by all the Pearces of several generations. Bowing politely, he speaks in a hushed whisper meant for the prince's ears alone.

Rosalind pours both, chuckling under her breath at daVenci's comment. "You're too kind," she says, presenting their drinks to them. She notes the entrance of the servant, tracking his progress over to Aeric, then gives her attention back to daVenci and Meade.

"Things are understandably informal here at the moment, though," she continues, retrieving her own glass. "So please let me extend welcome from the family Pearce. Cheers." She lifts her glass before taking another sip of her bourbon.

"Cheers, Countess Hollingmore." Carson said, smiling and hefting the glass in a toast. The scotch was amazingly good, but then, should he have expected anything less?

Aeric nodded at the servant and then downed the rest of his rum. He then moved to Robert and spoke quietly to him before turning to Carson and Aunt Rosalind. With a little head bow, he says, "I am sorry, but we have been summoned. We will speak later, Aunt Rosalind. Carson."

Rosalind leans over and kisses Aeric on the cheek. "I'll want a full report on that other matter," she says to him as he leaves. With a nod, Robert finishes his drink and follows Aeric out.

Turning back to Meade, she gestures to a chair. "It seems we're left to fend for ourselves. Luckily, I know where the booze is kept. Please, have a seat and make yourself comfortable." She takes a seat herself.

"I hope the scotch is to your taste," she continues. "I sent a box with several decent bottles when I heard the King had returned to the palace. Housewarming gift. The wretched Stokavians didn't leave a drop here of anything worth even cleaning a toilet with."

"Yeah, we were 'lucky' enough to come across some of that Stovie vodka during one of the airbases we reclaimed." Carson said, becoming rather more comfortable now that he was alone with the - quite beautiful - woman. "We couldn't drink it, but when we mixed it with the jet fuel, it made our planes fly twice as fast!" he chuckled, enjoying the scotch and claiming a seat near Lady Hollingmore.

Rosalind laughs in appreciation, picturing the ground crew divvying up vodka bottles. "I've heard it makes wonderful carpet cleaner, too, great on stains." She smiles warmly then, remembering something. "But since we're talking about fighter planes and flying missions, I'd like to personally thank you for saving my cousin's life. I know to most people he's the King, but to me he's also family."

Carson smiles graciously. "There'll never be a need to thank me for that, Countess Hollingmore. I was just in the right place at the right time. It was an honor to have even been chosen to fly the mission, and I'm glad His Majesty is safe."

She smiles and raises her glass again to him before taking another drink. "Well answered, Captain," she says. "I hope these peace talks mean you won't have to fly risky missions anymore. You can make movies about the war instead."

"That would make two of us, Countess. Though I have to confess, there is something about the thrill of air combat that can only be matched by a few very specific things on the ground." Carson said, taking a drink from his own glass and shifting himself in the seat to cross his legs.

Robert daVenci returns just then, entering the room and walking quietly over to the sideboard to pour himself anouther bourbon. With it, he found a more quiet place, taking in some of the art he found hanging upon the wall.

"Such as…?" Rosalind invites him to expand. She nods at daVenci when he returns, then looks again at the door, clearly expecting Aeric to rejoin the party, too.

"Well, driving fast is one," Carson begins, smiling wryly. "And the other … requires a lovely lady." he finished, locking eyes with the Countess.

Rosalind smothers a grin with a sip of her bourbon, though amusement sparkles in her eyes. She doesn't want him to think she's laughing at him. "Is one worth foregoing for the other - the excitement of war for the pleasures of peace?" she asks then, managing to keep a straight face. Her eyebrows rise in apparently polite curiosity.

"Would that I could do both!" Carson teases. "As for the forgoing of one for the other, I suppose that entirely depends on the lovely lady in question." he finishes with a sly gleam in his eyes. What the fuck are you doing, Carson!?! Flirting with a Countess! The King's Cousin! Cad. sounds within his head, but it doesn't stop him from holding the Countess' gaze.

"Oh, I see," she replies, drawing out the last word an extra tick. "Standards. Very good. Those are much easier to maintain during peaceful times, as well." She winks at him over the rim of her glass, but then her expression changes, losing some of its playfulness, and she looks down at her lap.

Carson quirked an eyebrow at the wink Countess Hollingmore gave him and felt his heart race a bit. Then he noticed the look on her face and the sudden downturning of her face. "Countess. Has something upset you?" he asked, leaning forward. His hand reached for her, and very nearly came to rest upon her knee before finally resting upon the arm of her chair.

Rosalind takes a moment for a breath, to regain her composure. When she looks back up, she's smiling again. "It's nothing, Captain. I was just suddenly reminded of another conversation I once had. About standards. But I must admit, it was a nice change to make light of the war for a while."

"I'm sorry the memory was a sad one. Would you like to talk about it, or would you rather I try to turn your thoughts elsewhere?" Carson said, his speech unconsciously growing more formal.

She pats his hand, still sitting on the chair arm next to her. "The memory itself is pretty amusing, actually," she says, expression turning wry. "It's just that it was with my son, and it's not easy for me to think of him. Not yet. But time will tend to that eventually."

It caught him off guard for a moment, until the name clicked in his mind. They'd been fighting on different fronts, but it was still military tradition amongst the pilots to pause and honor the dead whenever one of them fell. "I am sorry for your loss. There are no words I could offer that you have not heard, or would do anything to decrease your grief. So, instead, I just offer you my humble silence," Carson said, closing his eyes for a moment as he clasped her hand in his.

There is silence for several seconds, allowing that simple human connection between their hands speak. "Thank you," she says when the moment has passed. "I miss him, but I would prefer to think more on the parents who will soon be welcoming their children home alive. Like yours. Have you seen them recently?"

She glances again at daVenci, as though trying to puzzle him out.

"Yes," Carson said, smiling that he'd seemingly done the right thing by the Countess. "I was visiting them when the summons came. It was a pleasant visit, but I was happy to get here, to King's Landing. I was eager to see it back in our hands."

"Most assuredly," Rosalind agrees with force, an angry glint coming to her eyes now, a sense of offended pride in her bearing. The very idea of those Stovakians coming into the palace, touching the banister she had slid down as a child, stealing the treasures that had been left behind, messing with her cousins' things, planning attacks that killed so many Aemmerians, and who knew what all else here in her ancestral home! She finishes off her drink, setting the glass on the table between them with a click.

Aeric walked in just then, before she could say more, wearing a smile. He doesn't say a word, though. He just goes straight to the bar and grabs the whole bottle of rum, pours himself a glass and chugs it down. He then pours another and takes it with him to a table where he sits down to read the dossier he was carrying. By the time he was through, he'd have the damn thing memorized.

Rosalind watching him walk up to the bar, and indeed stares at him throughout his performance, expression suddenly inscrutable. Taking another large gulp of rum, he looks up at everyone staring at him. "Well?" he asks them all. "Don't mind me. I've got duties to perform. Just go on about your business." He finishes the second glass, pours himself another, and brgins reading again.

"What's up, Lead?" Carson says, inadvertantly slipping back into his old military jargon for the Prince.

Aeric rubbed the back of his neck as he looked up at Carson, a sign to those close to him that he was stressed. "Official prince business is all. I have to get familiar with the Stovakian delegates."

Rosalind stands and picks up her glass, relieves Carson of his glass and goes over to the bar. "Captain, would you like a short tour of the palace?" she asks as she tops off their drinks. "The public sections, of course."

"Countess Hollingmore, I would love a tour, especially with as beautiful a tour guide as yourself." Carson said, graciously. He could tell the Prince was stressed about something, but it didn't seem to be any of his business. "Shall we, m'Lady." Carson teased, bowing politely and offering an elbow for the stunningly beautiful woman.

Aeric lifted up his glass of rum and raises it in the air. "To duties that must be done." he said as he downed the glass full. He then spoke to Robert without looking at him. "Don't worry, Duke daVenci. The bottles won't bite." Aeric hoped that he would understand his meaning. Aeric then picked up the bottle and looked at it. He really didn't need to be drunk right now. With that, he put the stopper into the bottle and went back to reading.

Rosalind puts a hand on Aeric's shoulder briefly. He wasn't alone in whatever he was wrestling with, but it didn't seem like he was ready to talk yet anyway. Resting her hand on Meade's proferred arm, she leads him off to continue playing hostess. Even though she didn't actually live in the palace, it always seemed like she was the one who played hostess at events to all the people the King and Queen didn't have time to visit with.

***

Out the door and down the stairs, she begins giving him the tour, the palace and its history a second home to her. The huge building is - to her - echoingly and eerily vacant. Not many servants, certainly no hangers-on standing idly by. "That's where Van Gogh's Starry Night was hung…. And that marble staircase was tranported here intact 100 years ago from a manor in Darsonne…."

Carson pays careful attention to the Countess' words, showing proper amusement when appropriate and interest when the situation called for it. But, truthfully, there was only one thing of beauty that had captured his interest in the Palace. He said as much. "This is a beautiful palace," he said, afer a while, "Only made more beautiful by your presence, Countess," Carson ventured.

She laughs lightly, but her eyes are kind as she turns to him. "Flatterer," she accuses good-naturedly. "I see that you pilots on the front lines do suffer serious privation, Captain. I should talk to the King about that — for the future, of course, since this war should be settled soon. Surely there's something that could be done about it."

"Certainly. R&R is good for the mind, body, and soul," Carson said. He looked around furtively, before leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. "I wonder, though, if I might convince you to partake of one of my aforementioned activities. Admittedly, it's something I could do alone, but it is more enjoyable when I've got a lovely lady with me," he said, a broad smile on his face.

The Countess leans against the wall across from him, still smiling. "Which? Driving fast?" she asks.

"For now." he says, accepting her terms. "Interested? I believe we have time before dinner." He quirks an eyebrow at her, wondering if she will accept the challenge.

"For now?" Rosalind echoes, one eyebrow arching, but then she hears footsteps approaching from upstairs. Moving out from the little hallway where she and Meade had paused, she sees Thalia coming down, carrying a big straw hat. "Thalia, dear," she calls, to draw her young cousin's attention.

"Well, hello! I thought everyone might still be in the sitting room. I hope I'm not interrupting anything." Thalia says, coming around from the stairs to join them.

"Aunt Rozzy what do you think about going sailing once we get to the negotiations and get settled a little?" she asks. " I think it might be fun! It will give us something to take our minds off of the work we will be doing. But then again…we might not have time to do anything. I guess we can see what's what when we get there."

"I'm sure we'll be able to find some free time to have fun and catch up," Rosalind assures Thalia.

"I'm gonna go wander through the gardens for a little while," the princess says, putting on her hat. "I think we can all use some peace and quiet, don't you? You two have fun, and don't get into too much trouble."

Rosalind leans over to give the younger woman a hug before she departs. As she does, she speaks softly in Thalia's ear, "Aeric is still upstairs, and is very upset about something. Could you go check on him for me?"

Standing back from her younger cousin, the Countess gives her another smile. "Enjoy the garden. What's left of it, anyway."

Alone again, Carson turned back toward Rosalind. "Shall we?" he says, resuming his previous conversation.

"By all means," she answers. "Show me this fast car of yours, and I'll see if you are worthy of a window sticker that says I drive like a Cullen." She leads the way back through the palace to where visitors' cars are kept off to the side and out of the way.

***

Carson leads the beautiful woman out onto the castle grounds and over to where he'd parked the Reventon. As they approached, she could tell he was proud of the car, but it wasn't overbearing or overwhelming. He triggered the alarm and both of the gullwing doors opened slowly.

http://www.tuningnews.net/news/070911/lamborghini_reventon.jpg

Boys and their toys. Rosalind walks around the car, admiring its lines, but it's clear she's not what you would call a car enthusiast. "Very nice. And you actually take this out and about? It looks like something that a lot of people would store in a garage somewhere, so nothing bad would happen to it."

She resists the temptation to point out a pretend scratch in the paint, just to see if he'd get all horrified. Instead, she lets him assist her into the passenger side seat and gets comfortable, buckling the seatbeat securely.

"It was garaged during the occupation. When I found out she'd escaped Stovie depredations, I couldn't help but want to take her out." He said, assisting her into the car and then crossing around to the right side of the car to slide into the driver's side, lowering both doors with a push of a button on the center console.

"That's good, though. If you're going to invest the money in something, you may as well enjoy it," she comments.

"Crossing the King's Bridge will give you the sensation of the open road, but is there anywhere you'd prefer to go?"

"No, the Bridge sounds like a good idea. I really shouldn't be gone very long," Rosalind says. "I still have to dress for dinner. And really, unless you get out of the city into the countryside, it's hard to drive fast right now."

She looks around the interior of the car as he begins to move, to see if there's any music. He points to the center console where the radio is stored. "If you'd like some music? Whatever you prefer." He pulls the car slowly out on to the main road leading out from the castle. In the short lengths of roads, he accelerates the car dramatically, smiling as the car eagerly growls up the intervening concrete.

She fiddles with the dials of the radio for a while, but there's not much being broadcast at the moment except static. NPR comes through on a weak signal, probably not from nearby. There's some other talk, dominated by news of the upcoming press conference, an oldies station cranking out one of the lesser known Beatles' tunes, and another station of indeterminate orientation playing a rock country crossover song. Eventually she gives up on that and shuts the radio off, then leans back in her seat and looks out the window at the passing scenery.

"Right. Sorry." Carson says, "I didn't think about lack of broadcasts. There is a bundle of CD's in the glove box." he says, pointing to a thin door above her knees.

"It's understandable, Carson. You haven't been here for a while," she says quietly without looking away from the window. "It's easy to think of home as totally normal if you're away. It's probably a defense mechanism."

Carson nods, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I just … expected to come back and everything be the same, you know?" The car had gone idle near the access to King's Bridge while they chatted. There was almost no traffic, and what was there were mainly military and police units. The city was still awakening from it's Stovakian enduced slumber

Silence reigns for a beat, and then she turns to look at him. She's smiling, though her eyes still hold an echo of sadness. She looks at him appraisingly, then tilts her head towards the road out the front windshield. "Is this your idea of fast?" she asks. "I was thinking, do you know where Rocky Pointe is? It's not too far, and had a nice view once upon a time."

"No, this is my idea of 'small talk' before I start with the real flirting." Carson says, teasing. He nudges the car forward, engine growling. "Rocky Pointe, hmm? OK."

He revs the engine, the bridge poised a straightaway before them. "Are you ready to start the real flirting, Countess Hollingmore?" he asks.

"You bet," she replies without batting an eyelash. "You can start by calling me Rosalind." She opens the glove box and finds something loud to put into the player, one of Staind's earlier albums. It takes a few seconds for the disc to start spinning and register, but as it begins playing, conversation almost becomes secondary.

Certainly not figuring her for a Staind fan, Carson smiles and nods. She smirks at his expression when she chooses the CD, but she doesn't say anything.

"All right, Rosalind, hang on." Pulling gingerly onto the massive King's Bridge, he floors the car, expertly accelerating it so that the tires do not screech. The g-forces push Rosalind back into the seat as her heartbeat begins to race in time with the passing lampposts. The engine growls eagerly as the car hunkers down to the roadway, devouring pavement.

The wind screams past the window as the music blares in their ears. In what would normally take a minute or longer to cross under normal conditions finds them crossing the expanse in less than 30 seconds.

The wind screams past the window as the music blares in their ears. In what would normally take a minute or longer to cross under normal conditions finds them crossing the expanse in less than 30 seconds. Rosalind closes her eyes with a little smile, to enjoy the sensations without distraction.

Carson can't help but appreciate the rapidly increasing rise and fall of Rosalind's chest as the adrenaline charges through her. Finally pulling to a stop at the checkpoint, he speaks to the guard, showing him the pass back to the castle. "Is the road to Rocky Pointe open?"

The guard nods. "Yes sir, only just today. Enjoy your day out." the guard steps back and salutes, motioning them on.

Carson turns to look at Rosalind. "Did you enjoy that?" he asked, pulling out onto the main thoroughfare.

Now she does laugh. "Yes. Would you like a cigarette?" she counters teasingly. "I'm surprised you're not a motorcycle enthusiast. The rush is much more immediate. Or are you, and you just haven't had a chance to admit it?"

Carson chuckles at her innuendo. "I'm just getting warmed up." he winks, pulling out on the road to Rocky Pointe. "And, I like motorcycles, too, but I also prefer air conditioning, music and lack of bugs hitting my face." he says with a laugh.

"Oh, picky I see," she answers, leaning over to turn the music down a little bit and allow them to talk more easily. "So you wouldn't consider water skiing or hang gliding, either? You might run into a bird."

"You're teasing me, Countess Hollingmore." Carson says with a smile, the double entendre clear. Once they're on the straightaway, he becomes much more free with the speed of the car, swooping it gracefully around curves and what few slower moving vehicles were actually on the road.

"I enjoy those things as well. Just not when I'm wearing a fancy suit, about to meet the Royal family. How tragic would it have been to come in with bug spatters on my suit? I daresay I would never have gotten you into my car, Rosalind." he laughs.

"Likely not," she agrees with utter equinimity. "We would have had to send out for something, unless… Hmm…" She looks him over again. "You might have fit into something of the King's. We could have checked his wardrobe, anyway."

"M'Lady, we have known each other less than an hour, now, and here you are already imagining getting me alone, and in the King's bedroom, no less! Scandalous!" Carson teases. The fingers of his left hand stray, slightly, from where they rest upon the center gear shift. Delicately, his fingertips caress the back of her hand.

Her head bows and turns away a little in a kind of modest gesture, her cheeks turning pink, but her shoulders are shaking with laughter. "You got me," she admits after several seconds when she's able to talk again, looking back up again and throwing him a glance. "That wasn't what I meant, but well turned."

"Well, if I haven't got you yet, then I'll just have to try harder," Carson laughs, stroking the back of her hand once more as he then moves to jam the gear shift back into sixth gear as the car jumps forward, speedomoter needle rising even further into the redzone. She's thrown back in the seat, slightly, again, by the acceleration as the car leaps forward and the road begins to swing by them once again.

Rosalind allows him to caress her hand. As they speed along faster along toward their destination, she turns in her seat a little so she can look at him more easily. She rests her arm against the back of her seat and reaches over to lightly brush his ear and hair with her fingertips, a mischievous smile settling on her face. "So what did your invitation from the King say about you visiting the palace just at this time?" she asks after a bit. "Did it give any details? The prince and princess aren't surprising, but you're more puzzling."

A smile escapes Carson's lips as she brushes his hair over is ear top - it oddly reminds him that he'll need another regulation cut before time to return to base - but he enjoys the feel of her fingertips on his flesh.

"No, actually. Just a royal summons to the Palace. Maybe for a more formal ceremony to award the King's Cross, now that we're back on proper ground? That was my guess. Do you know anything?" her new position brought her knee to where her hand was previously resting, so, he gingerly placed his hand there until the need to downshift would bring it back. He traced a circle over her knee with his fingers as the scenery raced by. His piercing blue eyes hawklike in watching the road.

"No," she admits. "That's why I'm curious. I have suspicions about why I've been asked to report here just now. Your idea seems feasible for you. But I suppose we'll all just find out eventually." The light fabric of her pale green sweater pulls back as she teases his hair with warm fingers, baring a slender wrist. "Oh, and congratulations," she adds.

His hand leaves her knee briefly to downshift the Lamborghini as they pass around a slow moving military truck, and then, reaccelerates on towards Rocky Pointe. "Thank you, but none are needed. I did what any soldier would do to protect his King."

He places his hand back upon her leg, this time slightly higher than her knee, feeling warmth through the cotton khaki pants.

"Yes, but recognition is still warranted. You didn't have to volunteer for service, you performed admirably under the circumstances, and these sorts of things are good for morale," Rosalind replies. "So you'll just have to suffer through all the attention. Not that you seem to have trouble with getting attention," she adds, tickling his neck with a finger.

"Getting attention is always good. Keeping it is even better. Especially attention from a beautiful Countess with an intoxicating touch." Carson says, feeling the small hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise. Familiar stirrings were also being felt elsewhere, and he was sure the racing of his heart - this time - wasn't to be attributed to the car. He voiced this thought. "I'm quite positive my racing heart isn't entirely due to the drive, Rosalind." at that, he squeezed her thigh delicately.

If she's privy to voices in the head that are dismayed at how things are moving along between them, she gives no sign as yet.

"Thank you, Carson. May I call you Carson? You're being very good to my ego," she answers. "The Pearce family seems to have avoided the pitfalls of inbreeding that has troubled other royal families. But I think I detect hints of a very good-looking young man underneath all this stubble." She brushes his cheek, listening to the bristling noise the hair makes and watching his face as he tries to divide his attention between driving and her.

"Thank you, Rosalind. When I'm on leave, I prefer to grow a little bit of stubble. I've got something of a baby face, you see?"

"What is - Oh, here," Rosalind changes what she was going to say abruptly, turning her attention back to the road and shifting to sit normally in her seat. "Turn left at the little dirt road coming up."

He downshifts suddenly, braking hard and sliding the car rather excitingly sideways to make the sudden corner, engine growling. He then accelerates down the dirt road, though somewhat slower than before, given the conditions. He seems to be an excellent driver overall.

"In fact, it's how I got my callsign, 'Face'." he says, resuming the conversation, "It's short for 'Babyface'." he chuckles at the memory of the event. "And, finally, Carson is just fine. Sounds quite pleasing coming from your lips - which are quite magnificent on their own, of course."

He casts another sidelong glance at her, then returns his attention to the rough road again.

"Oh!" The word is involuntary as the card slides, sounding more surprised than alarmed, and she braces against the door until the car straightens out and is moving again. Rosalind gestures with her hand, palm up. "Sorry, Carson. I should have given you more warning. Distractions while driving are very dangerous."

The road isn't terrible, except in spots where it isn't protected from rain, and resembles an old washboard. Trees and bushes line the sides, but it isn't particularly overgrown. She's quiet as they drive along, until she warns him, "Alright, just around the next turn."

And around the next turn, the road bends around a bluff, continuing around and back into the trees. There's a wide spot in the road here, though, where a few cars could sit comfortably. The view is still stunning, with the sea in the distance, the city, and the countryside all together in one harmonious whole.

Rosalind Lowsley Hollingmore typed:"Oh!" The word is involuntary as the card slides, sounding more surprised than alarmed, and she braces against the door until the car straightens out and is moving again. Rosalind gestures with her hand, palm up. "Sorry, Carson. I should have given you more warning. Distractions while driving are very dangerous."

"Dangerous, perhaps, but very pleasant." Carson winks at her, smiling broadly.

As the panoramic vista comes into view, Carson lets slip a low, appreciative whistle. "Absolutely beautiful." Rosalind is about to answer when she notices that he is looking at her, and the sunlight filtering through the windscreen and lighting her face, making her eyes sparkle.

She shakes her head, still grinning, and points to a spot with a wisp of shade from a lone straggly tree near the edge. "Park over there, please, and we can get some air."

She wasn't easy to read, that was for sure. Here was a challenging woman! "Certainly." he says, moving the car quietly to the appointed spot. Shutting the cars engine off, he pops the bonnet and then heads around the front of the car, stopping for half a heartbeat to raise the bonnet all the way, before stepping on to Rosalind's side of the car as the door raises open automatically. He smiles down at her, offering her his hand. "Shall we?" he asks.

She waits for him to come around to her side of the car, playing along with the chivalry of the moment, giving him her hand and stepping up and out of the car with a nod. Keeping her hand in his, she walks around the car again, looking at it from its new vantage and with the eye of someone who has ridden inside it now. "It really is a beautiful car, Carson. Thank you for, um, introducing me to it. It's not quite the same as meeting a gentleman's horse, though," she adds as they stop at the front and she looks at the beast with a thoughtful expression.

"Well, I would introduce you to my horse, but we'd have to go all the way back to Starford-upon-Evon for that." Carson says, entwining his fingers in hers. He stops for a moment and retrieves a blanket and small bundle from beneath the bonnet before closing it. Wrapping his hand back in hers. "Shall we?"

"Surely. Lead on," she says, eying the blanket. "You seem to have a plan."

"A gentleman is always prepared." Carson says, indicating the blanket. "An Aemmerian gentleman is always prepared with tea." He finishes, hefting the small case, and smiling broadly. "What better way to woo a woman!?" he asks with a chuckle.

"You have tea?!" Rosalind exclaims, looking from the case and back at him with surprise. "Now I am ready to be impressed. I'll be impressed if it actually tastes good." She chuckles.

Carson smiles, knowing what awaits them. He spreads out the blanket beneath the tea, and then begins to unfold his tea kit. It's something out of one of Carson's 007 movies, it seems. He folds the case flat which provides the stable surface for the built in electric burner. The teapot rises from a nearly flat disc into a unique but functional form. He loosens the 16 ounce bottle of high-quality bottled water and pours it into the pot, where he then pulls a small variety box of very exquisite tea bags. "Do you have a preference, m'Lady?" he offers her the choice.

Rosalind settles on the blanket with him and watches with great interest as he gets everything arranged. "Do I see some jasmine in there?" she asks, reaching over to pluck a packet from the bunch and proceeds to open it. "This is great, Carson. If I had known, we could have raided the palace kitchen for some biscuits."

"Biscuits?" Carson says, reaching into another pouch and revealing a small pouch of hermetically sealed biscuits. "They're, admittedly, not the best, but the makers really did think of everything in this kit." Carson chuckles as he adds the tea to the starting to boil water.

"A total tea experience," Rosalind remarks. She opens the little package of biscuits while he tends to the tea, then finds the cups. Except, this being a tea-for-one kit, there's only one.

"Hm…" she says as she looks things over. Nope, just the one. "Sharing is caring, I've heard. You don't have cooties, do you?"

"I assure you, I am cootie free." Carson says, working on the tea, which is nearly finished. "I am sorry, I didn't even think about this service being for one. I guess I'll have to upgrade for the future, hmmm?"

She shrugs and offers him a biscuit. "It doesn't change the fact that this is a very slick setup. And a person learns more this way. How well a person shares, for example. You come from a large family, don't you? So you probably know all about sharing. I'm an only child, though; I'm a very selfish sort." The expression she turns on him is mild innocence itself.

"Well, I assure you, the focus of my attention is completely upon you." Carson says, taking his hand and stroking the side of her cheek - his boldest move yet - "And the tea, of course." He finishes with a smile. "There are sugar and honey packets, please feel free to sweeten to your preference." he says, lifting the tea from the burner and shutting it off.

"I'll take my tea straight up, thank you," Rosalind replies, holding the insulated cup so he can pour, but watching his face rather than the tea. "Would you like to kiss me now?"

If Carson is startled by her forwardness, he shows no sign of it as he answers quickly and matter-of-factly. "If we kiss now, the tea will get cold." he smiles broadly at her, but his eyes reveal that, yes, he would very much like to kiss her. He offers her the first sip. "Please, ladies first."

She accepts the cup, smiling broadly at his answer. "True enough. Cheers." She closes her eyes for a few seconds, inhaling the aroma before taking a sip gingerly. She tests the flavor the way one might consider a fine wine, and takes another drink before her eyes open again.

"Very fine, Carson. I approve." She hands the cup to him for his turn, and scoots back a bit to lean against the tree trunk, looking out over the edge of the bluff while she eats her biscuit.

"Yes, thank you." He says, accepting the cup and sipping gingerly at the tea. He moves to sit beside her, leaning against the broad Aemmerian oak and surveying the scene. "She really is beautiful, isn't She?" he says, indicating the countryside before them, looking all the way out into King's Bay, and King's Landing beyond. With his free hand, he seeks hers out.

Rosalind clasps his hand. "Mmm…" is the agreement she makes to his observation. She takes back the cup and has a drink, sadness stealing back over her face. But then she shakes her head firmly as she gives him back the cup, expression turning resolute instead. "We'll simply rebuild is all. What's past is past," she declares in a firm voice, as though answering a private conversation.

"Per aspera ad astra," Carson quotes, hefting the small teacup in a meager toast to their great country. He takes the last swallow of tea and then places the cup beside them. "The tea in the pot will keep warm, I think …." he says, turning to face her, and looking deep into her eyes. His other free hand strays up to tuck a stray wisp of hair behind Rosalind's ear.

The smile returns to Rosalind's face, and she nods, her eyes traveling over him slowly. "I'm sure," she agrees, inviting him closer with a hand against his back. She leans into him, and her lips meet his, lightly at first - tentative perhaps, or teasing, or savoring like her first sip of tea.

Carson returns the kiss gently, nearly chastely, until the passion starts to flare in him and he begins to kiss her more deeply. It is a few moments of kissing as he strokes her hair and caresses her neck with his hand before his mouth opens and he begins to probe her lips with his tongue.

She responds to his increasing ardor, allowing him to deepen the kiss, almost purring with pleasure even as she shifts around to a more comfortable spot, one that doesn't involve being wedged between the tree and the roots. The blanket cushions against pebbles and twigs as she reclines against the ground, pulling him close, caressing his back and arms through his shirt, following his lead for the moment.

Carson follows Rosalind to the ground, lowering her gently onto the blanket, lips never leaving hers. He increases the dance with her tongue, sliding his hand around to cup the small curve of her skull, entwining his fingers delicately into her hair. He takes her lower lip gingerly between his teeth, sucking her lip into his mouth seductively.

She sighs, and he can easily feel the flush of her skin and rapid beat of her heart through her thin sweater. She pulls his shirt up on one side so that her fingers can stroke the skin of his back, and reclaims his mouth for a few more hungry kisses before she turns her head, offering her neck and collarbone to him. “Stubble stings, m’dear,” she almost whispers on the end of a giggle, her breath catching.

Carson sighs as she strokes the flesh of his back and he bends his head to lay delicate kisses upon her proffered neck and collarbone. His tongue flicks along the bend, where her beautiful and graceful neck turns to her collar, and then kisses and licks delicately up to her exposed ear. He kisses the top curve of her ear, and whispers breathily, "Next time, I shall endeavor to be clean shaven." His breath is warm upon her flesh.

“Heh.” Her chuckle is low and breathless, her eyes drifting closed as she answers him. "Full points… for confidence.” Turning to face him again, she pulls his head down and kisses him again, this time with a growing passion of her own. Pressing against him, her whole body asks for more, both hands finding their way under his shirt to stroke the mold of the muscles along his back.

Carson says nothing, but she can feel the smile upon his lips as they kiss. Laying down upon her, he can feel he warmth of his skin, the swell of her breasts, the delicate curves of her body as she presses against him. He sighs contentedly as she strokes his muscular back with her hands.

He continues to kiss her passionately, as his own hand begins to explore her curves. He slides partially to her side, supporting most of his own weight, as his hands begin to trace up the side of her hip, then up under her sweater to the warm, soft skin of her side and stomach.

“Mmm,” she murmurs in appreciation as he caresses her, and she smiles against his mouth. Freeing one hand, she pulls back a little and runs her fingers slowly through his hair and down to tease his neck. “We do appear to have some mutual appreciation going on here,” she observes, still a little breathless as his fingers rest against her skin, watching his face. “But I feel like we need to set some ground rules before things go much farther.”

In his mind, Carson could see his car screeching to a halt, sliding sideways just a bit as the tail lights flashed red in warning. Engine idling, but eager to be back on the highway, Carson's voice is husky. His hand stops its forward progress, but his fingers trace errant circles upon the flesh of her stomach. "As you wish," he says, smiling down at her.

She grins up at him. "Thank you," she says, making the delivery regal in spite of the fact that she's lying on the ground with his hand up her shirt. She traces the line of his jaw with a finger. "First ground rule is, we don't waste good - nay, excellent - tea by letting it get cold. Second ground rule is, the ground is hard. Either you have to be on bottom for a while, or…"

She pauses, as though considering whether to continue or not. "I do have a fairly comfortable bed in the palace," she finally finishes.

"Well." Carson says, considering the options. "I do not mind being on the bottom at all," he continues, smiling broadly down at her. "But, I believe we can, perhaps, kill two birds with one stone. You drink the tea, and I'll drive?" he finishes with a broad smile as he bends to kiss her once more.

Pulling away, he continues. "Or I can put the tea on to simmer and you can … be on top." he adds with a quirked eyebrow.

"I like the first option," she says, though there is a momentary hesitation, weighing immediacy against long-term gratification, her eyes telling him of her desires. Then she scoots away and sits up, beginning to straighten her shirt and push the loose hairs back from her face.

As she rises, he kisses her deeply again, stoking the fires once more. He then turns to pack up the tea kit, leaving the pot and the cup out for them to share on the way back. "You know, in the movies, this is the part where we race back to the castle, only to be disrupted in our plans - our desires unfulfilled. Hopefully you've got a handy back entrance into your rooms?" he asks with a smile.

Rosalind laughs. "I think I know a back staircase or two. But there really aren't many people there to intercept us right now. Dinner's probably not for a few more hours." She shrugs, picking up the blanket and shaking it before folding it into a tidy bundle.

"Besides, what happened to that confidence from earlier?" she teases him. "Just minutes ago you were already talking about a next time—when you're no longer stubbly." She rubs her chin, then she trades him the blanket for the teacup, holding onto it so he can put the other things away.

"Hey, I've got plenty of confidence when it comes to just my abilities. It's other's interference that I've got no control over." Carson says, accepting the blanket and tossing it and the tea kit - sans pot and cup - back into the bonnet and closing the lid.

He takes her over to her side of the car, showing her inside as he takes the cup and teapot from her. Once she's settled, he hands the cup back to her. Then, realizing he has the pot, asks, "Tea?"

"Please. And I trust you won't be rushing back so quickly to cause me to spill tea on myself." She lets him pour, then takes the pot from him as well, putting it on the floor between her feet. She waits until he closes the door and settles in the driver's seat before she adds anything else.

"It's actually not a bad thought," she says thoughtfully as he buckles up, again with that air of innocence. "After dinner. After we've both slicked ourselves up for public display and had a chance to brush elbows all evening. Tension building and all that." She sips the tea, eyes steady on him over the rim of the cup.

"Yeah, that's exactly what I meant by 'next time'." Carson says, appreciating her gaze over the cup with a smile and a wink. He starts the car and gingerly puts it into reverse, turning it back to face the main road again. He drives slower, making sure that the car rides as smoothly as possible. Expertly, he navigates the Lamborghini back to the main road where it purrs once more, happy to be out on the open road again.

They share the tea and pleasant conversation on the return trip. Holding hands and exchanging tender touches and words, their destination looms across King's Bridge once more, beckoning them home. The tea finished and safely free of possible spillage, he smiles widely at her as he accelerates the car once more down the lengthy straightaway. He hand, resting upon his thigh, clenches it seductively as the car races across the bridge.

Smiling broadly at her, his own heart racing not only from the acceleration, but her attentions as well, he pulls the car off the main roadway and drives it back up to the castle where he parks in the same area as before.

"I believe you said something about back staircases?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Surely," she replies, glancing around as she pushes her hair behind her ears. She'd given up on tidying it in the car on the way back, instead pulling the tie out and loosening the braid that had held it back. The fitful breeze from the sea blows it into her face again, and she gives up. "This way," she adds, leading him by the hand around the side of the building, through the herb garden, and into the nearby kitchen door. Hardly anyone looks up from their tasks as the two slip through the entryway and into a narrow back staircase.

Rosalind ascends the stairs at a good pace, arriving at one end of a long hallway in the rear of the palace, the landing an alcove partially screened by a drapery. A few steps to a similar alcove reveals another narrow staircase, which they take to the third floor. A few corridors later, she stops in front a door that looks a lot like every other door.

"This used to be my room, so I'm assuming that's where Tom brought my things when I arrived," she explains as she opens the door.

The place was clean, and fairly normal. Bizarrely normal, really. But it wasn't like she lived in the palace and had much of value in her room to begin with. The sheets and blankets were clean and fresh, though, and that was the thing for now. Best not think about who might have been sleeping in her bed for the past several months. The air wasn't smoky, at least. Her clothes likely were hung up in the closet, ready for later.

"We made it," he says, hunger in his eyes matching her own as he runs his hand along her cheek and through her now-free hair.

She drifts closer as he touches her cheek, leaning in for a warm-up kiss, but then makes a face as they draw apart. "First things," she says, her voice low and husky. She leads him through to the bathroom, where a smallish travel bag sits on the counter near the sink, and digs in the very back of one of the drawers, finally flourishing a razor. "How much do you trust a woman with a blade? I don't think I have any guy cream that's still foamy, so you're stuck with soap unless you don't mind smelling like lilacs."

"Had I known you were this adverse to stubble, I could've brought my shave kit up from the car," he says with a smile. "And, I trust you." He begins to unbutton his shirt, revealing a tanned and muscular physique, a beaded chain bearing his dogtags hang between his pectoral mucles. His trousers hang a bit lower, now, revealing a 'V' musculature that disappears beneath his beltline. There is a tattoo on his bicep, nearly identical to the one Aeric has.

"Men," Rosalind says with a sniff. "You just have no idea how troublesome stubble is for women with tender skin. And it might be I prefer clean-shaven men."

She starts running warm water into the bath tub, then moves to stand close to him, running her nails lightly over the skin of his chest.

"Make yourself comfortable there." The tub, while not enormous, looks like it could accommodate two with reasonable comfort. "I'll be back soon."

Comfortable, Carson thinks. What about this is comfortable?! Still, he does what he is told, sitting on the edge of the tub, and reclining back against the cold marble wall. It immediately makes his flesh goose bump, but he acclimates quickly. I always thought girls liked the stubble.

Rosalind isn't gone long, just enough for him to settle in, with whatever level of modesty he might desire. She reappears in a long, fluffy lavender robe. She giggles when she sees him. "I meant in the tub," she explains. "But this will work, too."

She draws her robe closer and sits down facing him, turning the water off and using it to lather up some soap. She's smiling to herself, looking at his eyes and then back to his chin as she works, eventually rinsing the excess soap from her hands.

"Well, I didn't want to be too forward. I'm up for a bath if you're joining me." He says, quirking an eyebrow. "I just didn't want to assume anything."

She pauses to look at him. "Carson, we both know where this is going, but if it would help, I can be explicit. I expect very soon that we will engage in enjoyable, no-strings-attached sex. I'm not 16. In fact, I'm almost old enough to be your mother." Her smile softens her words at least a little, and her eyes are still kind. "I appreciate your courtesy, but if I didn't want you here, I would tell you."

"To be fair, planning on engaging in enjoyable sex is one thing, but it's quite another to walk back into your bath and be greeted by my twig and two berries, now innit?" he points out. "After all, even you came in wearing a bathrobe," he says, winking and tugging at the sash and loosening the tie there slightly.

"Twig and two berries?!" She laughs. "That's a new one on me. Now hold still and no talking while I hold a dangerous weapon near your nose. You don't want to go to dinner tonight with a marred face."

She picks up the razor and scoots closer to him so can begin carefully removing the offending hair. "I'm wearing a robe because it's cold," she adds absently. "Until I get into the water, anyway. But maybe a bath after would be better after all. You'll just have to rinse your face in the sink."

"I'll do … my … best … to keep … you warm." Carson says, keeping his voice steady to match her ministrations and soft. When she's finished with the area beneath his nose, he speaks again. "And, yeah, I'm pretty sure the studio might come after you for damaging their property." he finishes with a smile. Another tuck on her robe reveals a long slip of leg and thigh, creamy white and absolutely beautiful to Carson's eyes.

"Now scars are sexy," Rosalind asserts. "Or, they can be. Probably not the kind a slipped razor would give your nose, though." She smiles into his eyes, scooting a little closer. She turns his head to get to his other cheek now. "And I don't think keeping me warm will be a problem soon, m'dear. You were doing a stunning job of it earlier."

"Was I?" Carson says, letting him pay attention to his cheek, "Even laying on the rocky ground with just a blanket beneath you?" His hand rests upon her exposed leg, and he begins stroking the warm flesh of her thigh with his fingers.

"Even so," she agrees. "What is it about acting that made it your interest, your career?" she asks conversationally, changing the subject.

"Passion," he admits. "Initially, it was for the girls, admittedly. But then I developed a real passion for it. I loved it. Being someone else, the crowd, the applause. It was satisfying."

"For the girls, hm?" She chuckles. "Honesty is good. Satisfying is better."

"Satisfying is good, yes. Very good." Carson says.

She tilts his head up and slowly works the razor over his chin and throat, taking care due to the angle and not wanting to slit his throat - even a little cut would be cause for a slew of bad jokes. It probably seems to take forever, because it does take more than 30 seconds, complicated by a certain level of impatience.

"There," Rosalind says finally, tossing aside the razor to clatter into the sink. She hands him a damp washcloth to wipe his face with.

Carson accepts the washcloth. Truth be told, he was rather enjoying her touch - and touching her - so the wait was a pleasurable one. He cleans the soap from his face, and feels the area, which was very smooth. "Very nice. Better than I could do myself." he says, smiling at her. "You looking for a job, by chance?" he concludes with a chuckle.

She unties her robe as he wipes his face, dropping the belt on the floor. "Not a chance," she says with a laugh and a wink. "I don't want to get a real job and put in time like the peons. I might break a nail. But now that that's done…"

She stands up and rests her hands on his shoulders for balance as she leans in to kiss him, her robe and hair hanging loose and draping over him.

Carson turns back when she places her hands on his shoulders, in time to get a glimpse of her toned and naked body beneath the opened robe. From the swell of her breasts down to the mound of soft pubic hair, he drinks her in.

As she kisses him, he slides his hand beneath the robe to rest upon her naked hips. They kiss passionately for a moment, before he stands, pulling her body close to him, the flesh of his chest melding into her warm, supple curves.

[Fade to Black]

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