“Can I have my favour now?” The look the girl shot at the metallic-skinned half-man and half imp was half shy and half calculating.
“Don’t you want to think about it first?” He leered at her. “It’s not often I admit to owing a favour when no contract is involved.”
“And His Highness isn’t going to keep quiet about that,” the child of the Castellan’s unfortunate second marriage indicated the direction the son of her father’s liege lord had taken. “I think we have ten minutes, at most, before this room is full of people telling me what to ask you for.”
“There is that,” the notorious, usurious man-imp agreed. He folded his arms and asked, “So what do you want of me, little girl? What won-.”
“A kiss,” she interrupted.
“A kiss? From me?” He looked at her incredulously. “You could have had a wish, magically fulfilled and you want a kiss?”
“Yes. Magic comes with a price, I heard you say so yourself. On the mouth please – with gusto, so to speak, if you can muster the interest.” She glanced at the doorway the prince had left through. “We don’t have much time.”
“I pay my debts.” He stepped forward and put an arm around her. Another leer, this time down her discreet cleavage, and, “I hope you know what you’re doing, my dear.”
“No,” her eyes were sparkling and her tone was cheerful, “but I’m trusting that you do.” His lips descended on hers.
He was the one who broke it off, raising his face from hers with a listening tilt to his head. “You were right,” he told her, “company’s coming.” He looked at her critically. “You should tidy yourself.”
“You’ll need to move your hands first,” she told him pertly.”
He looked down. “Ah, yes. Sorry.” He let her go and stepped back.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” she told him as she shook out her skirts and straightened her neckline. “I asked for enthusiastic, if possible.” She looked at him and curtsied as to a senior nobleman, “Thank you, sir, for indulging me.” She blushed.
“It was my pleasure.” He listened. “Two minutes at most before we have company. Why a kiss?”
“My father will arrange my marriage,” she said quietly. “I know he is already in negotiation with several families who either won’t mind my mother or can be bribed to ignore what she was. I know what my pool of potential bridegrooms is and I wanted to be able to choose my first kiss.”
“Why me?” His expression demanded an answer.
“You owed me a favour and it was the one thing I could think of that was nothing of magic or contract.” She looked him up and down. A metallic-skinned near-man of dubious repute, ill-dressed despite the riches he had reputedly gleaned over the years, clean smelling to the nose and with clawed fingers stained in ink. “Why not?”
“You could have riches, position, power.” He stalked around her as if hunting her answer.
“Once given, those can be taken away by others.” She looked at him, trying to catch his eye and make him look directly at her. “I’ve lived on the edge of the Court all my life, I’ve seen it happen. Politics change, someone else does a better deal.” She shrugged and he chuckled darkly. “A kiss and its memory can only ever be mine.”
Then they were not alone and the chances for further speech were gone.