Her phone beetovened at her.
"Dina." Him again? "I am going to throw a graduation party for Brooke at my new home."
"Oh, good, my house is much too small." crash, thud. _What was that? I thought they were done with the crashing part?_ feet thudded down the stairs and out the front door. She hesitated and then followed the sounds. The dwarf was twisting away at the water cutoff valve.
"Yes, so I heard." Smug tones. "So I'll have it here, Saturday night. Now, I'm going to invite Monica. I don't know if she'll come, but if she does, I hope you'll be polite."
"Oh, I'm sure we'll just ignore each other." She assured him airily.
The dwarf stumped back up the stairs. She followed, but decided against checking the dungeon and headed for the computer instead.
Bruce, sounding a bit uncertain, gave her the time and address, then rang off.
The Conclave of Rulers had been an annual function for the last century. A patently useless attempt to settle differences peacefully. Generally the surrounding kings sent representatives, but this year Lucian had heard that the deposed king, Bruce of infidelity,
Grr, what had she called him? She grabbed the library book and checked. Eastridge? Had she actually had Bruce of Eastridge of the Kingdom of the West? _Better than Lothlorian or something utterly meaning less or unpronounceable_ she told herself.
Bruce of Eastridge was attending in person. It was an excellent opportunity to pick up information, especially to see what allies the old tyrant was picking up.
Yes. This year Lucian would attend in person.
The dwarf rounded up his little orcs and they bid her farewell for another day. Locking the door behind them, she approached the bathroom with trepidation. The floor was clear, the sink, toilet and bathtub gone, pipes capped off. Everything looked nice and dry.
She headed for the kitchen, determined to fix a real dinner, tonight.
She was happily stir frying chicken when the repeated soft sounds finally worked their way into her consciousness.
The pipes? She looked up at the ceiling apprehensively, and in the silence, the sound was identifiable.
It was sitting politely just inside the door, with it's oversized 'dog door' flap.
Thin, black, all ears and eyes.
"Do you belong to someone around here?" Dina snagged a shred of chicken and blew on it to cool.
"Or did you belong to Mrs. McGruder? Am I intruding in your house?" She held out the chicken, and the cat hesitated a long moment before slinking up and hooking it away with a careful swipe.
Dina got a good look at her before she disappeared out the door. "Ear mites and fleas. You've not been eating regularly for awhile, have you?" the flap stirred slightly.
Dina pondered, and then walked back upstairs to search the boxes for Lady Blue's leftover medicines. Bruce had, of course, taken the pedigreed Silver Blue Persian cat with him. Had he been trying to hurt her, or did he just think the cat was valuable, and therefore his?
Yep. Drops for eatmites and flea powder for kittens.
The black cat scrambled back out the flap when she suddenly reappeared in the kitchen. Dina went back to cooking, putting a piece of chicken aside before adding veggies and soysauce.
"Thought you'd come back. 'Nother piece of chicken?"
This time the chicken was taken immediately, and the cat watched warily as Dina filled a plate and moved to the dining room.
Two chunks of chicken later, Trickertreat was purring on a thick towel on her lap.
"Now the hard part, Trick." Dani uncapped the ear drops.
An unpleasant interval later, the black cat was flea powdered, and damp eared, and seriously upset. Dina blocked the flap and put her in the corner with another chunk of chicken.
He'd seen her first in the dark, nearly glowing with magical potential. He hadn't been able to tell if there was a boy or girl under the filthy rags, but the locals assured him she was orphaned and living by begging and stealing. He'd taken the scratching, spitting wild child home, and, given the power spikes it was giving off, had elected to strip and scrub the child himself. Getting the clean girl into warm, clean, whole clothing had been nearly as difficult. At least feeding her had been easy, and she seemed to be willing to stick around, as long as he continued to feed her. The townspeople hadn't known her name, so he gave her a new one. Within days the staff was calling her Trickster, so he changed her name again, this time to Tricketta Backstreet. The judge didn't hesitate to name Lucian as her guardian.
Trick disappeared as soon as she unblocked the flap, but as expected, arrived meowing in time for breakfast.
The Dwarf and Orcs were back, and the Master Handyman truck turned up an hour later with all the cabinets, the new toilet, and the whirlpool bathtub. In green.
"Almond. I ordered Almond." Dina said. glaring at the offending tub.
"You can't take back Special Orders," the driver informed her.
"And as soon as I receive what I ordered, I'll be glad to keep it." She told him. "Now, load it back up and take it away. She made notes all over the delivery sheet, signed the note and the bottom, and made the driver sign the note as well, and sent him away.
Bruce had expected her to dress well, and be a beautiful accessory to his social life. She thus had a wide selection of dresses perfect for the party Bruce was throwing.
Dina went shopping. Browns and golds, no more black and silver.
And knew Bruce and dirty tricks well enough to show up at the incredibly oversized mansion with alternate accessories. She spotted a very well dressed couple walking in as she cruised up the driveway. And a woman with a silver fox coat as she parked. Casual my ass. Dina shed the flats for the heels, the little gold necklace for Aunt Junie's pearls that Bruce had wanted to sell that first difficult year. Not the brown velvet jacket that matched the pants. The mink stole. The one Bruce had given her for her birthday, and tried to reclaim in the divorce. She turned on the mirror light, to sweep her now short and curly hair back on one side and trap there with the heavy gold-with-one-pearl clip that had been her mother's. Two rings on her right hand. A slightly darker shade of lip liner.
She strode up to the door, confident and easy.
The Usurper looked down on the petty squabbling nobles and smiled hungrily. He let them take in his appearance, then descended the stairs. His lazy stride was muscular and confident . . .
Bruce had obviously been working out, he looked good. His fiancée had obviously been overdieting, she looked weak. Dina handed the mink over to an actual butler.
"Monica. What a pleasure to meet you." She smiled at the other woman.
"Monica, dahling, this is Miss Dina Weatherby."
"Dina Masters, now, Bruce. Congratulations, I expect the pair of you will be very happy. Oh, excuse me, I see Brooke, and it is her party, after all." She turned and walked away, as if this wasn't the other woman's house.
Brooke looked good. Fit and lean, glowing with youth and vitality, packaged in a new dress. "Mom." Her voice was relieved, and quieted to a whisper as they hugged. "Thank you for coming, and not making a scene."
The other people she'd been talking to eyed Dina curiously.
"Hey, this is about you. You've worked hard for your degree, and you deserve to be feted for it. I'm very proud of you."
The oldest of the group, a greying man in his forties spoke. "You never pursued a degree, Miss Weatherby?"
"Masters. Dina Masters. I believe you're Monica's father, Senator?"
"Indeed. I've been enjoying meeting my soon-to-be step grandchildren."
"Oh, did Dirk make it? Good."
Brooke rolled her eyes. "No, he came by yesterday then ran off. Plans for the summer, he said."
Dina made a non committal noise. She wasn't going to mention the possibility of a summer job in front of all these rich people.
But apparently the other people had their minds on jobs. "So, Miss Masters, are you working, or do you think you'll remarry?" This from a middle-aged woman who looked like she wanted to take notes.
"Mom," edge of panic in Brooke's voice. "This Marilyn Bronx, the society writer."
Gossip Monger, she meant.
"I've gone back to writing. I hadn't realized how much I missed it until I started again. It's been, oh, eighteen years since my last book hit the extended Best Seller's list. That's how Bruce and I got started."
"Oh. I didn't know. . . Wait, Dina Masters? 'The Fate of Kings?' That's you? How fascinating. And nothing since?" Her eyes glittered.
"No. I enjoyed motherhood fully, probably indulged myself more than I should of. Now its nose to the grindstone, and I must say I love the new computerized grindstones. I find it hard to believe I wrote a three book series on a typewriter."
The woman turned to Brooke. "Have you read your mother's books?"
"Yes, and I can't wait to read the new one. What's it about, Mom?"
"Oh, I'm back in the Kingdom, and taking a look at the younger generation. I think I'm a better writer, being a more mature person now. But soon enough I'll put it to the ultimate test – the marketplace."
Having laid out some evidence of talent and creativity, the circling sharks drew back a bit. Brooke steered her off a ways. "Wow Mom. I'd totally forgotten those books. I didn't realize they'd been best sellers. I, umm, never did actually read them."
"I know. Bruce wasn't much of a fantasy fan, and well, as our marriage went down hill his rare mentions were all negative. I suspect he tossed them. I can't find a copy to double check for names and descriptions and so forth." Dina shrugged. "Sorry. Shouldn't have veered that direction. So the graduation ceremony's next Saturday, and then the job hunt, eh? Hopefully short and sweet. Are you going to look locally, or try for someplace new and exotic?"
"Umm, Dad says he'll check with all his contacts. And, umm . . . Grandfather. He insists I call him that."
"Don't worry. Grandfathers are one of those things that you can accrue, rather than replace. The more the better." Dina kept a smile in place with difficulty. Speaking of usurpers!
“Oh, Dina, before I forget. . .”
Oh dear, Bruce was back. With something to say, that he wanted multiple people to hear. Dina raised her eyebrows in inquiry.
“Monica is allergic to cats. I wondered if you could take Marivic. I know it sounds odd, after the way we fought over her. . .”
The way you took her, because she’s an expensive show cat, and there wasn’t anything else handy for you to snap up and walk out with after the fight about my changing the locks and insisting on being present whenever you came to pack up your stuff.
“What a shame. I know you’ll miss her. Of course I’ll take the princess.”
The Conclave went according to schedule. Three resolutions, two screaming arguments between minor princes, one assassination attempt.
King Jubal denied all knowledge of his young officer’s intensions, his eyes sliding uneasily to the side. Yah. King Bruce was watching from a distance, probably had arcane assistance and was hearing it all as well. Lucian was watching the eyes of the battered officer. They were trying to not look behind Jubal, to where persons unknown peeked out from behind the curtains to Jubal’s private quarters.
“. . . and as surety of my honesty, let my only child, my daughter, be your guest this next year.”
Oh Crap. He means to marry his way into my kingdom. It wouldn’t be so bad if he were a decent ruler himself. Lucian sighed. He knew he was going to have to marry. Produce heirs. He might as well start looking over the prospects.
He returned home with the Princess, two companions, two chaperones and five servants.
Princess Marivic and Trickster did not like each other.