Despite Lanira's desperate attempts to soothe her, Myra was still grieving when the hour of the evening meal drew near. Idira's things had been brought round—what little she had—and Blackie now prowled around a new room, three times the size of the previous one. Idira's new room wasn't blue, but pale pink and white. Otherwise it was much the same as her old room, except everything seemed bigger, grander, and more ornate. Her bed had four posts and a canopy over it. Idira loved it. She could pretend her bed was a boat, and her room the sea.
Dressed in her pink dress and slippers, a maid brought her back to Myra's room. Idira went in and found Lanira holding a glass of red wine to Myra's mouth. Myra shook her head and pushed it away.
'Drink,' Lanira pleaded, anxious, 'you must calm down, the master will not put up with your weeping for much longer. Please, calm yourself and go to dinner.'
Myra ignored her. Silent tears slipped down her face and onto her gown, staining it.
Exasperated, Lanira stood up and rubbed her hand across her forehead. A thought must have struck her because she bent down and wagged her finger in front of Myra. 'You must pull yourself together. If you continue like this, the master will turn you out and you will have no one. Jac will turn his back on you, and so will everyone else, you won't have a friend in all of Westfall.'
Lanira's hand clamped over Myra's mouth. 'You hush your mouth, you will never say his name again. He's gone, you hear me. Gone. The master had the lad on a wagon out of Moonbrook before he even came to. I heard he's been sent to your father in Redridge. It's over. Jac will come down hard on him, you can count on it.'
Myra pushed Lanira's hand away. 'I hate ye,' she spat. 'Ye're just another one o' VanCleef's lackeys. All ye care about is his wealth and power, fawnin' over him as ye scrabble around trying ta catch his leavings. I had love, real love. My man loved me. I don't care what anyone says. He loved me, and I loved him.'
Lanira held the glass up in front of Myra. The older woman's eyes flashed, dangerous. 'Then be smart, and bide your time in luxury. Maybe one day all of this will come to nothing. But for now, you have to play by his rules. Don't be a fool. Survive.'
Myra glared at Lanira for a long time. Idira held her breath, waiting. She hoped Myra would listen to Lanira, even if the woman was sharp around the edges, she made sense. They didn't have to live with Papa anymore, VanCleef had promised Myra she would never be hit again. Blackie was safe. Please Myra, she begged, silent, drink the wine.
Myra took the glass, and emptied it. She handed it back to Lanira.
Lanira refilled it, and Myra drank all of that, too. She swayed a little, quieting as the wine took its toll on her.
Hurrying to fix her ruined cosmetics, Lanira tidied Myra up as best she could. A knock came to the door. Before anyone could open it, VanCleef walked in, wearing tight fitting black breeches, soft leather boots that went over his knees and a black shirt, open at the throat. A red silk scarf encircled his neck. He looked sleek and elegant. Idira tried not stare, but there was something about him that made her want to look at him. Somehow his presence filled up the whole room.
His eyes went straight to Myra, who despite Lanira's frantic efforts, wilted in her gown, pathetic after a day spent in grief. His jaw clenched.
'Leave us,' he said.
Stricken, Lanira bobbed her head and curtseyed. She took Idira's hand as she passed by.
'The child stays,' he said, his eyes still on Myra.
Idira looked at Lanira, fearful. She didn't want to stay. Lanira shook her head, her eyes filled with warning. She shook off Idira's hand and left, her expression so taut her face looked as if it would crack if someone touched it.
The door closed. VanCleef drew a deep breath and pulled a chair towards him. He turned its back around and straddled the seat in front of Myra, his hands on his knees.
'Look at me,' he said, his voice much softer than before. Myra lifted her eyes to his, wary.
He touched her bruised jaw. 'I can't promise I won't ruin more of your dresses, but I will never hit you, ever. And if anyone dares to lay a hand on you from this point forward, I will kill them myself. I swear it.'
Myra didn't say anything. A fresh tear slipped free.
'He doesn't deserve you,' VanCleef murmured as he brushed away her tear. He sighed. 'But I understand. You need time. You will only hate me if I force you. I do not want your hate, I want your love.'
He stood up and put the chair back exactly where he had taken it from. He turned back to her.
'So here is what I propose, you have six months to live here with me, enjoying everything I can offer you. Rank, prestige, wealth, protection. At the end, precisely six months from tonight, I will be waiting in my rooms. If you do not come to me willingly by the stroke of midnight, you and your sister will have to leave to find your own way in Westfall.'
Myra looked up, hope filling her eyes.
'Ah you are an easy book to read,' he smiled, though it was not unkind. 'You hope to return to Benny? Well, you could, but perhaps you might want to know how and why you ended up here with me.' He paused, to make sure he had her full attention. 'Benny lost you to me in a game of cards.'
Myra went so pale, even her bruise faded. She clutched at the seat of her chair, swaying. VanCleef caught her as she fell and carried her to the bed. He laid her down with such gentleness it was hard to believe this was the same man who had almost killed Benny. He poured her a cup of water and helped her to sip.
Idira moved closer to the bed, watching him. He looked at Myra, his expression soft and tender. He brushed a lock of hair from her cheek.
'I didn't plan for this, lovely. I had only thought to claim my winnings and send you home, but you have captured my heart. There is none to equal you, not even in the palace of Stormwind.'
Silence fell as Myra digested his words. She looked up and met his eyes. He smiled and touched his fingertips to her lips.
'But,' Idira blurted, interrupting, 'why did ye say ta Papa he didn't lie when he told ye Myra would please ye if Benny was the one who lost her?'
Myra bolted upright and pulled herself away from VanCleef, her eyes sharpening, suspicious.
VanCleef nodded. He moved around the bed and crouched in front of Idira, his leather boots creaking. He took hold of her chin and examined her face, turning it from side to side, his calloused fingers gentle.
'Well aren't you the clever one. So quiet and observant. I like you, even if your question has annoyed me.' He stood up again and returned to Myra. A look of discomfort slid across his face. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the wall, staring at something only he could see. 'However,' he continued, his voice turning cold, 'perhaps some questions are better left unasked.'
Myra pulled her knees up to her chest, defensive. 'No. I want the truth.'
He glanced at her, his expression softening anew. 'You have suffered enough, I would not hurt you more.'
'Tell me. Please,' she whispered, even as her fingers tightened on the folds of her dress, betraying her apprehension.
VanCleef shook his head, resigned. 'Very well. Your father lost you first, over a trivial stake. A handful of silver coins. Benny tried to win you back—the stake if he lost his allegiance to me for the rest of his life. He lost, as you already know. That makes you mine twice over. I'm sure you can understand how there is now no possibility for Benny to be with you again, now or six months from now. I would kill him, of course.'
Myra slumped against the headboard. Idira took a small step backward. So here was the man Lanira feared. She wondered if he was always like this, complicated and clever, and always used to winning. She wished she had kept her mouth shut, it would have been easier if Myra had only known the first version of VanCleef's explanation.
He poured himself a glass of wine, sipping as he paced back and forth at the end of the bed. 'But let us move onto more pleasant matters. I should like your permission to have Idira schooled, to learn to read and write, and for both of you to have elocution lessons. Your quaint provincial dialect only serves to alienate you.'
Myra's expression had gone blank; she wasn't listening. She looked like she was going to cry again.
Idira climbed up onto the bed beside her sister and took her hand. 'Can I learn ta read and write please, and ta speak better?'
Myra nodded, vague.
'Good, that's settled then.' VanCleef set his wine glass aside. 'So it's agreed, at the end of six months you will give me your decision.' He brought Myra's hand to his lips and whispered, 'You are, of course, always welcome to come to me sooner. I shall be longing for you until then.'
Myra nodded again, numb, his poetic words sliding off her, useless.
He went to the door and looked back at them, huddled together on the bed. He shook his head. 'I can make you so very happy Myra, if only you'll let me. Please, let me.'
He didn't wait for her reply. When he was gone Myra cried until she threw up, the red wine she had drunk splattering everywhere. Lanira flapped and scolded, fretting the stains wouldn't come out of Myra's new gown. With a bit-off curse, she hauled Myra off the bed and began the work of cleaning her up all over again, her face tight and sad all at the same time.