Silent are the Bells Chapter Ten: A Blessed Event
written by Sugarberry

When Brietta noticed that Shayla was finding it difficult to keep her eyes open, she tiptoed out of the room and hunted up her mother, finding her in the kitchen with Anna. “Any sign of the adventurers yet?” Brietta asked, grabbing a coffee cup for herself. The stallions and foals were still out on their snake hunt.

“No. Our peace is guaranteed for awhile yet,” Anna retorted.

“Is Shayla resting?” Lena wondered.

“Yes, and it’s the best thing for her. She lets Flynn run her ragged.”

“Once the new foal is born, that one will get set down a peg or two,” Anna predicted.

“What are you preparing for supper?” Brietta sniffed the air and turned toward the oven. “It smells great!”

“Lasagna. That crew that went out to roam the land will be mighty hungry when they get back.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Your mother and I have everything under control, sweetie. You just enjoy the day.” So saying, Anna went back to her preparations.

Lena looked at her daughter with a grin. “Having second thoughts about not going with the stallions?”

“Why do you ask such a thing, Mother? Of course not!”

“Oh, I just thought you were straining to hear voices coming home,” Lena said matter-of-factly.

“And your constant glances toward the window,” added Anna.

Brietta knew she was defeated. “If I volunteer to go out to the garden and pick a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table, you’ll interpret that as further proof, I suppose?” she said as she went to get the kitchen shears.

“Which one you’re pining for is what I’d like to know,” Anna said bluntly, tossing her head.

“Why, Kent, of course; he and I have become very good friends!” She smiled at the cook and her mother; and, picking up a woven basket, the young mare swept out the kitchen door.

Once in the garden with the fragrant and colorful flowers, Brietta took the time to smell the roses, literally. And in so doing, she contemplated Anna’s jibe. Which one, Dorian or Sloan, held her heart? Dorian was definitely the one who could cause her to feel as lighthearted as the wren that sang to her from the apple tree; but Sloan was her first love, and he still held a power over her- if he had cared to exert it.

She shook her head, and got down to the business of cutting a variety of the flowers that bloomed under her mother’s care; her favorite type of bouquet was a mishmash of colors and shapes and greenery- a riot of nature’s floral bounty- and she searched out the choicest of the blossoms so that the flowers would remain fresh and vibrant. Her basket was nearly full when she heard the sounds that she had been waiting for and turned to watch the cavalcade as it approached.

Conrad and Clarence were in the lead, deep in conversation, followed by Aiden and Sloan; Sloan was carrying a sleeping Flynn. Dorian was straggling behind with Kent’s hoof in his while Chad and Todd flitted on the edges of the group so as not to miss anything that might be said by any of its members. Brietta watched in complete silence under the shade of the apple tree near the garden and decided not to intrude on the apparent camaraderie that existed so serenely.

She had not moved, but something caught Dorian’s attention; he looked her way, breaking off his route to come in her direction while the others, closer to the house, continued on their path. The stallion grinned as he approached her, and Kent began babbling.

“We saw a snake, a big one!” His eyes were round with excitement. “And Grandpa says it’s the granddaddy of all those snakes that used to live in the pit but not any more because it’s too full of rocks.” The foal flushed with pleasure as he recalled the size and colors of the snake.

Brietta mouthed the expected praise for such a specimen as they had seen, but she asked Dorian doubtfully. “Did you really find one where Father thought the fabled pit might be?”

“Right on the mark,” stated the stallion. “He was curled up on the rocks just as one might imagine a snake to be who has complete authority in his domain. It’s too bad you missed him, Brie. He was resplendent.”

“He was really neat, too,” added Kent. “He watched us and then slithered away.” The foal waggled a foreleg in the air in an undulating motion with one hoof while keeping a tight grip on Dorian’s hoof with the other. Brietta realized that for all his bravery, the foal had been unsettled enough by the snake to warrant his hold on someone who could protect him if the need arose.

“Playing the part of the flower maiden today?” Dorian quizzed, eyeing her basket of blossoms as they turned and headed for the house. “You do realize that there could have been a snake under any of the plants that you were plucking.”

“The thought did run through my mind,” she grimaced. “I did see a slimy green inchworm; that was enough for me.”

“This one?” Dorian asked, reaching a hoof to her mane and coming away with a particularly repulsive-looking representative that wriggled energetically until the stallion dropped it onto the grass.

Brietta made not a sound- which was to her credit, Dorian thought gleefully. She did, however, hand the basket of flowers over to his care, a shiver running perceptively through her body. She walked into the kitchen, told Anna that she had picked the flowers for the bouquet but would appreciate it if she, Anna, would arrange them as she, Brietta, did not feel especially up to it, and slipped upstairs to her private bath to cleanse herself of any trace of contamination that she had suffered. Her skin felt creepy, and it was not until she had washed herself thoroughly and combed her hair that she felt safe again. She followed up with a generous spray of cologne, muttering to herself for the wiggly things to survive that if they could.

Hearing sounds of activity, Shayla had awaken from her nap and was stretching as Brietta returned to the bed chamber. “Are the boys home?” she queried through a yawn.

“Yes, all safe and sound. They saw a snake, so they’re all content.”

“And how was Flynn behaving?”

“I only saw him a moment, asleep in Sloan’s forelegs. I was in the garden cutting flowers and had to wash up; supper should be ready any moment now.”

The two mares went down the stairs and found that the stallions and Lena had retired to the patio until the meal was served; Clarence was overseeing the wash-up of the colts, Flynn included. His eyes had opened, Lena said, as soon as Sloan had put him down on the bed.

Shayla joined the stallions to thank them for watching over her son and showing him such a pleasant afternoon while Brietta checked in with Anna to see if she needed any help. The cook looked at her with merry eyes. “Dorian told me why you wanted no more to do with those flowers. He put them into a bouquet for you.”

Brietta eyed the arrangement critically but had to admit that he had done a decent job; she switched several blossoms, however, just to give it her personal touch, while she complained to Anna. “Why do all the wriggling, squiggly things have to search me out?”

“I guess they know a soft touch when they see one. Here, take this basket of biscuits into the dining room; then announce supper.”

The meal was met with enthusiasm by all the ponies and was accompanied by much cheerful talk about the history of Whitehall Place and the surrounding area. Brietta thought to herself that it was a lesson on the past that the colts would remember much longer than any of the history lessons they received at school as their alert faces could attest.

Shayla, Brietta noted, was unusually quiet throughout the repast and let it be known as soon as the meal was finished that she intended to start for home immediately, causing Flynn to break into tears because he did not want to part company from his newfound companions. The foal was subdued, however, when he realized that Sloan and Dorian had both volunteered to accompany him and his mother back to town; he may have to lose his young friends, but he would have the sole attention of the two accommodating stallions who had proved themselves to be grand company throughout the afternoon.

There was one interval before Shayla and her troupe left that Brietta had a chance to talk to Dorian privately, and she made the most of the opportunity by asking him to escort her to the anniversary dance for Kelli and Egan. Dorian, admitting to not knowing either of the ponies, was happy nonetheless to accept the invitation on the spot.

* * *

Several hours later, Brietta was curled up on the couch reading a book when she became vaguely conscious of the phone ringing several times and her father’s voice answering it. Something in the tone of the conversation caught Brietta’s attention, and she set the book down and went to the den where her father and Conrad were sitting.

Aiden smiled at Brietta as she came into the room, but Brietta noted that there were worry lines across his forehead as he took the receiver away from his ear and said, “Brietta, it’s Dorian; you might want to talk to him.”

Wonderingly, her heart beating faster, Brietta took the receiver from her father’s hoof. “Dorian, what’s going on?” she asked breathlessly into the mouthpiece.

His news astounded her. “Shayla’s at the hospital; she’s in labor.” He went on to tell her that the mare’s pains had obviously started even before they had left Whitehall Place, but not seriously enough for her to take them as the real thing. But on the trip back to town, the pains had become more frequent and stronger, so that Sloan and Dorian had convinced Shayla to let them take her directly to the hospital.

“She’s not due yet for another two weeks.”

“Tell the foal that.”

“How is Shayla doing?” Brietta wanted to know.

“Dr. Finella was on duty, so she’s with Shayla now. Sloan was able to reach Shayla’s parents, but Derry doesn’t seem to be back in town yet.”

“Where’s Flynn?”

“He’s here, fast asleep. His grandparent’s will see to him.” Brietta heard voices in the background as the stallion paused. Then his voice came back. “Finella was just here to find out if Derry has been located yet; she says it looks like a long night ahead. I’m going to wait here with Sloan at least until Derry shows up.”

That decided it for Brietta. “I’m coming in, too.”

“There’s nothing you can do.”

“Maybe not, but I won’t be able to do anything here, either.”

When Lena heard the news, she would have it no other way than for her to accompany Brietta to the hospital; neither mare would listen to Conrad and Aiden’s common sense notion that a simple phone call would alert them to the delivery of the foal much more conveniently than the two of them marching off in the gathering darkness to gain nothing but a sleepless night. But their words fell on deaf ears, Lena reminding them that Shayla was like one of the family and Brietta reminding them that she had missed Flynn’s birth completely and wanted to be a part of this new life coming forth.

* * *

Arriving at the hospital, the mares were met by Dorian who fielded their questions as best as he could. “Nothing has changed; it’s a waiting game; Finella looks grim, but she says that everything is proceeding well. Derry didn’t arrive yet. Flynn was taken to his aunt’s house.”

When they reached the waiting area, Sloan came immediately to Brietta while Lena lent her support to Shayla’s parents. Sloan guided Brietta to a quite corner while Dorian, as if on cue, absented himself in the direction of the cooler. Brietta searched Sloan’s face and read the concern that dwelt there. “Something’s wrong,” she said.

“The contractions are hard, but the foal isn’t coming as easily as one would hope. Besides which, Shayla is weakening; she’s having a hard time of it.”

Brietta gasped. “Shayla...”

“She’ll be all right; she’ll fight with everything she’s got.”

“She has to get through this... and the baby, too.” Her eyes sought a guarantee from Sloan’s but she found only a mirror of her own uncertainty. “Sloan, she’s got to be okay!”

The anguish on Brietta’s face broke through the stoic guise of the stallion; and, in that moment, he wanted nothing but to protect Brietta from anything that would cause her to feel such sadness. He pulled her into his strong forelegs, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, his hoof caressing her mane. He spoke softly into her ear.

“The three of us have been through any number of scrapes together; with our prayers, Shayla will come through this one, too.”

“We can’t be sure,” Brietta said, lifting her head.

“But keep in mind that she and the foal are in the best of care; there’s no one who can beat Finella.”

The words were no sooner out of the stallion’s mouth when he wished desperately that he had not said them, for Brietta’s body tensed and she pulled back from his, a door slamming between them once more. “Yes, Finella’s the best,” she murmured as her shimmery eyes hardened into cold, hard steel. She left Sloan and slipped off to the chapel to face her God.

How long Brietta knelt there, she did not know; she was lost in her conversation with the One alone who could guide Shayla’s destiny. A rustle beside her brought her out of her meditation, and she glanced to see who had joined her and was grateful to see that it was Dorian. “Any change?” she whispered.

Dorian shook his head. “No word yet. Are you okay?”

The concern for her in his voice was too much for Brietta’s brittle heart; and even though she assured him that she was fine, tears began to course down her cheeks. Dorian offered her a handkerchief and gave her ample time to release her pent-up emotions before he asked, “Do you feel better now?” with a coaxing grin.

Brietta nodded her head, wiping away the last telltale tears with a soggy cloth. “I’m sorry about that.” She offered him a pathetic smile. “I must look a fright.”

The stallion, brushing a vagrant droplet from her cheek, surveyed her closely. “Not half bad,” he remarked teasingly. “Although you look very vulnerable,” he added, taking her hoof into his.

“We’d better get back to check in on Shayla’s efforts,” Brietta said, accepting his support to stand. “Surely there will be some news by now.”

And there was. Derry had finally arrived back from his business trip and was with his wife. That fact alone alleviated some of the tenseness that had been growing among those who were waiting; but as time continued to crawl along with no positive word, the congregated ponies gradually drifted to various locations and sank into their own private world of worry over the events taking place in the delivery room.

When they could take the strain no longer, Lena and Brietta went walking down the quiet hall to the main entrance of the hospital where they could escape the tension for awhile. While Brietta paced across the tiled floor, Lena seated herself on a cushioned bench near a magazine display and absently began to flip through the pages of one of the periodicals. But her words showed that her thoughts were elsewhere.

“This night certainly brings back the details of your birth, Brietta.” She looked at her daughter meditatively.

“I was uncooperative, you have always said,” smiled Brietta.

“I thought you’d never come, and I didn’t see how I could go on; but when your were settled in my forelegs, I couldn’t have been happier. Your father and I thought we were the most fortunate couple alive.”

“And now?”

“Never a single regret, my darling daughter. You’ve always been a delight.”

“I’m grateful that you don’t remember the troubles I put you through.”

Shaking her head, Lena admitted, “Your spirit is what makes you so vibrant; I wouldn’t have denied you that zest for life that you’ve always exhibited... to the fullest.”

“Shayla and I had some good times,” giggled Brietta. “Remember the grade-school play about...” She stopped her reminiscing as Dorian and Sloan came in from outside where they had obviously gone to walk off some of the helplessness they were feeling.

Both stallions noted the more relaxed attitude of the two mares; and Sloan asked for both of them, “Is there good news?”

“No, nothing further. Mother and I were just... trying to lighten our spirits a bit.”

“That’s what we were doing as well,” Sloan replied, sitting himself next to Lena. “I was telling Dorian about some of Shayla’s misadventures down through the years.” As an afterthought, he glanced at Brietta. “And your name seemed to come up regularly.”

Brietta was quick to defend herself. “Not mine alone, Sloan. You were always there to back us up.”

Sloan shook his head. “I wouldn’t agree, Brietta. I was there to prevent the worst from happening, knowing full well that you two would listen to nothing I had to say on the matter. I could only hope to salvage what I could after you and Shayla had done your damage.”

“I must admit, Brie, that you did not appear to your best advantage... if what Sloan was telling me was the truth,” Dorian grinned.

“Undoubtedly,” Lena smiled. “What those two girls didn’t attempt...”

“Mother! You told me not more than five minutes ago that you valued my spirit!”

“Well, time has tempered my memory, I’m sure, seeing how well you have turned out,” Lena admitted, and both stallions fixed Brietta with a look that conveyed the impression that they, too, were pleased with the results.

A change of subject seemed beneficial to Brietta. “Mother, Shayla didn’t have a difficult delivery with Flynn, did she?”

“No, not as I recall; Shayla might say otherwise, of course, having been the one to go through it.”

“Dr. Liam would have been her doctor then, of course,” Brietta said while looking at Sloan. “It’s too bad he’s retired now.”

But Lena would hear none of that. “Dr. Liam was a fine physician, but he knew when it was best for his patients to turn them over to someone younger. Dr. Finella has continued in his practice very well.”

“Would you like something to drink?” Dorian asked, smoothing over what could have been an uncomfortable impasse.

“Some coffee would go good right now,” Lena admitted, and Brietta- feeling uncharacteristically chastised by Dorian’s attempt to keep things harmonious- agreed.

While Sloan and Dorian set off to the snack bar, Lena and Brietta followed at a slower pace. “A doctor with Dr. Liam’s years of experience could be expected to have a more appropriate idea of how to handle any problems that might arise better than a young doctor whose experience is necessarily limited,” Brietta defended her earlier statement out of hearing of the stallions.

“I won’t argue that with you, Brietta; but Finella has proven herself to be quite knowledgeable and capable; I’m sure that Shayla has the utmost confidence in her and rightly so.”

Brietta’s eyes flashed fire, but she refrained from continuing the argument, simply muttering under her breath; and Sloan, unaware of what Brietta and her mother had been discussing, found himself under a dagger-look from the mare which did succeed in causing a smile to curl Dorian’s lips as he observed the scene.

Dorian handed a cup of coffee to Brietta. “No cream or sugar, although your temper looks like it could use some,” he chided.

She turned a dangerous look on him. “Thank you,” she said pointedly. “I’ll be in the waiting room.” She turned and left.

“I suppose we should return there, too,” Lena noted, watching her daughter move down the hall before glancing at the stallions. “The two of you should go on home; someone will need to be awake at the office when business hours convene... morning isn’t that far away.”

“I’d rather stay,” Sloan said simply.

Dorian agreed. “This is as close as I’ve been to a birth; I’d like to see it through to the finish.”

When they caught up to Brietta, she was already in conversation with Derry’s sister who had come to the hospital to find out what progress was being made. Lena had just sat down with her coffee when Derry and Dr. Finella came through the doorway.

Derry’s first words were to Shayla’s parents. “Shayla’s okay, but...” He turned to Dr. Finella to allow her to explain.

The doctor smiled reassuringly. “Mother and baby are doing just fine; however, the contractions are not getting the dilation we need. We’re preparing her for a cesarean section to take the baby.”

“But aren’t there risks?” Shayla’s mother wanted to know.

“The foal’s heart rate is reassuring and Shayla’s vital signs are good; she is, however, exhausted from her efforts so far and needs some assistance. I do not foresee any complications.” She turned to Derry. “We need to get back to Shayla.”

No one said a word after the doctor and Derry were gone; there was nothing to be said. Lena came to Brietta’s side and took her hoof, and both mares and everyone else in the room settled down until the outcome was known.

* * *

Brietta was resting her head on her mother’s shoulder when she became aware of the sound of hoofsteps coming toward the waiting room, and she jerked upright to hear the latest news. It was a smiling Finella who came through the doorway.

“It’s a girl,” she stated, “and she’s a strong, healthy one. Shayla’s complaining of the epidural, but she’s fine.” Finella moved her gaze from Shayla’s parents to search out Sloan, and she sent him a bright smile. “The baby is beautiful.” Sloan went to the doctor’s side to congratulate her on her part in the delivery, but Brietta was so happy knowing that Shayla was safe that she did not even notice. Instead, she hugged her mother.

“Just think, Mother! Shayla has her own little girl now.”

“And Flynn has a sister. I wonder how he’ll adapt to that.”

Brietta laughed. “Very cavalierly, I would presume.” She looked up to see Dorian standing before them, and she offered him her hoof. As he helped her up off the sofa, she grinned at him. “Not a bad night’s work, wouldn’t you say?”

“I wonder how Shayla feels about that.”

“I’m sure she’s exhausted but wonderfully content.”

The father appeared in the room to receive congratulations and to deliver a message from Shayla that she appreciated everyone’s concern and would look forward to visits on the morrow, but for now she wanted nothing better than to sleep.

“What’s your angel look like?” Brietta asked of Derry.

He grinned happily. “Looks just like her mother,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a prettier daughter.”

“And she’s truly strong and healthy?”

“I think Flynn will have his hooves full,” he laughed. “She’s in an incubator right now, but Dr. Finella assures me that it is only a precaution.”

Derry moved on to accept the wishes of others who had waited out this night for the arrival of his and Shayla’s foal; and Brietta moved to the side of the room, realizing just how tired she was now that events were finalized. She was caught in a yawn by Dorian.

“Ready to go home?” he asked.

“Just in time to turn around and come back to town for work.”

“Maybe your father will grant you a reprieve.”

“And what about you, Dorian? And Sloan, too.” She looked around the room. “Where is Sloan?”

Lena had just come up as Dorian responded. “He was going to wait to talk to Finella.”

“I see,” Brietta said, her smile fading. She turned to her mother. “Well, Mother, I think it’s time for the two of us to head back to Whitehall Place.”

“I’ll accompany you,” Dorian stated.

“Thanks, Dorian, but that’s not necessary,” Lena replied. “Brietta and I know the way home.”

“It’s still dark, and you have a long way to go. I won’t take no for an answer.”

Brietta looked gratefully at Dorian. “I’d feel much more comfortable knowing we had a protector,” she admitted. “I’m sure every nocturnal animal within a radius of ten miles will be crossing our path on their way home.”

Relenting, Lena smiled at the two ponies. “I suppose you have a point there, Brietta. And you, Dorian, can spend what’s left of this night in one of our guest rooms. Well, come along, then. We may be able to beat the sunrise yet.”

* * *

Brietta fell asleep as soon as she was snuggled into her bed, but it seemed like she enjoyed the escape of sleep only a moment before Anna came into the room to shake her gently. “Miss Brietta, it’s morning.”

Brietta buried her face in her pillow. “Go away, Anna.”

“Your father told me to remind you that you have an appointment this morning with an important client and you can’t beg off.”

“Tell him... I quit.”

“Dorian is already at the breakfast table waiting for you.”

Brietta’s eyes flew open. “Dorian’s here! I forgot that Mother insisted he spend the night.” She was out of bed in an instant and across the room. “It’ll only take me five minutes to shower and comb my hair, Anna. Tell him I’ll be there shortly.”

Anna smiled and shook her head. Miss Brietta, she surmised, had it bad for this one.

* * *

When Brietta walked into the breakfast nook, she found Dorian there alone. The stallion was quick to leave his chair and come to greet her. “You look... like you could use a nap,” he commented, taking her hoof and leading her to her place at the table.

“I’m numb,” she admitted. “Did you sleep well?” Brietta noted that Dorian looked as energetic as he always did.

“Very well, surprisingly, knowing I was under the same roof as you.”

Brietta ignored his comment. “Have you seen the other members of my family?”

“Aiden and Conrad have already left for the office; and Lena, I’m told, is not to be disturbed until noon.”

Anna came into the room with a breakfast tray that succeeded in driving away some of Brietta’s languor. “Anna, you are a dear.”

“This sure beats a stale donut,” said Dorian.

Anna sniffed. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day; and no donut, stale or otherwise, is going to be of any benefit to you.”

“Don’t get motherly on me, Anna,” the stallion grinned. “But I do appreciate your concern.”

“Your grandfoals will be going home today, Anna. You and Clarence will miss them, as will the rest of us,” remembered Brietta.

“Where are the little brats?” Dorian asked.

“They went out with their grandfather for one last try at fishing. They’ll be sorry to learn that they missed seeing you.”

“We’ll have to plan something special for their next visit,” Dorian declared, looking at Brietta as he said it. The mare blushed, remembering how close they had been that day of their fishing trip.

When Anna had disappeared back into the kitchen and the two ponies were enjoying the excellent food interspersed with small talk, Brietta reminded the stallion of the date she had made with him for the coming Saturday. “Egan and Kelli are both nonconformists in their approach to life, so their celebration should be interesting if nothing else.”

“I like them already.”

“Shayla says that only music from our high school years will be played at the dance.”

“Speaking of Shayla, when do you plan to visit her?”

“I have a free hour after lunch, so I’ll run over to the hospital then. I can’t wait to see the foal! And to think that she looks just like her mother! It almost makes me wish... well, forget that.”

But Dorian understood where her thoughts were headed. “Just imagine... if Shayla’s little filly had a playmate of your bearing, Brietta, it would be just like the past revisited.” He paused and looked at her through narrowed eyes. “I can envision you in a motherly role.”

“You’re the one who has an affinity with the foals, which never ceases to amaze me.”

“You say that as if you think I’m some kind of fiend.”

“Oh, no, not at all; it’s just that you’re such a blade that children seem out of your sphere.”

He raised an eyebrow. “A blade, huh?”

“I meant it as a compliment.”

“I’m sure you did,” he said with more than a little irony in his voice.

“And besides, your unorthodox foalhood wasn’t conducive to warm, fuzzy relationships with others your age. I’d think you’d find foals a mystery.”

“Maybe it’s because I missed having a mentor myself in those early years that I find it fulfilling to interact with the youngsters. And they are good company, you must admit.”

“No doubt.” She looked at him quizzically. “Do you keep in touch with any of your friends from back in those days?”

“None of them were really bosom buddies,” the stallion responded evasively while looking at the clock. “If I’m to be on time for my appointment, I’d better head out.”

Brietta finished her orange juice. “I’m ready to go.”

They had not yet left the house when Anna caught up with them. “I packed some brownies for you, Dorian; I made a big batch so I could send some home with the colts.”

“Why, thank you, Anna! That was very thoughtful of you.” His eyes twinkled. “Can you explain how the brownies are more nutritious than a donut?”

Anna did not flinch. “If you don’t want them, just say so.”

As Anna reached for the brownies, Dorian quickly pulled them out of her reach while surprising the cook by giving her a brief kiss on the cheek. “Your gift is well received, Anna; I will treasure every morsel.”

As Dorian and Brietta walked the distance to town, they shared little conversation, both content to enjoy the soft morning air, the intermittent call of joyful birds, and the easy friendship that went beyond constant communication. It came as a shock to Brietta, therefore, when Dorian asked her an unexpected question.

“Will you ever be able to see Sloan and Finella together without getting dejected?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Dorian threw her a sidelong glance. “It was a simple enough question.”

Brietta tossed her head. “I’d hope I’m over being dejected because of either of those two.”

“I wouldn’t have known from the way you act around them.”

“And how is that?”

“Completely unlike your normally charming self.”

Glancing at him ruefully, Brietta did not respond.

“Please don’t be angry with me, Brie. It’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to know where your feelings stand in regard to Sloan. And that makes it uncomfortable for me.”

“I’ve told you before that Sloan and I have been alienated for years now; if my conduct toward him and his... Finella... is cool, I can only blame it on a weakness of character on my part.”

Dorian eyed her doubtfully, but he said no more on the subject suspecting- and rightly so- that pushing it too far would only cause the mare to lash out at him and make his station in her life forfeit.

As they were within the city now, their conversation turned to legal matters that lay before them in the management of their current cases, and no more personal matters were broached.

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