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Mistborn: The Inquisition


A Perfect Date

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 03 Jan 2014

Eliza Fathvell was far more terrified than she had any right to be.

She wasn't afraid of the man who shared her carriage, of course. Not in the ways that most people would fear a man. She was quite safe with him, and he had always treated her with kindness. He had even been quite honest about his intentions towards her - working together to take down Colette - so she had no fear that he was trying to take advantage of her. No, Caden Hasting had never given any indication that he was anything but a perfect gentleman, and that was the problem.

She was sitting across from the absolute personification of what it meant to be a proper scion of a Great House: tall and proud, but not arrogant. Poised, refined, and elegant, never losing his cool or getting in over his head. He was always in control, always in command of himself, and always able to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

And she, Eliza Fathvell, was none of those things. Not here, in Luthadel, where the waters were deep and stormy and the shore was covered in razor-sharp rocks. Pirates, she could handle; the high nobility were a nest of vipers she wouldn't have chosen to approach with a ten-foot pole.

What am I doing here? she asked herself. Who do I think I'm fooling? Nobody, that was who. Colette toyed with her while her flock of magpies looked down their noses at her, and even Nadia probably held more pity for her than affection, if the way the woman kept trying to shelter and shepherd her was any indication. Caden was being immensely kind to her, but even though he treated her like a human being, she had to remember that she was, first and foremost, an opportunity.

But maybe, just maybe, it would be alright to let herself pretend. As long as she didn't let herself forget why someone like Caden Hasting was really giving her the time of day, perhaps she could let herself pretend that he was here because he enjoyed her company, and allow herself to truly enjoy his as well. It would be nice to let go and allow herself a little fun for once; Lord Ruler only knew such opportunities were rare enough in Luthadel.

And so she put on her best friendly smile, hoping - probably in vain - that Caden hadn't noticed her get lost in those troubling thoughts.

"Thank you again for the invitation," she said, wishing she didn't sound so shy. She was going to mention how nice it was to be able to talk without worrying about Colette lurking in the walls like some kind of spider, but she didn't want to talk - or even think - about Colette right now. Especially since she was trying to pretend this was a real date. So she searched for something else to say, something equally true.

"I'm looking forward to our evening together," was what she settled on at last, and a sudden thought occurred to her that made her smirk. "Let's just hope it doesn't end like the last one. I'd hate to get into another brawl in front of you."

Though she wouldn't mind seeing him take his shirt off again, if it came to that...

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 08 Jan 2014

Caden waved away Eliza's thanks. "Your gratitude is unnecessary, Lady Eliza, for the pleasure is all mine. I can only hope that this evening will go smoother than the last one we spent together."

A movement outside the window caught Caden's attention. Had he seen someone peering out of the shadows? Might it be one of Colette's spies, still following him? Don't be paranoid, it's not becoming, he told himself. Wherever Colette had spies hidden, he could be reasonable certain he and Eliza were safe from eavesdroppers as long as the carriage continued moving. Now would be his only chance to discuss Colette without a risk of exposure.

"That pleasure aside," he said after a moment, trying his best not to let his tone grow dark. He did not want to frighten Eliza, or put her on guard, but if this was going to be his only chance to talk frankly with her, he had to take it. "I think we had best use this opportunity to discuss the other reason I was hoping to speak with you. Now that we are alone, we need not beat around the bush. My cousin Colette has been abusing you, and it seems like you would rather not roll over and become one of her fawning slaves. I appreciate, both your honesty, and your courage. I know more than anyone that my cousin cannot be trifled with lightly, but I also want you to know that you have my full support, and my protection." Caden's calm faded as he thought of Colette harming Eliza to get to him. "I will not allow her to harm you, and so I understand if you would rather be removed from her company entirely. It won't be easy, but spending a few balls together should suffice to send her the message. It could be that she's sensed our potential alliance against her already."

Caden looked down, his head spinning. Lord Ruler, when would he be free from the shadow of his cousin? "I hate to ask anything of you, given what she has already undoubtedly put you through, so know that you are completely free to refuse without repercussions, but if you are willing to continue in her company for a time, I would be eternally grateful for any help you could offer me in my struggle against her. Colette is mad with power, and if let loose she will ruin my house, and perhaps many more with it. She needs to be stopped, and I am the one who must stop her."

Caden looked up again, finding Eliza's eyes with his own, hoping to see the strength he had sensed at the Casuana ball there. "That's my proposal. Again, whether you agree to help or not, my protection is yours."

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 08 Jan 2014

Just like that, Eliza's beautiful little fantasy came crashing down around her. How could she have been so stupid? Of course Caden was going to want to talk about Colette; it was the whole reason he'd approached her in the first place! You are a fool, Eliza Fathvell, a bloody fool, and--

". . . but spending a few balls together should suffice to send her the message."

She had of course been paying close attention to everything Caden was saying, but even after he was done, it felt like time had frozen just to allow those words to repeat themselves in her head over and over again. Had he implied that they start courting to seal their alliance? It wasn't the most romantic approach she'd ever seen, but who was she to complain, given who was asking her? Besides, she had reasons of own for wanting to get rid of Colette, and reasons to want to help Caden aside from being attracted to him.

"I've got to be honest with you," she said after a moment's careful thought. "I would rather walk unarmed onto a ship full of pirates than subject myself to Colette again. But." Her eyes locked onto his, and she stared up at him with a stronger sense of determination than she'd felt since before leaving Tavira. She was not the quivering, frightened, uncertain creature he'd met at the Casuana ball, and she never wanted to be that creature again.

"I may not know her as frighteningly well as you, but I know her well enough to clearly see that she needs to be taken down. I would be willing enough to help you for that reason alone, and to get her claws out of me, but there's another reason as well.

"You said you appreciate my honesty. I feel the same way about you. I'm sure you of all people might be able to guess how many people have already tried, or have planned to try to use me for this goal or that. The only daughter of the Lord of the newest Great House and all that. But you didn't try to lure me in under false pretenses; you've been nothing but honest to me from the beginning. And kind; I can't tell you how good it is to feel like I'm being treated like a human being.

"For those reasons and more, Lord Caden, it would be my distinct pleasure to partner with you for this. And I thank you for your protection; Lord Ruler knows I need it. Pirates I can handle, but Luthadel still makes my head spin."

She cringed slightly, realizing what she'd just said, and had to reach up to massage her temple.

"And now I've said too much. Lord Ruler, you must think I'm insane."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 08 Jan 2014

Caden smiled. "You see Lady Eliza, I knew it was I who should be thanking you!" He laughed, trying to lighten the mood, for he had seen the way Eliza had tensed while he was talking. "Pirates you say? You'll have to tell me how you handled them some day." Caden leaned forward, offering Eliza his hand, "As for your supposed insanity, that couldn't be farther from what I think of you. Do you think I would ask just anyone for help? You are strong, Eliza, and a valuable ally. And I never want you to worry about saying too much around me, because I would much rather enjoy all you have to say."

Caden took a deep breath, not knowing how to continue. Without realizing it, his eagerness to get down to business had snuffed out some of the fun of the afternoon. How could he restore it again? Eliza continued to treat him honestly, so he decided to continue to do the same. "I'm afraid it is I who must apologize, for spoiling our afternoon. I truly am excited about sharing your company Eliza, above and beyond the potential for being allies. Let us leave business for the time being and enjoy ourselves. We can hammer out some details on the ride home, at the ball, or at a later date if you would prefer. So, where would you like to go first?"

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 08 Jan 2014

Eliza's head spun as she reached out to take Caden's hand. How did this man know exactly what to say, exactly what to do to put her at ease? Why had he just calmly accepted her mention of pirates - and with a smile, no less! - and then so happily dropped the talk of Colette altogether? And not only that, but it seemed that he was starting to relax a little. That was nice; though she liked Caden already, she had a feeling she would like him even more if he let her see behind his courtly mask. At least, she hoped she would.

She also hoped he didn't notice the faint tinge of pink that rose in her cheeks when he addressed her in such a familiar way.

Of course, he also asked her where she wanted to go first. Why hadn't she been thinking of that? Because you were too busy talking about Colette and fantasizing about Caden, stupid, her internal voice told her, but she shoved it back into a corner of her mind. It didn't help that she had no idea what sort of preparations they were supposed to be making. Shopping, she supposed? They couldn't wear day clothes to a ball, after all.

"I'm afraid you chased all thoughts of where to go right out of my head," she admitted with a self-deprecating grin, then added, almost to herself, "For all that makes me sound like my head is filled with air. Anyways." She cleared her throat and started over.

"Since I haven't thought of anything yet, I suppose I could just sit back and let you do all the work, but that wouldn't be as fun, would it?" She asked with a smirk. "You did say we needed to prepare for tonight, so why don't we start there? I know I'd rather not wear a day dress to our first ball together, but I've also heard that men hate shopping, so I won't force that on you if you'd rather not."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 15 Jan 2014

Caden laughed, letting some of the remaining tension go with it. He hadn't been shopping with a woman for a gown in ages. The last time he had gone, it had been when Colette had dragged him along by getting her father to force him. It had just been another of her power plays of course, a test to see how uncomfortable she could make Caden, and to show off by making him sit by while she did so. While he did not particularly relish repeating anything close the experience, somehow he thought shopping with Eliza would be far more enjoyable, even if he still knew nothing about dresses.

"I'm not sure how much help I be, but will trust that you are correct about the day dress. I suppose I will need an evening suit as well, and I don't relish the thought of going back to the keep where she might catch us and figure out where we are going." Even the mere reference to his cousin seemed to create tension and dampen the new-found levity. "As to what I would prefer, I though up this escapade at the last minute. It only seems fair that I suffer the consequences." Caden tried his best to smile brightly, and protect the positive mood from his cousin's influence.

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 15 Jan 2014

Eliza was mentally kicking herself for suggesting something so ridiculous, but as usual, Caden played right along, smooth as silk. It made her wonder what could ruffle his feathers, but it only took her another heartbeat to decide that whatever it is, she would rather not see it firsthand.

"I'd rather not see you suffer at all, if I can help it," she said with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. She glossed over the mention of Colette, of course; they could do without her influence at the moment. "To be honest, I'm not much help to myself when it comes to dresses either. Growing up, I was better at ruining them than picking them out."

Lord Ruler, what sort of woman was she making herself out to be? Well, it was the truth, she supposed, and perhaps if she relaxed a little more around him, he would get used to her strangeness slowly and not reject her when the rest of it came to light. That is, if she could even make it that far. Caden had a strange ability to dismantle her guard without even trying, which was having disastrous effects on what little self control she had. She had to try, though; she was coming to like him more and more, and she didn't want to lose his company because of her oddities.

"So, I suppose that settles it. You and I both will get what we need, and in the meantime, I suppose one of us should figure out where to go from there. It would be a shame to spend most of our first day spent together set adrift." She paused, then grinned, a tinge of pink rising in her cheeks again as a sudden thought occurred to her. "Not that I would mind, of course, as long as we're together."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 15 Jan 2014

Caden raised his eye-brow at Eliza's talk of ruining ball gowns. What exactly had her involvement with those pirates been? Caden was beginning to see that the honest young woman was far more than what she seemed. He laughed politely at her comment, and nodded receptively along with the rest of what she was saying, just enjoying the way she spoke, and how it seemed to put him at ease. Lord Ruler, why couldn't more nobles in Luthadel be so... refreshing? Caden hadn't noticed how much pressure he had been putting himself under, keeping up his portrait of perfection, trying to find a suitable wife who could support him in his plot against Colette and increase the prestige of his house. Why did talking about pirates and ruining dresses with Eliza make him feel like that somehow wasn't enough?

Caden thought Eliza was blushing because of what she had said about dresses, and was about to reassure her there was nothing to be embarrassed about when she surprised him. "Not that I would mind, of course, as long as we're together."

Caden's words were lost in his throat. He enjoyed spending time with her as well, of course, but her statement indicated something more than a mere enjoyment of his company. At least, he thought it did. He tried to go back over their interaction, trying to find signs that this was coming. Had there been hints? Or was she intentionally blind-siding him, trying to catch him off guard. He pushed away the niggling suspicions that Colette had somehow set all this up. He didn't know why yet, but he did trust Eliza, even when Colette wasn't around and his emotions were his own. He would not allow his cousin and the suspicion tied to her ruin something so... so what? Promising? He was certainly excited to start working with Eliza against his cousin. He'd also already admitted to himself that he genuinely enjoyed her company.

But what now? How did he respond? He had to spare her feelings, after he couldn't just tell her how he felt. Upon further reflection, he was not even certain that he knew exactly what he was feeling at the moment. Again, the shadow of Colette's emotional allomancy reared it's head before he angrily shoved the thought away. Honestly, when would he ever be free of her?

When I'm with her, he realized, and for once, 'her' in his mind was not Colette. Having fun with Eliza was one of the few times he wasn't thinking about Colette, even though the main purpose for their acquaintanceship... no, friendship, had been for the purpose of bringing Colette down, it also seemed to banish thoughts of her from his head, leaving him feel lighter, and unburdened.

A moment of awkward silence hung about the carriage before Caden could up with a response. "I... I enjoy spending time with you as well, Lady Eliza." Even as he said it, Caden could perceive that what he had said was not good enough; it was not equal to what Eliza had been brave or reckless enough to share with him. "And, I meant what I said when I said I would like to continue spending time with you. No matter what our plans are, I want to spend more time with you. So... perhaps this arrangement will work out well for both of us." Caden cringed inwardly as his inner business man took over again, and hoped what he had managed to say had been good enough. Lord Ruler, where had his composure gone? Why did he feel so uncertain? And, a more chilling thought, would Eliza think less of him for it?

Not knowing where else to look, Caden stared at the floor.

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 15 Jan 2014

Oh Lord Ruler. Lord Ruler, she'd gone and done it. She'd said too much, and made Caden uncomfortable. She'd made Caden Hasting uncomfortable! The man was the king of composure, impossible to crack even under the fiercest of insults or the heaviest of pressure. She had just noted to herself that whatever would be capable of unsettling him must be terrifying indeed, and then she'd gone and done it! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"I'm sorry," she said in a softer voice, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "I didn't mean-- er. Well. I meant that. But I didn't mean to upset you with it. You don't have to worry; I know exactly what our arrangement is. But still--"

But what? What could she possibly say? One little slip, and Caden had read exactly what was in her heart. How had he done it? And how could they possibly come back from this? And would being meek and helpless in front of him really help? He seemed to respond better to her when she was up front and honest with him. And frankly, she'd already crossed the point of no return, so what could possibly go worse than this? Well, a lot of things, but that was beside the point. The sudden realization that there was no recovery from this was oddly liberating, and she felt some of the tension lift from her shoulders. It almost made her laugh, it felt so good, but she suppressed that part of it, thank goodness.

"Lord Ruler, man!" she said after a moment, feeling much more like her old self than she had mere seconds ago. "You're Caden Hasting, for crying out loud! You're-- I mean-- well, look at you!"

Very coherent, Eliza. Great job. That would perfectly explain to him why she felt this way.

"You couldn't honestly treat me the way you have and then expect me to not take a fancy to spending time with you, could you? Nobody's ever been as good to me as you've been. I like being around you, and I'm looking forward to working with you, and honestly I'm amazed someone like you even noticed I'm alive. And then I had to go and ruin it by saying too much. Lord Ruler, I'm such an idiot." She sighed and rubbed her head; this was just too much. Part of her wanted to go home and crawl into a hole, and the other half wanted to stay in this carriage, awkward as it was. She couldn't even say the revelation wouldn't have to change anything, because there was absolutely no doubt that it would. The fact that she'd made Caden Hasting himself squirm was proof enough of that.

Way to go, Eliza. Way to bloody go.

"I have a habit of doing that, you know," she added at last, in an attempt to lighten the mood and put him at ease again. "Saying too much. In case you haven't noticed yet. Tends to get me into trouble more often than not. Just thought you should know, in the interest of fair warning and all that."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 15 Jan 2014

Caden chuckled. Just like that she managed to make him feel at ease again! "I have to say I envy that habit," he said, unable not to smile while looking at her. Where had that accent come from? He knew she was from the southern isles, but everyone in the capital affected a central dominance accent, if they didn't have one naturally. Seeing her slip back into what was obviously a more familiar way of speaking for her was both startling and amusing at the same time.

"For me it's the opposite, I'm afraid. I have difficulty sharing, as you can probably tell. Past experience has led me to be wary of leaving myself vulnerable."

"You're Caden Hasting, for crying out loud! You're-- I mean-- well, look at you!"What had she meant by that? What did she see when she looked at him?

"Is... is that your real accent? Do people where you come from really talk like that all the time?"

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 15 Jan 2014

Eliza smiled with relief as Caden relaxed; it seemed her guess had been right. Honesty really was the best policy with him, which was a refreshing change of pace from the rest of Luthadel.

And then he opened up to her himself, but only for a moment. Of course, he had just admitted that he found it difficult, so for all she knew, even saying that might might have been hard for him. She decided not to press the matter immediately; quite obviously, he would open up more to her when he felt like it.

At least, she hoped he would.

In the meantime, he asked about her accent, and she couldn't help but smirk. "Most of us do," she said, letting herself relax into the natural speech patterns that had affected him so. "The Fathvells do, of course, and the vast majority of the noble houses in and around Tavira." She hadn't realized how good it felt to put off her fake Luthadel accent until Caden had actually asked about her real one, and the more she let that old accent - her real accent - shine through, the more she found herself feeling more and more like, well, herself. Bit by bit, some of her lost confidence began to return, and her smile felt infinitely more natural.

"The dockworkers curse like sailors but the accent is the same. There are a few-- er. There are some upstarts who think the sun rises and sets for them just because they have money, and half of them talk like street urchins, while the other half go around trying to sound more aristocratic than the rest of us. The pirates are all over the place. Some have the typical Isles speech, and some exaggerate the accent, I guess to sound more pirate-like or something. But you'll run into a few who are from different parts of the Empire and found their way south somehow, and of course they bring their accents with them. And occasionally you'll meet one or three who grew up in that melting-pot, and their accents are all their own. It's quite fascinating, really. You can tell a lot about a person by how they talk.

"Of course, I'm not supposed to sound like this in Luthadel. They never could really tell me why, only that I have to sound like I'm from here when I'm clearly not."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 15 Jan 2014

"No," Caden said with a smile, "You are definitely not from here. But that's a good thing!" he hurried to add, before his statement could be misconstrued as an insult. "Your demeanor is refreshing, and your spirit encouraging. I can see now that my cousin has made a powerful enemy in you, and I am glad to have you as an ally."

Caden suddenly realized he had been so caught up in conversation that he had forgotten to tell the driver where in the commercial district they were headed. "Quick, give me the name of a dress shop. We must be in the commercial district by now, and I'm sure your driver will want to know where we are going."

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 15 Jan 2014

Eliza wasn't sure how having a refreshing demeanor or an encouraging spirit - or a different accent, for that matter - made her a powerful enemy against Colette, but if Caden liked her all the more for it, then she supposed she couldn't complain.

But then he asked her for the name of a dress shop, and she was at a loss. How was she supposed to know th-- right. Because she was a girl, of course. A girl who failed miserably at shopping and anything related to it.

"I er. Don't actually pay attention to the shops," she admitted with embarrassment. "All my dresses are made for me by Fathvell's tailors, and shopping isn't exactly a hobby of mine. Just tell him to pick someplace; I'm sure there's got to be plenty of suitable shops around here somewhere."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 15 Jan 2014

Caden laughed again, and knocked on the driver's window. "Take us to the nearest dress shop, my good man. The Lady would like to buy a dress." Caden smiled and turned back to Eliza. "Well. it would seem our course is set. Though, if neither of us know what we are doing, we may have trouble. I was serious when I said you shouldn't expect me to be of much help when picking a gown. I really don't know anything about them."

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 15 Jan 2014

Eliza grinned at Caden sounding so much like this was some sort of grand adventure or something. But then again, he was right. If neither of them knew what they were doing, then this could potentially be the most exciting - or most disastrous - shopping trip either.

"Oh, don't worry," she said, having forgotten all about needing to switch back to her Luthadel accent. "I know a couple things. You won't be going to the ball with a ruffle monster or any such nonsense. But then again, that's what I'm paying the seamstress for, isn't it? I might not know what I'm doing, but she does." The coach soon drew to a stop, and Eliza shifted her skirts in preparation to disembark.

"I won't drag you in there if you don't want to come," she said, hopefully in a tone of voice that said this wasn't some sort of situational trap like some women talked about setting. "I said I wouldn't make you suffer, and I meant it. You can come in with me if you want, or I can just make it a surprise." She laughed softly. "With all the potential for disaster that entails."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 16 Jan 2014

"As charming as your driver is, I think I'd prefer your company for the time being. Though if you tease me too often I may have to reconsider," Caden spoke formally, but smile crinkled his lips as he spoke, and some of his inner mirth spilled through. Perhaps shopping really could be considered fun. "Though I'd like to clarify that this will require you to give an opinion on which suit I should buy as well, which will make you responsible for any potential fashion disaster."

Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 16 Jan 2014

"You want my opinion," Eliza repeated with a skeptical expression, "on suits? I don't know the first thing about suits."

Except how good you look in them.

"I mean, I'll do my best of course, but the- the people I saw most often back home weren't exactly the epitome of Luthadel fashion. Or any fashion, really, except their own. I could tell you how to dress like a pirate if you wanted, though, but I don't think you'd like that very much." She really needed to stop mentioning the pirates to Caden; he was going to think she was obsessed! Well, maybe she was a little bit, but it wasn't her fault they were so interesting, now was it?

She almost got right up out of her seat to hop down from the carriage - she usually jumped right out without the footman's assistance - but, at the last second, remembered that since they were on a date, she was supposed to let Caden help her down.

The seamstress running the shop greeted them quite enthusiastically, even if she did seem rather surprised at two members of Great Houses waltzing into her shop the day of a ball. Well, at least it would be good for business, she supposed.

As soon as they were inside, she turned her attention to the dresses, hoping to just grab something, buy it, and be done with the matter. But there was one problem, one that she should have foreseen, because it was so obvious:

These were all Luthadel dresses.

Oh, they were quite pretty of course, silks and velvets in hundreds of different hues, but the cut was all the same: the tops were alright, some of them, but the bottoms were so voluminous that Eliza wasn't sure she could fit into the carriage with them. She was pretty sure, in fact, that the fabric needed for all of those crinolines must be equal to at least two of her. How was anyone supposed to move in that? Or dance properly? Not these Luthadel dances that were just moving around in circles, but proper Southern dances with technique and flair. There was just too much fabric in the way with these gowns. She supposed she could just leave the crinolines off, but then she'd be tripping over the extra length of the skirt, unless the seamstress somehow had time to hem it. How long did it take to hem a skirt like this? Eliza had no idea.

"This is going to be harder than I thought."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 16 Feb 2014

He laughed at her pirates comment and followed her into the store. She really did seem hung up on talking about the marine brigands. Did she just enjoy thinking of the romanticized sense of adventure they represented, or did she have more personal experience? Caden decided that he would have to find out where Eliza's fascination with pirates stemmed from at some point in the future.

Right now, however, their focus was getting ready for the ball that night. Caden noted the change in expression on Eliza's face with concern. They had chosen a good shop it seemed, and all of the gowns seemed exquisite to Caden's eye. Eliza, it seemed, was not similarly impressed.

"What's wrong?" he asked after a moment. "We can go to another store if these are not nice enough. Either that, or I am certain we could get a tailor to do some last minute alterations."


Eliza Fathvell's Photo Eliza Fathvell 16 Feb 2014

Had it really been that obvious that she wasn't pleased with the selection? Though that was a stupid question, really; of course he could tell. This was Caden, after all, and Eliza was well aware of how easy to read she was. Jerzen had commented on it often enough in his attempts to teach her a little refinement. But how could she explain what was wrong? The dresses weren't Southern enough? Did that even make sense?

"They're all beautiful," she explained after a moment's thought, "but, well, here. Look at this." She gave one of the gowns a gentle tug, and the voluminous skirts spilled out into her arms as they came free from the rack. "There's just so much of them. Southern dresses are much sleeker and lighter, with more room in the skirts to move freely. Luthadel gowns have always felt heavy and cumbersome to me, and to be honest, I still have trouble moving when I try to wear them. It's why I always dress the way I do." Her current gown was a day dress of blended design: cut in the Luthadel style on top, but with less fullness in the skirts as an homage to her Southern heritage. Not to mention, she could actually walk in this.

Admitting these shortcomings made her nervous, even to Caden. She already faced ridicule from Colette for being less of a lady than the other girls, and of course her family wanted her to fit in with the other Luthadel socialites. And then there was Caden himself. Not that she thought he of all people would mock her for it, of course, but rather just that he was always so perfect that her own flaws seemed all the more glaring by comparison. Still, he had been surprisingly accepting of the things that made her different. You're definitely not from here, he had said. But that's a good thing.

It was different from Nadia's impassioned anti-conformity speeches, or Felix's well-meant attempts to help her fit in while maintaining something of her own identity. It was a simple and honest statement of fact, straight to the point without any frills or fuss. Just the way Eliza liked it. As anxious as she was, she would just have to trust Caden's assessment. And trust him personally, of course: in the kindness and understanding he showed her, and in the way he seemed to appreciate her candor.

Besides, if they were to spend any time at all together, these things would be glaringly obvious to someone as cultured and refined as Caden Hasting. Trying to hide them would be futile and, given his preference for honesty, probably stupid as well. Might as well let him know what he was getting into from the start.

"I'm not sure I would be able to dance in any of these. I could just take some of the petticoats out from underneath, I guess, but then the skirt would be too long, and I have no idea how long hemming it would take, or if it would be ready in time."

Caden Hasting's Photo Caden Hasting 17 Feb 2014

Eliza's vulnerability was surprising to Caden. While part of him could not help being pleased she trusted him enough to share her discomfort for Luthadel fashions with him, the perfectionist in him could not help but be suspicious of such an obvious show of weakness. He would not allow himself to believe Colette was behind his and Eliza's growing relationship, as to do so would cheapen the moments he and Eliza had already shared. The fact that he trusted Eliza's weakness was what made the disclosure even more astounding to his Luthadel sensibilities.

"Well," he said, after a moment, taking care to try and meet Eliza's elusive gaze, "That simply will not do." He kept his voice low, and forced himself to relax, hoping to avoid seeming cold and formal. Eliza had shared her insecurities with him, so surely he could afford to share a little tenderness in return. "No one should be denied the infinite pleasures of gliding across the floor of a Luthadel ballroom. I suppose I will have no choice but to teach you what I know."

Caden's gaze flicked towards to expanse of colorful fabrics. "Such lessons will have to wait until after tonight though. The only choice I see is to find something more suitable for your tastes. Luthadel is the grandest city in all the empire. Surely we can find a merchant who will cater to your tastes."