Arabella by virtue of rank sat centrally at the top table, with the Prince of Wales on one side and an empty space on the other, the King's place setting still perfectly intact. It was something of an oddity, but his place could not be cleared as it was possible he would arrive sometime during the meal. It was also the first time that Arthur and Arabella really spoke to one another without the situation being so dire. Normally their conversations were quick, secret, and pertaining to matters that would end their lives if it was found out. Secrets, and not the kind most would love to speculate on, tawdry affairs and all that, simply exchanging information to keep their family unit intact.

But for now, they had little choice but to sit in silence, which would send the wrong message, or to make conversation. "You look like the reading type." Arabella commented off hand, her attention entirely focused on her brother-in-law who was also her step-son, what a fun family tree. "I mean, for fun that is... when you're not going about the business of preparing to rule." Arabella did not say this out of cruelty, or judgment, but out of genuine interest.

"Yes, I do." Arthur sort of smiled and looked down, having very much the same revelation as Arabella. The two knew precious little about each other, but so much was dependent on their cooperation. "I just finished a collection of Byron." The two felt somewhat awkward at first, at least it felt that way. "Banned books?" Arabella asked, at least demonstrating she knew more than she often let on. The Queen tutted her lips and wagged her finger gently, but low enough as not to draw attention to the act. "I won't tell. Besides, I quite like him too." Richard never really questioned how Arabella spent her time. Nor did he question the fact that she read items other an authorized religious text for women. In fact, though Arabella would never know, Richard always hoped she broke the rules just a little bit.

"When Alexandra and I were girls... she used to sneak into Father's study and read." Arabella smiled at the memory. "One afternoon, Father came back unexpectedly, and Alexandra actually though she could hide under his desk and he wouldn't notice." The memory was once a fond one, but viewing her sister as she did now, it brought her no joy. "She got in so much trouble... but, I think that's why you work together. Well one of many reasons." Alexandra's tenacity, her willingness to throw caution to the wind and break the rules, and of course... because all she wanted to do was better herself with a good book.

"You might be on to something there, mother." Arthur said and they both laughed quietly, there was a limit to how loud one should be at a dinner such as this. "She is still quite voracious, she'll read anything she can get her hands on." At least this hadn't changed, her sister, despite the years of abuse, was still herself, especially in private. "But what about you? I never pictured you as much of a reader. Kindly." Arthur asked, figuring at the very least he would know something about his beloved's family. "Were you always so prim and proper?"

Arabella nodded her head and sighed. "Of course. I had to be the best, I had to be the favorite. Our father never had sons, so he wanted to make sure he at least had a useful daughter." It was clear from her words that her parents very much viewed Alexandra as a daughter without a use. "I was... how would you say politely... competitive." Cruel, was a more appropriate word.

The two went on until the change of course, when Arthur turned his attention to his father's chief minister. A rather boring man, middle aged, completely by the book and so full of his father that he might as well live inside his father's throat.

--

Alice, having turned first to Lord Mordecai would do her best to calm his nerves, at the very least it would distract from her own. But the entire time she chatted with him, she could feel a set of eyes upon her, and coming from across, sure enough it was a man whose place card simply read "Duke of Kent." So that was him then, the man Arabella and Alexandra wanted her to meet. Had they done this on purpose?

When she could feel him watching her, or looking at her, or should she catch him out of the corner of her eye, her cheeks would flush red with blush. Though some might think it was the nervous Mordecai she found charming, but in reality she wouldn't care if she never saw him again. He. The Duke. Had been looking at her. Watching her in between moments of eating and chatter with his neighbors.

Surely it could not be her that drew his eye, but rather something behind her. Of course, that had to be it. When she could, she would attempt to catch a glimpse of him, without being noticed, something she was not entirely successful at. Those further up the table would turn up their nose at the mystery woman lusting so openly (she was not) over a brand new Duke. The nerve, they might think.

Alex made this all seem so easy.