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Honor? To thine own self...

Despite the hectic flush mounting her cheeks, Delphinia sought the Markgraf's gaze directly. "I hope I may rely on your good advice as to a horse," she said. "As you know, I have a physical weakness, and a spirited mount will not do for me."

"I have a horse," he replied, in a voice that was intended to have more force than it did; its sudden gravel surprised her. No one else gave it any notice, and Delphinia knew none of them suspected anything might be between herself and the Markgraf, except Oskar, who knew all.

"She is gentle as a dove, easily led by the most timid hand. Since her mistress departed months ago, she has been ridden only for exercise by the stable hands."

Delphinia paused in astonishment as the import of his words washed over her. He intended her to ride Oriente's mare. She glanced at Oskar to see if he disapproved; his face was impassive and cold.

He disliked his brother and wanted to ruin his happiness. What if that meant ruining her own happiness? Delphinia could trust none of them. She could only trust her own heart.

When she returned to England -- if she did -- it would be in shackles. She would never more have the opportunity to exchange her preordained fate. Now was time to do so.

"Will you show her to me?" Delphinia murmured.

He walked with her alone to the rear of the stable, out of the earshot of the others. Clearly Gauvain was surprised by her new, forthright manner.

"She is lovely," Delphinia said, her gaze traveling over the well-defined flanks of the black mare. "In her prime."

"An old nag might have been a safer bet for Oriente, but unsightly, scarcely fitting for her. Nacht brought her such joy, even if Oriente rode rarely."

Delphinia brushed the horse's velvet neck with her fingertips. "I love to ride. I will not have much opportunity when I return to London. Thus I savor this day."

"Freiherrin, there is no reason -- that is --"

"Why are you taking so long?" Adelia interjected, striding between them. "Come, the sun is well-up in the sky already. We only have a few hours until we must return for luncheon."

Delphinia found herself locked within Christoph's arm, and she felt Oskar gazing at her.

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