Jaera stood just inside the door, hands at her sides, back straight, a perfect piece in the set of guards spread around the outside of the hall.
A long table split the hall down the center. Cups and pitchers still littered its surface, but the plates had been cleared away long ago and the guests roved the room. Some of them had settled to either side in cushioned chairs, others gathered around game tables, and the rest stood and walked and talked as they pleased. Jaera watched them, almost bored, but a little too captivated by the shifting colors and voices.
Zain slid in beside her, resting a shoulder against the wall.
“I need your help,” he said.
Jaera glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. His tone was too light for her to take him seriously, so she kept her attention where it should have been, but leaned her head toward him.
“I’ll do anything I can to get you into trouble tonight, my lord,” she said politely.
“Thank you,” he said. He flashed her a grin, then forced his expression back to a calm smile. “See that girl over there? Blue dress, sparkly things in her hair.”
Jaera traced his eye line, sorting through the crowd. At the far side of the room, she found the blonde girl, dressed in a blue gown that brushed the floor in a series of carefully arranged folds. Her hair was loosely tied at the back of her head, falling over her shoulders in pretty waves. As Jaera found her, she was turning, looking over the room carelessly. And she smiled at Zain.
“I see her,” Jaera said. She glanced at Zain. He was smiling back, but that wasn’t any great surprise.
“She keeps smiling at me like that,” Zain said. “But I can’t tell if that’s a I think we’ve met before smile, or a I think we should meet smile or just a I smile at everyone smile. Thoughts?”
Jaera laughed to herself. “You came all the way over her to ask me? Why didn’t you just as Terius?”
Zain flicked a look back to the small circle he’d been standing in before, and his cousin, square-shouldered in the middle. “Ah, yes,” Zain said. “I thought he would be a great fount of usefulness, knowing how many smiles he gotten from across a room.” He looked at Jaera pointedly. If they had been anywhere else, she would have smacked his shoulder to turn him away from her again. Instead, she looked away as quickly as possible before he could strengthen the joke.
“But he turns out to be a lump on the subject,” Zain told her.
“How’s that?” she asked.
Turning back, Jaera looked at him suspiciously. “He had to have something to say.”
“Nope,” Zain said.
“So, he just stood there and stared at you like a fish?” Jaera asked.
Zain shook his head.
“Did he tell you to sort out your own tragedies?” she asked.
“Stop digging,” Zain told her, a little more seriously than she’d expected. She closed her mouth carefully. “I’ve told you before,” Zain continued. “I’m not passing compliments for you. They’re too… I could catch something.”
Jaera looked back to Terius. “What did he say?”
Zain sighed. “He said, he couldn’t help. He only has experience with your smiles, and no girl in the world smiles like you.”
Terius turned a little in his conversation, caught Jaera’s eye across the crowd. He smiled, and she realized she was grinning.
Jaera ducked her head, trying to flatten her expression. “You’re right,” she told Zain. “Way too sweet. You’d better wash your mouth out, before you catch the plague.”