Sophia stared out of the window at the sprawling gardens surrounding the villa. Her father had brought her on this business trip to visit one of his clients, one who just so happened to have a son around her age. Her father and Master Stroud were walking through the garden together, a scribe hurrying along behind them, somehow managing to make notes as he walked.
Sophia turned back to the lavish room that she had been given use of and wondered what to do with herself until lunch.
Just then, a knock came at the door and a maid entered, carrying a huge bouquet of flowers. She placed them on a table just inside the door.
‘These are from Master Wilhelm,’ said the maid. ‘He asked if he could call on you this afternoon?’
‘Give him my thanks, and tell him I will be pleased to receive him after lunch.’ Sophia handed the maid a small silver disk with her initials stamped on the metal. ‘I would be grateful if you could carry this to my father.’
‘Of course, Miss,’ the maid said, curtseying and withdrawing from the room.
A short time later, Sophia’s father appeared at her door.
‘I received your token,’ he said, handing the silver disk back to her. ‘Are you making progress?’
‘Wilhelm sent me those this morning,’ Sophia answered, nodding towards the flowers.
‘Well that is a good sign. A bouquet that large suggests more than just polite interest in a visitor.’
‘He wants to call on me this afternoon.’
‘Excellent. Now is the time to make him work for your affections. Set him some task, something that will require thought and dedication. This is one of the most eligible young men in Tharia, he is used to young women throwing themselves at him.’
‘What sort of task should I set him?’
‘Something difficult but not impossible. You’ll work it out. Now, I must get back to Master Stroud, he does so hate to be kept waiting.’
By the time Wilhelm came to call on her, Sophia was wearing a brand-new day dress, a perfect blend of modesty and suggestion. She caught the young man casting his eyes over her appreciatively and smiled to herself before clearing her throat and causing him to look up, blushing.
‘Thank you for the flowers,’ she said, ‘they are very beautiful.’
‘Only half as beautiful as you, Sophia,’ said Wilhelm, bowing down and kissing her hand. ‘My father is holding a gala next week. Would you do me the honour of being my partner for the evening?’
‘I do not know if I will still be here next week,’ Sophia said, moving toward the window.
‘Surely you can stay that long?’ Wilhelm asked, stepping up behind her.
Sophia leaned back slightly, so that she was just inside his personal space. She knew that he would be able to smell the subtle perfume she had used on her hair.
‘Will your affections last longer than the flowers you sent?’
‘Men are fickle,’ Sophia said, turning and putting her hand on Wilhelm’s chest. ‘I could not stand to be here, believing there was something between us, only to be discarded when the first bloom of attraction wilts, as those flowers will be discarded.’
‘How can I assure you of my intentions?’
Sophia paused, looking thoughtful. ‘Bring me a flower that will last as long as your affections, and I will stay, for as long as the flower blooms.’
Sophia did not see Wilhelm again for three days. She received no message from him and she started to doubt her father’s advice. Perhaps she had played this wrong – proven too difficult to woo. She wandered around the villa and its grounds, wearing a mask of confidence and pride, but all the while she fretted.
On the fourth day, Sophia awoke early to a knock on the door. The same maid as before entered carrying a silver tray with a single rose of the deepest red Sophia had ever seen. Her heart sank. Roses were beautiful but all knew that they did not bloom for long. This must be a message from Wilhelm that he wanted only a brief dalliance. Well, he would have to find another to dally with – Sophia did not have time to waste.
‘From Master Wilhelm, Miss.’ The maid sat the tray on the bed and stepped back. ‘Will there be any response, Miss?’
Sophia was about to send the maid away when she noticed a note below the rose. She picked the flower up and was astounded to realise that it was not a real flower. It was carved from some sort of wood and painted by an expert hand.
‘You said you would stay for as long as the flower bloomed,’ Wilhelm said from the doorway. ‘Do you still mean it?’
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