For the first time that day, Damian could see clearly. Her veil hung close at hand in case of any surprise visitors, but standing in the kitchen, the aroma of herbs and roast duck on the air, she relished the free air on her hair and face.
Claude let out a breath as he sat down at the dining table. “Well, this is looking to be our most profitable trade season yet, though these regulations are awful this year. I wonder if I can hire someone who can sift through all these taxes and guild fees.”
Damian smiled as she carried a platter toward the table. “You said that last year, too, Papa. You’ll figure it out.”
Her father stood to help bring dishes to the table. “Well, I’m glad to have you here to help me out. I certainly couldn’t handle it all on my own.”
She gave him a wry smile. “You could always take on an apprentice. Mrs. Dunhill will need to before the year ends.”
Claude groaned as he sat at the table, Damian sitting across from him. “I can’t imagine teaching an apprentice enough of all this to actually take over for me one day.”
“You’ve taught me.”
“Yes, and you’re better than any apprentice I could get. I wish I could just keep you around.”
“What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.”
His mustache quirked in a sad smile. “Damian, you’re as good a merchant as I am, but you deserve more than this. You should have your own family, your own home.”
The thought terrified Damian as much as she longed for it. It left an ache in her stomach so deep she felt nothing else could possibly fill it, but the idea of actually having a suitor made a chill run up her spine. She reflected on that afternoon, when they met with Mrs. Dunhill, one of Claude’s best weavers, and the woman’s daughter, whose belly now visibly swelled. She was younger than Damian.
Damian swallowed. “Papa, how could I get married?” She stared into his eyes, his brown meeting her vibrant yellow. “I couldn’t keep this a secret.”
“You’ll find someone who will accept you the way you are.”
She bitterly turned away.
Her father reached across the table and laid his hand on hers. “Have faith, Damian. You wouldn’t want to marry anyone who couldn’t see your true worth, anyway.”
She sighed but didn’t argue. Silently, they both returned to their meals.
“Papa,” she finally ventured after a protracted silence, “I’m the reason you never remarried, aren’t I?” As she saw the denial about to be issued from his lips, she added, “Honestly.”
His expression softened. “Honestly, I wouldn’t make that choice. I don’t need anyone else in my life.”
A smile spread on Damian’s face. “And I don’t need anyone else in mine.”
A trace of sadness remained on Claude’s face, but he smiled back and said nothing else on the topic.