"Do you ever..."
There it was. A spark of annoyance ignited in Cara's chest. Which was fine, actually. It would make it easier to leave. "Do I ever what?" She steeled herself for a conversation about the condition of her uterus.
Do you ever think about freezing your eggs? Do you think you'd be open to adoption later, if it ends up being too late for you?
"Nothing, nothing," her mother said, coming over and wrapping Cara in a hug.
That was a twist. Usually, Mom would not have hesitated to finish her thought. Cara was careful not to squeeze as hard as she wanted to, for fear of aggravating any joints. Her mom's rheumatoid arthritis had been flaring up the last few days. She inhaled the familiar baby-powder scent that was her mother and felt it physically relax her. She associated that smell with being tucked into bed at night, which long ago had meant books and lullabies, and, as Cara had grown older, the sharing of confidences. Her mom didn't tuck her in anymore, but when Cara was home, they often had a cup of tea together in the evenings before Cara climbed the stairs to her bedroom.
"I'm sorry," her mom whispered in her ear. "I'm being terrible. I'm so proud of you. You travel safe, okay?"
Damn it. Now Cara was actually going to cry. "I love you, Mom," she croaked.
"I love you, too, my girl, my greatest thing," her mom said, her voice back to its usual lilting warmth as she pulled away. My girl, my greatest thing. Her mother had appended that refrain to every good night and goodbye that had passed between them for as long as Cara could remember, whether Cara was leaving for a day at school or for a month in the Eldovian Alps. "We'll light a candle for you on Thanksgiving."
As much as he didn't want to, Matteo decided at the last minute to go to the airport himself. He could have sent a car. There was no reason he personally had to make the trek to Zurich and hold up a sign that said "Ms. Cara Delaney" in order to welcome the woman who would be Eldovia's undoing. He did it anyway.
When the king charged you with making sure that the hotshot American management consultant was properly welcomed, you didn't send a staff member; you went to the airport yourself. Matteo would freely admit that he was the sort of person for whom duty mattered. No, that wasn't it. That made him sound like a protocol droid. It was more that tradition mattered. And since Americans were so woefully underprovisioned when it came to tradition, Ms. Delaney was going to be welcomed by a representative of the Eldovian Crown whether she cared or not. He cared, was the point.
He scanned the arrivals terminal, his gaze snagging on a child standing alone crying. He hurried over to the boy. "Is everything all right, my friend?"
"I'm lost!" the boy, who looked to be about five or six, wailed.
"Well, let's get you unlost, shall we?" Matteo offered his hand, the boy took it, and together they made their way to an information desk.
Within minutes, the boy's parents, who had been paged, were descending on them. Matteo smiled at their thanks and nearly tripped over a suitcase. "I'm sorry!" a teenager girl exclaimed. "The zipper broke!"
He bent down to help her repack the bag, and it turned out the zipper wasn't broken, just malfunctioning because the bag had been overstuffed. What chaos there was at the airport today. Matteo helped the girl shuffle some items to a backpack.
He had only just sent her on her way when, speaking of the forces of chaos, a woman burst into his field of vision, suddenly there when she had not been before. She was wearing a black pantsuit and the highest heels he had ever seen on a woman in Eldovia in the winter, or perhaps ever. He saw her catch sight of his sign, and she headed toward him at an impressive speed, given those shoes, pulling a small rolling suitcase behind her. The staccato clacking of her heels joined the steady buzzing made by the bag's wheels to create an ominous, crescendoing symphony. Her dark, almost black, hair was pulled into a severe chignon, and along with the black suit, provided a stark contrast to her skin, which was nearly as pale as the snow falling outside and seemed almost aglow, like a pile of that snow had accumulated and was glinting under the moonlight. She looked like an angel.