There are two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither works.
"Now that I've had my coffee, perhaps you'd care to explain why you almost stabbed me with a pair of scissors?"
Laila shifted uncomfortably under Ray's unwavering gaze, her hands opening and closing in her lap. The scissors were on the table in front of her, blades pointed toward her like an accusing finger.
Florian was seated across from her, the cause of the trouble in a messy pile in front of him. She frowned at the fabric.
"It's just an old shirt, too stained to be worn. I was cutting it up for rags when Florian," she put particular emphasis on his name, "took it right out of my hands and started shouting."
"I was not shouting," Florian objected quickly, his eyes narrowed. "You had no right to cut up my shirt without asking."
"I have every right. I'm in charge of housekeeping, including the laundry." She couldn't resist adding, "What does it matter to you anyway? Ray bought you a wardrobe full of expensive clothes. You have no right to pretend you're ill treated by parading around in old clothes."
"I intended no such thing!" Florian gripped the edge of the table tightly and Ray watched carefully, waiting to see what Florian would do next. He'd been well trained to wear the polite calm of an aristocrat, but Florian's temper had been unleashed more than once since coming to live with Ray.
"What did you intend?" Laila snapped back, her temper much quicker to rise than Florian's.
"I just wanted my shirt intact!" Florian clutched at the tattered fabric as if it were a lifeline, the shimmer of tears in his eyes.
"Laila," Ray interrupted calmly. "I haven't had my breakfast yet. Eggs and toast, please. And more coffee if you would."
Laila stood immediately, nodding once before stepping away from the table. She took three steps towards the door before hesitating and turning back.
"I didn't intend to upset you," she said evenly. She didn't wait for a reply.
"Why are you so upset?" Ray asked once they were alone. He reached over and lifted the closest edge of fabric frowning at it before setting it down again. "This isn't one of Henri's."
"No, Mother preferred Monsieur Raymond as our tailor. His wife made many of Mother's gowns."
Ray could tell that the fabric had been fine once, but it was soft with age and wear now, and there were stains that Laila's attempts at laundering hadn't been able to remove. No proper aristocrat would consider wearing a shirt in this condition, and Florian certainly had enough new shirts to choose from.
"You had a valise when you arrived here. What happened to those other garments?"
"The rag bin most likely. Laila has exacting standards for clothing."
"And you never found your tie pin?"
"Lost somewhere over Paris during your daring rescue."
"Left behind. Gone." Florian looked at him with an expression that was far too calm. "Anything of value - monetary or personal - was left for Mother."
Ray could hear what Florian wasn't saying, or wasn't able to express, as clearly as his spoken words. It wasn't that long ago Ray had done foolish things to recover a worthless brooch his mother had sold years ago. It was one of the few things she'd taken when they were forced to flee after Ray's father had been murdered. He still remembered how bitterly she'd wept after she'd sold it.
It was different when Ray left Morocco with his aunt and uncle. The whip Azura had given him was his only important possession, and he still had it. He looked at his surroundings, knowing that there was nothing he couldn't bear to lose; none of these trappings defined him. But Florian... an only child raised in a house of illusions would cling to what was real. Those trappings, those things defined Florian in a way they would never define Ray.
The understanding washed through him like a wave and Ray leaned back in his chair for a moment, absorbing it. When he looked at Florian again, it was with a soft smile.
"Leave this with me," he reached forward and touched the shirt but didn't attempt to take it. "I'll ask Henri what can be done to save it."
Florian nodded gratefully before lowering his head for a moment. When he looked up again he was dry-eyed and solemn.
"Thank you, Ray. I apologize for my unseemly behavior." He rose gracefully. "If you would excuse me, I believe I owe Laila an apology as well."
Ray nodded, then said, "Something you might want to consider - there are two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither works." He took a sip of his coffee with studied nonchalance before adding. "You're less likely to get stabbed with scissors if you remember that."
Florian nodded, accepting the advice. On his way past, he reached out and pocketed the scissors.
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