If I thought Tessa Gratton had twisted my heart as far it could be turned, I was naive. Joel Derfner gives us surprises, silk-clad threats and a deep, shattering sadness as Diane makes Rafe an offer he can’t refuse.

I finished last episode with my heart in my mouth and tears in my eyes. But the Tremontaine writing team were only just getting started. We rejoin Diane at Highcombe, steeling herself… to be direct. In a series of unexpected moments, Joel Derfner captures our Duchess perfectly. Diane has spent her entire adult life surrounding herself with artifice. But now she must speak with Micah, and she remembers their last hilarious encounter well enough to know that plain speaking (if not exactly honesty) is the only way to get what she wants.

What neither Diane nor this reader counted on is just how disarming Micah can be. I wasn’t remotely prepared for her warm response to Diane’s manipulative kindness (poor Norris; just another common pawn to be sacrificed on the altar of Tremontaine), but Micah’s unexpected hug puts their interview on a different footing. It’s a shocking moment: Micah doesn’t do hugs, and Diane is the last person I’d expect to take one she didn’t initiate in her stride. Maternal isn’t exactly her strength, after all.

And then they eat tomato pie together, and I fell off my chair. Of course Diane would have grown up with; of course it’s not grand enough for Tremontaine. Until now, the narrative has always focused on what Diane gained that fateful night on the road outside the City; here, we get the merest hint who she was. The Duchess isn’t a woman of many regrets, but Micah finds them effortlessly (and without realising what she’s done): a daughter’s affection; comfort food.

“I believe that this slice of tomato pie was the best thing I have ever tasted.”

Which, though Micah had no way of knowing it, was the most honest thing Diane de Tremontaine had said in a very long time

Before long, Micah has Diane eating with her hands – the Duchess Tremontaine! – and I didn’t know what to think. Could our girl beguile the most beguiling woman in the City? Could she touch Diane’s heart deeply enough to gain a level of protection? Because – like Norris – she’s just another common pawn, one to be sacrificed at need in the game against Rafe. 

But first, we cut to the City to shake our heads at Kaab and Vincent. I don’t have the lungs or the heart to shout KAAB NO as often or as loud as was required this week.

‘Now I choose to make room for you’

In one of her most self-absorbed moments yet, Kaab has decided that the best way to win Tess back would be to give up the sword. Sure, it makes for a fascinating contrast with Vincent – bone-headed in the opposite direction – but, no, sorry, WHAAAAAT ARE YOU THINKING KAAB??? WHY would it make Tess happy for you to give up the thing that defines you the least you stupid girl? The thing that never got in the way of your relationship for a moment? That’s not a sacrifice. It’s not an act that answers any of Tess’s issues. In a fight that’s all about family, Kaab makes it about what is little more than her hobby.

I would sigh, but it’s almost comic relief. Better yet, I can finally shrug and admit we’re through. I can’t resist a headstrong woman warrior character, but this season has been too much – and if Kaab still can’t see where she’s going wrong, I’m not holding the door open any longer.

To double down on her catalogue of bad decisions, Kaab then tries to give Vincent relationship advice. A woman who would abandon both the sword and her obligations advise a man who would abandon his love for the sword? It goes about as well as you might imagine, although thankfully Vincent’s temper has simmered down some, so they don’t come to blows.

“Swordsmanship is my soul, Kaab. And if my choice is between him and my soul . . .”

Kaab slowly nodded. “Then that,” she said, “is no choice at all.”

Oh, Vincent. I get it. I do. But I also wonder if you’ve ever loved anyone except Reza. Whether compromise is a habit you’ve ever enjoyed. And my heart hurts for you both.

Back at Highcombe, it’s time for Diane to confront Rafe. I am breathless with awe at the ice that floods this lady’s veins,  but their conversation raises as many questions as it answers. She will allow Will to recover, because she knows the vote stripping him of his title will be taken before he can do so. And she will put him safely beyond her reach – on the condition that he is beyond Rafe’s reach also – which she will ensure by having Rafe in her household. In exchange, Rafe gets his School under her patronage.

It’s such a poisoned chalice. Rafe can have everything and nothing that his heart desires – and Micah is hostage to his good behaviour (and – happy bonus – an implicit threat to Kaab). 

What I couldn’t divine is how much Diane had planned all along, and how much she was making up on the spot as Rafe filled in some of the blanks. Either way, she is magnificent. 

But oh, I’m scared for Will. Because I can’t help but think that the surest way to put him beyond reach – and safeguard her position as Tremontaine, should she win it – is to kill him. Certainly, Wickfield says he has thrown out the shadowroot, but… what happens when you go cold turkey, anyway? (also, I believe Wickfield would say anything Diane told him to, so I take his assurance with a pinch of salt)

We close with the lovers in a final, devastating farewell. Oh, my heart. I hated these two last season, but it breaks for them now. 

Tremontaine is available from Serial Box Publishing in ebook and audio format each week.