“Good evening, my lady.”
Four words, that is all it took to shake the protective wall around my heart down to its very foundation. A simple greeting, yet, at the same time, the most glorious thing I had ever heard a man say. It was the ‘my’ that stuck with me. He had said the word as though he had been searching for her for many years, perhaps even his entire lifetime. This courteous and undeniably handsome gentleman-with soulful eyes, thin, pink lips, and a hint of stubble along his cheeks and chin-could not stop gazing at me either. I had no idea that being singled out in a roomful of people could feel so wonderful.
But I knew better than to wear my heart on my sleeve. Over the last two years, my nurse had given me plenty of advice on how to relate to men, and the number one rule was that women should be mysterious, coy, and say very little. Considering how dry my mouth had suddenly become, not speaking would be effortless indeed. I also remembered that my nurse had mentioned that men loved the thrill of chase. But with my legs feeling as though they were about to melt like the hot wax of a candle, I realised that it was too late for me to run.
But why would I want to? One look at this man and instantly I hoped to stay with him-until the moon and stars died, and all the survived was the sunlight.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
The sound of his voice was so full and melodic, I was mesmerised and still could not speak. I just nodded my head in response.
“I see.” He briefly lowered his eyes to his feet, then engaged me with a small grin. “Well, I must admit, I feel as though it is my duty to watch over you until your suitor returns.”
I smiled back. “That is kind of you, sir, but what makes you think I am waiting on a man?”
“Well, I, uh.....” he trailed off and glanced up at the sky as though he were praying for the right answers. After a short pause, he looked me in the eyes, his smouldering gaze sending chills throughout my body.
“I was going to say something about your stunning beauty, my lady. But you appear far too intelligent to fall for flattery.”
I put my hand over my heart in the hope that I could slow it down. “That’s probably the nicest compliment I have ever received.”
“So have you ever been to a place with more nefarious creatures?” he said, peering around the room.
I nearly laughed at the unintended irony of his question. “I suppose you are referring to the sorcerers.”
“Not necessarily,” he replied. Then he leaned in close and whispered into my ear. “I have a funny feeling that a lot of the humans here are lawmakers and politicians.”
I laughed. “You are probably right, sir. What, may I ask, is your profession?”
“Would you like to take a guess?”
I tried to prevent myself from revealing my attraction for him, but I couldn’t help myself. I was laughing too much, staring too long.
But then again, so was he.
“Well, you are not a sorcerer, so that is one point in your favour,” I said.
“And thankfully neither are you,” he said cheerily.
I started wringing my hands and biting my lower lip, two detestable habits that both my nurse and mother chided me for. Obviously he hadn’t noticed my paling skin, or glowing eyes that changed from dark blue to light every few seconds. What would he think when he found out the truth? He would certainly forsake me-any human would do the same.
“Luckily you are not a prince either, so that is another point in your favour!” The gentleman looked down at his feet and nervously rubbed the back of his neck.
“Right, of course!”
I sensed that I had brought up a delicate subject, but for some reason, I felt very comfortable asking him to say more.
“To be honest, I’m working for my father. Temporarily, that is,” he continued.
“Why is that? Do you not like the work?” I enquired.
“No, I don’t,”
“Is it because the two of you don’t get along?”
“Not really. My parents have been out of the kingdom since the peace treaty was passed,” he explained. “They are taking a much-needed holiday in Serbia.”
I let out a light laugh. “I couldn’t be more jealous.”
“Because of their holiday?” he asked brightly.
“No, because you are free of your parents for a while.”
The gentleman’s lips curled up into a dashing smile, “I have to admit, it is quite liberating being without them.”
“Or their rules,” I added, my eyes beaming.
He nodded in agreement. “Or their criticisms and unrealistic expectations.”
“Or the plans they make for you without your consent, or the way they patronise you when you talk, or.....” I trailed off, realising a little too late how bitter I must have sounded. So much for my nurse’s lessons in flirtation.
Thankfully, the gentleman was not turned off by my complaining at all. He just gave me a reassuring grin and said. “It seems to me that your parents do not know lucky they are.”
My cheeks flushed several shades of pink. “Perhaps.”
Suddenly our eyes locked and we were silent for just a moment. I could feel my body temperature rising as I gazed at him-I had the strangest feeling that I’ve known him all my life.
“What about you? Are you going to inherit the family business someday?” the gentleman asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“if my parents have their way, yes,” I said.
“Ah, I could tell from across the room that you were a rebel.”
Another one of the gentleman’s wide grins nearly made my heart melt.
“Is that so?” I replied. “What else could you tell?”
“That you are a passionate person,” he said with an intense stare that practically had me spellbound. “That you stand up for what you believe in.”
“What else?” I murmured.
The gentleman inhaled deeply, like he was about to dive underwater.
“That you need someone to be on your side. Always, Regardless of the circumstances.”
I was in such awe of this magnificent creature, and his ability to see right through me, that I was rendered speechless.
“I suppose I shouldn’t say such things when your suitor could be lurking around the corner,” he said.
My pulse was racing uncontrollably. “Actually, I do not have a suitor.”
“I am surprised, but so very relieved,” he was quick to say, his eyes brightening in the room like flashes of lightning in a midnight sky. “Though I would have fought him for you if he had existed.”
I quickly shifted my gaze away from him. While other women might have found his words romantic, I didn’t particularly like the idea of anyone fighting over me. There was too much turmoil in my family already.
The gentleman took my hand in his, noticing how quiet I had suddenly become. “I only meant to say that I would try to win your heart.”
My skin tingled on the softest part of my palm. I sighed as I glanced down at our hands and how our fingers were intertwined, but when my eyes drifted towards his jacket, I saw a wooden stake sticking out of an inside pocket.
“What is that my lord?” I gently slid my hand out of his grasp and gestured towards the object.
His eyes immediately became cloudy. “Oh, this? It is just...a family heirloom.”
“Wouldn’t an embroidered handkerchief be more appropriate for the occasion?” I mocked him playfully.
“Perhaps, but everyone in my family carries one of these. I know it seems strange, but when you meet my family, you will understand.”
He reached for my hand again, and I could not pull away, even though I could hear my nurse’s voice ringing inside my head, practically begging me to. The magnetism between us was immeasurable.
“And they will adore you as I do,” he said, pressing his lips to my fingertips.
“Pardon me, my lady,” a voice chirped from behind me.
I used all the strength in my body to take my eyes off this extradinary man, craned my head over my shoulder, and met the glowering stare of my nurse.
“Can you not see I am in the middle of a conversation?” I asked.
“Yes, and I do hate to intrude.” My nurse took my arm and yanked my hand away from the man.
“But your mother is requesting your presence at once.”
“I am sure whatever it is can wait a few minutes,” I said pleasantly, wishing I had the spell to make things disappear.
“I’m afraid not.” My nurse stepped in between us, and said to the man, “We bid you adieu, sir.”
“Adieu, ladies,” he said with a cordial bow.
Within moments, the nurse had pushed and pulled me through the crowd and out of the great hall. I was so furious, it almost made me dizzy. Once we reached the castles orchard, which was currently deserted except from the fruit flies, I broke free of my nurse’s clutches.
“How dare you humiliate me like that!” I cried, my cheeks flushed with shame.
“Believe me, if I had no interrupted, you would have suffered far worse,” my nurse shot back.
“What do you mean? That gentleman was nothing short of perfect!”
“Juliet, that gentleman was Arthur Pendragon,” my nurse said firmly.
“You....you must be mistaken.” I could barely hear my own voice. It sounded faint and weak, like a phantom echo from another time and dimension.
“It is the truth, child. I swear it.”
I didn’t need to look my nurse in the eye to know she was being honest. I covered my face with my trembling hands and surrendered to the waves of grief that were crashing down on me.
There was no way in hell that a Pendragon would have anything to do with a sorcerer. Not only that, but when I thought of Arthur and his “family heirloom”, I couldn’t stop myself from imagining how many of my kin had been executed with something just like that. The weight of this revelation was just un-bearable.
“Please, nurse, don’t follow me,” I murmured. I turned around and ran out of the orchard with tears rolling down my face.