Thursday, 2 October 2014

Come dance with me and all your troubles will be forgotten.



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"Come dance with me and all your troubles will be forgotten." He took her hand as he said it and tried to pull her to her feet. She stayed stubbornly seated and frowned at him. He was a constant thorn in her side.
To the ballroom, it looked as if he bent back down to hear some comment she had made - clearly witty enough to make him throw back his head and laugh loudly - before he gripped tighter to her hand and scooped her off her seat with his other arm and spun her onto the dance floor. She had to dance with him; it was that or be dragged. Her attendants could not follow her.
“I don’t want to dance.”
“I know.”
“You just forced me because you are much stronger than me.” He was almost a foot taller than her to start.
“I could snap you like a twig.” He smiled as he said it. “And I might if you persist with this behaviour.”
“You are supposed to be making me forget my troubles, not threatening me.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right. Troubles.”
“You,” she hissed at him, “Are one of the troubles I want to forget.”
A loud chuckle was the reply.
They danced on for some time before he spoke again, “Your life would be infinitely more complicated if I was not in it.”
She glowered at him.
He ignored her and scanned the room quickly. “You need me,” he added.
“You? Why?”
“Do you see the men by the stairs?” he spun her to face them without waiting for her answer. “The other group by the bar?” Another turn. “And the new group about to approach your father? Do you see them?”
Some of them did not look happy to see her dancing with him. She wondered if he had made an offer of his own.
“Do you see them?” he repeated when she hadn’t answered him.
“Yes. But-”
“They,” he interrupted, “will make your life either long and boring or alternatively, short and extremely painful.”
“Pfft. How can you know that?”
“They want your title, not you.”
She was silent; trying to think.
“I am your best offer, Princess and you would be wise to choose me.”
So he had made an offer? She didn’t know that. “I don’t get a choice,” she murmured.
“You do. Which way?” he asked as they moved seemingly effortlessly across the dance floor. “The garden?” It lay down the stairs past the party from Uzgovia.
She shook her head.
“A drink?” The bar had been staked out by the Moldavian group.
Another shake.
“Do you wish to speak to your father?”
And face the party from Kirzbekia? No.
“Fresh air,” she suggested.
He danced her out of the crowd; it shifted to fill the space they had left and with his hand pressed firmly against her lower back, he escorted her outside to the long verandah. The force of his glare made the couple already out there, think better of it and retreat to the ballroom.
She put her palms flat on the stone balustrade and took as deep a breath as her gown would allow. The air was cold and bracing after the stifling warmth of the crowded room. Was he actually suggesting that she would not live long after her father’s death? Was that what he was suggesting? Her father was an old man and he had been ill recently. That was what had fired the starting gun for this race to marry her off.
He stood behind her.
She closed her eyes. Her world was narrowing and she felt trapped. The cold air on her exposed skin made her shiver. She startled when his jacket dropped around her shoulders but she held it around her body gratefully. It also gave her something to hold onto. Her hands would be shaking if they were not clinging to his lapels.
But she remembered who she was, pulled herself together and turned to face him.
“I’m trapped,” she said, still staring at his feet.
“You chose this corner.”
Perhaps she had, but why was he here? She inhaled and lifted her gaze to his face. “Why?”
He adjusted the hang of the jacket, pulling it closer around her body. She was aware of how close his hands were to hers. He seemed to be taking time to form an answer. “I don’t need the land, I don’t need the money, I don’t need the power, and God knows I don’t need the complication.” He paused.
She was a complication? So why did he care what happened to her? She opened her mouth to reply, prepared to be offended when he laid a finger against her lips.
“But... I want you,” he said.
Silence.
She blinked. Staring down at her, he removed the finger. She had to stop herself licking her lips. “Want?” she checked.
He nodded.
“Me?”
“Yes. I don’t do arranged marriages. I can’t tell you how many offers I have refused.”
“Is that supposed to make you more attractive?”
He grinned. “Does it?”
“No.”
“What would make me more attractive?” he asked with interest.
“Nothing.” She had already said it before she thought about it.
“Ha! I’m already perfect,” he crowed.
“That is not what I meant and you know it.”
Another grin. He peered off the edge of the balcony and then asked, “Who will your father choose?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“He hasn’t discussed it with you?”
“No.” She hurried to add, “I know the politics and so on... I just don’t know...” Her personal feelings were not a priority for her father. She had met or worse, heard of, all the marriage options and none appealed to her. The man standing in front of her wanted her. Or said that he did. She thought that he could make her laugh and he was certainly attractive enough. As he had already said, he was also powerful.
“We dance well together,” she said.
He didn’t respond but he took her hand and shifted it down to press flat against the pocket of his jacket. She could feel something inside the pocket. It was a ring. Their eyes met.
“If you are already legally married, he cannot force you to marry another.”
“No.” Her hand reached into the pocket to feel the cold metal. “They could just kill you,” she suggested.
He was not surprised by her words. “I can look after myself. And I can protect you.”
She nodded. Holding her hand up, she showed him the ring now placed on her third finger. It didn’t surprise her that it was a perfect fit. “But it must be legal.”
He smiled. “Yes.” A pause. “One more thing,” he said before he leaned down and kissed her. When they broke apart, she could hear feet running on the verandah. He lifted her up and threw her from the edge.
She landed on some kind of trampoline, was hauled off by men who clearly worked for him, with no dignity and a lot of muttered apologies for touching her, before he followed after. He grabbed her hand and they ran to a waiting vehicle. Voices shouted down at them. After a rushed car trip she found herself standing in front of a priest. They were across the border within the hour and she was in his bedroom fifteen minutes after that; it had to be consummated as the final step in the legal process.
Still dressed and lying on his chest, with his arms around her, she said, “You realise everything after that escape will be a letdown?”
He smiled. “I am glad you called it an escape and not a kidnapping.”
She chuckled.
“The best is yet to come...wife.”
She blushed. “I wouldn’t know.”
His head drew back in surprise. “Oh. I hadn’t planned for that.”
“I am amazed; you seemed to plan for everything else.”
“I think you are very attractive, why wouldn’t I believe other people thought so, as well?”
Admirers had been around, at least until her status or her father scared them away. “I’ve kissed people,” she defended.
“I gathered that.”
She almost had to be peeled off him to get out of the car.
“Think of it as dancing of a different kind,” he added. His hand under her chin lifted her face up to his. “And we danced very well.”
“Yes, we did.”
He was as good as his word; she forgot all her troubles for quite some time.
~~~~~~
In the morning she informed her father by video link that she was no longer on the marriage market and that she would return home after her honeymoon to make a more formal announcement.
He had to agree. They had sent a notarised copy of the certificate to him and he had already read it. But that wasn’t what convinced him; he was reassured by how happy his daughter looked. Happier than he had seen her for a long time.
“She looks well wedded,” his secretary commented with a snort.
“She is with a man who values her enough to fight for her.”
Another snort. “Fight? He stole her.”
“The plan worked,” said the King. He held his hand out. “Pay up.”
“A ridiculous bet--”
“Pay up. The kingdom is safe; doubled in size, with borders to open between them. My daughter is happy and well protected.” He made a small pleased noise as the coin landed in his palm.
“I still don’t understand how you knew he would take her.”
“Tell a man like that, that he can’t have something and it becomes even more desirable.”
~~~~
© AM Gray 2014