Prologue - Breakdown
As I slip back into consciousness the memories of last night come back to me.
“I love you,” he panted, lips brushing mine and eyes blazing into my own. “I love you so much it hurts.”
“I love you too,” I answered back with a gasp as he thrust into me, agonizingly slowly.
For months now, we’ve been denying feelings that have been there ever since I set my eyes on him for the last time. But last night, all of that denial, all of that restraint went out of the window.
We thought we could do this without having feelings involved. It was naïve to think that all that brought us together was an attraction.
We were wrong. So dead wrong.
I should have known that I wouldn’t last long. I fell for him and I fell hard.
But there is hope.
If the King’s wife is pregnant as they were saying two weeks ago, Vincent’s title as a Duke might allow him to be with - or marry - whoever he wants, instead of having to choose high nobility as he would have to if he were to be King.
Not much can rock my happiness today.
It’s also the first time we even allowed ourselves to sleep together. A smile settles on my lips as I turn around and move to snuggle into him.
As I move and the warmth turns cold, I frown and open my eyes.
The space next to me is empty.
I guess something can rock my happiness, after all.
And that’s him.
That realization settles a heavy and unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach but I brush it off.
He loves me, he wouldn’t hurt me. Not after everything we’ve been through and what we’ve said to each other last night.
He’s busy. I know he’s busy.
He’s hosting his mom’s birthday gala tonight. She insisted he’d be the host since they’ve barely been spending time together.
He had me in charge at first but she refused. Still, I have been helping a lot since I know the house better than anyone.
That reminds me that I also have a lot of things to get done. We’re probably not going to see much of each other today but hopefully, we’ll be able to have some alone time after the gala.
With that thought on my mind, I get up to get ready and start work right away.
I’ve had a shower before work but with the number of things I have been carrying and moving around, I know I’ll be needing another one before tonight.
“Cami,” Alex calls from the ballroom. “The flower arrangements are wrong.”
“What do you mean?” I run in his direction, to supervise it.
“The order was red, right?” He frowns.
“But these are... white?”
“Yes,” the delivery guy assured me the order was correct.
“Well, they go with the decoration all the same. Place them and I’ll see it with the Duke,” I reassure him.
I walk to Vincent’s office, through the disarray of people and tables and chairs and decorations going around from one division to the other, in preparation for tonight.
It’s also past lunchtime and I’ve barely eaten but this is my excuse to see him and how he’s doing so I might just take it to my advantage.
Five minutes it’s all I need.
“Come in,” his voice sounds from inside, after my knock.
“Hey there,” I whisper when I reach his desk.
His head raises from his paperwork, just slightly, as his gaze connects to mine before it falls again. He barely even looked at me.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing. What do you need from me?” His hands set the paperwork down and settle on top of each other while his face is cold and unreadable.
I hadn’t seen that expression in a while.
“I just-” I pause, not knowing what to say. “Are you alright?”
“Perfectly fine,” his voice is dripping with sarcasm and I know something’s wrong. “Are things alright for tonight?”
“I wanted to tell you, the flowers came out wrong. Your mother had ordered red and only white came.”
His gaze flew down to his hands and he answered. “No. It’s correct. She changed her mind this morning. It’s white.”
Why is he so cold and distant? After last night I thought...
I finally opened my heart to him and admitted my feelings, knowing full well how easily he could destroy me. And instead of proving me wrong, it seems as if he’s doing just that.
“Is that all?” He asks, grabbing his pen.
A frown etches onto my face and his gaze quickly moves away from my face.
He can’t even look me in the eyes for long.
Well, it seems as if last night was a bunch of empty promises for him.
“No,” I answer, trying to sound as emotionless as possible.
Straightening my back, I stand up and head for the door.
My eyes burn and my throat constricts but I will not give him the satisfaction of a tear. I am strong and Mrs Elizabeth taught me better than to let a man control my life.
And just like she taught me, my body goes into autopilot mode, taking care of everything for the gala. Once everything is set up and guests start to arrive, I disappear into my room.
The Duchess had a host chosen to replace me and I am grateful. I was going to attend out of courtesy and respect for Vincent but after the way he treated me, the last thing I want is to be present and be dealt with nothing but cold shoulders.
Do not let emotions rule your decisions.”
Elizabeth’s words ring in my head, giving me a new surge of strength to endure whatever is meant to happen tonight.
With newfound courage I get ready. Minimal but classic makeup adorns my face. Then I choose this elegant golden gown to go with it. It clung onto my chest in a hear-shape with delicate and thick straps falling from my shoulders onto my arms. The bottom was A-shaped, clinging onto my hips until it flowy descends to the ground.
I look good, amazing even. But I feel like anything but.
Nonetheless, I get out with a straightened back and high chin.
The gala is beautiful, and so well done and even though I wasn’t responsible for anything specific, I am glad I was able to help get it done.
Faces are all I see, some I have become accustomed to, others not so much. The manor house is full, classical musing playing in the back and the lights dimmed just a notch, giving it the right ambience.
“You look beautiful, Camilla,” a husky voice whispers but it’s not the one I was expecting.
Turning around, I come face to face with Vicent’s younger brother.
“Edgar,” I smile at him, knowing it doesn’t reach my eyes.
“What’s troubling you, my dear?” He frowns, concern covering his features.
“Nothing,” I try to reassure him.
“Well, whatever is making you sad, it’s time to let it go. Tonight we party,” he offers me his arm and I gladly take it.
Edgar is cunning and I am almost sure he knows what’s troubling me. Usually, he convinces me to talk it out and gives me good advice. this time he seems to be avoiding the subject and I don’t know if for once I should be relieved he let me be or if I should be concerned that it’s so serious he’s willing to let it go.
He pulls me to the dance floor and for once I don’t protest. Dancing is not my forté, but Edgar’s the type of person hard to say no to. He’s open, funny and charming, the total opposite of his brother. I like to think we’ve become good friends and that he’s someone I can trust in the middle of all of the fake façades that run around this court.
He guides me, twirling me and dipping me for three long songs, making me laugh quite a few times. A few people stop and look at us with smiles on their faces, probably wanting to be or look as carefree as we do.
It’s fleeting. Only for a few minutes but that’s what Edgar makes me feel.
When I am with Vincent, things are intense. But never carefree.
Which I understand, he’s a Duke. Possibly, the future King and he’ll never be carefree.
But I am thankful that having a friend like Edgar, will gift me with moments like these.
“Thank you,” I tell him when the music finishes.
“Always, Cami,” he smiles. “You deserve the world.”
With a charming smile, he bows and kisses my hand.
I giggle at his sarcastic behaviour. I am a mere housekeeper, nothing worth bowing and yet, he does it. Showing me that in his eyes I am as important as everyone else in this room.
I am sure that when Edgar settles down and finds love, that woman will be a lucky one.
“I’d like to have everyone’s attention, please,” the Duchess’ voice sounds from the microphone, gathering everyone’s attention.
Edgar's stance freezes and I swear I can feel him tense on my hand. Nonetheless, he flashes me a smile and places himself on my side, offering me his arm once again.
Not even thinking twice, I accept it, directing my attention to the Ducchess’ speech.
“Aren’t the birthday wishes usually later?” I whisper at Edgar.
He looks at me, a weird emotion flickering through his eyes, then nods and looks back at his mom.
“I want to thank everyone for their presence. It has been an amazing birthday.” She starts, raising a flute of champagne. “But the reason for my true happiness and what has made this birthday of mine so special this year, lies with my older son, Vincent, who I’d like to call up to the stage.”
My heartbeat spikes up and I squeeze Edgar’s arm, trying to keep balanced. He holds my hand with him, in reassurance.
The moment he steps on stage, my breath hitches. He’s handsome in a black and white tuxedo, sporting a single white flower on his chest pocket. His hair, the thick brown locks that I’ve run my hands through so many times, is styled back in a flawless manner.
He’s perfect, always has been and as he stands on the stage, right next to his mother, he’s dominating the entire room.
Just like he does, every time he comes into a room.
My heart stops.
I look at Vincent and he’s looking at me, only to look away at the exact moment our eyes lock.
No, it shatters.
My vision blurs and ringing noises prevent me from listening to another word coming out of her mouth.
He made me fall in love with him. He made me open up to him, only to give him a way to destroy me. He built me up just to break me down.
“Cami,” Edgar’s voice sounds but I barely acknowledge it.
Only when Eleanor’s frame steps into the stage and she eagerly latches on to him, kissing him, do I take the breath I didn’t know I’ve been holding.
“Take me out of here,” I choke out.
“I am so so-”
“Just please,” I mumble, gripping his shirt with my trembling hands. “Get me out of here.”