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The Price of Pride

By Punki

Romance

Chapter 1

Henry bit back his annoyance. He didn't deserve her? A prince did not deserve a mere servant? The man had nerve. He had overstepped his bounds. Henry glared at Da Vinci as the older man walked away without so much as a backward glance. Henry wasn't sure what injured his pride more, Da Vinci's words or the fact that they were undeniable. Even as he watched the older man depart his mind was on Nicole. No her name was Danielle. Henry still thought of her as Nicole de Lancret. To think of her as Danielle seemed almost impossible. As if Danielle was a cruel invention by some devious mind.

Da Vinci may have left, but he wasn't dismissed by any means. He had left behind a single slipper, the type worn for a special occasion. Henry walked over and picked up the slipper, intent on hurling it as far away from him as possible, as if he could be rid of her through that single act. He knew he couldn't forget the events of the night by flinging the slipper away, but he wanted nothing to do with the woman near him. As he stepped up to it he could hear the drops of rain as they fell on the delicate object. Picking up the slipper Henry studied it. It looked to belong to a lady, not a servant. Satin and muslin covered in embroidery and silver beads. Instead of tossing it away Henry set the slipper down and stared out over the castle grounds, lost in thought.

The rain grew steadily stronger, pulling Henry from his thoughts. He glanced up at the sky and shook his head. He didn't know how long he had stood there, staring over the grounds. The people had long since left the ball. Darkness consumed the quiet grounds. Henry turned away. He didn't want to go inside the castle, but he couldn't think of anywhere else to go. He had only taken a few steps when he stopped and looked back. Henry closed his eyes. He should just leave the slipper behind. Forget it and her. But he couldn't do it.

Henry went back to the wall and grabbed the slipper, telling himself that he only meant to take it to be disposed of. He would not yield in his decision. The slipper, like the servant it belonged to, meant nothing to him. And if he kept telling himself that, then he could believe it. Soon though, it would not matter. Henry stalked through the castle, a scowl creasing his face, as each step seemed like a mile. The slipper seemed to taunt him with each step, reminding him that the woman who owned it should have been walking at his side, but would never do so.

Walking into his room Henry crossed over to a table. Opening the box that sat on the table he looked inside. The box was empty, its contents long removed. Carefully he settled the slipper inside. He didn't want to see it, he kept telling himself. He slowly lowered the lid, settling it securely on the box.

Turning away from the table he hung his head. He could tell himself he didn't still love her all day. He could marry another. He could dedicate himself to his duty. But deep down Henry knew that he still loved Danielle, would always love her. With his heart heavy and his eyes bleary Henry settled on his bed, his mind lost in days past.

The knock woke Henry the next morning. He shook his head to clear the fog. He must have finally fallen asleep some time in the early morning hours. Grumbling Henry walked to the door. On the other side stood the captain of the guard, Laurent. Laurent gave Henry a quick glance, raising his brow at the Princes rumpled appearance.

“A Lady to see you, Your Highness. She claims she was summoned by special order.”

“I summoned no one. Send her away.” Henry moved to close the door.

Laurent stepped forward, blocking the door and staring hard at Henry. “Is that wise? You are the Prince, no matter your mood. And she is a lady of the court.”

“Fine, I'll see her.”

“I would advise you wear something other than last night's attire.” Laurent turned away.

“You dare speak to me in such a manner?”

Laurent turned back toward Henry with a small smile. “I've known you for many years. And went after you more times than I care to remember when you ran off. I see most everything that happens here. And while I do respect you, you are a foolish man Your Highness. I can only hope for your sake you are stubborn enough to suffer an arranged marriage, or brave enough to find your happiness.”

Henry watched as Laurent turned and walked away without another word. Deflated, Henry turned to dress. Before the ball no one had dared speak to him in such a disrespectful manner. Since the ball two men and a peasant had disrespected him. And now some mysterious guest demanded his time. He hadn't asked who was waiting, he hadn't cared. But now he wondered. He was sure it would not be Danielle. He hoped it was not Marguerite. To see Marguerite with her smug air after last night would be worse than to see Danielle.

Henry took his time making his way to see his 'guest' purposefully. If anyone thought they could manipulate him or his time he would prove them wrong. He would not have visitors on a whim claiming they had been summoned. Though grudgingly he had to admit that the whole predicament intrigued him. It was exactly the sort of thing Danielle would have done. As soon as the thought entered Henry's mind he pushed it away.

The woman turned immediately when Henry entered the room, as if she was impatient with his tardiness. Henry's eyes widened in surprise. She was the last person he had expected to see standing there.


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