Claire burst into my room with a bundle of clothes in her arms. “Hurry!”
I sat up from my bed where I had been staring at the clouds floating by. It had been four days since I had gone on the search for Mary. It seemed that Gray thought I was helpless outside. So, here I was with endless time on my hands, and I still no idea how I was going to wake up or how if this really was a dream, how could Claire remember the repeating?
The only person I’d seen during the four days was Claire. Even then, she only came in to give me my meals and a change of clothes. I got her to chat every once in a while, but she never stayed long enough for me to question her. Today her eyes were alight with excitement.
“What’s going on?”
“He is coming! They both are!” She threw the clothes on the bed and started sorting through them.
“Who? Did they find Mary?” Excitement started to race through me. If they found Mary that bought me time to figure out how to get out of this crazy world. It would also get me off the hook.
“No, not yet. The Prince and his sister, the Princess, are coming!” She held up a blue gown to me and shook her head, rummaging through the rest of the clothes.
I sat back with disappointment. “Why?”
“To help with the search and… to question you. They have not been here…in fact I cannot remember when they have ever come. I must make you look decent.”
I ignored the insult and stood, letting her dress me in a forest green gown with a golden sash around the waist. She ran a strange comb through my hair and braided it intricately down my back. When she was finished, she pulled out a small bag that I hadn’t realized was laying with all the clothes.
She pulled out a bottle of something and leaned close to my face, brushing a thin powder on my face. Makeup. I knew better than to protest, but I feared she would make me look like a clown, after all, what did people of this time know about makeup?
When she was finished, she pinched my cheeks a little then gathered the clothes in her arms. “I have to make things ready for them downstairs. They will be here within the hour.” She bustled out the door and left me to my thoughts.
I hurried to look at myself in the mirror. My jaw fell slack. To my surprise, it wasn’t a clown looking back at me, but… me. I mean I looked normal, if anything, prettier. I hadn’t seen this face in a long time. Most of the time when I looked in the mirror, I saw a stressed woman who had gone too long without coffee and makeup. She had done a great job. It looked almost professional. How does she know about makeup?
She’d shaded my eyes to bring out the green in my dress. My braid was thick, coming to rest in the center of my back. I spun once to see what I looked like from all angles. Man, when she says decent, she means decent.
With nothing else left to do, I laid back on my bed, resting my head against the pillows and looking through the thin canopy fabric and to the sky.
Claire had been right; I heard the arrival of a large group about thirty minutes later. I could only guess that was the Prince’s caravan. I had no windows to look out of except the ceiling sky light, so I put my ear to the door. I could not hear much, but soon there was activity in the house. Then they were coming up the stairs. “Would you like to rest before you see her, my lord?” It was Claire speaking.
“I did enough resting in the carriage. I would like to see her now,” a deep voice answered her.
“Do you not think it would be wise to unpack and settle in before we see her, Demetrie?” A light woman’s voice followed.
“The servants can see to the unpacking. I want to see what all this fuss is about. I would like to see her now,” the deep voice said again.
“Yes, my lord,” Claire said, giving in.
They were almost to my door. I backed away from it and sat on the bed, not knowing what to do with myself. How do you greet a Prince? I wondered. I had already made up my mind to plead my innocence to him and since he was the authority around here, he had the power to let me off.
The door opened and I straightened my back, trying to act casual. Claire stepped in first and gave me a warning glance before ushering the Prince in.
I held my breath as my gaze took in long light brown hair that had been pulled back into a ponytail. Next, blue eyes that were as deep as the ocean, a sharp jaw line, a smile filled with dazzling straight teeth, strong shoulders that were surrounded by stylish clothes for the times, and such an air of confidence that I couldn’t look away. He stepped in and his eyes met mine.
He held my gaze for a moment before I could no longer stand the strength of his eyes and looked away, blushing. I saw another body enter behind him; it was the small blond woman I’d seen earlier. The Princess. I remembered her from a few days ago. She stepped in and crossed her arms, looking bored. “I already told you, I questioned her, she was no help.”
Anger bubbled in me. I tried to keep my mouth shut, but couldn’t. She had managed to push one of my major buttons, and she had not even been in the room for more than three seconds. “I can hear you.”
She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. Her brother did the same. Despite the difference in hair color, it was obvious that they were related. They were both ridiculously good looking. Almost painfully so.
Claire stepped forward. “Can I get my lord or my lady anything to drink or eat?” she asked, trying to divert the attention from me.
The Prince, who I was guessing was the Demetrie I’d heard in the hall, turned down her offer, but the Princess accepted a cup of tea. Claire dashed off to get them what they needed. Taking her place were Gray and Derek. As soon as everyone had entered, Gray shut the door behind them.
Derek took a guards stance by the Prince, glaring at me. Gray walked across the room and grabbed the chair from my vanity, offering it to the Princess. She smiled, letting out a little giggle while she sat and touched his arm as she thanked him. I studied her for a moment. Her cheeks flushed a bit as Gray smiled at her. She lowered her lashes.
She likes him. I realized instantly with disgust. A shot of jealousy set my nerves on edge, but I ignored it. Fine. Let her have him. I didn’t want to deal with him anyway. I told myself. It surprised me how much I apparently liked him without realizing it. I must have been pushing my feelings away more than I thought.
The little hairs on the back of my neck stood; I felt eyes on me. I looked up. Demetrie had not stopped staring at me since he entered. When he realized he’d been caught, he stepped forward with a charming smile. “Hello. My name is Demetrie Debarbahek the second, Prince of Delbrook,” he said in his smooth deep voice, offering his hand.
I held out mine and in one swift motion, he had kissed the back of my hand. “Jennifer Carmichael…of New York…” His hand was warm against mine as he held a little longer.
“I have never heard of the land of New York. Who is your king?” he asked, finally releasing my hand, but keeping his eyes riveted to my face.
He frowned slightly in thought. “Interesting. Is this land you speak of far from here?”
I almost laughed, but kept my emotions in check under his scrutiny. “Yes…my lord,” I added for good show.
He nodded and stroked his chin with his thumb and pointer finger. He finally looked away, gathering his thoughts. “How did you come to Delbrook, Lady Carmichael?”
“Call me Jen. I…I’m actually not sure exactly how I got here…”
Ignoring the others in the room, who were watching intently (the princesses eyes kept glancing at Gray) (Not that I noticed or anything), Demetrie moved forward and sat on the bed beside me. Derek kept his guard stance by the door.
Demetrie made it so easy to feel like it was just us in the room. His gaze made me feel safe, but at the same time important. I wanted to spill everything to him, but I had to be careful. I knew people were not always what they seemed.
“Please explain,” he asked softly, reaching out and taking one of my hands in his.
It was a supporting gesture, but I couldn’t help but feel the vibe that he was flirting with me. I had to look away from his deep blue eyes to regain my focus. I had to decide just how much to tell him without seeming crazy or he’d never let me out.
“Uh…there was a storm. I…I can’t remember much,” I lied. “I fainted and when I woke up I was laying in the snow in the forest. Then they found me,” I said, motioning to Gray and Derek.
The Prince nodded, but his eyes did not leave mine. “How have they been treating you?”
Visions of the first night, being locked in that horrible room with hay for a bed, being tied to Gray and forced to march to the forest, being smacked by both men. I opened and closed my mouth. “As well as a prisoner could expect,” I offered. It seemed a safe answer.
“I see,” he said thoughtfully. His thumb rubbed across the back of my hand, sending chills up my whole arm. “I hope nothing too bad has happened.”
I was beginning to hope that he was starting to see my side of things; that I was the victim here.
“And you have no idea where Mary is?” he asked kindly.
I shook my head. “I’ve never even met Mary. When I woke up it was only the three of us in the woods.”
The Princess spoke up. “That is impossible. Mary should have been in the clearing.”
Demetrie turned to his sister. “Lorianna, obviously these are not normal circumstances.”
She blushed slightly and looked to Gray for support, but he was looking at…me? His dark brown eyes seemed cloudy as he stared just past me; no, he was looking at my hand. I looked down and noticed Demetrie was still holding it.
Could it be possible that he was jealous? Most likely appalled that the Prince is touching a wench like me. At the thought, I grew angry and turned away from him. How dare he?
Demetrie turned back to me and was surprised to find my face a mask of annoyance. “Was it something I said?”
I blushed deeply. “Oh, no! I…I was just thinking…” I looked away, officially feeling like an idiot.
Suddenly the door opened and Claire came in carrying a tray of tea. Lorianna stood and headed toward the door, relief washing over her. “I will take the tea in my room.” She turned back to Gray, a playful smile on her lips. “Care to escort me Captain?”
Captain? I thought Derek was Captain…
Gray looked from Lorianna to my hand in Demetrie’s. “Of course Princess.” He cleared his throat and without a backward glance, followed her out the door. Derek took his guards stance again.
“I believe you,” Demetrie said, pulling my attention from the door.
The statement was so simple but it took me completely by surprise. FINALLY! Someone sees the light. “Excuse me?” I asked just to make sure.
“I believe you.” He leaned a little closer, his blue eyes glowing brightly. “You are unlike anyone I have ever met.”
I leaned away slightly. “But you don’t even know me.”
He straightened too, clearing his throat with embarrassment. “Excuse me for being so forward with you.” He stood and kissed my hand once more. “I am afraid I must see to plans for scouting the forest in the morning. I look forward to meeting you again Jennifer of New York.”
Derek opened the door for the Prince and shut the door tight behind them.
My mind was whirling. The Prince believes me! He may also like me...Gray might be jealous and I might have a hope of getting off lockdown. I looked at my hand, which had started to cool where he had been holding it. The tingle I had felt when Gray touched me wasn’t present, but the feeling in my hand wasn’t unpleasant. I smiled then froze. Oh no…I can’t like the Prince. That’s just stupid. I’d be setting myself up for heartache. Besides, none of this is real…right? I couldn’t help but feel like the heroines in the books I always wasted my time with. They usually ended up in the very place I was in now; I had a choice of two men, and I couldn’t/shouldn’t be with either.
I ran my hand over my braid and curled the loose strands at the end around my fingers. Maybe it’d be smarter to choose neither Gray nor the Prince. I nodded then stood, as if that made my thought final. Of course, I choose neither! They are the ones doing all this! Besides, it wouldn’t be smart to let either in. What happens when I go home? I asked myself. If I ever wake up. I sighed.
It amazed me that I was even in this kind of situation; that the thoughts were even going through my mind. Me, who never dated anyone twice, who never let myself become vulnerable around men because I knew what became of it. My first boyfriend taught me well. The jerk took a piece of my heart the day he left me for her…I growled bitterly and shook unwanted memories from my head. I won’t let that happen again. No one will play me for the fool.
When Claire entered with my tray, I attacked her with questions. “Did they say anything? What’s going on?”
She set the tray down and shushed me, looking over her shoulder. “The Prince and Master Derek and Master Gray have been in conference all afternoon. They are shut up in the private dining room. I do not know any more than that.” She hurried out of the room.
I sat on my bed, hardly able to touch the food. “What could be taking so long?” I asked aloud. It’s obvious I’m innocent. I bit my lower lip. Maybe they don’t think so. I threw myself back on my bed. This sucks!
I knew no way to prove I was right. They seemed to think I kidnapped Mary when in reality they had kidnapped me. Where the hell would I keep Mary anyway?
Fighting off a wave of depression, I turned my thoughts to other things. I wondered how everyone was doing back home. I wondered if anyone had even realized I was in a coma. Had they called the ambulance? Had they put me on life support? Does Maggie visit me? Are my parents worried sick? What about Grandma?
Homesickness consumed me and I melted.
My door opened. I sat slowly, peering at the door. It was Lorianna. She seemed almost like she was creeping into the room. She shut it softly behind her. I stayed where I was. What does she want? Is she here to tell me I am free to go? Instantly my heart raced with anticipation.
She came closer, studying me as she came. She stopped a few feet away. “Where do you think this will get you?”
“Not telling them where Mary is; where do you think it will get you? We will not pay ransom. We will not give you liberties in this land.”
My heart faltered. She was here to question me, or more accuse me it seemed. “Look, I really don’t know where Mary is.”
“I felt sorry for you when I first met you, but now this game is becoming annoying.”
“Game? This isn’t a game! You think I like being locked up and−”
“Just tell them where she is so we can all move on with our lives,” she said, pursing her lips with attitude. Her aggression made me aggressive in return. My New Yorker was about to be unleashed all over this chick.
“I already told you−”
The door swung open and Derek waltzed in. She’s lucky he came. I was about to tear into her!
“Princess! There you are. Why are you in here alone? Where are your guards?” he asked gruffly, giving me the evil eye.
“I merely came to ask a few questions.”
“We have already questioned her,” he stated.
“I felt the need for further questioning,” she almost growled, putting Derek in his place. “Was there something you needed?”
“Your brother wishes to speak with you.”
Lorianna nodded and glared at me. Without another word, she left the room, followed closely by Derek.
I don’t like her. I thought. I hope she doesn’t have a lot of sway with her brother or I’m in for a long stay.
Before Claire could take my tray, I took a few things and wrapped them in the rough napkin that was available. My drawer was full of things. I wasn’t sure when they’d decide to stop feeding me. I wanted to be prepared.
After Claire took my food, I didn’t see anyone for the remainder of the night. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t help but think of what they would do to me if the prince decided to side against me. I needed at least one person in a place of power to agree with me.
The morning sun escaped from behind a cloud and entered my room, spilling across my pillow. I groaned; I had just fallen asleep. Fighting consciousness, I buried my face under my goose feather pillows. It helped a little. I sighed contently as the fog of sleep drifted closer. My bed was so comfortable.
Of course, right then, the door burst open. “What are you doing still in bed?” Claire asked, rushing to the bed and ripping my blankets off. I moaned, plunging my head deeper.
“Are you sick?”
“No,” I groaned.
“Then get up! The Prince wants to speak with you.”
I shot up in bed, grabbing my head, trying to stop my world from spinning. Without hesitation, she attacked me. She pulled off my gown and threw a new one at me. I hurriedly put it on. “When?”
“Any minute!” She was rushing around the room. It was chaos, but she was in control. She opened many drawers and pulled out little bottles, throwing them on the bed and continuing to the next drawer. Somehow, in the midst of all this she had managed to pull down my hair at the same time.
My head was spinning still, but she grabbed me, stood me up and straightened my dress, trying another gold sash around the waist of my blue tunic. The fabric was heavenly. She then sat me down, tilting my chin up and getting to quick work on my makeup.
It still amazed me that they knew how to do makeup here. When she was finished, she put a small bottle in my hand. “Rub some of this in your hair.” She turned to the bed, straightening the blankets and fluffing the pillows.
I squeezed some goop into my palm and smelled it. It smelled like the beach, the sand, the ocean, the sun, and sunscreen. I took a deep breath, letting the smell wash over me. Smells like the beach at home. I did as Claire said and rubbed it into my long wavy hair. I walked to the vanity to make sure I did not miss a spot. My hair curled a little more. It seemed to glisten. “What is this stuff?”
Claire shushed me as she studied me. “Very good. One more thing.” She grabbed another small bottle and rubbed some liquid along the line of the V of my tunic. The smell of wild flowers caressed my senses. “Mmm. What is that?”
Claire again didn’t answer me. She stood back, pursing her lips. “That will do.”
When she looked up at me, there was a smile in her eyes. “I think if you make a good impression on the Prince, you have a good chance to get out of here.”
My hopes picked up. “Thank you for everything.”
“Do not thank me yet. It might be all for naught.”
We heard voices in the hall. Claire turned to me with a good luck nod then opened the door. Sure enough, Prince Demetrie was standing before it. Derek was also there; his hand was reaching out as if to open it for the Prince. They both looked slightly surprised. The Prince regained his composure quickly. He stood straighter and barely acknowledged Claire as she bowed while she squeezed past.
Instead, he turned his beautiful blue eyes to me and smiled. I grit my teeth, trying to suppress the intense urge to smile back. No! I will not like him. My heart did NOT just flip flop. I will not!
He stepped past Derek, suddenly seeming shy. It made him all the more adorable. I’m sure all the ladies are after him. I bit the inside of my cheek. My mind kept wandering.
“Good morning,” he said softly. “I was wondering if you would like to join me for the morning meal?”
The question took me by surprise. He was a Prince, he didn’t have to ask anything to anyone; he could just demand it. Now I blushed as his eyes searched mine.
“Of course,” I answered. Didn’t want to upset the Prince. Maybe I can give him a better impression and he’ll have no choice but to believe me.
Instantly his smile brightened. He held out his arm. I wrapped my hand in the crook of his elbow as he escorted me out of the room. I felt cheesy, like a character in a movie, but the way he held himself with confidence, made it feel almost natural. Also, the size of his bicep was very impressive as my arm softly pressed into his. My heart raced but I ignored it. I am just happy to be out of the room is all. I tried to convince myself.
He didn’t say a word as we walked down the hall, followed closely by Derek, who was acting as his guard again. Then I remembered he was the Captain of the guard. Lorianna had called Gray a captain also. When I asked Claire to explain, she informed me that Derek was the captain of the guard in the palace and that Gray was under Derek, but he was the captain of the town they were in.
I wasn’t going to lie. Derek scared me. He was always staring angrily at me. I understood that he thought I had kidnapped or maybe killed his woman, but still… I could feel malevolence coming off him in waves when he stared at me. I tried hard to ignore him now, but I could feel his presence like a cloud of anger behind me. I bet he was tensed. If I made one wrong move, he would be on me before I could blink.
Without thinking, I gripped Demetrie’s arm a little tighter. He looked down at me (he was about a head taller) and smiled kindly. “It is a little chilly. I will order one of the servants to fetch you a shawl.”
“Oh…I’m fine,” I muttered.
He shook his head with a smile. True to his word, when he spotted the next servant he insisted on stopping and ordering the small woman to grab me a shawl. She hurried off at once and I blushed. “Really, I’m ok.”
“I mean…I’m fine.” Apparently, everyone in this “dream” was from the medieval ages and didn’t do well with slang.
Demetrie laughed. “Nonsense.”
Almost instantly, the small woman appeared with a heavy shawl the color of a pearl. She wrapped it around my shoulders so I would not have to pull my arm out of the Prince’s arm. She left as quickly as she had come.
Derek stepped around us and opened a thick set of wooden doors. We stepped into a small, but charming dining room.
A fire crackled in the fireplace on the far wall. The table was set with a gorgeous array of fruit and steaming bacon. My mouth watered at the sight.
Derek pulled out my seat as he glared. I hesitated, imagining him pulling out the chair from under me so I would end up bashing my head. I tensed my legs as I sat, ready to catch myself.
Nothing happened. Derek pushed my chair in and I sat. As he moved away to pull out the Prince’s chair I breathed a little easier. As soon as we were comfortable, Derek took a guards stance by the door with his legs shoulders width apart and his arms crossed over his chest. He was very intimidating.
Demetrie cleared his throat. I ripped my eyes from Derek. He smiled. “Hungry?”
I nodded. Demetrie lifted his hand and motioned for the servants, who I hadn’t noticed until now. They had been nearly invisible in the corner of the room. They rushed forward at the Prince’s bidding and began serving us. I sat back in my chair, trying to get out of their way. Demetrie sat back too, but to study me with amusement.
After a while, his gaze began to make me nervous. “Yes?”
He stroked his chin hairs with his finger. “You have never been waited upon before, have you?” Before I could answer, he continued. “Your boldness suggests otherwise; however, your actions confuse me.”
I thought through my answer before I spoke. “How so?” It seemed like a safe question.
“You speak freely, which leads me to believe that in New York you were a woman of power. Royalty perhaps, yet now you act as if you are uncomfortable.”
I almost snorted. Royalty!? Before I opened my big fat mouth, I considered my options. Would being royalty get me a better chance of getting free? It couldn’t hurt, could it? “You’re right.”
Demetrie sat forward, completely intrigued. “A Princess?”
Should I? I bit my lower lip. “Yes.”
A smile so bright lit his face that I couldn’t help but smile back. “Why did you not tell us earlier? We could have avoided this whole mess.”
“I…” Damn. How do I explain this now? “I didn’t know if you were an enemy to my land. As I said before…I’m not exactly sure how I got here. I didn’t want you to use me as a ransom…I had to be sure you weren’t the ones who brought me here.” It amazed me how easily the lies spilled out of my mouth. They sounded like a bunch of crap to me, but maybe he would believe them.
Demetrie pondered my answer. The longer it took the more nervous I became. “That was very brave of you,” he finally said.
I sighed in relief. He believes me. “Thank you.”
“And foolish,” he continued harshly. “You could have really been hurt.” Worry suddenly crossed his perfect face. His blue eyes caught mine and held them. “I hope it is not too late to set things straight. I do not want a beautiful Princess such as you to hate my land or my people.”
Beautiful? My cheeks heated. I had no words to say, but I could not look away.
“I will demand your release from that room immediately.” He looked to Derek standing at the door, who hurried forward. “Spread the word to Captain Gray and the others that Princess Jennifer is to be released at once.”
Derek nodded, though I could tell from his face that he did not like the thought. After a moment, he left the room to deliver the message.
Demetrie’s bright gaze fell on me once again. I stared at my plate shyly and speared a grape with my fork, popping it into my mouth, holding off conversation for a while longer. This is exactly what I wanted, but there is one problem… “I don’t have anywhere to stay…”
“You will stay here of course. I mean…if that is to your liking. I will dispatch a messenger at once to travel to your land of New York and inform your King that we have found you and that you are safe. Then when we have arranged a safe passage back to your land I will escort you myself,” he said with a proud smile.
Hope began to stir. This just might work. “What about Mary…?”
His smile faded and I instantly kicked myself for bringing it up. “We will continue to search the forest for her. I am afraid there is nothing more we can do….we must move on…as best we can.”
I remembered what Claire had said about sensing what was supposed to happen next. It was obvious from the Prince’s expression that his world had been thrown out of whack. In a sick way, I felt guilty. It’s not my fault! I argued with myself. I speared another grape and chewed as I thought.
Breakfast continued in silence. The Prince was so lost in his thoughts that he hardly noticed I was there. I was fine with no conversation. What now? I had asked that question a million times since arriving.
Derek entered again, followed by Claire. She bowed. “When milady is finished, I will show her to her new room.”
Demetrie nodded. I stood. “I am finished now.” I turned to the prince and curtsied awkwardly. “Thank you for breakfast.”
He too stood and bowed back to me. This could be interesting, I thought. Claire escorted me out of the room. We walked in silence. Instead of walking down the hall to my prison, we turned down a different hall. The rugs on the floor were so rich I could practically feel them through the slippers I was wearing. She opened a wooden door and stepped in, motioning with me to follow.
I stepped into a fairytale, not to say that everything that had happened so far hadn’t been out of the norm, but this room was beautiful. As a child, I had dreamed of having a bed with a real canopy. The bed was so big that it actually had a small stepping stool to get up. The vanity was huge. There was a balcony with glass doors. Heavy drapes were pulled away from it to let light in. The balcony looked out over the town. Snow covered the small bench that I could just imagine sitting on while I read in the summer time. I looked around, taking in every detail. The red rugs that were laced with gold. The velvet drapes surrounding the bed, the dark wood of the wardrobe, the many brushes and bottles lining the vanity, the small table surrounded by two chairs in the corner for tea and biscuits.
Claire watched my reactions and narrowed her eyes. She closed the door behind us and turned to me with her hands on her hips. “You are not really a Princess are you?”