The Forbidden Life - A Vampire Love Story

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

DINNER THAT night was agonizing. It wasn’t enough that everyone else appeared to have been advised to go after a high lord or a prince, they were also mocking the poor oafish Calbert Henton. They were dining on a Greek cuisine of fresh fish and giant ripe tomatoes, but Vivienne didn’t have much of an appetite.

“He looks like the bastard son of a cyclops,” the Panther girl said.

“Imagine discovering at the end of the Midnight Masquerade that you’re bonded to Calbert Henton!” the Red Crane girl said. “You would throw yourself into the Anthias sea.”

“How could that be a surprise?” Panther girl interjected. “Not even the most cleverly designed mask could hide his giant head. You can see that coming from a mile away. He’ll be banging it against the chandeliers.”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” White Tiger added, gleefully. “If one of you girls becomes his Orlin, you can buy yourself a giant hat to match with your Anemoi. Your parents at home can always find you in a crowd when they snap pictures of balls. My mom would love it.”

“Then you take him!” Panther girl joked. “He’s all yours.”

“Only if Prince Venus absolutely refuses to consider me,” White Tiger replied. Prince Venus was one of the three princes up for an Orlin this year.

The other two were Prince Mercury and Prince Mars. They were all nicknamed by the Pearl Tower. Reportedly, Prince Mercury was extremely handsome and charming although he did have a reputation of being unable to sleep in the same girl’s bed for two nights in a row. Prince Mercury has been a prince longer than any of the other princes, and there were reports the king was grooming him for succession. He had only now been convinced to take on an Orlin. He reportedly refused to consume Nectar because he didn’t see how it could improve on perfection.

Prince Mars was a mystery. He was the newest member of the royal line of succession. He had just been appointed to the status of being a prince earlier this year. Prince Mars gained his nickname because he was rumored to be appointed ownership of a famous ancient fortress that had once been used to defend Coral City during wartime. Both Princes were very sought after commodities during the Midnight Masquerade. The girls who gained their favor would have a chance at becoming Queen.

The girls fawned over the idea of becoming Prince Mars’ choice, but for once Vivienne felt superior in her knowledge of royalty. She knew not to waste her time on Prince Mars. He was probably going to pick a male Orlin because his childhood love died tragically. He’s never shown any interest in women at all. In fact, there were virtually no pictures of him anywhere. Maybe he was hideous.

Prince Mercury was a wasteland of a husband, but he would make a very devoted Anemoi. As long as his Orlin avoided falling in love with him, she would be absolutely fine. Janun had remarked that with Vivienne’s lack of interest in men, Prince Mercury could not be a more perfect choice for her.

Unfortunately, Panther girl was also plotting to go after Prince Mercury. Her sister had been one of Prince Mercury’s past lovers. She was certain she knew enough about his tastes to dominate his attention during the Midnight Masquerade.

Vivienne left dinner early to head to bed. On her way back to the rooms, she passed the courtyard where Sallen was sitting by herself. She had a stunned expression on her face. Vivienne stopped by and wondered what in the world could be wrong. Sallen’s meeting with Lord Henton could not possibly have been worse.

“Hey,” Vivienne asked. “Are you okay?”

Sallen looked up and showed Vivienne a letter she was holding.

“What’s that?” Vivienne asked and sat down beside her. “Is it from your parents? Did something happen back home?”

“No,” Sallen responded. “Lord Kruther sent me a letter. One of Lord Henton’s guards gave it to me. He’s interested in me. He wants to meet with me early on during the Midnight Masquerade.”

“And?” Vivienne asked. She struggled to recall who Lord Kruther was. Then it occurred to her. He was Lord Morrigan’s second in command. That meant he was going to be Lord Morrigan’s replacement as ruler of the province of Ignias. “You’re going to say yes to Lord Kruther?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Sallen asked, her eyes flashing with hope. “He’s better than I could have hoped for. I’m so happy; I’m speechless.”

“Isn’t Lord Kruther a bit bald and greasy?” Vivienne blurted out and then regretted it right away.

“Oh stop it, Vivienne!” Sallen responded defensively. “I think he has a nice smile.” Sallen paused and stared at the letter. “I’m two months away from eighteen. It’s not like I’m going to land a royal Anemoi.”


The day before the Midnight Masquerade, each of the inductees was measured for a mask made of gold lace. The mask was supposed to conceal them from forehead to the tip of their noses. Their faces were to be entirely hidden. This was to ensure that the guests could concentrate on finding the strongest bond instead of simply being attracted to the most beautiful faces. The Anemois were also masked but in black instead of gold.

Lord Henton was present again to observe the fitting and to ensure everything was going smoothly. After Vivienne was measured for her mask but before she was summoned to the wardrobe room to be measured for her gown, she bumped into Calbert again. His tie was looser today, but his collar was misbuttoned in order to accommodate his neck. He fiddled with it now and then as though it was still too tight. There were beads of sweat forming over his forehead as he paced back and forth in front of the girl’s wardrobe room.

“Hey, Calbert,” Vivienne said as she approached him in the courtyard. “Making any progress with the girls yet?”

He shook his head. “Why are they all so pretty? My mouth goes dry at the thought of them.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Vivienne replied and gave him her best hearty guy-pat on the back.

“You have a nice voice, but you’re weak,” Calbert said. “You need to do some push-ups.”

“Well, my father is a professor. We can’t all be farm boys who are built like bulls.”

“That is true,” Calbert mused as though she had made a revolutionary observation.

“Hey,” Vivienne said as she tugged him to a corner of the courtyard. “Your uncle is a big-shot in this entire Midnight Masquerade business. I’m just curious, what do you know about Nectar. Like, what exactly it is?”

Calbert shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person, my friend. I don’t know much about anything.”

Vivienne frowned. “All right, how about this, why is that the princes are constantly disappearing and getting replaced? What is happening to them?”

“Oh,” Calbert smiled. “That one I do know. But it’s a secret.”

“What is a secret among friends?” Vivienne demanded. “I did save your life after all. I’m your best bud. I’ve been telling all the girls here good things about you. You might just get lucky at the Midnight Masquerade this year.”

“Okay,” Calbert replied, slowly. “But you have to promise not to tell. The princes are killed. I’ve seen it happen. The Royals are vicious.”

“What do you mean?” Vivienne demanded. “You’ve seen it happen? How?”

“I can’t tell you any more,” Calbert whispered and backed away.

“Wait, come back!” Vivienne demanded. “All right, I won’t ask you any more about the princes. Why don’t we go have some snacks?”

Calbert sighed and shook his head. He sat down and stared at the tiles of the courtyard as though he didn’t want to make eye contact. “Buddy,” Calbert finally said. “You’re so talented but please don’t go after Prince Venus or any of Princes.”

“Why?” Vivienne demanded. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Everyone wants to be the most powerful. Not everyone can be. They won’t stop drinking the Nectar.” Calbert looked up and stared at her with pure fear in his eyes. “It makes them do horrible things.”


Blake walked surprisingly fast for a boy with a cane. After he died, she would always dream of him disappearing into the fog the vampire graveyard. In those dreams, no matter how fast she ran she couldn’t catch up with him. But on that day when he took her to that deserted area outside of River Way, he took her hand in his and helped her along the rocky pathways.

“I come here to be alone,” he told her. “I feel understood here, almost as if I belong.”

Vivienne looked around her and only saw broken columns, fragments of rails and dead trees. This might have once been a giant outdoor stadium of sorts, but now it laid in ruins. She and Blake were standing at the entrance of the arena, as though they were greeting thousands of ghost spectators in the ancient stands.

“Imagine walking out of the darkness of the holding area and into the light. The torches blazing in a circle around you,” Blake ordered and then pointed into the far end of the stadium. “You come face to face with a pair of red glowing eyes. It notices you. It comes closer. It hungers for your blood.”

“Am I armed?” Vivienne demanded. “Can I stab it in the heart?”

Blake chuckled at her and pointed dramatically behind her. “Fire, Vivienne. You need to burn it with one those torches. There isn’t enough time. It will reach you before you can reach the stands. The creature moves impossibly fast.”

“I have a concealed dagger up my sleeve!” Vivienne said with a happy squeal. “I’ll stab it to slow it down.” She poked Blake in the side with her imaginary dagger. He bared his teeth at her, his eyes wild with excitement.

“You only made it angry,” he hissed back and caught her by the waist. Her father called Blake the Tuxedo Brat for his impeccable attention to dress and complete disregard for her father’s lessons. On that day, Vivienne recalled Blake was wearing just a soft white shirt that felt ridiculously comfortable against her cheek. She could feel the warmth of his skin, the sound of his heart beating underneath. It was nearly impossible to think about the terrifying vampires while his strong arms were around her.

“And where are you while I’m being attacked by vampires?” Vivienne asked.

“I’m sitting in the stands of course,” Blake replied with an evil smirk. “Over there,” he pointed at the section directly across from them. “In the Thorne Family seats. We have the best view.”

“And you’re enjoying the view of my death?”

“Of course not, Vivienne. I’m begging them to spare your life.” Blake threw up his hands. “I’m afraid it’s no use. I’m afraid I’ll just have to throw myself to the vampires in despair.”

“Sounds romantic. My father would approve.”

“My mother would be furious,” Blake said with a chuckle. “She would have to invent some wild story to account for my death like she did my father’s.” Blake untangled himself from her and took a couple of the steps to the right. “Look at this, right here. Some brave warrior did precisely what you did hundreds of years ago.” Blake got down on his hands and knees and clawed through the dirt with his fingers. In a matter of minutes, a solid white rock emerged from the ground.

“Blake,” Vivienne said as she tugged on his sleeve. “That is a human skull.”

“No, not a human skull.” Blake cleared away another fist full of dirt and revealed a broken jaw. He tugged a tooth loose and cleaned it with the hem of his shirt. In any other circumstance, she would have been amused to see the famous Blake Thorne getting down and filthy. No one would have believed it if she tried to spread the tale. But she quickly saw why he was acting so out of character; he showed her a long curved tooth. It was much longer and sharper than that of a human.

“It’s a fang,” he whispered. “A vampire died here on this very spot.”

“What are you going to do with it?” she asked.

He smiled. “We’re going to keep it and prove it to them. We know the truth.” He placed the fang in her palm. “Do you believe me now?”

Vivienne nodded.

“They killed my father,” Blake whispered and folded her fingers closed around the fang. “I will never forget that.”


Vivienne’s nightmares were back. On the night before the Midnight Masquerade, she dreamed of Blake again. They were standing in the vampire graveyard again. He was holding the cameo necklace on the gold chain. He begged her not to throw it away and to remember him. In her darkest dreams, she promised that she would never forget.

She started to wonder if it was a sign. Calbert Henton would make a good match for her. He could unwittingly help her find out what happened to Allison. He was too stupid to stop her from using his family to her advantage. Maybe then she could find out the truth that Blake died trying to uncover. There was just the question of the bond. Madame Jayger said that the bond was a meeting of soulmates. When it was right, a simple touch would feel like the joining of spirits. Some have reported it to feel sweet and warm whereas others described it as being like lightning passing through their fingertips. Vivienne just hoped that Calbert’s hands weren’t as sweaty as his forehead.

On the day of the Midnight Masquerade apart from their masks, each inductee was dressed in a costume of a different color. This was to help the rest of the guests tell them apart. Each of the girls received a different gown from the designers of Coral City. Since the event was often photographed by the media, the gowns were increasingly dramatic every year. As Vivienne was led into the wardrobe room, Madame Kenner told her that Hirak Louis, himself, had designed Vivienne’s gown after seeing a picture of her raven black hair and ferocious blue eyes.

Her gown was pure black, trimmed with blue feathers around the collar. Wearing it, Vivienne felt as though she was transformed into a dark swan. With every step, the gown moved like the flapping of magnificent black wings. Her arms were covered with black lace that ended at her wrist. Her silver chain stood out sharply, glittering with every swing of her arms.

Taking pictures of the inductees was forbidden, but they always leaked out. Thankfully, the attention normally died down after the Midnight Masquerade. But in the days leading up to the grand ball, the coverage permeated into every corner of the world. Vivienne wondered if her friends at home were placing bets on whether she or Sallen would score a prince. Maybe her mother was already showing her friends pictures of a high lord and proclaiming him to be her future son-in-law.

In the wardrobe room, they brought her florescent contacts for her eyes. The contacts were meant to disguise her true eye color so she could not be recognized. They painted her nails with gold and stuck precious jewels on her fingertips.

Before departing for the ball, each of the inductees was given a long silver chain. It was the counterpart to the bracelet they were given on the first day. The silver chain was for their new Anemoi to wear around their neck to denote that they had found an Orlin. The inductees were told to wrap it around their chosen Anemoi’s hand and to clasp hands. If the bond was successful, the chain would turn gold.

There would be eight dances total at the ball. The first four were for the Orlin and lords only. The last four included the high lords and princes as well. An Anemoi made an offer to dance by offering his right hand. An offer to form a bond was made by additionally placing his left hand on top of the Orlin’s hand. If the offer was accepted the Orlin would wrap the silver chain around their clasped hands. If the offer was refused, the Orlin could simply withdraw and seek another dancing partner.

Madame Jyger told them to choose carefully. The bond, once formed, could not be reversed. Also, to refuse even more carefully, an offer would be made only once.

Vivienne found Sallen outside of the grand ballroom where the guests had already begun to arrive. Vivienne was finding it hard to see out of her translucent contacts and with the gold mask on top, but Sallen was easiest to find as she was wearing her platform shoes again.

“You look beautiful,” Vivienne remarked as a peace offering for calling her future Anemoi greasy and bald. Sallen was wearing a pine green gown trimmed with pink fur sleeves. Over her cheeks, they had painted swirls of silver flourishes decorated with diamonds. Vivienne felt plain in comparison with her meager feathered collar.

“So is yours,” Sallen replied, looking up and down Vivienne’s relatively plain black gown. Vivienne noticed that Sallen was fingering Lord Kruther’s letter that she had concealed in her furry sleeve.

“Are you going to go through with it?” Vivienne asked.

Sallen nodded gravely. All the silver paint in the world could not conceal how colorless her cheeks were. She looked like she was staring death in the face.

“You don’t have to, you know.” Vivienne offered. “You might get a better offer. Is there anyone else at all you like better?”

Sallen stared longingly at the grand staircase. There, behind the curtain, Panther and her friend the Crane had gathered. They were both pointing and giggling. Panther was wearing a red dress decorated with hundreds of sparkling rubies. Crane was wearing a yellow gown with orange leopard spots.

“See those girls there?” Sallen asked. “They’re barely sixteen. One of them told me she spends her summers in the courts in Coral City. How can we compete with them? Do you think you can outcharm someone like that?”

“No, probably not,” Vivienne replied in agreement.

“There are only three princes, Vivienne,” Sallen said. “They’re not going to pick people like us.”

“Oh, I am not worried. I already know who I’m going to pick,” Vivienne said in reply.

“Who?” Sallen demanded.

“You’ll see, it’s a surprise,” Vivienne smiled at her.

Sallen’s eyes widened. “Prince Mercury?”

Vivienne laughed. “No, I never wanted a Prince. I’m going after someone else. I don’t understand why anyone would want a Prince. Who wants that kind of attention?”

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Sallen replied with a sigh. For a moment Sallen looked as though she might cry at the thought of how wonderful it would be. Vivienne reached out and gave Sallen’s shoulder a squeeze.

“They picked the silver phoenix for you,” Vivienne said. “Maybe you’ll rise from the ashes and take everyone by surprise.” Outside, the music was starting to play. In the beginning, there was a harp and then continued onto wind instruments. It was starting.

“You too, Vivienne,” Sallen replied with a nod. “You’ll figure something out, you always do. You’re so cunning. You might get Prince Mercury, yet.” Vivienne almost felt guilty for revealing to Sallen her plot to get Prince Mercury by not falling in love with him. It was evident to her that Sallen honestly believed in offering her heart and soul to the Anemoi who chose her. It made Vivienne all the more resolved in her plan to court Calbert Henton.

Vivienne noticed Madame Kenner waving her over to the curtains. She was managing the entrance of the inductees down the stairs one at a time, and it was evident that Vivienne’s turn was up. As Vivienne walked away, she glanced back and saw Sallen stroking the letter again. The crowds were clapping like thunder at the entrance of Panther and Crane down the grand staircase. Vivienne swallowed hard as she glimpsed the sparkling splendor behind the velvet curtains. She had never seen so much rose marble and flowing champagne in all her life. Panther curtsied dramatically at the bottom of the staircase. She already had the air and grace of a princess.

Vivienne felt dangerously out of place. There, in her midnight black gown, she felt like an evil stepsister at Cinderella’s ball. As she came down the marble steps, she saw only a sea of faces, some masked, some not, all of them strangers. She searched the crowds for a familiar face. She saw Calbert standing by one of the archways leading into the courtyard. He ducked out of the ballroom before she was halfway down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, she was left standing awkwardly until a young man with short blond hair and a fitted black mask held out his hand for her to dance. With immense relief, she took his hand and allowed him to twirl her around the ballroom. He held her gaze with his soft brown eyes. He had appeared out of nowhere like a prince charming from a midnight ball.

“Wistera?” he whispered and clasped her right hand with both of his. A soft, warm feeling went through Vivienne with each touch of his skin, like sunshine on an enchanted beach. He squeezed her fingers, inviting her to complete the bond. “Do you remember me? I gave you the cherry chocolates last summer.”

Vivienne felt her face turn red. He had mistaken her for someone else! She jumped back. Panic shot through him. He caught her hand before she could escape.

“Wait, Wistera,” he pleaded. “Please consider my offer.”

Vivienne pointed at Panther in all her ruby splendor dancing with every high lord in the room. Understanding flickered through his eyes. The blond boy suddenly understood that he had been dancing with the wrong girl.

“I’m so sorry!” He blurted out and backed away.

***

No one invited her to dance the next song. Vivienne caught sight of Sallen dancing with a hefty masked gentleman with a gleaming bald head. That must be her Lord Kruther. Sallen was smiling graciously at her dancing partner, as though she was the luckiest girl in the world. Vivienne wished she could summon half as much strength.

“Hey Pretty-Eyes,” a voice called out. Vivienne looked up and saw Simon standing underneath an archway. He was holding a mink fur capette. It clearly belonged to the voluptuous goddess of a lady standing beside him. That must be his Anemoi. She was chatting with a masked high lord who looked much more absorbed by her than by the possibility of finding an Orlin.

“Pretty-Eyes,” Simon said, mockingly. “Slacking off as always?”

“I’m trying!” Vivienne snapped in return. Simon gestured at the doorway where a crowd of finely dressed guests had gathered.

“The Royals are coming. Get them while they’re hot!” He winked at her.

Vivienne made a show of heading toward the main entrance, but instead, she slipped into the archway where Calbert had disappeared. She found him sitting in the courtyard, bathed in moonlight. At the sound of her footsteps, he glanced up and nearly fell out of his seat.

“Lady,” he gasped. “I didn’t know you were meeting someone here. Let me get out of your way.”

“Wait,” Vivienne said and caught him by the sleeve. “Don’t leave. Aren’t you here at the ball to find an Orlin?”

“Yes,” Calbert said and swallowed thickly. His mask was lop-sided. His eyes were darting back and forth like a trapped animal. “I come every year.”

“Would you like to dance?” Vivienne asked. She reached out with her right hand. The silver bracelet glittered in the moonlight. At the sight of it, he blushed deeply.

“I’m not a good dancer,” he whispered hoarsely and backed away. “I am afraid I’m going to disappoint you.” He turned to run away, but Vivienne tugged harder on his sleeve.

“Calbert!” she snapped. “How are you going to find an Orlin if you run away?”

He froze in his steps. Slowly, Calbert turned around to face her. The sound of his labored breathing suddenly ceased. Vivienne realized she had taken his breath away.

“You...you’re...”

“Yes,” Vivienne replied. Although it was against the rules, she removed her mask. There was no one where to see anyway. Vivienne tilted her face up to the light so he could see her in all her glory. There she was, his wimpy friend, with her hair done up in a cascade of glossy black curls. She smiled at him, knowing the red and gold lipstick they had applied made her mouth look luscious and full. He looked up and down, from the hem of her flowing black dress to the top of her laced corset to her narrow pale shoulders. Slowly, his eyes lit up as though he was seeing an angel come to life.

“You’re a girl!” He gasped. “You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen!”

“Yes,” she replied with a smirk. “I’m a girl. Took you long enough to figure that out.” Vivienne offered him her hand again, this time to shake. “I’m Vivienne Salome.”

Calbert rubbed his hand against his pants one last time before seizing her hand in his. He squeezed much too hard in his enthusiasm, and she had to hide a wince.

“Not so hard!”

“Sorry!” Calbert exclaimed.

Vivienne leaned in closer. “Would you like to be my Anemoi, Calbert?” she whispered. After he loosened his grip, she noticed that his touch was warm and sweet. It was like embracing a puppy dog. That was good enough for her. Calbert stared at her blankly.

“Ahem,” Vivienne repeated. “Would you like to enter into this bond with me?”

It was only then that Calbert fully registered what she was asking. He turned even paler and nodded vigorously. Vivienne smiled to herself. That was easy. She showed him the silver chain. He immediately clasped her hand with both of his. She wrapped the silver chain around their hands.

“With this I thee bond,” she said. “Together, two souls one grave.”

Calbert repeated after her and slowly, inch by inch, the chain turned to gold.


Vivienne stumbled her way back to the ballroom. No one had told her that the bond would knock the wind out of her. Her knees were still shaking, and her back was soaked with cold sweat. She weakly leaned against one of the columns of the archway. She saw Simon whispering to a pretty girl only a couple of feet away. She wasn’t ready to explain why her chain was gold yet.

Vivienne sneaked the gold chain into the lace of her sleeve, concealing it from sight. She had left Calbert sitting in the courtyard. It had taken a stronger toll on him than it had on her. She hadn’t even placed his gold chain around his neck. She had simply left it in his lap before she left. Vivienne wasn’t sure why, but the moment after the bond was completed she couldn’t stand the sight of him.

She leaned against the rose marble and found the cameo necklace she had concealed inside her sleeve. She always kept it on her in the Pearl Tower for fear that it would be discovered among her things. At that moment, she held it for reassurance that she made the right choice. The gold chain around the cameo seemed to be more fitting at that moment. It glittered ever brighter at that moment as though fate was smiling at her.

A flurry of green ribbons appeared before her. Vivienne blinked twice before she realized it was Sallen.

“I’m so happy I finally found you,” Sallen gasped and threw her arms around Vivienne’s shoulders. “They’re all going to be so angry with me!”

“Who?” Vivienne asked and nearly collapsed under Sallen’s weight.

“Everyone!” Sallen sobbed. “I couldn’t go through with it! I couldn’t stand the thought of being bonded to that ugly old monster forever! I even wrapped the chain around our hands, but I ran away at the last possible second.”

“Calm down!” Vivienne said and patted Sallen on the back. Sallen hadn’t gone through with it. Vivienne struggled to feel happy for her friend.

“Everyone was watching! I’ve humiliated him. Who is going to want me now?”

“Sit down,” Vivienne ordered, more for her own benefit than for Sallen’s. “Don’t cry.”

“Oh Vivienne, I thought about what you said about wanting something better. I just couldn’t give up hope.” Sallen was shaking with sobs now. Vivienne wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her close.

“You’re going to find a prince,” Vivienne whispered into Sallen’s ear. Even as she said it, Vivienne didn’t really believe it. The dance floor was swarming with guests struggling for a glimpse of the princes. Vivienne saw flashes of glittery ruby and orange at the center of the crowd. It looked like Panther and Crane were dominating the attention of the princes. It was the sixth dance. There were only two left. As the music twinkled to a finish, Vivienne noticed Panther chase one of the leaving princes to the edge of the ballroom. She grasped his unwilling hand for another dance.

“Let someone else have a chance!” A drunken guest yelled. Vivienne noted with glee that it was Simon. He pointed directly at Vivienne and Sallen’s direction.

“Yes!” Vivienne exclaimed. She saw her chance. Vivienne grasped Sallen’s hand and dragged her to the dance floor. Vivienne shoved Sallen in front of the red-headed prince. She recognized him by his hair as Prince Mars. He was the one Panther had devoted all her attention to which means that he was probably the better catch. Sallen, however, was frozen in terror. Prince Mars wasn’t exactly an approachable figure. He was tall, slender, and perfectly composed. He glared angrily at the two of them. Finally, he seized Sallen’s hand and placed a perfunctory kiss on it.

“My apologies, my lady,” Prince Mars said. “I must be on my way.” The crowd groaned in disappointment. Prince Mars seemed only mildly concerned at their displeasure. He gave Sallen a curt nod. His curly red hair fell into his eyes. “Really,” he apologized. “I mean no offense.” To Vivienne, he offered a more vicious glare as though he was aware that she was the orchestrator of this awkward situation.

“Sir!” Sallen exclaimed, in embarrassment. “Please, go on your way.”

Prince Mars turned to leave, but then he stopped in his steps. He turned around.

“What’s that you are wearing?” he asked Sallen. Vivienne realized with frenzied horror that her cameo necklace had gotten caught on Sallen’s fur sleeve. Before Vivienne could act, Sallen lifted her arm and showed him the necklace. Vivienne acted on instinct; she reached out and snatched it back.

“It’s mine,” Vivienne told him. “It’s nothing.”

Prince Mars stepped past Sallen as though she didn’t exist at all. He offered Vivienne his gloved hand.

“Will you do me the honor?” he asked. The music had already started to play. Vivienne barely had time to react before she found herself dancing with a prince. Out of the corner of her eye, Vivienne saw Panther seething with anger.

They danced across the ballroom and into a quiet area under the archway. Vivienne almost failed to notice that they had moved away from the crowd. The black dress twirled like heavenly black wings around her. The way he carried across the ballroom, it was as though she had transformed from an evil stepsister into a swan.

“Is it really you?” The Prince whispered. Vivienne was still too stunned by the magical dance to answer. She barely noticed what was happening when the prince reached back and untied his mask. Without the mask, Vivienne felt her knees grow weak for the second time that night. Those eyes, so calmly and gently studying her. Vivienne suddenly understood everything. All the pictures she had seen of him, they had been altered to make his features sharper, more in keeping with being the Prince of Mars. His true face was only a little more angular than the boy she had known. She could almost hear his voice echoing across time. Keep this safe. Give it to me when I get back.

With trembling hands, Vivienne showed him the cameo necklace.

“Blake, this belongs to you,” she whispered.

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