Nash hung back, trembling a little, at the edge of the crowd. In his mind, he could hear his mother crying, “Mingle, Nash! Mingle!” but that only made him feel like cringing in the corner.
Beautiful people danced past him, golden hair gleaming like satin sheets, black waves glittering like dark waterfalls. A spark of longing sprang up in him— a deep yearning ache—to be part of them. He felt so alone, out of place, inadequate.
He was about to back away, give his first party without his mother as a chaperone up for lost, when one of the dancers whirled by and flashed a smile at him. Nash, his heart stopping, dropped his eyes. But after the next few beats, almost on instinct, Nash dared to look up as the magnificent creature glided past again, a young woman in his arms. He was tall, with short black hair, a marvelous toned physique, and he carried himself like a Royal, glimmering with excess power and supreme confidence, the Royal dazzle practically cascading off of him in waves. Suddenly Nash was struck by an unexpected pang of envy. He wanted to be that woman, held in that Royal’s arms, if only for one dance. Just to feel one touch….
Go get him, said a voice, which sounded a lot like his mother’s. Get out there and show him what you’ve got.
Which is what? thought Nash desperately. I’m quiet, fragile, plain, untalented… the only thing I have going for me is my family, which only recently maneuvered into the ranks of high Nobility… Nash fled desperately from the reason for their new position, guilt stabbing him for trying to gain some advantage from it, even his dismal failures at enjoying himself.
Besides, even if he did catch my eye on purpose, Royalty are notorious flirts. They’ll play with Nobility all they want but eventually take an alliance with another Royal…although those are getting scarce now that the Marches are crushing all their enemies… maybe, he dared to think, I do have a chance after all….
It’s not just a nightly dalliance I want, though. Not just for my mother’s sake—who desperately wants to secure a good match for me, ride this wave of…success, before it shows itself as an ephemeral fad. If I’m going to be that vulnerable to someone, I want something deeper. I want love.
To dare to hope for love from high Royalty! A ridiculous dream. Still… I’m here for a reason. If I’m not going to hope… then I shouldn’t be here. If I’m not going to act on that hope, then there’s no point in hoping at all… He does seem to be the only Royal here… it might be my only shot…
The song ended on a rather melancholy tone. The Royal spun to a stop and bowed to his partner, who bowed back then turned away to speak to another young woman at the edge of the crowd.
I should go say hi to him—I should introduce myself… use what little training I’ve had… embarrass myself thoroughly no doubt…
Longing and terror warred inside of him. He backed away, feeling small, weak, and ridiculous, the dress uniform stiff and unnatural, hugging his body in all the wrong places like an ill-fitting glove.
“Hello,” said a voice beside him.
Nash jumped, his back hitting the wall.
In front of him stood the magnificent Royal, holding out his hand.
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