I put daddy’s key into the elevator’s keyhole and was directly driven into the greenhouse.
It was a wonderful afternoon. The sun shone on the little pagoda, which was built in the middle of a small lake, which was actually more like a pool. The sun rays seemed to play with red leaves of the maple tree, that stood on the other side of the lake.
Slowly I moved towards the small bridge, which led to the pagoda, to sit on a little bench in the shadow of a cherry tree.
Once there, I sat down and closed my eyes. The feel of the sun’s warmth on my skin felt so good. I guess I was a sunbather in my former life...
Suddenly, I had a feeling that I wasn’t alone anymore.
Out of curiosity, I opened my eyes and saw somebody on the bridge, who was moving towards me.
The sun’s rays met his long, blond hair and wearing a white tuxedo, with small lily crosses embroidered on his lapel collar, he looked like a king: Malachy.
My heart stopped for a moment at the sight of him. Nervously I stood up from the bench and smiled at him.
“Malachy”. I couldn’t get any more out of my lips.
He seemed to hesitate for a moment, looking dumbfounded, but then his expression was replaced by a smile, that started at his lips and found it’s way to his eyes. It looked like his golden eyes would mirror the sun.
“You remember me?”
I took a step toward him. Somewhat embarrassed, I starred at the golden embroidery in the form of a lily cross on this lapel collar.
“How could I forget our encounter?” While speaking these words, I noticed the warmth that flooded my cheeks and I sincerely hoped that I was wearing enough layers of make-up to cover my blush.
I was wondering, why he was dressed in white, just like the debutants. All other men that I have seen in the foyer before, or even on old photographs of earlier debutant-balls, were always and without exception dressed in black.
Therefore I asked him curiously: “Are you a debutant as well?”
That comment made him roar with laughter. He really seemed to have serious issues to calm himself down.
It would have been better to have kept my mouth shut. The situation was embarrassing enough, as it was.
After torturing me with the rules of the etiquette for months, it took me only one sentence, to put my foot in it. Now, he knew that I wasn’t as tough, as I pretended to be.
Malachy cleared his throat to get back his countenance.
Then he went on: “I am sorry Maggie! I didn’t want to make fun of you. How did you get this idea of me being a debutant?”
I wasn’t hearing what he said, because my stupid brain was doing cartwheels over the fact, that he remembered my name. After some seconds I noticed him looking at me expectantly. ′Great! Now he thinks that I am dumb as well. I will never lose my blush near him.′
Embarrassed, I asked him to repeat his question.
He patiently asked his question again.
This time I answered directly: “Because you’re wearing white. So far, I have only seen men in black tuxedos, including old photographs from former debutant-balls.”
Malachy looked at me in amusement. It seemed like he was paying close attention to his answer.
Then he explained: “There is one exception. The Aristocracy’s leader is wearing white to such important social events, in order to identify himself or herself clearly as the king or the queen.”
I stared at him with eyes as big as saucers. Slowly I became aware of the extent of his words and mumbled horrified: “Oh my god!”
He had to laugh heartily at my reaction again, whereupon he was shaking his head.
He then replied rhetorically: “You had no idea, did you?”
I shook my head in embarrassment. Could the ground please open up and swamp me completely?
He moved a little closer to me, thereby taking my heart-shaped diamond pendant between his fingers.
“So you belong to the ‘House of Warriors’. What is your name?”
His proximity caused butterflies to fly in my stomach and made my knees get shaky. “My name is Margarete Romanov, member of Clan Romanov, which belongs to the royal ‘House of Warriors’.
He moved back a little bit and let go of my pendant.
“I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, again, Miss Margarete Romanov, from the royal ‘House of Warriors’. My name is James Malachy Stuart, leader of Clan Stuart and Regent of the royal ‘house of regents’.”
Now it was my turn to move back one step in order to curtsey, because that’s what you do, when a regent or king is standing right in front of you. At least now my training in etiquette came in handy.
Malachy laughed again. I was completely exhausted emotionally.
Then, he offered me his arm and replied in amusement: “It is getting late. You shouldn’t be late to the ball. This privilege is reserved for me, only.”
I nodded in agreement and took his arm as if in trance and let myself be brought back to the elevator.
When the doors closed and I was finally alone, I leaned with my back on the wall, closed my eyes and breathed in and out for several times. That was a crazy coincident and the ball hadn’t even started. I used Daddy’s key to drive myself back into the suite.
As soon as the elevator doors opened again, I saw a big crowd of people in front of me. The complete Clan Romanov seemed to have gathered in the foyer of the suite and they seemed to be waiting for me.
Niklas headed straight into my direction.
“It is about time, Margarete! The missing jewellery has just arrived.”
He pointed his finger at one of the stylists. “You there, help my daughter put on the missing jewellery.”
He was holding another black velvet box in his hand, which was even bigger than the previous one. Seriously, what was it with all the small and medium-sized black boxes?
Inside the box was an upper arm bracelet and a tiara with many little diamonds, which were put together into the symbol of a lily cross. In addition to that, the lily cross was unmistakeably inlayed into the golden frames of both pieces of jewellery in diverse places.
I looked at Niklas in horror. “What does that mean?”
Niklas face turned into a cold, maliciously grinning mask. “What stupid questions are you asking? Isn’t it obvious that you would need jewellery with the symbol of the ‘House of Regents’ on the day of your official introduction into the Aristocracy’s high society, which also happens to be the official proclamation of your legal claim to the throne?”
At that moment I felt pure horror.
Darius was able to catch some parts of our conversation, but it was too late. The trap had been set and I walked into it willingly and unknowingly.
Niklas took my arm and led me to the elevator.
On our way down, he whispered in my ear: “Be a good girl and behave yourself. The whole Clan Romanov depends on you, doing your job well. And you should also consider your brothers. Adrian and Darius should not be the ones to suffer from your, let’s call it ... inability.”
I felt completely numb.
Shortly before the elevator doors closed, I saw Darius rushing through the suite into our direction, but he was too late. Before he was able to reach us, the doors had already been closed and the elevator had started to move downwards.
Angry as he was, he hit the wall so hard with his fist, that he left a big, deep hole in it.
The heads of everyone present in the room, turned to him in horror. Adrian took Rebecca’s arm and led her into Darius direction, while Amie was also on her way to him.
She got there first and asked in excitement: “What is wrong? Did something happen?”
Darius turned around with an angry face. “Yes indeed, it certainly did!”
He moved towards her and took her hand to pull her out of the suite and into the hallway. With a nod of his head towards Adrian and then into the direction of the hallway, he made Adrian and Rebecca follow, as well.
Everyone else in the room was still looking back and forth between the damaged wall and an angry Darius. Then, they shook their heads in disagreement and pressed the button to call the elevator.
They had to leave for the ballroom. Time was short. The debutant-ball would start any minute.
Adrian came around the corner with Rebecca in tow.
“Darius, what is wrong? I have never seen you lose your temper like this – especially not in public.”
Darius wrestled to regain his composure while pacing up and down, like a tiger caught in a cage.
Meanwhile, he explained angrily: “Daddy Niklas is happening! He obviously managed to increase his malice. I am afraid, that he wants to cause a big scandal and Maggie is going to be it’s trigger and centre. Shortly before he pushed her into the elevator, I saw him patting a tiara on her head- with the symbol of the ‘House of Regents’.”
Amie put her hands in front of her mouth in dismay and Adrian looked incredulous.
Then he asked: “What does that mean?”
Darius replied: “Nothing good! Right now I am not sure what exactly is going on. I assume that he wants to use her for some sort of crazy and dangerous power play. Maybe that’s the reason why he wouldn’t tell her, who her birth mother was.”
Amie frowned. “I don’t understand what the symbol of the ‘House of Regents’ would have to do with that?”
Darius looked at her. “Due to my lack of information, I can only guess that he wants to present her as a mix of royal houses, emphasizing the ‘House of Regents’, in order to gain more power.”
Amie obviously became nervous and gasped for air. “Do you think he is going to reveal the secret about her real mother? He can’t do that to her, at such an important and official event!!!”
Adrian first pressed his lips together, then he replied with an ice-cold stare: “We are talking about Niklas, here! Of course he can do this to her. If you think about it, that’s exactly his style.”
Rebecca looked at her wrist watch and interrupted the heated conversation. “I am sorry, that I have to interrupt your talk, but we need to go into the ballroom, or otherwise we will be late.”
Darius nodded at her in agreement. “We should go. One scandal caused by Clan Romanov per day is surely enough.”
He moved towards the elevator in the hallway. The others followed him.
The nightmare started, when the elevator door opened to the rooms, that were situated behind the ballroom, in which all twenty debutants were gathered before the official beginning of the event.
Niklas pretty much pushed me out of the elevator, before he pressed the button, which closed the doors again.
Rooted to the spot I stood there between all these girls, dressed in beautiful white ball gowns, and was hopelessly overwhelmed.