James slowly made his way towards Margarete and Niklas.
The dancing crowd in front of him parted, to let him pass.
All eyes of the people, present in the room, were directed at the scene on the dancefloor. Even the live band stopped to play.
When Niklas turned me around, while performing a sweeping dance move, I was able to see who came directly towards my direction. Above all, I noticed Malachy’s angry glare, while he strode slowly across the hall.
I went stiff in Niklas’ arms, immediately, like a doll. Every step, that he came closer to me, made me feel queasier.
That is not, how I had pictured a reunion with him.
When Malachy stood directly in front of us, he replied: “Dear Sir Romanov. Would you do me the honour, to have me dance with your daughter?”
He offered his right hand, while asking my father’s permission to dance with me.
Every last trace of anger had vanished from his face, which seemed like a polite mask, now. Only his cold, golden eyes betrayed his real feelings and let me assume, how he really felt behind his façade.
Niklas stepped back to release me with a solemn grin. Then, he took my hand and placed it in Malachy’s, whereas he had to put his head back to be able to look into his eyes.
He added with a voice, sure of victory: “It’s an honour, your majesty!”
His solemn grin turned into a malicious one: “If I am allowed to add something: I hope to have met your exquisite taste with my little surprise. Margarete hasn’t crossed your way by accident. Let’s call it fate...”
After he spoke those poisonous words, he bowed deep.
I held my breath. How could he behave this way?
He simply moved away from us, or better said from him, without being dismissed – which was an unbelievable affront.
Some of the Ladies, which were gathered on the dancefloor, held their hands horrified in front of their mouths, watching the scene with eyes so large, they almost fell out of their sockets.
I felt so sick, that I had to put my other hand over my stomach. ′Please, don’t let me faint or vomit in front of the assembled Aristocracy.′
I noticed the tears of horror and despair, that started to gather in my eyes. Could it get any worse?
Malachy instantly noticed my change in mood. He handled the situation by pulling me closer to him, so he could easily support my weight.
Then, he laughed out loud and replied for everyone to hear: “The famous Romanov-temper! I hope his daughter didn’t inherit much of that trait.”
The fine society nodded in agreement and laughed as well. As if nothing had happened, Malachy asked the band to go on with their play, which immediately woke up from their trance and started playing – obviously relieved that there wouldn’t be any blood shed today.
The tension in the hall eased noticeably and you could almost feel a general relief.
With the beginning of the first notes, Malachy put me back into the dancing position and took the lead.
I was infinitely grateful to him, because of his sovereign way to handle the impossible situation and for giving me a break by not pushing it further. Mute like a doll and caught up in my thoughts and emotions, I let myself be moved over the dancefloor.
Niklas was an arse. It must have been his plan right from the beginning to let the situation go out of hand, therefore he sent me into the Lion’s den without preparation.
I was completely overwhelmed and angry, not with Niklas or the situation, but with me. Again I had been totally naïve and believed him unconditionally, whereas I should have known better.
Another feeling crawled up my spine, like a poisonous serpent: Shame. I wasn’t completely innocent. My naivety and especially my ignorance played well into his cards.
I was afraid to look Malachy in the eyes, so I starred at his white tuxedo and said: “I am so sorry!” Which came more out like a whimper.
He stumbled in his dance flow for a moment, otherwise he showed no sign of any other reaction to my words.
I held Maggie in my arms, while being incredibly angry.
The same girl, which touched me deeply by giving me an unexpected and valuable present at one of my darkest nights in my life. The way I pictured her as an innocent, naïve and unbelievably loving person, didn’t fit to the person that had just walked down the stairs, with her head held high, claiming my position at the top of the Aristocracy.
Right now in my arms, I couldn’t feel any of the earlier displayed audacity. On the contrary. Our physical proximity on the dancefloor, let me feel her trembling and she obviously didn’t dare to look into my eyes.
Then, I heard her trembling, powerless voice: “I am so sorry!”
After a while, I responded to her with a solid voice: “Look at me!”
Slowly, she lifted her head and looked at me. Her eyes showed no signs of audacity or malevolence.
What I saw was better described as pure panic and terror. I was overcome by the irrational feeling of wanting to protect her. I must have gone completely crazy. One nice evening with her shouldn’t give her the power over me, to assist her with my aristocratic downfall.
And still, I couldn’t stomach the idea of offering her to the beast, disguised as the high society, as punishment. And they would hurt her, if she really was the last surviving offspring of Clan Fleur de Lys.
I needed time to sort out the chaos and to see where I stood, therefore I made a decision.
Considering the Aristocracy’s hierarchy, she stood above me, but her actual Clan couldn’t provide protection for her. What protection could she expect from the insignificant Clan Romanov, when other powerful Clans decided to see her as a threat?
I was able to protect her and at the same time would be able to keep her close enough, so I could find out what her plan was.
To give vigor to my decision, I used an old, almost forgotten gesture from the Aristocracy. I bent forward, to be able to whisper into her ear.
“Maggie, put your head down a little and trust me.”
She didn’t seem to understand me, so I put both my hands at her cheeks and forced her with a little pressure to put her head down, so I could openly place a kiss on her hairline.
With this gesture she became MY chosen lady and was therefore under my protection, from now on.
Again loud murmurs could be heard in the hall, but this time they were containing amazement and dismay.
The Regent, who’s heart could never warm for any lady, had decided on a complete stranger. The reactions of those present couldn’t have been more different.
Daina clawed her finger so deep onto the throne’s backrest, that she almost shred the upholstery. Her usual mask of indifference slipped completely off her face and was replaced by an angry stare.
How could it have happened, that her James was taken away from her by a little slut, in the blink of an eye?
Adrian felt the same way.
His face turned white after the revelation of Maggie’s royal origin, but this new development added a shade of green on top. The last time he talked to her in private, she informed him that she wanted to move on with her life, leaving their relationship in the past, but he didn’t want to accept this fact.
The fact, that she belonged to the royal family and the Regent’s claim for her, made her unreachable for him. He felt as if somebody had punched him in his guts with a bat and was close to vomiting.
Amie and Darius looked at each other, as if the Lord himself had appeared in front of them.
Especially Darius, who was acquainted with James, couldn’t believe what he saw. He wouldn’t have been surprised, if a juggler were to come onto the dancefloor, to reveal the brilliant performance... But that didn’t happen.
Amie was the only one, who had a slight smile on her lips, after she had dealt with the first shock. Didn’t Maggie’s description of Malachy somehow fit to James Stuart?
The one who wasn’t able to wipe his stupid smirk off of his face, was Niklas Romanov. His eyes were filled with tears of joy.
His original plan was to sow discord and to force a scandal, but he liked the actual outcome of the event a lot more. He couldn’t have planned better, than what actually did happen.
Now, he was not only related in a direct lineage to the regent’s blood, but he had a connection to the king as well, because he chose his daughter as his lady.
It couldn’t get any better for him, with the exception of himself sitting on the throne.
At the same time, two old acquaintances met in the corner of the ballroom, who had been united by their common destiny after decades of silence.
Alexandre Rophos and Elisabeth Arone, two of the most powerful Clan leaders, had a lot to discuss.