Where was she? The ball had begun over forty five minutes ago. She was late and the constant polite introductions began to grate on me. My teeth couldn't handle much more of the grinding without breaking I was sure. I had been watching the doors each time they opened. Only to have my heart sink each time it wasn't her.
"Do you think one of us should go and see where she is?" Alessandro leaned over to me. Standing in a line with our mother and father. Welcoming every guest. Finally through the worst of it. Well I assume as father takes mother and begins to kiss her.
"She should have been here. Maybe we should both …" The doors open again and my breath is stolen from me. My chest is bound by a sudden rush. Alessandro seems to be in the same trance.
It isn't missed in my peripheral vision the smile my mother had. The slight nudge of her elbow to my father. The small chuckle sound he made. No wonder she had taken so long. She was finding her nerve. Now though she stands poised with a polite smile on her timeless face.
Her sweetheart princess dress. The heart shape over breasts, not a strap in sight. The dark gray with small glittering gems. Flowing down into a heavy black skirt that must weigh more than her. The gray mixes into the black perfectly. Her creamy tanned skin is bare, including her wrists that one has a single bracelet on one wrist the other some silver bangles. Her thick dark brown curls free around her face and shoulders. Her pale blue eyes popping behind her thick dark lashes. Her eyes lock on mine from across the room and I see the blush to her cheeks. My heart can barely beat. I am surprised I have managed to stand on my own two feet rather than slink into the nearest chair. To regain my composure.
Finn stands just inside the room. Arms crossed over his chest. A smug almost smile playing across his lips as he watches me and Alessandro.
I imagine we look similar to the pictures I had seen after her night out. When we had seen her arrive outside the club. The papers and magazines had captured us both. Desire not hidden on our faces and the tight jaws as we tried to contain ourselves. They had titled the brothers in love. The love triangle. It had all been involving the three of us. All not far from the truth.
No matter how many times I say this will not come between us. I know the pain will cut us both deeper than any blade could. Because of her. Because she is different. She is special. She wants what is best for her people over her own safety. She wants to rule a peaceful land. She is willing to give up everything for that.
When she lifts her many layers of black skirt. I don't hold back the chuckle. Nor does Alessandro. The sight of black converse shoes hidden beneath. She walks over with confidence and a smile playing at her lips that is real. Enjoying that she made us laugh.
"Isabella. You are the bell of the ball." My father says taking her hand and kissing it. Bowing over it as a sign of respect she deserves.
Mother embraces her. Bella seems to take it in shock but then i see the softening to her. Raised without a mother i imagine this is new to her. I should always count my blessings.
"You look beautiful Bella." She says kissing her cheeks.
"You … The dress." Alessandro stutters over himself. Bella looks from him to me and back again. A blush rising from the swell over her breasts that I watch rise and fall with each breath. Not even attempting to look away because it would be impossible.
"Mind my sons. They seem to have misplaced their usual charm. No worries. Prince Sebastian is eager to see you. Along with his family. I know you already know them but i will come with you." My mother takes Bella's arm. Do I imagine the sag to her shoulders? The slight confidence dropping. The smile that reached her eyes is back to being a practiced perfect one.
"I didn't realise King Elijah was close with the french?" I say moving to father. Alessandro moving just as quickly his brows furrowed.
"It is not my place to spread rumours." Dad says with a heavy sigh. "Though Elijah over the years has hardened. Our once close relationship has become more estranged. The last we spoke he had taken many offers to marry his daughter. None he took seriously. Some very wealthy noblemen, but Spain does not lack wealth. Just a king to rule with it's queen."
"What are you saying? Do not speak in riddles." I demand and father turns to me. His face softened rather than becoming harder at my harsh tone. I've never spoken to him like this. An urgency to know what's going on is over taking me.
"I am saying I was unwilling to put offers in. If my sons are to marry it will be because they look at her, from across a room like they cannot look away. Elijah has not approved but has not declined the offer for Isabella's hand. Prince Sebastian is a good match and in the coming months i suspect will be marrying Isabella, unless she has a choice. It is her father's wishes."
His words hit me like a slap. Why had she not mentioned this? I had felt like I was in a race against time. An individual war with my brother. Then Henry had appeared showing obvious interest. Now to hear that Sebastian may truly be the only one to have her.
"It's fucking wrong father and you know it." Alessandro grinds out.
"Alessandro. Control your temper. Unless you would like your mother to drag you to your room by your ear. I cannot make choices for another kingdom. Do I agree that Isabella should be arranged into a marriage before she is even nineteen? Of course not. The dear girl is beautiful inside and out. She has managed to thrive in a hostile environment. She hasn't become dark and brooding like her father. She shines bright. Spain will strive in her rule."
"Does she have a choice?" I ask not looking away from my father who almost flinches.
"I am not close enough to ask that question."
I turn to spot her instantly. Like my eyes could ever look somewhere else once they had seen her. Once they had watched as she had come apart. The blush on her tanned cheeks. The way her eyes had rolled and mouth had held open breathing out a pleasured sigh of relief. As her fingers had brought her to orgasm. It had been the hottest thing I had ever seen. It had meant something.
Half of her face is hidden to me as she speaks with the endless French royals. Mother making polite conversation. Bella's back is rigid and her cheeks almost pale. Her smile was false. My heart pounding painfully at the fact she hid this from us. She gave us hope knowing she may never even have a choice. Given time to choose? She knows her father wants her to marry the french prince? Doesn't she? My fist ball. I hear Alessandro swearing before stomping away. Dad placed a warm firm hand to my shoulder.
"I need to calm your brother before Corrina gives me the stare. Matteo …" He doesn't continue and I have to tear my eyes away from her to turn to him.
"What dad? What can be said? Did mother know that she would come and we would … Her sweet, innocent, kind, caring …" It is endless. She is endless. "Did she know that we probably had no chance?"
"If Isabella wants you or Alessandro I will do everything within my power to make it happen. I will put them offers in if that is what you wanted. I do not agree. Your mother and I had a choice. It was arranged as such but we could pull out. Elijah is not like that."
"Go. Alessandro needs you." His hand squeezes my shoulder before he goes.
I feel cold. Betrayed. I feel angry and bitter. I have no right of course. She had said she had time to make a choice before her father would arrange. She had not explained her father had already arranged and wanted this specific marriage to go ahead.
That feeling begins to boil. Like the release of a pressure cooker being opened. When Sebastian takes Bella's hand and leads her onto the dancefloor. Almost everyones begins to stop and watch them. Bella smiles politely but when he spins her round. Her eyes meet mine. I feel to my core an apologetic look is written all over her face. Shame even. She looks away. Is this her accepting her fate? I need answers. I spot the exact man I expect can give them to me. Moving towards him grabbing two whiskeys along my way downing one. I lean against the wall beside him.
"Did you know?"
"What is it i am supposed to know, young prince?" Riley replies unmoved.
"Her father has arranged her marriage to him. She said she had time to find a husband. She did not mention that her father already had one picked out."
"No. I would have known."
I look at him. He is serious. I see it in the strained look in his eyes. In the way he watches her. Waiting for her to look at him. She doesn't of course. I also see that. The way she avoids looking at us.
"So she didn't tell you either?"
"Of course not. The last we spoke she had her time here to find someone. If she didn't then yes she agreed to 'a' arranged marriage. She never informed me that one was already found."
"She would do anything to please her father. To make her country right and if her father believes that is marrying the french prince. She will do it won't she?" I hope he says no. I hope he answers surely.
Instead he doesn't answer. His features hardened.
I throw back the rest of my whiskey.
"Did we even have a chance?" I breathe out. Not expecting an answer as I push off the wall. Only taking a step when he speaks.
"She has met with the french prince. Many times over the past year. I should have seen my king's plans. She didn't tell because she cares. She didn't tell me because it would hurt me and I can only assume she cares for you both too. I have seen her with you both. She is happy. Confused but happy. She would not hide it out of self preservation but out of hope. She may right now be in his arms looking as though that hope is gone … Fight for her. Because she will always fight for what she cares about."
I stand rigid. His words allow way through the bitterness and anger for something else. Something close to hope again.
Hope that slowly seeps down again as both me and Alessandro watch Bella be passed from prince to person and back again. The french royals keep her as close as they can. I see the young Prince smirk towards me and Alessandro numerous times. I handle it. I hold my cool. I feel the rage within but do not allow him to see it. Alessandro tries to stand each time. I have to hold him in the chair with an arm. Passing him another drink. Allowing him to drink till he will need guards to help him to his room. Not that I am far behind that mess he will be in.
"This is a fucking joke." He murmurs. "I've chased women to bed them but it's boring as soon as you do. Her. She was going to be different."
"I'm not giving up." I say determined. Feeling it inside of me that I shouldn't. That she has a choice she just needs to make the right one. It isn't against the stiff french. It is in my arms. Where she is warm, soft and so ready.
"I concede." I turn in confusion. Alessandro waves a drunken hand. "I care about her. I truly do. More so than i'd like. More than any other woman I've met. She's fucking awesome so why wouldn't i. But her eyes land on you when she walks in. They go back to you. She likes me. She laughs with me but I see it. She is unsure if it is more. Friendship or sexual. I'd rather have the friendship and a happy brother then risk that posh prick taking her from us both."
I smile warmly throwing an arm over his shoulder pulling him to me.
"When did you grow up, little brother?" I tease.
"Fuck off. So what are we going to do?" He chuckles pushing me off him.
"You're going to make her love the Italians with your friendship and I am going to make her love me. Fight for something more than a posh prince who wants her because he has two older brothers and a younger one."
We give each other a determined look before clicking our glasses to one another.