“Honestly, Winifred, it is the Foxtrot. It is so similar to the Waltz. I do not understand how you can do one and not the other,” said Phillipa the next day.
“I have never been very coordinated,” I replied softly as I frowned, focusing on my feet. “Maybe I should just not dance,” I tried hopefully.
Phillipa shook her head. “These are necessary skills. You will be expected to dance especially at events such as the ones that we are all hoping will take place in the next few months. If this all works out with you and Leopold, you will be dancing at your wedding and coronations.”
My eyes grew wide and I tripped over my own feet. Phillipa pinched her nose.
“Fred, just needs the right partner,” came a smooth voice from the far end of the ballroom. I froze, my stomach knotting. Slowly I turned around and my heart stopped dead. It was Leopold. Standing before me in dress pants and a button down, glowing gold under the light of the crystal chandeliers. I curtsied, my eyes never leaving him.
Leopold stopped a few feet in front of me and held out his hand. “Will you dance with me, Winifred?”
I nodded and placed my hand in his. He pulled me close, my skin tingling wherever it brushed up against his. Then we began to spin, twirling effortlessly across the floor.
“How do you feel about spending the day with me, Mademoiselle SinClaire?” Leopold asked gently, as he dipped me low.
“I would love too,” I smiled slightly breathlessly and then yelled in surprise as he righted me quickly, and spun me outwards until we were side by side, holding hands.
“I think she dances wonderfully,” he said to Phillipa who was standing near the balcony, open mouthed. “Now, I hope you do not mind but I am going to steal my betrothed for the rest of the day. The rest of her lessons are cancelled.”
He turned sharply for the doors of the ballroom, pulling me behind him.
“You can’t do that, Leopold,” Phillipa called. “She is going to have to dance with people other than you!”
He ignored her calls as he pulled me up the stairs and out into the hallway, shutting the heavy carved doors of the ballroom behind us. The second they closed, Leopold pinned me against the wall with his body and kissed me roughly. I responded eagerly, tracing my tongue across his bottom lip, winding my fingers through his hair. I could hear my heart beat pounding in my ears. It was overwhelming, dizzying having him so close.
He pulled back after a moment, resting his forehead against mine. “J’ai te manque tellement,” he murmured softly.
I smiled and ran my fingertips across his jaw, “I missed you too.”
“Come,” he said, releasing everything but my hand. We began walking back to our wing of the castle, his arm around my waist, fingers fiddling with the hem of my blouse.
“What are you doing back so soon,” I asked Leopold as I reached around behind him and hung my finger through the belt loop right above his ass.
“I was called in,” he said cryptically, “We have some appearances to make this weekend. Et come j’ai dit, j’ai te manque.”
He released me as soon as we were in my room and made his way for my bed, stretching across it languidly. I went to my closet and pulled off the retched heels that I had been wearing for dancing, placing them on a shelf amongst its numerous and equally tormenting companions.
“How is the base?” I asked as I returned. Leopold watched me as I made my way to the bed, his eyes dark.
“Good,” he replied as I laid down beside him, curling on my side to face him, “it was very nice to be back and to see everyone again. I hear you are doing well with your lessons.”
Leopold ran his fingers down my arm, wrapping his hand around mine. I shivered.
I shrugged, “I have been learning a lot.”
“I hope you do not mind that I have stolen you away for the weekend then,” he murmured and brought my hand to his lips, kissing each of my finger tips.
“Not at all.”
He looked down at me, his long golden lashes casting shadows against his sharp cheekbones. “Will you go out with me tonight, Winifred?”
I nodded, speechless. I had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful he was and how much affect he had on my body and mind.
He leaned forward and pressed his lips gently to mine before rolling off the bed. “We leave in an hour.”
The door clicked shut behind him and I flipped onto my back enjoying the blood rush that was coursing though my veins. I felt alive again for the first time in weeks.
Fifty minutes later I was starring at myself in the mirror slightly concerned. When Leopold had asked me out I had been expecting just the two of us, going off on his motorcycle, to have dinner at a small cafe or something. Now I was leaning towards going to one of the special appearances he had mentioned.
I was dressed in a strapless, floor length, blood red, silk gown with white silk gloves pulled up to my elbows. My dark hair had been braided at the sides and then pulled into a beautiful chignon. Angela had done my make up in shimmering golds and natural hues. I had a shimmering diamond cuff on my wrist, red pumps and a white silk clutch that had absolutely nothing in it. The effect was quite stunning but made my stomach knot in anticipation. I took a deep breath hoping i remembered all the training I had had while I was out tonight. I had a feeling it would come in handy.
There was a knock on my bedroom door that Angela hastily answered. Leopold was on the other side in a tuxedo. My mouth went dry as I took him in. His eyes ran down my body before he smiled crookedly and offered me his arm.
“Tu est magnifique,” he whispered, breath hot on my ear.
We made our way down to the limo in silence. M. Arnault helped me tuck all of my dress into the car and then we were off, pulling out of the gates and onto the cobble stone streets. My heart skipped a beat. I was finally free from the grounds for the first time in weeks.
“Where are we going?” I asked Leopold excitedly.
He wrapped his hand around mine, rubbing his thumb in soothing circles. It felt strange though our gloves, their fabric sliding over each other like water. “It is a surprise. Be patient, ma belle.”
“Tell me more about what you do at the base,” I said, trying to quell my anticipation.
“Originally I was trained with the army, just as all my ancestors. It is mandatory, especially as the second son who, by ancient law is in charge of all the country’s defense forces. Like many things today, that has become more of a title than a true position for someone of Royal Blood to hold. I was to be deployed with my squadron to do a term in Iraq as a Forward Air Controller just before Hector made his announcement. As soon as that happened, I was considered too much of a high value target and was not allowed to leave. As part of my terms for taking the title of crowned prince, I told them I wished to continue my service. They accepted so long as I were placed with in a search and rescue unit of the Royal Air Force,” he explained. I could tell he was both disappointed and proud of this. “It is not what I had originally planned on doing, but I save peoples lives, which I enjoy immensely.”
“Sounds amazing,” I told him honestly. “I would love to see the base sometime if that is possible.”
Leopold nodded, his eyes bright, “Of course.”
The car slowed to a stop outside of a fancy, white stoned building, with large windows, and a gold awning. It was a restaurant. I could see men in suites and ladies in stunning cocktail dresses eating on the other side of the windows. I took one last deep breath and followed Leopold out of the car.
A bubbly blond hostess in a black dress approached us as we entered.
“Do you have reservations?” she asked, smiling brightly up at Leopold.
“DuMont,” he replied smoothly.
“Of course,” she replied, blush spreading across her cheeks as she bowed slightly. “Right this was, your Highnesses.”
Leopold pursed his lips but he followed her through the restaurant to a pair of cozy tables near the back. I couldn’t help but giggle as M. Arnault and M. Lafevre sat down across from each other, sitting between our table and the door. Leopold pulled out my chair for me and then sat, eyeing the blond hostess who was still at our side.
“Can I offer you anything to drink?” she asked, staring at him.
“Fred?” he offered.
“Make that two,” said Leopold shortly.
The blond nodded and then swiftly made her way over to our security guards.
“Tell me what you have been learning,” Leopold said as he hooked his ankle around mine under the table. He winked at me as I jumped.
“Lots of history and etiquette mostly,” I told him and smiled up at the waitress who delivered our drinks before continuing. “Lots about my ancestry and how to behave at different events.”
“Your French has improved tremendously,” Leopold complimented.
I blushed, “Phillipa won’t let anyone talk to me in English unless it’s to explain something I don’t understand.”
“It is working.”
“Are you ready to order?” said the perky blond, reappearing at our side suddenly.
“Umm,” I said looking down at the menu which I hadn’t yet glanced at.
“Would you like help?” Leopold asked softly in English, making the hostess frown.
“She will have the Lemon Halibut en Papillotes with Leek Rice Pilaf and I will take the Timbales of Sole and Scallop Mousseline with Chive Beurre Blanc,” Leopold told her before snapping his menu shut and handing it to her.
She curtsied and then disappeared again.
“I found out I have a castle,” I continued.
Leopold nodded, “La Palais de Glace. It is beautiful. Governer Richard and I are planning a trip to take you there. We have to speak to the French officials soon, so we thought that may be an appropriate time.”
“I’d like that,” I smiled.
“So will you tell me anything about what we are doing this weekend?” I smiled hopefully at him, tracing the toe of my shoe further up his leg in what I hoped was a convincing manner.
Leopold raised an eyebrow. “One of the official events we are going to is the opening of a hospital in the New Town, another is the next portion of tonight.”
“And unofficially?” I tempted him hopefully.
Leopold exhaled, his sweet breath fanning across my face and shook his head defiantly.
Our food arrived then, steaming and beautiful. I looked at my plate and my stomach growled in anticipation. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. Eager, I took a bite.
“Mmm,” I moaned as the flavors rippled across my tongue.
“Good?” Leopold asked, watching me.
“Solis is famous for its fish dishes,” he explained, taking a bite of his own.
That made sense considering Solis was an island.
Leopold grew tense suddenly, a muscle jumping in his jaw. I frowned, wondering what had caused the sudden shift in behavior. I looked around to see if our enthusiastic blond friend was getting close again up was startled when I looked up. Most of the other people in the restaurant had their eyes on us and were whispering to each other. We had been spotted.
“Are you alright?” Leopold asked me tentatively as he patted his breast pocket. I mused briefly, wondering if he was contemplating putting his aviators on, despite the fact that we were in a building and it was almost dark outside.
“I am fine,” I assured him. Although, if I was being honest, I was a little shaky.
To my surprise he placed his hand over top of mine where it was resting on the table and laced his gloved fingers through my own.
I noticed a woman pointing at us though the corner of my eye.
M. Arsnault came over to our table as soon as our plates had been cleared. “We must leave now in order to make it to the next location on time,” he said. “M. Lafevre has gone to pull the car around. It seems there are some photographers out front of the restaurant.”
“You will stay by, Fred,” said Leopold, rising from the table. I followed him to the door, M. Arsnault close behind me. The photographers, there were three of them, starting calling to us as soon as we stepped out into the crisp night air. The flashes were startling, blinding. They parted as we made our way towards the car.
I was thankful when we made it to the safety of the familiar leather interior.
“There will be more at our next stop,” warned Leopold.
“May as well get used to it. It just means Angela will be handing me an article about myself tomorrow morning to practice my reading.” I was trying to remain calm and realistic. I knew if I revealed how nervous the photographers actually made me, Leopold would get upset.
We drove in silence until a large domed building came into view. It was lit up magnificently, white floodlights reflecting off the glistening white marble and blue and green glass that the building was made up of. There were marble statues surrounding and carved into the sides of the building. I recognized them as muses from one of the old articles I had read in a history lesson. There were people dressed like Leopold and I getting out of cars and making their way down the red carpet which led to the main doors of the building. They were laughing and conversing with each other, some posing for photos or speaking with interviewers.
“Where are we?” I asked, staring amazed out the window of the limo.
“At the Opera of the Sirens, the old opera house and concert hall. We are here for the opening of their new production. As patrons of the arts, members of my family are expected to show up, but I thought you may enjoy it.”
“It’s amazing,” I assured him
We joined the others on the red carpet, having out photos taken, waving, shaking hands. People were pointing again, smiling brightly at us.
“They do stare at you an awful lot,” I whispered to Leopold. He laughed deeply, making a round of camera flashes go off. I blushed.
His mismatched eyes bore into mine affectionately. “Fred,” he said, “they are staring at you.”
He placed his hand on my lower back and led me up the steps and into the opera house. An usher greeted us at the top. “M. DuMont, Mlle. Sinclaire, welcome. If you follow me, I will take you to your seats.”
He took us up an ornately carved staircase which curved up towards the scene of the heavens which had been painted on the ceiling. We walked across Persian rugs, passing more statues that were carved into the walls forever immortalized, acting out scenes of death, and heroics, love, and quests. We arrived at the door of a private balcony that overlooked the right side of the stage.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” said the user smoothly before leaving us alone. Mr. Arsnault stayed in the booth with us, near the wall on the left of the door. M. Lafevre followed the usher out.
“What will we be seeing?” I asked Leopold once we were seated in the black velvet armchairs.
“Gluck’s Orphee et Eurydice,” replied Leopold then leaned closer then, his hand resting on my leg. “Have I told you how absolutely exquisite you look tonight?”
“N-no,” I stuttered, a blush creeping across my cheeks. “Thank you.”
I was saved luckily, by a loud crescendo of music. The lights suddenly dimmed and the curtains rose revealing a man, standing in golden armor in front of a beautiful wooded landscape. The music quieted, and he started to sing.
“He is mourning the death of his wife,” Leopold whispered, his thumb massaging soothing circles on my knee. “That is cupid,” he continued to explain as a winged figure floated down onto the stage. “He is telling Orphee that he can go to Hades and get his wife on the condition that he does not look at her until they are back on earth.”
I watched the figures dance around the stage, completely entranced. The only thing that was keeping me in the balcony was Leopold’s hand on my knee, otherwise I felt as though I could have floated down onto the stage and joined them.
I rose to my feet clapping wildly when the curtains finally closed at the end of the show. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I had even cried, much to Leopold’s amusement, when Eurydice had been sent back to Hades after getting so close to the surface.
With my arm linked through his, Leopold led me back to the car, and with my head on his shoulder, we drove through the night back to our castle.
I slept deeply that night, perfectly calm and content for the first time in weeks. It was heavenly lying buried in my downy blankets and mounds of pillows. The smell of Leopold swirled around me, lingering on the sheet from when had laid on my bed. I slipped in and out of dreams, peacefully drifting.
I frowned as cool air hit me briefly and then hummed as a soft pressure pressed me into the mattress, and the warmth enveloped me once again.
“Winifred,” said a voice in my ear, “my Princess.”
I smiled. Finger tips danced up my ribs.
“Ma belle,” it murmured, calling me. I opened my eyes to find two different eyes staring back at me, one gold and one green.
“Good morning,” Leopold said, his lips tracing up my jaw. He placed a kiss on my neck.
“Good morning,” I replied, my voice thick with sleep.
“I have a proposition for you,” he said continuing to trail his lips across my throat.
“Mmhmm?” I managed, quite distracted. He could ask me anything right now and I would probably say yes.
Leopold’s hand ran down my side and curled around my calf. He pulled it up, hitching my leg on his hip, wrapping around him until my foot rested on the inside of his thigh. Slowly, he pressed his lips to mine, gently sucking on my bottom lip. My hands slid up his back, knotting in his copper hair. It was strange how forwardly affectionate he was being lately, so unlike him. I couldn’t say I was about to complain though.
He flipped us suddenly so that I was sitting above him straddling his hips. His hands rested on my thighs as he stared up at me through dark eyes.
“Come to the Canette field with me?” he said, voice thick, as he wrapped a strand of my hair around his fingers.
I nodded from where I was perched on top of him, my hands resting on his chest.
Leopold pushed himself upright, leaning back on one hand, his other cupping my neck, and kissed me again, harder this time, full of want.
“Get dressed then, I will wait for you in the hall,” he said pulling away too soon. He flicked on my lights on the way out the door.
I fell back onto my mattress my heart was racing in my chest. Good way to wake up I thought. After a minute, I pushed my way out of my fortress of textiles and threw back the heavy drapery. Faint white light streamed into the room. The sun wasn’t even up yet. I smiled and went to my closet quickly pulling on the first things I could grab.
I examined myself in the mirror on my way out of the room. I didn’t look half bad in the cream sweater, dark jeans, and black ankle boots I had pulled on.
I hit the lights and followed Leopold into the hall. It was pitch black. Apparently the castle wasn’t awake yet, too early for even the maids and butlers to be working. I could barely see to the other side of the hall where Leopold was leaning against the wall.
“Pret?” he asked reaching for my hand.
I wound my fingers through his. “Lets go.”
Leopold led me through the dark halls and staircases by memory until we arrived outside. The moon was still out, high in the sky, stars sparkling brightly in the clear night.
Leopold’s motorcycle was parked at the end of the staircase. I paused on the last step. “We are going alone?”
“Yes, the field is one of the only places in can go without guards. Is that okay?” he said looking up at me a little guiltily.
“Are you kidding me?” I said throwing my arms around his neck. “That’s fantastic!”
He passed me one of his leather jackets, a pair of aviators, and a helmet before we climbed onto the waiting bike. I pulled myself close to him, hands holding onto his belt buckle, thighs on either side of his hips, and then, with a rev of the engine, we were off, kicking up the gravel from the path. I closed my eyes and leaned into Leopold’s back, just enjoying the feeling of having him close. We darted along the empty roads, wind zipping by as we passed shops and houses and flew along the edge of cliffs until the Canette Clubhouse came into view.
Leopold parked right beside the door and quickly pulled me inside and down the spiral staircase towards the change rooms. The entire place was empty, not a person in sight.
“Follow the hall through to the other side,” he told me indicating the door with the woman on it. “I just have to get changed and I will meet you there.”
I did as he said and found myself in a hall epic enough to rival some of the hallways in the castle. The walls were lined on both sides from floor to ceiling with photographs, trophies, awards and plaques. It was a timeline, the first part of the hall with pieces and artifacts that were dated hundreds of years old. They were fascinating. There were pictures of women playing Canette in long dresses and corsets all the way to modern players in uniforms very similar to the one I had seen Leopold in.
A knock at the door broke me out of my day dreaming. I quickly made my way down the rest of the hall, peeking around corners into the empty dressing rooms, bathrooms and showers and then pushed through the door.
“Everything all right?” asked Leopold. He was dressed in white chaps and polo shirt now.
“Sorry, I got distracted by the photos on the wall. I didn’t realize the history behind the sport,” I said blushing.
“Its alright. Common, we have to go to the stables next.”
The stables were essentially a barn. There was about a million aisles sectioned off into rows of cubicles, each holding a horse.
“They keep the Canette horses here as well as boarded horses and horses used for trail riding, racing and jumping,” explained Leopold when he saw my incredulous expression. I stepped closer to him, hoping that he would be able to keep me safe. I wasn’t completely sure that one of the horses wouldn’t just climb out of it’s cubical and start chasing me. We came to a stop in front of a huge black horse with a white patch on his forehead.
“This is Dave,” Leopold told me as he entered the stall. “He is my Canette horse. I trained him.”
“You named this giant horse Dave?” I asked. I mean honestly, who names a monster Dave?
“Yes. It’s alright, Fred, he won’t hurt you.” Leopold reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful if white cubes. He put one in his hand and offered it to Dave. The horse lipped and licked at his hand eating the cube and leaving a trail of goober on Leopold’s fingers.
“They are sugar cubes,” he told me and placed a few in my hand. “Try it. Dave loves them. Just hold your hand out flat.”
I shook my head, “I’m good.”
“He won’t bite. Here,” Leopold took my hand in his and held out the sugar for Dave. I squeaked as the horse came over but started to laugh as soon as Dave’s soft lips lapped at my palm. It kind of tickled.
Leopold walked around to Dave’s side and used his arms to pull himself up onto the horses back.
“Coming?” he asked holding his hand out to me. I took it and he pulled me up behind him. There was no way I was staying here in the stables alone.
We began riding Dave out to the field but a problem soon arose. Riding a horse bareback was much harder then riding one with a saddle. My legs weren’t strong enough to hold me in place, so I kept sliding off.
“I didn’t think of this,” said Leopold with a sigh. “Wrap you legs around my waist.”
“Why?” I asked curiously, but did as directed.
A scream caught in my throat as Leopold let go of Dave’s mane and used his arms to swing me around his body until we were face to face, my legs over the top of his. I buried my face in Leopold’s chest, my legs and arm’s wrapped around him, clinging for dear life.
He laughed, running his hand soothingly down my back, “It’s okay, Fred. I’ve got you.”
I relaxed slightly, looking around. I was sitting on the horse backwards, facing Leopold who had one hand on my back, and the other wrapped in Dave’s mane. I had to admit, this was easier, as strange as I imagined it must look. We were walking across the field. It was different seeing things from down here, you felt so much smaller in the middle of the huge lawn, surrounded by hundreds of seats.
Eventually we made it to the stands and Leopold gracefully jumped off of Dave and helped pull me to the ground. “You can watch from here if you like, or walk around the field. I won’t be too long, I promise,” he said and then placed a chaste kiss on my forehead and mounted Dave once more. I smiled, as the pair rushed off towards the far end of he field. I pulled myself over the barrier and sat in one of the chairs, watching them in fascination.
I felt whole again, nothing like the ghost I had been for the last few days before Leopold’s return. Everything was right when he was around. I had no second guesses about why I was here or what I was doing because it felt so natural. I was dreading his departure on Monday. Luckily, I knew he would be back again soon; the hoop skirt dinner was next weekend.
The sun slowly rose above us, casting the field in gold light. The dew glistened, slowly evaporating under the heat. Suddenly, I heard a soft click coming form somewhere behind me. I frowned, confused by the strange sound, then I heard it again a second later. I looked over my shoulder and my blood ran cold. There were at least five photographers crouched down in the stands above me.
I vaulted the barrier and started sprinting across the field. “Leopold!” I called, rushing towards him. He turned and looked at me, his head cocked to the side, and then an expression of pure fury crossed his features as he saw the men behind me.
He and Dave charged towards me instantly. Leopold held out his hand and pulled me up in front of him as before, in one swift motion, without stopping. We traveled at top speed across the length of the field to the stables. I looked again to the stands where the photographers were, their flashes going off faster then strobe lights as they took frame after frame of us.
I glanced over my shoulder quickly, to see where we were heading, and my eyes grew wide in fear as I took in the eight foot tall fence we where heading straight for. Suddenly, we were on the other side of it, racing along the cliffs, towards the edge of the forest. Dave, the monster horse, had jumped the fence.
We made it to the woods, Leopold and Dave weaving expertly between the trunks of the trees. Dappled light from the sun trickled down through the canopy, lighting our way. When we broke through to the other side, Castle DuMont came into view.
Dave skidded to a stop on the gravel at the back door of the castle as two stunned butlers came rushing forward to help us. Leopold dismounted, his boots crunching on the stone, then helped me down before roughly taking me by the hand into the castle.
I pulled my hand from his, stopping in the center of the foyer. Leopold turned and looked at me, nostrils flared, anger rippling through his frame.
“What was that?” I demanded.
“The photographers,” he spat as explanation.
“Yes?” I urged.
“I don’t know how they got in, they shouldn’t have been there.” He swore under his breath, pacing back and forth across the floor.
“But why did you charge out of there on Dave the Warhorse?”
“Because there were photographers there, trying to get pictures of us, Fred,” he ran his hand through his hair agitatedly.
“Just as there were at the Opera last night. You didn’t run then.”
“I could have,” he mumbled darkly. “I was trying to protect you. You ran towards me!”
“Because I was frightened to be with them by myself. I didn’t mean for you to react like that. They just wanted photos! You can’t kidnap me every time someone wants to take a picture of me. I am not saying I like it, but thats my life now, Leopold. Our life. I’ve accepted that.”
Leopold stopped pacing, and stood, chest heaving, staring at me. Slowly I made my way over to him and placed my hand on his cheek. He sighed heavily and leaned into my palm, eyes fluttering shut.
“I am sorry for scaring you,” I said gently.
“I am sorry for over reacting. You are right, of course. I need to go and speak with Felip.” Leopold kissed my forehead, “I will come and get you shortly.