She had slept lightly and uncomfortably. Even though he had given her his word that he wouldn’t touch her, that he was up all night through doing who knows what had concerned her. Not because she was afraid that he would try to take advantage of her while she slept but because she felt as if she should stay up and help with whatever devious plan he was concocting. But she had been so exhausted, and he had refused, using her only recent recovery as an excuse. She had been surprised when he had quoted her spell of dizziness – his voice had sounded strange, as if there was some tinge of concern – but it couldn’t be; there was no way he’d worried over her health. The Black Prince had to be so much more colder and inhuman than that. Or how else could he be the Black Prince?
She woke up to not a man but a card greeting her. She was alone in the room, and as she sat up in bed, she saw that true to his word, he hadn’t slept the night before. C.C. grimaced. For how long could a man continue to ignore his humanness?
On the card was the most beautiful handwriting she had ever seen. It was akin to the script you’d see on one of those printed cards in some upscale shop. Not anything you should see from an outlaw. Reaching for the slip of paper, she read past the swirls and curves. Holding it in her hand, she traced the ink and watched as it smeared onto her thumb. So he’d just gone out. But to do what?
Throwing the quilt back, she went to search for her sturdy, dusty boots when her bare foot accidentally kicked a box. She watched as it skittered across the small room to knock into several other boxes of various sizes but all a soft pink and wrapped with a silk ribbon. She felt her heart stop; surely he couldn’t mean…
It had been so long since she had been forced to squeeze into one of those intolerable binds, and for the longest time, she had thought that she would never have to. But seeing from the Prince’s secret plans, she would have to lock herself in one more time. She only hoped that he knew what he was doing, or else he’d have some explaining to do. She was not amused.
. . .
There was a timid knock on her door. Pulling the veil of her hat down, she reached for her parasol before hobbling her way to the door. The heels of her boots clicking against the wooden floor, she struggled to catch her breath past the grip her corset had on her before swinging it open to reveal a girl who couldn’t be much older than her.
“O-oh, good morning, ma’am,” she said nervously. Smiling, she gave a clumsy curtsy as if that was the proper etiquette for addressing a lady of such elegance and stature. C.C. wondered just what the hell the Black Prince had told the matron of the small hotel. “But I’ve been sent to inform you that your husband is waiting for you in the lobby and that should you delay any longer, you’ll both miss your train and then you’ll be late for your sister’s wedding.”
She spoke slowly as if she were reading from a script that the man had no doubt shoved down her throat. He could sometimes be so stubborn and precise.
“Yes, ma’am. He says to tell you that all of the bags have been sent to the station by the porter so that you just need to leave. There’s a carriage waiting to take you so that you don’t have to walk in the heat.”
“How kind of him,” she murmured. The girl nodded eagerly as if she had secretly been thinking it too and was relieved to hear that the lady thought the same.
“Well, lead the way. To my husband.”
As she followed the girl – whose name was Shirley as she quickly learned with all her nervous chattering – she wondered just who would be waiting for her in the lobby. It was clear that the staff of the establishment had been led on to believe that they were wealthy members of elite society, which explained the room’s space and bedding. She hadn’t been there when he had been making their sleeping arrangements as he had gone into town by himself to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. She had been asleep by the time he had returned, she guessed, because when she woke up, she was in a proper bed instead of leaning against a rock. The whole argument they had had before he had left seemed pointless and stupid, and she found herself feeling embarrassed over it all. She had seemed like a child no doubt, and it couldn’t have improved his opinion of her, especially since he was probably older than her. Those belonging in the older generations always seemed to think that they knew better than those younger than them. Her father had always been like that too, she remember bitterly. He used to always make decisions for her, like who to marry and when. Well, not anymore.
She soon forgot about her father though when she finally reached the lobby. The elevator doors sliding open, the girl hopped out before rushing to a tall figure standing by the counter. He was smoking and chatting with a significantly older woman. He couldn’t have been more than 30 years old, but even if he was, he would have still been attractive to her. His military dress only served to further that point; as cliché as it seemed, there couldn’t have been anything more beautiful than a man in uniform, and every other woman in the vicinity seemed to agree because every one of them were secretly eyeing him, wondering just who he was and whether or not he was eligible for being snatched up as their own, whether or not they were already disposed of with their own husbands.
His pretty eyes latched onto her, and he seemed to cross the room in only a few strides – much too little for the size of the lobby. But he was standing in front of her soon enough, and she looked up at him, slightly bewildered. Unable to connect the dots – his face was just so distracting – she opened her mouth to ask who he was, when he bent down to kiss her cheek through the veil. C.C. thanked God for the covering; she could feel the heat radiating from her face as she flushed.
“I realize that you must be hungry for something to eat, but we really must make our way to the station if we’re to arrive on time to the wedding, but I’m sure there’ll be something that the dining cart can make for you instead. I really do apologize, my sweet. I just couldn’t bear to wake you; I know how tiring all of this traveling must be for you.”
C.C. didn’t say anything. Eyes wide, she only stared at him through the veil as he stood there with his face bare for all the world to see. He offered her his arm as if all was perfectly normal.
“Shall we begin then?”
She had no idea. Shall they?