“I am not too sure I will be at the party,” he said solemnly, “But if I am, I will make sure to greet you.”
He said it with a smile on his face but his tone was solemn. He approached the bedside and pulled a string by its side. A little while later, a maid entered the room.
“The carriage is ready, sire,” she said and left.
Alice bowed respectfully. “Thank you for your help,” she said, “I will try to repay your kindness.”
“I am curious how you will do it,” he said with a smile, “I will be expecting it, young lady.”
Young lady. That grated her on her nerves. He didn’t seem to be much older than Alex. Also, patronizingly calling a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood a ‘young lady’ does nothing to score points with her. Technically, she had the mind of a twenty eight year old woman. That wasn’t an age to be called a ‘young lady’. Perhaps I can rip his ear off as a reminder, she considered. But Alex would kill her sooner.
While she was in her thoughts, he looked at her and their eyes met. He smiled and she smiled back. No matter how removed from royal politics the Grand Duke was, she didn’t think her parents would let her go for insulting the King’s brother.
“Thank you for today, Your Grace,” she said, “I hope the next time we meet, I am not in such a wretched state.”
Alex said his farewells as well. The Grand Duke looked at her again. Did he have something more to say? She took Alex’s hand and they headed outside. She could feel the Grand Duke still looking at her back, but she didn’t turn around.
The carriage was already outside the mansion, waiting. Alex led her in first, then, after bidding farewell to the Grand Duke from the carriage’s door, he sat down next to his sister. The driver started his horse into a gallop and the carriage moved with the rhythm.
“Are you really alright?” asked Alex, worried.
“I’m fine. I just need to go back and get some rest,” she said hurriedly.
That did nothing to put Alex’s mind at ease. He still looked at her, positively disturbed.
“I’m alright, really,” she said, patting his hands. She looked outside the window. Blurry thoughts and memories circled in her mind, but every time she tried to snatch one to make sense of it, they floated to the depths of her mind and stayed there.
Leon, the Grand Duke of Glouster, watched the carriage through a window as it rode off into the distance. It went around the yard, then out the gate; the blond hair which had been seen through the carriage window for a very short time was now completely gone.
Alice Warwick, the precious daughter to the Marquess of Wishburn.
He had never met her before, but rumours preceded their meeting. At that age, she was just as beautiful as the daughter of Chelsea Grendel and the Duke of Seymour, who was said to have been the most beautiful after Queen Seymour. He had also heard that she was very headstrong and rude being raised with all the love and affection afforded by her parents and her brothers. Everyone was high on the gossip that after the princess, she would receive the most attention, suitors flocking to her for potential matrimonial prospects.
Alice was different from what he had imagined. Not meek and demure, but fiery. Her long blond hair glowed faintly like the moonlight. Her pale sculpted face with cherry-coloured lips. The people who had visited Wishburn and seen her were awed by her beauty, but no one had met with her formidable attitude. Her sharp tongue, and intelligent retort. But such tenderness when it came to her family, her brothers.
A pain pricked at his chest. Could he be her object of affection? Could it ever be possible for that tenderness and gentleness to be directed at him? He felt like he had known her all his life. She might not have been like he imagined her to be, but the change was refreshing.
Maybe she was the one he had been looking for. Maybe she was the one. When he had caught her wrist and helped her up when she had bumped into him and fell, an obscure memory had tried to resurface. A distant past. But before he could make sense of it, it had disappeared just as fast.
The memory was of the past, a very distant past, when she was a starving woman on the street. When he had followed her to gain evidence on a case. Another life, another time. Their eyes had met. He had seen something frightening then, a girl who played with fire and danger.