The Escape

By: Alice Ward

As requested, I was also wearing the diamonds he had selected for me. My hair was pulled up and away from my face to feature the cascade of diamonds at my ears, and even though they pulled at my piercings, nothing was as heavy as the twenty-two-carat monstrosity on my ring finger.

On my left side, my mother squeezed my hand then held it between her equally cold ones. I didn’t look her way. If I did, I knew I’d cry, then I’d be punished later. I had no doubt about that.

Five days had passed since my introduction to the prince. Five days in which I’d begged and cried and screamed, all to no avail.

My father refused to change his mind about the wedding. And he wouldn’t even postpone the engagement announcement to give me time to accept my fate.

The only blessing had been when Prince Vitalievich had left the same day as our first meeting and hadn’t arrived back to our island until this morning. But he’d returned with the same sardonic smirk, the same nearly black eyes. He’d returned with more instructions and orders that I must learn in short order or else risk his wrath.

Inside the ballroom, the music changed, and my heart started beating harder. The double doors opened, and ahead of me, my sisters and their families filed in as they were introduced to the over one-thousand-person crowd.

Next were my younger brothers, the heir and the spare. They both had taken on the self-important air of my father, and it was getting worse as they transitioned into adults. From the television monitor placed near the doors, I watched them walk between the hundreds of people, unsmiling as they made their way to the stage.

My mother let go of my hand when it was her and Papa’s turn. I still couldn’t meet her gaze for more than a few seconds, though I hadn’t been able to stop from glancing into the face so much like mine. Her eyes shone, resembling the sea in the late evening. My own eyes welled before I could look away, and it took everything inside me to not let the tears escape.

I had been warned by my father just prior to getting dressed that I would behave myself as was fitting for a future queen. He’d warned the same the day before that and every day since the engagement party was announced.

“You can be married kicking and screaming, or you can be married with grace and dignity,” he said. “But you will marry Prince Vitalievich, and if you do it with grace and dignity, you’ll be allowed to see your family again. If not…” he shook his head, not needing to finish the threat.

When there was no one left but me and the prince, he turned to me. “Smile, my little princess. Don’t disappoint me.” I forced my lips to turn upward as the music changed, the new notes soaring to life. Apparently, the smile wasn’t suitable because he added, “We will have time later to discuss your punishment if you fail to please me tonight.”

I lifted my chin, pulled my shoulders back, even when the movement caused the tight dress to squeeze more air from my lungs. I directed my face to settle into the radiant smile I’d mastered over the years.

“Better?” I asked, my smile not faltering.

His black eyes scanned my features. “Very good. I look forward to seeing your other expressions, especially the ones you make when you’re naked and under me.”

I’d tried all my life to be a good person. Sure, I might have given my guards minor heart attacks when I slid down banisters or jumped into the sea, but surely those didn’t outweigh the charity work and outreaches I’d overseen.

I’d not caused my tutors too much trouble. I’d studied everything they’d given me, hungry for something to do besides stare out my window all day.

There’d been the trashy novel, the one that made my insides do funny things. But just that one. Was that so bad? Was the prince like the count in the book, my punishment for touching myself under the covers as I read it? For rubbing the place that felt so naughty and wonderful at the same time?

If so, then I never wanted to think of sex again. Promised I’d never touch myself again.

Please… I silently prayed. If I can escape this marriage, I promise to never do anything bad for all the rest of my life.

“And now, may I present the future Prince and Princess Pavel Leontiy Marka Vitalievich.”

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