The Escape

By: Alice Ward

I met the dark eyes of Prince Vitalievich and lifted my chin. His grin grew broader, his eyes impossibly darker. His gaze was like a knife slicing my skin.

Goose bumps raised on my arms, a reflex so involuntary I didn’t know they were there until I shivered. He seemed pleased as his hand moved up my arm, then down to take my hand, the soft palm and perfectly manicured nails an indication of the pampered life he led.

“I see I affect you too, Princess. If we were alone, I’d see just how affected you were…” his voice was low, intimate in the space between us, “everywhere.”

Tears stung the backs of my eyes, and I widened them, forcing the traitorous tears away. I knew what he was implying. I’d been taught the ways of pleasing a man — anatomically, at least. It was part of my tutoring for the role in which I was born. To become the perfect wife, and to keep my husband satisfied in every way possible.

But my body had never been touched.

Not this intimately. This suggestively.

I had never been left alone with a man. Not that my life had been feared for. Only my virginity. Yet another value I’d bring to the table.

I waited for the guards to come forward, to shove him away. To protect me as I’d been protected these past twenty years. No one dared touched royalty. A hand wasn’t even extended to me until I extended mine first. This freedom he was taking with me was outrageous.

But they didn’t, and when Prince Vitalievich stepped even closer, the tips of his shoes touching mine, his thumb brushed over my breast as his hand moved up my arm again.

To my horror, my nipple contracted. Not from desire but from cold. From fear.

If this man would be so forward as to touch me this way in front of my parents and the royal guards… I shuddered again, hating myself for the weakness the involuntary movement portrayed. My heart was pounding in my ears. Horror clogging my throat.

I didn’t move. I didn’t say a word or make a sound. My breath had grown so shallow that my chest barely moved in and out.

I was frozen.

The perfect wife… seen but not heard.

Over the years, this position had been trained and ingrained in me. Face relaxed. Shoulders back. Hands serenely at my sides. I was able to stand at this level of attention for hours, maintaining my posture and focus through the most tedious of events.

And I knew, from the outside, just how serene I appeared. I’d been forced to study my every action and be fully conscious of my presence my entire life. I’d stood in front of mirrors, re-watched video taken of my performance as instructors pointed out any flaws.

Now, I knew my outward appearance was perfect.

Inside, though, I was screaming. Clawing. Begging.

Papa… no. Please… no.

“Madeleina is a fine choice,” my father said from his throne, sipping from a golden glass of wine, even at this early hour, and looking very pleased. He didn’t meet my eyes when I looked his way. “As I told you before, she has a high spirit that I’m sure you’ll find pleasing.”

A grin spread on the prince’s face, and although I’d only met this man less than an hour ago, I already knew him well. Knew what he was thinking. He was looking forward to breaking my spirit. And I would have no choice but to let him. Or fight him at every turn.

“Yes,” the prince said. “Her spirit pleases me greatly.”

A month away from twenty-one, I’d delayed this day as long as possible. My elder sisters had been matched and married by their eighteenth year, all mothers by my age. I shouldn’t have waited. I shouldn’t have begged for more time. I should have married the sixty-seven-year-old oil billionaire who wanted me last year. Or the one before him, or any of the ones before that one.

Anyone but this dark-eyed monster in front of me now.

From what little I’d learned since being awoken this morning, my father and the prince had been in negotiations for the past two weeks. The link between our two countries would be powerful.

And I was to be that fragile link.

Me, and the sons I would be expected to provide after the prince’s other wives had born only daughters.

There was no more time. No more begging.

“It is time you honor your country,” Papa said earlier, while I was still in my dressing gown, disheveled and stunned.

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