The EscapeBy: Alice Ward
Her expression didn’t change, though, even as her gaze stayed on me. I could hold little comfort in the support. Her hands were as tied as mine, I knew. Although she enjoyed more freedom of movement, to the point where she was allowed to travel to royal functions with only her entourage of staff and guards, she was treated no differently than one would treat a pretty bauble.
Seen… but not heard. Well cared for, but never allowed to leave its position on the shelf.
I begged her with my eyes, and when the prince turned his head to follow my line of sight, we both quickly looked away. When he faced me again, he said, “In my presence, you will look only at me. At no time will you even glance away. I demand it.”
His French was only passable, his English marginally better. I knew no Serbo-Croatian, so English was how we communicated with each other. Until I learned his language, I was told.
In defiance, I lifted my chin and looked away from the prince again, this time toward my father. He met my gaze, but only for an instant.
The prince growled low in his throat and turned to face my father. “Might I have a few moments alone with Princess Madeleina?”
My father looked taken aback, nearly insulted at the request. Then I watched him consider, and I knew he was doing the math in his head. Earlier, he told me of the twenty-eight-billion-dollar fortune Prince Vitalievich was heir to, and I knew my value was a very small, nearly miniscule percentage of that amount.
Then, Papa smiled, and any sliver of hope I had that he’d reject the unusual request was destroyed. “Of course. Perhaps a stroll in the gardens on this fine morning.”
I exhaled. It was more than I’d expected. At least we’d be in a fairly public area, rather than in an enclosed and isolated room.
The prince extended the crook of his arm, but instead of taking it, I strode toward the door. From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother’s eyes widen, my father’s mouth tighten, but I didn’t care.
I’d been frozen moments earlier.
I wasn’t frozen now.
And if I stepped meekly, I’d never forgive myself.
My heels clicked as I walked across the wide expanse of white marble. Doors opened before me as stewards swung them wide, regal in their formal morning attire.
The prince’s footsteps were behind me, long strides that were like the bass undertones to the treble of my smaller steps. I was being stalked, the lion after his meal. I felt his presence, sensed his anger. It made me walk faster, until I was at very near a run.
My heart was pounding, my blood roaring as I burst into the sunshine, inhaling deeply of the cool, sixty-degree air. Green and blue surrounded me, dotted with the reds and pinks of roses my mother favored.
I had no time to take it all in as a hand encircled my bicep, halting me from going down the steps. I was yanked around to face the man in front of me.
His nostrils flared. “Test me, Princess. I shall keep count, and on our wedding night, I’ll exact my revenge.”
“I won’t marry you.” My voice was low, but I was proud that it didn’t tremble.
He laughed. “You are, in nearly every sense of the term, practically already married to me now. The contracts are signed. In this moment, you belong to me. The wedding ceremony is only a detail. If I chose, I could plant my seed in your belly tonight as you lay strapped to my bed. Do you not understand yet? Your father assured me that you were intelligent. Was he mistaken?”
The peripheral of my vision was growing cloudy, and I unlocked my knees before I passed out. “No. I don’t understand. Why me?”
His dark gaze traveled over my face and down my body. “Why not you? I’ve yet to include a blonde in my family. Our combination of traits will be interesting, don’t you think?”
“But I don’t want to marry,” I argued. “You or anyone else. Wouldn’t you be happier with a willing bride? Someone who loved…” My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat. “Someone who loved you and you loved in return?”
He sighed. “My princess, fear is more powerful than love.” He extended his elbow, offering me his arm as he had done earlier, his dark gaze nearly penetrating me. “I will not be rejected. If you do so again…” his eyes went to the sharp stone steps, “you may lose your balance, find yourself in tragic circumstances. Do you not yet understand the power I yield over you now?”