The EscapeBy: Alice Ward
I gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
His arm snaked out until it lay across my back, his hand circling my bicep. His body was hot against my side as the nail of his thumb dug through the lace and into my skin. He stepped forward, taking me with him, until we were on the edge of the top step, the toes of my shoes extending over the side. “Would you like to wager on that?”
Unable to stop myself, I looked down. Below me, twenty marble steps gleamed in the morning sun. Basins of flowers edged the bottom. Luxurious cars sat at rest in the circular driveway beyond where I stood.
There would be witnesses, I knew. I also knew it wouldn’t matter.
My mother would grieve for me. My father would be upset, but only as much as he would mourn a lost asset.
Life would move on, and the prince would select another blonde bride, if blonde was still his preference at that time. He would sire more children, rule with an iron fist. He wouldn’t be punished because my death would be ruled an accident.
For a moment, I saw myself falling, head and limbs cracking against the hard stone.
It wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Pain, yes, but only for a few moments. If I was lucky, my neck might even snap early in the fall, giving me merciful release before I completed the descent.
Closing my eyes, I leaned forward. I’d take my fate into my own hands.
The hand tightened on my arm, and I pulled heavily against it. “Let me go,” I whispered.
“No.” A second hand wrapped around me, and I was pulled backward. “Your fate rests with me.”
I opened my eyes and gazed out onto the Mediterranean, then over to the guards, who averted their eyes. That was my answer.
This was my fate.
I shivered and allowed Prince Vitalievich to lead me down the steps, to stroll through the gardens at a leisurely pace as he explained where we’d live, explained his household rules. His expectations. His needs.
To anyone watching, it was a casual conversation of two people getting to know one another.
The princess and her prince.
But I knew better.
We were captive and captor.
“Would you wrap and overnight this for me?”
My personal assistant nodded. “Yes, of course.” Joyce smiled as she picked up the large stuffed puppy with long floppy ears, a small charm bracelet encircling its wrist. “This is so cute. Kenzie will love it.”
As I watched Joyce examine each charm closely, I wished I could be in California tomorrow when my daughter officially turned four years old. I wished she could sit on my lap, wished I was able to watch her tiny fingers rip the paper away from her present. Wished I could clasp it around her wrist.
Joyce had reported to me the past six years but had worked for my father since before I was born, so I’d essentially known her all my life. Taking over the role of Chief Executive Officer of Armstrong International from my retiring father had been easy with Joyce at my right hand.
It had been strange at first, asking someone who’d acted as a quasi-mom to do things like send packages or type up reports, but Joyce thrived on staying busy and often complained if I passed work down to other assistants or interns. And Joyce’s evil eye could be as deadly as my father’s, so she had no trouble keeping me in line.
Joyce was a gem, who knew the company in and out. By now, she could have moved up much further in the ranks. Hell, she could practically run the entire place on her own. But she didn’t want to. She was content just where she was, at least that was what she told me often enough.
I met Joyce’s gaze. “Yeah. I just…” I stroked the soft fur of the stuffed dog.
“You just miss them,” she finished for me. Her voice was gentle. She missed them too. She’d been a quasi-grandmother since both of my children had been born. “I understand.”
And I knew she did.
“Yeah. I should have never let them move away.”
Joyce lifted her brow. “And exactly what choice did you have?”
The truth was… I had plenty of them, I knew.
I could have tried harder to make Danielle happy. I could have given up my role in the company for my kids. I could have been less selfish, more in touch with the needs of my family.
But at the time, I thought it would be okay when my ex-wife said she was moving to California to marry her punk rocker of a boyfriend. Her soulmate, she called him. I didn’t hate her, after all.