Sisters of String and Glass, Part 51

Chapter Thirteen – continued

James, seated nervously on the edge of one of the sofas, rose quickly with a relieved smile, tentatively touching his arm to the woman’s elbow. “Merike, this is Prince Gray, Princess Aloise, Duke Adrian, and Duchess Andalissa.”

The woman nodded, unsmiling, before turning to back to James, not even bothering to run her cold gaze over her intended’s extended family. “It is a pleasure to meet them.”

James offered them an apologetic smile, though Adrian thought it looked a little strained. He gestured to the remaining seats before quietly returning to his own. Adrian, though, thought he saw his cousin flick a glance at a young woman standing meekly in the shadows with her head down, her hands demurely folded before the folds of her slim sea green dress.

Merike tilted her chin up, suddenly capturing everyone’s attention once more. Her eyes were trained on James again, her gaze demanding he look at her.

“A gift from the sea, my prince,” she said, her voice clear and crisp.

Adrian shared a grimace with his sister as they sat behind the mermaid princess’s back. The deep chill of the sea was standing right there in the parlor, and he had to suppress a shiver while trying hard not to thank the fae he wasn’t the Crown Prince.

James awkwardly inclined his head, his eyes nervously flicking back to the woman in the shadows. “Thank you, Merike. My family is honored.”

The princess nodded once, perfunctorily. “The engagement is official.” She turned her head to the side and the young woman quickly sprang up to take the box, her head bowed. “My handmaiden will hold it until the day of the engagement ball.”

The handmaiden was petite with auburn hair cascading down her back. She kept her eyes lowered as she withdrew from the princess, the box clasped tightly in her hands. She kept her face averted, but Adrian was still able to catch a quick glance and saw she was at least as beautiful as the mermaid princess, her long lashes casting light shadows across her cheeks, her pink lips perfectly bowed. It was easy to see why his cousin kept glancing at the handmaiden instead of focusing his attention on the princess.

But this alliance needed to happen without a hitch. He tried vainly to catch James’s eye, to warn him, but James seemed to be intent on not looking at anyone directly except the handmaiden.

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