Chapter Sixteen – continued
Abruptly, Adrian turned her and looked in the direction Abigail had been looking. By the suddenly clench of his jaw, she knew he saw her stepsister hovering beside a nearby pillar.
“You’ll just have to keep occupied all evening and dance with me,” he said with a grin, though his eyes were still trained on her stepsister, a frostiness around the edges.
She glared at him, but there was a playful undertone to it and her voice. “My feet will surely fall off by then and my stomach will be quite irate.”
“Then don’t leave my side. I’ll formally introduce you as the woman I intend on courting to my aunt and uncle. James won’t mind,” he said grimly, his hand suddenly tightening around hers.
“What do you mean?” she asked, a frown of her own furrowing her brow.
Adrian took a deep breath, his face serious as she studied him, worry fluttering in her chest. “There’s no love between James and Merike. But I think,” he stopped and cleared his throat. “I think he may be in love with her handmaiden, the woman in blue standing behind the mer king and queen.”
Abigail gasped and her eyes widened, though she was too well-groomed to let her head snap around to stare at foreign royalty. “But my father worked so hard to unify the Glass and Pearl Kingdoms.”
“Don’t worry. James has been carefully groomed. He won’t upset things simply because he doesn’t love his wife. But it’ll be a loveless marriage.”
Abigail shook her head. “Poor James. He’s such a sweet man. Strange at times, but still sweet and thoughtful.”
Abruptly, Adrian’s hand tightened around hers. Startled, she looked up, surprised to see how serious his eyes were.
“Sweet and thoughtful,” Adrian repeated, murmuring quietly, almost to himself. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Abigail, about the markets. You were probably telling me your name is Abigail and I misunderstood.” He gave her a crooked smile. “I suppose I still just rush into things.”
Abigail lowered her eyes as a hot flush swept across her skin. Her hand started to shake slightly in his and he only gripped it even tighter. She wished he hadn’t brought it up. The fact that he’d chosen to escort her said he had forgiven her for misleading him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t correct you,” she said softly, her voice trembling softly. “I should have. My mother raised me to be better than that. I was just so surprised to see you and then you were there the next week and I didn’t know how to correct you.”
“No, Abigail.” The force in his voice made her head swing up, but the expression on his face was gentle and understanding. “You’re Abigail. How can you be someone else? I’m glad you haven’t changed much. And I never did give you a chance to try to correct me.” He tilted his head to the side. “But, tell me, why were you dressed as a maid?”
Abigail grimaced. She quickly took a look around the crowded ballroom, looking to see if her father was close by. Not seeing him, but catching sight of Camille and Andalissa cautiously leaning around a pillar to eye them, she risked a bit of indecency and swayed herself closer to him. As close to his ear as she dared, she said softly, “The day Father returned to the Pearl Kingdom, Camille and Muriel essentially went to war with each other. Camille assured me she had a plan, though I still can’t fathom what that is. She made me stay out of Muriel’s way, so I took to the kitchens. Muriel treated Camille like a servant, Adrian. Father doesn’t know yet. I don’t know when Camille plans on telling him. But I did my best to stay out of it and Helene, our head cook, often sent me to the markets.”
Adrian frowned as she finished and continued to keep her close. It should have been indecent, but only Madeline seemed to be paying them any attention.
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