Chapter Sixteen – continued
Adrian didn’t want to leave Abigail’s side, not after having watched her stepsister glare daggers at her all evening. But James’s behavior worried him. He had to fight the urge to clench his hands into fists as he made his way over.
“I don’t imagine they do have cakes in the Pearl Kingdom, do they?” James was saying as he lifted a small square of iced cake.
A few feet away, the handmaiden blushed and giggled, shaking her head, making her dark hair swish around her shoulders. She, too, was sampling cakes. A quick look at the dais told Adrian the mermaid princess was currently speaking with her parents, her back to the room.
“James,” Adrian said, forcing his voice to sound cheerful as he approached.
His cousin’s head shot up, a guilty look quickly wiped away. It was quick, but Adrian still caught it and had to take a deep breath to keep himself calm.
“Ah, Adrian!” James called out, the smallest twitch to his lips indicating his nervousness. “Enjoying the ball?”
“I should be asking the same of you,” Adrian said, lifting a brow. “Care to tell me what’s going on?”
James swept a hand over the table constantly being refilled with desserts. “Just introducing Merike’s handmaiden to the pleasures of living on land. She’ll be relocating alongside the princess.”
Adrian’s eyes narrowed. “Shouldn’t you be this friendly with your bride instead of her handmaiden?”
James’s eyes hardened. “My bride is currently indisposed.”
“Look, James, I get it. No one wants an arranged marriage. Especially not in this day and age. But you’re the Crown Prince. You have duties and responsibilities.”
There was a sudden gleam in James’s eyes that had Adrian’s spine straightening.
“It doesn’t have to be mine.”
“Stop thinking about yourself,” Adrian hissed. “You were raised to wear the crown, not me. It’s your duty and responsibility. Your father will disown you, will drive you from the kingdom.”
James shrugged and looked down at the desserts, his shoulders sagging. “If you’re so interested in responsibility and duty, why don’t you become king instead of me? You could probably do a better job of it than me.”
“Because I promised Abigail I would take her back to Murant Holdings. Do you think Abigail, our Gail, would marry me if I made her Queen instead?”
James looked up at him angrily. “So you’ll have me sacrifice my happiness for yours?”
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