“Did you hear that?” Baron Dorian exclaimed once the Prince had finished. “Queen Rowena is visiting Verenia. There hasn’t been a Ferserian visit for at least a hundred years.”
“Then I am sure this one will mark a beginning to a strong friendship between our two countries.”
“I am glad that you are so positive about it,” a voice from behind Adrianna observed, making her turn.
“Your Royal Highness,” Baron Dorian exclaimed, half-stunned as he hastily bowed. Adrianna followed suit sinking gracefully into a deep curtsy and looking up at Count Alberto through her eyelashes. He hadn’t changed since she’d last seen him at her first party at her father’s house, but that was to be expected. Alberto was well known for always being well dressed and presentable.
“How wonderful to see you here, Adrianna,” he said, completely blanking Baron Dorian, who was still bowing to the ground. “I was hoping you would come.”
“I wouldn’t have missed tonight for anything, your Highness,” she replied, her father’s words ringing in her head. We must make an impression.
“If you are not otherwise engaged,” the Count continued, “would it be too bold of me to ask for your first dance?”
“I would be honoured, your Highness.” She finally rose from her curtsy, her thighs aching from holding the position for so long. “If you would excuse me, my lord,” she said to Baron Dorian, who couldn’t hide the look of disappointment from his face. But he also knew he couldn’t fight with a member of the royal family.
Adrianna took Count Alberto’s arm as the first dance was announced, moving into the centre of the ballroom along with many other couples. The Prince took centre stage, a pretty young girl on his arm, his wife being absent from the party. Adrianna stopped herself from commenting on this as the music began and she curtsied to her partner. The next moment they were in hold, the Count’s arm around her waist his other hand holding hers.
“You look beautiful tonight, my lady,” the Count said, “but that isn’t very hard for you. You have such a natural beauty it would be a shame to hide it.”
“You are far too kind, your Highness,” Adrianna replied, playing the part of the blushing young woman perfectly.
“You need to stop being so modest,” the Count observed. “You are by far the most beautiful woman in the room and you shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that.”
“As you have such good taste, your Highness, I will have to concede and admit that you are right.”
“Would it be too bold of me to request an audience alone with you?” He asked, still sure of himself. “I have something I wish to give you.”
“It would be an honour,” Adrianna said, aware of what everyone else would think if she and the Count disappeared together, but also aware of what her father had told her. She was to refuse the Count nothing so she had to grant him a private audience.
“I am very glad to hear you say that,” the Count replied.
They danced for a moment in silence, Adrianna wondering what the Count might have for her that would require him to give it to her in private. A sudden moment of fear struck her as she realised what this could be. A proposal. The Count had already expressed his interest in Adrianna as his bride so had he decided that he should act now rather than later? Why would he risk someone else taking what he believed to be his?
Adrianna began to wish that the dance would never end and in her fear she began to stumble.
“Are you alright, my lady?” The Count asked as the toe of Adrianna’s shoe caught against the floor, sending her wobbling.
“I’m fine,” she replied, trying desperately to pull herself together. “My mind was on other things and it made me stumble. I wasn’t concentrating.”
“What could your mind possibly be thinking of?” The Count laughed condescendingly on Adrianna. For the first time that evening she wished she could hit him right between the eyes and tell him just what she thought of him. But she had to keep her pretence up to ensure that she could continue to keep her father’s trust and sneak out to see Matteo and her friends atThe Prancing Lion.
“You know what,” Adrianna said like the idiot Alberto thought she was, “it has gone completely out of my head.” She laughed along with the Count, vowing that one day she would tell him what an ignorant spoilt royal he was.
The dance ended and Adrianna curtsied deeply to Count Alberto.
“If I may?” The Count asked, offering his arm for Adrianna to take. She smiled pleasantly at him, linking her arm through his and allowing him to lead her away from the centre of the room and towards the wall, searching for a door. She could feel the eyes of the people around her following them as they made their way towards a small oak door in the corner of the room.
“Where are we going?” Adrianna asked as the sounds of the ballroom died away. There were only a few candles lit in the corridors, making their movement along them a scary experience for Adrianna, who was already on edge because of what she thought this private audience would mean.
“In here,” the Count said, picking up a candlestick from a table in the corridor and opening a large dark wooden door and holding it open for Adrianna. She entered the room with some trepidation, unsure where she was. Alberto put the candlestick down on a small table by the door, shutting it behind him, the wood making an ominous sounding bang as it closed.
“Your Highness,” Adrianna began.
“No, let me,” the Count said, stopping her in her tracks. “I’m sure your father has already told you that I have expressed an interest in you. You captivated me from the first moment I saw you and I greatly admire you.” His words were making Adrianna uncomfortable. They were so stilted and contrived, like he didn’t mean any of it. “I found something that I wanted to give you to show you the depth of my admiration-“
“You really didn’t have you, your Highness,” Adrianna protested, her father’s advice suddenly leaving her head.
“No, I want to,” the Count said, reaching into the jacket of his dinner suit to get something. When his hand reappeared, Adrianna’s heart almost stopped. Clasped in Count Alberto’s and was a jewellery box.