Adrianna could feel more whispers spreading as the Prince led her out onto the dance floor. She couldn’t even imagine what they must be thinking of her as Niccolo’s arm went around her waist, pulling her closer to him than she had been expecting, her chest pressed tightly against his.
“Alberto was right about at least one thing,” he whispered in her ear as they began to dance, “you are incredibly beautiful.”
“Your Highness doesn’t have to flatter me so,” Adrianna said, feeling trapped in Niccolo’s arms as they danced.
“But you deserve it. In fact, if Alberto hadn’t already claimed you for himself I would be courting you myself.”
Adrianna looked up at Niccolo’s face, shocked and appalled by his bluntness. “I’m sorry your Highness but I don’t think that is appropriate. You have a wife.”
“A wife I married for her money,” Niccolo laughed. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand why I married her, why should you? But sometimes it is tiring being stuck to the same, unloving woman day in, day out. I need young, beautiful women to keep me from going mad. Beautiful women like you.”
Adrianna pushed against the Prince’s chest, not wanting to be near him another moment. She could smell the stench of wine on his breath, possibly the reason for why he was acting in such an inappropriate manner.
“Let me go,” she said pathetically, trying to struggle free without looking like she was fighting against him. She didn’t want the rest of the room knowing what was going on.
“Don’t take offence,” the Prince replied, his lips brushing against her ear. “I shouldn’t speak so bluntly. Don’t ask to leave, the dance isn’t over and I’ve hardly had a chance to speak to you. What do you think of the necklace my son bought you? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? He brought it to me after he had chosen it to make sure I approved.”
“I didn’t expect Count Alberto to be so generous,” she said awkwardly as they moved around the floor together, Adrianna being forced to move in unison with the Prince. “I’m not sure I really deserve it.”
“Of course you do, a beautiful woman like you deserves everything she is given.” The Prince’s grip on her tightened as his lips gently kissed the section of bare flesh just below her ear. Adrianna tried to pull away but he was surprisingly strong. She was sickened and repulsed by his touch and wished that she could get away from him and wash the feel of his hands and lips off her.
To her great relief a strong hand appeared on the Prince’s shoulder, making him turn away from Adrianna, loosening his grip on her, allowing her to take a step backwards.
“Your Highness,” Duke Giordano said as politely as he could manage. “I was wondering if I might borrow my daughter from you for a moment. Something has come up that I must discuss with her.”
“At least let us finish this dance,” the Prince protested.
“It really is a matter of the utmost urgency,” the Duke insisted as firmly as he could without sounding rude.
“Very well,” the Prince said, “but I expect to see both of you at the celebrations for the arrival of our Ferserian guests.”
“I wanted to beg your leave to not attend this particular event,” Duke Giordano said. “I would rather Adrianna and I stayed away from court while the Ferserians are here.”
“That I will not allow,” the Prince exclaimed. “You will both attend. I want Lady Adrianna as a companion for Queen Rowena. I am showing her the best Verenia has to offer and your daughter is the most beautiful star in my court so she will be attending. That’s an order.”
“Very well,” the Duke replied, not willing to argue with the Prince while the rest of the room had their eyes fixed on the three people standing stationary in the middle of the room.
“Very good,” the Prince replied. “I shall see you soon.”
The Duke put one hand on his daughter’s shoulder, hurriedly leading her away from the Prince. As the pair made their way back through the crowd, eyes were averted and whispering ceased, no one wanting to be caught gossiping by the subjects of their conversation. The music, which has stopped when the Duke had called a halt to the Prince’s dance, began again, a new, lively dance to conceal the tension that was building up in the room.
“I think you should go home,” the Duke said stiffly. “I can’t have you drawing any more attention to yourself.”
“Father it was not-“
“I’ll hear your excuses later,” he hissed. “Right now I need to see to some business affairs. I will send for the carriage to take you home and it will then return to collect me once I am finished. We will discuss what has happened here in the morning.”
“But I did nothing-“
“What did I say, Adrianna?” The Duke said, a deep anger making his tone sharp and dangerous. “I will hear your excuses in the morning, but now I have to get you out of the prying eyes of these people.”
His hand was on her back, steering her back towards the grand staircase they had descended earlier that evening. “I will make your apologies to Count Alberto,” Adrianna’s father continued, speaking more to himself than his daughter, “I don’t think he saw any of what passed between you and the Prince so unless someone tells him there is very little damage done on that score. I will give your goodbyes to the Prince, say you fell suddenly ill and had to be escorted home.”
They finally emerged outside into the courtyard where they had arrived. The Duke gave the order for his carriage to be called and within a few minutes it was rolling across the cobbles towards them. He opened the door and quickly ushered Adrianna inside.
“We will be discussing this and I will want an explanation,” he said as he shut the door. The driver’s whip cracked and the horse leapt into motion, dragging the carriage along behind it.