I found that Lucian was very easy to be around. We talked for ages about my sister and discovered that we shared a pet hate for her annoying way of always being right and the way she pinned her hair as far back from her face as possible. He made me laugh hysterically at some of the stories about what Lucinda had done when she’d first arrived in Rosarin and didn’t know their customs. I liked him.
‘But what about you?’ He asked when I’d stopped laughing and caught my breath. ‘It seems I know more about your sisters than you.’
‘Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? You knowing nothing?’
‘I suppose that’s how it normally goes, but I want to get to know you. You seem like a nice person and even if I’m not the man you’re going to marry I would really like to say you are my friend.’
'Well if you put it like that,’ I said, hiding my embarrassment, ‘I suppose you could ask me some questions.’
‘Oh I like this game,’ Lucian said in mock excitement. ‘What do you like doing?’
‘In your free time? When you’re not doing whatever princesses do. Do you have any hobbies?’
‘I don’t really do hobbies. I read, I walk in the gardens, I talk with the other ladies at court and stare aimlessly out of windows.’
‘Is that all you do?’ Lucian said, eyebrows raised.
‘There isn’t a lot of opportunities for me to do things. I have to behave properly.’
‘So if you didn’t have to follow the rules what would you do?’
‘I’d go riding,’ I said, smiling. ‘I was taught to ride as a child but now the only time I get near a horse is when I’m climbing in and out of carriages. There’s the occasional hunt, but that’s only when we have a guest we really want to impress.’
‘I didn’t have you down as an outdoors type girl,’ Lucian said, genuinely surprised.
‘I love being outside. I wish I could do what I want for once, without being watched and spied on by the people who are meant to be my family and friends.’
‘Do you think they’re watching us now?’ He whispered, pretending to look around the room suspiciously.
‘I don’t know,’ I said laughing. ‘That’s the problem with this place. There are eyes everywhere but you’re never sure if you’re the one they’re looking at.’
‘Shall we put it to the test?’ He said, a cheeky smile on his face. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
‘Are you crazy?’ I said, laughing as Lucian gently lead me towards the door. ‘If they catch me I’ll be in so much trouble, I’m meant to stay here until someone finds me.’
‘And someone has. Me. And now we’re going to find the stables, get two horses and go for a ride.’
‘Do you have any idea what you’re saying? There is no way we’d be able to do that. Not only would we get caught long before we reached the stables, there is nowhere to ride to in we do get that far. The princess can’t leave the palace.’
‘But they don’t know you’re the princess. Keep your mask on and no one will know. You can be normal.’
The idea of sneaking out was so tempting I took the hand Lucian was holding out to me and followed him through the crush of people and towards the doors I had entered through. I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as we made it into the open space of the hallway.
‘We made it,’ I said excitedly.
‘Not yet. Take me to the stables.’
Laughing, drunk on my success of sneaking away, I ran down the corridor, my skirt billowing out behind me and Lucian hot on my heels.
‘My lady.’ My heart sank as Duchess Elisabeth’s voice cut into my happy world. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Don’t stop,’ Lucian called to me, taking my hand and continuing to run. ‘She can’t catch us.’
‘But they can,’ I said as two armed guards appeared in front of us, blocking our exit.
‘That’s not fair,’ Lucian muttered. ‘I wasn’t planning on that happening.’
'Like I said,’ I whispered as the guards approached. ‘Eyes everywhere.’
‘My lady you need to return to the ball,’ the Duchess said sternly. ‘It is your duty to wait until a suitor has found you, not to run off into the night with strange men.’
‘But she has done her duty,’ Lucian said, confidently challenging Elisabeth. ‘A suitor has found her, so now she may do what she likes.’
‘And who is said suitor?’ Elisabeth asked skeptically.
‘Me,’ Lucian said, much to his delight when he saw the shocked reaction on the Duchess’s face.
‘What is your name sir?’
‘Lucian d’Arco, son of Emanuel d’Arco, Lord of Kindree and the chief advisor to the King of Rosarin.’ I couldn’t pretend Lucian’s speech didn’t impress me. He hadn’t mentioned he was the son of a lord; that would be sufficient status to impress my father. ‘Now if you don’t mind, Lady Liliana promised to show me the stables.’
‘But the Princess is not allowed to leave the ball. It is now her duty to open the dancing, with the suitor who discovered her. That is you, isn’t it my lord?’
‘I like dancing too,’ I whispered to Lucian, not wanting him to cause a scene. Escaping had been a good idea, but not one that could be successful; there were just too many people watching.
‘If that’s what you want my lady,’ he said, giving in and holding out is arm for me to take.
‘It is.’ I linked my arm through his and Lucian gracefully led me back to the Great Hall.