I watched as everyone resumed their conversations, eyes occasionally flicking in my direction. I could tell people were whispering about me. Either my father had told everyone about my conversation with Markus, or someone had seen Lucian and me in the stables. I sincerely hoped it was the former because I didn’t want my father to know about the latter.
I could see Lucian hanging around, moving through the crowd, occasionally stopping and talking to people around him. I wished with all my heart that I could be with him, on his arm so he could show me off and be proud of me.
My daydream was interrupted by Markus, who appeared in front of me, taking my hand and kissing it. I could feel the pressure of the rest of the room on me, especially from my father, waiting to see what I would do.
‘Prince Markus,’ I said, smiling sweetly at him. ‘I hope you are enjoying the ball. As our guest of honour I would hate it if you were to be lacking anything.’
‘Everything is splendid my lady. Your father has been very kind to put this on for me.’ His eyes gave away his nervousness, flicking around the room, not meeting my gaze. ‘But there is one thing that would make this evening perfect; if you would give me the honour of the first dance.’
‘Of course,’ I said, standing and linking my arm through Markus’s so he could lead me out onto the dance floor. There was a smattering of applause from the guests and suitors, but the room fell silent as the musicians began to play and Markus led me across the dance floor in a stately waltz.
‘Have you forgiven me?’ He asked quietly.
‘I should be the one asking for forgiveness,’ I said, knowing exactly what my father would want me to say and feeling the eyes of his spied on us. ‘I behaved wrongly this afternoon. I was in a bad temper and took your comment too harshly and overreacted. I know you didn’t mean to offend me.’
‘I’m so glad to hear you say that,’ Markus said, a small smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. ‘Can we forget that happened and start again?’
‘Of course,’ I simpered, wondering how many second chances Markus would have to have before he finally got it right.
‘You look very beautiful tonight,’ he said, his eyes fixed uncomfortably on my face. ‘I’ve never seen anyone with eyes like yours before, they’re so strange and haunting.’
‘I hope that is a good thing my Prince,’ I said, remembering to keep the tone light so he wouldn’t take offense.
‘Of course, they are hauntingly beautiful in the best possible way.’
‘I’m glad they please you.’
‘Why?’ He asked bluntly.
‘Excuse me?’ I said, taken aback by the unexpected question.
‘Why are you glad that your eyes please me? Is it because of your father? Or are you genuinely glad that I find you attractive?’
I hadn’t been expecting such blunt questions from the Prince so hadn’t mentally prepared an answer for him.
‘I’m glad you find me attractive. Isn’t that what every woman wants, to be admired by men?’
‘I suppose that is true,’ Markus said. ‘To tell you the truth I’ve not had much experience with women, at least not ones like you. The women at my court are very superficial, pretending they have feelings they don’t. You’re different I feel.’
His words made me feel guilty about lying to him. His upbringing had clearly been as carefully planned as mine and it was only at this moment that he could begin to consider marriage.
‘I don’t like people who lie,’ I said truthfully. ‘I think they can’t be trusted with anything, and it’s hard to build a relationship with someone without trust.’
‘I completely agree,’ Markus said as the music came to an end. ‘Do you trust me my lady?’
‘Yes,’ I lied. ‘You are a good man, I can tell.’
‘Thank you my lady,’ Markus said gratefully, bowing and kissing my hand again before leading me back to my chair next to my father. ‘Can I get you anything Lady Liliana?’
‘That is very kind of you, but I am fine.’
‘Very well,’ Markus said, clicking his heels. ‘I shall see you soon I hope. Good evening my lady.’
‘Well done,’ my father whispered to me as soon as Markus was out of earshot. ‘I assume you two are now friends again.’
‘Good,’ he responded, no emotion showing in his voice. ‘Very good.’