The years had been good to Lady Annalise. Her beauty had been refined, and her eyes had been filled with a shining maturity that hadn't been there before. Yet Alexander knew better than to judge from appearances.
"I hope there's a good reason for this," the Lady Annalise said, not even bothering to greet the Prince.
Alexander opened his mouth to speak, but he found that his guest had a quicker tongue than he.
"Tell me what's going on."
Though he wanted nothing more than to respond to the lady's shortness with brash words of his own, Alexander restrained himself. "You'll be staying in the chamber across from the sickroom."
Raising her eyebrows slightly, the Lady Annalise crossed her arms. "Oh, and you're so sure that I'm staying?" she asked, but the cruel tone of her voice was underlined with a shaky uncertainty that betrayed her uncaring facade. "What if I don't want to stay?"
"Once you see what condition Adrian is in, then I'm sure you'll see the importance of your being here," Alexander replied. He turned to one of the guards that lined the hallway. "Please, show the lady's servants where to place her belongings."
"I packed no belongings."
Shocked but trying not to show it, Alexander forced himself to meet Annalise's eyes - an action he typically tried to avoid with anyone. "Annalise, you must reconsider."
"I repeat: I packed no belongings. I have no intention of staying here. I wouldn't want the kingdom to get any ideas."
Alexander took a step forward. "Annalise, you know I don't like to use my title to force anyone's hand, but as your prince, I command that you stay here for as long as I dictate."
"Don't abuse your power, Alexander."
Infuriated, Alexander grabbed Annalise's arm and dragged her to himself until they were practically nose to nose. "I'm not," he said in a voice low with rage. "Listen to me. My friend - the backbone of this kingdom - is dying, and I'm not going to let you go so easily."
Annalise yanked her arm from Alexander's grasp. "You don't know the whole story, Alexander. Don't act like you know the whole story."
"I don't need to know anything."
"Funny you're treating me this way. I've heard that you've always known how to treat a woman." The words were delivered spitefully and poignantly.
Irritated by the personal blow, Alexander finally raised his voice. "You will see Adrian, and you will see him now!"
The silence that ensued was thick and raw.