My eyes returned to the staircase which Adam and Fizz were calmly walking down, the latter looking particularly beautiful in turquoise glass earrings, a medium long floaty pale yellow dress and rather tall matching high heels in which she was still a head shorter than Adam.
They reached the bottom step and Adam said, in a loud and ringing voice "Good evening and welcome to Majesteria Palace's Summer Ball. We hope you all have a pleasant time and that the event proves to be a memorable occasion. Before my cousin Fizz and I open the ball with the timeless waltz [here Fred directed a thumb's up and grinned, causing his sister to blush furiously], the Palace has an announcement to make. This Sunday, my elder sister Eden will be marrying a good citizen of Wavia, George Delphinium."
The applause was deafening. As I clapped along, my surprise was rushing through me, sparking joy everywhere it touched. George and Eden were tying the knot, this Sunday.
‘I must buy them a present,' I thought to myself. ‘They've both been lovely to me.'
As a band I had somehow failed to notice began playing and Adam and Fizz began dancing, my train of thought continued.
Lovely... I was reminded of a quote from Henry and Vanessa's story: "They were charming and generous in every single act, though they knew that these actions were secretly to confirm and display their love for one another." I smiled to myself before fully appreciating Adam and Fizz's grace on the dance floor. I lost myself in the music - a beautiful classical piece in a minor key whose melody moved something deep within me - and was almost captivated by Fizz's jewels as they sparkled in the light from the chandelier.
And then it was over. Adam smiled and murmured something to Fizz which made her smile too as they walked across the dance floor to where Fred and I were standing. Other couples were walking onto the floor as a second piece of classical music started playing.
"May I have the honour of dancing with you?" Adam asked as he and Fizz watched Fred and me.
The seriousness of his expression and the intensity of his eyes (which seemed to darken his irises) almost took my breath away.
"Yes," I replied.
Adam led me onto the dance floor, looking at me as if I were an angel and holding me in his gaze with his emotions. It was as if his will had suddenly replaced my own. It wasn't like he was controlling me or forcing me to do anything; it was ... like Nature, it was like acting out of my own accord. I didn't love him but I was inspired by his love for me.
We danced without exchanging a single word of conversation. Adam gazed at me, deep into my eyes, so that it almost felt like he was boring holes in my soul. My thoughts were sucked into these holes and I just gazed back.
I barely noticed that we spent about an hour on the floor and were probably the centre of attention. Adam didn't care, so neither did I.
When he finally led me off the floor, my trance was broken.
I blinked and came back to my senses.
"What just happened?" I asked, confused.
Adam had led me off to stand with Eve, Eden, George and his cousins. He gave me one final look before walking off.
"It looked like you were entranced," Eve said, laughing nervously. She stopped. "Only, in the proper sense of the word."
"I want to say it was Adam's fault but ... I can see why he might have done that," Eden said calmly.
George nodded in agreement with his fiancée.
"Can't help himself, poor lad."
"What? I don't understand," I said. "Someone tell me what was going on."
"You don't love Adam back, do you?" Eden asked.
"No but how's that relevant?"
"Adam loves you but he wouldn't want to push you away by being forward," she answered. "I think ... that by making you vulnerable, he prevented anything from happening - he would never take advantage of anyone in that manner."
"So... he was protecting me?" I asked dubiously.
"Yes," Eve replied. "From himself."
"But ... how? How did he do that?"
Eve shrugged. "I guess he just knew what effect the right type of gaze would have on you."
"I know I'd be affected that way," Fizz murmured.
"Why didn't he just ... not dance with me?" I asked, puzzled.
"He evidently loves you too much to allow this sort of opportunity to pass him by," George replied. "Can you honestly admit you wouldn't do the same in his position?"
"Plus," Eve added, "he wants to make the most of the moments he spends with you before you being courting someone else."
"What should I say when he returns?"
"Nothing," Eden replied, nodding slightly to herself.
"Just pretend that nothing happened," Eve said.
"Unless you feel wronged," Fizz added.
I didn't feel wronged. I merely accepted what had happened. I could absolutely understand Adam's actions and I didn't hate him for them. Perhaps I felt more for him than I thought.
I gazed absently around the room until my eyes rested on Tiger.
"He was watching you a lot while you danced," George murmured to me.
"Really?" I asked, taken aback.
I continued to watch him. I was able to do so because he wasn't engrossed in conversation with Tia Terra and a tall guy with blond hair whose arm was around Tia's waist. ‘Alistair Draconis' I thought absently.
"Who's that you're staring at?" Eden asked, and I could imagine her grin.
I looked at her. "Promise you won't tell?"
She nodded. "I promise. On my Eagle honour and all that."
"And you won't say a word to Adam?"
I leant up and cupped my hands around her ear. "Tiger Flame," I whispered, and then withdrew.
"Him, eh?" She seemed unsurprised that a Dolphin should be attracted to a Phoenix. "I don't know him personally but I do know that he should like you. After all, you're extremely pretty and you just spent an hour looking soulful."
My eyebrows rose at this but she continued.
"I don't see why he might not ask you to dance, perhaps in a corner somewhere, though no one will say anything at one of our balls. Especially if he's been watching you a lot."
"I don't know," I said sceptically. "He's quite clear on his views." But I was slightly hopeful.
"Well, wait and see," Eden said, winking.
But it didn't happen. However much he had been looking at me, he obviously wasn't interested. Consequently, I went home (borrowing Eden's unicorn and riding with Eve) with a heavy heart.
I persuaded Eve to stay the night, knowing I'd appreciate the company, and my parents were happy for me to place a mattress on the floor in my room. I let her borrow some of my nightclothes and, before we retired, we sat up talking.
At one point in the night, Charity joined the sleepover, slipping into my bed beside me dressed for bed.
"How did the ball go?" she asked.
"Good, I guess."
Charity looked at me questioningly, wondering at my non-committal answer.
"Tiger Flame didn't ask her to dance with him," Eve explained when I didn't say anything.
Charity looked sympathetic. "He's a fool," she said.
Eve grinned and I allowed myself a small smile.
"How was your night?" I asked.
"Good," Charity answered. "Henrietta came and was happy to hear someone had told you about all this after that promise she didn't manage to keep on your Crowning."
"Oh - well, she never got the chance," I said blushing.
"I know - it's fine. And the group want to borrow ‘Punishable Courting' after you've read it."
"Ah, well, that's Adam's, you see," I told her.
"He'd be fine with it," Eve said, surprising us with her input. "He wants to further the cause too."
Charity beamed. "Thanks Eve."
"I think I've nearly finished so I can give it to you soon," I said.
Suddenly, I yawned. "Oh, it's been a long night," I said.
Charity and Eve chuckled.
"I might just get some sleep." I found I was exceedingly tired. It must have been all the attention Charity had given me before the ball and all that dancing with Adam. "Night, everyone."
"Night," Charity and Eve said.
"Pleasant dreams," Eve called as I snuggled down and promptly dozed off.