"Some pray to marry the man they love,
My prayer will somewhat vary;
I humbly pray to heaven above
That I love the man I marry."
Rose Pastor Stokes,
The Man I Marry
"If you insist on this nonsense, then I shall have to go with you."
The early morning sunlight streamed cheerfully through the windows of the Basildon manor. The halls were subdued and quiet, and the only sounds Lyta could hear were the soft murmurs from the dining hall as breakfast was being prepared and her own hushed footfalls.
She still remembered the events of yesterday afternoon quite clearly. While wandering around the dining hall keeping an eye on the Baroness Dirce, Lyta got into a pretty heated debate with Lord Midas about the pros and cons of arranged marriages. Admittedly, she let herself get carried away with her arguments and the whole affair attracted quite a crowd. And then, who would happen to appear but General Nephrite, trying to mitigate the situation. To her horror, she started getting all distracted and flustered. She far too easily recalled the night of the Welcoming Ball, when their eyes had met for one long, slow moment and her cheeks soon started turning red. She didn't know why his sudden appearance could affect her so and it was damnably embarrassing. Luckily, Luna had entered the fray, ending any further verbal sparring and dispersing their captive audience with her usual efficiency.
Lyta finally managed to address the object of her nervousness directly. "You were kind to intervene, my lord Nephrite, but to be honest, there was no need for it." She was indeed a bit miffed at the implication of his interference; that he felt she couldn't even handle that blustering old coot Midas.
"It seems so." Nephrite let out a good-natured laugh. "My apologies. You were quite eloquent in expressing your own views. I couldn't help myself and joined in."
She could say nothing in response but a vague "Is that so?" Ugh. What's happening to me? She thought, disgusted with herself. She collected herself and managed to add, "I appreciate your compliment."
"Perhaps we could discuss your intriguing views some more another time, Princess." He smiled openly and bowed, taking his leave.
She blinked and simply replied with a faintly puzzled "Perhaps," as she watched him saunter away.
At that point she was positively baffled. Most suitors would immediately take advantage of the situation and attempt to involve her in more conversation. Nephrite, on the other hand, backed off as soon as the fire was out. In contrast to Mina's juicy news, he didn't act like he was romantically pursuing her at all. And now, Lyta had to ask herself, did I just get all fluttery and bewildered over nothing? Now she was even more embarrassed!
Mulling over the problem, her eyes fell on Luna who was perched on one of the dining chairs and watching her owlishly.
"What's the matter, Luna?" Lyta tried to say as nonchalantly as possible even as she felt color flooding her cheeks.
"Oh, nothing." Luna casually replied. "I'm just an innocent feline bystander who just so happened to save the day but was completely ignored." Her ruby red eyes twinkled knowingly.
Lyta could do nothing but laugh at that, and then shook her head with a sigh as she brought herself back to the present. It's best to stop thinking about inconsequential things, she thought to herself. She quickly climbed the grand staircase and turned at the next corner, making her way to the right wing of the manor. She opened the door at the end of the hall and slipped in with a relieved sigh. "Mission accomplished!" she announced.
Serenity and the three other Senshi looked up in unison. They were all seated on divans placed underneath one of the tall glass windows overlooking the tiered gardens. "How's everything?" Serenity asked excitedly, leaning forward until she was at the edge of her seat.
"So far, so good," Lyta replied cautiously as she made her way over to them.
"Exactly!" Serenity crowed happily. "Specifics, Lyta. Stun me with how well our plans are going."
With the need to be in constant contact with Lady Ariadne, Lyta had been appointed the go-between. In the morning, when the Lady Ariadne is allowed to go on her daily walk in the gardens, Lyta would just "happen" to be walking too. This time around, Ariadne had quite a bit of interesting news to share.
Seating herself on one of the divans, Lyta reported her findings. "Well, Lady Ariadne confirmed that she did receive the note our unwitting messenger sent." She forest green eyes twinkling amusedly. "She seemed quite taken with the prince. And, of course, she sends her thanks for that "darling" poem we sent her."
"Why am I not surprised?" Rae said, as they all laughed openly.
"I have to say, Serenity… asking Endymion, of all people, was exceedingly clever and daring of you. I daresay both of you are now on good terms." Mina remarked as she winked.
Serenity made a face. "Far from it." She had seen him deliver the message to Ariadne, but he'd looked far from pleased with her. Ignoring his glower, she danced every dance until the end of the evening, as much to avoid him as anything else. Perhaps he realized some plot was afoot? He was certainly clever enough to figure out the secret code if he put his mind to it.
Not that it would have mattered if Endymion had deciphered the code. Serenity reflected. Even if he had become privy to their plans, with all of his cynical disregard, she doubted that he would have attempted to interfere one way or the other. After all, it was none of his concern, even if he did agree to act as her go-between. It was his fault she was unable to deliver the message herself in the first place.
"Did Ariadne have more information for us?" Amy inquired curiously as she idly stirred her morning tea. "We need to know how long we have before she is to be wed to Lord Dionysus. Surely, there's a way for her to find out about the Baroness' plans."
Lyta let out a tortured moan. "Easier said than done. That girl is less than stellar in the IQ department. And she has as much backbone as a field mouse."
She relayed how the Lady Ariadne prattled on and on while Lyta sweated, knowing they could be discovered at any moment. "My fiancé sent me many presents including a lovely emerald necklace and a fine silver mirror." Lyta had to keep interrupting the artless nattering and it was an effort to rein in the sharp retorts she wanted to say to bring the girl to her senses.
But amidst all the random chatter, Ariadne was able to share some very important details. "His lordship also sent me his portrait. He is not as old as I feared b-but he is terribly fat and frighteningly ugly. He has long hair and this big bushy beard and looks as ferocious as an Earth barbarian." That was all it took to bring tears to the poor girl's doe brown eyes. And Lyta had sighed inwardly as she clasped Ariadne's hand soothingly.
"If we are to pull off this escape successfully, we need to know more about the wedding plans." Lyta reminded her.
Ariadne paled. "Oh, I couldn't. My aunt never tells me anything! I don't even know where the wedding is to take place."
Lyta bit back an exasperated oath. "Perhaps you could manage to… uh, somehow overhear when your aunt is talking to someone else-"
Ariadne gaped at her in utter horror. "Oh no! I couldn't do that!"
Lyta rubbed her temple as she cursed silently. Was there anything this girl could do?! "You have a right to know these things! If you really want your freedom, then you have to risk your aunt's ire a little bit!"
The bewildered girl bit her lip and whispered guiltily, "Well, when my presents came today, my aunt also received a very long letter from the earl. I noticed her reading it in her study."
"I see." Lyta eyed Ariadne speculatively as she weighed the merits of asking the girl to do some clandestine rummaging in her aunt's study but quickly realized the futility of it. Ariadne was far too soft-hearted and would probably faint at the mere thought of carrying out such mischief.
"Sometimes, I feel so terribly guilty, plotting to run away from my family. I will be in such disgrace." Ariadne bowed her dark head with a deep sigh.
"You have to trust us. Everything will be alright in the end." Lyta coaxed a wan smile from Ariadne as she took her leave. "Now I simply must go before we are discovered."
"Of course, your Highness."
After Lyta finished her tale, Amy sat back and bit her bottom lip thoughtfully. "A letter from the earl himself. That's promising… It would surely contain far more information than what Ariadne could glean from simple eavesdropping, even if we could somehow convince her to do it."
"True. The question is how are we going to get our hands on that letter?" Mina asked, chin cupped in her hands. "It's locked away in the Baroness' private study."
"Well, I do agree with Lyta." Rae replied. "Depending on Ariadne to do some spying will get us nowhere. We might as well take matters into our own hands."
"Agreed." Serenity declared, silver blue eyes flashing. Then she sat up straight as the beginning of an idea popped in her head. "Well, there is a dinner function this very evening. I'm certain the Baroness Dirce will be busy hosting the event. It'll be the ideal time to snoop around in her study."
"That sounds perfect!" Mina exclaimed. "This is what we're going to do…"
And so, the plotting and planning began anew.
In another suite in the manor, plotting and planning were also on the agenda. Luna sat atop a marble table, looking into a crystalline column as tall as she is. Within its depths, the column of pure transparent quartz shone brightly, as it clearly showed another, more elegant suite with cheerful morning light filtering through broad bay windows.
"Anything interesting?" Within the crystal's depths, Queen Serenity looked up casually from her perusal of several parchment scrolls on her desk.
"Oh, they're definitely up to something. I just can't quite put a finger on it yet…" Luna trailed off, her forehead scrunching in puzzlement.
"Well, no need to pull the plug just yet." The queen smiled softly as she dipped her quill in ink and began scribbling on a fresh piece of parchment. "Let's wait to see how things turn out. A little dash of Serenity's harebrained schemes might be exactly what we need."
Luna shrugged her shoulders as she stared in the queen's image within the crystal. "Well, I must admit, things have taken a promising turn. I actually saw them having a normal conversation."
The queen perked up and stopped scribbling immediately, the quill in her hand still suspended above the parchment. "Promising, indeed! I pray thee, do tell."
"Well, there's nothing much to tell, I was on the other side of the room." Luna explained as she swished her black tail idly. "Suffice it to say that they were talking quite animatedly, with heads close together, no hostile glares or icy scowls in sight. I couldn't believe my eyes."
"Interesting…" Queen Serenity said with a satisfied smile. "Looks like we've made some progress, at last. You must keep me updated."
"Of course, Your Majesty." Luna reassured her. And then, she paused, and smiled mischievously. "Speaking of updates, I think we have a couple more romances developing than we first surmised."
The queen blinked her lavender eyes in surprise and then let out a bright, liquid laugh. "This is becoming even more and more fascinating!"
"For instance, Lord Jadeite seems to be utterly enamored with Rae." Luna's ruby eyes twinkled merrily.
The queen raised an elegant eyebrow. "And how is our dear Rae handling it?"
"As ruthlessly as ever." Luna laughed fondly. "Although it looks like he's getting under her skin. He might still have a fighting chance, I daresay."
Queen Serenity nodded absently as she rolled her quill in her fingers. "He does look like he has a tenacious streak. I imagine Rae would need a man with that particular quality."
"Most decidedly so. On the other hand, Lord Nephrite has taken a far more cautious approach when it comes to Lyta." Luna explained, remembering the encounter in ballroom she witnessed just the day before.
"Rae and Lyta, hmm…" The queen smiled widely as placed the quill on top of her desk and cupped her heart-shaped face in her hand. "I'm quite intrigued. We might even be able to work this to our advantage. Details, Luna, details!"
Luna laughed in answer as she recounted her observations.
Endymion cut out a piece of his steak and chewed distractedly. He frowned as his midnight blue eyes wandered around the room, looking for the familiar flash of silver hair done up in coiled buns, the soft twilight hued eyes. Tonight's dinner was already well under way but the girl was nowhere in sight. And Serenity was never one to miss a meal.
He watched as an anxious looking Luna circled the room. It must be tough, having a princess so full of curiosity, he thought to himself amusedly. Luna caught sight of him and made her way to their side of the table. "Do you know where Serenity went?" she whispered from beside his chair.
Endymion blinked at her in bland surprise. "Have you gone mad? She is my betrothed. We do not talk."
Her cat eyes glared daggers at him. "I'm not in the mood for your wisecracks, Endymion. The Senshi said she has a headache and that she went up to her room to rest, but when I went to check on her, she's nowhere to be found!"
Up to no good, no doubt. Endymion thought to himself. This sounds exactly like a sneaky-assed thing she'd do. He decided not to tell Luna about his suspicions, of course. He and Serenity needed to talk… privately. Outwardly, he was the epitome of casual innocence. "Well, perhaps she just went out for a bit of fresh air. She's probably blundering around the gardens or something."
Luna sighed, her sleek head drooping. "You may be right." She walked off on her light paws towards the doorway, "Perhaps I shall take a look outside."
Endymion turned back to his dinner. He carelessly pushed food around on his plate as he watched Luna leave the dining hall out of the corner of his eye. He definitely needed to confront his devious little fiancé before this goes any further. Who knows what sort of devilment she has gotten him involved in.
He waited a few minutes to make sure the coast was clear, then smoothly stood up from the table and took his leave. If his hunch is right, and they usually are, he already has a general idea of where he can find her. And by the gods, he was going to wring an explanation out of her. Prince Endymion stalked out of the dining hall.
Clueless about Endymion's approach, Serenity flitted from shadow to shadow along the darkened hallway, Mina following close behind. Baroness Dirce's private study was right beside the library. The problem was that the hallway leading to it was just off the main foyer, which was well lit and teeming with the constant traffic of servants and guests. Serenity and Mina paused on either side of a darkened alcove and glanced at each other. To get to the study, they'd have to cross the main foyer unnoticed. Mina opened her mouth to say something but a figure out in the foyer caught her attention and her blue eyes widened.
"What is it?" Serenity mouthed at her in confusion.
"Luna." Mina moved her lips silently.
Oh no, Serenity thought as she caught sight of the slender feline, ebony fur glinting under the warm lights, coming down the grand staircase. They both continued to watch tensely as Luna paused in mid-step, one paw still raised, and lifted her head to sniff delicately. Serenity and Mina exchanged nervous glances.
What should we do? If she catches us, our plans will be ruined! Serenity wondered worriedly.
"I got this covered." Mina mouthed, she pointed to herself and then to Luna. She then gestured calmly to Serenity and then towards the hallway on the other side of the foyer. "You get to that study."
Fighting flutters of nervousness, Serenity nodded in understanding. Mina gave her a wink and then sauntered casually out into the foyer as if she belonged there. She waved and smiled warmly to some of the guests she was acquainted with and made as if to climb the stair.
"Luna!" The Venusian Senshi exclaimed feigning total surprise. "What are you doing here? Greeting some of your friends too?" She inquired innocently.
Caught off-guard, Luna blinked. "Mina! By the Star Goddess, have you seen Serenity?"
"Oh, I'm afraid she felt a little worn out and went back up to her rooms." Mina delivered the agreed-upon script. "Is everything all right?"
"I went up to her rooms and she's vanished! You must know where she is!" She pinned Mina down with a shrewd ruby glare.
"W-what?" Mina was a bit taken aback. Drat, Luna knows we're up to something. "Well, I'm sure she must be around here somewhere…" She tried to stall as her mind raced.
"I don't know what scheme you girls are concocting, but you better tell me where she is right now!" Luna demanded in a low voice, so other guests wouldn't hear.
Mina disarmed Luna with a light laugh. "My lips are sealed, unfortunately. But come on, I highly doubt that Serenity is wandering around, lurking in the shadows somewhere."
"Really." Luna said in a deadpan tone, still doubtful.
"She might have gotten hungry and since all the servants have their hands full, she could have easily slipped away to fetch something from the kitchens herself." Mina continued rather logically as she deftly led Luna away. "Why don't I help you look for her?"
"I suppose…" Luna hesitantly decided. "I need all the help I can get."
"Of course, I'm unquestionably right." Mina smiled, dimples appearing on either cheek.
"I wouldn't go that far." Luna scoffed. "I know you're up to something."
"Why, Luna, whatever would make you think that?" Mina professed innocence unashamedly, blue eyes twinkling.
"You usually are." Luna retorted archly.
Their banter faded as they drifted away from Serenity's hiding place.
The Moon Princess let out a huge sigh of relief. That was a close one. Serenity was now beginning to understand Endymion's scorn of the old romantic tales she cherished. He had commented on how unamusing it was for the poor knight to get mauled by a fire-breathing dragon while the clueless damsel simply languished about in ever constant distress. And here she and her friends were, sticking their necks out, risking at least considerable embarrassment and scandal while Lady Ariadne ate scrumptious tidbits and waltzed the night away. Serenity felt a bit disgruntled but it was quickly extinguished by guilt. Poor Ariadne needed her help and Serenity had taken it upon herself to aid her. Yes, it was quite risky, but she wasn't about to fail the poor girl now.
With fresh determination, she now eyed the hallway on the other side of the foyer. Scurrying around the edges of the crowd will just bring more attention to her. She supposed it was best to just follow Mina's example and simply strut around like she really was supposed to be there. Luckily, everyone was busy with arriving and departing guests. The opportunity for slipping unnoticed into the Baroness' study was too perfect to be missed. Acting as casually as she could, she stepped out of the alcove and into the warm glow of the room beyond. She maneuvered through the lazy stream of people coming and going, giving a quick smile or a nod in greeting when a guest would recognize her. She was almost halfway across the main foyer, near the bottom of the grand staircase, when she found herself suddenly facing a broad chest clad in black cashmere wool.
"Why such haste, my princess?" The voice was low, and all too familiar.
Startled, Serenity looked up. He stood tall and dark, midnight blue eyes studying her intently. Underneath the golden light, his hair was raven black, with the sheen of dark feathers.
"Endymion." She breathed, heart thudding. Fearing that she might have sounded far too engrossed with his unexpected arrival, she altered her tone to a more formal one. "W-What are you doing here?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I should be asking you the same thing. For someone who supposedly has a vicious headache, you're certainly chipper this evening." The pleasantness of his tone belied the steel in his eyes. He took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm as he led her to a far more secluded part of the foyer.
Serenity was still reeling and had no choice but to follow his lead. Glancing furtively at the hallway across the room, it was now further away than before. She finally whirled around to face him and struggled to break free without causing a scene, "I don't see why this is any of your business, Endymion."
"None of my business? I'm rather inclined to doubt that." He leaned in closer, whispering in her ear. "I'm fairly certain this little excursion has something to do with that harmlesslittle note I passed to Ariadne."
Serenity's eyes widened in shock. "H-How did you…"
"Give me a little credit! Anyone could have figured out you're up to something. And I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what mischief you've gotten me into."
"You?! You are not involved." She objected indignantly.
"Then you ought to make that clear to Ariadne." Endymion demanded icily. "I think that empty-headed girl believed that little note was from me. Now, she spends most of her time gawking at me as though I were her knight in shining armor."
Serenity gaped at him. "Blast it. Now you've gone and botched a simple…"
Angry lightning flashed in the midnight blue of his eyes. "Believe me, I didn't have the slightest intention of getting involved in this intricate little plot of yours."
"Well, why didn't you make it clear to Ariadne that you were only my messenger?"
"Why didn't you make it clear I was delivering secrets?" Endymion retorted sharply, glaring down at her.
"I…" She wriggled from underneath his grasp, the intensity of his gaze bringing a flush of warmth to her cheeks. But there was no help for it and she finally conceded. "I'm most grateful to you for delivering my message. I'm sorry I tricked you, but I was desperate."
"Why?" Endymion frowned, remembering the feckless little poem. "What is so damn important?"
Serenity bit her lip and stole a glance at him from underneath her lashes. She considered fabricating some crazy tale but Endymion's hard gaze left her grasping at straws.
"Very well." She glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was within earshot. "The truth is… I'm trying to help Ariadne escape from her guardian."
Endymion's frown deepened. "What the hell for?"
"Because that poor girl shouldn't be forced to marry some creepy old earl." Serenity argued stubbornly.
"What addled logic!" Endymion stared at her in bewilderment. "All she has to do is say no. A woman can't be forced into marriage without her consent."
"You know a sweet gentle thing like her won't have the courage to stand up to her dragoness of an aunt. You've seen Ariadne yourself, she's miserable. I simply want to make her happy and give her the chance to choose who she marries…" Unlike us, Serenity almost added. "So we came up with this plan to help her escape and the messages are a way for us to communicate with her." She ended her explanation awkwardly.
"That's not a plan, that's faerie tales." Endymion told her bluntly.
"Everyone needs faerie tales." No one needs it more than you.
Endymion swore. "Damn, I was afraid you harbored some fool notion like that. Listen to me, the baroness could have you brought up on charges if you just make off with her ward. As the heir to the throne, this is not the time for you to be playing around in people's private affairs."
She drew herself up and sniffed with a mixture of haughtiness and wounded feelings. "I might have known you'd have that sort of attitude. And you wonder why I didn't bother to tell you anything."
"It would be the attitude of any sane person!" He exclaimed in exasperation. Evidently, Serenity seemed to have no premonition of the myriad of ways this could go wrong.
She huffed irritably. "Why am I even explaining myself to you? It surely cannot concern you what risks I'm taking. No one is asking you to play the hero."
She thought she saw Endymion flinch but he replied is his usual deep quiet tone. "That would be sheer idiocy. I simply want it made plain to Ariadne and everyone else involved that I have absolutely nothing to do with this epic melodrama."
"No need to exert yourself any further then." Serenity replied coolly. "I'll make certain everyone understands that nothing is to be expected of you."
"Wonderful." He countered acidly.
"Then I trust you will leave me to settle my own affairs. Have a good night!" Not giving him a chance to reply, Serenity whisked away from him.
Still fuming, she once again negotiated through the crowded foyer. When she was midway through, she took a surreptitious glance over her shoulder, but Endymion was gone, vanishing as suddenly as he had appeared. Her shoulders sagged a little. Well, what had she expected? That he would stay and offer to help? Not likely. Besides, she didn't need him, not for anything.
Finally reaching the darkened hallway to the library, Serenity found it empty and quiet. She breathed a sigh, almost there. She passed the library's huge double doors and went on to the next, the Baroness' private study. She turned the door knob and was relieved to find it unlocked. Inching the door open a crack, Serenity peered inside. The room was dark and empty, a fire burning low in the grate across a graceful whitewood desk. Taking a nervous breath, she pushed the door open a little further.
"What the devil are you doing?"
Endymion's voice was so close, she jumped in surprise. She glanced over her shoulder only to find the Prince directly behind her, wearing his trademark thundercloud scowl.
"Will you stop doing that?!" she demanded, putting a hand over her erratically beating heart. Taking a steadying breath, she looked daggers at him. "What, I assured you I will settle my own affairs, didn't I? I thought you 'didn't want to have anything to do with this epic melodrama.'" She quoted him tartly.
Endymion sighed regretfully. "I hate to say this, but I've changed my mind."
Serenity paused, unsettled by his unexpected response. "How noble of you. You've finally realized the merits of helping a poor innocent girl go free from the shackles of a forced marriage?"
He gave her a flat look. "No, I think it's an absurd idea almost certainly doomed from the start."
Serenity blinked and let out an exasperated breath. "Then why do you persist on interfering with me?"
"What else am I supposed to do? If I let you continue with this foolish intrigue and all hell breaks loose, I will inescapably be dragged into it. Your ardent fiancé."
She shook her head in disbelief. "I should have known that's all you would be worried about."
"Obviously. If you insist on this nonsense, then I shall have to go with you."
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow, and placed both hands on her hips. "And what if I don't want any help?"
"I don't think you're in any position to argue." Endymion loomed closer, both hands against either side of the doorframe, boxing her in. "Especially if I call the staff's attention to what looks like attempted theft happening right underneath their noses."
Her eyes narrowed, studying his face. "You wouldn't dare."
"Oh, but I do dare." He replied softly, a ghost of a smile on his lips. Suddenly, he stepped away from her, and opened his mouth as if to yell something out.
"Alright, alright." She hissed, acquiescing grudgingly.
"I knew you'd see it my way." Endymion said with a satisfied smile.
Placing a cautioning finger against her lips, Serenity slipped inside the room. "Shh! If you're going to be my lookout, you'd best lower your voice."
"Your lookout!" Endymion choked. Instead, he followed her into the room and closed the door.
Serenity took in her surroundings. The private study was a long room framed in soft light from the windows. While the desk stood at one end of room, shelves of books lined the walls and a deep plush sofa was placed underneath the windows.
With a huff, she turned away from him and marched boldly over the desk, yanking the top drawer open. After a quick rummage through the parchment rolls inside, Serenity paused as her wrist was suddenly wrapped in a warm, firm grip. "And what exactly are you after?" Endymion demanded.
"Honestly!" Serenity exclaimed, forgetting for a moment that they were on a clandestine mission. In frustration, she bit off her outburst and continued in a low hiss. "I hardly think now is the time or the place for me to be divulging the details to you!"
"Well, how can you expect me to lend a hand if I barely know what I'm doing?" Endymion asked innocently, though the slight smirk on his face revealed the sarcasm.
Serenity threw him a bland glare. "Surely, you jest! You've been ever most helpful, so far."
Endymion raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "Is this really the kind of attitude you have towards someone who just so happened to answer your desperate plea only yesterday?"
Of course, he wouldn't fail to remind her about that. Serenity thought to herself testily. "Very well." She replied with an irritated sigh. Finally realizing that her wrist was still enclosed in his warm grip, she flushed. She pulled her hand away and tried to hide her awkwardness by once again rifling through the drawers of the desk, explaining distractedly as she went. "I'm looking for some sort of correspondence between the Baroness and Lord Dionysus. Anything that would give us details on the wedding plans, really. Ariadne very clearly pointed out that the two of them communicated regularly…" Serenity trailed off as she noticed a couple of pages of parchment sticking out from underneath a short stack of books on top of the desk. Clutching the pages excitedly, she scanned the handwriting and cried out in pleasant relief. "Found it!"
"Brilliant." Endymion leaned over and gazed at her prize. "I don't think I need to explain that breaking into a private study, risking all in the name of a worthless letter doesn't strike me as a world class idea."
"Funny, I don't remember asking for your opinion." Serenity retorted idly, still busy reading through the letter. "Drat, it's all boring business details- Aha! Here it is!" Serenity announced excitedly. "Apparently, the earl would like to finish his current business in Neptune before the wedding, so they will have to wait until summer."
"Excellent. Mission accomplished. We're leaving." Endymion urged brusquely, guiding her by the arm.
"W-wait!" Serenity hurriedly hid the letter back beneath the pile of books and put the desk drawers back in order. "We have to make sure she never finds out we were here in the first place!"
"Hell. Have you no idea of the risks we're both taking here?" He demanded in a low voice, even as his hands moved to help Serenity.
"I know full well how-" Serenity's reply was cut off by the sound of shuffling footfalls and tinkering silverware just beyond the door.
Serenity and Endymion froze. For one heart-stopping moment, her wide silver blue eyes collided with his dark midnight gaze. Then, heart caught in her throat, Serenity wheeled, frantically looking for a suitable hiding place for the two of them. She was about to point out the space underneath the whitewood desk, when Endymion suddenly grabbed her hand and dragged her halfway across the room. He plunked himself down on the deep plush sofa and tumbled her onto his lap.
Caught by utter surprise, Serenity could do nothing but stare at him in open mouthed bewilderment, her face just inches from his. Strong arms wrapped around her and, finally coming to her senses, she pushed both hands against the broadness of his chest.
"Wh-what are you-" Her breathless question was interrupted when Endymion dipped his dark head, his lips skimming the length of her neck.
Blushing madly, pulse racing, Serenity didn't even recognize the squeak of the door handle as the door opened. Light flooded into the dimness of the study from the open doorway as Endymion murmured softly against her skin, "Hush, love. It looks like we have a visitor."