An Interesting Development
I could feel the slight stir of my hair as he breathed. Lingering a moment longer, I reluctantly pulled away, "I'm not totally heartless," I muttered, shooting him a meaningful glance. He only gave me a smile.
"Fine, play dumb," I shrugged, "I need to go home anyway. I'm sure Amy's waiting for me."
"It's late," he commented, piercing me with his unreadable eyes.
"I know that," I threw up my hands in exasperation, then paused, "And no thank you," I added, sensing his next question.
Casually, he shrugged it off, giving me a slight nod.
Damn my pride. I thought dryly, turning to start on my long walk home. Hopefully, Mina would realize that I was still here and turn Invictus back to get me. It was a hopeful thought; unlikely, but definitely something I can convince myself to believe. I had walked three steps before a hand encircled my waist, lifting me like a sack of feathers and swinging me into the saddle.
"We're going to have to work on you on that. If someone pulled out a sword, you would probably just stand there in stupor watching him," he whispered huskily in my ear.
"Only if he's ugly enough," I whispered back.
"Ouch. I know you didn't mean that."
"Oh? Wait, don't tell me. Let me guess… is it because you love yourself so much that you can't stand the thought that someone's out there is hating your guts?"
He frowned, "No. Besides, you don't even know my guts."
I chose not to respond. Instead, I tried to figure out a way to sit comfortably. I was propped up on the horse's withers, giving me only the mane as a method to stay on; that and the arms around my waist. At the brisk trot we were setting, I was bouncing all over the place, my teeth chattering like firecrackers on the fourth of July. Having no stirrups, my legs dangled on the side, bumping roughly on the horse's chest. My head spun with every jostle and I was afraid I would slip any second. Why didn't I just walk?
"What's wrong?" Darien asked, sensing my silence. His eyes were glued to the road, dodging people on the streets, and at one point, actually jumping over a fruit cart.
When I made no reply, he spared a glance at me, and seeing my sickened look, immediately kicked his horse into a canter.
"Are you crazy?!" I yelled, finally allowed to speak by the smoother gait, "We are on a street full of people! You are going to squash someone flat into a pancake and I won't be responsible! Just WALK, for God's sake!"
"Trust my skills."
You stared at him in disbelief, "What skills?"
Turning back, I watched the people scatter in front of us as half a ton of horsepower came bearing on them. When we nearly struck an elderly lady who couldn't get out of the way in time, I jerked the reins out of Darien's grasp.
"Damn it. I'll ride!"
Cursing, I slowed down the horse a notch and directed him to the side, where the crowd was thin. There, I slowed to a leisure trot and handed back the reins, "And keep at that pace!"
"You have no faith."
"I have faith!" I retorted.
"Then trust me," he whispered, kicking the horse back into a canter.
Was he right? Should I trust him? I stared at the road in front me, battling with my conscience. My head said 'yes', but my heart said 'no'. Damn my heart. Just trust him.
Hesitantly, I began to relax against him, "So… uh, what's the name of this horse?"
"Oh, that's nice," I quieted down, unsure of what to say, "Doesn't sound like you though."
"Rei insisted. Something about sounding mystical."
"Oh," I shifted uncomfortably, telling myself that trusting him might not be so great after all.
"That was impressive what you did back there," he commented blandly.
My mouth dropped. Was he complimenting me? I dismissed the thought immediately. His eyes were still glued on the road ahead and not a drop of emotion leaked. He probably didn't mean it that way.
Casually, I shrugged, "I was given the impression that drowning in air was more painful than in water."
His eyebrows lifted, "What perceptive thinking."
I grinned, "Thank you."
The rest of the trip was silent. I offered no starts in conversation and he didn't even glance at me. Five seconds was probably all it took for him to walk back to his freezer and as of now, the doors are locked.
Maybe when I manage to kill another poor guy, he'll open up again. Probably.
"Thanks for the ride," I offered, swinging off the horse.
He nodded and rode off. I watched him leave, wondering when I'd see him again. It wouldn't be right to strangle someone on their first visit.
…but still wrong. I think I did admirably well.
"Serena!" Mina yelled, diverting my attention, "I turn my head and I already have two more people living in my house!"
"I'm sorry," I gave a sheepish grin, " I'll look to finding a new place tomorrow."
She cast me a rueful look, "Don't be silly. Of course you are welcomed here. Amy's such a quiet dear and that boy's such a cute little one, if not a bit difficult."
"I'm sure they explained everything to you," I crossed my fingers and hoped. My bed was beckoning to me.
"Yes, they did. I already gave them their baths and put them to bed. Poor little dears with all they have gone through. You can get their full story tomorrow. Right now, you need to get to bed."
I shook my head, "I need to get back to the Westford Mansion. I live there, remember? I'm just going to change into a gown, borrow a sidesaddle, get some makeup on, and go through your collection of wigs."
"It is remarkable what difference you can accumulate with a pound of that stuff on. I'm working with split personalities here. I need a grand a contrast as ever possible."
"Way ahead of you," she laughed, beckoning toward the hostler and pointing me toward her room.
It was a while before I got to the Westford Mansion. Part of the reason was my lack of expertise at using makeup. I struggled for a good part of the hour and ended up looking like a painted piñata. Perfect, I thought, glancing at the grotesque image looking back at me, Imagine marrying that. I obviously got the better part of the deal.
Sliding into one of fancy dresses that I saw other ladies wear and slipping on a bonnet, I declared myself ready.
I flounced out, smiling one last mysterious smile at my new image.
By the time I arrived, I was just about exhausted. Riding sidesaddle wasn't as easy as it looked and I had slid off constantly. As I trudged my way to the stable, I caught sight of my angry fiancé storming toward me.
"Where were you?"
With some inner satisfaction, I saw him wince at my appearance. I would too, if I was him. It was his first time seeing me without my veil. But did I look that revolting?
Swallowing my feminine pride, I faked a higher voice, "Why, shopping, dear. There was so much to see and I must have lost track of time," I fluttered my eyelashes at him.
He looked bored, "Clean up your horse and dress for dinner."
"You want me to clean up that?!" I pointed an accusing finger toward the horse.
"Is something the problem?"
"Is something the problem?" I shrieked, "My nails! My hands! Me! That's not lady's work!"
"I gave the hostlers a day off today. You have no choice."
"Darien." I pleaded.
"Serena," he answered with a deadly calm, "You have your orders. If you are ardent of acting like a proper lady, then you will do as I say."
Without another word, he was gone.
I should join the theater, I thought idly as I cooled and dried the horse that Mina lent me. Washing my hands in a nearby through, I headed back towards the mansion, suddenly catching sight of a few hostlers lounging in the corner, just waiting to be called to service. Liar. He must hate me a lot more than I anticipated.
I showered and changed quickly for dinner, convinced that Darien was going to make me wash the dishes after too.
On the other hand, there that wasn't all that many dishes to wash. At least, not for a two person dinner. During the whole 30 minutes, I babbled like I have never done before. I chatted about the weather, London, society and the most boring topics that came to mind. It was a constant stream of words that made absolutely no sense. I talked myself silly. I talked Darien dead. In fact, he didn't even pretend to be civil. There was no pretend nod of understanding, no flick of the eyes, no indication at all that I was even eating dinner with him.
I suppose he understood this was going to be one boring marriage.
"When you are done," he beckoned toward my still full bowl of spaghetti, "Report to my office. If you'll excuse me…"
He departed then, not even letting me finish my sentence about the importance of convents in London.
Finally being able to shut up, I gulped down my meal and stood up. I could have finished even earlier if I hadn't been eating one string of noodle at a time. After all, it isn't ladylike to talk with your mouth full. Nor is it to choke when you are talking and spill your guts.
Wiping my mouth daintily on a nap, I pushed back my chair and took my exit as well.
His office had no windows. There were several cabinets against the far side of the wall, filled with magical paraphernalia. I wandered over to it, taking in the stuff on display. There was a little scale made of bronze that lay shining on a cushion of velvet. On it was engraved an eye encircled by a broken heart. I whistled in appreciation. I had read of it in a book somewhere. I wondered if Darien knew what that object really was. Most likely not – he probably picked it up as a quaint keepsake from some business trip to Asia. With some luck, it might kill him someday.
Next to it however, was what held my attention. It was an amulet, framed in a thin strip of gold. It hung from a short gold chain. In its center was an oval piece of sapphire. My breath caught. My eyes bulged.
I spun around, breathing a sign of relief when I saw whom it was lounging on the doorframe, "It's an wonderful collection," I offered.
"By all means," his voice was dry, "Make yourself comfortable."
Like the proper-bred lady that I was, I blushed, "I'm sorry. The door was open and you said-"
"I know what I said," he cut in impatiently, "Take a seat."
"That crystal amulet. What is it for?"
He glanced at me for a second before crossing to the display case. Muttering a word under his breath, he sank his hand through the glass and drew out the amulet. He let it dangle between his fingers, showing it to me fully.
"It serves many different purposes. But for the most part, it gives you the ability of morphing."
Carefully he set it on the table and returned back to the case. Searching the contents he drew out two more. At first, I thought it was an exact replica, but when I looked closer, I found that one was framed in silver around a ruby. The other was framed in crystal around a topaz.
"The primitive amulets," I whispered, "But those were lost hundreds of years ago!"
"So you know about them, then."
I nodded, "The red one gives you the power of strength; abilities such as shooting off lava and all that. The yellow one is for-"
"defending yourself. It protects you from all magical attacks." he finished, "These amulets are passed from generation to generation. The topaz will be handed to you and the ruby will be passed down to me on my marriage."
"And the sapphire?"
"To whoever I see fit," he beckoned with his hand. The amulets arranged themselves back to where they belonged.
"The instructions regarding your amulet are simple, but important. They must never be removed. Their existence must never pass this family. Understood?"
"Delightful. You are dismissed."
"Goodnight, Lord Westford," I managed a curtsy and left for bed.
My morning breakfast was cold, to my utter dismay. As I went around complaining that it was just inedible, Darien sat calmly across me, finishing his own meal without a second thought.
"It is cereal," he told me.
I inwardly rolled my eyes. My soon-to-be-husband is such a genius. To be able to tell that it's cereal, why, that's unthinkable!
"But look at it! It's soggy! It's cold!" I pointed at the lump.
"Very well then. I must be going anyway," pushing his chair back so hard that it teetered backwards, he strode out of the room.
I sighed, gazing at the cereal with a mournful look. I really wouldn't mind eating it, but now that I have made such a scene in front of the servants, they would obviously see through my act.
I got up, making my way back to my room. I had told Luna to have a few days off to enjoy herself. Quickly, I changed into a pair of breeches and washed my face clean of the makeup. Slipping off my wig, I stuffed it in a corner and sneaked out the back door. I made my way to the streets and took a deep breath. It was still early and the day was beautiful. No need wasting it. I was about halfway there when I stopped and stared. Coming my way was the one man I wanted to be rid of. Of course, when you think about it, I don't know that many.
"Why, Selene! What a surprise! Up and early, hmm?"
I ignored him, casting my attention to the red head attached to him.
She was rich, pompous, charming (to some), and needed a haircut badly. I hated her already. "Hello there," I smiled winsomely.
She fixed her eagle eyes on me, her pupils contracting and expanding at an alarming rate.
"I've seen you somewhere before. Long time ago. Only, you looked different." She paused in thought.
"That's good, is it?
"Not for you."
I cast a fleeting look toward Darien, who now lounged against a building, observing this exchange with an amused expression.
"A friend of a friend, perhaps?" I suggested. Unlike her, my memory was excellent. Especially for people like her. There are only so many rotten eggs in a batch.
"No… an enemy…" she muttered.
"It's terrible when you can't remember anything that's right on the tip of your tongue, isn't it?" I observed, "And as you try to so hard to recall it, but you can't because there's some fool interrupting you, prattling away so you can't concentrate and-"
"Shut up!" she screeched, "I almost had it-!"
I clucked my tongue, enjoying goading her on to the point where I was certain she was going to pop my eyes out.
I laughed in her face, adopted a puckish pose with hands oh hips, and interrupted in sophisticated style, "Go boil your head."
She turned pink. I drew in an exasperated sigh, "All right. In that case, your name…?"
She was now red.
I turned to Darien, "Well?"
"Selene, meet Beryl Bennington," he pronounced with a flourish, "Beryl, meet Selene Moonhaven, my soon-to-be sister in-law."
"Beryl, eh? Very posh. Too bad it's already taken by a mineral. I would have imagined something a bit more down-market- Bert, Bob or Chuck, maybe."
She turned purple. I winked at her.
"Enough," Darien cut in.
"I agree. Well, places to go, people to see. It seems that I have outstayed my welcome. If you'll excuse me…" smiling brightly, I pushed past them.
"You bitch!" Beryl screamed at me.
I turned, all pretenses dropped. "You're right," I commented casually, "However, it just proved that you are no lady. Take a look around you," I waved a hand at the gathering crowd.
I watched her face grow ashen as she realized what I had done. What she had done. Goaded on by my comments, she had forgotten about keeping up her disguise. I had let off her guard. Whatever reputation she had gained was now lost. Men don't want women with a pompous attitude. Why do you think I'm still single?
"Toodles," I left the scene, ignoring the hysterical woman running after me.
That was, until I heard a sword being drawn. Believe me when I say that that gets attention pretty quickly. I spun around, my mouth dropping in amazement. The hissing mad hysteric had seized a sword on display and now stood, waving the thing around like a flag in a parade.
Imagine my gratitude when I found that no one moved to help me. When I locked eyes with Lord Westford, he only raised his eyebrows and gave me a small smile.
I sighed, rolling up my sleeves grimly. I wasn't particularly worried about her skills. It was more of her lack of that worried me. Waving a sword like that around on a busy street is bound to be a stupid move.
I waited till she was in striking distance when I jumped, cleared her head, and wrestled the sword from her grip. Twirling the hard metal in my hands, I watched as the fear began to seep through. She was already edging toward the nearest display table, ready to seize another sword and have another fencing match with me. I had just taken about enough of this nonsense.
"Be sensible," I snapped, "There's no way you can best me."
She edged on. It seemed that she wouldn't be happy till she gets herself killed. Leaping toward her, the flat of my blade made satisfying crisp contact with her thick skull. Her brain, if she had any, were nicely added. The blow wasn't enough to kill her or even knock her unconscious. It was just to addle her a bit. Sure enough, she staggered and fell.
"A small piece of advice, I told her, "Generally speaking, is isn't wise to be rude to someone stronger than you, especially when you are trying to fight in a dress that has you wrapped up in a cocoon."
"You can stick your advice up –"
I held my hand up to silence her, "Just shut up. It seemed I overstayed my welcome. Therefor, I bid you adieu."
I turned to leave, half expecting someone to block me and demand an apology.
No one moved.
Darien still lounged against the wall, looking quite smug. 'It must be wonderful to be loved,' I thought dryly.
I stopped, looking up at a burly guy who blocked my path. I groaned inwardly. Why couldn't she have picked a smaller guy to be her knight in shining armor? I was in no mood to wrestle and was in even less to walk the extra mile around him. So I stood there, hands over my chest, conducting a staring contest.
He grinned a toothy grin, "Your place or mine?"
I recognized the pick-up line gratefully. Now this, I could handle, "I don't know. Can two people fit under a rock?"
"My place's nice," his smile never broke.
"Well," I pretended to think about it, all the while watching his face turn victorious, "how about both? You go your way and I'll go mine, hmm? Maybe in a few months, you can come visit me. Between now and then bud, better start dieting." I patted his arm and pushed past him.
"Come on," he persisted, "Where do you live?"
"It's in the phonebook."
"What's your name?" he yelled.
"That's in the phonebook too," I blew him a kiss and disappeared around the corner.
It was only an hour ago since I had dragged myself out of bed. Now, I dragged myself back in, pulling the covers back over my head, not caring if I ruin my clothes or not..
The covers went flying, "What? This had better be good. Can't you see what I'm trying to do here?
"There's a-a g-guy h-h-here wanting t-to see y-you. I t-told him you w-were busy, b-but…"
"Just spit it out," I interrupted impatiently.
She quieted and stood aside for a man to walk through. In an instant, I had jumped from the bed, ready to kill him on a second's notice.
"What part of 'I'm trying to sleep' do you not understand?" I yelled, hitting him square in the face with the pillow.
"A minute of your time, if you please. There's some things I must discuss with you," he dodged my second missile, looking unfazed.
I rearranged the blanket and turned, "Why? Tired of talking to yourself in the mirror?"
"You are a morbid lady, you know that? I can not say anything that will not result in having my very being trampled under your feet. Learn to curb your tongue or I shall teach you."
"Dramatic, aren't you? Ever thought of trying out for those poetry clubs? I heard it was mostly for old ladies, but I'm sure that they won't mind having a dashing young man."
"You have been warned, Lady. Your punishment is past due."
I rolled my eyes, "So is Father Christmas… and your haircut," I added on second thought.
Before I had time to react, my hair was pulled painfully backward and my feet swept out. I was dumped in a heap on the floor, tears springing up as my head throbbed.
"I'll be waiting downstairs," he said to me as if nothing happened.
"Typical," I yelled after him, "You don't blow till I comment your hair!"
He ignored me.
Sighing, I followed him, taking a seat opposite and propped my legs up on the table, "Well?" I snapped.
He slid over a little box that looked suspiciously like a jewelry box.
"Don't you need to get down on one knee?" I asked him.
"So this is what you dream about during your free time," he looked incredibly smug, "I should have known."
It was so much easier to think of cheeky comments when he shut up.
I shook my head sorrowfully, "You have no idea. I'll give you a hint though. What's your favorite way of dying?"
I lifted my eyebrows and smiled. My glance returned to the box in my hand. It fit snugly in my palm, just waiting for me. Carefully, I lifted the lid.
My smile slipped.
End of chapter
Happy? No? Well, this was my longest chapter ever. I'm already starting on the next one, but i'm making no promises on when it'll be out. Hopefully soon. I'm trying to even out some time for my other stories too. I know they haven't be updated in ages, but i'll do it before this month's over! Oh well. I hope you liked it.
Oh, and by the way, i'm undergoing an editing process for all of my stories. Believe me when i say there's a lot to edit. I never seem to be satisfied with my work sigh.