What if I say I'm not like the others?
What if I say I'm not just another one of your plays?
You're the pretender
What if I say that I'll never surrender?
-The Foo Fighters: The Pretender
Diana felt an ache deep in her cheeks from the false and demure smiles she'd been forcing throughout the night. The simpering tones of the visiting Ladies. The fawning flattery of their Lords. The thinly veiled critical glances. The string quartet playing elegantly in the background leant a deceptive calm and dignity to the evening.
They were all judging her. Measuring her worth to them. Watching her every move and waiting for her to make the smallest of missteps. Diana could feel their eyes constantly on her; testing her composure with every ticking second of the clock.
She let her gaze drift through the room; searching for a dark countenance expertly hidden amongst the crowd.
Diana's eye twitched slightly in aggravation. He could at least pretend to care for her sanity, but no; instead he leaves her stranded in the center of these circling sharks.
Then, unexpectedly, she caught a glimpse of him and that damned smirk gracing his lips as he stared back at her across the room. Tilting her chin up, she returned his goggled look of amusement with a haughty one of her own. This was how he wanted to play? Fine. But she would not give him or their so called 'guests' the satisfaction of seeing her lose her temper.
Slipping her smile back upon her face, she returned her attention to the simpering old fool that had continued to speak to her. He was too drunk already and too self absorbed to notice her attention had dwindled long ago; thus, his flirtatious babble had gone uninterrupted.
Diana absently brushed his clammy hand off her arm once more and continued to nod when appropriate. She would have laughed at his sloppy yet subtle advances if she did not have a new image to maintain.
Time dragged on, her feet began to ache and her patience was beginning to wear thin quite a bit sooner than she had anticipated. The ballroom was becoming stifling; she glanced longingly at the large windows revealing the balcony overlooking the calm garden and cooling night air. What she wouldn't give to be out there digging her toes into the freshly tilled earth. To feel the crunch of the newly laid pebbled path beneath her feet while inhaling the blooming flowers.
A shrill voice pierced her thoughts, dragging her back to the present and the bird-like aristocratic woman squawking at her with obvious disdain.
"Your Highness, it seems your mind is otherwise occupied. Perhaps you would be best suited to retire for the evening seeing as how you are so unaccustomed to events such as these. Poor dear. It must be so dreadfully taxing to make the social climb you have."
The red-headed bitty had the nerve to smirk while her accompanying entourage tittered softly behind their drinks.
Diana felt her temper rise at the insult and the way this gaggle thought themselves superior. One of the waiters got her attention, informing her that the meal was prepared and she need only say the word. Diana was just about to authorize for the dinner announcement when she heard the shrew behind her comment to the flock in sultry tones.
"Hmm…what a specimen like that is doing with the likes of her is beyond me. Perhaps he would be interested in holding private council in the throne room from time to time."
The painted trollop chuckled as the mindless entourage tittered and fawned over her once more.
Diana's jaw clenched and her hands balled up around the final menu she had been checking.
"They insult me. They insult my family. They insult my station. Now they dare challenge my right to be mated!" Her body temperature began to rise, a feral glint creeping into her eyes as her primal urges began to surface. Spoiling for a fight.
The young man dressed in his crisp servant's uniform sent a subtle glare to the crude woman behind his Queen. He could smell the noxious perfume rolling off her in waves. He heard the crinkle of paper and looked back to Lady Riddick; she had finally reached her breaking point after hours of patience with these vultures.
He dared to lay a gentle hand upon hers, making her eyes flash upon his face as he spoke quietly to her.
"My Lady; is there anything else I can do for you this evening?" He sent a significant glance in the harpy's direction.
Diana's hold on the paper loosened as she took a deep breath. "No, thank you Phillip. Just announce the evening meal, please. "
Phillip nodded; surprised she had remembered his name despite the stress of the evening. "Very well Highness." He bent at the waist slightly and retreated to the kitchens to inform the other staff. Making a point to stop and have a word with the Head Chef before going back out to formally announce the meal.
Diana swallowed thickly; biting back the anger as she brusquely excused herself from the annoying ladies.
If she stayed another moment there might be blood. And Aereon most likely had some cruel and unusual punishment waiting for just such an event.
She was making a beeline for the balcony French doors when the dinner announcement was made. She growled softly. They hadn't been kidding when they said the food was ready now.
Fat, sweaty fingers gripped her elbow tightly as Groves' oily voice spoke at her side mockingly.
"Your Highness. Will you allow me the honor of escorting you to your seat?"
She nodded with pursed lips, waiting to hear what he really wanted. It didn't take long.
"Might I remind her majesty, that the scheduled check-ups with the doctors are still a crucial requirement-"
Diana cut him off impatiently. "Director Groves, I've been entirely too busy preparing for the ceremony and reception to be able to see the doctors-" Groves interrupted as well with a harsh tightening of his grip on her arm. Pausing just shy of her seat to practically snarl at her under his breath. Though he kept the appearance up, his voice and words held no regard for her new station.
"Do not forget the only reason your sorry hide is where you are today is because of me and this project. I don't care what trappings they dress you in; you're still nothing but a lowly animal keeper and breeder subject. Remember your place or I. Will. End. You."
He stepped back with a false smile and released the bruising grip on her arm. Even going so far as to pull out her chair for her.
She looked down her nose at him. Barely containing her rage over the entire evening's events. This bloated weasel. This thorn in her side. He just couldn't leave well enough alone; knowing she hadn't wanted to be in this position to begin with.
Oh how she wished she could come up with a witty retort.
Something scathing and barbed that would cut his ego down to size right in this moment.
But there was nothing. No words bubbled upon her lips. Only anger. Only frustration.
Everything a bride should never feel on her wedding day.
She smelled the spicy cologne on Riddick's skin as he sat beside her at the head of the table. Silent. Calm. Collected. Completely un-phased by the madness of these so called 'nobles.'
She hated him for it. Resented him for leaving her to face the talons of these hateful people alone. She wasn't any more suited for this than he.
She wasn't made of stone or ice. She was no superwoman capable of tirelessly withstanding these blows.
And he…he didn't even so much as look at her. "The bastard must truly have no heart. He knows I'm at the breaking point and does nothing…hn. I should expect nothing less I suppose."
Diana blundered her way through the salad course. Noticing, with gratitude, the extra grapes and walnuts that had been added to her dish.
She did her best to ignore the fact that Lady Ayne, the red-headed screecher, was seated not far away.
Diana was successful in this until she noticed the woman's scornful underhanded laughs to a companion seated nearby.
"The troll doesn't even know the proper utensils to use. How shameful. They should take this cow to market sooner rather than later if you ask me."
Diana paused and looked at the particular spoon she had picked up for the soup dish and realized she had absently chosen the incorrect one.
The damn soup spoon and the damn dessert spoon were the same damn size. Like it or not, she's the ruler here and should be able to use whichever damn spoon she wished!
To make matters worse, she happened to catch sight of Riddick's place setting and noticed he wasn't following utensil protocol either. But were they obsessing over his actions? No! Not even a whisper!
"He could probably start eating the soup with his hands and they wouldn't bat a fuckin eyelash…"
As the main course was served, Diana noticed her server give a slight wink. Puzzled she looked down to find that her portion of fancy potatoes had extra delicious gooey heavenly comforting cheese.
The corner of her mouth tipped up slightly. Oh how nice to have the help on your side.
The moment was ruined though. By none other than Screechy McGee.
"Oh, gods. Like she really needs to eat that with her figure. How disgusting. And did you see those hideous scars?"
Diana curled her fist in her lap. That was it. No more! She did not have to sit and take this. She could give a flying fuck about her station at this point. Every one of her scars was earned and showed where she's been in life. She was damn proud of every single one. This pompous bitch insulting them was the last straw.
The controlled chatter of the table stilled awkwardly as Diana stood from her seat.
With a wrinkle of her nose she held a hand to her stomach.
"If you will all excuse me," She cast an obvious glance toward where Lady Ayne sat smugly."The scent of perfume has proven to be quite strong and given my stomach cause for upset. Please enjoy your meals and your stay here. If you require anything, you need only ask."
Lady Ayne's face soured at the blatant slight to her heavy perfume and the knowing looks the other dignitaries cast her direction.
Diana gave a slight smile to the table. "Have a pleasant evening."
And so she left; motioning with her hand for Alex to keep his seat. She was more than capable of making it to her room unescorted.
She didn't so much as glance at Riddick after the cold shoulder she'd gotten from him all night.
So she never saw the tiny quirk at the corner of his lips.
Diana changed hastily from her red gown into a pair of loose athletic shorts and ribbed tank top before stealing away to the furthest edge of the gardens. Right at the bordering forest where none of the aristocrats could see her.
She walked with shoes in hand beneath the large trees. Enjoying the sound of wind dancing through their mighty boughs.
The smell of sun warmed earth and timbre danced delicately across her senses. A peace began to seep into her form but still could not remove the tense weight at her shoulders.
The sound of heavy paws beating against the ground pulled her from observing the tranquil stars above. Choco yipped playfully as he bound and wove through the trees to reach her side.
Diana roughly pat his now large head and decided to sit beneath an ancient looking oak. She wiggled her toes deeper into the fertile earth as Choco flounced around the tree in circles. Wanting Diana to play. But she was simply too tired and her spirits too low for such antics as she rubbed at her now aching ankle.
The adolescent hound calmed finally and flopped down beside her with a huff. Diana sighed and rested her hand on his warm neck.
"It's literally the first day and I already can't handle it. What the hell am I gonna do Choco?"
He rolled predictably onto his back and wiggled, wanting her to rub his belly as his tongue lolled out the side of his open mouth.
She laughed and did as was demanded. "I really wonder about your brain cells sometimes pup."
She leaned over and gripped his muzzle with both hands and shook it playfully. "You do know this doesn't solve my problems at all?"
Choco pawed her hands away and promptly lifted up to leave a trail of slobber thickly across her cheek.
Diana grimaced and used the hem of her shirt to wipe it off. "Right."
She sighed and stretched out more fully on the ground. Draping herself over the back of a now righted Choco and wrapping her arms around his thick neck.
"You're sure getting big pup. What am I gonna do with you? You're spoiled rotten."
Her voice was growing soft and lazy as his heat and the steady breath beneath her ear soothed her.
Diana smiled softly as a night-bird sang to the wind in the distance and the breeze caressed her face with gentle care.
Her eyes drifted across the tree line nearby as she turned her head thoughtfully. She had yet to go out and see the wilderness of Furya. She scoffed to herself.
"Hell, this is the first time I've been as far as the gardens…" She squinched her face for a moment in further contemplation before hefting herself to her feet.
Choco watched her curiously as she bent to tug on her boots before snugly tying the laces. He growled softly as she began to walk into the forest. She was too tired to play with him, yet she had enough energy to suddenly traipse into the woods?
Lifting his nose and scenting the breeze he huffed and lethargically stood. There was nothing dangerous nearby…for now. But he couldn't just let his human go out by herself at night.
Riddick walked down the silent corridor and entered their bedroom, expecting to find her doing….whatever it was she did to pass her spare time. He paused in the dark doorway of their empty quarters. She wasn't there.
Her boots were gone. He walked over and ran his fingers over the red silk of her gown, laid gently over the bed to be hung later. Without his little hellcat to observe, the dinner party had soon grown too boring and irritating to bare.
Riddick stood and thought for a moment; thought of what he knew of his new bride and where she would be most likely to escape for a moment of peace. Her music player was still in its docking station. Where she was going, she wanted to hear her surroundings clearly and untainted.
The answer wasn't long in coming and made the corner of his lips crook up. The gardens had just been finished. The furthest edges bordered the woods and Riddick could almost be sure that if she wasn't roaming the garden then she'd be clambering through the trees.
Diana knelt on the forest floor. Leaning her face close to inspect a colorful frog that had caught her attention as she'd made her own path through the trees. Choco watched his human in slight amusement as her eyes appeared crossed with the intense scrutiny of said amphibian.
Diana stared…and the toad stared back….neither blinking…neither moving. The moment stretched on silently until the toad must have taken offense. With a sudden leap and croak it startled Diana backwards onto her rump with a small cry of surprise leaving her own throat.
"Gah! Jesus, not my face!"
The toad sat a few feet from her boot now; expanded its throat bladder with another croak before hopping away into the ferns.
Choco walked over and chuffed as he bumped his muzzle with her cheek. Diana blinked a few times before looking to him with accusation.
"You great useless lump. You nearly let my face be attacked by a potentially poisonous beast!"
Choco gazed levelly at her, meeting her eyes with what seemed to be a long suffering look. As if to say 'Well, silly woman, you shouldn't have been pushing your face so close to it.'
She batted his muzzle playfully away from her. "Don't give me that look. You have no room to judge me, Mr. 'I chase my own tail for sport'."
He gave a low growl causing her to chuckle while wrapping her arms around his neck and tugging him closer to her.
"Oh come on. You know your secret's safe with me sweetie. So adorablllle!"
The thorny beast huffed impatiently and shook his head from her grasp as she began laughing at his reaction.
Diana stretched her arms up above her and arched her back while breathing deeply of the fresh woodsy air. She fell back with a thump into the soft dirt and loam and grass. Stray leaves and twigs immediately entrenched themselves into her hair but she didn't notice nor mind. She stared up through the little openings in the tree branches to watch the stars. Listening to the birds and wildlife surrounding her. The rustle of the breeze.
Diana's eyes drifted closed as she focused on the various sounds and the unique scent of the forest.
A sudden twig snapped rather loudly nearby and caused her eyes to shoot open. With renewed attention she slowly sat up and scanned the area with her eyes. Her ears straining to catch anymore sign of movement.
Just as she was about to relax there was a rustling. Something big in the foliage; but it didn't seem to be aware of her presence.
Diana glanced to Choco, whose ears were perked and his gaze also sharply trained to the area. His nose was visibly scenting, but no true alarm was being raised in his body language.
There was more rustling and a loud snap from a branch breaking. Choco stood to his feet and Diana took that as her cue.
She calmly stood as well and walked over to a nearby tree, making sure to glance in the direction of the increasing sounds. Choco may not be alarmed but he was certainly paying attention to whatever it was out there. And it definitely sounded larger than Diana.
As she deftly climbed into the relative safety of the tree's limbs she grunted at the stretching of her muscles and injuries. It would be best to be safe rather than sorry at this point and gain the high ground with whatever was making such a racket. She only wished that she'd been more active lately and that her injuries wouldn't ache at this moment from the new physical activity.
Diana sat above the ground and watched closely. Waiting for the mysterious and noisy creature to show itself when all suddenly grew silent. She scanned the environment; eyes narrowing as she attempted to discern any movement in the shadows. She kept one hand braced against the main trunk and the other gripping securely to the limb she was sitting on. Careful to keep her knees bent so that her lower legs didn't dangle too far. It wouldn't do to allow something to reach up and yank her down by her feet.
Choco turned to look up at her briefly before walking into the ferns and bushes. Diana furrowed her brows. Where on earth did he think he was going?
Everything was silent now as she sat with muscles tensed and poised for action in her tree-fort.
There was a sudden loud roar from behind her as something collided with her back forecefully. Diana lost balance and fell forward at the impact, barely keeping the presence of mind to continue grasping the limb with her other hand as her shoulder jolted painfully. Her body was dangling as she reached to take hold of the branch with her other hand as well. Twisting as she did so, in order to see what had attacked her and quickly curling her legs up away from the ground again as much as possible.
Her eyes went from being as wide as saucers to being narrowed with malice as soon as she saw who was responsible.
It wasn't the toad come back for revenge. It wasn't some great hairy monster come to eat her entrails. But a beast nonetheless.
There stood Lord Riddick; a large grin sadistically stretching his lips as his silver eyes shined up at her in mirth. A handful of sizeable pebbles still held in one hand. Diana's face grew hot and her cheeks reddened with outrage as she bellowed down to him and her 'loyal' pet Choco.
"What the HELL is your problem asshole! I….you…grrr!" She was too angry to form sentences and Riddick began to let forth deep chuckles at her expense.
She released her grip on the tree and dropped down to the ground with a slight wince as the impact made her ankle twinge; despite the protest of her ankle and the weakened muscles where she'd been gouged, she was rather proud she'd not fallen on her face or something equally as embarrassing.
Riddick sauntered over to her irate form. Her arms crossed as she glared up at him. Leaves and forest debris stuck in her tangled locks. She must have lost her hair-tie sometime during her antics through the wilderness. He flicked another pebble at her shoulder making her scowl deepen as she reached out to swat the arsenal from his hands.
"Stop it! Haven't you done enough?" She was gearing up for a tirade and gaining steam but he found himself taking in the sight of her and not listening to her agitated words. She was covered in bark and dirt. Her face red. Her eyes flashing. So fierce in her diminutive frame as she squared up to him; becoming more enflamed when she realized he wasn't listening to her at all.
When he first came upon her out here, she'd looked so at ease. She was right at home out surrounded by the plants and the dirt and the critters. For the first time since the day he'd originally met her, she had been truly comfortable in her own skin. She deserved to have that peace and confidence more often. He'd see to it personally. Even if he had to drag her outside kicking and screaming, he'd make sure he saw her spending time out under the sun and the moon where she belonged.
Riddick's focus slowly drifted back to what she was yelling so emphatically. "And ANOTHER thing…!"
Her words halted abruptly when he reached out and cradled her face in both his large warm hands. Her eyes widening when he leaned down and placed a brief kiss to her lips.
"You talk too much short-stack."
She looked up at him, the anger gone from her eyes. "Someone's gotta talk enough for the both of us." Riddick snorted before drawing her closer to him and nuzzling her neck. Enjoying the way her scent once again smelled rich with the earth she'd been rolling in.
"Mmmm you should wallow in the dirt more often."
She furrowed her brows and smacked his shoulder. "What's that supposed to mean? I wasn't wallowing! I'm not a pig."
His chest rumbled as he reached around to grasp her butt; bunching the silky material of her dirtied athletic shorts. "I don't know short-stack. This rump roast feels ample enough." Riddick straitened up and gave a deep laugh at the sight of her mouth hanging open in shock. Speechless for once at what he'd just dared to imply.
Before she could begin yelling again he leaned back down for another shockingly tender peck to her lips.
"Calm down short-stack. You may be ample but you aren't a porker." He gave another deliberate squeeze of her ass and pulled her hips tightly against his. "Hm. What was it goldy-locks said? This one's just right."
Diana snorted with mirth before bursting out into laughter. "Oh my God! You didn't just reference a nursery rhyme! Just imagine you with long curly blonde hair!" Her raucous laughter doubled at the mental image she'd created for herself while Riddick smirked with satisfaction at having made her laugh. He decided he'd rather hear it right now instead of her yelling as he burrowed his face back into the crook of her neck.
He felt her tentatively raise a hand up from resting on his shoulders and hesitantly begin to run across his scalp. It was smooth still as he'd just re-shaved it this morning for the ceremony. He was surprised to find his muscles relaxing with her smooth, slow movements.
She continued for a few minutes before letting her hand stroke down the back of his neck and began kneading the muscles there and on his shoulder that she could reach.
Riddick hummed in pleasure at the feel of her small hands strongly working with his muscles. Her voice was soft on his ears as her hands stilled. "Riddick…I…I know I'm not the best person to be thrown into all this with but…." He felt her take a deep breath here and the way she pressed him more tightly to herself.
"…I'm gonna do my damndest Riddick…"
He lifted his head to stare down at her with great intensity. Seeing the determination to fight with everything she had for this. Riddick tightened his hold on her. The same doubts and criticisms reared within his mind. What was he doing standing out here with this woman. Having such a calm and borderline intimate moment. As if he deserved moments of 'normalcy'…as if she wouldn't be better off and safer in a relationship with anyone other than him.
Her gaze flicked down to his lips briefly and back up to his eyes and he noticed she inhaled slowly…deeply. The minx was scenting him and thought she was being discrete about it. It was almost cute.
He gave a smirk and ran his hands up the curve of her back; feeling the still puckered flesh of her scarring wounds. Making his humor dim once more.
Reminding him that she was a determined fighter; even if untrained and unfamiliar with her Furyan traits. She was strong. Stubborn. And he shouldn't short change her by thinking she isn't able to more than hold her own in the insane world of Richard B. Riddick.
Her eyes slid closed and she arched into him as he continued running his hands over her back. A tiny groan of pleasure leaving her throat.
Riddick's smirk returned as he leaned down to nip her ear. Maybe his inner beast new exactly what it was doing when it chose this odd little woman to mate with. Because Riddick never would have thought of doing so on his own; would have never known what fire lay beneath the plain exterior of the purring brunette in his arms.
He straitened once more to firmly grip her wrist and begin leading her back toward the royal estate.
"Come on short-stack. You didn't get a full meal and you'll need energy for the things I'm gonna do to you tonight."
Lady Ayne sat before the vanity in the guest room she and her husband had been provided. A scowl sat deeply rooted upon her features as she furiously brushed her hair and prepared for bed. Her evening hadn't gone at all according to her plans. She cringed slightly at the sight of her older and rotund husband. She should be in much tanner and more sculpted royal arms by now. Being born into the social upper crust she had married young for further wealth and convenience. But she knew there was only so much power and prestige her current marriage could provide her.
She sighed and placed the brush upon the vanity table.
She had forgotten not to underestimate the little homely mutt that had been thrust upon the impressive Richard Riddick. Scandal and rumor spread quickly concerning the origins of the unassuming woman's injuries. She and her little 'pets' had managed to dispose of the last woman that had dared to contest her claim to the new leader of Furya. Krystia clenched her fists in her lap. There had to be a way…someone outside the circles that could handle this sordid detail…this would take time…careful planning. That's where the last woman had gone wrong.
Krystia narrowed her eyes and stared at her reflection with determination.
She'd take her time. Half the fun is to plan the plan after all. She'd just need to make sure all the dominoes fell the way they needed to so that in the end she was there to slide her way into the vacated matriarch's chair.
Her husband let out a bout of coughing and grunted out to her in a gravelly drunken voice. "Come to bed my dear."
Her lip curled slightly. Most likely the putrid lump had been as unsuccessful tonight in his seductions as she had been. She dare not refuse though; m'lord had the tendency to get a little heavy handed when angered or disobeyed.
OY! 0_o Life has…definitely taken some turns for me since last I updated. I've had this chapter half finished for so long. Then my personal and academic life decided that I shouldn't have any inspiration, energy, or drive to complete it.
I thank all of you for the reviews and messages. You made me feel so sad that I wasn't able to get anything out to you regularly like a good author would. :0( But as I've said to a few of you and I'll say again. I don't EVER plan on abandoning this. It may take me ages. But I will see this story through to the end! I can't guarantee a time-frame for that though and I do apologize for that. Being the terribly unreliable writer I am, I shamefully suggest putting the story on an alert perhaps if it has hooked you quite well. I'm not trying to boost story alert numbers or anything. It's only a suggestion because I really truly can't guess how far apart my updates will be. :0( I'm sorry. I hope you guys hang in there with me. I'm trying to keep everything balanced. I swear I'm trying.