She could see them, their shadows bleeding through the crowd. She kept a careful eye on the people swarming around her as she made her path, trying to keep an eye on the pair disappearing out of sight. Maisie waved graciously at her schoolmates, Arabella and Thomas as he courted her around the room. She was glad, she did not want to stop for small talk in the middle of her chase. It was unlikely many people would stop her. She was a nobody. Born out of the kingdom and moved after her mother’s death with little status or promise from her father. Maisie needed to make her own future better.
Maisie slipped out of the ballroom with ease, her lithe dress letting her move freely unlike the hoop petticoats most girls her age wore. She could hear them laughing in the distance and marched forward in pace. She needed proof. And then. Then she needed to get them seen.
Who you may ask? Perfect Violetta sneaking off into corners with Andrew, the duke’s son. Perfect Violetta, perfect grades, perfect face, perfect reputation. With her high-status family, jewel laden dresses and most of all; her betrothal to the prince and line to the throne, Maisie couldn’t help but feel envious of her. If she could get them seen, Violetta would be ruined. Her reputation, her honor, her betrothal to the prince gone. Leaving Maisie, a chance for the crown.
It was all she had wanted once her mother had passed away. To build a new life. One not in the shadows and looked down on for having less money and reputation. One where she ruled. She wanted nothing more than to have the crown. And that meant outing Violetta and winning the favor of Prince Antony hand.
She had seen them, Violetta and Andrew, disappear at many parties over the season. But she couldn’t confirm it. It wasn’t till she heard one of Andrews stupid brothers saying he’d seen Violetta walking away through their households back gardens that had given her almost all the proof that she was right. Maisie grinned as she scurried down the corridor.
She snicked, grabbing his hand and pulling him behind an old tapestry. At last, away from the noise and eyes of the ballroom.
“Shush,” He pressed a finger to her lips, silencing the giggles escaping her mouth.
Andrews looked into her eyes, his warm amber shining down on her pale face. He cocked his head and snuck into the crook of her neck. Attaching his lips to the sweet spot down from her chin, teasing her sensitive skin with the graze of his teeth. Violetta sighed contently in agreement.
And like that their sneaking into abandoned castle corners and ravishing each other with their lips began again. For he was not her husband, and she, she was betrothed to the prince of all suitors. Neither of them had the patience to hold out for the lust and pull they had to one another. Violetta knew if they ever got caught, it would be the end. It was hard to think about the consequences with Andrews thumb circling her bare skin and lips hot on her neck. She made a noise of approval and he gripped her more tightly. Violetta returned the favor, pressing herself close to him, grinding her hips and kissing trails down his collarbone.
“Vi,” He moaned her name as she arched against him.
“Andrew,” She whispered, “Shush.”
“Yes, your majesty,” He quipped back, playing with the curls of her hair. Her blood froze.
“Don’t,” She pushed away from him.
“Don’t what Vi,” Andrew murmured, stepping towards her.
“Don’t call me that,” She said firmly, trying to smooth down her rumpled dress.
“It was a joke Violetta,” Andrew reached for her but she ignored him.
“It will be true soon,” She sighed, gazing up at him, “And then we...” She trailed off.
“You knew what this was Violetta,” Andrew looked at her fondly, “You know I cannot, my family cannot offer you what your family desires, what your family needs,” His hand linked with hers.
Violetta breathed out nervously “I know.”
“I suggest we make the most of now,” Andrew said throatily, “Before you are married off and next in line to be queen.”
Violetta’s face was wrought with worry and tire. Andrews arms wrapped around her waist, his lips soft on her cheek.
He was surprised to see Maisie Galdren of all people coming up to him in the ballroom. He was even more surprised to see that she looked upset and distressed.
“Your Royal Highness,” Her cheeks was flushed pink and she appeared to be out of breath.
“Miss Galdren, are you alright?”
“I have to show you something,” She said frantically, her body shaking like a withering leaf, “It is too terrible to say Your Highness.”
Antony was curious and concerned, “Please lead the way then Miss Galdren.”
She spun on her heel and began to beeline out of the ballroom. He followed.
“Miss Galdren,” He had caught up to her outside the ballroom, “May I ask what this concern?”
Her eyes were worried, like a frightened animal, “Oh Your Highness, I wish I didn’t have to be the one to discover this.” Maisie rambled on, “I do not want to be the one to bear this news but I did not want to keep this from you.”
He was bewildered as they walked along. His mind drifted. Did one of his brothers get in a duel again? Had father drank too much? Did the servants throw a party again? Multitudes of ideas ran through his head. He thought of Violetta, wishing she was having fun on the dance floor. He had been pulled aside to talk about the neighboring kingdoms financial crisis. He had been glad she had her family and his to keep her company.
“Miss Galdren, I really cannot fathom what you are taking me too?”
They turned a corner, going into the deserted end of the castle.
Maisie turned back to look at him, her eyes doe like and apologetic, “I am so sorry Your Highness. This is what I was talking about.”
Maisie stopped, looking down the corridor to the right of them. Antony followed her gaze.
His eyes landed on his bride-to-be in a heated embrace with no other than Andrew Mallinnington.