The evening flies by as we talk with the Halseys. We’re taken to the dining hall and served a late dinner, talking well past darkness. They finally let us retire for the night with promises of more excitement in the morning. As the servants clear away the meal, we’re led by a maid down a quiet hall lined with many rooms, all empty. The maid stops and bows before a large set of double doors propped open and waiting for us. Andrei leads me by the arm into the room as the maid closes the door closing behind us.
Everything in the room is made of dark wood and adorned with beautifully handcrafted upholstery. The legs and backs of every piece of furniture are carved with elaborate designs while the floor covered in thick carpets with a foreign design to them. Thick drapes hang over the large windows and a fireplace, already lit, is positioned in the corner of the room opposite to a huge four-poster bed.
“Wow…” I exhale in awe. It’s even more extravagant than Camelot was.
“Agreed. This is awesome, right? I’ve always wanted to visit the Renaissance era,” Andrei grins like a little boy.
I laugh. “I can see why. Everything is beautiful here,” I tilt my head curiously. “I wonder if you thought you might find a beautiful princess. The women here seem to be quite beautiful too.”
He turns to me, mouth hanging open. “What? No! Why would you think that? I often wanted to visit for the action and to see if the past that is recorded in our time was true or not. I didn’t often think of girls. I hardly ever met any my own age before. R- Rose was a…” he hesitates, stuttering as he thinks, “random occurrence.”
“Not often?” I hum, stepping further into the room as I turn to him with a playful smile. “So you did think about it,” I tease. “Did you dream of marrying a pretty girl from the past? A princess, or a noble, or would it matter?” I ask, looking around the lavish room.
“W-what? Why all the questions?” he asks nervously. I sense the uneasiness in his voice. “You’ve read my journals. Do you not think those thoughts would have been recorded if I had?”
I narrow my eyes. “I know you leave out the most embarrassing things. You’re just trying to distract me without answering.”
His jaw works but nothing comes out. “That’s not true!” he finally says. “I may have thought about it… once or twice,” he says cautiously.
I giggle. “I knew it!” He’s so easy to goad sometimes.
“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to never have thought about it, ever! I was a young boy jumping through time! I had no idea what I might find, see, do, or even who I’d meet. But it’s different now if that’s what you’re getting at,” he smiles sweetly. “I’ve already found my princess, and she was in my present,” he winks, taking a step into the room after me.
“I’m not getting at anything,” I pout. “I think it’s cute. Who wouldn’t dream of marrying some handsome, rich person from a bygone age? Even if the most noble of them is in your own time,” I smirk, moving a little closer to him.
“Are you…” he smirks, “referring to yourself, M’Lady?”
“In a way,” I avoid his gaze, looking instead at his fine clothes. “I didn’t dream of princes and nobles, but… I did dream of someone who would be sweet, and gentle,” I admit. I feel like I owe him that much.
“Oh, and have you, by chance met anyone of late who fits this description?” he asks, fidgeting with his collar.
“No,” I shake my head with a smile as he looks up at me, seemingly crestfallen. “I met someone who is much more than just that.”
His face instantly lights up. “Oh, have you now?”
I meet his gaze, unable to hold back a grin. “Yes, I have. And not only have I met him, but I carry his child. That is more than I could have dreamed. How lucky can one girl be?”
“You must be pretty lucky. I hope I can meet this man one day. He sounds pretty amazing,” he feigns ignorance pretty badly as he tries to hide a smile
“You should,” I nod, stifling a laugh. “Apparently we’re married! I don’t even remember it!”
“What? Married? Since when? I didn’t hear of a wedding or anything of the sort. Why wasn’t I invited?” he plays along.
“I don’t know,” I shrug and then wink at him. “It must have been in secret.”
“Must have been. But as you said, you don’t even remember it. How do you suppose it happened?” he slides off his shoes and walks around, observing the room in more detail.
“Which? The wedding, or the proposal?” I turn as I watch his gaze wander, the wonder in his eyes sparkling. I wonder if he’s asking just to keep up the joke, or fishing for information.
He stops, his expression thoughtful. “Both, I guess,” he glances over his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” I wander over to a chair, sitting down as he continues to wander. “I don’t think I ever let myself get that far in the dream.”
“Oh,” he seems suddenly sad as he walks toward me. “Would you like help with the undressing? It looks complicated,” he offers.
“That would be nice,” I stand back up. “Women’s fashion has always confounded me,” I sigh, turning so he can reach the lace at the back. I reach up and pull Scoria off my shoulders, placing her on the chair so she doesn’t get in the way again.
“Well, perhaps while we remain at the Manor we can get you some clothes like Lady Halsey, future Lady Hanganu,” he jests. “There doesn’t seem to be a need to be confined to such fashion here on the estates,” he points out.
I risk a glance over my shoulder at him. “That is true, but I think I still prefer the clothes we came in,” I watch his face closely.
He bites his lip. “We didn’t come in any,” he says softly, the corners of his lips lifting ever so slightly.
“I know,” I giggle, relieved by his reaction. He finishes with the lace and the bodice slips away, followed by the rest of it. I feel much lighter. I turn slowly to face him, searching his tunic curiously. “How about you?” I ask, running my hands over the front of his shirt. “Can I help?”
“Help?” he squeaks, blushing. “Y-yes, that’d be nice.”
I purse my lips. “Do you think the Lord would be offended if I ruined these pretty clothes?”
Andrei chuckles. “Actually, quite the opposite I think. I presume he’d be fascinated.”
I grin. “Good. That makes this easier.” I let my hands grow warm, the fabric quickly catching fire. I keep it contained, spreading fast while not touching his skin or his hair. It moves up over his shoulders, down his back and arms, the embers falling to the floor around us. I pause at the trousers, searching his eyes for any hesitation.
“Oh come on! This is the worst part of the entire getup!” he whines, pulling at the skin-tight pants with the bell shape at the hips.
“Yes, my lord,” I snicker as I burn them away in seconds, extra careful around the hips. “Is that better?”
He sighs in relief. “Much better, M’lady. Now that we are returned to our arrival attire, what did you have in mind?” he questions.
I feel myself blush. I keep expecting him to reject me in anger. “Anything you desire.”
He purrs, reaching his arms out to me and pulling me into him. His lips find my ear and he nibbles it gently, his breath hot against my skin. I shiver, pulling away a little as I rest my hands against his chest. I feel them shake as my stomach twists.
Can he really be okay with this? When will he snap? I’m sure Heath’s words must be gnawing at the back of his mind, despite what he says.
He pauses, a questioning tone in his voice. “What’s wrong? Do you not… want to do this?” I look up and see his expression turn to one of confusion.
“I do,” I shake my head. “I just… wonder if you really want to.”
“What? Why would you wonder that?” he asks. “Kat, I’m standing here naked after you just burnt off all of my clothes, telling me you prefer this. Why would I not want to?” His hands hold me by the shoulders out at arm’s length as he leans back to regard my face.
I find it hard to meet his gaze, looking up through my lashes. My voice is small when I answer, “Because of before… You must be holding back something. I know you must be upset. I just… I don’t know what will set it off again,” I mumble. It sounds stupid when it’s said out loud.
“Kat, You’re worrying unnecessarily. I told you, and I mean every word of it, I don’t blame you for what Heath or his lava element said they did to you. He was preying on you when I wasn’t around to protect you. I know you wouldn’t do it willingly. I love you, no matter what. Didn’t what happen earlier today prove that?” he says with sincerity.
“You didn’t know then…” I whisper, still struggling to believe him. Why can’t I just let it go? I’m startled as he pulls me forward by the shoulders and sets me down on the bed, sitting next to me and taking my hands in his.
“Listen. You didn’t want that. You fought back. I know you wouldn’t willingly have partook. I don’t know what happened between Lava and Fire in the past and I can’t say I understand what’s happening with Heath and his magic or why it’s using him as a medium to get to you, but I’m not going to let what they do affect my love for you. I love you, Kat. Really, I do, Only you could forgive me for everything I’ve ever done after Rose, Sam, and all that mess, even while hurting you with my sword. We’ve been through so much together and if you didn’t love me, you wouldn’t still be here. But you are, and I am too and I’m telling you, I don’t care what Heath and you did. I love you. Why don’t you believe me?”
My eyes get blurry and I take a ragged breath. “I don’t know how you could love someone like me, that’s why. I’m not worth it. You deserve a princess and a castle and the whole world.”
“A princess in a- Kat, not all the princesses in the world could be as real or caring as you. Believe me, I’ve met some,” he says ruefully. “And even if they were, who says that that’s what I want?”
I pout. “You know what I mean.” He looks back at me, expression flat as he regards my words. I shift uncomfortably under his gaze wondering when he will do or say something. The wait is agonizing.
I blink and I feel his hands squeeze my shoulders. I gasp and the bed creaks as I fall back. Andrei swings his leg over my hips, straddling me as he leans over me, brushing my hair away from face gently. A rush of butterflies fills my stomach.
He cups my cheek with his hand with the sweetest of smiles. “I’ll always be here to listen, Kat. I love you,” he says again, leaning down and pressing his lips against mine, hard.
My heart pounds against my ribs, threatening to break right through. He’s more than any prince I’ve ever read about. I don’t know how we’re going to deal with the lava when we get home, but I know I won’t let it win again. I won’t fall for his tricks. I won’t lie or sneak around.
His attention focuses on my lips first, then begin to wander down my neck, along my collarbone and over the swell of my breast. The way he taunts and teases me is breathtaking, yet gentle. I gasp as his fingers tenderly explore my lower regions. He wastes no time in making me wet with desire.
When he returns to my lips for a kiss, he shocks me with his hips. I expected just the kiss, not his entrance as well. He ravishes me with his love and passion until I am unable to retrain my voice. We explore new positions this night, the sensation bringing us both great pleasure as we exhaust ourselves into a deep sleep, wrapped in each other’s arms atop the sheets of the four-poster bed.
The night drifts by with scenes of weddings, castles, and babies. It’s so unusually pleasant, I don’t want to wake up. In my dream, standing in the nursery at Andrei’s parents’ house, he leans down to kiss me. It surprises me how real it feels until my eyes flutter open and he’s there with his lips gently pressed against mine.
I inhale the scent of him deeply as I wrap my arms around his neck and hold him there. His lips curl into a smile and press harder, his hand sliding around the back of my neck. I wouldn’t mind waking up like this every morning.
“Good morning M’Lady. Did you sleep well?” he asks smoothly, pulling away ever so slightly.
I giggle, giddy already. “I think I can honestly say that was the best sleep I’ve ever had.”
“Really now,” he smirks. “No dreams?”
I gulp, my cheeks growing hot. “No bad dreams…”
He chuckles softly. “Oh? So you had real dreams then? Do you remember any of them?” his lip lifts in a curious smile.
I nod slowly. “I do…”
“Are you going to tell me?” he asks, hazel eyes staring into mine.
“I-I don’t think so,” I stutter. “It’s a little embarrassing.”
“Oh really? All the more reason to tell me, hmm?” he prods.
I shake my head, biting my lips together. He hasn’t even asked me to get married or mentioned it other than telling the Lord that we are. I can’t tell him that I’ve been thinking about it since Caroline brought it up the other day, let alone dreaming…
He pouts. “Aww, why not?”
“Nope,” I squeak, rolling onto my side to escape his curiosity. He whines, following me across the bed.
His arms slip around my waist as I sit up, pulling me back against his chest. “Come on, Kat. I promise I won’t laugh.” He begs, pressing his lips against my shoulder,
“Yes you will,” I pout.
v“Why would you think that?” he pouts, hugging me gently.
I sigh, leaning back against him. “Because, you just will.”
There’s a knock at the door, breaking the bubble of the moment. “My Lord, my Lady, the Lord of the house requests you join him for the morning meal. May we come in and help you dress?” a female voice calls, just loud enough to hear.
Andrei tenses and grabs for the sheets before he answers. “Yes, that will be fine, thank you,” he calls to the door.
The door opens and two maids enter carrying clothing in their arms. They look curiously at the pile of ash on the floor next to the bed as they enter the room, the remnants of yesterday’s clothes, but neither make any comment. They stop before us at the edge of the bed and curtsy. I sigh, turning my head to leave a kiss on Andrei’s cheek before I slide out of his grasp and step off the bed.
“If you would step this way, my lady,” the brunette maid bows to me with what looks like another fancy dress in her arms. I try not to look too unhappy as I follow her to a more open area of the room. The other girl similarly asks Andrei to step away from the bed so she can maneuver around him. She has a bit of trouble getting him to let go of the sheet, which makes me snicker as I watch him blush.
“Isn’t he a fine young man?” I ask, looking at the girl trying to dress him.
She looks up at me with wide eyes. “Y-yes, my lady.”
“See, Andrei,” I grin mischievously. “You don’t need to be shy.”
“Old habits die hard,” he grumbles as the girl gives him a new tunic, his face bright red. I watch him get dressed, admiring his body in the light as the layers are pulled over, hiding the shape of him. It’s like looking at the sun; vibrant and addictive.
It’s a welcome distraction before the maid pulls several layers of skirt over my head, draped over one another until she brings out a contraption similar to a corset, but it seems to predate them. I gasp as she tightens the strings at my back. It’s not as tight as corsets were said to be, but it will definitely keep my back straight all day. I’m just grateful she didn’t bring a ridiculous hoop skirt. The other girl comes over to help when she’s finished with Andrei, and they add the last few decorative layers on my torso. When they’re finished, I feel stiff and heavy.
“Why are there so many layers?” I ask, hoping to understand why this time’s fashion would require women to be so heavily attired.
One of the girls tilts her head curiously. “It is still early spring, my lady. The castle can be quite drafty and cold at this time of year. The layers are of the latest fashion and they also serve to keep the body warm.”
I purse my lips. I guess there’s no point in explaining that I don’t need to be kept warm.
“Well, actually, Kaitlyn is naturally warm.” Andrei cuts in, to my surprise. “She might be well off with fewer layers perhaps? Also…” Andrei hesitates, glancing between me and the girls, “how does the corset feel? Isn’t it… too tight?” he asks me.
I take a breath. “No, I think it’s okay.”
He nods. “Alright. If you feel at any time that it’s difficult to breathe, don’t hesitate to have them loosen it,” he gives me a worried look. I nod. I don’t plan on putting up with the extreme fashions of the past. I’d really much rather be considered ugly or unkempt if it’ll keep other men away.
By Krystyna Yates