Home > The Shadows Between Us(3)

The Shadows Between Us(3)
Author: Tricia Levenseller

I blow out a breath through my nose before turning to face Father. “If you cannot do as you’re told, then you can leave. Remember, Father, all your tutelage with Chrysantha did nothing. Your way doesn’t work. I am in charge of this plan, and I will execute it as I see fit. It simply won’t do to have us quarreling once we enter the party, so make a decision now.”

Father’s lips press into a thin line. He doesn’t like being told what to do, least of all by me, his youngest child. Perhaps if Mother were still alive, he’d be more gentle and kind, but illness took her when I was eleven.

Finally, Father nods and holds out his free hand in front of us, inviting me to lead the way.

I do.

The upbeat music of an orchestra wafts out a set of open doors farther down the way. They appear to be used primarily for exiting the party, however. I watch girls with handkerchiefs pressed to their noses to muffle their sniveling and angry mothers chastising them for it scamper into the hallway, making hasty retreats.

Has the king been openly rejecting the women who come to get an introduction? I smile at the thought of his forwardness. That’s exactly the sort of thing I would do in his position.

Father and I push past a few more nobles leaving before we’re finally caught in the thick of the party.

Couples glide together on the dance floor. Gentlemen drink wine from goblets, and mothers gossip to one another from the sidelines. Groups of girls giggle behind fans or shawls as they stare up at the dais.

At the Shadow King.

I’ve never laid eyes on the man before, and now I’m free to observe him as long as I like while momentarily hidden among the other guests.

His name, it would seem, is well deserved and in line with the rumors I’ve heard. Tendrils of shadow halo his entire outline. They swirl as though alive, caressing his skin and dissolving into nothing before reappearing again.

It’s fascinating to watch.

They say the Shadow King has some sort of power, but no one knows what it is. Some say he can command the shadows to do his bidding, that he can use them to kill—choke the life out of his enemies. Others say they’re a shield. That no blade can pierce his skin. And even others say that the shadows speak to him, whispering the thoughts of those all around.

I certainly hope that last one isn’t true.

Knowing what I have in store for him after our wedding night simply won’t do.

Once I adjust to the outline of shadow, I’m able to take in other features. His hair is as black as the shadows around him. The sides are cropped short, but the hair up top has some volume to it, parted to the side. A strong brow shades his eyes. The lines of his jaw are so sharp they could cut glass, and a healthy dose of stubble covers them. With a straight nose and full lips—

He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, even when his features are set somewhere between boredom and irritation.

Seducing the king will prove to be a most enjoyable task, indeed.

We match, I note, as I take in his clothing. While all the dresses around us vary from mint to teal to olive, we are both decked in head-to-toe black. The king wears sleek dress pants. A black undershirt, tie, waistcoat, and overcoat. Brilliant silver buttons don his jacket. A chain dangles from the shoulder to a pocket above his left breast, holding a watch, no doubt. Black leather gloves cover his hands, which rest on the arms of his chair. A sheathed rapier leans against his throne, one for style, not use, I’m sure.

Though he doesn’t bother with a crown, there is no doubt as to the man’s status.

“He’s so striking,” I say at last. And young. I know he was only crowned about a year ago, but he can’t be much older than I am.

“Remember, if you approach him, you’re not permitted within five feet of him.”

Yes, I know the law. No one is allowed to touch the king. To do so is punishable by death.

Oh, he is a delightful mystery that I can’t wait to solve.

“Dance with me, Father.”

Having learned his lesson, Father places a hand at my waist and leads me into a slow-moving Naxosian dance without question. We turn along the outskirts of the dance floor, but I order Father to lead us closer to the center.

To our left, two gentlemen dance together. The taller one twirls the shorter one in perfect form. To our right, a man and woman scoot indecently close to each other, and I silently cheer them on. The rebel in me loves to throw dirt in the face of decorum.

After a minute passes, I spot a few men looking over the heads of their dance partners to catch a glimpse of me. My black attire is doing its job splendidly.

But mostly, I think it’s the fact that my pant-clad legs are a rarity in the room. Most men aren’t used to the style. And I’ve opted for tight-fitted ones that show my curves to their best effect.

“People are staring,” Father says.

“That’s the point, isn’t it?”

I imagine what the scene must look like from up on the dais—the black center of a daisy amid sage petals.

More and more girls exit the ballroom after obtaining their introductions. I hope the line ends soon. There can’t be that many girls of noble blood.

A sudden spark of heat lands on my neck and spreads down to my toes. I’m being watched. “Tell me, Father, have we attracted the notice of the king yet?”

Father glimpses the throne out of the corner of his eye. They widen. “I believe we have.”

“Excellent. Keep dancing.”

“But—”

“Father,” I warn.

I let myself get lost in the steps. I do so love dancing. I love the way my body becomes light and fluid when I go through the motions, the way the spins send my hair over my shoulders, the way my skirt twirls around my legs.

When the song is nearly over, I ask, “How many women are left in line?”

“Ten.”

The song ends, and the orchestra strikes up another.

“Should we—?” Father starts.

“I’m parched. Let’s go to the tables for some refreshment.”

“But—”

At my glare, he takes my arm once more and leads me up to a table laden with red-filled glasses and tiny samples of food on trays.

I select a glass, holding it in my fingers by the long stem, and bring it to my lips.

“Lord Masis,” a bright voice says from the other side of the thin table.

I look up. Before us is a golden-haired noble older than I. Perhaps thirty. He still appears young in the face, but he’s much broader in the shoulders than the men I’m used to entertaining.

“Lord Eliades!” Father greets, forgetting me for a moment. “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in weeks at the club.”

I haven’t the faintest idea what club he’s referencing, but I suppose I should have known Father wasn’t spending his evenings at a mistress’s. He never has gotten over Mother.

Father stretches out a hand to shake Eliades’s, and I note that the younger gentleman has quite the calluses on his right hand. How unusual for a lord. But as I take note of the distinct muscles visible through his dress pants, I’d deem him an accomplished horseman.

“Alas, my estates have needed my full attention this long while. I’ve needed to…”

Already bored with the conversation, I don’t bother listening in. Instead, I turn around to survey those dancing. One gentleman steps on his partner’s foot during a turn because he has his eyes on my legs.

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