Home > The Shadows Between Us(4)

The Shadows Between Us(4)
Author: Tricia Levenseller

“Ow,” she protests.

I smile down into my glass, taking another sip, careful not to look anywhere near the throne. I swear I can still feel a ray of heat bearing down on me from that direction.

“Forgive my rudeness!” Father suddenly exclaims more loudly. “Orrin, this is my daughter Alessandra. Now that Chrysantha is betrothed, I’m permitting her an outing at the palace.”

I stifle a groan before turning. I suppose it only helps my cause to be seen interacting with other guests and not showing any interest in the king. But I’m also certain I will find any friend of my father’s to be intolerable.

I grasp my overskirt in my free hand and curtsy. “A pleasure.”

Eliades’s eyes sparkle before he dips into a bow. “She’s as beautiful as the elder. Is her temperament just as sweet?”

Before Father has to scramble for an answer to that question, Eliades adds, “I’m still put out that you did not give Chrysantha to me. My money is just as good as a duke’s!”

“As an earl, I’m sure you understand that I had to give her the best title offered. As much as I appreciate our friendship, my dearest Chrysantha…”

I close my eyes tightly. Chrysantha is the last thing I want everyone to be discussing. This night is about me.

“Father, another dance is starting.” I set my empty glass on the table and tug at his arm.

Remembering the purpose for this excursion, Father excuses us and pulls me in line with the other dancers. I try to hide my ire. Even at a party where Chrysantha is absent and Father is bent on helping me catch the eye of the king, he can’t help but speak of his favorite. The daughter who looks like Mother and shares her gentle demeanor.

“The line is gone,” Father says as we perform the first steps, his focus now returning to the king.

“Just keep dancing. Do not look at the king any longer.”

“But he’s watching us.”

“Ignore him.”

In my periphery, I see the king shift in his seat, as though he caught himself in one position for too long because he was occupied.

Occupied with me.

My anger drifts away at the thought. This song is faster, requiring more dexterity and concentration. As Father’s face blurs in front of me, I’m able to forget all about the king. There is nothing but the tempo pounding in time to my heartbeat and the feel of my feet sweeping across the floor.

Before the song can come to a close, the music cuts off abruptly. The couples around us scatter, and Father brings our dance to a halt.

The king is approaching, his shadows sweeping behind him as he moves. I try to quiet my breathing from the exerting dance as Father takes my arm in his and turns to greet our sovereign.

“Your Majesty,” Father says, bowing.

I curtsy along with him.

“Lord Masis,” the king says with a nod. “I don’t believe I’m acquainted with your dance partner.”

I keep my eyes just to the right of the king. Though I don’t see it, I can feel the king’s eyes taking me in from head to toe. He’s been watching me for the last fifteen minutes at least, but now he takes his time with his close-up view.

“Forgive me, sire,” Father says. “May I introduce my second-born, Lady Alessandra Stathos.”

The king tilts his head at an angle. “You did not get in line with the other ladies, Lady Stathos. Is the dance floor more interesting than I am?” His voice is a deep baritone; not quite soothing, but powerful.

I fight a smile as I allow our eyes to meet for the first time. A delicious jolt shoots through my entire body at the connection.

His eyes are the green of the sea, of crashing waves and violent winds. There’s something dangerous in the depths of them, something exciting, and I realize right then that feigning disinterest will be difficult.

When I finally manage to pull my gaze away, I let it travel downward, taking in the king slowly while he watches. Assessing him properly from the tips of his black hair to the base of his shined boots.

“Yes,” I conclude.

The air leaves my father in a painful-sounding squeak.

But the Shadow King lets out one low laugh.

“I saw ladies leaving the ball in tears,” I continue. “It seemed speaking with Your Majesty was a sure way to get kicked out. I wasn’t about to let that happen before I joined in the dancing.”

“Is it the dancing you like? Or are you merely looking to show off your”—he darts a quick look down to my legs—“dress?”

“Are you mocking my outfit? I designed it myself.”

“Quite the opposite. I rather like it.” A pinch of humor lurks at the edges of his lips. I think it might be at my expense, and I don’t like that one bit.

I say, “Give me your measurements, and I can have one made for you.”

Another grin stretches across the king’s lips, and I can’t help but admire how much more handsome he becomes with the movement.

“Dance with me,” he says.

Father goes so still, one would think he’d been turned to stone.

“Is that an order or a request? I’m told you hang girls who get too close to you.”

“Not hang. Those girls are asked to leave the party. So long as you mind your distance, I will not have you dismissed as well.”

Still, I’m not ready to concede just yet. “Is there any fun in a dance when you can’t touch your partner?”

“Accept my invitation and you will find out.”

 

 

CHAPTER

3


The dance floor clears until it is only the king and me. The orchestra strikes up a new song, one that only we can share.

Keeping his eyes on mine, the king advances a step, and I move backward with the motion, following his lead. This style of dance is more improvised, rather than having a set choreography to adhere to, and I can’t help but wonder if the king is somehow testing me with it, seeing if I can keep up. When he steps to the side, I mirror him. He keeps his arms crossed behind his back, but dancing is not meant to be so stiff, so I let mine move with me.

At first, it’s difficult not to become distracted by the tendrils of black dancing around him. The shadows are so unusual, so fascinating. I wonder what would happen if I reached out to one. Would it curl around my finger? Dissipate at the touch of my skin? Feel as though I’d plunged into a fog?

I remember myself when the Shadow King holds an arm out to me. I know I’m not meant to take it, so instead I twirl for him, letting my overskirt lift off the floor to show more of the tight-fitted pants beneath. I close my eyes and feel the motion more deeply.

The tempo picks up and so do the king’s movements. I seem to sense his actions rather than watch for them. The dance turns exhilarating and frantic, almost as if there’s something desperate in the music itself. As the song grows faster and faster and the king’s eyes burrow into mine, I can’t help but feel as though he’s trying to communicate something to me through dancing alone.

I see nothing but those green eyes, feel nothing but the floor against my feet. I lose all sense of time and purpose.

When the music comes to a crushing halt, I dip my head backward as the Shadow King lets one gloved hand tilt toward me in the imitation of a caress.

I’m breathing heavily while staring up into two swirls of emerald green. We right ourselves seconds later.

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