Putting one last curl into Al’s hair, I step back and take a look at my handiwork.
“You look like a hooker. One of those American ones,” I tease her, smiling. I think we nailed it. My obsession with my favorite movie Pretty Woman gave me the idea to go with a Vivian Ward look. I love doing Al’s hair, but she hardly lets me anymore. It’s not like when we were little and I did it every day before she learned to do it herself.
She doesn’t like her long blonde locks, but I love them. They always make me think of a fairy tale, which seems appropriate since we are both princesses.
“As long as I don’t have to dress like a hooker, it’s perfect,” she tells me, making me laugh. I don’t think I could get Alena to show that much skin, even if I held her down and put the outfit on her myself.
“I say keep it simple on the outfit.” I walk over to the bed, picking up a dress I know will look perfect on her. I talked her into getting it forever ago, but it’s sat in the back of her closet since then. “This.”
I hold up the green dress, knowing it will make her blonde hair even brighter. She might not like her hair, but I think it makes her shine like a star. Plus, the dress is somewhat modest, coming to her knees, with little capped sleeves. It will look perfect on her. Maybe a little too perfect for our plans though. This dress might not scare away her future husband.
“I can’t wear that. I’ll have to wear heels.”
I have to stifle a laugh. Alena is the worst in heels. It’s actually pretty comical to see her in them. Like a little baby deer learning to walk.
“Yep. I’ve seen you in heels. You’re a walking accident waiting to happen. So heels it is.”
I pick up a pair of black heels that will go well with the dress. The point is to make her seem like a mess if we want to scare away the man demanding her hand in marriage. The man who will take my sister away from me. It’s always been the two of us. I still remember when Mom brought her home from the hospital. I thought she’d be mine to take care of, to protect from the crappy-ish parents we had, and that’s what I did. And that’s what I’m doing today.
We are going to send this potential husband running for the hills. Though after the picture I saw of him, I’m not sure he’s ever run from anything in his life. He has his sights set on my sweet, innocent little sister, and I don’t know if he can be stopped. She’s too soft for a man who looks like he could rip someone in half with his bare hands.
Handing her the heels, I grab my own dress. Unlike Al, I love dressing up. Hair, makeup, and clothes have been my obsession since I could walk. I slip on the tight red dress and pull at it a little to make sure it’s all in place.
“Wait, are you trying to get his attention so he’ll marry you? I thought we were scaring him off,” Alena says.
I watch as panic lights up her face. I did try and take Al’s place when I found out someone had called for her hand in marriage. I knew she didn’t want to get married, just like me. At least not to a king. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as royalty. I want something more simple. But for Alena I’d do anything, including asking if I could take her place. I was older and had been asked multiple times, but each time, my parents turned them down. The one good thing they’d ever done for me. But when King Roman called for Al, our parents jumped all over it and he would have no one but her. From my understanding I don’t think trying to get him to look at me could possibly work. He was intent on having Alena. The only thing we could do was make him think she wasn’t that great of a catch. It’s all we could come up with. Though I have a feeling this isn’t going to work. Alena never gets how much she really glows without even trying.
But I can’t help but wonder at the look on her face. Is there jealousy there? Maybe she likes the king a little more than she’s willing to admit aloud.
“Whatever you want,” I tell her. Because I will do whatever she needs me to do. We always do that for each other. We’re a team. A team that is about to be split up.
“Girls!” my mom yells before the door opens. “Let’s go.” She gives us a glance to make sure we look presentable because that’s all she cares about. She turns and heads out of the room, a glass full of wine in hand like always. Hopefully she’s had enough to not be a total pain-in-the-ass tonight.
I watch Alena slip on the heels and almost fall over. I snort, unable to help myself, while putting my own on.
“Come on.” I lock my arm with hers to help her walk so she doesn’t hurt herself before we even get there. We make our way towards the great room with only a few minor stumbles along the way.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Al whispers. I hate the tremble in her voice. It makes a protectiveness rise up in me “I’m so shy. I don’t know if I can make a fool of myself.”
“I’ll be right here. We’ve got this,” I reassure her.
I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll be right here to make a fool of myself right along with her. Hopefully this king will think we’re a hot mess and run for the hills, wanting nothing to do with us. She looks up at me and nods.
When we turn the corner into the great room we both freeze. Everyone looks at us, but my eyes go to one spot, and I feel every part of my body come alive.
“Holy fuck,” I whisper to myself.
The man standing against the far wall has his eyes trained on me. They are the greenest I’ve ever seen in my life. His giant arms are folded over his chest, and I know instantly from his stance he’s a guard. He’s built like a tank, with big muscles and a wide chest. His hair is so thick and dark, I know our babies would have hair just like him. Oh. My. God. I can’t believe I had that thought.
As if he can read my mind, a smirk pulls at his full lips.
Someone steps in front of him, blocking my view. I don’t know if I’m thankful for that or not. It’s then I notice it’s Roman. His eyes are focused fully on my sister. He looks almost angry. It’s then I realize it’s because she’s looking where I was looking. At the mystery man with green eyes. I can see jealousy written all over Roman’s face.
“Sweetheart, this is King Roman,” I hear our mother say.
I glance over at her and see she’s got a giant smile on her face. She’s all too happy to pass her daughter off so easily. She doesn’t care if Alena even wants to go. No, not my mother. I stare at her for a moment, and for the first time, I really feel hate for her.
Lost in my reverie, I miss Roman come flying across the room. He grabs Alena, who was tripping over her own shoes. He pulls her towards him, and I watch my sister melt into him as if she’s done it a thousand times.
I glance back to my mystery man, who’s now moved closer. He stares right at me. I feel like he can see though my clothes. His gaze roams over me as if he owns me, as if he has personal knowledge of my body. I’m used to men looking at me, but this feels different. I know he wants me, but it’s more than that. He wants to own me. The thought should piss me off. It’s why I’ve never liked this arranged marriage crap. A man showing up and taking me just isn’t going to happen. But why now, with this stranger, am I feeling a tingling all over my body at the thought?
“Hi,” I hear Al say, and it pulls my eyes reluctantly away from the man.
Her voice is awkward and doesn’t sound anything like her. I can’t help but snort. I know the sound gets her, because she starts to fight a laugh.
“Tabby,” she says, her eyes still locked with Roman’s. I’m a little shocked she’s holding his stare. “I think our plan is working.”
His eyes narrow on her. It takes everything in me not to burst into laughter. I can feel my body shaking, wanting to let the laughter go, but I fight it back.
“You can’t say that out loud. He can hear you,” I say out of the corner of my mouth, but I know everyone can hear me.
I sneak a glance at my green-eyed mystery man, wanting to focus my attention on him again, wanting to make sure those eyes are still on me. Damn, maybe I’m starting to feel that ownership crap, too. Yep, eyes still on me, only this time he’s smiling at me. It makes him not look so deadly. Unlike Alena, I can’t hold a stare, so I look away, feeling my face heat at being caught ogling him. I’m never shy, but something about him makes me feel that way.
“Roman.” My mystery man speaks for the first time. “I think she’s good.” I glance back to Alena, who’s still in King Roman’s arms, feet dangling off the ground. He places her on her feet and takes a step back. I can tell he’s fighting it. He doesn’t want to let her go.
“Tabby?” Roman says my nickname but doesn’t look at me. He won’t look away from his betrothed.
“No, I’m Alena.” My sister corrects him like she thinks it’s an honest mistake. Yeah right, this man knows who she is. If I had to guess, from the way he’s acting he knows everything about her.
“I know who you are, my princess.” He looks over at me, taking his eyes off Alena for the first time since we walked into the room. “Tabitha.” He says my full name this time. Only Alena calls me Tabby. “Can you take my princess to her room to remove these ridiculous shoes before she hurts herself?”
“Hey, she isn’t my servant,” Al snaps at him, and I watch her square her shoulders in a very un-Alena-like way.
“I help Alena with stuff all the time.” I jump in. Maybe if he thinks she needs me, I can go with them when they marry. It would be a fight with my parents because they want to marry me off, too, but Roman is very powerful. Alena frowns at my random comment, clearly not getting it. I can tell this man will do anything to have her, so maybe now I can convince him that I need to go with her. That’s what’s really been bothering us this whole time—the thought of no longer having each other. It’s always been Al and me.
“Then help her remove the layer of what’s painted on her face as well,” Roman adds.
Alena takes a step back from him, and I think she wants to smack him. She isn’t seeing what I’m seeing. I’m guessing he’s seen pictures of her before and he wants that Al. Not this made-up one we created in hopes of scaring him away. I kind of like that.
“Alena. Do as you’re told,” our mother half-whispers, half-scolds. Her scolding tone is no different, even in front of a king. I can’t fight my eye roll.
Roman turns to look at our mother. Her face is scrunched, and I can tell she’s pissed. We’re going to get it later.
“You don’t give her orders. She will be Queen in one week’s time. She doesn’t take orders.” Roman’s voice is stern and final. He just gave her a command, and it will be followed. He earned a few points in my book right there. He stood up for her and put our mother in her place.
“Except from you, I guess,” I hear Alena say, looking down at the floor and taking another step back from Roman. Clearly she’s trying to get space from him.
“All your whispers are too loud. Keep them in your head,” I tell her, a little too loudly myself. Crap, we are terrible at this.
“Alena,” Roman says, drawing our attention. He doesn’t look mad. In fact, he looks like he’s fighting a smile. Yep, we are definitely terrible at this.
“Please.” The word, laced with urgency, comes from his lips, and I can tell it’s not a word he uses often.
Al grabs my hand and pulls me from the room, clearly wanting to escape. I glance back over my shoulder to my mystery man. I don’t know his name, but from the look on his face, I don’t think I will ever escape him.