I step out of the study quietly. Stephan's sitting on the sofa, holding his head in his hands. He looks up as I walk towards the chairs.
"Are you alright?" He asks, jumping to his feet.
I stop and look up at him. He'd left me alone after breaking the news to me. I think he knew that I needed to be alone and I'd been sitting in his study for an hour staring blankly at the wall.
"Why?" I whisper, looking at him.
He looks at me for a while before gesturing at the chair near me. "Juliet, please sit."
Once I'm seated, he runs a hand through his hair, a frown on his face. "You don't know how sorry I am for all of this. If I knew it was going to happen, I would have never agreed to get married. When I confronted my mother, she didn't say anything, asked if I knew where you were. I denied seeing you, saying that since after lunch, I hadn't set eyes on you. But then, Christopher came looking for me. He had heard everything." Sighing, he looks down at the floor. "Queen Fleurice is not my mother, Juliet. My mother died nearly ten years ago and my father married Fleurice five years after. She is not royal by blood, so she cannot rule but she has been able to keep the throne until I had come of age and married. Now I'm ready and once I'm married, I can rule, be king. Fleurice however wants to keep her power, stay Queen, she thought by... getting rid of you, she would be able to frame me and keep me from becoming King."
My eyes are nearly popping out of their sockets as I stare at Stephan.
Queen Fleurice isn't his mother? Why did no one tell me?
She'd go that far just to keep her power?
I shake my head, "Who's Christopher?"
He smiles, a small smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, "My father took Christopher in during the civil war, ten years ago. He's grown up with me and I consider him my brother. I trust him with my life."
"Oh okay." I nod absently and then look at him closely. My heart aches for him as I remember that his mother died when he was so small. He's lost both of his parents. "I'm really sorry about your mother Stephan." I say softly.
He looks up and meeting my eyes, smiles. "Thank you. It means a lot."
I drop my eyes, looking down at the carpet. "I... what do I do now? I don't know who to trust."
"You can trust me." He answers, looking at me steadily.
"I know. And I do."
"Would you like to meet Christopher?" He asks. "I cannot be with you all the time, but he will be able to."
"What were you doing at the back of the castle Stephan? I thought you said you had work." I ask. He looks away, uncomfortable. "Stephan, please. No more secrets."
Sighing, he looks back at me. "It's all her doing." He groans. "I'm really sorry. All these days, every time my mother called me away, she didn't want me to spend too much time with you. I guess it makes sense now. I am so sorry, Juliet."
I nod, my head feels like it's going to explode. So much is happening so quickly.
"I was back there because I honestly don't have anything else to do and I was wondering if I should ignore my mother and come and join you in the gardens."
I look at him closely. He doesn't look like he's lying. But then you judged the Queen pretty well didn't you? Letting my eyes wander, I bite my lip. What shall I do?
"Juliet?" Stephan calls softly.
Looking up at him, his eyes scan my face, like as if searching for something. "Do you believe me?"
I hesitate before nodding. A sigh escapes his lips and I can see him visibly relax.
"So are you going to introduce me to Christopher?"
He smiles, brightening up. "Of course. Just one second."
He walks over to his door and opens it a bit and someone steps through. I bite the inside of my cheek to make sure my mouth isn't hanging open. Tall, he has blond hair falling over his forehead. His blue eyes sparkle as he turns from Stephan to me and he's well-built, I notice as he walks towards me. I get up as he stands in front of me and hold out my hand.
"A pleasure to meet you Juliet." He takes my hand and kisses it.
My cheeks starting to heat up, I smile. "The pleasure's all mine."
He smiles and I swear it lights up the room. Letting my hand go, he stands up straight, a smile still on his lips.
"I called Chris a while back and he was waiting outside because I wasn't sure if you would be willing to meet him." Stephan says and I tear my eyes away from his friend to look at him.
"I see." I reply. Stupid! I couldn't say anything else could I?
"Have you told her what's going on?" Chris asks Stephan.
Stephan nods. "Yes." He looks at me and gestures for me to sit. As Chris and him take their seats, I sit down as well.
"So what are we going to do?" Chris asks.
"Nothing. She would know if we did anything and that would ruin everything because we have no idea how far she's going to go. But I need for you to do me a favor."
"Anything." Chris replies, leaning forward on his seat.
"I can't be with Juliet all the time. I need to know she's safe and with someone I trust."
"I'd be happy to chaperon her. I won't leave her side unless you tell me to."
Stephan smiles. "Thank you Christopher. It will be such a relief if I know you are with her."
"Hey! I'm going to enjoy it! I've never had such a mission and one including such a pretty lady." He turns to me, smiling.
I blush and look away. Thanks to my luck, my eyes fall onto Stephan and he's watching me, frowning a bit, but then he turns away. All of our eyes fly towards the door as there is a loud knock. Stephan jumps up and walks over to me and I can't help feel flattered by his reaction. He looks at the door for a few seconds before turning to me.
"Step into my room for a while? Let me see who it is."
"Okay." I whisper and follow him to his bedroom. He closes the door behind me as I step inside and I stand by the door, straining my ears to hear what's going on.
"Yes?" Stephan asks.
"Sir, the Queen wants you to come and meet the guests." An unfamiliar voice announces. Probably a guard.
"What guests?" Stephan asks, sounding confused.
"The Duke and Duchess of Areille have come."
"I will be down in a while." The door closes and there's a beat of silence before the bedroom door opens before me.
I look from one man to the other but Stephan looks like he's turning something over in his brain and Christopher is just looking at Stephan.
"Alright. I'll take the guard outside my room and leave. Christopher you lock up here and escort Juliet to her room." He turns to me. "You will have to make a presence for supper, but till then please don't leave your room. Chris will come and bring you down." He turns back to Christopher. "You can leave Juliet in her room and then go and get dressed for supper."
"What about Nancy?" I ask.
He smiles, "Nancy has been with me since my mother died, you can trust her Juliet. Don't tell her anything just yet though."
I nod, "Okay."
Stephan hands Christopher his room key and then turns to me. I walk back into his bedroom, closing the door myself. A few seconds later, I hear his room door close and there's a soft knock on my door. Stepping out, Chris holds out his arm, smiling and I take it. "Ready to do this?"
He throws me a grin and opens the room door. After making sure no one is around, we head out, locking Stephan's door behind us. Chris escorts me to my room without any encounters with anyone. We pass a few guards but they say nothing and we make no eye contact with them.
Nancy's in my room when I get in and she fusses over my dress but I just tell her that I tripped in the garden. After changing into something more comfortable, I try to read but my mind isn't on the book and I keep looking up whenever there's a sound. Nancy notices and asks if everything's alright and I nod. A few minutes later, I give up on the book and decide to go take a bath and get dressed for dinner.
After a long relaxing bath, I come out to find that Nancy has laid out a dress for me. It's the most beautiful gown I've seen, in a shade of light creamy orange with a sweetheart neckline. I stare at it for an age before finally putting it on, convinced it looks better on the hanger than it will on me. Nancy does up my hair, leaving a few soft curls to hang about my face and I've just slipped on my heels when there's a knock at the door.
Christopher stands at the door, dressed in a dark blue shirt and white pants. The dark blue of the shirt brings out his eyes very nicely.
He holds out his hand and taking it, we leave my room and head downstairs. The dinner is... interesting to say the least. The Duchess is a beautiful young lady and she's very friendly. She spends most of the meal talking to me about books and traveling, life in general. Stephan is busy talking to the Duke and Christopher, but I feel his eyes on me many times. And Queen Fleurice completely ignores me except for when she asks me help myself to more food. I smile at her kindly, declining.
Once the meal is over, we head into the grand hall where there's music playing.
Stephan asks me to dance and taking his hand, we step onto the dance floor.
"How are you?" He asks softly, looking down at me, a smile on his face.
I nod, meeting his gaze, "Fine, thank you."
"You look beautiful tonight."
I feel my lips curving into a smile. "Why, thank you Prince Stephan."
He laughs out loud and the Duchess glances at us as we pass the dancing couple.
"I cannot believe she would do such a thing." I mumble, looking at Queen Fleurice over Stephan's shoulder.
He just looks away, not saying anything.
I feel my anger flare but try my best to quench it. As the song comes to an end, I step back and he lets me go. Minutes later, Christopher comes and asks for a dance and I gladly accept.
I ignore Stephan the rest of the evening, hurt that he'd keep quiet and not be upset, and spend it with Christopher. When it starts to get late, Chris takes me to my room and after bidding me good night, leaves.
The next morning, Nancy's in my room when I wake up.
"Good morning." I sit up in bed, rubbing my eyes.
She smiles and approaches me, "Morning love. Slept well?"
"Yes. What time is it?"
"Half past 9."
"Oh my God! I've overslept!"
She smooths down my quilt. "It's okay. Stephan came over this morning and explained everything to me. He said to let you be and not wake you up."
"The Queen's out for the day Juliet. You weren't missed at breakfast."
"Stephan was here?" I ask.
She nods, smiling, "He didn't come in though. Once I told him you were asleep, he stepped back."
"Oh." I answer, silently forgiving him for last night.
While I get dresses, Nancy sends for my breakfast and it's in my room when I'm ready. As I'm leaving the room, I spot my book on the table.
"How did this get here?" I ask, looking at Nancy.
"Stephan brought it with him. Said you must have dropped it yesterday."
I bite my lip, feeling bad for being so mean to him last night. Why does he have to be so nice and make everything so hard?!
Nancy accompanies me to the gardens and as we start walking, we see Stephan already there.
"I'll leave you then. Take care love."
She waves and turns back towards the castle as Stephan heads towards me.
"Good morning Juliet."
"Good morning Stephan. Thank you for retrieving my book."
He smiles and holds his arm out towards the bench.
"It was nothing. How are you this morning?"
I smile, sitting down. "I'm doing well, than you. And yourself?"
He nods, "Good."
About ten minutes after we've sat down a servant hurries towards us.
"Prince Stephan, the Queen is asking for you. She says it is urgent."
I glance at Stephan to see his reaction. He jumps to his feet, turning to me. "Let me go see what she wants."
My eyes widen and I stand up. "You're going to go?" I ask, surprised.
"Yes." He answers slowly.
"Stephan, don't you see what she's trying to do? She doesn't want you to spend time with me at all!"
"I don't think she knows I am with you."
I turn to the servant but she's already heading back. I call her and she hurries back. "Does the Queen know where Stephan is?"
"Yes ma'am, she asked me to call Prince Stephan from the gardens."
"See?!" I turn to Stephan once she leaves.
"Juliet, she might really need me."
"Fine then. Go." I turn away from him. "Just don't expect me to stay here and wait for you."
"You're being ridiculous!" He sputters.
"Me?! I am being ridiculous? You were the one who said she was trying to prevent us from getting to know each other."
"I think you're overreacting Juliet."
"Really? Is that what you think?" I ask, gritting my teeth.
He nods, frowning. "I'm going to go see what she wants. Stay safe."
"Stay safe? Yeah, like it will matter to you. Don't come looking for me." I answer before walking away from him.
I stalk out of the gardens and I'm walking aimlessly when I bump into Christopher.
"Why the long face beautiful?" He asks, looking at me.
I shake my head, "It's nothing."
"Why are you by yourself? Am I not doing my job properly?"
I smile, actually happy to see him. "No you're fine."
"Isn't Stephan supposed to be with you?" He asks, frowning.
"Yeah, well his mother was calling him." I look away from Christopher's searching eyes.
"Did you to have an argument?"
"Can we please not talk about this?" I ask.
Christopher nods. "Of course. Would you like to walk with me?"
I fall into step beside him and he leads me past the gardens. "So how are you liking life at the palace?"
"More adventurous than I thought! And maybe more than I can handle." I add dryly.
He chuckles, "Hang in there sweetheart, you'll make it."
It's silent as he leads me around the castle. I see buildings ahead and behind them is plain land for as far as I can see.
Christopher walks confidently along beside me and I can't help but compare him and Stephan.
Where Stephan is contemplative, careful, what I've seen of Christopher suggests he's more impulsive. Christopher is frank while Stephan's more aware of people's feelings. In looks, Chris is the kind of person who'd attract any girl's attention, whereas Stephan has a charm that makes you take a second look that doesn't quite satisfy you. When Chris smiles, you feel comforted, like everything's going to be fine, but when Stephan smiles, you feel special.
But Chris probably has more sense in his head than Stephan ever will.
"What are you thinking so hard about?" Chris's voice breaks my thoughts and I look up at him.
He looks at me and I stare straight ahead, trying to keep a neutral expression and shrugging, he lets me be.
"These are the barns." He gestures towards the buildings we are approaching. "Come on. I want to show you something."
Pushing open the doors to the barn, he leads me inside. The place smells of hay and horses, as it should.
There are name plates on each gate and I see men, busy washing and grooming the horses.
"Come meet Morning Glory." Christopher swings open one of the gates and steps inside and I follow, lifting my dress up a bit.
The horse is a beauty and deserving of its name. It's got a mahogany coat and a beautiful blond mane. It's like when the sun comes out in the morning, the sky's dark but as the sun rises, it beautifies the sky.
"She's beautiful." I say, running my fingers through her mane.
"I know." Christopher pats her, "She's the pride and joy of Stephan."
"She's Stephan's horse?" I ask, looking up. For some reason I'm surprised.
How does he pencil in the time to take care of such a beautiful horse and go horse-riding?
"Yes. He comes in the morning after sunrise and gives her a bath and grooms her." Chris answers, as if reading my mind.
"I didn't know."
"You wouldn't know by looking at him right?"
"Yeah." I answer slowly.
"That's Stephan for you. There's a lot about him, many people don't know and that's because as sure and confident as he is, he likes to keep the few things and people he cherishes close to himself. He's lost so many things in life that the way he shows his love's changed. And there are not many people who get the chance to see him for who he is. He's like an onion, you've got to peel him back one layer at a time because you can't just cut him open. He'll resist and hold on to whatever he has, whether it's good or bad."
I take in Christopher's words, my head bent over the horse as I rub her head.
I guess I understand what silence speaks louder than words means.
Christopher just plainly pointed out exactly what I did wrong.
As I look at Morning Glory, I can't help but gulp down the lump in my throat. In trying to protect him, I hurt Stephan instead.
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Fated Love (5)Long chapter! Enjoy!
By Sammer A