She whipped around the dark corner, pale shift fluttering behind her, tiny feet making no sound on the marble tile. No one would have known she was about if it wasn't for the figure hiding in the shadows down the vast, seemingly endless corridor. Glancing around, she cautiously stepped onto a balcony, inhaling the soft scent of burning firewood. The hushed twittering of the night larks simply drifted from her thoughts as she closed her eyes and traced her fingertips over the carvings of the railing.
She was silent, gentle, and immeasurably graceful. In just her shift, she was slight and willowy, far from the voluptuous image conveyed by the frothy layers of lace and satin usually adorning her figure. He could see her deep green eyes glowing in the moonlight as she surveyed the fields below. Grinning to himself, he snuck up behind her, waiting.
She lifted her foot, testing the sturdiness of the railing. Evidently satisfied, she slowly climbed up onto the edge, starting to turn around.
"Ah, hah." Ryan quickly snaked his arms around her tiny waist, ignoring her gasp of surprise, and pulling her back onto the balcony in front of him.
"Uh, sir. I was just, errr, admiring the view?" She trailed off, glancing away, hoping he didn't notice her flushed cheeks.
"No, you weren't."
"Then, I was enjoying the weather?"
"It's much too cold."
"Getting fresh air?"
"No. There's too much smoke from the evening fire."
"I was clearing my mind."
"You still look preoccupied."
She ran out of answers, resolving herself to silence.
"Running away perchance?" He smiled, intensely pleased with himself.
"Of course not!" She wished she was as talented a liar as her sister.
"Really?" Ryan obviously didn't believe her. He pulled her tiny frame closer against his, blue eyes boring into hers.
"Really." She glared back at him. The look on his face questioned her further. "Really." Stefania insisted, trying to assure herself as much as him. Her demeanor cooled. "Now, if you're quite finished with me, Lord, then I will take my leave to bed." She gently removed herself from his grasp, only to be caught again.
"Not in the very least have I finished with you, so, if you'll be so inclined to follow me..." He turned and started off the balcony, turning to assure that she was following.
Stefania had no choice other than to follow his retreating figure. She blushed, remembering how close they had been on the balcony just a few moments before. She never considered the physical side of things. She didn't know how far Lord Clairborne would insist on going during the week.
He interrupted her. "Please wait a few moments until we're in my room. I would rather not wake the household."
She nodded, and followed him in silence until they were safely in his room and he had shut the door behind him. She soon realized that she could quite possibly be anything but safe.
He backed away, seeing the look in her eyes. "Where, exactly did you expect to go in the middle of the night, dressed as you are?"
She crossed her arms uncomfortably, noticing his questioning once-over. She shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know. I wasn't thinking clearly. I, well, it's a little overwhelming." She began gathering steam. "Yeah... so much has happened in just one day and I, well, wasn't prepared?" Her story still wasn't convincing, she knew.
"I'm sure." He smiled sardonically. "But, I want it known that while you are under my roof, you will remain so, meaning, no more sneaking out during the night. I'm not too inclined to repeat tonight."
"Sorry, sir. It won't happen again." She knew she sounded like a chastised child, but she didn't care. She only wanted to go back to bed, and wait there until her sister came to replace her.
"Call me Ryan," He opened a door on the side wall, revealing her bedchamber. "And, Goodnight." He pulled her close, and kissed her forehead.