Theft of Heart
Summary: Elena only agreed to go to the ball as a way to help her family. She only stole because it was necessary. She only agreed to meet him again because he wouldn't leave her alone. And she only fell in love with him because he was her own Prince Charming.
I leapt to my feet in a moment, rushing to the doors of my cell. It didn't seem like long enough for Dom to have come and rescued me, but then again, I really had no way of knowing what time it was. I froze within inches of the door when I realized who was on the other side.
Rafe smiled wryly. "I thought that might be your reaction."
"How do you know my name?" I asked hesitantly.
"Your… friend told me," he said, shrugging. "The man that owns the dress shop."
I blinked. "Leo told you my name?!"
He smiled wryly. "I went looking for you at our usual time, despite knowing that your appearance was unlikely. We had a nice chat. He decided that there was no real harm in telling me your real name, seeing as we would never see one another again. Oh, how wrong he was, hm?"
I winced slightly and before I could stop myself blurted, "I'm sorry."
"For what?" he asked lightly. "Stealing from my family? Using me as a distraction? Making me fall in love with you? Which is it, Elena?"
"I never wanted you involved," I said defensively, ignoring his last question. It could be considered when there was actually time to fully consider it. "It was never my intention to get anyone else involved."
"Then why come to the ball? Why dress up and make that effort?" he demanded.
I frowned, hesitating. There was no real reason not to tell him, if I was in jail anyway. Either Dom would manage to break me out or he wouldn't, and telling Rafe the truth certainly wouldn't change the results one way or the other. "We needed someone on the inside. I was just supposed to let my brother into the right areas. That's all my job was. That's all my job ever is. I dressed up to fit in, not stand out. I'm not exactly the type to attract attention."
He shook his head slightly as if he couldn't believe that before asking, "Then why bother talking to me?"
"Because you wouldn't leave me alone," I said, mildly exasperated just remembering it. "I agreed to meet you again because I knew that it was the only way that you would let me leave, and I needed to go for the plan to work out properly."
"And after that? Why even show up in the first place?"
"I don't know! I just… You seemed genuinely nice, and you wanted to meet somewhere that wouldn't be too difficult to reach and… I don't know. After that, I just wanted to keep meeting you, even though I should have known better. I didn't even know who you were, and I certainly couldn't just ask. I didn't get you involved on purpose. I just… liked you. Do like you."
"Just like?" he asked, a slight teasingly lilt making its way into his voice.
"Falling for you," I corrected.
He almost smiled before sighing and shaking his head. "And how do I know that you're not just telling me this to get you out of this dungeon?"
I smiled wryly. "Because I have no doubt my family is going to find a way to get me out of here, with or without legal help."
A wry look crossed his face before he looked into the cell that held me. "You truly aren't afraid of being down here, are you? My Captain of the Guard seemed to think that you would only need to be here a couple of days before you cracked and told him everything."
"I have more sense and loyalty than that," I said, frowning.
A small smile appeared on his face. "Yes, I've realized that." He shook his head, his smile disappearing. "Why steal them, though? Why steal at all?"
"I told you the truth, somewhat," I said, shrugging. "My father was a merchant, until he died. With all of the taxes and things, my family either had to starve or find some other way to make money. That's why I have so many complaints against the taxes because, without them, my family wouldn't need to steal. My elder brother started stealing, minor things just to feed all of us, but then… We just got good at it. The Blonde Bandit is my sister, you know. She was originally the distraction, until she was seen.
"As far as why those jewels, we steal what we are hired to steal. It's part of the job, and they pay well for it. Your aunt's jewels were just something that someone else decided that they wanted, so they hired us to take them. And we did. That's why I was in that town. The jewels are probably long gone by now, unless word reached the town about them being missing and the man that hired us backed out and decided that he didn't want them after all. I doubt that though. Most people don't back out, not if they have already paid for part of the job."
"So that's it?" he asked in disbelief. "You couldn't have just… found a job or had a farm—"
"Oh, very easy for you to say, Your Highness," I snapped. "After all of the time we have spent talking about politics, you still don't get it, do you? It doesn't matter whether or not I work. They'll just tax it right out of us! They especially tax women, or didn't you know that? To keep the population out of wedlock down. If a woman has to work hard just to have enough money to feed herself, why would she want to have a baby? And my mother had to feed four of us on her own. Of course she turned to something that couldn't be taxed!"
He wanted to say something, I could tell. He looked around again before giving me a slight smile. "I know a way to get you out of there."
"Do you?" I asked sarcastically, still angry over his questions. "The prince can release prisoners? Shocking, that."
He chuckled, ignoring the insult. "Yes, I have a very good plan. I'll come back." And without another word, he left.
I blinked in the darkness, shocked by his sudden disappearance. Honestly, I was shocked that he bothered to visit me at all. A tiny part of me was happy that he knew my real name though. There was something just… nice about knowing that he cared enough to ask about it. And for him to admit that he was falling in love with me too…
I shook my head and went back to sit against the wall again. There was certainly nothing I could do about it from my current position.
"Do you trust me?"
I looked up from my bored pacing, startled. Rafe grinned at me from the small hole in the window. "You actually came back," I said, slightly surprised. I had just assumed he would change his mind. Why would he want to help me, personal feelings aside?
He nodded. "Of course I did. Do you trust me?"
"Why?" I asked, frowning.
"Because I know how to get you out of here without being charged. I left to go and make sure that I was remembering the law correctly. But the only way that this will work is if you trust me. So, again: do you trust me?"
I bit my lip. I really did want to be freed, but somehow I felt that he was going to ask more of me than I could really give. Despite all of that though, I felt that the answer to his question was rather important. "Yes, I trust you."
"Good." There was a jingle of keys followed by the clicking of a lock and the door opening.
I blinked, shocked. "That's it? I just have to trust you, and you'll let me go?"
"No. You just have to trust me and then we can talk about this like two adults. I unlocked the door to show that I trust you too, which is necessary for this to work out."
I couldn't help staring at him. I was sure that there was some way that what he was saying actually made sense, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. "Okay," I said uncertainly, making him grin.
"Elena, do you like me?"
"Are we going to talk about that too?" I asked, frowning. "Yes, I like you. I'm falling for you and have been for some time now. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," he agreed, grinning. He sobered slightly. "Now I have a much more serious question. And I want you to think it over before you just say no. Alright?"
"Alright," I said slowly.
"Good. Elena, will you marry me?"
"What?" Words do not exist to describe my level of shock. "You can't just ask me that!"
"I think I just did," he said, a slight smile on his face.
I sputtered, trying to think of a proper response. How does one respond to something such as that? Is there a proper response, particularly in my own situation. "Explain," I managed to eep out.
He chuckled, obviously understand my problem. "I looked up a couple of laws that basically amount to, if you marry me, you will become part of the royal family and therefore immune to prosecution without real, physical evidence. Coincidence is enough to convict a common criminal, true enough, but not a member of the royal family. Because the jewels weren't found with you, they have no evidence."
"What if—" I started, but he cut me off easily.
"If you can find it within yourself to tell us who the person that hired you is, we can find him and arrest him. Whoever they claim retrieved them for him would be simple hearsay."
"And if they question why you went by a different name, well, we can simply say that you didn't want to openly appear in court until our engagement was official and you could announce yourself as my fiancée instead of someone's niece. Questions about your birth can simply be disguised by saying I met you before I became this kingdom's heir and therefore they have no right to question it."
"You… really have thought this over," I said weakly.
He grinned. "I wanted to make sure it was possible before I said anything."
I stared at him for a few moments before shaking my head firmly. "No. Wait. This is crazy. I don't care if you can get me out of the dungeon or not, I can't just marry you."
"Why not?" he asked calmly.
"Why not? Because I've only known you for a little over a month! And we didn't even really know anything about each other in that month because we were trying not to let the other find out too much!"
"We don't know about each other's lives, true. But we know each other." He smiled, stepping towards where I was standing in the middle of the room. "Besides, haven't we both admitted that we're falling for each other?"
"Falling, not fallen," I retorted.
He shrugged casually. "Speak for yourself."
I gaped at him, making him grin. "No," I said, shaking my head and pointing a finger at him. "You can't really do this. You have to marry a… princess."
"No, I don't," he said, stepping even closer. "I looked at that too. No one outside of my family and yours has to know that you aren't a princess, and it won't matter to any of them."
"Your aunt will be furious," I said, knowing my protests were starting to get weaker.
He smiled. "It's my choice. As long as I marry and have children, she doesn't particularly care who she is." He reached out, pulling me into his arms. "Say yes, Elena," he said softly, kissing me gently. "You'll be happy, you'll see. And you can help me protect all of the people that can't protect themselves. Help me lower taxes and better conditions for my people. Help me do the right thing when ruling my kingdom. Say yes, and I promise I'll do everything I can to make you happy."
He kissed me again before I could respond, the same mind numbing kiss as before. But it was what he said and the meaning behind them more than his kisses that had me convinced. "Yes," I said softly when he pulled away before looking into his eyes and repeating myself much more firmly. "Yes, I'll marry you. But you have to promise that you won't expect me to just sit around and be pretty all of the time. That isn't what I do."
He grinned. "You can be whatever kind of princess you want." And then he kissed me again, making me completely immune to everything else that could possibly by happening. It might not have been the most romantic place for a proposal, but it certainly worked well enough for me.
At least until someone yelled my name.
"He's rather good at interrupting, isn't he?" Rafe said teasingly as he ended the kiss. I grinned even as I turned to face Dominik's fury and Leo's questioning look.
"Ella, what are you doing?" Dominik demanded.
"Um… Well, I'm getting married," I said, smiling weakly (although from the situation or the kiss I will not say).
"You're what?" Dominik snapped, his eyes narrowing in on Rafe. "Really, haven't you—"
Leo slapped a hand over his mouth, silencing him as he grinned widely at both of us. "Well, I believe that means a congratulations are in order. Seems that you have the situation under control. Elena, I'll tell your mother you'll be home later."
"Um… Thank you," I said, trying to comprehend the surreal situation that I found myself in.
Rafe grinned at Leo before sharing the grin with me. "I think that means we should get you out of these dungeons, doesn't it? You should probably get cleaned up before we share the happy news with my aunt."
"Oh my," I said a little weakly.
He chuckled, dropping a kiss on my forehead. "I'll be with you every step of the way. You just have to have faith in a happily ever after, that's all." I smiled at his cliché, making him grin. "There we are. Now let's go on. There are a lot of things we need to do before we can have our own happy ending."
I sighed, knowing he was right. But maybe, just maybe, if he was willing to defy so many stereotypes and rules, he was my own prince charming. And maybe, with a little faith, as he said, we could have our own happily ever after.
Author's Note- Oh my God. I actually finished it. For REAL. Waaahhhh. This is my first ever completed chaptered story on FP. I'm kind of shocked. I mean, it's not my best work, but it's finished! I might post an epilogue at some point, but not now. I need sleep. And to not stare at a computer screen anymore. (It's actually finished and I'm not dead, huzzah!) Review and let me know what you liked, didn't like, what you want in the epilogue if you think it needs one. Thanks for reading!