Elliot's grey, feathery eyebrows danced along with a variety of emotions displayed on his face. Jade was just grateful he did not look displeased by the display.
"The Royal Prince has been apprehended," Jade jumped from her position and stood up straight to explain herself, "He seems to think he is allowed to wander the palace alone."
"Allowed?" The Prince still lounging on the carpet gave her a sardonic smile, "Quite presumptuous of a man on the first day of his job."
"When it comes to the Prince's safety I believe my presumptions are necessary."
"I was safe before a boy jumped on me," The grey eyed man quipped back.
"He's correct, you know. There needs to be a change in the way you operate until the matter is contained," Elliot interjected, giving Jade one of his rare, sober smiles. It seems like he approved of Jade's methods which gave her immense relief. She had wondered whether she would be tossed out of the palace unceremoniously but the danger had passed.
"A girl is no matter to be contained," Luke announced stiffly as he rose to his full height.
"Yes, she is, if she puts your life in danger," The older man said gruffly as if the matter was closed, "You may return to your rooms, Mr. Ward. We shall return our Prince back to his rooms safe and sound."
Jade gave the remaining men a solemn bow and walked up the stairs with only one shoe adorning her feet. She could hear Elliot's sharp tones raising to a crescendo as he lectured the stubborn Prince but she could not understand the words as the distance between them increased.
Jade woke up to the sound of rustling paper. She wet her dry lips and turned her aching head to the left. She found herself staring at a blurry form. She blinked into the sunlight from the open curtains she had never moved until her mind cleared enough to realise Prince Luke was right in front of her.
"Your highness," The tall girl gasped as she toppled from the bench in her private living room. She had apparently fallen asleep in front of the fire after a long night in front of her desk.
It was unfair she groused to herself that she had even less privacy than when she had shared her rooms with multiple men. Jade had locked her rooms but the man still sat on her chair with his feet irreverently on her desk reading the half written letter she intended to dispatch to her landlord.
"We have a book reading party to attend to in an hour or so. Hurry up!" Luke ordered, giving her the briefest of amused glances. His eyes were fixed on the contents of the wooden desk.
"R-reading party?" Jade's dry mouth stumbled over the words as she gathered herself. She managed to take a seat on one of the errant chairs.
"My brother, the consumate host, has many events planned on the calendar. He is determined everyone should praise his stupid boat at least once this summer. Hence the outdoor location of what should have been indoors event," The man explained with fraying patience and rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache.
"Have they found the person who pushed Emma off the boat?" Jade suddenly remembered how the last boat party had ended.
"No, although I am certain it is one of Edward's close circle. Why do you think I wish to attend?" Luke gave his secretary a probing look.
"Of course," Jade understood his urgency all at once, "Someone needs to keep an eye on Emma."
Jade pulled herself up from her seated position and walked to the bed behind the wooden screen. The screen gave her enough privacy to leave behind a messy bed that no one in front of the fireplace would be wiser to but you could discern movement easily.
On her bed sat a starched outfit ready for the new day. She picked it up and started moving towards her dressing area.
"You needn't mind my presence," The Prince waved his hand carelessly as he fiddled through the countless pens at his secretary's disposal.
"But I do," Jade uttered sternly. She hoped the man would take a hint and leave the room but alas her comfort was the last thing on his mind.
"Surely you aren't shy," The man's grey eyes shone with mirth.
"Shyer than a blushing maiden," Jade uttered blandly with a discreet roll of her eyes, "I shan't be undressing in front of you."
The tall girl slammed the door of her dressing room shut. It seemed like there would be no respite to be had from the Prince's presence.
Jade hurriedly tried to make herself look presentable and walked out in hope that Luke wasn't picking her room apart in boredom. Her employer was now looking at the research books she had borrowed from the library as per Emma's instruction.
"You think she is magic as well," Luke asked softly as the girl sat down to tie up her shoe's laces. His tone of voice was undefinable.
"I don't know what to think," Jade answered honestly. Her stomach rumbled from having missed dinner the night before.
"I cannot imagine perfection tainted by deceit," Was the man's curious reply.
"Was she uncommonly beautiful?" The girl asked.
"Perhaps, I don't know. Sometimes I think I dreamed her up," Luke gave her a bitter smile as if he wished it were all a nightmare he would wake up from soon.
"My stepmother certainly bore witness to her. She described her in much unflattering detail so you can be assured everyone else saw her too. She was not a figment of your imagination," The tall girl reassured him.
"Is that so?" Luke's smile brightened, "Your stepmother must have been a singular Lady."
"Oh, she's a jealous, vile person. You need not mince your words. I'm sure your dance partner was beyond reproach," Jade laughed.
"If your stepmother was present then where were you?" The Prince asked curiously.
"Mourning my father," Jade showed him the band around her wrist. She had formerly placed it in more prominent places but as the year came to a close it had been relegated to underneath her clothing. It would soon be time to remove it completely although she wondered if she would ever be comfortable doing so.
"Oh. The black ribbon means something else entirely in the royal family. I should have known. I'm sorry for your loss," The Prince spoke sincerely. He gave a short nod of the head in lieu of a bow that would have been customary.
"Thank you. Let us be on our way," Jade shifted the weight of his focus from her. If she was quick enough she could sneak in a meal before they had to head out for the thankless task.
"Must I follow you closely or keep my distance, your highness?" The new secretary asked as she ushered the Prince out into the backgarden. The guard at the door bowed so low he was in danger of toppling over.
"Surely Elliot has informed you of my preferences," The dark haired man raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sure he would have liked to, had you allowed me to have a meeting with him today," Jade replied tartly as they walked briskly over the pathway side by side. The footman trying to find her had been dismissed by the Prince on their way here.
"Ah, yes. I'm sure he shall have my skin for luring you out before he deemed you ready. You were very confident of your actions yesterday. Surely you have not lost that confidence already," The man snorted.
"You safety is paramount," The girl replied loftily. The Prince chortled at the expression on her face.
They made their way down through the small crowd miling around the entrance of the boat. The crowd was so select that the servants outnumbered the masters and mistresses. Jade soon realised the group of men and woman were giving them a wide berth. They were bowing and acknowledging the burgundy clad Prince but no one dared stop them for a conversation. The rumours must be spreading like wildfire. It did not help that the injury on the man's eye had darkened.
The Prince paused them both in the middle of the boat with a firm hand on Jade's shoulder. A quick surveying glance revealed Emma sat in an empty corner with her gaze stuck on her lap. She wore a mint green, unfashionable gown which made her look pasty.
The grey eyed man took a solitary seat on the opposite end and made a head movement which Jade interpreted as permission to take a seat with her friend. The secretary picked up a sandwich plate on the way and plomped herself on the cushy bench next to the fair haired girl. Emma's surprise soon turned to delight.
"I should have thought you would be hanged on the gallows by now," She exclaimed. The blue eyed girl promptly took one sandwich from her friend's plate.
"I hope you have no fondness for gambling for I have been hired as the new secretary," Jade said with a smarmy expression. She took a bite of food she had desired for so long.
"Oh, oh, you must give me a treat when you get paid," Emma squealed at the good news, "I demand a pair of ribbons."
"Consider it done!" Jade answered enthusiastically.
They shook hands as if plotting to overthrow the throne. From the looks being sent their way it certainly looked it. Two women who sat on the table closest to the pair gave them sneering looks.
"Introduce me to all of the people I must avoid if I am to mingle with this circle," Jade eyed the staring women balefully.
"Do not worry about being accosted by any of this lot. They will not socialise with us servants," Emma said quite matter of fact.
"Your words are a balm to my heart. I could not abide their company. Now, tell me who is that woman with the peacock feathers. She certainly looks important," The secretary asked curiously about a woman with fetching curls punctuated by a feathered hat. It was now part of her employment to be aware of everyone.
"Lady Elena is a northern viscount's daughter. She has her heart set on either of the Princes. Shame both of them are slippery eels when she tries to corner them," The corn haired girl laughed at the memory. She continued to point out anyone she deemed important as their conversation continued.
Jade's brown eyes suddenly found themselves straying back on Luke who still sat opposite them as Emma rambled on. The Prince gave her a cheery grin which Jade returned mischievously. It seemed he too had nothing better to do than stare at the world of overly dressed nobles.
The occupants of the boat suddenly stood as the crown Prince was announced by his herald. The blue eyed man made his entrance wearing an all black attire which was generally deemed quite unfashionable but would soon find its way back to popularity now that the man had made this bold fashion statement.
"Let's find a better hiding spot," Emma hissed and dragged her friend with a surprising amount of strength.
Her timing was completely wrong and they made their move right as Prince Edward, engulfed by small party of sycophants, had paused to formally acknowledge Prince Luke's presence. Edward's face turned to the right and came face to face with Emma who's already pale face lost all lustre.
"Your Highness," Both Emma and Jade spoke in unison and the shorter girl broke into a giggle at the coincidence. The friends bowed and curtesyed hand in hand.
"I hope the party is to your liking," Edward's speech was stiff yet polite. This was most unusual since the man never failed to send barbs their way. Even his small group nudged each other seeing the civility being given to a pair of servants.
"The food is delightful although I have yet to see a sign of a book," Jade answered for the both of them.
"Worry not. You will have your chance to show your talents to the young ladies. It would not do to begin the party on an empty stomach," Prince Edward's jaw clenched betraying the true emotions he was masking.
"Your boat is exemplary, your Highness," Emma spoke with much reserve as if the words pained her.
"Thank you. It was kind of you to pay the compliment," The man's tone was so amiable that Jade gaped.
Prince Edward suddenly dismissed the crowd around him with an uncaring wave of the hand. His eyes searched for someone behind them and beckoned the person forward.
"Ah, just the man I want you to meet. This is Dimitri Popov, Ward. I intend to assign him to guard my brother," The Crown Prince gestured towards the man who sidled next to them.
Jade blinked blankly as she was introduced to the familiar face who held his hand out which she took instructively. Her old friend's eyes widened as his hand met hers.
"I know you," Her old horse trainer's son uttered. They both were frozen into place.
"Perhaps. I have known many people in my life.." Jade tried to sound uncaring as she removed her hand from Dimitri's firm grip.
"No, no," His brown eyes trailed all over her outfit and then back to her face, "Jade!"
"Another name you call yourself Mr. Ward. Did you not prefer to be called Jay," Prince Edward interrupted the meeting. His tone was annoyed but his eyes seemed curious.
"I have many nicknames," Jade answered trying to hide the tremble in her voice. Her heart thumped resoundingly making her feel nauseous.
"But, but," The young man in front of her scowled as if completely lost for words.
"Surely you know of my father's demise, Dimitri," Jade's eyes were pleading. In the presence of the Crown Prince himself she could not be frank lest she expose herself. She could lose her job this very instant if she could not control the situation.
"Yes, father informed me of your circumstances but, Permelia? She didn't toss you out on the streets, surely not. What an unkind hag!" The shorter man exclaimed.
"Very much so. How else was I meant to earn my keep when I was tossed aside without a penny to my name," The taller girl explained with brevity. Her eyes darted towards Emma and the Prince who watched the exchange with wide eyes.
"Oh," Dimitri uttered and his eyes were now understanding.
"If we haven't interrupted your reunion..." The Prince uttered, harshly.
"I think it would be very unkind to interrupt them at all," Emma muttered icily freezing the Prince in his actions, "You two carry on. It seems like you haven't met in a long while and deserve the time alone. I shall go and bother Prince Luke."
With a wave of her hand the round faced girl walked away, leaving the Crown Prince watching her retreating back. Edward completely ignored the pair of friends and marched away with righteous fury radiating from his countenance. All his polite words were for naught.
"I don't know whether I should take your arm or bow towards you. You are a grown woman, Jade! What is this flight of fancy?" Dimitri hissed with a dramatic wave of his arms.
"My hands are tied. I have no way to earn any money even though I am more than qualified," Jade explained with a solemn expression.
"Blast it. You should have come to me, to father. We would have helped."
"I have no urge to be a burden on others," The girl spoke, resolutely.
"I daresay! And you've managed to become a royal secretary all on your own. Does no one know you're a girl?" Dimitri's words turned to whisper. He clearly understood the gravity of the situation.
"Not in this palace," The girl replied. She watched from the corner of her eye as Emma was talking to Prince Luke a mile a minute. The Prince it seemed had no words to counter her chatter. He instead just watched his secretary with an unflinching stare.