Chapter 12

"Is that all you'll be needing Your Highness?" my ladies maid asked as she pinned the last of my hair up.

I was finishing preparing for the ball that my father had decided to throw in celebration of me choosing a husband. I would be announcing my decision at the end of ball.

I'm back at the beginning. I realized, Still just as worried about the future.

I stared at myself in the mirror, checking myself, to see if I was ready for what was to come. I looked much the same as I had a month ago. But I certainly wasn't the same person anymore.

"No, thank you. That is all," I answered finally. She curtsied and turned to leave, but stopped suddenly.

"Your Highness, do you feel ready for tonight?" she asked hesitantly.

I looked at her reflection in the mirror, thinking of a proper answer. Did I honestly feel ready for what I was going to do? Was I really prepared to defy my father?

From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a rose that was just beginning to wilt, resting on my vanity.

"Yes, thank you," I answered confidently.

My ladies maid smiled, "We're all very excited to see you married Your Highness."

My face colored slightly at the statement, understanding 'We're' meant the servants. It felt oddly comforting knowing that these people cared about me, in a personal way. For some reason, the thought of them caring for me in such a way made me blush.

"Thank you," I replied. She smiled in return and left me alone with my thoughts.

This is it. Suddenly all I could hear was blood pounding in my ears.

My moment was ruined with Cassi poking her head in the doorway. She watched me carefully a moment before fully entering.

"Are you ready? We're all waiting for you," she asked.

With a calming breath, I stood up. I still have till the end of the ball, I thought to myself.

"Yes," I answered doing my best to keep my tone even.

Together Cassi and I walk to the grand ball room, not speaking to each other. She occasionally glanced sideways at me. Her face had an expression of apprehension.

"What is it?" I asked finally, "Why are you giving me that look?"

She smiled, almost sadly, and stopped walking. "I can't believe this is finally happening. I'm so proud," she answered, "But, I'm also worried about you."

My brows knitted together in confusion, "What are you worried about? I'm not going to give in to my father."

Cassi quickly shook her head, "No, that's not what I meant at all. I'm only concerned for Father's reaction, and how you are going to deal with it."

My throat tightened, "I'll be fine." I answered curtly and started walking once more. A hand landed on my arm and stops me.

"Rose, please. I know you'll be fine. I just want you to know, Mo and I are behind you. As well as Conrad. Whatever father says, he loves you and always will. And we love you too."

Her words touched me and I felt a rush of warmth. We continued on.

We entered the ballroom separate. I was the last to arrive. As I stepped out onto the staircase, the whole room turned to watch me. They watched with excitement, all here for me. I didn't know most of them, though I recognized many.

How could these people I did not know be so pleased to see me? I didn't understand.

How will they feel after I announce my decision?

I forced a smile and slowly stepped down to the main floor. My princes were waiting for me at the bottom. Meo stood closest to the stairs and watched me with a glowing smile. Lucien stood a few feet off, looking rather unhappy.

Meo held out his hand for me to take as I reached the bottom. "Will you give me the first dance?" he asked gently.

I nodded in agreement, placing my hand over his.

We stood arm in arm, waiting for the first dance. Cassi, Mo, and Conrad stood with us, making small talk. Around us people watched with interest at the two of us. Some looked rather surprised, others seemed delighted, but I didn't care about any of them.

At last, the music started and Meo led me out to the center of the floor. The rest of the guests surrounded us, leaving us in the center of the floor, and we started the dance. Meo put a hand at my waist and lead me in a waltz. We twirled across the floor and after several measures then other couples began to join us.

I watched others as they danced. I could see Cassi and her husband, looking perfect together. I then glanced over to Conrad dancing with Crown Princess, he was watching me, with a grin.

"You look beautiful this evening," Meo commented.

I felt myself being pulled back into the present, feeling a bit embarrassed for my lack of focus. I quickly looked to his face. He was watching me with such a look of admiration.

My cheeks colored and I shyly looked away.

"We're back where we started, aren't we?" he noted, his voice sounding light.

Glancing back up at him, I replied, "It seems so." I didn't mean to sound bittersweet, but I did.

"Are you ready for the announcement tonight? We're all very eager to hear who you have chosen," he remarked with a small smirk.

My face broke out into a wide grin, "Yes, I noticed." I made an obvious motion of glancing at all the people around us, who were watching with rapture. "They do seem quite eager."

The song then came to an end. We didn't let go of each other. It was rude of me, but I planned on dancing every dance with Meo. I wasn't going to let him go.

The next several songs we danced. I didn't care that the courtiers were whispering gossip to one another. There was only Meo and I and the music. We didn't speak much; only enjoyed each other's presence in silence.

After dancing for nearly an hour, I felt ready to take a quick break. The room felt close and warm.

Meo sensed my desire to stop. "Do you want to step out?" he asked, gesturing towards the balcony overlooking the balcony.

I nodded and together we weaved our way through the crowd, doing our best to avoided bumping into others.

The outside air was cool and refreshing. Moonlight glinted off of the smooth marble railing. The music and voices from the ballroom seemed distant. My hands curled around the smooth stone railing and I inhaled deeply. The earthy scent of the garden filled my lungs and I leaned back with pleasure, eyes closed.

A warm hand covered mine. My eyes flicked open and turned to the man standing next to me. He was standing close and our arms were touching. His gaze was on my face. The expression was one of deep adoration.

No one had ever looked at me like that before.

I leaned my head onto his shoulder and felt him leaning back into me. We stood in beautiful silence.

"I hope Princess, that my love for you has become quite apparent," he murmured softly, "And I wish to be the one you choose this evening."

My eyes closed, soaking in his words. I was about to respond when I heard a small, aggressive cough.

Quickly, we pulled away from each other and turned to see our observer. It was Prince Lucien, standing right and the doorway of the balcony. His face was shadowed and dark. Next to me, Meo stiffened and he stared icily back at him.

A small amount of anger stirred inside me. I needed to talk to him.

Lightly, I touched Meo's harm, asking him to fetch me a beverage. Without losing eye contact with Lucien, he reluctantly left my side and entered the ballroom once more. It was not until he had disappeared into the swarm of people that Lucien came forward.

"You're making a huge mistake," he stated bluntly. He stood only a few feet in front of me. "I cannot believe you are going to pick that fool Meo over me!"

I could feel myself growing more upset, but I said nothing.

"I could make you so happy Rosie. You would have a prosperous kingdom with adoring subjects. You could have everything you ever wanted," he pleaded, his voice low.

"You know nothing of what could make me happy," I quipped.

The expression on his face changed from pleading to angry. "How dare you say such a thing to me! Do you really think that you can be happy with Meo? Do you honestly believe he can give you fulfillment. His country is in ruin. He can give you nothing!" His voice was rising and his face growing red.

"That doesn't matter to me," I replied with clenched teeth, "He loves me and I love him back. That is what will bring me happiness."

Lucien barked a dark laugh. I flinched and stepped back with surprise as he took a menacing step forward. My back hit the railing of the balcony and I couldn't move back any farther.

Lucien glowered down at me, merely inches from my face. I turned away in disgust.

"Do you honestly think he loves you? I assure you he does not. Marrying you would be such an advantage to him, to be allied with such a powerful country. He doesn't love you! You're deluding yourself! What has he done to prove his love?"

Images of Meo smiling at me, walking with me through the gardens, the notes, the roses, all flashed through my mind.

"Stop it!" I shrieked, no longer cowering but talking directly to his face, "You're wrong! You're wrong and I don't believe you!"

He suddenly stepped back, looking pensive.

"What about your father?" he asked. His voice was soft and menacing. He knew he had hit the root of the issue.

The sudden reminder caused my blood to freeze.

"That's right. Your father doesn't like Meo, does he? In fact, I'm pretty sure he ordered you to pick me. Or nearly did. What will he say when you directly disobey him? Will you be able to do that Rosie? We all know how devoted you are to the king."

Suddenly, I felt I couldn't breathe.

Lucien smirked, "I'll leave you to think about that."

He backed away from me, revealing Prince Meo, who was standing behind him. Meo looked at me with an expression of disbelief and sadness. My mind began to race. How much had Meo heard?

Lucien bowed mockingly at him and waltzed away and back into the ballroom, head held high. He thinks he's won.

"Princess," Meo began, stepping forward. He put his hands on my shoulders, searching my eyes with his own, "Is what he said- is it true?"

I nodded.

"Princess, I- I had no idea the king was so opposed to me," he whispered mournfully, pulling me close. "If I had known, I would never have pursued you."

"No!" I protested, pulling back.

"Princess, I don't ever want to come between you and the king. I know how much you love you him and how much his approval means to you," he continued, "I- if he's so against me marrying you, then- then I don't want you to choose me."

"Meo!" I protested again, but he cut me off.

"No, no listen! I want you to be happy. Don't feel obligated to defy your father on my behalf."

This left me speechless. He was willing to sacrifice his happiness on behalf of my own.

He leaned forward and placed a kiss on my forehead. After whispering goodbye, he left me alone on the balcony with my thoughts.

I was back to feeling confused and unsure. My head started to ache and I held a hand to my forehead. I don't know how much time passed. Time didn't seem to move regularly in my worried reverie.

"Rose! There you are!"

I jumped with surprise. It was Cassi.

"Father's ready for you. He's waiting in the throne room for you to tell him your decision."

I went into a panic. No, it was too soon. I didn't feel ready.

"Are you alright?" Cassi asked with concern.

I pulled myself together and straightened up. "Yes, yes I'm fine." Without letting her respond, I left the balcony, going through the ballroom.

The celebration around me felt like a dream. I was disconnected from it all. How could they be without any care, while I was walking to what felt like my own tribunal.

I continued in my daze until I reached the throne room where my father was waiting. The footman opened the door for me, revealing the long room and its three occupants. The king sat on his throne, watching me with a smile. My princes stood beneath him; one watching me with roguish glee and the other with sad acceptance.

My feet stepped, one foot in front of the other, almost of their own accord. I found myself suddenly before the king, one prince kneeling at each side. There was a lump in my throat. I couldn't speak.

"My dear Princess Rosetta, a month has finally passed, and it is now time for you to pick your husband," my father began, gesturing to the princes at my side.

I glanced to Meo, who was kneeling to my right. He looked up at me, giving me an encouraging smile that did not quite reach his eyes.

My father cleared his throat and I looked back to him.

"Well?" he encouraged, "Who do you choose?"

I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. My legs shook slightly and my face flushed from the pressure. With a swallow and a deep calming breath, I opened it again.

"Rosetta, quickly please," the king quipped with impatience, "Just say you pick Lucien."

Next to me, I could see Meo flinch at those words.

"I choose Prince Meo!" I cried in a rush. From the corner of my eyes, I could see the heads of my princes pop up in surprise. I could feel all their eyes on me.

My father's face darkened, "Say that again."

More confidently and with a softer tone, I repeated, "I choose Prince Meo."

Lucien made a small noise of protestation and my father's face turned a deep shade of red.

"Get. Out," the king spat.

I lowered my head, knowing my disobedience hurt him. "Sorry father, if I have disappointed you, but I only chose-"

The king cut me off. His voice steadily increased into a shout, "You are no child of mine. You have disobeyed me. Now leave!"

With eyes prickling with tears, I quickly exited the throne room. I was simultaneously relieved and hurt. It was odd that I could feel such pain and sorrow and such joy, at the same time.

I was going to marry Meo.

The doors of the throne room slammed shut after me. Tears, of sadness and joy, spilled from my eyes. Shouts came from the room I had just excited.

What had I just done?

From behind me, the doors opened and slammed shut once more. When I turned around, I saw it was Lucien, red faced and marching towards me.

"You utter fool!" he screeched at me. Roughly, he grabbed me by the tops of my arms and shook me.

Any tears I had stopped as I struggled against his grip. Fear began to fill me as Lucien continued to shout abuse.

"I warned you! I warned you about this! If you will not choose me than I will take you myself!"

Suddenly Lucien's arms were wrenched away and Meo stood in front of me. He pushed Lucien away, saying, "You will not treat her like that! You will not so much as touch her!"

The two of them stood inches apart, both breathing heavily, and staring threateningly at each other.

Lucien's eyes narrowed and took a step forward, "I'll be back and you will be sorry," he growled.

Then he was gone without another word.

I felt suddenly weak and leaned against the wall for support.

"Princess," Meo said softly, "Princess are you alright?" He placed a hand lightly on my arm, watching me carefully.

I nodded, feeling myself grow stronger.

"Why did you do that Princess? I thought you wanted to make your father happy," Meo whispered. "You said disobeying him hurt you." He reached his other hand out and touched my face.

I waited several moments before answered. Slowly, I leaned forward into him.

"I found that I had come to love someone much more. I couldn't ever stand the thought of living without him. I could make that sacrifice," I replied quietly.

Meo starred at me blankly a moment, "Are you saying you love me Princess?"

I realized suddenly, that I had never expressed my love for him.

I smiled hesitantly, "Yes. I think I am."

Suddenly, my feet left the ground as Meo pulled me into a tight embrace, lifting me in the air and spinning me around. I laughed with delight and he was smiling broadly.

He put me down and put his forehead against mine.

"You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that," he whispered.

"I think I might," I replied, my heart pounding and voice breathy.

Meo laughed softly and pulled me into a kiss.

AN: And it's over!

Wow. I can't believe I've finally finished this! (Now I'll probably go back and make some edits)

I want to thank all of you who left such lovely and encouraging reviews! I may not have finished this without you guys!

Thanks for being patient with me as I wrote and sticking it out, even though updates were few and far between.

I've been toying with the idea of a sequel, so let me know if you're interested!

Thanks so much again! I hope you've enjoyed it.