|No one's POV|

Ella Cinders was finally getting to have a night of freedom. With her mother's recent remarriage, Ella had been spending many a night forced to get to know her new family. But tonight, Ella was Prom, and tonight Ella was beautiful.

Ella stood in front of her full length mirror, clad in a smooth, turquoise dress that went to mid-shin at a slight angle and went over only one of her shoulders. Her earrings were simple, aqua colored studs and her necklace bore a teardrop shaped turquoise gem. Her heels were crystal clear and made of a material not much unlike glass.

Normally, Ella didn't wing her eyeliner, but tonight she was pulling out all the stops. Dark blue eye shadow to go with her color scheme and a thin layer of sheer, icy lip gloss. As Ella finished fastening her hair into a messy, twisted bun that looked too sexy for her slightly childish, heart shaped face, she heard her mom calling from downstairs.
"Be there in a minute!" she called, grabbing her iPhone and slipping it into her slim, teal clutch. Ella knew what her mother calling her meant: It meant her crush of three years, King Charme, was waiting at the front door for her.

Ella descended the stairs in what felt to them all like slow motion. It was her fairy tale movie moment, and Ella had waited so long for it. How had Ella managed to snag a guy she'd liked for so long?
"You look gorgeous," King smiled, kissing her cheek when she stepped down the final stair in front of him.

"You look pretty spiffy yourself," she winked at him.

"Spiffy?" her mom laughed. "C'mon, even I don't say that."

Ella rolled her eyes. "King, you look great," she corrected.

"Not half as great as you," he said with his trademark, white-toothed smile. He was such a flirt.

"Well come on, come on. I'm a mother, I need pictures!" So Ella and King huddled together, arms around each other, and smiled wide for the camera.

As she clicked away, Ella's stepdad threw in, "King, please make sure our daughter is home no later than her curfew at midnight."

"Not that I'm your daughter," she pointed put, "But the dance isn't over until two!"

"At which point in time you will have already been at home for hours," her stepdad clarified.

With another roll of her eyes, they waved goodbye and stepped out the front door. Immediately, Ella saw that she and King weren't alone; his best friend and cousin, Duke Knight, was in the back of King's convertible, looking partly shocked at something, with his girlfriend, Anastasia Dree, whom he seemed none too pleased to be there with. Ella had to quickly look away to avoid an odd pulling feeling in her stomach when she looked at him. She'd been getting that feeling almost as long as she'd liked King.

"Hey, Ella," Duke greeted with a lazy smile. He was lounging in the backseat stretched half across it like he owned it as he threw up a half wave. Anastasia sniffed.

"Hi, Duke," Ella fake smiled, refusing to allow herself to notice the way his muscles seemed to be bound and packed tightly inside the arms of his very expensive looking tux.

King opened the passenger side door for Ella before walking around the front of the deep red car and hopping into the drivers seat. In her mind, Ella compared the cousins. King was of mixed decent, and his caramel colored skin glowed in the late afternoon/ early evening sun light. He had dark brown eyes and black hair shaved close to his head. He was average height with the build of a football player - which he so happened to be. The best tackle the school had seen in years. Star starting quarterback and captain of the team.

On the other hand, there was Duke. He was tall, 6'2, maybe, and had sandy brown hair with sprinkles of natural blond highlights. His eyes were a clear, light blue with flecks of green around the pupil, and, though similar in build to his cousin, his muscles were more lean but defined at the same time. He played soccer as a striker instead of football and also sang and played rhythm guitar for a band. He wasn't mixed like his cousin, so he was a bit pale, but was starting to tan some in the pre-summer sun. Admittedly, he was cool. Some people even thought him cooler than King, but Ella couldn't do that. She'd been in love with King since practically forever.

"So, we're going to eat at The Melting Pot before we head to the dance," King told her, keeping his eyes on the road in front of him.

Ella nodded. "Sounds good," she smiled, appreciating that King had gone through the trouble of finding out her favorite restaurant.

The drive was very short, and next thing Ella knew, her arm was linked with King's as they headed into the restaurant, Duke and Anastasia right behind them. She noted the air of confidence that Duke walked with, and compared it with King. Duke's confidence far exceeded his cousins, despite his fairly obvious lack of popularity in comparison. He was hugely popular still, but his cousin wasn't just named after royalty, he was from one of the richest families in town. Ella dared think that Duke's level of confidence might've been simply cocky arrogance.

They were seated in a booth with a couple on each side. Duke was across from Ella, and seemed far more interested in her than his own date. The dim light made it hard for Ella to be sure, but she thought she kept catching him looking at her.

The Melting Pot was a fondue restaurant. Each place setting had several different prongs to use for each course of the meal. When the waiter came around with the entrée course, Ella picked up the corresponding prong and speared a piece of steak to dip into the pot.

"So your parents are divorced?" Duke asked, being the first person to speak to her since they'd been seated.

Ella nodded solemnly. Not that she wasn't over the divorce, she just couldn't stand her stepfather. He was absolute evil; never let her do anything even if her mom said it was fine. Well, almost never. Her mom had at least talked him into letting her go to prom. A distinct rite of passage that takes place during adolescence, she had said.

"Divorced when I was seven. Dad moved to Southern California and we stayed here in Arlington. Mom just got remarried in February."

Duke nodded while he finished chewing his bite of beef. "I know what that's like. My dad got remarried about a year and a half ago. Mom hasn't, though, which is fine. Better, actually."

Ella felt a bit awkward so she shot a sideways glance at King - who was paying her absolutely no attention. She sighed and looked back at Duke. He eyed her curiously, with a hint of what Ella decided was pity, then mouthed, "I'm sorry,". Ella shook her head and mouthed back, "Don't worry about it."

Anastasia's nasally, snobby voice rang out, "What are you two doing?"

Duke looked at her, seeming extremely uninterested. "Talking. Making conversation."

"But I'M your date," she complained.

"Barely," Duke huffed under his breath. Then, speaking normally again, he said, "Ella isn't exactly being serenaded by my cousin, so I'm at least going to make an effort since no one else is bothering to."

Anastasia rolled her eyes and looked disgustedly as the food in front of her as Ella reached out for some more. "You're really going to eat that?" she asked, appalled.

Ella glanced at Anastasia. "Yes, why?"

"Because it's red meat! That is absolutely revolting! Not to mention, totally unhealthy. Don't you care about your figure?"

"Actually, Ana, I think as long as I'm healthy, then I'm fine. And my weight is perfectly healthy, if that's what you're implying."

Anastasia sneered. "First, sweetie, only my friends call me Ana, and you are definitely NOT my friend. Second, you should really reconsider what you put in your mouth; people might start to talk. The only thing healthy in this society is skinny. And you're borderline at best."

Ella was fuming. Her nostrils flared but she kept her mouth shut. She could take this bitch down in a verbal or physical fight, no problem, but she tried to avoid confrontation, and a fancy restaurant like this was no place for a knock-down, drag-out fist fight.

"Come off it, Ana," Duke warned. "I told you I wasn't doing this tonight."

"Doing what? Acknowledging me?" Ella was legitimately surprised that Anastasia knew a word like 'acknowledging'.

"Dealing with your crap. I'm not dealing with your crap. And let me clarify this for you again, because you still don't seem to get it: I'm not your boyfriend. I agreed to go out with you once, because I was trying not to hurt your feelings. Now that I know your heart is about as icy as Antarctica, I can tell you how much I can't stand you. Tonight is only happening because the girl I wanted to ask already had a date."

King leaned over and whispered in Ella's ear, "You should've heard the screaming match they had on the way to your place; that's why they were banished to the car while I came in to get you."

Happy that King was finally taking notice of her, Ella smiled and whispered back, "They remind me of my parents before they got divorced. Except funny."

The two kept going while King and Ella polished off the food so the waiter could bring the cheese course. Ella idly wondered who Duke had wanted to ask, but he hadn't mentioned a name, and she really didn't know him well enough to ask.

Half an hour later, Ella put the last chocolate fondue covered strawberry between her light pink, heart-shaped lips and savored it; she loved chocolate covered strawberries and didn't get them often enough.

"Ready to pay?" King asked the three of them, who all, in turn, shrugged their shoulders.

"Split it between you two," Anastasia told the cousins.

Ella, who found this rude, said, "I'll pitch in." The bill ended up being $120 -surprisingly cheap-, each of them having to shell out forty because Anastasia refused to pay.

They left and herded into the back of King's convertible. "To the dance."

Ten minutes later they pulled up to Kingdom High. "Well. C'mon," King ushered them as he stepped out onto the black pavement. He didn't open Ella's door, which felt highly ungentlemanly to her, but she accepted it, figuring there just weren't many guys like that anymore. Even in the south, chivalry was a rare, hard thing to find.
She linked arms with King and noticed that Duke didn't bother to do any such thing with Anastasia. The four walked into the pulsing bass of the dance. They were immediately surrounded by the hot mass of bodies that were moving and gyrating to the beat.

Ella was separated from King almost instantly, so she struggled to push her way through the crowd, searching for him. When he was nowhere to be found, Ella figured he must've made his way toward one of the tables, so she did the same.

She spotted Duke first, lazing at a table alone, legs crossed on top of the table and sports jacket slung onto the back of the chair. "Have you seen King?" she asked, raising her voice over the noise of the music.

Duke glanced up at her, that look of pity in his eyes again, far more intense. He didn't say anything, just pointed ahead of them. King was emerging from the throng of people on the dance floor with cheerleading captain Sella Dree, Anastasia's twin sister, on his arm. He was smiling and laughing, looking happy as he blatantly stared down at Sella's breasts. So that's all he'd wanted.

Ella swallowed hard. "I knew they were friends. They're just having some fun. He'll come find me in a minute," Ella said certainly, although she didn't feel certain at all. She pulled out the chair next to Duke's and faced it toward the dance floor, waiting for King to come get her. Instead, he stayed on the edge of the congregation of smelly teenagers and placed his hands on Sella's hips, swaying as she moved herself up and down his body in some very inappropriate, bordering-on-slutty ways. They started to look more like they were dry humping each other as opposed to dancing.

Ella's breath hitched in her throat and she coughed uncomfortably. She looked away from them. "What's one dance?" she laughed nervously. Ella looked at Duke. "Where did Anastasia go?" she asked.

Duke shrugged. "Went off with some basketball doofus. She didn't actually wanna come with me; I knew she was using me."

"I'm sorry," Ella apologized. "That's awful."

"Not as awful as what King is doing to you, showing off in front of you how he only used you as a cover up with the twins' dad. That's why they couldn't come together, ya know; Sella's dad hates his guts. Think he caught them fooling around or somethin'. Least I never cared about Ana."

Ella fidgeted, a little annoyed that Duke thought King was only using her. "He can dance with his friends; I'm not the jealous type," she defended.

"Even when they do that? Does that look friendly to you?" he asked, pointing to King and Sella again.

Ella turned her attention back to them to find them sucking each others faces off. It was disgusting. Ella's heart dropped out of her ribcage, down to her foot, out her big toe, and floated off across the hard wood floor away from her, leaving Ella feeling numb and used.

"But-but King knows how long I've loved him. Why would he do that?" she choked, tears forming at her tear ducts.

Duke dropped his legs to the floor and leaned toward her. "Ella, I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you he was using you from the start, but he didn't tell me who he was going with; who his cover was. I didn't know until I saw him walk out of the house with you."

"I don't...he-you...!" Ella couldn't get the words out as she began to cry, beautiful tears streaming down her even more beautiful features. Ella jumped up and bolted. She ran for the double doors on the other side of King and Sella, pushing between them. They went right back to dancing.

She nearly got tangled in the blue and white streamers that went with their sea-themed prom night, ripping them down with the fish pin that had held them to the wall, and slammed through the doors.

Ella hit the sidewalk outside, quickly ripped the crystalline-like wedges from her small feet, and broke into a run, vaguely hoping, even in her state of disarray, that nothing would ruin the sea foam green nail polish that she'd managed to expertly color her nails with.

Her feet pounded the concrete and carried her further, further from the gymnasium of her school. She left behind her prom, what should've been the best night of her life, and ran. Ran toward whatever was better than what she'd just had. She deserved to be treated better than that, but that didn't make it hurt any less. For three long years, King Charme had held her heart in his ever-capable hands. And he'd finally taken it and done something with it: he'd smashed it, crushed it, and let it fall, the crumbles tumbling through his fingers.

Ella stopped when she couldn't run anymore, and found herself somewhere she hadn't been in years: the playground of the old elementary school, two blocks away from her high school. She dropped onto a swing and cried, hoping that with each tear, a piece of her heart would stitch itself back together until it was entirely reassembled.

"Are you okay?" a voice asked, shattering her silence and reverie. She had been reminiscing the days of childhood, when things had been more simple. Why did everything have to be so complicated just because you grew up, got older?

Ella jumped, surprised at his sudden appearance. "Do I look okay?" she snapped, regretting it the moment her mouth opened. But it didn't matter; there was no stopping it or taking it back.

Duke didn't look offended in the slightest, just worried. "No. It was a stupid question. What I should've said was, is there anything I can do?" He shuffled his feet a bit and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Ella didn't say anything for a while, and Duke began to get the feeling that she didn't want him there. "If you don't want me around, I can leave..." his voice trailed off.

"No, don't leave. I don't want to be alone," she said, her voice trembling.

Duke nodded shortly and took a seat in the swing next to Ella. But Ella could see his ADHD kick in, because he fidgeted. He was straining so hard against his impulsive urges just to be there for her because she'd asked him to.

Ella wondered what had happened; they'd used to be pretty good friends. In school, at least. The two had been lab partners in freshman Biology, and co-photographers of their class sophomore year. They'd even hung out once or twice outside of school. But no set in stone friendship had ever solidified between the two, and Ella couldn't help thinking about it now, when Duke was choosing her over his own blood.

"Why are you here?" she asked, watching his leg bounce impatiently up and down.

"Because my cousin is a douche and I wanted to make sure you were okay," he told her honestly.

"Well, I'm not. I mean, I will be, but I'm not right now."

"Do you want me to take you home?" he asked. It was dark out now, and it must've been nine, almost ten.

Ella shook her head. "But would you push my swing? I never really learned how to swing well," she admitted. "Swinging always made me feel better when I was little."

Duke looked grateful to have something to occupy him and keep him in some kind of motion. He jumped to his feet instantly, quickly taking a spot behind Ella's swing. He took hold of the chain links and pull them back a little before pushing them forward. Slowly at first, then thrusting them forward further so Ella would go higher.

The air brushed her dark sandy blonde hair from her face and began to dry the tears on her flushed cheeks. Duke pushed her quietly until Ella was giggling uncontrollably. Her laughter bubbled into the air around Duke, bringing a smile to his lips.

Finally, Duke stopped pushing. "Sorry, my arms got tired," he grinned sheepishly when she turned to give him a disapproving look.

"That's alright. I should probably be getting home. What time is it?" she asked, shrugging her thin, bony shoulders.

He wriggled his watch down his wrist from under his shirt sleeve. "Where's your jacket?" she asked.

"Left it at the dance. Borrowed it from King when I couldn't find my own anyway. It's almost one."

Oh god, they'd been there for hours. And she'd missed her curfew! "I've gotta get home! My stepdad is gonna be so pissed!" Ella jumped from the swing and tugged the wedges back onto her feet.

"You've gotta get me home!"

"Okay, okay. Calm down. My car is in the parking lot back at school. I rode home with King this afternoon," Ella winced when he said King's name, "And rode to the dance with him to save gas money. Left my car there this afternoon. We can go get it, then I'll drive you home. Okay? It'll be fine."

Ella took a few deep breaths and calmed herself down. "Yeah, okay. Let's go."

Duke held his hand out to her. Ella thought about it then decided, what could it hurt? King clearly didn't want her, so Ella contented herself with no longer wanting him, either. It wasn't quite that easy after three years, but she had to do it. She felt the familiar tugging feeling again as she took Duke's hand.

Duke smiled down at her and began to lead her back in the direction of their high school. They walked silently. Ella couldn't decide if the silence was awkward or not, because she was too busy contemplating what trouble she might be in with Peter, her stepfather.

Ella and Duke reached the school parking after a ten minute walk, and Ella let Duke lead her to his car. Duke didn't drive an expensive convertible like his cousin, but Ford Escape he DID drive was still pretty expensive. Especially compared to her nonexistent vehicle.

Duke opened the passenger side door for Ella and helped her climb in, before shutting the door for her. Ella considered how Duke was far more of a gentleman than his cousin.

Duke walked around the front of the Escape and climbed into his seat. Started the engine. "So. Where to?" Duke asked, turning to Ella.

"Lasseter Street. Three streets over from the middle school."

Duke nodded and put his Escape in reverse, then pulled out of the parking spot and headed in the right direction. The ride was as quiet as their walk had been, the only noise being the engine and the tires on the gravel shortcut Duke took.

"Why will your stepdad be pissed?" Duke asked, referring to what Ella had said back at the playground.

"He told me my curfew was midnight. He's kind of a hard ass. Not kind of, he is. He's a total jerk, and I hate him," Ella grumbled.

Ella reached into her teal clutch and brought out her cell phone. She had six missed calls and thirteen texts, all from Peter. She scrolled through them; the gist was that he WAS, in fact, angry, and she would be "in deep shit missy" when she got home. Ella, who was getting more annoyed with her stepfather than scared now, rolled her eyes. She dropped the phone into the seat next to her and watched as her street came into sight.

"Which house?" Duke asked, eyeing each of them in turn. "They all look different after dark..."

This earned a small laugh from Ella and made Duke grin. "That one," she said, pointing to the two story house with painted white shutters and a small balcony for decoration in between the two upstairs bedroom windows on the front of the house.

Duke pulled into her driveway and hurried to get out and open her door before she had the chance. "I'm sorry my douchebag of a cousin ruined your prom," he told her honestly.

"I'm sorry I ruined yours," Ella said, suddenly feeling quite bad about it, now that the realization had surfaced.

"Naw, didn't ruin my night at all. Beats being with Ana or sitting alone."

"Thanks, Duke," Ella said, reaching up onto her tiptoes and hugging him. Her heels gave her an extra inch, so she was able to throw her arms around his neck more easily than she would at her usual 5'4.

Ella started toward her front door, taking her keys from her clutch. Duke walked behind her. When Ella reached for the door, she paused, remembered something Duke had said, and turned around. "Hey. If you don't mind me asking, who was it you wanted to go with tonight, if not Anastasia?"

"You," Duke shrugged nonchalantly. But even in the pitch, inky black of the night, she could still see the light brushing of color across his cheeks.

Ella blinked in surprise. "Me?" she asked in disbelief.

"I've been in love with you since before you were in love with my cousin. So yeah. I was hoping to go with you," he told her as he began to walk slowly backwards, returning to his car.

Ella turned back to the door, biting her lip and turning her key in the lock at the same time. But before she stepped inside, she had one more question. Ella turned around. "Is that why I kept thinking you were looking at me at dinner?"

"You couldn't've noticed if you weren't looking back," Duke said with a relaxed smile as he opened the door to his Escape and slid in.

Ella turned back to the door and pushed it open, smiling and wondering what would happen between her and Duke. She was pretty sure whatever it was would be pretty freaking awesome. She just hoped that the faint fluttery feeling she was getting in the area surrounding her heart wasn't because of the thought of an attractive, popular guy being in love with her, but rather because she actually had feelings for him.

Before Ella had even gotten the chance to push the door open more than a fraction, Peter was standing in front of her, pure, furious rage clear on his face. She could hear Duke's tires squealing against the surface of the blacktop somewhere fairly distant, and thought he must just be rounding the corner of her street. She wished he would turn around and come back, because Ella's annoyance had faded, and fear had replaced it.

"Why the hell are you almost two hours passed your curfew? Didn't I say midnight? You thought you'd stay till the dance was over anyway, though. Or did you go to some disgusting motel and fuck whoever that was that just brought you home? Because it wasn't your date, it couldn't've been. That wasn't his car." Peter's sentences ran together. He didn't yell, but the harshness in his voice was far worse. He grabbed Ella's upper arm tightly and yanked her inside. She tried to shut the door behind them, but he was dragging her through the house too quickly, so it was left hanging ajar.

Peter flung Ella across the living room and onto the floor, her back slamming into the leg of an old, ornate chair that her mother had bought at an antique sale a few years ago. She crashed across the slant of moonlight across the hardwood floor. "I was nice. I extended your curfew by an hour and I let you leave the house looking like a slut, even though when you leave, you're representing me and this entire family."

Peter had never acted this badly before, but Ella wasn't about to wimp out and take his shit. "Peter, come off it, you ass."

"What did you call me?" he hissed in a whispered sort of roar. He didn't want to wake anyone and be seen treating his step daughter like crap. Then what would he look like to people? How generous of him.

"I called you an ass, because that's what you're acting like," Ella said, grunting in mild pain as she stood and dusted off her dress. She wriggled her toes, trying to rid herself of a tiny pebble that had wedged its way in between two of her toes when she'd dug her feet into the rocky ground beneath the swings earlier.

Peter stepped forward and smacked Ella hard across the face, leaving a stinging red hand mark where he'd made contact with her cheek. He'd slapped her. Peter hit her. He'd never done anything like that before. Ella stood there, stunned, unsure of how to react.

Peter raised his hand again. "Don't you dare touch her."

Ella let out a surprised squeak and Peter spun around. "And just who the hell are you?" he growled, his eyes slitting. "The boytoy Ella was missing her curfew for?"

"Ella, come here," Duke commanded, looking directly at her and ignoring Peter.

Ella nodded shortly and scurried across the room. Duke pushed her behind him. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Peter laughed, a sinister sort of sneer fracturing his already ugly face.

"I'm getting Ella away from you," Duke deadpanned with a determined certainty.

And he did just that. Ella left the house, Duke walking backward to keep an eye on Peter. Ella wondered why Peter didn't bother to do anything, and assumed he'd let her go just to tell her mother in the morning how her daughter was an awful child who'd stayed out all night, never coming back and worrying him. Her mom would know it was crap, though.

Duke helped Ella into his Escape again before climbing in, himself. He threw the vehicle into reverse and started off down the street.

"What happened?" Duke asked at the same time that Ella asked, "Why did you come back?"

Duke gestured for Ella to answer first, his gentlemanly compulsion making her smile.

"He was mad that I was late. Thought I'd gone to a hotel and slept with you or something." The thought made Ella blush furiously.

"You will be tonight. I mean, you'll come home with me because I don't want you going back into that house with him," Duke clarified when he noticed the look of embarrassed protest on Ella's features.

"What do I do tomorrow?" Ella asked carefully.

Duke pulled up to a gorgeous house several streets over from her own. Silently, he repeated his newfound routine of opening Ella's door for her and helping her out. "We wait it out for a bit and then talk to your mom. Just your mom."

"We?"

"Yes, we. I know you have a thing for King, but that doesn't make me any less protective of you. And by the way, I came back because you left your cell." Duke slipped her slim smart phone from his back pocket and handed it to her.

Duke searched for his house key on his keyring, finally picking the one that had a flame design on it. He unlocked the door and led her into the enormous entry way. In the middle of the hardwood area, a large staircase separated the room. The stairway was expansive, several yards in width. Duke took Ella's hand and led her up the stairway saying that he would show her around and explain things to his family in the morning.

Duke took Ella into his room and he rummaged through his drawers. He handed her a pair of boxers and an old t-shirt. "My bathroom is right there," he informed her, pointing to a door on the other side of his room. "You can grab a hanger from the floor and hang your dress on my shower rod. You can sleep in those tonight."

Ella nodded, a solemn feeling washing over her now, in the dark silence of Duke's bedroom. "Sorry it's such a wreck," he mumbled, beginning to toss things into slightly neater piles to be better presented to Ella.

She walked into his bathroom and shut the door, doing as Duke had instructed. When she was wearing his clothes instead of her own, she left the room and came back to Duke, who was now in just his boxers. "I-I can put a shirt on or whatever if you're too uncomfortable," he stuttered, looking down at the floor for a shirt or a pair of pants.

"It's okay," Ella assured him softly.

Duke ushered her toward the mattress on the floor, blanketed with several comforters laying astray on top of it. The two laid down together, and Duke wrapped his arms around Ella. She snuggled herself into his bare, defined chest.

"Oh, and Duke?" Ella whispered into the darkness.

"Yeah?"

"I don't think I have a thing for King anymore."

Duke buried his face into Ella's soft hair that she'd taken down in the bathroom. It tumbled over her shoulders. She could feel his lips pull into a smile against the top of her head. "That's good."

"Duke?"

"Yeah?" he said again.

"I think I'd rather love you."

"Is that so?"

Ella could practically hear the smile in Duke's voice. "It is. I think I can, too. Will you help me with that?"

"Absolutely. We can start with that tomorrow," he laughed gently, kissing her forehead lightly.

Ella tilted her face up a little, and in the darkness, they strained to look into each others eyes. Duke leaned in, closing the small gap between their lips. He kissed her slowly and cautiously at first, before adding a little tongue and a little pressure.

Ella kissed back, falling into him. He was her knight in shining armor in more ways than one. She didn't need to learn to love him. She already did. The tugging feeling Ella had always felt around him was love. It was gravity trying to force her into his atmosphere to show her what she'd been too blind to see for years. But now the darkness was serving as her light. Now she had found her prince. And he treated her better than any fairy tale princess.

Let's not be too cliché here, and say Ella and Duke lived happily ever after. But they did. Duke was Ella's knight in shining armor, after all - in more ways than one.