‒ 8 ‒


We both jump. A guard stands at the top of the staircase, holding a lantern high. Rayne steps away from my hand. I can't help but feel a pang as she does so ‒ of what, I'm unsure, but something like loss definitely plagues me.

The man takes the stairs quickly, and soon stands before us. "What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?"

"Her Highness was feeling homesick. I was attempting to make her feel better." I cross my arms and don't move. I'm not about to stand down to him.

The man starts to blush as he peers at Rayne, recognizing her and realizing she's in her nightclothes. "Your Highness, are you feeling all right? Shouldn't you return to your room? I'll take care of this man."

"No." Rayne sounds shaky as she wraps her arms around herself. "This is my personal guard. It is as he says."

"I'm quite sure he was overstepping his boundaries, with a virtuous young lady such as yourself." His words sound like a veiled threat to her as he grabs my arm. "Come with me, boy."

I've had it with this idiot, and I'm about to throw off his grip and punch him when the princess beats me to the punch.

"Release him!" Suddenly the Royal Princess Rayne is standing before us, her voice commanding and ready to be obeyed, her chin high and her eyes flashing.

The man does, but his jaw is clenched. "It is my job to protect the royal family, Your Highness. I am performing that job."

"It is his job to protect me and me alone. I trust him wholeheartedly. Be on your way, guard."

The guard bobs his head in a semi-bow and makes his way back up the staircase, seething.

As soon as he's out of sight all of the royal commanding presence goes out of her and she goes limp. I catch her, pulling her in.

"Who is he," she whispers furiously into my chest, her fingers tightening as she grabs handfuls of my shirt, "to make judgments and do those things?"

I can't answer her. I stroke her back, barely realizing I'm doing it. "You're cold."

Her hands loosen, her voice goes quiet. "I know."

"You should go to bed, warm up and get some sleep." I'd much rather you stay here though.

She takes a shuddery breath. "I just…don't want to face Fleuria."

What? "You don't even have your bedroom to yourself?" I shake my head, caught up in the heat of the previous moments. "I…"

No, this is a horrible idea. Why did I open my mouth? Idiot Haley, you have to go on now though.

"I suppose you could come up to the rooms they lodged me in. There's a sofa," I add hastily as I realize I hadn't given her the most important detail, "that I'd sleep on. They told me that having all the rooms was only temporary, until they cleared a bed down in the guards' quarters for me."

She exhales in disbelief. "I couldn't take your bed! You've sacrificed enough for me!"

"You're the injured one." I gently stroke her bandages, yet again glad for competent healers. "You need rest and relaxation. Take the bed…unless you're prefer the sofa?" I'm joking, of course, but her eyes spark with interest.

"Could I? I just…if I could have a blanket or something."

I step back, surprised. "You really want the sofa." What a change has come over the princess.

"Yes. I just don't want to have to talk to my sister."

"Well then…all right." I start to reach for her hand and stop myself.

But she's seen already. We stare at each other for a moment before she takes my arm with light fingers and suddenly hugs it to her, laying her head on my shoulder.

"Here. Take these." I bundle the heap of most of the sheets into Rayne's arms. I grimace as she stumbles under the weight.

"I don't want all of these," she says, exasperated as she pushes the majority back at me. I start to argue.

"Good night."

I stop. "Good night, Ra ‒ Your High…"

She lays her fingers on my arm and I shut up, holding back as much as I can of my smile. I'm not very successful.

"Good night, Rayne."

I blink awake against bright light.

"Oh? Are you awake?"

I roll over to see her teasing face inches from my own and scramble back, but Rayne doesn't pull away. Instead she crawls forward, considering me, smiling.

"You looked so peaceful, sleeping."

"Mmm." I blink rapidly, trying to re-orient myself. "Shouldn't you be going? I'd think your sister would be looking for you."

"I don't care."

"What if someone comes in?" I push myself up on my elbows to eye the closed door. "It could end up being someone worse than your sister."

"Then I'll tell them exactly what happened. If I spent all of my life afraid of propriety and the way things 'should be,' I'll never do anything worthwhile. If there's anything you've taught me, it's that."

"Rayne ‒ is it really worth it, though? Getting caught in my bedroom?" I raise an eyebrow. "In my bed?"

She moans playfully, flopping over so that her head is pillowed on my chest. I hope she can't hear my pulse pick up a little too much.

"Haley…" she sighs in a voice that sends my heart rate even higher.

"Rayne…" I reply in what I hope is a steady, calm ‒ and above all, stern ‒ voice.

She sits up, finally serious, staring at the sheets. "Sorry, I guess you would get in trouble from this too, wouldn't you? I'll, um, I'll see you at breakfast."

She slides from the bed, leaving me surprised and…unsure of what I expected. What I wanted from that exchange.

I had wanted her to go, or at least return to her sofa, but not out of fear for my health and well being.

Damn it, what did I want?

When I hesitantly descend the stairs after getting dressed and cleaning up, I realize that Rayne must not have gone back to her room at all.

She sits defiantly at a table, still in her nightgown, her hair only slightly less of a mess than it was when she woke me up. Nonetheless, she's just as beautiful as ‒

I stop myself. I can protect her, comfort her, provide her a hiding place, save her life, but I can't think about her like that.

That moment in Kelsprey, it was an idiotic mistake, a fluke. I should never have even considered it, never let my impulsive side control me for even the few seconds it was.

I hear a cough and turn, realizing I'm still standing at the bottom of the stairs, but the cougher isn't looking at me. It's the other resident princess, sending her younger sister a livid glare of death. The receiver of the glare pretends to ignore it, simply finger-combing her dark hair into a more manageable smoothness.

Slowly I edge out of the way as Princess Fleuria stomps down the stairs. I peer around the room. A serving man stands at attention by two unassuming doors that I assume lead downstairs, to the kitchen and the quarters of all those below the rank of nobility. I'm not entirely sure where to go for my breakfast, or for that matter, if they were planning on serving me breakfast at all.

So far, I hadn't seen hide nor hair of Fleuria's personal guard, and I knew everyone in the Bollingfords' guard at least by sight.

Come to think of it, I hadn't found out if Fleuria's guards were even performing their duties any longer.

I stay as far from the two girls' table as I can when I approach the serving man, gingerly glancing up to see Rayne sitting with her head held high as her unseen sister remains looking daggers at her from across the table.

I turn back to my current task.

"Um, I was wondering if there's a place I'm supposed to go for something to eat…"

The serving man looks down his nose at me. "There is no room for you downstairs. You have the undeserved honor of dining with her Highness Fleuria and her…sister…today."

For the some reason, the statement itself, which normally would have had me in a foul mood, didn't enflame me in the slightest, but the condescending tone he'd used when speaking about Rayne had me all hot and bothered.

"Princess Rayne is as much of a 'Highness' as Princess Fleuria. Address her as her title requires." I didn't bother to add any polite form of address.

A muscle in the servant's jaw twitches. "Young man ‒" he begins to scold, but a girl's raised voice causes both of us to pause and turn to look.

"‒ I mean, where did you even go last night, Rayne Bollingford?! Certainly not somewhere where your hair should look like that! I coming downstairs in this? Act your age, instead of the spoiled child you've always been!"

Before I know what I'm doing, I'm striding to their table and kneeling beside Rayne, barely even aware of the deeply hostile glare I shoot Fleuria before turning back to my mistress.

"Is everything all right?"

Fleuria slams her palms into the table. "Call her by her title and show her the respect a member of royalty deserves, you damn common ‒!"


Dozens of servants and guards have slowly trickled into the room, creeping up from below to stem their curiosity at the loud argument.

Rayne has done nothing but stand up and utter her sister's name. Her eyes are blazing, molten amethyst that would burn you if you even came near, and the room is completely silent.

(Dun-dun-dun. Rayne has the ability to instill respect in people? She's more than just a pretty face? OMG. :D

Okay, so didja miss me? I missed you. The three followers I have. I missed you a lot. The story's starting to pick up a little now despite both of them being idiots about feelings so I have some hopes that I really don't want to be dashed. Also, hey, I've been trying to reach out to communities to get the story out there but I think the only ones I've been brave enough to ask are dead... :( So if you guys want to be my super awesome best online buds, please please recommend this to/add it to your communties? I really wish I could have some more readers, and there's really only so well a random story on the updated list can do even if ((and I flatter myself here)) the description & picture are interesting. Communities, especially with a lot of followers, would help me out immensely if I could get accepted into one or two.

Yeah, enough plugging. Anyways. Love you, dear followers/favoriters/reviewers. Until we meet again sometime next week.)