Home > Soul in Darkness(5)

Soul in Darkness(5)
Author: Wendy Higgins

“All they care about is how I look,” I hissed to Mother as she moved us along.

“That is their first impression,” she hissed back. “Allow them to be impressed. Their love of your personality will come once they get to know you.”

I wanted to believe her. When it came time for dancing, I shooed my mother away, to check on Dawn. This was really the time when I longed for friends. Someone to giggle with like a normal girl. Peering around, so many eyes were on me. Some appeared mesmerized, staring, while others were curious or lustful. But nobody approached, male nor female.

I tried to catch the eye of a girl I’d met last year, but she quickly looked away. I smiled at another girl, the daughter of another island king who I’d swam with as a child, but when I began walking toward her, she quickly shifted into a larger group. My stomach sank like a rock in the lagoon. At past parties, when a female was forced into my presence, the conversation always ended up being about my grooming routine. How did I get my hair to shine? What did I put on my skin to make it glow? How much time did I spend in the sun? Exactly what did I consume between sun up and sun down each day?

A prickle on my neck told me someone approached from behind, but when I spun there was no one. Just an open, empty archway opening into a dark hall. I grasped my neck and swallowed.

When I turned back to the crowd, one of the younger princes from the northern lands took two tentative steps in my direction. Thank the gods. Standing alone for such a long time was awkward. His parents urged him forward, watching the show as if he were a gladiator attempting to capture a lioness.

I stood taller and gave him a smile, which seemed to bolster his confidence because his shoulders loosened, and he took several more strides toward me. Then, to my confusion, he seemed to jerk and lightly trip, blinking rapidly as a younger princess from the south rushed into the space between us. They locked gazes, and I swear it felt as if they were colliding and sparking right before my eyes. My heart sank as they tentatively smiled, both bashful and uncertain, their eyes overcome with exaltation. Within seconds, pure, unadulterated love—lust?—filled both of their faces, as if no one else in the room existed. Hand in hand, they made their way out to dance.

What in Olympus had just happened? I could have sworn he’d been looking at me, heading my way. Even his parents appeared baffled. I covered my mouth to hide a laugh. Mother made her way to my side with a friend, noticing the couple. “Prince Darius Costos is dancing with Senator Loukas’s daughter? Huh. I could have sworn they’d promised her to another…”

“Well,” said her friend, “those two certainly seem to be a strong match.” The woman looked at me, a flash of something dark crossing her face. “I would have thought every eligible man in the room would be lined up to dance with your youngest.”

“Yes…” Mother smiled at me and peered unsurely around the room. “Perhaps they’re nervous to approach. I suppose I’d better take the reins myself. Excuse us.”

I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being lauded around the room again, but I did want to meet people. We first approached an older senator and his second wife, who was even younger than the son they introduced me to.

“Stavros Manolis, this is my youngest daughter, Princess Psyche.” Mother beamed.

The tall, broad-shouldered son blinked his eyes and when he opened them his entire demeanor changed from haughty to drained of all energy.

“Yes, lovely to meet you,” Stavros said. “I’m famished. I see they’re carving the roast pig now.” His eyes were sliding past me as he spoke and soon his body was leaving us as well. His father’s face was horrified, and the young bride pressed her fingertips to her lips.

“Not what you were expecting, hm?” she teased me from the corner of her mouth as Senator Manolis plied Mother with apologies. “You’re probably not used to being turned down.”

I wasn’t, but it didn’t upset me as much as her hurtful reaction. Something about tonight felt…off.

“Yes, it’s quite refreshing,” I told her with a smile. “Come along, Mother. We’ll meet him after he’s eaten.”

When we walked away, Mother hissed, “We will not go back to him. How incredibly rude! That rat-faced mongrel—”

“It’s fine,” I promised, trying to calm her. And then Mother was dragged away by Dawn to meet obscure new relatives.

The entire night turned into a comedy of errors. Every single set of parents who seemed about to approach with a son was either intercepted by another woman or abruptly turned away, opting for more wine or to watch the sparring that had broken out between several guests wanting to showcase their skill. There was no end to interferences that stood between available men and me. But love was undoubtedly in the air. There were more new couples dancing, gazing and kissing than I’d ever witnessed at a gathering. Parents were up in arms about the sudden infatuations garnered that evening. Apparently matches were being made that were never meant to be.

I found myself backed up against a cool pillar, watching the spectacle with amusement at first, which eventually morphed into something heavier. Even my own family, all four of them, stood at the front near the musicians, laughing together with Dawn and Miracle’s spouses, chatting about the wealth of new gossip. And if I were to approach them now, I had no doubt the entire mood of the group would change. Was I destined never to laugh with another? To always feel alone in the midst of so many? I didn’t feel the need to wed the way my sisters had, but I desperately yearned for true companionship.

When my chin began to quiver, I made my way to the dark side of the pillar to get a hold on my emotions. I would not cry at my sister’s wedding celebration. This day was not about me. I took several deep, cleansing breaths and was suddenly overcome by that sensation of being watched again. This time it was much closer, my flesh pebbling with awareness. I squinted into the nearby shadows.

“Hello?” I whispered. The internal stirring was gone as quickly as it had come, leaving me sagging. Something was wrong with me. I felt caught in a slow dream. I needed to lie down.

I jumped when I caught sight of a figure standing by the farthest pillar, my eyes squinting until the form took shape. In a blur, I recognized that dark hair. Those dark eyes. The same dark, sensual feeling sliding over me as it had that day at the market. For a moment, I was stunned immobile, and then my heart slammed wildly.

“Leodes?” At the sound of my voice, he moved into the marble courtyard with the partygoers. I darted out through the archway, but lost sight of him in the crowd.

I ran, my chest heaving with exertion and excitement. He was here! I couldn’t believe it! Ignoring shouts of my name from Mother, I moved through the people, not able to keep the smile from my face. Then I nearly plowed into the giant chest of Boldar and tried to rush past. He grasped my wrist.

“Your mother is looking for you. Why do you run?”

I stood on my tiptoes trying to see over his shoulder. “Boldar, I’m looking for the man from the market. The one at the woodcarving table. Do you remember? Leodes was his name.”

Boldar’s brow creased. “He’s not here.”

“Yes, he is! I just saw him!” I worried my hands, fiddling with the sash of my dress as my eyes darted back and forth over the faces. Where had he gone?

“I’ve been at the entrance with the guest list all evening, only just relieved.”

“Let me see the list.” I took off toward the entrance of the courtyard with Boldar on my heels, calling my name. When we got to the largest arch of all, I took the list from the confused soldier and scanned the names.

“Princess Psyche.” Boldar caught up and sighed, crossing his arms and allowing me to peruse the list. I ran a finger down the familiar names.

“No,” I muttered to myself. “He’s not on here.” I eyed the new soldier. “Do you recall letting in a young man with dark hair? Cream colored toga with a brown belt? His name is Leodes. Perhaps he was an unexpected guest of another?”

The soldier looked scared out of his mind as he stared at me. “I-I don’t believe so, your highness. I’ve only let in one older couple since I took position.”

I cursed quietly and press the list back into his hands, scanning the people again. My heart still hammered, and my blood felt hot and thick. I’d seen him. I had.

“Psyche!” Mother’s voice jolted me, and I turned to face her.


“Why are you not at the party? You have more guests to meet.”

“Mother, I stood there for ages and not a single person asked me to dance. They are here to see Dawn be married.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

She grabbed my hand, and with the first step we took a wave of exhaustion crashed over me. I stumbled into the wall as my vision became splotchy, and I vaguely heard Mother gasp. Boldar caught me and held me to his chest. I blinked and wanted nothing more than to sleep in his arms.

“Oh, my darling!” Mother cried. “Boldar, take her to her room and fetch the nursemaid to tend her until I can get away.” She ran a hand along my cheek with worry before rushing off, and I let Boldar lead me out. I felt almost immediately better once I was away from the courtyard, able to walk on my own, my head clearing.

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