“Are you sure you won't bend your promise a little?” Lady Marks asked me, her eyes filled with devilish delight. “I haven't felt this sexy in years and it's all because of you.” She discreetly waved at the people around us and I glanced to see that nearly all of the men were looking at us, or more specifically her.
“I don't want to fight off the competition.” I whispered and she laughed softly, so she wouldn't draw even more attention to herself.
“I'm surprised you would consider anyone else competition.” Lady Marks said and her hand on my back caressed the cloth. “Is this another suit from Ferdinand?”
“Of course.” I replied and she nodded approval. “The suit I had custom made to greet you has a place of honor in my wardrobe, in case it's ever needed again.”
Lady Marks smiled. “Only for me, hmm?”
I nodded. “Like I told Ferdinand, I would never insult you by wearing it for anyone else except you.”
Lady Marks looked quite pleased. “Would you care to come over for a late supper tomorrow night?”
“Not tonight?” I asked and she shook her head.
“Society demands I remain to mingle here until the late evening at least.” Lady Marks said. “I assume you are under no such restriction?”
“We can't have Helena put through too much, not to mention this is the first time Vanessa's been out in high society.”
“Ah, yes. I knew I hadn't seen her in the upper circles.” Lady Marks said. “How is she adjusting?”
“As well as can be expected.” I said with a light shrug. “She's known the rules and seen others, especially at school. It's a bit different when you have to use them yourself, however.”
Lady Marks chuckled. “You've adapted quite well, considering your upbringing.”
“I needed to adapt as quickly as possible to survive.” I said and she raised her eyebrows at me. “I think I overheard someone saying that it was like sending a fish into a pond of water beasts.”
Lady Marks burst out laughing at that. It got a lot of people's attention and she didn't try to dissuade them from looking at her. “Oh... oh, that...” She started to reach up to wipe at her eyes and I quickly took out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. “Thank you, David.”
“Now you really do have everyone's attention.” I whispered and she smirked at me. “I doubt I'll get another chance to dance with you tonight.”
“Oh, you.” Lady Marks responded with a slight blush and lightly swatted my shoulder.
“You can blush on command?” I whispered and she winked at me.
“A lady needs some secrets.” Lady Marks breathed. “Like how good your hands felt on my thighs.”
“That wasn't a secret.” I whispered and the tempo of the song changed and slowed down. Our bodies slid together and we wrapped both arms around each other as we held on.
“No, it wasn't.” Lady Marks looked into my eyes. “I honor your vow, David. I do.” She looked a little unsure. “I need to know...”
“Yes.” I said and her eyes widened. “If I wasn't betrothed, my hands wouldn't have stopped at the top of your thighs. I would have explored every inch of your body to ensure that the creme worked as well as I thought it would.”
Lady Marks took a shaky breath. “D-David, you... you need to make me more creme.”
“Are there addictive side effects?” I asked and she shook her head.
“No, my assistants and I have gone over it extensively, even breaking it down with various potions and acids to see if the properties would be harmful in any way. Nothing has appeared or can, in any way, cause negative effects.” Lady Marks said. “We can't even detect any noticeable difference between the skin and muscle before application and after the effect has worn off.”
“No stretching or excessive wrinkling?” I asked and she shook her head. “Hmm. That means the added magical ingredient sustained the current state of the skin while it was being transformed.”
“That's my view as well. It's almost like suspended animation or a stasis spell.” Lady Marks said.
“In a creme?” I asked and then chuckled. “Well, I suppose it could be the same as the numbing potion, except it freezes you in place instead of making you lose the feeling.”
“Now that is an intriguing concept.” A woman's voice said and we stopped dancing.
“Ah, Greta. What are you doing interrupting my dance with Lord Drake?” Lady Marks asked.
“Taking my turn.” Greta said with a smile and motioned at the other couples around us. “You've been here for three songs already.”
“What?” Lady Marks blinked her eyes and saw that the people around us had changed. “I see.”
“I guess I was wrong about not getting another dance with you tonight.” I commented and she laughed softly.
“Lord Drake, I suppose I must hand you over to my obstinately single daughter.” Lady Marks said and looked quite reluctant to let me go. I stepped back from her as I took her hand and bent over it to kiss the back of it. I made it tingle to get her to blush for real, then let her go and took Greta's hand.
Greta rolled her eyes at her mother, which made the older woman laugh as she walked away. “I think she's letting your creme go to her head.”
“That's all right. It works on hair, too.” I said and she laughed softly, similar to her mother's laugh.
Greta hugged in close as the music started again. “Now, what were you discussing with mother before I so conveniently interrupted her pawing at you?”
I had to chuckle at that. “Just a strange idea I had about pulling the creme recipe apart... again... to figure out how to duplicate the stasis part that it causes in the skin and muscles it alters to look younger.”
“Ah, yes. I was wondering when they would finally get around to testing it fully.” Greta said. “She's been locked up in her potions room at the mansion during the few times I tried to visit.”
“You gave her the recipe?” I asked and she nodded. “She kept her bargain, then.”
Greta gave me a happy smile. “It's like having my old mother back.”
“Well, she does look younger...”
Greta laughed softly again. “It's the attitude change, although her being so happy has helped a lot, too.”
“She wants me to make more creme.” I said and Greta nodded. “You knew?”
“She's been doing what we suspected and giving out free samples to those that she knows would be interested.” Greta informed me. “I suspect she's going to be swimming in orders soon.”
“Not to mention gold.” I said and she chuckled.
“Yes, she can't dodge our standing agreement for much longer.” Greta said, amused. “We'll be getting some significant deposits into our accounts over the next few days.”
“She asked me to supper tomorrow night.”
“Of course she did and it's probably only you, not Helena and Vanessa as well.” Greta laughed. “You'll be making the creme tonight, won't you?”
“Now that we've successfully brewed it consistently for two batches and worked out the kinks for the ingredients, I'll get up early in the morning and make several batches.”
“Mother's going to be very pleased to hear that.” Greta said. “Just be careful that she's not too pleased, all right? She's not one for backing down.”
“I'll be careful.” I said. “I learned my lesson with Mage King.”
Greta sighed. “I haven't seen her outside of the academy, so I can't tell what she's going to do when classes start up again.”
“You tried going and talking to her?” I asked and she nodded. “She wouldn't see you.”
“No, and I doubt she's seeing anyone. I can't even get the academy's director to go and see her.”
“They know each other personally.” I said and Greta looked surprised. “If I had to guess, I would say that the director is probably as angry at her as Helena is.”
“Oh. Well.” Greta looked at a loss for words.
“I'm sure things will be okay when I go back to her class.”
“Excuse me?” Greta blinked her eyes at me for several seconds. “What did you say?”
“I'm going back to her class.” I said and she looked shocked.
“David, you... why would you... that's not an environment for...”
“If she doesn't give me an apology as soon as she sees me, an actual apology and not an excuse like some of the old teachers did to me, I'll drop the class and try to work on learning it on my own. If she does apologize, I'll stay and learn what I can from her.” I said. “She had a lapse in judgment that cost her my trust and friendship; but, that doesn't mean she's not a good teacher.”
Greta looked into my eyes and let out a sigh. “You shouldn't be acting so reasonable.”
I chuckled. “I need her knowledge to do what I want to do. If I can't get it from her, I'll need to start searching for an alternate source that's also not a part of the guild.”
Greta nodded. “Okay, that I understand. Why make it all difficult, right?”
“Yes. I'll try to work it out while also maintaining my distance.”
Greta gave me a skeptical look for a moment, then she caught her breath when she caught on to what I meant. “You're going to ask her to dress appropriately!”
I smiled and nodded.
“She's definitely not going to like that.” Greta said, her amused smile back. “I hope she agrees, just so I can see how miserable she's going to be.”
That made me laugh and then the music ended. It didn't start back up, though. I kept an arm lightly wrapped around Greta's waist as I looked to see what was going on. Just then, the large double doors opened up with a distinct double bang, as if they had been kicked open and slammed into the walls, and everyone turned to look at them. Shouts of surprise, shock, and disbelief rolled around the stunned crowd at the sight.
The First Princess of the Gulf Kingdom had made her first public appearance since losing her arm.
That wasn't really the stunning part for everyone else, though. No, it was that she had two arms. The two fully formed and functioning arms swung angrily as Ellen stomped her way into the room with two guards behind her. They split off and joined the innocuous ones along the walls and watched along with everyone else as she strode across the room towards her target.
Greta tried to step in front of me to protect me or something and I moved her off to the side as I let her go. The crowd was deathly silent as they watched the princess' progress across the room and the woman's heels clacked very loudly on the floor. Unlike what Greta was whispering to me about getting ready to fight off the upcoming assault, I didn't change my stance or even looked like I was preparing to do anything.
First Princess Ellen Constance Marie Rivers fought to keep the anger off of her face as she stopped right in front of me. She looked like she was struggling with something, something that looked quite painful. I didn't say anything and everyone seemed to be holding their breath as the tension grew in the room to an almost oppressive level.
“Lord Drake!” Ellen almost spat at me, her eyes smouldering and her teeth grinding together.
I waited for what she wanted to say to me, after everything that had happened between us, because I knew better than to say anything and possibly interrupt her. I knew whatever it was, it should be both shocking and profound.
“May I have this dance?” Ellen asked in a normal voice as her face flushed red.