7. Interlude

Thankfully, between the wedding and the reception, we had a brief interlude while they cleared out the chairs and set up the tables and the dance floor. I’m not sure where new brides were supposed to spend that time, but I spent mine locked in the nearest bathroom with Willa.

I splashed cold water on my face, and that helped clear my head, even if it did drive Willa nuts. I dried off my face with paper towel once I felt better, and she frantically reapplied my makeup.

We left the bathroom in time for Tove and me to make our grand entrance as husband and wife. When we walked in, Garrett stood up and introduced us as Prince Tove and Princess Wendy Kroner, and everyone applauded again.

I’m not sure how they did it in such a short time, but the ballroom looked amazing. If I’d been the kind of girl to imagine a fairy tale wedding, this is exactly how I would’ve pictured it. The chandeliers that were lit during the ceremony had been shut off, so the room twinkled with fairy lights strung everywhere. Candles glowed on the tables. The whole room smelled of lilies from all the flowers.

While everyone watched, Tove and I danced our first dance to “At Last” by Etta James. I’d let him choose it, and he was an Etta James fan. We did dance well together, thanks to the countless lessons Willa made us go through to be sure we were perfect, but we didn’t twirl around the room like it was magic.

When the dance finished, the orchestra resumed, playing something by Bach. I would’ve been happy to spend the night dancing with Tove, but as soon as the song ended, everyone gathered on the floor. I would have to dance with anyone who asked.

Garrett stole the first dance with me, and Aurora danced with Tove. My own mother probably wouldn’t dance with him, but she was still here for the reception. I imagined she would stay all night, no matter how weak or tired she got. After that comment Oren had made, she had to prove that she still had it, even if she didn’t really.

Willa cut in to dance with me once, which was nice. She made me laugh, and that felt really good. I carried all my tension in my shoulders, and by the end of the night, I knew they would ache like mad.

I caught sight of Matt, Rhys, Rhiannon, and Duncan sitting at a table in the back when a Markis was spinning me about. I wanted to escape from the dance to spend a few moments with them, but if I stopped dancing, it only meant I’d have to go table to table and talk to people. That was the only thing I could think of that would be worse than dancing.

I was annoyed and surprised to find out how many people used this opportunity to talk to me about some bill they wanted to pass, what family they wanted their child placed with, or to complain about taxes. Even though everything in my life had become politically motivated, it would’ve been nice to have a few dances where I could pretend that it wasn’t.

The Chancellor cut in to dance with me, naturally, and I did my best to stay at arm’s length, but he kept trying to press me to him. It was hard to stay away from his sweaty torso anyway, because his belly was so rotund. His massive hand would probably leave a sweat stain on my back from trying to hold me to him.

“You look very, very lovely tonight, Princess,” the Chancellor said, and I hated the hungry way he looked at me. It made my skin crawl.

“Thank you.” I smiled only because I had to, and it was hard to do.

“I do wish you would’ve taken me up on my offer, though.” He licked his lips, which were already damp with perspiration. “Remember? The last time we danced together, I suggested that you and I –”

“Excuse me,” Tove said, appearing at my side. “I’d like to dance with my wife, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, of course.” The Chancellor bowed and stepped away, but he didn’t bother to mask the irritation on his blubbery face.

“Thank you,” I said as Tove took my hand in his.

“Do not dance with him anymore,” Tove said, sounding exasperated. “I beg of you. Stay as far away from him as you can.”

“With pleasure,” I said and gave him an odd look. “Why?”

“That man is insufferable.” He grimaced and glanced back at the Chancellor, who was already shoving another piece of wedding cake in his mouth. “He has the most perverse, vile thoughts I’ve ever heard. And he gets so much louder when he’s close to you. The disgusting things he would do to you…” Tove actually shivered at that.

“What?” I asked. “How do you know? I thought you couldn’t read thoughts?”

“I can’t,” Tove said. “I can only hear when people are projecting, and he projects when he’s excited apparently. What makes it worse is that I spent all day moving things so my abilities would be weak. I can barely hear anything. But I hear him loud and clear.”

“He’s that bad?” I asked, feeling grossed out that I had let the Chancellor touch me.

“He’s horrible,” Tove nodded. “As soon as we get a chance, we have got to get him out of office. Out of Förening if possible. I don’t want him anywhere near our people.”

“Yes, definitely,” I agreed. “I’ve already been working on a plan to get rid of him.”

“Good,” Tove said, then smiled at me. “We’re already working together.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, and I looked around to see what all the fuss was about. Then I saw him, walking through the tables as if everybody wasn’t stopping to stare at him.

 Loki had ventured down from where he’d been hiding in the servants’ quarters. Since granting him amnesty, he was no longer being guarded and was free to roam as he pleased, but I hadn’t exactly invited him to the wedding.

As Tove and I danced, I didn’t take my eyes off Loki. He walked around the dance floor toward the refreshments, but he kept watching me, reminding me of an animal stalking its prey. He got a glass of champagne from the table, and even when he drank it his eyes never left me.

Another Markis came over and cut in to dance with me, but I barely noticed when I switched partners from Tove. I tried to focus on the person I was dancing with. But there was something about the way Loki looked at me, and I couldn’t shake it.

The song had switched to something contemporary. That was probably the sheet music that Willa had slipped the orchestra. She’d insisted the whole thing would be far too dull if they only played classical.

The murmur died down, and people returned to their dancing and talking. Loki took another swig of his champagne, then set the glass down and walked across the dance floor. Everyone parted around him, but I’m not sure if it was out of fear or respect.

He wore all black, even his shirt. I’m not sure where he got the clothes from, but he did look debonair.

“May I have this dance?” Loki asked my dance partner, but his eyes were on me.

“Um, I don’t know if you should,” the Markis fumbled, but I was already moving away from him.

“No, it’s alright,” I said.

Uncertainly, the Markis stepped back, and Loki took my hand. When he placed his hand on my back, a shiver ran up my spine, but I tried to hide it and put my hand on his shoulder.

“You know, you weren’t invited to this,” I told him, but he merely smirked as we danced.

“So throw me out.”

“I might.” I raised my head defiantly, and that only made him laugh.

“Oh, this party would be so dull without me,” Loki said.

“You didn’t hear about the ceremony, then?” I asked. “Oren came to wish me well.”

“I heard one of the guards talking about it,” Loki said, his caramel eyes growing serious. “They said you did well and that you stood up for yourself.”

“I tried to anyway,” I shrugged. “He’s looking for you.”

“The King?” Loki asked, and I nodded. “Are you going to hand me over to him?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” I teased, and he smiled again, erasing his momentary seriousness. “So, where’d you get the suit?”

“Believe it or not, that lovely friend of yours, Willa,” Loki said. “She brought me a whole slew of clothes last night. When I asked her why she was being so generous, she said it was out of fear that I would run around naked.”

“That does sound like something you would do,” I smiled. “Why are you wearing all black, though? Didn’t you know you were going to a wedding?”

“On the contrary,” he said, doing his best to look unhappy. “I’m in mourning over the wedding.”

“Oh, because it’s too late?” I asked.

“No, Princess, it’s never too late.” His voice was light, but his eyes were solemn.

“May I cut in?” the Best Man asked.

“No, you may not,” Loki said. I’d started to move away from him, but he held fast onto me.

“Loki,” I said, and my eyes widened.

“I’m still dancing with her,” Loki said, turning to look at him. “You can have her when I’m done.”

“Loki,” I said again, but he was already twirling me away. “You can’t do that.”

“I just did,” he grinned. “Oh, Princess, don’t look so appalled. I’m already the rebel Prince of thine enemy. I can’t do much more to tarnish my image.”

“You can certainly tarnish mine,” I pointed out.

“Never,” Loki said, and it was his turn to look appalled. “I’m merely showing them how to dance.”

He began spinning me around the dance floor in grand arcs, my gown swirling around me. He was a brilliant dancer. We moved with grace and speed, and everyone had stopped to watch us, but I didn’t care. This was the way a Princess was supposed to dance on her wedding day.

The song ended, switching to something by Mozart, and he slowed, almost to a stop, but he kept me in his arms.

“Thank you,” I smiled. My skin felt flushed from dancing, and I was a little out of breath. “That was a wonderful dance.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, staring intently at me. “You are so beautiful.”

“Stop,” I said, looking away from his compliment as my cheeks reddened.

“How can you blush?” Loki asked, laughing gently. “People must tell you how beautiful you are a thousand times a day.”

“It’s not the same,” I said.

“It’s not the same?” Loki echoed. “Why? Because you know they don’t mean it like I do?”

We did stop dancing then, and neither of us said anything. Garrett came up to us. He smiled, but his eyes didn’t appear happy.

“Can I cut in?” Garrett asked.

“Yes,” Loki said, shaking off the intensity he’d had a moment ago, and grinned broadly at Garrett. “She’s all yours, good sir. Take care of her.” 

He patted Garrett on the arm once for good measure and gave me a quick smile before heading back over to the refreshment table.

“Was he bothering you?” Garrett asked me as we began to dance.

“Um, no,” I shook my head. “He’s just…” I trailed off because I didn’t know what he was.

I watched Loki as he drained another glass of champagne, and then he left the ballroom just as abruptly as he’d entered.

“Are you sure?” Garrett asked.

“Yes, everything is fine,” I smiled reassuringly at him. “Why? Am I in trouble for dancing with him?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s your wedding. You’re supposed to have a little fun. It would’ve been nice if it was with the groom, but…” He shrugged.

“Elora’s not mad, is she?” I asked.

“Elora doesn’t have the strength to be mad anymore,” Garrett said, almost sadly. “Don’t worry about her. You’ve got enough to deal with.”

“Thank you,” I said.

I looked around the dance floor. Willa was dancing with Tove again, and when she caught my eyes, she gave me a what the hell look. I’m assuming that was referring to my dance with Loki, but Tove didn’t seem upset. That was something at least.