Authors: Elizabeth Lennox
Marabeth Elizabeth Marquenda, Royal Princess of Cordova, stood in the red salon, twirling the tassel of the velvet curtain between her fingers. She took a deep breath and began again, wishing she could come up with the right words to explain her proposal. “Here’s the situation, Lord Marcum,” she explained to the man sitting on the settee behind her. “I know you don’t really understand the problems of being royalty,” she began. “It can be extremely tedious sometimes and there are restrictions on what one says and does and where we go and how we act. But there are advantages as well. For instance, we….” Marabeth looked out at the darkness, trying to come up with an example. “We….um…” she couldn’t really think of anything right at the moment. She sighed, frustrated and embarrassed but trying to put on a good front and determined to plow through the situation. “Well, there are, you’ll just have to trust me.”
Since the man hadn’t interrupted her, she took a deep breath and continued. “You see, I have to find a husband quickly. And you seem to be the one my parents apparently like. So…I was wondering, if it isn’t too much trouble, if you could possibly see your way, to, well…you know… perhaps it wouldn’t be terribly awkward…." She stopped, flustered on how to proceed.
Marabeth was just too embarrassed. She was glad her back was still to the man or he’d probably see the color in her cheeks.
She wanted to propose to Lord Marcum, but the words just wouldn’t come to her. How does one tell a man that, because he’s not terribly loathsome, he would do for a husband? Wasn’t there more to the world? Didn’t she have some other opportunity besides being married to a man she could barely endure? Was this what she would face for the rest of her life?
“Please continue. I’m desperate to hear what you’re about to ask your devoted audience,” a strange, deep voice said from behind her.
Marabeth spun around to locate the voice, her flaming red hair swinging over one shoulder and her crystal blue eyes turning angry at the invasion. She had thought that she and Lord Marcum were alone in the salon. She’d been sure to check the area before starting the conversation only a few minutes ago, which meant someone had invaded the room while she’d been talking, an horribly humiliating possibility.
But there, standing just inside the doorway, was an incredibly handsome man leaning against the wall with a slight smile on his lips. He was extremely tall, with dark hair and very broad shoulders. His tuxedo must be well padded which made him look more muscular than he possibly could be.
“Who are you?” Marabeth demanded, shocked and embarrassed that she had been caught in such an awkward situation.
The man walked over to her and bowed low. “Sam Montrose, at your service, Your Highness.” He took her cold hand in his large, warm one and kissed her fingers, sending delicious shivers through her system. He glanced at the man sitting on the settee behind them. “Would you like me to rouse the man so you can finish proposing to him?”
Marabeth ignored the tingles shooting up her arm from his touch and quickly pulled her hand out from his, feeling her cheeks flame red with embarrassment. She looked over at Lord Marcum and, sure enough, he was sound asleep on the settee, leaning precariously against the side as if he were about to topple off the furniture.
Good grief, she thought as she looked at the sleeping man and wishing him to perdition for the humiliation he was currently causing her. What was wrong with her? She couldn’t even propose to a man? Was she that boring and pathetic? Couldn’t she hold a man’s interest for longer than the time it took to dance and say all the correct trivialities?
The man named Sam chuckled at her indignation. “I’m guessing he’s not very interested. But perhaps if you ask me, I’ll stay awake long enough to hear your proposal.”
That only ignited her anger more. How could he be so ungentlemanly to tease her in such an embarrassing moment such as this? The double insult, first from Lord Marcum falling asleep during her proposal and now this…this
teasing her, it was just too much for Marabeth to take with her present frustration. “Oh! Who are you and what are you doing in here?” Marabeth demanded, taking several steps away from the tall, overwhelming man who smelled wonderful, she noted irritably.
“My apologies for the intrusion, Your Highness,” he said and bowed again but his eyes were glinting with humor. “I’m here at the request of your brother, Prince Maximillian. But I’m very glad to have made your acquaintance.”
Marabeth was not used to someone being so casual around her. Most people bowed and curtsied in her presence, usually driving her nuts. But this man was entirely too casual for her. Didn’t he have any respect for her title at all? She was a royal princess but he was treating her as if she were a waitress at the bar he was patronizing.
“Shall I rouse him so you can finish?” Sam offered again.
Marabeth looked over at the man sleeping on the settee with disgust. “No. Thank you though,” she said as politely as her anger would allow and started to step around the taller man. But Sam caught her by the arm to stop her. His grip wasn’t hard. It was very light in fact. It was the heat coming through to her skin that shocked her to her core.
Gone was the teasing glint and mercurial smile. His eyes were intense as they bored into her own gaze. “Don’t sell yourself short, princess,” he said earnestly. “You’re worth more than just someone you can endure. Shouldn’t you be looking for someone you’re attracted to and could grow to love instead of simply someone your parents will approve of?”
She jerked her arm out of his hand and stepped back, wishing she didn’t already feel bereft now that his touch was no longer on her arm. “What do you know of my situation?” she demanded, furious that the man had heard her whole, pathetic almostproposal and could read her so easily.
Sam dropped his hand from her arm and nodded slightly. ”Nothing. Nothing at all, but my statement still stands. You’re worth a whole lot more.”
Marabeth was captured by the intensity of his gaze. His eyes looked down deep into her soul as if he could sense the butterflies his touch and closeness created.
“Well, thank you very much for your advice,” Marabeth whispered. “If you’ll excuse me, I really should get back to the party. My parents will be wondering where I am,” she said.
“What about your date?” Sam asked, nodding to the still sleeping man slumped over on the settee.
Marabeth looked at the man and sighed. “He’s not my date,” she said and shook her head as she rushed out of the room on shaking legs.
What a fiasco, Marabeth thought as she hurried back into the ballroom and took a glass of cold champagne. She didn’t really want the liquor. She’d prefer a glass of ice cold water. Or something that would cool off her embarrassment. But Marabeth understood that life rarely gave one what was asked of it. She watched in horror as her brother, Max, brought the tall man from the salon up to meet her father, who instantly shook his hand and nodded enthusiastically. They seemed to be talking intently, her father nodding at whatever Sam was saying.
She then watched as a beautiful blond walked up to the group of men. Marabeth knew the woman, had known her since childhood. She was Lady Cecille Phillips and had been hounding Max to marry her for years.
But tonight she didn’t flirt with Max. Marabeth’s dislike of Lady Cecille grew to amazing proportions as she turned and seductively flirted with Sam, right in front of Marabeth’s mother and father, both of whom just smiled benignly. Sam then led the lovely lady off to the dance floor and smiled down into her vapid blue eyes as they danced closely.
Marabeth wanted to scream to Sam that Cecille was just a vacuous social climber who would sell herself off to the highest bidder. She placed her now empty glass on a side table and took another while she continued to glare at the striking couple over the rim, wishing both of them to perdition.
And just when Marabeth thought the evening could not get any worse, Sam looked up over Cecille’s shoulder and caught Marabeth staring at them. He had the audacity to wink at her! Marabeth wanted to throw her glass of champagne at him but he was too far away, and it wouldn’t be very couth of her. But manners came as a distant second reason for not throwing it.
Marabeth walked over to where her mother was standing and joined the group, trying to listen to the conversation. Unfortunately, it was about Sam and his qualifications for some sort of government position but she wasn’t sure which since she’d come in at the tail end of the discussion. Obviously Max was extolling the obnoxious man’s virtues to their parents.
She tried to walk away, not wanting to be involved in the conversation if it had anything to do with that man who had caught her at possibly the most humiliating moment of her life. She stepped away but her mother touched her arm gently. “Are you okay, dear? You look a little flushed,” Queen Natasha asked gently, always the epitome of grace and elegance.
“I’m fine, mother,” Marabeth said, but she raised one hand to her cheek, testing its heat.
The queen smiled and turned to face the couples dancing. “Good. Then tell me what you think of Sam Montrose. I saw you walk back into the ballroom with him right behind you several minutes ago. What were the two of you discussing together?”
Marabeth gritted her teeth, not wanting her name connected to the obnoxious man’s for any reason. “Nothing. I believe he was talking to Max and I was talking to Richard Marcum.”
That definitely caught her mother’s attention. “Oh, that’s nice. How is he doing?” Queen Natasha asked.
“He’s fine, I suppose. Very tired, though,” she said with derision, mostly aimed at herself though.
“Where is he?” the queen asked, looking around the ballroom. “I haven’t seen him in a while but his mother is over there by the window.”
Marabeth looked at the short, overweight woman who smiled artificially at everyone in her group. “I believe he’s still in the red salon, but I can’t be sure.”
“Well, I’ll see him later, I suppose. I was wondering, have you considered him as a possible candidate?” her mother asked.
Marabeth stifled a groan of annoyance. Since she had been in the middle of proposing to the man, she couldn’t very well lie and say that she hadn’t considered him. “The thought crossed my mind, but I don’t think he’ll work out.”
“Why not? He comes from a very nice family. I understand he’s taking over his father’s business soon. And I’m sure if he didn’t want to do that, we could find him a civil service job. Maybe that would allow you to live in the palace? I know your father and I would like that.”
Marabeth sighed. She’d heard this conversation so many times it was becoming a ritual at every party. Not specifically about Lord Marcum but there was always some candidate her mother or father pointed out to her and listed the man’s acceptability for marriage. “I know mother. And yes, I’m sure he’d make a very nice husband for someone with very low blood pressure,” she said.
The chuckle behind her almost made her temper explode. How she managed to control the explosion was beyond her powers of reasoning. All Marabeth could do at that moment was excuse herself from her mother and Sam, who had finished his dance with Lady Cecille and was now standing on the perimeters of their group talking to Max and several others, many of whom were women.
“If you’ll excuse me mother, I really need to talk to Beatrice,” she said, referring to her school friend she’d just spotted across the room.
The rest of the evening was just as irritating. It seemed that every time she turned around, she either caught Sam dancing with some other beautiful woman, or he was looking directly at her. It was disconcerting and exhausting. By the time the midnight hour struck, Marabeth made her excuses and exited the ballroom.
She closed the doors to her suite of rooms and pulled her long, white gloves off. Tossing them onto her dressing table, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t see the redheaded beauty that stared back at her with soft, blue eyes. Nor did she see the flawless white skin that seemed to glow from within. All she saw was the awkward, skinny redhead with freckles that boys had ignored as a teenager. The only reason she’d had her first date at sixteen was because she’d already been betrothed to George Malcom, the Third. He had been killed in a driving accident two years ago, right after her sister’s wedding. Now Marabeth found herself in the bizarre situation of having to find herself a new husband.
Several months after his death, she’d heard her parents discussing new possible fiancés. She’d begged them to not commit her to someone she wasn’t remotely attracted to, like George. They’d agreed, but not very happily. They considered it their responsibility to find her a husband who was safe, having lived with the continuous threat of kidnapping all their lives.
Marabeth pulled the zipper down her back and, inexplicably, the smell of Sam came to her mind. She had to admit that he smelled very nice. It wasn’t cologne which she generally didn’t like on men. But it was earthy and masculine. Very nice and strong, she thought.