Today's snippet is brought to you from How To Love a Princess because we all need a little bit of fairy tale in our weekend :)
At the far end of the hall, he observed a woman descending the left branch of the grand stairway that split from a wide landing. She wore a neat businesslike suit of dove grey that nevertheless hugged her form seductively, her hair pulled back sharply from a face that appeared proportional with typical classic beauty, her movement graceful, reminding him of the swans on the Serpentine back in London. At the bottom, she hesitated, her chin tilted up, her face turned directly at him. He returned the stare, waiting for his vision to adjust to the indoor dimness, contemplating her hesitation.
Then she was moving, closer and closer, her face playing a trick more cruel and horrific with each step she took. The brilliant blue eyes that had once prompted him to choose sapphires over diamonds. The high curve of cheekbone, the elegant nose, the bow of rose-pink lips, that stubborn chin.
He fought for air, unable to draw his gaze from the vision, the spectre tormenting his sanity. Too many nights of working straight through, too few decent meals, too many haunted dreams…the explanations failed abysmally as she stopped before him.
That was all she said. And how well he remembered the way his name fell from her lips. He stepped back, shaking his head, gasping for each and every breath.
“No.” He shook his head, taking unsteady steps back and back, until he was pressed against the door.
This wasn’t real.
None of this was happening.
The turreted fairy castle, the primitive kingdom that didn’t even own a commercial airport, the swarm of body guards, Catherine… Catherine de’Ariggo.
It wasn’t possible.
He spun about, turned the giant iron ring on the door and fled outside into the brisk winter air. His knees threatened to collapse. He put his back to the wall, cradling his bowed head in his hands and felt himself being carried by a wave of panic.
But he wasn’t going anywhere. And neither was his ghost.
“Nicolas? What are you doing?”
He raised his head to look at her in the sharp daylight. She seemed so solid, so real, he reached out to touch her cheek and instantly dropped his hand at the contact of warm skin. “Who are you?” he asked hoarsely.
Catherine’s brows crossed as she stared at him uncertainly. She’d rehearsed for many reactions, but this one hadn’t been on her list. But no, of course he recognised her. He simply hadn’t expected to see her here. “Are you feeling all right? You look a little pale.”
With shaky fingers, she grabbed his arm, trying to lead him to the steps so he could sit. In the last few minutes, from seeing him as she descended the stairway until now, her heart had pounded fast enough to use up its lifetime of beats and suddenly she needed to sit as well. After a moment’s resistance, he allowed her to tug him along and he sank down beside her on the top step.
No sooner had he sat, than he swung his head her way. “Catherine?”
She nodded thoughtfully. Could he truly be so shocked? Had he not known whom she was when he’d promised Gascon that he’d come?
The pallor of his skin was her answer. She was so accustomed to being attuned to every mention of his name, living in her memories whenever duty allowed, she’d assumed he would have automatically made the connection on the de’Ariggo name alone. But why should he? He’d moved on with his life. He had no reason to spare her a second thought.