She made sure all her steps were correct
and smoothly taken, leaving him to lead as she followed. She was
surprised to be asked by others and sometimes handed off from one to
another. Each time she would turn to take her leave only to find another
man cordially asking for a dance. She figured it must be some
requirement. Finally she felt she had a chance to escape back to her
group when another crossed her path as she turned to step away at the
start of another dance being tuned up.
"Lady Traugott." The arm extended to her was clothed in
deep maroon, a creamy frond of lace sprouting from the cuff of the
sleeve. "It seems as if fate has delivered you, at last, to
my side. You have danced with the victor, would you honor the
vanquished as well with a turn?" Alexandre dared not to press
the lady here, in public. His show was one of courtly manners and
etiquette. If she denied him, she'd be the one to step from the
box of propriety. The music swirled around them, inviting.
The mood of the room encouraged the dance. Alexandre Wickline knew
how to outmaneuver the prey. She would either dance with him, and
he'd have his victory. Or she'd deny him, appear less than noble,
this woman who accompanied de Beauvais...and he'd have his victory.
He had not arrived at this tournament to leave ... without victory.
Of all the people, deviant, bloke, scoundrel, rat, she would normally
have given him a murderous look but she was so caught by surprise. He
had not been seen all night and it was rumored he'd not show his face
for what happened. She found she was only staring at
him in disbelief
and barely hearing his words. One step back was taken defensively,
naturally. Her last partner was still standing there watching. A cordial
and polite man as she heard his voice come low by her ear. "It
would not do not to dance with the man no matter the discourse,
Lady Julia." She could feel the light press of his hand encouraging
her forward. Perhaps he knew she was not so worldly in these games of
A glance given up from
over a bared shoulder for his words only to find his eye contact with
Alexandre's rather than hers. There was some kind of challenge going on
in the look between the two before the man gave a dip of his head to her
before finally moving off into the crowd. She whipped a glance from him
back to Alexandre then one over to where the Desaulniers were. Lady
Desaulniers gave a discreet nod of her head too as Julia then steeled
herself. She could not look towards Vincent or Garath and have it
returned as they seemed to be in conversation at the moment. All right,
it was only one dance. She could do this. If her hand trembled she hid
it well with its graceful lift to barely touch upon the arm offered.
"Yes, of course Lord Wickline." She refused to use his given
name nor would she use the word pleasure in accepting the dance. She
could deal with one dance.
Whether his ear was turned to the conversation or not, Vincent had
noticed Wickline's arrival and his course straight to Julia. That
Judith had craned her neck away from the spin of her current dance
partner to watch wasn't noticed by Vincent. He reached to the side
to place his glass on a nearby table and started to take a step forward
Garath, who had first noticed Vincent's frown deepen, then followed that
dark gaze to the source, shifted his position during the discussion
underway to block the path of the king's man. "Vincent, I
hear that ..." He was successful in receiving the scowl that
had originally been for Alexandre, and with that, thwarted the initial
instinct for action. Garath, however, wasn't prepared for the fact
that the music changed, mid-tune, to the melody all the dancers usually
waited with great anticipation to hear. Lyon's didn't finish his
statement as all eyes now moved to the dance floor for this particular
dance. He was able to fully attempt to keep Vincent on the
sidelines. "She can handle this, Vincent."
Vincent growled what
could only be a curse beneath his breath and stormed away to refill the
glass instead of watching what was soon to be taking place.
honored." Wickline took the place of her former partner,
moving her to the center of the floor. No sooner had they arrived,
his hand coming to rest at her waist, then the music slowed, changed,
prepared for the Lady Desaulnier's creation. His head dipped as it
should, close to her ear. "And I thought I could not be more
blessed than to have a dance with you ... and now this."
Julia was sorely
tempted to stiffen and make sure every step landed on his foot. Miss
step, stumble, all kinds of faux pas whirled but she knew if she did
after having seen her dance before it would not go unnoticed and still
break etiquette. She remembered her mother's words when she had asked..
'What if a most despicable man asks me to dance?' The response was that
it would breach etiquette not to accept in such an event as this. It
would be the same as taking a glove to slap across the one's face. Julia
could picture doing that to Alexandre, however. Although, her mother had
added that she need only accept one dance to sate propriety and after
that not required.
So lost in how to get
away she had not realized what dance was about to take place. She could
feel the color drain from her cheeks as he drew her close. Why couldn't
it have been some waltz you kept exchanging partners? One dance.
Repeated. Then an idea to pretend he was someone else but who? Wouldn't
do to be someone she actually cared for so he became Morris, the stoic
guard that always gave her a cordial greeting in passing. Alexandre was
now Morris the Guard. Mind games like this she was use to playing to
keep her sanity long ago. "How grand.." Taking that
opportunity to look towards the other dancers and giving him her profile
instead. At least she didn't get to see the repulsion in her eyes in
contradiction to the word used making it sarcasm. She would not give him
privy to that for that is what he wanted.
Alexandre guided her around, her back to his front, and as his head
returned to dip at her neck, his gaze drifted over to the area where de
Beauvais had been noted. When he was not found there, Alexandre
smiled, his hand smoothing along the length of the lady's arm to lift it
and the music continued. "How is it that you find yourself in
the company of de Beauvais and Lyons?" His words were low,
not to interfere with the seductive flow of the rhythm. Each move
taken slowly, intentionally, fully following the required steps of the
dance yet ... perhaps enjoying them more than he should.
Arm would lift gracefully with his guide but automatically with having
danced the dance before. However, it was far different this time. She
had hoped he would not go into small talk but there it was. Was he
trying to dig out information? She didn't know how to lie outright so
she would have to be curt and vague. "They know my brother."
That was safe, let it seem they were only baby sitting her and no real
connection to use her as some means against them. She knew it would also
make her seem more a child and this was not appealing to a man, or so
she hoped. The mental ruse of Morris or not, she found she didn't like
the warmth of his breath along her bared shoulder or neck. It gave her a
sickening feeling which also made her realize something else... a breath
was a breath? ...not so. Alexandre was no where near the quality of men
Garath and Vincent were. That was what made the difference. If he was
trying to be seductive he would find her clinical, each motion precise
in the flow of the music but without that other quality.
Her answer would suffice for now as he drew in the scent of her, his
palm soaking in the feel of her. She knew the dance well as did
he. He also knew she held herself from the full enjoyment of the
seductive moves ... though he would not. Each stroke, each turn,
each time his gaze caught a glimpse of the woman she was, his pleasure
mounted. The music ended all too soon.
Each stroke, each turn only
added to the growing sickening feel that was fed deep in the coiling of
her stomach. All too quick she stepped back as the last note barely
finished. "Thank you Lord Wickline for the dance. I must excuse
myself to refresh." That was the term used she hoped to finding the
privy. She would go there even if she need not really go, she needed to
get as far from him as possible for she noted too Garath nor Vincent
could presently be seen. The curtsey came low as was expected but it was
quick for she knew of the view it gave in the low cut gown. She was up
in one graceful flow that had her turning on a slippered foot before she
wove her way through the crowd and the first corridor she spotted others
had taken. She gave him no recourse to stop her.
But he attempted to, reaching out a hand and when he failed to capture
her flight, Wickline then started through the crowd. This too he
found he would not accomplish since the bodies of guests seemed to
create a solid shield against his chase.
then there was Garath Lyons. "Lord Wickline, it is
interesting to find the night finds you well."
Even though Wickline shifted from left to right to see around Lyons, the
wolf had lost the scent of the fleeing hare.
Her heart leaped into her throat as she felt the man actually following
her with a quick glance over her shoulder. The corridor she originally
was going to take ended up being some other one as she wove through the
crowd in a way there was no set pattern to where she was headed. Even
she had not realized she'd taken another but after winding her way down
the hall with the many turns and adjacent ones, she realized she was
lost. She could only hope to come upon someone to guide her in the right
"Really, Monty, you are a wicked drunk." The woman's
words belied the seduction in her tone as she backed from one of the
alcoves out into the hall. The blonde curls which were
once pinned properly in place now dangled in disarray created by
fumbling fingers. She slid the neckline of her gown up, desire
filled laughter tinkling from lips swollen and smeared with passion's
kiss. "Do you think you can find my rooms as expertly as you
found my ... " Her teasing words, tempting the man on, ended
abruptly as she spun to dash away and came face to face with a woman
wandering the halls. A woman she had only just moments before saw
in the arms of Alexandre Wickline.
It seemed just moments before, but
Judith knew how long the dance was. She had lost track of
time. She opened her mouth to speak, but Stanford Montevale
stumbled from the small hidden compartment, shifting the cloth at his
crotch to ease the pressure there and coming up behind her to wrap an
arm around. He didn't seem to care about the other woman
there. Why should he? "I'll find more than that, Judy,
Judy, Judy." His statement was slurred, and stained with a
mixture of lust and lush. The sharp elbow that found his
well-padded ribs created a grunt of pain, but he didn't release her,
only tightened his hold. "That way is it?"
"My Lord...please." Judith wriggled from his grip,
turning to face him as she came up alongside Julia, a faint shake of her
head to hopefully deter him from his quest ... at least for now.
all the luck in finding someone it would be two in a tryst in the hall
no less. Words spoken coupled with actions would usually have her
blushing but she was too distraught being lost and at least it wasn't
Wickline. Some man named Monty. Usually such women as this one appeared
to be would not mind the question but show off their gain of the night
and wave the one off with the knowledge needed. Julia had not missed the
words nor the woman covering up her exposed breasts even if only caught
towards the end. Next she was near colliding with the woman as she
started to ask where the ladies room was located but barely got two
words out. "Can you..."
Surprise once more as
blue eyes went wide for it was none other than Judith. She certainly
recognized the viper and here she was with another man. No question on
that as the one emerged from the alcove to have his arm around her. She
didn't stay to ask as she was skirting around their little rendezvous on
quickened feet. She would rather wander lost than speak with that woman
after what she had done. The question never came fully as she headed
down the corridor beyond them to get as far away as possible. Luck would
have her this time as she turned a corner to see the ball room once more
down its other end.
tick of hurried steps soon followed Julia. Judith had sent Monty
off in search of her rooms while she promised to find him shortly with
champagne and melted chocolate. Such a sinful waste, the delicious
chocolate of the monks on a body such as Stanford's, but he was willing,
and eager, and Judith did not wish to spend the evening with the
disgrace that was now Wickline's to bear. She caught up with Julia
not far down that corridor, passing her to stand before her. She
didn't even bother to straighten her hair, pass the tip of a finger
along the smear of lipcream which was smudged at the corner of her
lips. "Where are you going?" Did the woman mean to
seek out her husband and inform him of the intrigue underway?
Judith could move fast, Julia
gave her credit there but Judith was on a mission of which Julia would
not understand the intricate workings of. A brow was up as steps came to
an abrupt halt with the woman now blocking her way. A glance beyond her
shoulder showed there were ones still in the banquet room. There and
back as there was no veiling her dislike of this woman in viewing her as
exactly what she was. A two bit adulteress. "I don't see where any
of my comings and goings are of any concern of yours." She bit back
any other retorts that would bite about the man waiting to drool on her
shouldn't be kept waiting. Julia didn't care what this woman did as long
as she left the ones she cared about alone. For her small size, Julia
was strong as she shoved her right out of her way while moving onward
again towards the banquet hall. This time she was aware of that click
and kept a faster pace ahead.
pitched to the side, her hand finding the support of the wall in order
not to fall. "Yours may not be of mine ... but mine ... may
be of yours!" She called after the retreating woman.
"Vincent will be thinking of me, whether in fantasy or in hate, but
he will be thinking of me ... when he's holding you!" Julia
wasn't that far away that Judith had to shout, the music in the ballroom
would mask her words to any but the one intended. The bustle of
the servants as they cleared the banquet hall was of little concern to
Judith. It was this woman ... this woman who spent time with
Vincent, who had her digging her nails into the palms of her hands as
she formed fists of control.
reached the opening as those words also reached having her spin around
to face that woman from a good distance. She knew the words were
intended to hurt but how could they hurt one when not the truth? Vincent
didn't hold her in his arms as a lover even if this woman didn't know
that. It was preposterous. Julia liked Vincent this she admitted to
herself and herself only, but to think anything more was a fool's game
and a way to hurt what they had as friends. Vincent was not drawn to her
but it was amusing this woman thought so. She almost envisioned what the
other woman saw. Vincent holding her in a lover's embrace....no, she
would not let such thoughts plague. The whole idea this woman did had
the response of Julia laughing. Rich lilting laughter that filled the
hall and even spill out into the banquet room. Judith on the other hand
would take it as her laughing at her. It worked in Julia's benefit as
she turned back and stepped out into the ballroom to find Garath and
Vincent or at least one of them.
That laugh ate away at her like a plague in her blood and, when the
woman didn't respond, didn't dispute or agree to the information, but
simply turned and rejoined the celebration, Judith rushed forward, her
hand gripping the wood of the doorframe to look within and find her ...
and to where she went. This Traugott woman probably didn't know de
Beauvais as Judith knew him. She didn't know that Vincent had once
killed a man ... for her! Had he shared that with her? Did
she know his secrets as Judith did? Were the words whispered in
confidence as he shared his body, the heat of his lips, the fire which
coursed through the blood with the stroke of his hand? "Fie
on you." She hissed, cursing the Lady Traugott, or Vincent de
Beauvais or ... herself? A soft whimper followed and she spun to
return to her rooms, and the man she would attempt to pretend could
measure up to one such as the tournament's champion.
No. Julia didn't even know a man's kiss. Any man. She didn't know how
her laughter would plague the woman either. She never even looked back
as that hiss was devoured by the sounds of laughter and conversation.
Clueless and innocent. Although Julia knew no matter what even if she
had known, Vincent was a good man. She understood men had to do what
they had to do in certain circumstances that left a choice between two
evils. Niklas had to, Aleric had to it and would not surprise her in the
least if Vincent had to also. She saw the two still here, she knew they
would not leave without seeing her safely to their room. Had they
noticed she was missing? She would probably find out when she crossed
that distance weaving her way back to where they stood.
Garath had kept Alexandre in conversation until Julia could make her
escape, but Vincent had marked her retreat. With Wickline here,
the threat was subdued. Vincent waited for Julia to return.
When she did, his gaze went from the hurried entrance to the doorway,
where he found Judith not far behind. From one woman to the other
that dark regard passed before he was, once again, setting his glass
aside and now crossed to her. "I would rather you remember
this trip pleasantly, My Lady." Judith was gone, but that
didn't keep Vincent from looking toward the empty doorway a final time.
"I would rather also." It didn't pass over her head as she
knew where he was looking and who had been there. Maybe Judith's words
were correct and the man pined after her as she did him. Pity that would
be for the woman was undeserving and he more deserving. Still, it was
none of her business, right? Right. She debated to tell him then decided
not. The woman would probably hoped she would and score another point.
She had the information of what transpired if needed for the right
reasons. No. If Vincent was going to pine after Judith she would not
feed it by making him more jealous she was all over another man and he
upon her. Still, there was an emotion that coiled as she turned to
Garath. He was her safety zone here it was becoming apparent in her
thoughts, ones not spoken on. "It has been a long day and we rise
early to leave do we not?" Was she keeping them for getting lost?
Probably. That at least could be remedied.
The hand that lifted to rest on her arm to steady her, ground her,
lowered away before making contact as Garath joined them and Julia
claimed the evening at an end. Vincent couldn't decipher her words
as well as she could his. The dark gaze narrowed with her
dismissal, he nodded, then he snapped his attention from Julia to look
over to Garath. "I'll go speak with the men, Lyons. We
shall leave as soon as the Lady is ready in the morning." A
flicker of notice touched once more on Julia and he dipped his head
toward her. He left them, knowing Garath would be her safety zone
all the way to her room, and offered his words of respectful departure
with the Lord and Lady of the House.
Even before Vincent spoke the words, Garath stepped closer to Julia, an
arm offered. "Do not mind him, M'Lady." Not that
she did, but this was Garath's way. "Tomorrow will give him plenty
of time in your lovely company and he can cease his growling for having
to share you tonight. Come. We'll speak our farewells to
Desaulniers and his wife since we will be departing before the morning
She was more than tired and this game of intrigue she was thrown into
wore on her nerves. Ones already frayed. She wanted to cry for some
reason and couldn't. Wouldn't. She would not be able to give a reason
why if caught. "Thank you Vincent." No stuffy title or just
his surname. It was Garath she would turn to and trust as eyes watered
after Vincent made his departure and out of earshot. "Garath, there
is something maybe you should know. I do not know what to make of it and
you are far wiser than I." Her hand placed on his arm as she spoke
for maybe he could help her unravel the craziness she felt tangled up
Rather than continue on
to pay their respects to the lord and lady, Garath eased Julia from the
room by way of the door she had entered from and into the quieter
corridor without. The back of his knuckles passed in a soothing
caress along the shape of her face. He hadn't missed the swell of
unshed tears in her eyes. "Speak to me, My Lady." His
concern was sincere.
In the quiet of the corridor she told him best she could have the
confusion of this night. "In my effort to thwart Wickline from
following me, I took the wrong corridor and got lost in a web of
them." So easy to do in an unknown castle. "I had hoped to
come upon someone to ask directions but it turned out Judith has thrown
off Wickline for some bloke named Monty." Here her steps paused and
even if a blush touched upon her cheeks she continued as blue eyes
lifted to his. "She was pulling up the bodice of her dress, he was
all hands and.. and.. words of seduction of this night planned. I
continued on leaving it thus but she waylaid me in the corridor before I
could reach the hall. It was her words spoken there that bothered
me." Well, maybe a few reasons.
Vincent and I are lovers, or at least fears we might be. Her words were
to hurt but cannot for it is not so. She implied that when he held me,
it was she he would be thinking of. There was also the hint of a threat.
I told her it was none of her business where I was going when she asked.
She said that mine may not be of hers but hers may be of mine." She
took in a breath. "Please say to me it is all nonsense and nothing
to worry on? Vincent doesn't still pine after her?" So it was all
out even if not making much sense even to her.
Garath listened, and
only once while she spoke did his eyes wander from her and that was
toward the door to their right. "Walk with me,
Julia?" Her given name used as he gently patted her hand,
starting them on their way away from the ballroom even before she could
agree. "Judith Janney tacks her actions on all ladies.
Do not fret, My Lady. None others here believe such a dishonorable
thing. Vincent is well respected here. Judith's words are
the words of a desperate woman. I cannot claim to know what is in
the head of a man such as Vincent, but I would wager my soul on the fact
that what goes on in the man's head had nothing to do with Judith Janney.
This is all nonsense and nothing to worry on. I can assure you
that Vincent does not still pine after a wanton such as she."
Their stroll carried
them through the halls, up the stairs, and then along the corridor which
lead to Julia's room. "I regret you had to witness the
woman's petty need for attention, and that she attempted to draw you
into it. You, though, seemed to have handled it well."
She let him guide her where he could answer all her questions privately.
Relief flooded. So this Judith was a classic example of a woman bent on
manipulation and never ending up with what she really wanted. Instead
she would fall into a vicious cycle of it. "When she implied me
being in Vincent's arms as his lover I had to laugh for the irony of it.
I've never even been kissed in that way let alone by Sir deBeauvais. I
think the laugh bothered her." Steps stilled in front of her door.
"It is not your fault or the kind people here. Women like Judith
are all over the place, every place. I felt I should not speak on it
with Vincent for it would only be doing what the woman hoped. Thank you
for assuring me Vincent would not be pining for a woman such as
she." She leaned up to touch a kiss to his cheek as even a smile
came in place of those threatened tears earlier.
"You do not give
yourself ample credit, My Lady." She was wise...very
wise. He leaned slightly toward her to accept that kiss and he
gave the hand that had been resting on his arm a squeeze.
"You possess wisdom beyond your years." To have faced
what she had to face these last few days with the grace and elegance she
had displayed, Garath was extremely proud of her and to be her
escort. He would pass on the honor he experienced of being with
her to her mother. "Now, without a need for you to worry over
Vincent de Beuavais, I'll leave you to your pleasant dreams."
He bowed a bit deeper to her. "My Lady." The title
was used as her goodnight.
Now that she was here she felt the weight of the day and evening closed
in. "Sleep I will find more peacefully for our talk. Thank you Lord
Lyons." Very respectfully said. The latch of the door slid open
with a guide of a hand and she to slip in before easing it closed and
latching it over as she was warned to do by Vincent. She would fall into
a dreamless sleep for the comforting words and exhaustion combined.
Daylight would come all too soon after such a grand ball as this one had
Dawn would find them
twice ... and they would once more be watching the sun rise over