The two women arrived at Zeke’s estate just as the fireworks started to go off. The whole entire port must have been there because people were billowing from everywhere. What was even more surprising was that the estate was able to hold them all and still fit in more people. The men at the checkpoints of the entrances were taking tickets from patrons entering, and as Giselle and Charlotte approached, they took their tickets and paused.
They looked at each other before radioing to someone over a broadcast about what they should do as it was a different ticket than the other guests. Once radioed in, a gentleman in a gaudy tuxedo appeared who then ushered Charlotte and Giselle to follow him inside. They followed him for five to ten minutes before arriving inside the main estate. The room was elegantly decorated with gold-and-silver trimmed chandeliers and bright pearl white tiling under their feet. It was filled with dancing couples doing similar dances to the ballroom waltz and the Vietnamese waltz throughout the dance floor. Even more astonishing were all the people with masks and disguises on. On both sides of the dance floor was a staircase that wrapped up to the second floor where the butler was leading them to.
“These people come from everywhere in this port, and tonight is a night where poor or rich can all come together under the disguise of a mask. Nobility, status, culture—everything is put aside so that Refrazzya can celebrate in peace,” Giselle explained behind her feather green fan, looking off into the distance. She was staring at some of the girls giggling near the punch table. “This building itself is Zeke’s headquarters that he uses frequently for the people. There are other facilities that he uses for his own personal usages. Whatever he may be doing is kept behind closed doors.”
The butler ignored Giselle as she further explained the function of Zeke’s operations in Refrazzya, but it was when they reached the halfway point of the stairs that made Giselle stop. Someone was calling a name out from the floor below them, causing a slight disturbance.
“Is that Charlotte? Charlotte!” The voice was a soft tenor voice of a boy with glasses, and Charlotte turned her head to the noise.
Giselle just thrust her fan open and covered the girl’s face. “Do not react to them. Keep walking please.”
Charlotte shook her head away from the fan before looking over her shoulder. The masses of people were astounding since she couldn’t even see who was calling her, much less respond.
“If they are your friends, you can meet them afterward, I’m sure.” She looked up at the butler and, with distaste, clucked her tongue. “Let’s get this accursed meeting over with.”
They had reached the top of the staircase and were then escorted by two men with swords attached to their belts. They were dressed in tuxedos but still remained in combat position. They then checked their personal belongings and then checked them for weapons. Charlotte was uncomfortable by the rubdown the man gave her, but it was immediately over with when the thought passed.
“Zeke is waiting for you in the room at the end of the hall. Do not go into any of the rooms on the right or left sides. Do you understand the instructions?”
Charlotte nodded her head fervently while Giselle clucked her tongue once again. “Men like you are always so stuffy.” She flipped her fan up into the man’s face, hoping he’d react, but he didn’t flinch.
“If you would continue down the hall, ma’am,” he spoke with authority, and she sighed.
They walked down the hall, keeping clear of the doors mentioned not to go into and reached the double doors at the end of the hall. Charlotte looked at Giselle while the butler accompanying them opened the door for them.
“Announcing Miss Giselle and Miss Rothschild to Zeke.”
Charlotte gave the butler a shocked expression but was ushered into the room without voicing a single complaint or notion on how they knew who she was.
“Welcome to my humble abode, madams. Please have a seat.” Zeke was standing by the window in a white tuxedo with a red tie on. His hair was slicked back into a stylish ponytail, and his bangs were lightly touching his forehead. In his right hand, he was holding a glass of chardonnay while looking outside. He was the only one in the room, and it was effectively so when the door shut closed behind them.
Neither Charlotte nor Giselle approached the seats but rather walked over to the desk and stood by the front. Charlotte was clutching her fan in her hands with sweaty palms while Zeke sipped his wine.
“We have quite some time to ourselves since I won’t be making my appearance until the sound of the midnight bells. Plenty of time.” He moved over to his desk and sat down in his seat before looking at the woman before him. “The seats will not bite you, but if you would like to remain standing, feel free.” He smiled before taking a sip from his drink. “Where shall I begin?”
Charlotte looked at the man sitting before saying what came to mind from earlier that evening. “My mother is dead, but why are you interested in her? Further, how do you know who I am? I never introduced myself to you or anyone in Refrazzya.”
Zeke laughed at the abrupt question and placed his drink down. “Straight to the point. I like you. This must come as a shock to you, my dear, but I assure you that you are indeed the well-renowned Charlotte Rothschild because you are the daughter to Brian Rothschild and Lessye Shannon. The ring on your middle finger also indicates you are from that clan, which surprisingly very few people know what the emblem looks like. I just happen to be the rare exception. That is how I know who you are. As for your mother, whatever alias she had when she was living as your mother I do not know, but she is alive and currently running.”
Giselle looked down at the girl, seeing the shocked expression come across her face.
“Running from what?” Charlotte asked, and Zeke smiled.
“The stone. Or rather, she’s running with the stone. She’s protecting it.”
“You must be joking. All of this comes down to that stupid stone legend? It doesn’t exist,” Charlotte echoed emptily, realizing that from recent events with Xavier’s and Damien’s newfound abilities were in fact dealings with the Relic stones.
Zeke must have realized that she hesitated because he smirked at her when she dropped her gaze from his eyes to the ornate flooring of his private office.
“It isn’t a joke,” the woman beside Charlotte replied sadly, making the girl snap her direction to the merchant. “The stone is real because I’ve seen it. Further, I knew who you were once I realized you recognized her in the photo. I’m sorry for lying to you, but it was for your protection. I didn’t know if these guys would use you as bait against her.” Giselle bit the bottom of her lip.
“A couple of years ago, I might have used her daughter as bait, but seeing as how she didn’t raise a finger to save her husband or son from those pirates, well, I knew she wouldn’t do the same for her.” Zeke gave a sympathetic glance to Charlotte who was still in shock.
“My mother is alive . . .” Charlotte muttered, and Zeke just shrugged charismatically.
Giselle snapped her feather fan shut, gathering Charlotte’s attention. “Charlotte, you must snap out of it. I know of the dangers you are in, but you have to realize one thing. Your mother did this to protect you and your family. She couldn’t allow those pirates to get the stone.”
Charlotte backed away from Giselle slightly and dropped her own feather fan. The plastic clicked against the flooring in a soft echo.
“We should piece together from the beginning for Miss Rothschild’s sake, Giselle,” Zeke said in his velvet seat. His fingers were lightly drumming on the oak table while he spoke softly. The older woman merely nodded her head before allowing him his narration.
“Lessye’s family was a part of the state from many years past. She actually was initiated into the Protector’s program when she hit her sixteenth birthday. This program had been running for centuries and centuries because, like everyone thought, the stone was just a legend. As the years passed, Lessye had met Brian who then had you and your little brother. It was then that the stone appeared into existence. No one knew how it happened, but your mother was the one who discovered it and then took it to someone she trusted. She didn’t want anything to do with it because she had her family. Well, unknown to her, her friend had taken the stone she offered them and sold it to the highest bidder. Seven years later”—he paused to allow the girl a few seconds to digest the information—“the highest bidder began creating more stones with the state as a backing force. It was from there that they began to gain more powers beyond human comprehension, claiming it was for the good of humanity. It is unknown how they created them, but I know it is something dark and grim. Normally, I can find out anything that I want to about any organization, but this particular activity was kept as a highly classified secret. Anyways, there were a few star pupils around fourteen to fifteen who were tested upon to see how many stones a human could possess as well as finding which was compatible with whom. If you’d like to know more, I’m sure Elliot Cheric and Simone De La Croix could answer your questions.”
Charlotte gasped when their names came up, and Zeke laughed.
“Shocking that they were involved? Hardly, since it all comes down to relevance and connectivity. The state soon found out that the possibilities were endless. The true stone was a gift from a world beyond our comprehension.”
Giselle walked over to a spare chair in the room and sat down.
Charlotte remained rooted where she was in front of Zeke’s desk, asking, “What does this portion have to do with my family? My mother?”
Zeke merely scoffed at her before continuing, “Elliot and Simone were students of your fathers, and it was through their disappearance that your mother discovered what her friend had done. She was furious and went against the state to get the stone back to prevent any tragedy like that to happen again. She hunted down the officials in charge, freed the test subjects, and stole the stone.” He smirked before seeing Charlotte trying to remember something.
“My mom left for a business trip when I was seven years old . . . It couldn’t have possibly been that time . . .”
Zeke clapped his hands to her recollection. “Correct. Eleven years ago, she left to collect the stone and kept it safe under her protection. Your father had found a safe location for his students that had been placed into that supposed advancement program, and then he placed the stone in his estate to keep his wife and family safe. He did this, hoping that with time, everything would fade. Normally, that is the case, but the powers that be in the state had other means. Less than a year later, they subpoenaed Lessye to appear in court for treason. Lessye, taking the stone and whatever belongings she could, disappeared into the night without a trace. She had to leave her husband and two children behind. Of course, this made the state go into a frenzy, trying to find her, but she knew a few people who would help her. That was Giselle’s role in this tale.” He gestured to the woman sitting in the chair now, and she just waved her fan.
Charlotte turned to Giselle and tilted her head. “So I’m to believe my mother left because she possessed the true stone, and then she approached Miss Giselle for help.”
Giselle nodded her head at the statement before continuing, “It is as he stated. She came to me in a disheveled state and asked for my assistance. She needed assistance from my nephew who had also undergone testing because of the stone.” Charlotte furrowed her eyebrows. “My nephew Luke was compatible with one particular stone he found. After examining it, she called his ability a defensive Relic.”
“Wait . . . Luke?” Charlotte paused and grasped the front of her corset. “I think I met him on the outskirts of . . .” She gave an alarmed look to both parties since she didn’t know if she should have said that.
Zeke immediately caught onto this tad bit of information and inquired more, “Where did you meet him?” His aura before that was amicable, but the mention of a location immediately turned his amicableness into hostility.
“The Deserted Islands . . . but that was nearly a year ago. They surely can’t be there now.”
“Was there a woman with him?”
“I don’t know,” Charlotte answered with a scared expression. “I had a concussion at the time and was out of it. I don’t remember much or even how I arrived where I did.”
Zeke clucked his tongue in distaste before taking a large gulp of his wine. “Giselle, continue with your story. It appears the information I’ve wanted was a year too late. Still, I suppose it’s better than nothing.” He made a note to check the islands while Giselle continued her story.
“Luke left with Lessye later that evening, and I hadn’t heard from them since. From then on, the rumors started going around that the Protectors had been trying to stay hidden. They had managed to hide their tracks well, but they made their way back to the surface again. There was a time about five to six years later when people started to disappear on the seas. The state had issued several warnings to their admirals about commercial and auxiliary vessel ships disappearing, but they didn’t do much else to stop it. Everyone assumed that the ships were being scavenged and rampaged by pirates, so security personnel were hired and placed on any vessel heading to and from any port.”
Zeke drummed his fingers on the oak table before interrupting Giselle, “So your mother and Luke start investigating the cause of the pirate attacks, shipwrecks, and possible connections with some already-premade stones from the original. At the time, Lessye and I had been relatively on the same level, working toward a common goal except this one particular time she ignored me and went along her way. I could only inform her through Luke that it was not a smart idea to pretend to be passengers on the vessel Argentine.”
Charlotte gripped the front of her corset tighter and gaped. “That’s the same vessel that . . .”
“No need for melodramatics, my dear. All your family was on this vessel except for you. I sometimes wonder why that was.” He gave her an inquired look before shrugging. “She boarded with Luke and practically watched the ship get torn to bits. A portion of the passengers were taken hostage by a group of pirate thugs with mystical powers that no one had seen and then taken aboard the pirates’ ship. It was rumored that Zaine was on that pirate’s raid with his subordinate. What was that kid’s name?” Zeke paused in his recollection before snapping his fingers.
“Right, Aden Summerfeld. The kid with red eyes. You’re travelling with him, are you not?”
Charlotte blanched at the information and gripped her fingers tightly into a ball. “Aden has green eyes. What do you mean by red? It couldn’t be him,” she questioned, but Zeke ignored her.
“Whoops, that was something I wasn’t supposed to mention. Forget it. This is where the details get puzzling because Luke dropped all contact with Giselle. I did find out through a third party that she and Luke escaped from the vessel using two large lifeboats full of about one hundred and fifty people. Many of those folks unfortunate enough not to have made it onto the lifeboats such as your father were pronounced as killed in action or missing in action. A couple of months later, I heard that Lessye and Luke had destroyed a facility that belonged to the state, which led me to believe that she had all but given up on saving any of those patrons. It was after those events took place that your younger brother returned unharmed and not surprisingly with amnesia, making the recollection of his traumatic experience an elusive tale that no one would dare attempt to make him remember.”
It was this that made the auburn-brunette lose her standing and collapse back. Luckily, she was standing in front of a chair, so she flopped down with some dignity. “Why didn’t they do anything?”
Zeke took a drink from his glass, effectively emptying it and grabbing the bottle of Chardonnay at the corner of the desk. He poured himself a full glass before continuing, “Love knows no bounds, isn’t that right, Giselle?” he smirked at the woman sitting silently in her seat.
She snapped her fan shut. “Our marriage was absolved, Zeke, because of your flippant ways. Quit dragging this on and torturing the girl!”
The man merely flicked his free hand in the air as if theatrically wounded. “Doth the lady wish it so?” He sipped his wine before staring at the girl in the chair in front of him. “It was at this time that you were adopted by your uncle who was campaigning for fleet admiral in the state. There was a brief time where he was kept in the dark about the state’s secrets and forced to go to war on the sea for countless months or years on end. When you were transported with your brother to his estate, he was preparing for an arduous fight against Zaine with his pirate generals, searching and scavenging for the jewels. Some say they had four first-generation stones made from the true stone, but the truth never made the public’s ear. The state had kept the true stone under wraps because they could never explain to the public how more of those stones were created without shooting themselves in their own foot. Your uncle started to realize this slowly through the battle as well as when he was elected to fleet admiral two months after the mysterious death of Trenton Schurk. He knew that someone had purposely set him up to have those stones so they would have a means to attack him. It would have appeared odd to suddenly assassinate someone without a motive, so the state did what it could. They set up a motive for those pirates to attack. It only took two to three years to fully set up the trap. Now here’s where things get interesting,” He smirked when Charlotte comprehended what he was saying. “The pirates and the state are in cahoots with one another because of a higher authority. Now it’s only a matter of figuring out who it is. Let’s discuss what happened to you, Miss Rothschild, on that cliff that eventful day a year or so ago. The one you’re looking for happens to be someone with my face, but I was nowhere near your uncle’s humble abode. Now how could my personage be there without it being there?”
He posed an intricate riddle for the girl to solve before continuing on. Zeke needed to know if he was dealing with someone smart, and while the chances were that she was a defenseless and clumsy person, she may still have some hope in her yet.
“It was not you but someone who took your image to trick me?” she worked out, unsure of her own answer to the riddle.
The man with coffee eyes stared at her before laughing. “Looking from a logical point of view, can someone change their appearance? Possibly, the stones could allow a power like that to exist. No, a logical solution to this riddle would be that this person who flung you off that cliff with the intention to hurt, maim, slaughter, kill, and keep silent would be beyond a doubt someone related to me. If that person was a relative, that could mean he is my . . .”
Charlotte breathed out the word, “Twin. He’s your twin. That’s what you are telling me.”
“And the girl wins the grand prize.” Zeke threw a trinket to Charlotte, and she caught it delicately in her hand. It was a box with an indented gear piece shaped like a sun in the place of a lock. “That was your uncle’s trinket he gave to me. He told me that when you did show up at my doorstep, I should give you that, though I wanted to make you work for it.” He grabbed his glass of wine and drank from it while Charlotte stared at it.
It was small, like a music box, and when her fingers pried at the edge of the crease, it would not budge. The only clue to opening it would be that gear-shaped sun thing. “It won’t open unless there’s a type of key.” The man in the chair nodded his head. “I’ve tried over fifty different locksmiths in the area, and not one of those idiots could open it. There’s no point in keeping it if I can’t even open it,” he replied darkly before putting his drink down. “Now, Miss Rothschild, let’s get back on topic. My twin, as you know, is the one who tried to kill you. Why do you think he wanted to kill you?”
That was the same question Charlotte was trying to solve this entire time. Even now, she couldn’t figure it out. She pocketed the device into her corset’s pocket for later inspection.
“Nothing? That’s a pity since you and your brother may possess a hidden power that could effectively stop him in his efforts.”
Charlotte gaped at this before shaking her head. Those dreams all year had been telling her to seal the stones, but how could she? She didn’t even know what she could do.
Zeke saw Charlotte recollecting her thoughts while he pulled out a paper and pen. He jotted down some notes before looking up at the girl. “You know what I’m talking about . . . which means you are the one my twin should fear.” He smiled before storing the paper away, and Giselle looked alarmed.
“What did you write, Zeke? The girl is dead in name. What good would it be to stir the waters by mentioning her to anyone?”
Zeke swirled his Chardonnay in his glass with an expertly trained hand. “It’s a swapping of information, but if that will not suffice as explanation, consider it the price you’ve paid for all that information I’ve given you already. You cannot deny that this information has given you a clearer mind on what you have to do now, Miss Rothschild.”
The girl in question was pondering everything, but somehow, there were still pieces that didn’t fit in. Further, she was unsure of whether or not this information was actually genuine.
“Why do you know all of this information?” Charlotte suddenly inquired, now unsure of who to trust. This man seemed to know way more than he should have, and now that she knew he was related to her family’s killer, she was even more wary. How could she be sure he was telling the whole truth about the situation? What was more surprising was that she was taking this way too calmly.
“I know all of this because I have an entire fleet of men and women at my beck and call. When I want something, I take it, and when I’m paid a service, I do the job that is required of me. All these incidents and events that have happened, I’ve researched, explored, and travelled continents to figure out the mystery. All for my buyer’s purposes.” He placed his drink down.
“You, my dear, are in the thick of things, and for once, I don’t have an interest in what is happening except for Lessye. She has kept me from being able to advance any further in life. Besides, as an information broker, I cannot be of assistance to my clientele if I’m closed off as I am. In your particular case, there was a buyer who just wanted to know what will happen at the end of the story when the characters come together for the final act.”
Giselle rose from her seat in a rage and slammed her hands on the desk. Her fan was tightly gripped in her left hand as she spoke, “Who is this buyer of yours and why do they care about the ending?”
Zeke merely drank from his glass. “My clients are my business, Giselle, and that is something I will never disclose to a third party. I invited you two ladies here because I had been paid to deliver this information to you tonight. This buyer was particular about me handling certain bits out, but that was their decision. Now that my role is done, I only have this to say to you, Miss Charlotte Lionsheart.”
Charlotte swallowed the hard lump in her throat as he interlaced his fingers together on his desk and showed just how much he knew about her without actually having to move an inch from his shiny estate.
“I will not lift a single finger to help you. Unless you pay me of course, I will never refuse a new client. I will not perform any favors for you nor will I be on your side. I am merely an observer watching with a close eye on everyone’s actions. You will suffer. You will wish that you had never involved anyone in this, and you will wish you had died on that day at the cliff. That much I am sure of, but know that I will be watching and enjoying every single moment of your suffering on your voyage. Be my entertainment for the rest of your adventure. It will be an honorary story to remember.” He raised his glass to the girl sitting across from him and tipped his glass in her favor.
Giselle cursed, “This is why people hate you, asshole!”
He downed the entire glass in front of them, savoring the nickname Giselle called him.
The door to the office opened, startling Charlotte and Giselle from their stupor to reveal a butler holding a bottle of red wine known as Cabernet Sauvignon for Zeke. The man ushered the man into the room and pour him a new glass.
“Wilbur, escort these two ladies out to the first floor. They must be anxious to celebrate with their friends.” He was staring at Charlotte when he said this, causing the auburn to blanch. She completely forgot about her friends while they were discussing the past.
“To a new adventure, Miss Lionsheart.” He gestured another glass to her, and she retreated from the room.
Giselle followed closely behind her as they walked down the hallway, past the checkpoint to the hall, and stopped at the top of the stairs to the dance floor. Many of the dancers were still dancing, arms locked and tiptoeing through the gush of people billowing through. At the bottom of the stairs were two guards holding back three people from getting up the stairs.
“I don’t care who the hell is up there, but I’m not letting Zeke touch a hair on that kid!”
Charlotte and Giselle stared down at the occurring event, and Giselle waved the girl forward. “You need to escape reality for a while. Celebrate with your friends and enjoy yourself.” The older woman opened her fan and waved it in front of her face. “I, on the other hand, am tired and want to head home. I’ve had enough for one day. Come to my shop later if you wish to discuss more in detail.” She walked down the stairs where the security guards had no choice but move. It was a relief for the guards at the bottom of the stairs when the girl walked past the first set of guards to head on down the stairs. She only needed to pass this last checkpoint before making it to the first floor, which would effectively stop the three people bugging them with their accusations against their boss.
“Do you know how worried we were?”
Charlotte raised her hands up to cover her mouth and nose, realizing that while she had been through a lot, she had discovered her friends were always going to be by her. Even as Zeke’s ending speech rang in her memories, she made her way down the stairs to where everyone was waiting for her.
When she passed security, she was pulled into a tight hug by Xavier who was wearing his masquerade mask sideways on his head. Dean was standing in his formal tux that had a tail and form-fitting naval pants.
“What did that Zeke prick do? I always hated that son of a bitch,” Xavier muttered aloud while he crushed the girl in his embrace.
“I’m all right, and I’m sorry to worry you.” Charlotte squirmed under him, and Dean lightly picked up a strand of hair that had tumbled out from her bun.
“I noticed you were with Giselle. She’s a quirky shop clerk but has the best prices for ladies’ accessories. Cute hairstyle.” Dean smiled before swinging his arm around a flushed Damien’s shoulder to bring him into the circle. He was in a normal tuxedo with a bow tie and a mask in his hand. His blond hair was swept back, but it somehow still managed to look like it normally did. “You should have seen how flushed this one got when he arrived at the ship. He looked like someone had murdered his puppy in front of him.”
Damien stepped out of Dean’s grasp and looked to the side. “I was just worried . . .” he muttered before snapping back to Charlotte. “And you were supposed to meet us at the fountain! Do you know how long we searched for you?”
Charlotte sweated before raising her arms in defense. “I’m sorry, I’m willing to accept any punishment you have in mind, and I got caught up in—a lot,” Charlotte trailed off before looking at her feet. She wound up lost in the middle of a town she had no recollection of, became a hair model, attracted attention because she looked like her not-dead-but-now-long-lost mother, and found out that everything that had happened in her life had been plotted out by someone who might also happen to be paying Zeke to tell her substantial information to keep her on her journey of discovery. Finally, revealing that everyone she knew could potentially be a traitor or working for Zaine.
“Anything?” a new voice quipped from beside the four, and Charlotte turned to find herself staring into the gleaming and mischievous eyes of her best friend. “Then when tonight’s festivities are over, you’re grounded and will remain on ship until further notice. Also, you will have someone accompanying you of my choosing. Is that clear?” She gave that tone where no was not an option, but Charlotte would take that any day than not see her for another year.
“That’s appropriate.” Charlotte smiled.
Olivia stared at her friend for the longest time before breaking eye contact and turning to the table with the refreshments.
“Then that solves that. I’m going to get food then.”
The inventor put on her lacy masquerade mask where her usual goggles would have rested on her head and walked straight to the table where the food was located. Charlotte could only give a shaky laugh at her best friend’s behavior.
Dean shrugged, having known that it was the typical Olivia being herself, and dragged Xavier onto the floor with him. “Let’s go dance!” Dean said, and Xavier chuckled in response. Damien and Charlotte watched with bemused expressions as Dean tried to then lead Xavier into the waltz but stepped on the top of Xavier’s shoe.
“Since we’re here,” Damien muttered with a flush on his cheeks. He raised his left hand up in an offering for her right hand. “Would you like to dance your worries away?”
Charlotte stared into his blue eyes for a second before smiling brightly. She carefully placed her right hand into left and nodded cheerfully. “That sounds wonderful, Damien.”
The boy in response just flushed a bright red and stuck his masquerade mask on his face to cover the beet red on his cheeks. He directed her in with the flow of dancing traffic and then began a slow ballroom waltz that they then shifted into a faster version.
Throughout the dance, the two had been chuckling and laughing away the night until someone with black hair and a white mask tapped on Damien’s shoulder. He was dressed in a tuxedo and had a red tie tucked into his black button-up vest. The scorching emerald eyes seemed to be accentuated more from the white mask he wore. “Damien, the Gizmo Queen requested your immediate presence.”
Damien bit back a laugh. “It’s more like she is ordering my immediate presence for something work related. If you’ll excuse me, Charlotte, Aden.” Damien paused in his exit before handing Charlotte’s hand over to Aden, who reluctantly took her hand. “You should relax and dance too, Aden.” He smiled when he was leaving, especially with a “you two have fun!” remark right after.
Charlotte and Aden both stood awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor while the other guests were dancing around them. While one was thinking how much of a nuisance this would be, the other was thinking of what Zeke had mentioned no later than half an hour ago. They stood at an impasse before Aden finally stepped forward and took a dancing stance. “Let’s just get this over with,” he replied, and Charlotte blinked.
Grasping his left hand, she lightly placed her left arm alongside his right. He straightened up so that he had a firm frame. His right forearm and hand found the spot right at the crook of her dress and corset.
“I didn’t know you knew how to dance,” Charlotte replied, and Aden grunted.
“They teach ballroom to everyone in the academy. Andy was our instructor at the time.” He glowered at the memory, causing Charlotte to sweat a little, trying to find a decent conversation to have.
“It couldn’t have been that bad. Mr. Nielsen—”
“Can we not talk about him?” Aden interrupted with a flourish, and Charlotte immediately went silent. They danced a few steps into the routine before Aden glowered. “You could smile you know.”
This snapped Charlotte out of her reverie. “Excuse me?”
Aden who had danced her to the edge of the dancing ring had immediately increased the footwork by changing the style from regular to Vietnamese ballroom dancing, causing Charlotte to stumble a couple of times from shock. He then directed her in a couple of swooping circle formations before effectively slowing down to a ballroom waltz once again.
“You were being all giddy with Damien, and now you’re sour. Smile, damsel.”
Before she had time to retort a “what!” exclamation, he changed the style of their dance patterns again. Charlotte couldn’t keep up with him, so she tried to follow the footwork as best as possible. He had started to circle her around, and she finally broke out a laugh. “What on earth are you trying to do? Kill me while dancing?” She shook her head, and he finally slowed down to the regular ballroom waltz for the last time. He smirked before ending their dance just as the string quartet had strung their last notes in the air.
“You stepped on my feet numerous times, and you say I’m the one trying to kill you?” He gave her a smirk while she fumed under his gaze.
“I wouldn’t have stepped on your feet if you hadn’t of changed the style of dance in that short amount of time. A good lead would signal to the lady, signifying what he wanted,” Charlotte replied, and Aden took that as a challenge.
He gripped her waistline closer to him with a firm tug. “Is that a good enough signal for you?” he breathed out, and Charlotte flushed a deep red, turning her head away. She lightly pushed his chest back so he would release her from being so close, but he merely kept her there.
“I . . . Aden,” Charlotte whispered out, now wanting more than ever, longing to know who he truly was. She was unsure of everything that had happened between her that day and the past that remained a mystery behind the name Aden Summerfeld, so she began to ask the daring question that would possibly break whatever chemistry they had. “This might be weird, but about five years ago, were you ever on the—”
Before she could finish, the bells signifying midnight had come, and this made Aden snap his head up to look at the balcony of the dance hall. There was a man standing with a white tuxedo, looking down at the crowd dancing, more specifically at Aden and Charlotte standing close to each other. He merely raised his glass in their direction, and the crowd cheered as if Zeke had raised his glass to them.
“We should go,” Aden replied darkly and dropped his hold on Charlotte.
The girl merely dropped her arms and nodded. She had enough of Zeke for a lifetime.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞