by Tiffany Dominguez
2010 copyright; author retains all rights to the story. Please do not use without author's permission.
Gwendolyn brushed past the crowd at the entrance, shouldering her way into the ballroom.
The muzzle of the pistol pressed into her back. "Call him over here, sweetheart," the voice spoke, cultured and pleasant in her ear.
She stiffened and nodded. As the prince's closest acquaintance, Gwen often ran into trouble and unfortunately, it seemed tonight's ball held it's usual peril. Why had she befriended her neighbor with the spectacles instead? Then she'd be shut up, safe within the walls of a conservatory or library.
Oh, perhaps not. The smell of parchment had always bored her.
She spotted her regal playmate in a nearby alcove, whispering in Miss Johnson's ears. Dressed in a sequined red gown, she fluttered her eyelashes as if caught in a hurricane.
Gwen sighed. That vapid thing? Honestly. Once, when Miss Johnson's maid had been ill, she'd worn her corset on the outside of her gown. She'd sparked a new style; frightening and hideous.
"Christian!" Gwen hissed.
The immaculately dressed prince spotted her and waved. She beckoned him, her smile tight.
"Good." The gentleman behind her pressed the pistol deeper into her back.
Gwen clenched her teeth. "I did as you said, now leave off." She pretended to stumble forward, retrieving something from the hidden sheath on her leg.
He grabbed her arms, his excessively long fingers scratching her through the gossamer sleeves of her gown. She sucked in a breath. "So, my lord," she said, her tone derisive, "Why do you want to kill our controversial prince?"
He laughed again, his breath tickling her neck. "I don't ask questions, my lady. It's one of the reasons why I'm the best."
Gwen scratched her arm, removing another item from her sleeve. Christian finally sauntered over, raised her gloved hand and kissed it. "Lady Ross." She rolled her eyes and inclined her head back, gesturing toward her captor. Christian sighed, his good humor fading, and tugged at his cravat.
"A stroll in the gardens, I presume?" he asked of the man standing behind Gwen.
Her kidnapper must've nodded because the prince led the way through the door.
She lifted her gown and followed, her captor uncomfortably close behind, his stench making her stomach coil. "Christian, really, can I not enjoy one ball? Twirl around the floor like ... like the estimable Miss Johnson? Even silly girls get a chance. But not me! No, I have to endure this type of treatment every time I appear in public."
Christian paused in their usual spot and turned, his blue eyes twinkling. "You have poor taste in friends, I'm afraid."
The man standing behind Gwen interrupted. "Will you two kindly cork it? I believe I was threatening the lady, unless the prince comes with me."
Christian shook his head. "Not a wise move, sir."
Gwen tossed the prince one of his throwing knives and spun around, her fist knocking the kidnapper's pistol to the ground. Christian's knife had already left his hand. It landed deep in the man's chest. Gwen held her small derringer, cocked and ready, but the man had fallen to the earth, still as death.
She lifted her skirt and replaced the derringer in its sheath. "I meant what I said. I'll ... publicly renounce you so that I might enjoy a ball in peace."
Christian retrieved her blade and wiped it on the grass. He pushed her sleeve back and replaced it, his fingers lingering on her skin. "You don't mean that."
"Oh, stop flirting with me, Christian. You know that doesn't work." She brushed him off and folded her arms across her chest.
He rubbed his face and his charming expression vanished. "They'll never stop coming, Gwen. Not until he's dead. We're lucky that king sends such incompetent men." He glanced down at the very dead attempted kidnapper.
Gwen sighed. "And you're fortunate I'm trained to fight like a man. Why don't you dress me like one and include me in your bodyguard?"
He grabbed her hand and twirled her. "Because then I would miss seeing you look like the vision you do tonight, my dear."
She pulled away and cuffed him. "Stop treating me like Miss Johnson or your other ladies." She rubbed her arms, ridiculously hurt.
Christian's finger lifted her chin. "You know that's a part I must play." He led her over to the bench. "Sit."
She obeyed, the silk gown providing only a thin layer of protection against the cold stone. "What is it, Christian?" she asked curtly. "I'd like to try and dance once or twice this evening."
He knelt in front of her. "Lady Ross, Gwendolyn. I'm going to, that is, I want to make it up to you. All the daily peril and so forth, but perhaps this isn't the right solution." The corners of his mouth twisted into a hesitant smile. "I've been in love with you ever since you defended me in the park with that splendid knock-out punch."
Gwen's jaw dropped in a very un-ladylike gesture. "Pardon me?"
The unfairly handsome prince stood, pulling her up with him. He brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "Don't pull out any of your knives." Then he leaned forward.
She soon forgot all about the ball.