“‘Now’?” I furrowed my brow. “What do you mean by that?”
“Elora wasn’t always the cool, collected Queen you know and fear.” There was a bitter edge to his words, and I wondered how long he’d been seeing her. Had it been while she was married to my father? Or when she was in love with Finn’s father?
“What made her change?” I asked.
“The same thing that makes everyone change: experience.” He turned his glass in his hands, admiring what little liquor he had left.
“What happened to my father?”
“You’re really digging deep, aren’t you?” Garrett cocked an eyebrow at me. “I do not have enough alcohol for this conversation.” He knocked back the rest in one swallow.
“Why? What happened?” I pressed, leaning forward in my chair.
“It was a very long time ago.” He took a deep breath, still looking down. “And Elora was devastated.”
“She really loved him, then?” I still found it weird to think that she’d ever loved anyone. She didn’t seem capable of any emotion deeper than anger.
“I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know her that well back then.” Garrett abruptly got up from his chair and walked over to the bar. “My wife was still alive, and we only had a casual acquaintance with the Queen.” He poured himself another drink, keeping his back to me. “If you want to know more about all of this, you’ll have to talk to Elora.”
“She won’t tell me anything.” I sighed and leaned back in the chair.
“Some things are better forgotten,” Garrett mused. He took a long drink, still keeping his back to me, and I realized belatedly that I’d upset him.
“Sorry.” I stood up. I didn’t know how to correct the situation, so I thought leaving might be the best way to fix it.
He shook his head. “No need to be sorry.”
“I should get back, anyway.” I edged toward the door. “Finn is probably looking for me by now.”
Garrett nodded. “Probably.” I’d almost made it out the door when he stopped me. “Princess?” He turned his head to the side, so shadows darkened his profile. “Elora’s hard on you because she’s afraid to care about you. But she’ll fight to the death for you.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
The light in the hallway felt too bright after the dimness of the den. I didn’t know what I’d said that had upset Garrett so much. Maybe bringing up memories of his dead wife. Or maybe reminding him that while Elora couldn’t openly care for him now, she had cared once, for another man.
I tried to push away the confusion Garrett had made me feel. I wasn’t sure if I could trust the things he’d said about Elora. I didn’t think he was a liar, but he’d wanted to make me feel better. Convincing me that I had a mother who actually loved me probably would help, but I had long since stopped holding out for that dream.
I found Finn in the front hall, directing several of Elora’s aides with the planning for the ball. He had his back to me, so he didn’t notice me right away. I stood there for a moment, just watching him direct and take control. He knew exactly what do with everything, and I couldn’t help but admire him for it.
“Princess.” Finn caught sight of me when he glanced over his shoulder, then he turned fully to me with a smile. An aide asked him something, and he gestured vaguely to the dining hall before walking over to me. “How did this morning go?”
I shrugged. “It could’ve been worse.”
“That doesn’t sound promising.” He raised an eyebrow. “But I suppose you’ve earned a bit of a reprieve.”
“A reprieve?” It was my turn to look skeptical.
“Yeah, I thought we’d do something fun for a while.” Finn smiled.
“Fun?” I remembered yesterday, how he’d tried to convince me his mind-numbing training had been fun. “Do you mean fun fun? Or do you mean looking at pictures for two hours fun? Or Using a Fork 101 fun?”
“Something that at least resembles actual fun,” Finn answered. “Come on.”
As Finn led me down a hall to the south wing, I realized that I’d never seen any of this before. When Garrett had teased Elora about this being a palace, he wasn’t kidding. There were so many places I had yet to see. It was astounding.
Finn gestured to a few rooms, pointing out the library, meeting halls where business was conducted, the opulent dining hall where we would hold the dinner on Saturday, and then, finally, the ballroom.
Pushing open the doors, which seemed to be two stories high, Finn led me into the grandest room I had ever seen. Massive and exquisite, the ceiling seemed to stretch on forever, thanks in part to the fact that the entire thing was skylight. Gold beams ran across it, holding up glittering diamond chandeliers. The floors were marble, the walls were off-white with gold detailing, and it looked every bit the ballroom from a Disney fairy tale.
The decorators had started bringing things in, and stacked chairs and tables now leaned against one of the walls. Tablecloths, candlesticks, and all sorts of decorations were piled around them. The only other thing in the room was a white grand piano sitting in the opposite corner. Otherwise the room was empty except for Finn and me.
I hated how taken I was with the splendor. I hated even more that the room was so magnificent and I looked like I did. My hair was in a messy bun, and my skirt felt far too plain. Finn wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines either, but his standard button-down shirt and dark wash jeans looked much more fitting.
“So what’s the fun part?” I asked, and my voice echoed off the walls.
“Dancing.” Finn’s lip twitched with a smile, and I groaned. “I’ve danced with you before, and I know that it needs some improvement.”
“The slow circles don’t cut it?” I grimaced.
“Unfortunately, no. A proper waltz should be enough, though. If you can master that, you’ll be set for the ball on Saturday.”
“Oh, no.” My stomach dropped as I realized something. “I’m going to have to dance with these people, aren’t I? Like strangers and old men and weird handsy boys?” Finn laughed at that, but I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.
“I could lie to you, but to be honest, those are probably the only people who will ask you to dance,” Finn admitted with a wry smirk.