I was increasingly becoming a fan of Tove, even if he weirded me out and I didn’t understand what he meant most of the time. He just said whatever he wanted without fear of repercussion, and I admired it.
“I see.” Elora raised an eyebrow, and the Chancellor started saying something about the wine they were drinking.
Tove managed to look bored and irritated the rest of the dinner, chewing his nails and looking at everything except me. There was something very strange and unstable about him. He belonged in this world even less than I did, but I imagined that there really wasn’t any place that he’d fit in.
Soon we moved on to the ballroom for dancing. The ballroom looked positively magical when it was all done up, and I couldn’t help but think of the brief dance I had shared with Finn a couple days before. That, of course, reminded me of the passionate kiss we had shared last night, making me feel weak and sick. I couldn’t even force a smile when I thought of Finn.
Making matters worse, it soon became clear that dancing was by far the worst experience of the evening. The receiving line had been rough, but now I was being forced to make conversation with one weird man after another while they put their hands on me.
Garrett managed to steal a dance with me, and that was a relief. I had been dancing nonstop for an hour because everyone kept cutting in. He complimented me, but not in the creepy perv way everyone else seemed to be going for.
Every now and then I would catch Elora spinning around on the floor, or Willa would sneak me a smile as she twirled around with some foxy young guy. It was unfair that she got to pick who she danced with, but I was stuck with every stranger who asked.
“You’re probably the most ravishing Princess we’ve ever had,” the Chancellor told me after he cut in for a dance.
His pudgy cheeks were red from exertion, and I wanted to suggest that he sit down and take a break, but I thought Elora would disapprove. He held me much closer than was necessary, and his hand was like a massive ham on my back, pressing me to him. I couldn’t pull away without making a scene, so I just tried to force a smile.
“I’m sure that’s not true,” I demurred. He sweated so badly, it had to be bleeding onto my dress. The beautiful silver and white fabric would be stained yellow after this.
“No, you really are.” His eyes were wide with some kind of weird pleasure, and I wished someone would hurry up and cut in. We had just started dancing, but I couldn’t take much more of this. “In fact, I’ve never seen anyone more ravishing than you.”
“Now, that, I’m certain, cannot be true.” I glanced around, hoping to spot Willa somewhere so I could try to pawn him off on her.
“I know that you’ll be expected to start courting soon, and I’d just like you to know that I have a lot of things going for me,” the Chancellor went on. “I’m very wealthy, very secure, and my bloodline is immaculate. Your mother would approve of this arrangement.”
“I haven’t made any arrangements yet . . .”
I craned my neck, knowing that if Elora saw me, she would accuse me of being rude. But I didn’t know how else to react. This blubbery man had grabbed my ass during some kind of marriage proposal. I had to get out of there.
The Chancellor lowered his voice. “I’ve been told I’m an excellent lover, as well. I’m sure that you don’t have any experience but I could definitely teach you.”
His expression grew hungry, and his eyes had dropped lower than my face. It was taking all my restraint not to push him off me, and in my head I screamed to get away from him.
“May I cut in?” Tove appeared at my side. The Chancellor looked disappointed at the sight of him, but before he could say anything, Tove had put his hand on the Chancellor’s shoulder and taken my hand, pulling me away.
“Thank you,” I breathed gratefully as we waltzed away from a very confused-looking Chancellor.
“I heard you calling for help.” Tove smiled at me. “You seem to be using your persuasion more than you think.” In my mind, I had been begging for a way out, but I hadn’t uttered an actual word.
“You heard me?” I gasped, feeling pale. “How many other people heard me?”
“Probably just me. Don’t worry. Hardly anybody can sense anything anymore,” Tove said. “The Chancellor might’ve noticed if he hadn’t been too busy staring at your chest, or if you were more skilled at it. You’ll get the hang of it.”
“I don’t really care if I get the hang of it. I just wanted to get rid of him,” I muttered. “I’m sorry if I’m wet. I’m probably covered in his sweat.”
“No, you’re fine,” Tove assured me.
We danced the appropriate width apart, so he probably couldn’t feel my dress to tell if it was soaked or not, but there was something relaxing about being with him. I didn’t have to say anything or worry about being felt up or ogled. He barely looked at me and said nothing else at all, but the silence between us felt completely comfortable.
Elora finally interrupted the festivities. The christening ceremony would be happening in twenty minutes, and she noted that I needed a break from all the dancing. The dance floor emptied and everyone took seats at the tables edging the dance floor, or milled around the refreshments table.
I knew that I should sit down while I had the chance, but I was desperate to have a moment to breathe, so I went to a corner hidden behind extra chairs and leaned against the wall.
“Who are you hiding from?” Rhys teased, finding me in the corner. Dressed in a flashy tux, he looked dashing as he sauntered over to me, grinning.
“Everyone.” I smiled at him. “You look really good.”
“Funny, I was just gonna tell you the same thing.” Rhys stood next me, putting his hands in his pockets and smiling even wider. “Although ‘good’ doesn’t even begin to do you justice. You look . . . otherworldly. Like nothing else here can even compare to you.”
“It’s the dress.” I looked down, hoping to keep my cheeks from blushing. “That Frederique is amazing.”
“The dress is nice, but trust me, you make the dress.”
Gently, he reached over and fixed a wayward curl that had fallen out of place. He let his hand linger there a minute, his eyes meeting mine, then dropped his hand.
“So, having fun yet?” Rhys asked.
“A blast.” I smirked. “What about you?”
“I can’t dance with the Princess, so I’m a little bitter,” he said with a sad smile.