Ascend / Page 15

Page 15


I’m not sure how they did it in such a short time, but the ballroom looked amazing. If I’d been the kind of girl to imagine a fairy tale wedding, this is exactly how I would’ve pictured it. The chandeliers that were lit during the ceremony had been shut off, so the room twinkled with fairy lights strung everywhere. Candles glowed on the tables. The whole room smelled of lilies from all the flowers.

While everyone watched, Tove and I danced our first dance to “At Last” by Etta James. I’d let him choose it, and he was an Etta James fan. We did dance well together, thanks to the countless lessons Willa made us go through to be sure we were perfect, but we didn’t twirl around the room like it was magic.

When the dance finished, the orchestra resumed, playing something by Bach. I would’ve been happy to spend the night dancing with Tove, but as soon as the song ended, everyone gathered on the floor. I would have to dance with anyone who asked.

Garrett stole the first dance with me, and Aurora danced with Tove. My own mother probably wouldn’t dance with him, but she was still here for the reception. I imagined she would stay all night, no matter how weak or tired she got. After that comment Oren had made, she had to prove that she still had it, even if she didn’t really.

Willa cut in to dance with me once, which was nice. She made me laugh, and that felt really good. I carried all my tension in my shoulders, and by the end of the night, I knew they would ache like mad.

I caught sight of Matt, Rhys, Rhiannon, and Duncan sitting at a table in the back when a Markis was spinning me about. I wanted to escape from the dance to spend a few moments with them, but if I stopped dancing, it only meant I’d have to go table to table and talk to people. That was the only thing I could think of that would be worse than dancing.

I was annoyed and surprised to find out how many people used this opportunity to talk to me about some bill they wanted to pass, what family they wanted their child placed with, or to complain about taxes. Even though everything in my life had become politically motivated, it would’ve been nice to have a few dances where I could pretend that it wasn’t.

The Chancellor cut in to dance with me, naturally, and I did my best to stay at arm’s length, but he kept trying to press me to him. It was hard to stay away from his sweaty torso anyway, because his belly was so rotund. His massive hand would probably leave a sweat stain on my back from trying to hold me to him.

“You look very, very lovely tonight, Princess,” the Chancellor said, and I hated the hungry way he looked at me. It made my skin crawl.

“Thank you.” I smiled only because I had to, and it was hard to do.

“I do wish you would’ve taken me up on my offer, though.” He licked his lips, which were already damp with perspiration. “Remember? The last time we danced together, I suggested that you and I –”

“Excuse me,” Tove said, appearing at my side. “I’d like to dance with my wife, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, of course.” The Chancellor bowed and stepped away, but he didn’t bother to mask the irritation on his blubbery face.

“Thank you,” I said as Tove took my hand in his.

“Do not dance with him anymore,” Tove said, sounding exasperated. “I beg of you. Stay as far away from him as you can.”

“With pleasure,” I said and gave him an odd look. “Why?”

“That man is insufferable.” He grimaced and glanced back at the Chancellor, who was already shoving another piece of wedding cake in his mouth. “He has the most perverse, vile thoughts I’ve ever heard. And he gets so much louder when he’s close to you. The disgusting things he would do to you…” Tove actually shivered at that.

“What?” I asked. “How do you know? I thought you couldn’t read thoughts?”

“I can’t,” Tove said. “I can only hear when people are projecting, and he projects when he’s excited apparently. What makes it worse is that I spent all day moving things so my abilities would be weak. I can barely hear anything. But I hear him loud and clear.”

“He’s that bad?” I asked, feeling grossed out that I had let the Chancellor touch me.

“He’s horrible,” Tove nodded. “As soon as we get a chance, we have got to get him out of office. Out of Förening if possible. I don’t want him anywhere near our people.”

“Yes, definitely,” I agreed. “I’ve already been working on a plan to get rid of him.”

“Good,” Tove said, then smiled at me. “We’re already working together.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, and I looked around to see what all the fuss was about. Then I saw him, walking through the tables as if everybody wasn’t stopping to stare at him.

Loki had ventured down from where he’d been hiding in the servants’ quarters. Since granting him amnesty, he was no longer being guarded and was free to roam as he pleased, but I hadn’t exactly invited him to the wedding.

As Tove and I danced, I didn’t take my eyes off Loki. He walked around the dance floor toward the refreshments, but he kept watching me, reminding me of an animal stalking its prey. He got a glass of champagne from the table, and even when he drank it his eyes never left me.

Another Markis came over and cut in to dance with me, but I barely noticed when I switched partners from Tove. I tried to focus on the person I was dancing with. But there was something about the way Loki looked at me, and I couldn’t shake it.

The song had switched to something contemporary. That was probably the sheet music that Willa had slipped the orchestra. She’d insisted the whole thing would be far too dull if they only played classical.

The murmur died down, and people returned to their dancing and talking. Loki took another swig of his champagne, then set the glass down and walked across the dance floor. Everyone parted around him, but I’m not sure if it was out of fear or respect.

He wore all black, even his shirt. I’m not sure where he got the clothes from, but he did look debonair.

“May I have this dance?” Loki asked my dance partner, but his eyes were on me.

“Um, I don’t know if you should,” the Markis fumbled, but I was already moving away from him.

“No, it’s alright,” I said.

Uncertainly, the Markis stepped back, and Loki took my hand. When he placed his hand on my back, a shiver ran up my spine, but I tried to hide it and put my hand on his shoulder.

“You know, you weren’t invited to this,” I told him, but he merely smirked as we danced.


Prev Next