Icurled up on the couch in front of the roaring fire. Truscott lay on the bearskin rug, snoring lightly. The book in my hand was growing heavy and I let it drop to my chest. Through half lidded eyes I watched the flames dance up the chimney. It was warm in the house, warmer than I was used to. The cook, Martha, had made a huge supper and it lay heavy in my stomach.
I closed my eyes and sighed. I snuggled down lower into the pillows and let the book slip to the floor. Truscott rolled over with a grunt. Turning onto my side I opened my eyes and reached out to scratch Truscott’s head. He cracked opened one eye and wagged his tail.
“Oh, Truscott, we have got to get out of here. This place is making us soft.”
“You could never go soft, Crystal.”
Dante came around the couch and knelt on the floor in front of me. I pushed myself back against the couch, but he reached out a hand to stop me.
I stopped and watched him. What did he want? Dante reached out and stroked my cheek. I froze, his fingers warm on my skin.
“Dante,” I whispered.
He pressed a finger to my lips. “Ssh. Don’t say anything.”
I sat half way up and shoved my hair out of my face. Dante got up and sat beside me.
“You’re beautiful, Crystal.”
I shivered at his words. The way he said my name made it sound like a precious metal. His fingers stroked my cheeks again and I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch. I wanted this, someone to love. I missed everyone at home. Here no one seemed to truly love me, maybe Dante would.
He leaned in towards me and I felt his lips touch mine. I pulled back in surprise and he moved even closer.
“Crystal, it’s okay.” He took my chin in his fingers and pulled my face towards his. “Just let it happen.”
I bit my bottom lip and nodded. Dante leaned in and kissed me. A strange tingle went up my back. I wanted it to feel wrong, not good. I couldn’t let it be a good thing. It would never work. I wasn’t Cinderella or Juliet. I was a poor girl from the East slums, with no prospect. Okay, so Cinderella had no prospect either. But it just wouldn’t work between us, we were too different.
I pushed him back and swung my legs the floor. “Dante, this is never going to work. You can’t let yourself think it will.”
“Crystal,” Dante said, turning me to face him. “This could work. It could be the start of something good.”
“What do you mean?” Truscott had come to lean against my legs and I stroked his head.
“If we get together, we could show the world that we are one and the same.” Dante stroked my hand. “Please, let’s try.”
“Dante, I can’t just go with you to prove that we come from the same stock. That’s not what I want.” I pulled my hand from his and wrapped my arms around myself. “I can’t let this happen.”
“Why not?” Dante stood up and paced before me. “Why not?”
“Because if you knew everything about me you would hate me. Just leave it alone, Dante. Please.”
“No, I won’t. This will be perfect,” Dante said coming to me and taking my hands. “Let’s just try it.”
He leaned in and kissed me again. I tried to pull back but I found my hands twining into his shirt, pulling him closer to me. Truscott bumped my leg and I shoved him out of the way.
Someone coughed from the doorway and I shoved Dante so hard he fell back onto the couch. Dominique leaned against the doorframe, one leg crossed over the other, arms crossed over his chest. He straightened as I walked towards him.
“Don’t say anything.You talk some sense into him.”
Dominique saluted and patted my shoulder as I went by.
“So what did you do?” I heard him ask Dante.
“I kissed her.”
Dominique laughed. I ran up the stairs. It was really, really time to leave. I would go tonight.