Dinner that evening was a lively affair. Elise had taken the girls up to their room before supper. She and another maid had spent the better part of the day making up the room for the two girls. I had left them happily playing on a large rug with some toys that Savannah had dug up out of the attic.
“Dante, you do realize that our annual Christmas Eve Ball is next week,” Savannah said as we started on our meat course.
I still hadn’t gotten use to the idea of having everything come at different times. And so much food.
“Right. Is everyone still coming?” Dante raised his glass of red wine to his mouth.
“I haven’t had any cancellations. The maids and I will start decorating tomorrow. Cook had most of the prep work on the food down.” Savannah delicately carved a piece of meat from the chicken breast.
“Can I help?” I asked. “And what is this ball for anyway?”
“It’s just a party we host every year for friends and family. And you can help by going to the sewing room and allowing Mrs. Stewart to create something sensational for you and your sisters.”
I rolled my eyes. A day spent be poked and prodded was not what I called fun. But because this was something that put a sparkle in Savannah’s eyes I nodded in agreement. Dante shoved away from the table and strode from the room.
“Dante?” Savannah called after him. He didn’t reply and she turned worried eyes to Dominique. “What’s wrong with him?”
Dominique shrugged. “I don’t know. He hasn’t been the same since we lost our positions in the government.”
I left the two of them to talk and followed Dante. I had a feeling I knew what was bothering him. He was leaning against the fireplace in his office, brooding again.
I stepped up beside him and laid a hand on his arm. “Dante, you can’t control what people think. You can only control how you act.”
“How do you know what I’m thinking? How do you always know, Crystal?” He looked at me then and I braced myself at the look in his eyes.
“Because somehow along the way I’ve realized that we are meant for each other. I don’t know if I love you, I don’t know if I can, but I do know that God made us to help each other.”
Dante sighed and sat in one of the chairs. I took the other and let him think. He finally looked up and a smile played on his face.
“You know, I think we are going to do this party thing and show the Elites that we don’t care what they think about our ways. We are going to prove to them that your people are no different than they are.”
I frowned. “And how do you propose we do that?” I didn’t like the look in his eyes.
“You and Savannah are going to share hostess duties. I want the world to see you how I see you.”
“Dante, I know nothing about hosting Christmas balls.” I shifted in my seat. I didn’t want to embarrass him or Savannah.
“But you do know how to talk to people, how to make them feel comfortable, right?”
“Sure. I mean I’ve never really had trouble making my opinions known.”
Dante nodded and stood up again. “Look, just be yourself, talk to whomever. They’ll come respect you.”
“Or hate me,” I said. “I can’t talk about outings and the latest fashions. All I know is children and surviving.”
“Talk about that. They’ll love it. They may think I’m an idiot but you will be a sensation.”
I laughed and leaned back in my chair. If he wanted that, then I would do it. “What about the girls?”
“We’ll let them come for a bit, mingle with the crowd, maybe we’ll get some more sympathizers to our cause. You know, this could be the jumping off point for us to get this world back to the way it should be.” Dante grasped my hands and pulled me to my feet. “Can you dance?”
“No, not at all. Well, I can do jigs and line dances, but not waltzes and tangos. I guess you’re going to have to teach me. If you can catch me.” I grinned at him and sauntered out of the room.
“You little minx, get back here,” Dante called.
I giggled and ran towards the stair. I could hear his heavy steps behind and with a squeal I charged up the staircase.
I may have been stronger and more fit but his legs were longer than mine. He caught me as I turned down a hall I still hadn’t had a chance to fully explore. Doors flashed by me interspersed with more paintings. Suddenly the hall ended. In front of me was a set of large whitish doors. Without pausing I burst through the doors and stopped.
The room was more gorgeous then the one I was in. Pale green covered the walls and silver and white accents were everywhere. A large round bed sat in an alcove surrounded by gauzy curtains that stirred in the breeze from my entrance. I spun around taking the room in. I traced a finger over a desk. The wood was smooth and white with silver accents. I recognized the wood now. It was birch. My grandpa had told me that to make stuff out of that type of wood took a skill master and a special chemical to keep the wood from falling apart. It was expansive to say the least.
Dante’s arms snaked around my waist and I was jerked back against his hard chest.
“Whose room is this?” I asked.
“No one’s. Well, it’s my but I’m not using it right now.”
I twisted and looked into his face. A faint pink hue spread along his jaw line and crept up towards his cheeks. “Why not? How could you not? This place it is amazing.”
Dante swallowed and laid his cheek on my head. His voice was hoarse as he spoke. “This is the room I had made up for the day I brought a wife home. But I don’t think I will ever use it.”
I spun around in his now loose arms and framed his face. “Don’t think like that, Dante. Someday some girl will realize what a prize you are.”
“Will she?” he asked. “But will it be the one I want?”
I backed away from him and circled around a pale green couch that sat in front of the marble fireplace. “Of course she will be. She’s out there somewhere waiting for you.”
“Or in this house,” Dante murmured.
I shook my head. I wasn’t going there. I didn’t want to love anyone, they always left one way or another. First my sister, then my parents, Grandpa, Quincy and Pete and their family. I didn’t want to lose someone else. It was going to be a fight just to keep Macy and Robyn.
Dante didn’t make a move towards me and for that I was grateful. He just left me there, standing by the marble fireplace in a room that made me feel like a fairy queen. Everything was so airy and earthy. I reverently left the room and shut the door behind me. I closed the dreams into the room, refusing to even think of what could be.
He was leaning against the wall waiting for me. Our playful mood had disappeared and we were silent as we walked down the hall. I didn’t know what to say anymore. I had seen it in his eyes as he took in the sight of me standing in that room. He wanted me to be the wife he brought there. My stomach tightened at the thought of sharing a bed with a man. The last time a man had taken me it had hurt and it still day. Phantom pains, the doctors called it, but I didn’t dare let another man touch me. How could it be anything but painful? Kindle had told me he only took what was his.
I shuddered and Dante touched my arm. I shook my head and looked straight ahead. If I looked at him I knew that my resolve would crumble and I would admit what my heart was begging me to reveal. But I wouldn’t, couldn’t, not with so much at stake. I had to remain who I was, free, independent. Dante wouldn’t mean to smother me, but he would.
The stairs was in view when we heard a thump and a piercing scream. We hurried to the stairs and I saw Robyn at the bottom sprawled on her back, blinking rapidly. Beside me Dante stiffened and I looked at him. He was looking at something beyond Robyn. I turned back to the hall and saw in the doorway two strangers. A confused looking Elise was taking the dark green cape from a woman with greying blond hair and perfect red lips held into a circle, like she was still screaming.
The man behind her was frowning and tapping his cane on the floor.
“Who are they?” I whispered.
I took Dante’s arm and we slowly descended the stairs. I could feel the muscles in Dante’s arm clench. Swallowing my pride I determined to be on my best behavior and be a woman Dante could be proud of. I wouldn’t let his parents find something against me. As much as I didn’t want Dante to love me that knowledge that he did warmed me somehow and I didn’t want to lose that feeling.
With my head held high I stepped onto the tiled hall floor and stared his parents in the eyes. They stared back at me. Robyn stood by my side and I pinched her arm. She rolled her eyes but didn’t say a word.
“Well, Dante, this is a surprise,” the man said. “Since when have you let hooligans run rampant through your house?”
I already didn’t like this man. He was cold, no icy. No warmth flowed from his body. I was surprised he was actually living. He should have frozen from the inside by now. His wife was no better. She stood beside Dante’s father looking at me with cold distain. I lifted my chin. I wasn’t going to let this woman make me feel less than her.
“Mother, Father,” Dante said stepping towards them, my hand clasped in his. “I’d like you to meet Miss Crystal Reynolds and her sister Robyn.”