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Rosalyn Gardner

The ballroom was dimly lit with golden chandeliers of burning candles. Young women stood clustered around the rims of the room chatting, eager for the music to start and the event to officially commence. The guests of this evening were dressed in excessively studded fabrics, meticulously designed to trap the gaze of any lord or lady who passed by.

Buoyant violin started to thrum, bringing life to the floor as lords and ladies were swept to dance in a sunrise of silk. Amongst the lively chords that floated through the air, a young woman stood propped against the glass balcony doors. Her crimson lips puckered with every sip of the Château d’Yquem in her hand. To everyone else this was a delightful evening. The last ball of the new season, hosted personally by the Queen herself. But the woman by the window was tapping her nails, anxiously waiting for one face. In need of fresh air and a clear mind, she left her drink on the closest table to retreat to the balcony.

“My lady.” A familiar voice sent a shiver through her skin, stopping her in her tracks. There was a certain kind of mystery in the tone of its owner, as if he claimed to no identity at all. Still, she knew without turning just who it was. From the first time she had met Romeo De Luca, he had emanated danger and power. Nothing and no one could touch him. Now as she turned to face him, he played the part of a perfect gentleman crudely well. His eyes twinkled fondly as he bowed to her, the long trains of his well-used coat sweeping across the marble floor. Through the settling dust a flash of green caught her eye. The dark material of the fabric was embroidered with the pride of his bloodline. A serpent. The symbol of poison, revenge. Something she knew all too well. One thing was clear: he wasn’t supposed to be here. But the outfit was perfectly styled to hide his sting. From far away, it looked like a pattern of green on black velvet, the choice wear of any noble.

She took his hand, her eyes meeting his, a shared moment of surmise between two young rivals. Tonight was all a charade, but she could not let the uncertainty of his actions distract her. She exhaled through her lips lightly, stepping one shimmering heel onto the dance floor. As they turned to face each other, the prince’s candle-lit eyes seemed to reflect a raw, devilish intrigue they hadn’t moments ago. With the next melody of the orchestra, Romeo’s gloved hand dropped from hers, and every light in the whole ballroom was hushed to darkness. Before she could move, his figure, lit perfectly by the moon, leaned in close, so that his breath warmed her ear.

“Let the games begin,” he said, voice barely a whisper. “You should know better than anyone what a person will do to survive, Juliet.”

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