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Chapter 2: AN

Chapter 2: AN

A Chapter by AGirlAuthor

Anastasia Bentley stared into the mirror.
"I wish I was fifteen." Lily sighed. Her younger sister's eyes were wide with awe.
An tilted her head, studying herself. Being the daughter of a Court official, she always had to dress to impress. However, tonight was different: it was her fifteenth birthday. Spinsters from the Plaza had worked especially hard to make this dress more eye-catching rather than elegant.
She would only wear the dress once. The tradition had come from an old-world custom.
"Eight more years, Lil," An whispered to the child, still eyeing the dress. She couldn't believe the girl staring back at her was herself.
How had the years passed so quickly?
What would this day bring her?
An turned away when she heard their father calling from the floor below. She stood up straighter, bunching up the pooling red silk in her fists so she wouldn't trip down the stairs. Sixteen steps, she knew without having to think about it. She had counted many times. Lily was close behind.
Sir Bentley looked very much like his daughters, with a high forehead and a thin nose and light hair. The only thing An had acquired from her mother were her eyes: a bright shade of green she hadn't seen on anyone else. An wished her mother could be there to see this, but she'd died years ago.
"Anastasia," her father greeted, "you look lovely."
She nodded in response, but she wasn't really listening. A ball of nervousness had spawned in her belly. Roses decorated the long hall, and she had a feeling it had taken a very long time to decorate.
The three made their way to the dining hall. Lily, who had been chattering in excitement, fell silent.
More flowers were strung around the room, and sweet scented candles sat on the table. It was set for four.
Who would be the guest?
An tried to tamp down her fear. Father would not allow it to be anyone but a great government son. Even if it were legal for the upper class to marry lower, Sir Bentley never strode for anything but the best for his daughters.
So why was An so frightened anyway? This day came for everyone wealthy. She had been anticipating her wedding for years, and An had even been excited. But now that it was actually happening, that there was a chance she wouldn't be happy, that excitement had vanished.
"What is taking that blasted cook so long?" Her father muttered. He jerked his chin at Lily. "Check on it, dear."
Before Lily could scamper off, An piped up, "I will, Father." Anything to get out of that room. Despite it's size, she still felt claustrophobic.
Another reason why she had volunteered to check on dinner was because she was the only Bentley who had made an effort to get to know their servant.
With a curt nod, he sent her on her way.
Her footfalls, though light, echoed off the neverending ceiling. Once she passed all the decorations, meant for her, and got deeper into the house, she started to relax.
An found their servant, Maisie, leaning over a pot on the stove. Whatever she was cooking for the big night smelled delicious.
"Hello," An said quietly, not wanting to startle the woman.
Even her kind-hearted sister didn't know Maisie's name. How could Lily not think to ask when the woman did so much for them? An didn't even know how to cook.
"Soup's almost done," Maisie said, stirring whatever was in the pot. "Why don't ya make yerself useful?"
An did know, however, that she was the only person the servant could get away with speaking like that to.
Nodding, An went around the island to the row of cabinets, picking up labeled jars as she went. Basil. Cinnamon. Coriander. She arranged the spices that had been left out alphabetically.
An did this to save Maisie time: she had once seen the woman popping open the lids one by one to smell them. She couldn't read the labels; the one time An had tried to teach her, the woman shook her head insistently and said, "Readin's for ya folks."
Several minutes later, Maisie was ladeling the soup into their best china. An walked alongside her as Maisie carried the bowls on a wobbling tray. When she asked if she could help, the woman took one look at her dress and told her no.
An sighed, stroking the silky material that fell from her shoulders to the floor. She planned on giving it to Maisie; she wouldn't wear it, either, but at least she could sell it and maybe get some money.
The doorbell rang, and Maisie quickly set the bowls in their places and shuffled out.
Deep voices reverberated from the front door back to the hall; Father must have answered the door. Lily was squirming in excitement, no doubt expecting a prince like from the fair tales An read to her at night.
An strained to hear, and to her surprise, she recognized the guest's voice. Shivers went down her spine and her cheeks warmed.
Dominic Cartwright swept into the dining room, trailed by Father, and smiled at An, his eyes taking in her dress. "Good greetings."
An gulped, and Lily nudged her. Try as she might, she couldn't find the air to speak. It felt like she was suffocating.
At the very least, Dom had cleaned up well, wearing a shiny new suit with his dark hair slicked back. It looked good on him, but everything did. Her childhood friend was as charming as ever, except now, she didn't feel like laughing at the flowers with him or flashing him a knowing smile.
Because she was just that, a friend.
An stiffened when Dom strode over and planted a kiss on her cheek. Resisting the urge to wipe her face, she tucked her hands behind her and smiled. It felt more like a grimace.
No longer was Dom just the neighbor boy who used to come over and play Knights and Dragons with her when they were ten. He was a patrol's son, stealing Cinderella.
An frowned at the thought. Not many people still told that story; they found it disturbing a chamber maid wed a prince.
As everyone took their seats, An's pulse quickened. She'd expected to be betrothed to a stranger, or at least someone she barely knew. It would be a neutral affair; she didn't believe in love, anyway. Marriage was just to increase one's power.
What she hadn't expected was Dom.
How long had their parents been planning their engagement? The young man, smiling into his glass of wine across from her, seemed as if he'd known how things would turn out for a long time. He looked like he'd won a prize.
Dinner was a forced event. Dom was polite, of course, and utterly handsome, but An couldn't help but wonder if she should be feeling something more. When she stared across the table, she didn't see the person she'd spend the rest of her long life with.
She just saw Dom, the boy she'd spent many evenings pondering life with, and many mornings with at school. The one person she didn't have to impress. But she also saw the boy who yelled when he was angry.
An watched him joking with Lily and talking to her father easily, like they were already a family. They had always been a family.
An wondered how long it would take for her to feel something, that spark her mother used to talk about.
Stop, she chided herself. Marriage isn't about the romance. It's about two powerful, potential leaders coming together to raise more powerful people.
But when, at the end of the meal, Dom sobered and produced the scroll, An almost knocked her untouched glass over.
She knew what the scroll said. High class children learned about this ritual from a young age; her father only had to say the words aloud and An would be Dom's property.
An didn't think her mother was so nervous at her wedding. Before she'd died, she used to tell her and Lily about her special night, her green eyes bright. An had never seen someone's smile so huge.
Dom extended his hand, and Father reached for the papers.
A burst of energy shot through her, and An stood abruptly. Silverware clattered to the ground, and Father looked up, pen paused on the parchment.
"Stop!"
Dom choked on his wine, and took a moment to get his bearings. He rose from his own chair, smiling slightly. "What was that, my dear?"
An remembered racing him down the streets to the ice cream parlor. He'd always stepped in front of her to open the door, and on the way out, he'd offer her his jacket.
She also remembered his temper.
These plans had been in the making for fifteen years: the way Dom conducted himself at the table with her father, as if it weren't the first time they'd drank over a contract, said it all. But the plans had been made without her. No one had asked An how she felt.
"I said stop." An gritted her teeth to keep from screaming.
Father's face turned beet red. "Anastasia Bentley-"
Dom raised his hand, still staring at An. "Nonsense." He interrupted before her father could scold her. Or worse. "Our dear An must be very tired. It's quite all right, Sir Bentley."
The two men watched each other for several tense moments. An's heart pounded like thunder in her ears.
Father sighed through his nose and nodded, signing his name with a flourish on the scroll. He handed it off to Dom, saying, "My daughter is yours now. Do take care of her."
An felt tears prick at her eyes, but held them back. She had made enough of an embarrassment of herself tonight, and protesting would change nothing. After filing the papers at Court, she would begin living with her husband.
Husband. The word just didn't connect with Dom.
On his way out, Dom paused and looked down at An before kissing her hand. She resisted the urge to push him away.
"My apologies, my dear," Dominic Cartwright whispered to An. "But do be happy for us."
Why did that sound like a warning?




© 2016 AGirlAuthor


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Added on April 6, 2016
Last Updated on April 6, 2016


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AGirlAuthor
AGirlAuthor

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