Girl in the Woods: Jake’s Place (Serial Novel, Part 15)

Welcome to The Serial Novel: Girl in the Woods, a regular 2016 Friday feature. For those of you who haven’t been following this story please start from the beginning (Click Here.) I started on this epic adventure when I had a small baby who was up at all hours. This is by no means an edited or polished manuscript. I’m just sharing a story – an epic fairy tale full of magic, technology, romance, adventure, and a lot of sharp twists and turns. So have fun, as the story continues… 

Girl in the Woods

Girl in the Woods: Jake’s Place (Serial Novel, Part 15)

After meeting with Olivia, Alexander was ready for a drink.

“So, are you ready for adventure of a lifetime?” Tom asked as he poured a glass of wine for Alexander.

Alexander took the glass and sat. “I thought I was leaving perfect princess hell for a few months. I was looking forward to some relaxation, soul searching, and reconnection with my people. Now I find myself shackled with a knife-throwing bitch from the Crystal Mountains. I may as well be traveling with my mother.”

“I’d travel with your mother,” said Simon with a smile, knowing the comment would annoy Alexander.

“I’d marry your mother,” added Tom.

Alexander rolled his eyes at his two friends. “Spare me your witty response. You knew Justin Snowhawk couldn’t make it and was sending his foul tempered twin sister as his replacement, didn’t you?” There was silence. “Well?”

“Yes, we both knew,” said Tom

“Olivia found out less than 48 hours ago that she’d be taking Justin’s place. You aren’t the only one who was put out by last minute changes,” Simon added.

“Why didn’t…” Alexander started.

Simon interrupted, choosing his words carefully. “We chose not to tell you until now because we knew if you had heard the news at home you would have canceled the trip.”

“You needed to get out of town, away from everything,” added Tom gently.

“You need some fun,” said Simon.

Alexander scowled and took a drink. “This isn’t going to be fun gentlemen.”

“Of course it will, Relax. Make an effort to enjoy yourself,” said Simon.

“It’s obvious Olivia doesn’t want to travel with me. Send her home and come with us Simon.”

“I’ve been on the road too much this year. I need to be with my children before they forget who I am.”

Alexander was still irritated by the session with Olivia. He was in no mood to have his situation trivialized by his friends. “Did the issue ever come up about how this would look? Princess Candi and everyone else for that matter, thinks I’m off on a male only trip, not running across the country side with some woman.”

“You’re not running across the country side with some woman. You’re traveling with your staff, and the President of Universal Technologies International and her staff,” scowled Simon

“Her one staff member. Do you realize she doesn’t even have a personal maid? A woman of her stature should have some sort of personal staff.”

“She can take care of herself,” said Simon. “Stop this one sided sexist argument and relax.”

“I can’t relax. This was to be my last adventure with the guys before a formal engagement is forced upon me.”

“It’s Olivia Snowhawk you’re traveling with. She might as well be one of the guys,” said Simon.

“She isn’t one of the guys. People will assume…” started Alexander again.

“People won’t assume anything. Besides that, Olivia will be the first to protect your honor and reputation,” said Simon as he poured himself another glass of wine. “And so what if something did happen between you and Olivia? You’ve told me more than once that you don’t love Candi.”

“Love has nothing to do with my situation.” Alexander ran his hands through his hair, then put his elbows on the table, head in his hands “I’m already the royal asshole for not marrying Viola. Unless I find a suitable replacement, I may just end up marrying Candi, regardless of how I feel about her.”

Tom leaned back in his chair and smiled. “All the more reason for you to get out of The Capitol for a while.”

“With another woman,” said Alexander still annoyed.

“Forget Olivia is a woman,” said Simon. “You need to get to know the Crystal Mountain contingency of Universal Technologies International better. Universal Technologies isn’t going away. We’re the future of technology and a major force in the economy. And were growing, fast. It is in your best interest to spend all the time you can afford with Olivia.”

“She made it clear that she had no respect for me or my position.”

“She has a great deal of respect for both you and your position,” Simon added. “What has gotten into you?”

Alexander gave him a blow-by-blow account of their meeting right up to her pathetic apology for bad behavior.

“Everything either of you have ever told me about Olivia Snowhawk was completely different from the woman I met tonight.” Alexander gave a cold look to Simon “I don’t know how you put up with her Simon. How could you leave your post with the government to work for her?”

“It was a great opportunity and an excuse to get back to Greenwood, where I’m actually needed,” Simon answered without a beat.

“Universal Technologies is a foreign owned company.”

Simon took a sip of his wine and set down his glass “Alex, you forget I own 35% of the Universal Technologies International Technologies Division. I own a third of all out of country business.”

Alexander shook his head at Simon “She has you right by the balls doesn’t she?”

“See Tom, this is why I got out of government. Attitude Alex, check your attitude.”

“My attitude?” Alexander shot back at Simon.

Simon’s cold blue eyes locked on Alexander “Keep your temper and mountains of personal baggage out of this.”

He suddenly resigned himself to the fact that he would go forward with Olivia. “My temper Simon?”

“You can’t handle being around a strong woman.”

“I can handle strong women.”

“Maybe I was wrong. You should marry Princess Candi. It would suit you to have spineless brainless simpleton for a partner.”

“What does that have to do with Olivia Snowhawk or Universal Technologies?”

“You can’t handle Olivia because you have problems with any woman who challenges your preconceived notions of a woman’s role in business verses the bedroom.

“That’s bull shit and you know it. The situation with Olivia has nothing to do with my attitude towards women, which by the way, is as or more enlightened than yours.”

“I doubt that.”

“Give me a break. I overheard you growling at her about Alaric Shadowford. What the hell was that about?”

Simon seemed surprised then regained his composure. “It was nothing.”

Alexander wasn’t going to let his friend off the hook. “Is there a problem?”

“There was. I took care of it.” Simon replied sharply.

Alexander knew he had hit a nerve.“Well?”

“It has nothing to do with our current conversation.”

“Spit it out Simon. If there is a problem with Alaric I need to know. I overheard you telling Olivia that you didn’t want her to be alone with him.”

Simon hand been caught off guard. “I’m surprised your spies haven’t already filled you in on the situation.”

Alexander ignored the jab. “Why shouldn’t she meet with him alone? He’s an important member of the CMP government, not to mention my cousin.”

Simon took a deep breath and poured more wine. “Extremely distant cousin. You overheard a private conversation you had no business listening in on.”

Alexander looked at him grimly. “Alaric told me they were lovers at one point. She’s still sleeping with him isn’t she?”

Simon took a deep breath and continued knowing Alexander would prod the information out of him. “No, it is over, thank God. I will never understand what she saw in him.“ He stopped ran his finger around the rim of the glass.

Alexander’s interest peaked. “Olivia is rich, powerful, not to mention from his own sick and twisted culture. It makes sense they’d be attracted to each other.”

“It never made sense,” Simon shot back. “From their first night together the man was insanely possessive. If another man so much as talked to her he’d accuse her of sleeping around.”

“So what does that have to do with you?”

“She’s my friend and I care about her. Do you have a problem with that?”

“It’s her life.”

“It was your life when Viola cheated on you. Did you expect me to mind my own business then?”

“That was different.”

“No, it wasn’t any different. Olivia needed me and I was there for her.”

“Simon, tell Alex about the Spring Ball.” Tom added, giving his friend a little extra support. “He’ll understand.”

“Yes, Simon, tell me about the Spring Ball.”

“Last year at the Meadow Creek Spring Ball, Alaric Shadowford, the Ambassador of the Crystal Mountain Republic, very publicly accused Olivia Snowhawk, President of Universal Technologies, of sleeping with another man. She told him she wasn’t involved with the alleged other man, but he refused to believe her. Then he hit her across the face and knocked her to the ground. I saw her fall and came to her aid. He’d split her lip open and she’d cut her elbow in the fall. There was blood everywhere.”

“He hit her.”

“Of course he did. That’s what the bastard did to control her, when he wasn’t fucking with her mind.”

“I can’t believe he’d do that.”

“Believe it. That is what men in the Crystal Mountains do to their women. They beat them into submission. That is one of the main reasons Olivia doesn’t live there anymore.”

“Why’d she stay with him?”

“Who knows, but by the time the Spring Ball came around she’d had enough of him. After Alaric hit her she clawed him across the face. He grabbed her arms and told her he’d kill her if he found out she was cheating on him. I pulled her away and told him I’d kill him if he ever touched her again. Alaric called me a few choice names and made a few ugly accusations about my relationship with Olivia and my abilities in bed. I told him to screw himself and took Olivia home.

Of course, being the good friend that I am, I made the mistake of giving her a little brotherly advice on her taste in men. I thought maybe I’d talked some sense into her. Once I got her home she told me to go to hell and mind my own business. Then she slammed the door in my face. She wouldn’t talk to me for almost a week. On the bright side she took my advice and broke it off with Alaric for good.”

“I take it you were the other man.” Said Alexander leaning back in his chair trying not to smile.

“I was accused of being the other man.” Said Simon quickly defending his reputation.

“Please tell me there was no truth in it.” Alexander said, knowing Simon would never cheat on Ellie.

“Absolutely not. Alaric is a possessive domineering bastard. It could have been a public relations disaster for us if I hadn’t had the authority to keep it out of the papers. Jonathan Snowhawk was furious when he heard about it.”

“Her father knew about it?” Alexander asked.

Simon leaned back and scowled, “Jonathan eventually finds out everything that goes on with his daughter. If it’s bad I’ll get hell for it. That’s why I was so angry when she was late tonight. Olivia claimed the delay with Alaric was due to official consulate business, but I don’t trust him alone with her.”

“Are you afraid he’ll hurt her again?”

Simon answered, carefully choosing his words. “I’m afraid, he’ll somehow force her into taking him back. He wants her to be his partner, vow her soul to him forever. He doesn’t understand her. He doesn’t care about what is really important to her.”

“What is important to her? Power? Control over her men?”

“No, the same things which are important to you. Her work, her home, her friends and family. Why did you even mention control over men? Nothing could be further from the truth. It isn’t typical of her to be in such a volatile relationship. She’s usually calm and almost passive in her romantic affairs.”

“Olivia is passive? I find that hard to believe.”

“She’s extremely caring and giving. Maybe too much so.”

Alexander wondered if Simon knew how possessive he sounded when he spoke of Olivia. He wondered if there was more to their relationship. Simon gave him the cold ice blue look that said don’t ask about it again. Simon’s all too volatile temper could get out of hand. None the less it had peaked Alexander’s interest in Olivia even more.

He started in at Simon again. “So what’s with the headaches? She isn’t one of those insidious high maintenance women is she?”

Simon went from annoyed to reserved in his answer, “If anything she’s low maintenance. You’ve seen that from her lack of staff.”

Tom jumped in “The headaches are painful but not life threatening. She’s learned to manage them.”

Simon glanced at Tom as if to signal him not to say anymore. Tom ignored him and continued telling Alexander about Olivia. “Her headaches are a remnant of everything evil in her past. Olivia suffered unbelievable horrors during the war. Justin, came away more or less unscathed but Olivia wasn’t so fortunate. She paid the ultimate price, physically and emotionally, by sacrificing her childhood along with any innocence she once had. Her scars go deep and the nightmares of violence she witnessed and experienced still cling to her. To her credit she has managed to put most of it behind her and use her experience in tragedy to help others.

Simon added, “That doesn’t excuse her attitude toward you this evening, but try to understand where she came from.”

“I have to add that I’ve never had a better traveling companion. I’m looking forward to working and traveling with Olivia again,” said Tom.

Simon said nothing as he sat back stoically.

“When did you travel with her before?” Alexander asked, not even knowing how he should react to Tom’s impassioned speech.

“We’ve made the trip to Riverbend three, no, actually four times. I assumed you knew.”

“No, Tom, I didn’t know. Seems like there’s a lot I don’t know these days.” Alexander felt puzzled again about why he’d never met her. Why his friends never spoke much of her.

“Is she leaving anyone at home? A current lover or significant other? Children?” He asked knowing he might piss off Simon again.

Simon answered without emotion “There’s nobody special as far as I know.” Tom shrugged.

“She knows Graham. Anything there I should know about?”

“Please, give the woman a little credit. She doesn’t sleep with married men, much less a slime ball like Graham. Besides, you know Graham’s aversion to wizards.”

“I didn’t know she was a wizard. You’d think Dare would have said something to me about it before I left.” Alexander digested the information. Simon was married to a wizard, so the comment was not out of the ordinary. Still it wasn’t expected.

“Dare doesn’t know she is traveling with us. In fact, Dare has never met her. “

“I’m surprised. I’d expect he’d be all over her.”

“I’m sure he would be. It is a good thing they’ve never met. I hope it stays that way. The last thing she needs is an emotional cripple like Dare up her skirts.”

“Then who should she have up her skirts?”

“Don’t be crude. What is wrong with you tonight? You’re never pissy like this.”

“Forgive me for asking about your mysterious friend. I’ll find my answers from other sources.” Alexander snapped sarcastically. “No wonder she’s not married, with all of her secrets and a friend like you hovering around.”

“It’s odd that you’re so interested in her love life, considering how much you claim to detest her.”

Alexander leaned forward and looked at Simon for a second. He knew wasn’t going to let Simon get off easy. “As Crown Prince I need to know who I’m traveling with. You’re holding information Simon. Other than the fact that she’s a pushy self centered bitch, why isn’t she married?“

Simon gave Alexander a cold glare. “Alexander, take a look at yourself before you make judgments on others. Look at your own string of romantic failures. Dumped by three real princesses and now you’re being set-up in an arranged marriage with someone too stupid to know any better. I won’t even start listing the countless other women who couldn’t put up with you. Or worse, the dozen or so who got you in their beds just to say they’d slept with you, the Crown Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom. Think about it. Not too good is it?”

“Simon, that was uncalled for.” Tom scolded him.

It didn’t stop Simon from his attack “ Why the problems with Olivia? Are you finding yourself attracted to her?”

“I find her very attractive, but she’s the last woman on earth I’d be interested in.”

“You’d sleep with her tonight if she’d have you, otherwise you wouldn’t be so rattled by her.”

“So what if I did sleep with her tonight?”

“I’d loose all respect for you simply because it would be a power play on your part and nothing else.”

“Aren’t you possessive of your little friend? I have a question for you Simon. You’ve known her for years, you run a business empire with her, yet you’ve never introduced us. Why is that?”

“Logistics. You tend to visit Meadow Creek in the spring when she’s teaching at the University in Riverbend.”

“What about when she’s in The Capitol?”

“She’s busy.”

“You’d think that just once my path would have crossed hers.”

“Don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about it.”

“You hardly talk about her.”

“I talk about her a lot. But you know I don’t give out intimate details of any of my friend’s lives to anybody. Not yours. Not Tom’s. Not Olivia’s.”

“I’m not just anybody Simon.”

“I understand that but Liv is not just my business partner. I’m the closest she has to anything resembling family here. I’m not going to betray the trust of one of my dearest friends, just to satisfy your morbid curiosity.”

“Liv? Simon, she’s more that just a friend isn’t she? Is she the one you knew at the University at Riverbend?”

“Here it comes” said Tom under his breath

“Shut up Tom” Simon growled at Tom. “You know we met our first year in college, it’s no secret.”

“So there is something to Alaric’s suspicions.” Alexander said trying to taunt the information out of Simon.

“I’m surprised you never figured it out before now,” said Tom thoroughly amused now by the direction of the conversation.

“Thanks a million Tom,” Simon snapped.

“Olivia was that mysterious girlfriend you were involved with your first year of college. She was your first, wasn’t she?” Asked Alexander.

“It was almost twenty years ago.” Simon answered.

“Sleeping your way to the top Simon?” asked Alexander not letting his friend off the hook.

Simon stood up. “Don’t even suggest it.”

“Well?” Ask Alexander with a mocking smile.

Simon gave in, knowing Alexander wasn’t going to back down. “Yes, she was the one. We were only seventeen when we met, the first quarter in at the University at Riverbend. The first time I saw her, she’d come in the tea house on campus, the only free seat was in my booth. She looked out of place and lost. I invited her to join me, out of curiosity more than anything. Her accent was so strong I could hardly understand her, but when we started to talk, I mean really talk, I don’t think I’d ever been more comfortable with anyone in my life. After a few hours of deep conversation I walked her home and stayed the night.”

“That was bold of you.”

“That night I let myself break free from everything I knew about myself and my life. Over the next few weeks I learned Olivia’s life in the Crystal Mountains had been more brutal and traumatic than I could have ever imagined. Yet, she took it almost as matter of fact. No self pity, no regrets. She looked to the future, no matter how hard that was. Like me, she was a problem for her family. They sent her as far away as possible to make sure she’d stay out of trouble and out of the press.

Nobody understood me like Olivia did. She pulled me out of my self-imposed hell and brought me back to life. We learned together how to live and love without fear or regret.”

“You never spoke much about her.”

Simon took his seat again and spoke quietly now. He looked at the window avoiding Alexander’s eyes. “It was our time alone. We didn’t share it with anyone. Olivia went back to her life in the CMR. I went home with the courage to win back Ellie. We kept in touch. That’s it. When Olivia wanted to relocate the international side of the business I suggested she move to Meadow Creek. Don’t read anything else into it.”

Leaning forward Alexander said, “You and Olivia Snowhawk. Do you still think about her in that way?”

Simon shook his head in disgust. “No, of course not. I can’t believe you even asked me that, especially since everyone in the entire kingdom knows you were the first man who ever slept with my wife. A fact my mother regularly reminds me of.”

“As you recall, that was Ellie’s idea steal away my virginity on my 17th birthday, not mine,” Alexander countered.

“Don’t remind me,” said Simon.

“What about Ellie? Does she know about it?”

“Of course she knows. ” Simon glanced out the window at the storm, then back to Alexander. His expression was pained. “There’s a strong bond between Ellie and Olivia. I can’t explain it. Ellie says their souls have know each other for centuries. When she arrived here twelve years ago, Olivia rarely slept through a night without being haunted by nightmares. Ellie helped Olivia control the demons of her childhood memories and lay them to rest for once and for all. Miles helped her out with other issues from her past. Without their help Olivia might still be struggling with memories of her past life. Think of everything you read or heard about the war in the Crystal Mountains and magnify it ten times. That’s the reality of her situation.”

For a rare moment Alexander said nothing. He knew this wasn’t the time to ask any more questions about Olivia’s past with Simon.

Simon continued. “My children adore their Auntie Livy. Olivia even has a room in her house for them. They beg to have sleepovers with her. Even my parents approve of her, in fact, the actually like her and you know how Lydia and Blane are.”

Did he ever. Alexander had spent his life watching Simon struggle with his cold and distant parents. “I had no idea Olivia was close to your family. I’ve been out of touch Simon. Forgive an old friend for passing judgment.”

“Aside from your exceptional rudeness tonight, there’s nothing to forgive. We’re all on edge tonight, especially Olivia.”

“One warning Alex, don’t push her. Don’t badger her for information.”

“I don’t badger people.”

“You have an annoying habit of always asking for more.”

“You do Alex. You always ask “what else, what else, what else after the subject has been closed. You drain people.”

“I do not.”

“Yes, you do,” added Tom.

“You guys are relentless,” said Alex.

“Now you know how the rest of us feel,” said Simon.

Alexander got up to leave. It had been along day both physically and emotionally. He needed time alone.

He put his hand on Simon’s shoulder. “I can’t believe Olivia was the first woman you slept with.”

“Ellie still can’t believe you were the first guy she ever slept with.”

“You know I’ll always love Ellie in my own selfish way.”

“She knows it too.”

“Good night gentlemen.”

 

After Alexander had left Simon and Tom talked for a while longer about their families and jobs.

“So,” said Tom, “Do you think they’ll end up killing each other?”

Simon topped of both of their glasses, draining their third bottle of wine, “She’s perfect for him. I’ve always thought so.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that earlier?”

“It’s taken twelve years for me to get them together. He’ll figure it out on his own.”

 

 

Alexander was in his room at the inn alone. Being alone had been a rare commodity over the past few weeks. He thought about his encounter with Olivia and his conversation with Tom and Simon. These past few months had drained him of all reason he thought.

He sat on the bed with notes from the meeting earlier that evening. His mind was a jumble and wandered away from the pages in a hundred different directions.

“Why couldn’t my closest friends tell me what was going on?” He thought. “It would have saved me the aggravation with Olivia Snowhawk. Why was she so confrontational?”

Maybe Olivia was afraid. He knew he could have that affect on some people with his somewhat devastatingly handsome good looks. But that didn’t make sense, she was surrounded by beautiful people. Her brother was strikingly beautiful, and she spent her days in the company of Simon and Ellie, who were both know for their uncommon good looks. There was also her former lover Alaric Shadowford with his serious good looks and well-toned body. Alex knew some people felt uncomfortable with royalty, especially the eldest prince. But then again, maybe she was just a bitch.

Simon was right, Alexander did find himself attracted to her. It was her eyes that took him. She spoke with her eyes. Now, her body was custom made for him, he could almost feel his hands running over those curves, exploring every turn, peeling away the layers of soft black leather, running his hands over her full breasts… but he tried not to think about that. He had to keep his distance.

She was strange, and she made him uncomfortable. On the other hand, he could turn that thought around and say, “She is exotic, on the edge and ready for adventure.” No, Alexander, stop you brain and get to sleep. Think about Candi. Beautiful, exquisite, and available Candi. Think about the pleasures you’ll have when you return home.” The thought of Candi suddenly made him feel ill.

His mind went back to Olivia again as she explained the route with the precision of an army general. Then of how she joked with Annie and Michael. The camaraderie and friendship between the three was obvious. He saw how she was already had a history with both Tom and Jake.

Then there was Simon. He didn’t know what to think of his relationship with her. It was a side of Simon he hadn’t seen. Olivia was more than a friend to Simon. Together Simon and Olivia were a force to be reckoned with. Alexander tried to brush the idea of them as lovers out of his head but a vision of a teenage Simon with a tempestuous young Olivia had already burned in his mind. It was a long time ago. They were just kids, he told himself.

“Why haven’t I met her before?” he asked aloud, for what seemed the hundredth time that night. He’d extended invitations through Simon but she’d always been busy or ill. On at least two occasions she’d actually sent him formal notes to thank him for the invitation and express impersonal but polite regrets for not attending.

She was so excited when she told him about the ruins. Her entire demeanor changed. There was a passion and an excitement. He should have given her a chance to talk instead of worrying about what other people might think about him traveling with her.

As he undressed for the night Alexander imagined himself seducing Olivia, almost dangerously slow. He could hear her sultry voice, “Prince Alexander, you’re so handsome, so absolutely perfect” As he closed his eyes he could hear Jeff saying “You are so shallow. One day it’s going to catch up with you”.

His mind wondered back to Candi, exquisitely beautiful and perfect, protected from the world in her sheltered innocent life. She was waiting for him body and soul. She was everything a man could want he thought desperately trying to convince himself how lucky he was.

He couldn’t let himself think of Olivia or any other woman. Alexander Florien Byron, Crown Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom had never felt so uncomfortable or unsure of himself as he did at this moment. He was a charismatic leader, a prince, and a man of honor. Why was he so apprehensive about this trip? What was it about Olivia Snowhawk that unnerved him so?

He envisioned her coming to his room in the middle of the night, and then thought, “Maybe if I’m lucky she won’t cut my throat.”

 

Morning

The morning was cold and damp. A low fog hung over the valley. Sunrise was still an hour away.

There were no servants aside from a young valet. A couple of assistants. It was a minimal trip. How odd, it was such a low key, non publicized meeting. He knew things would change once they arrived in Riverbend and his entire personal staff would be at the River Conference. There would be bevies of staff at his disposal at every stop. It was almost liberating but at the same time annoying. Tom had told him to relax. Tom was born relaxed, like a great big tabby cat.

He’d brought his usual security staff. He’d wished he could have left most of them at home as well.

The press was left at home. There was no published agenda. Charles would take care of things along the way. Simon had told him that everything would be taken care of on the Universal Technologies end of things. Alexander would get approval of all press releases.

Alex came down the stairs and could see the Universal group in the large room. Olivia was dressed in black leather holding her jacket over her arm. He noticed the dagger strapped to the side of her boot. She looked like a mercenary wizard.

She and Simon stood by the fire talking, standing close. Other wise it wouldn’t have made him notice, but after last nights revelations he wondered again about his friend’s relationship with this woman. There was nothing in the way they stood or talked that would say anything other than a close friendship, but his mind still worked. Michael came over and put his arm around Olivia’s shoulder and gave a quick squeeze. He said something in her ear and she laughed. He knew that the Universal culture was more hands on than most. It was the custom of the Crystal Mountains. They were physical people, ready to hug you or hit you on a moment’s notice.

Suddenly something slammed into him knocking him against the wall. It was Annie. She caught her balance and gasped. “I’m so sorry your highness, I tripped.”

Alex took Annie’s arms under her elbows and steadied her, then taking his time he gently brushed a stray hair out of her face. Her blue eyes met his, she stammered “I’m so sorry.”

She was tall but it suited her. It made it easier for him to be right next to her face, drinking up her eyes in his, getting uncomfortably close to her lovely lips.

He smiled. Annie thought she would melt in his arms, it was the reaction he wanted. He could have easily kissed her on the stairs without skipping a beat. He was used to this reaction from younger women.

“Don’t be sorry Annie. I’ve been asking Jake to fix these stairs for years, ” he said almost tenderly, his face still close to hers.

Alexander played the game well – a fact he was proud of. Annie smiled and blushed. It wasn’t the stairs. She had caught her heel in the hem of her long coat and he knew it. He put his hand protectively in hers and helped her down the remaining stairs. He continued to make small talk with her until they reached the others.

He thought Annie was a bundle of contradictions. She was no nonsense powerful business presence in the meeting the day before. Her blue eyes could quickly turn icy cold. He pitied anyone who crossed her. She had a reputation for getting what she wanted. Logan had mentioned this more than once. Yet here she was, ready to melt in his arms and be covered in kisses. There was a silly girlish side to her that was absolutely delightful. He could have fun playing with her. Too bad she wasn’t going with them. Too bad she was dating Jeff. It was equally a shame that she wasn’t the Real Princess.

He kissed her hand before leading her into the room. She smiled and blushed. By then Tom had met the others in before the fire but Olivia had vanished.

 

They made small talk until Andrew came in to tell them the carriage and horses were ready.

“Miss Snowhawk seems to have vanished. I believe she was looking for someone.”

“Go on Andrew,” said the Prince. “I’ll retrieve the missing lady.” It was a gut reaction. He should have sent Andrew after her.

Before he left life hand been too hectic. There was too much to do before he left. Projects had gone undone or under managed. He had to hope that his staff would cover it all. Logan promised to check up on what he could. Tom said not to worry, everything was taken care of. Tom always made sure everything was taken care of. Something would go undone. It was almost a relief to be gone.

The weight of the personal aspect of his job – the business with Candi or any real princess had almost put him over the edge. He had spent late nights working and doing research. These were tasks that could have been delegated, but he took them on just to avoid the issue.

His mother had talked with him before he left. She told him “Take this time to be away and think about your life and what is important to you and your people.”

His father said nothing after the blow out the night before.

Alexander told the King, “Let me tell you what I know about real princesses. The two women I loved, really loved were real princesses and they both left me for other men. I never told you this, but the real reason I left Viola is because I caught her in bed with another man. She was making me wait for our wedding night after our engagement. And you know I’ll always love Ellie, but I let her marry Simon, because she loved him far more than she could ever love me. This real princess thing just doesn’t work for me Dad.”

 

Alexander found Olivia near Jake’s office. “It is time to go,” he barked at her, surprising himself at his tone. Damn this woman still had him angry.

“I know. Please, just give me a minute.”

“We have to go right now”.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“This early?”

Jake appeared as if form out of nowhere. “Livy my love, I’ve someone to see you” he almost sang.

As if out of thin air, a tall stunning brunette appeared in the doorway.

“Hannah, there you are!” Olivia cried throwing her arms around the other woman. Hannah shoved a package into Olivia’s hands.

“Prince Alexander” Olivia suddenly changed her mood “I’m pleased to introduce Grand Marshall Hannah Crow. She’s my partner. In fact, we’re working on a book together.”

“It is a pleasure to see you Alexander.” said Hannah giving a reverent bow of the head due a royal prince. “It has been a while.”

“At least twenty years.” He answered taking her hand and leaving it with a kiss. “Dare still worships the ground you walk on.”

Hannah smiled “Yes, he speaks well of you too, my sweet baby brother does. Only, he never mentioned how so very charming and handsome you’ve become.” She gave his a quick up and down inspection and a seductive smile.

Hannah was tall with a perfect helping of seductive curves covered in a tight green jacket and a flowing flowered skirt. Everything was in the right place on this woman. Glossy black hair cascaded down her back like water.. Her large blue eyes were framed with long dark lashes. Her full pink lips gave way to an easy smile. Her high cheekbones matched that of her brothers. She looked to be in her early to mid 30’s but she’d make any man of any age turn his head. “Now there is my fantasy traveling companion.” he thought to himself with a bit of amusement, wondering if she was available.

“Darling Livy, last night was so special,” said Hannah stroking Olivia’s hair with her hand. “I just wanted to let you know that I love you my dear and I can’t until you get to Ravenswood next month.”

“I will think of you often,” said Olivia ” Hannah I love you dearly and I will miss you” she said warmly and the two embraced again. “Excuse us, Alexander, I need some private time with my dear Hannah.”

“Good bye Prince Alexander” said Hannah with a seductive smile and what might have been a wink “I’ll see you in a few weeks at Ravens Wood. Rest assured that my Olivia will take good care of you on your journey.” Then she pulled him aside and whispered in his ear. “Dear Prince, I’m 54 years old. I’m far too ancient for you to be thinking such carnal thoughts about me.” The two women left the room arm in arm. Alex thought he heard giggles.

Alexander should have remembered Hannah could read minds. Just like her brother. He had heard over the years about the exploits of the powerful Wizard in Ravenswood, formerly a member of the Royal Guard, and now the regional Grand Marshall. Hannah Crow had an exceptional talent for solving the more horrific crimes in the kingdom. He found it hard to imagine this friendly seductive creature was in such a gruesome profession, much less Dare Crow’s sister. Like everything else over the past 24 hours she was a surprise. It would take him a long time to get thoughts of Hannah out of his mind.

Alexander pretended to look at a map on the wall then looked out the window at the oncoming storm. He thought about the two successful and attractive woman. Two women in love – obviously with each other. Obviously a couple. Suddenly he felt very stupid about drilling Simon why she wasn’t married. Jeff and Glinda were right, he was the most shallow person they had ever met. He tried to get the thought out of his mind. It had been hard enough to get use to the news that she had been involved with Simon.

He thought “Knowing Olivia is involved with someone is one less distraction I’ll have to worry about.” With his pending engagement to Princess Candi and the urgent business at hand he didn’t need the distraction. He needed to make his heart pure and faithful. He needed to make his mind and body pure and faithful as well. This was one time he wished he was more like Jeff.

At least Olivia was in a committed relationship with a partner or whatever her people called each other. She obviously wasn’t dazzled by his charm and good looks like most women, not to mention the fact that he was a prince. She was really didn’t seem to give a crap who he was. Olivia Snowhawk didn’t stammer or blush or bat her eyes. She obviously wasn’t attracted to him. He was sure this was the reason Simon had been so secretive about details on her personal life. He was trying to protect her from the social stigma of a same sex relationship.

At the same time he felt a big of jealousy when he thought of the two women. That was the sort of partnership he wanted. The way Hannah smiled at Olivia made him want to melt. He wanted someone who would love him as an equal partner, not just as a prince.

Candi made a pretty ornament but she could never be an equal partner. He felt the earring in his pocket. It was a nice fantasy, the thought of finding the mysterious enchanted woman.

Olivia returned still looking cheerful. “Forgive the interruption. I had to take care of a few things before Hannah left.” she said, shaking him from his thoughts. “Let’s find Thomas, we need to get to settled at the winery before nightfall. Heaven forbid we get stuck on the road near Allegory.

With a forced smile, Alexander opened the door for her, knowing there would be no winery tours for Miss Snowhawk that night.

He heard Simon speaking to Michael “Make sure she eats something occasionally, not just an apple here or there. Watch her drinking too. She thinks three glasses of wine makes dinner.”

“She won’t eat when she’s nervous. I’ll keep her calm. You know I’m one of the few people who knows how to take care of her,” said Michael, almost in a whisper.

 

Girl in the Woods

 

Next Week: Allegory and a major turn to the story.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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