Alexandria stood in front of her floor length mirror, making sure that everything was in place. Her long, sapphire gown suited her eyes perfectly, and made her pale skin stand out. She had chosen to leave her hair down, but curled it so that it cascaded down her shoulders and back. Earlier in the afternoon she had borrowed her mother’s sapphire earrings, necklace and bracelet set, and if she had to admit it, she thought she might actually turn a few heads at the ball.
Thankfully, the morning had been uneventful. She rose early, but found that Wallace and Conner were already up and walking the gardens at the back of the house, looking for tracks or any sign of animal disturbance. Nothing could be found. Both of her brothers agreed that she and the labs had heard something, but neither had the faintest idea what it was or what had caused it.
As they had done when she was younger, they filled her day with activity without leaving her alone for too long. They all took an invigorating horseback ride after breakfast, walked and talked about their busy lives, played cards with their father, and napped on the couches in the sitting room. And if it had not been for the near hour long nap, Alexandria doubted she would have had the energy to go the ball that evening.
“Hey, squirt, you coming?” Wallace questioned her loudly from the hallway.
She laughed and opened the door. “Well, when you put it so nicely, how can I refuse?” She took a moment to acknowledge that no matter what she wore, she would have a hard time ever coming close to how attractive her brothers were, especially when they were in a tuxedo.
“How have you managed to stay single for so long?” asked Alexandria, bewildered by Wallace’s perpetual bachelor status.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he frowned down at her.
“What?” asked Alex, looking worryingly down at her gown.
“Hell! Conner and I are gonna have to beat ‘em off with a stick tonight! And here I was planning on having a nice, boring evening, just smiling and making Mother proud,” he grumbled. They both laughed at that thought.
“The only way we’re going to make her proud, is if we all end up married this year,” chuckled Alex.
Wallace visibly shuddered. “Ugh, let’s get going. The sooner we’re there, the sooner we’re home.”
Jameason drove Alexandria’s parents in their Jaguar, ahead of the Range Rover that she and her brothers traveled in. The men were talking in the front seat about some of the latest gossip they had picked up from Jameason earlier in the evening, and Alex was letting her mind wonder in the backseat. Try as she might, she could not stop thinking about the sound that she had heard in the garden the night before.
It was threatening and imposing, as if trying to exert a feeling of imminent danger. Initially, it had rooted her to the spot, but surprisingly she broke the trance and willed herself to start moving. She was thankful that her legs had obeyed her command to move away.
The Rover pulled up in front of Lenley Hall, and a footman stepped forward to open Alexandria’s door, while her brothers climbed out. The footman stood staring at Alexandria, until Wallace walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Keys are still in the ignition,” said Wallace, in a steady but firm voice.
The footman, who looked to be Alex’s age, recovered and turned towards her brothers. He paled a bit further, looking up at the two, but remembered himself and handed Wallace the ticket he would need to recall the vehicle later in the evening. As the footman drove the Rover away, Alex narrowed her eyes at her two brothers and swatted Wallace’s arm.
“Be nice, you scared him,” she chastised.
“If he hadn’t, I would have,” said Conner.
“Damn right,” agreed Wallace.
Before she could scold them further, her parents joined them to enter together. Her father reached forward and straightened Alexandria’s wrap, then kissed her forehead.
“You look lovely, my dear. Ready to go in?” his eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her.
“As I’ll ever be, Father. We don’t have to stay too long, do we?” asked Alex, hoping this would pave the way for an early exit if she so desired one.
“Oh, no you don’t,” scolded her mother. “The three of you will find this evening a refreshing distraction. And besides, I understand Henry is back from university and I know he would love a few dances with you.”
Henry. The one young suitor that neither Wallace nor Conner would ever help scare away, because they knew that there was no chance Alexandria would agree to anything serious with him. He was one year older than Alexandria, and as the son of one her mother’s dearest friends, Lady Juliana was sure they were a match made in Heaven. Alexandria was sure that she would never last more than a day with Henry. He was sweet, but so boring that she found watching peeling paint a more interesting focus for her attention.
“Yeah, let’s go see Henry,” smirked Wallace.
She just rolled her eyes at him and turned towards the stairs that led to the estate’s entrance. Alexandria’s parents led the way, and she followed behind flanked by Wallace and Conner. As they were announced, several family friends began to come forward and greet them. Everyone seemed happy to welcome her parents, and Alexandria looked on with pride. Her parents were such good, kind people, and she was glad to see them warmly received.
When they all emerged into the main ballroom, Alexandria felt self-conscious, but hopeful that the night would move quickly and not drag by. It was a worry she need not have had, because young gentlemen were soon pressing to fill her dance card for the evening. She allowed several to secure a dance, but was successful at keeping her card from filling. Unfortunately, Henry also found her and asked for three dances, but she negotiated it down to two.
As the night wore on, so did her tired feet. She was happy to see her brothers dancing with several young ladies. It was obvious that all of them hoped to catch her brothers’ attention, but she knew that it would take more than just a pretty face to turn their heads. Wallace and Conner wanted the same thing she did: a marriage like their parents had. One built on mutual friendship, love and passion, which could see two people through a lifetime together. And until they each found someone they truly loved and respected, none of them were willing to flippantly enter into a relationship. She knew that both her brothers had dated different young ladies through their years at school and university, but none had really been ‘the one’.
After one particularly long turn around the ballroom, Alex found herself with a nice gap in her card. She made her way out onto one of the large balconies to take in a bit of fresh air. As she stepped into the clean, crisp air, she saw several couples huddled together in different places along the balcony, hoping for a moment of privacy both from the crush and probably from their parents. Such events were family affairs, but most of the young guests would rather be with their peers at clubs, Alex thought to herself.
Alexandria smiled and turned her attention towards the well lit grounds below, watching people mingle in the paths where snow had been cleared earlier in the day. Hiding behind a hedge, she mused, really did afford one privacy. The thought made her chuckle to herself, and she shook her head. She turned, leaning her back against the railing, and thankfully so, because she saw Henry inside obviously looking around hoping to spot her.
She slowly inched along the perimeter of the balcony until she came to a door leading to another room, and made a hasty exit before he saw her. She walked out of the parlor she found herself in, and entered a hall.
Alex was unsure where she should head next, but she was stopped by a young lady, working as a server for the evening, calling out her name at the end of the hall. Alex approached her, answering that she was indeed Alexandria.
“Thank you, Miss. You have a call. I was told to find you and tell you that you can take it in the office two doors down on the left.” Alex responded with her thanks and entered the office.
She had been in the room before, on a tour of the house when she was a very young girl. She remembered the heavy, antique mahogany desk with its intricate carvings of angels along each leg flanked by a wall of bookcases that went from the floor to the ceiling. She saw the phone sitting on Lord Lenley’s desk and made her way over to it. As she picked up the receiver, she heard the lock of the door click into place behind her, and cold, unadulterated panic flooded her system.
Alexandria did not dare turn around; hoping that the element of surprise could be on her side, rather than on the side of whomever had just sealed them inside the room. She pretended to answer the call, while she reached forward with her other hand to pick up the large mail opener which lay on the desk’s leather pad. Alex could feel her breathing and heart rate accelerate, but she tried desperately to sound normal when she spoke into the phone.
The phone line was dead. She knew that the longer she delayed, the closer the unknown and silent person behind her would come. Her brothers had always told her to never be taken or go down without trying to defend herself, and Alex knew she had little time and no real choice if she wanted to get away.
“Now or never,” she thought, and she twirled with the opener pointed away to protect herself.
The man had gotten closer than she realized, because when she spun he clasped a strong hand down on her right forearm and forced the opener out of her hand quickly. Though disarmed, Alexandria was not going anywhere without a fight. She brought her left hand down and scored his face with her nails, as she tried to bring her knee up to his groin at the same time. He grabbed her left arm as well, and angled his right leg to block her attack.
Using his leg, he swept her feet out from under her, and pushed forcefully against her arms as he released her, using the momentum to propel her to the floor. She fell hard against the wood planks, and felt the wind rush out of her lungs. Alex began to struggle up on her elbows when he pounced. He was astride her so quickly that she fell back and hit her head once more on the floor. Her eyes clouded with tears, but she willed herself to breathe and see. She knew she could not afford to lose consciousness now.
She got a clear look at his face then. He was beautiful in form, with wavy dark hair that touched his collar, but his eyes were devoid of any compassion, hard and unyielding. The evil she sensed within him came off in waves that felt suffocating to her. He had her legs and arms pinned, but seemed in no hurry now to do anything more. Alex began to fight again, but he pressed on her limbs and she was completely immobile, so strong was he. His eyes roamed over her face and searched her eyes.
He began to chuckle, and it was a deep, menacing sound that set her teeth on edge.
“Well, well, Arianna. Fighting like a girl! A human girl no less. I can’t believe that you would stoop to such antics,” he said in an understated and lethal tone.
Arianna? Alexandria looked desperately into her attacker’s face. She shook her head ever so slightly, praying he would realize his error.
“No, you’ve made a mistake. My name is not Arianna, it’s Alexandria. I don’t know who you are, but you’ve got the wrong person. Please, let me go,” she breathed out.
“Let you go?” he hooted incredulously. “I think not! I’ve been looking for you for a long, long time. I knew that you weren’t dead. There was no way you were defeated, much less dead. No, you’re coming with me, and you can be damn sure I will be well rewarded when I produce your pretty face to the council.”
He quickly shifted her arms above her head, pulling them painfully together and locked them in a vise-like grip with his left hand. She tried desperately then to buck him off and kick her legs, anything to remove his weight. He was so strong, that she doubled her efforts. But she was rewarded with a sound slap from his right hand, and then his hand moved to squeeze her cheeks, forcing her eyes to look at his.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but this is fun! Keep it up. We don’t have to go anywhere just yet, we could have a bit of fun,” he whispered, and lowered his face so that his lips hovered just above hers.
Bile rose up in her mouth as she realized what he was threatening to do to her, and she took in a deep breath preparing to scream to anyone within the sound of her voice. He sensed her intent and moved his hand from her cheeks to her throat and clamped down hard. He squeezed and lifted her head up long enough to slam it back down on the hardwood. He repeated this once more, and then moved in such a swift and unnatural way, that he had them both on their feet with her neck still in his hand. Alex felt him lift her slightly, and she registered that her toes were just barely touching the floor.
Alexandria was sure that he could snap her neck if he wanted to, and she knew that she did not have the physical strength to remove his hand. She also doubted now that her voice could produce a scream, and what if her brothers or someone else did hear her? She refused to let this monster hurt anyone else due to a case of mistaken identity and misplaced rage. There was only one thing that came to her mind, one word that suddenly became a litany, a prayer, a plea – “Ganymede!”
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