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“It was a long and tiring day,” Luke admitted stifling a yawn. He turned his body at an angle enough to touch the device and make it lie on its smooth glass backside. If Tobias was still watching, he would have a very beautiful view of the v-shaped constellation of Andromeda. The royal guard may not be physically present, but it still irritated Luke that his cousin found a way to preserve modesty while still spending time with Rhiane in the spa. “Thank you for your loyalty and dedication, Tobias. Lia and Octavia are stationed nearby should anything happen while Rhiane and me are here. You may take the night off. Nolan already did.”

If it had been another royal guard, it would have been easy to rotate assignments and replace him. Tobias was selected for his affiliation with the crown and its crown prince. The two boys were near inseparable when they were kids that the queen had hoped Tobias had cultivated loyalty to her son. And if Tobias was loyal to Luke, then the royal guard was bound to be loyal to Luke’s future queen. In the world of prestigious titles and power, loyalty was everything. Good for Tobias, because there was no question about his loyalty, it was his intentions that Luke was not happy with. Rhiane would be his queen. She was his fiancee, and one day she would be the mother of his children. He might have told her that he wanted to live separate lives, but honestly the prince did not want anybody remotely touching what was his.

Then, he caught wind of the conversation between the ladies. The word “ring” slipped from his finacee’s lips and suddenly he knew what they were talking about, what Rhiane and Tobias were talking about. Carefully, his eyes left the night sky and slowly descended into the moonlight reflecting on the smooth skin of her shoulder and back. It glistened with the droplets clinging to her skin. He remembered holding her in his arms while she fought against the nightmares that visited her at night, thought about the look on her face that morning when he kissed her. If she was not a farmer and he was not a prince, would he kiss her again? He looked away as Callie’s high-pitched question betrayed the supposedly confidentiality of the conversation.

“Your engagement ring?” There was an engagement ring. Callista remembered touching it, fitting it on her finger, imagining that magical moment when her prince would kneel on one knee and with hopeful eyes finally ask the question that ladies long to hear. There was an engagement ring designed for whoever was selected to be the crown prince’s bride. “What are you talking about? It is important, so very important that without it, the engagement doesn’t feel real. I will not say yes to a proposal without a ring.” She raised her slender hand in front of her face.

If the royal tradition would be followed, the ring should have been fitted on the princess elect’s finger during the night of the engagement ball. Yet the whole kingdom was aware that the ball was cut short after the unfortunate accident of the future bride and the urgent departure of her future groom.

Frowning at her own ringless fingers, the princess kept her lips pursed. If she hadn’t known any better, she could have told Rhiane that her ring was with Luke, but even she was unsure that her brother would hold on to something that symbolizes everything stood against. The most plausible answer was that the crown prince intentionally lost the piece of jewelry as his final and most resounding statement against the breeding ritual. Callie dropped the subject after that, redirecting the conversation to the retelling of the experiences that Rhiane collected during the time away from the capital. Same as her older brother, the princess lacked the freedom to roam the kingdom freely. She was curious about what she would find. Luke too. But the princess thought her brother had more pride than what was healthy therefore his enthusiasm would not show.

The same enthusiasm was held back, tightly leashed, and sealed away at the farthest recess of his brain. After the threat named Tobias Lavanchy was neutralized, he found a man-made stone bench where the water reached up to his chest when he sat. His broken ribs were healing well that he had foregone wearing the silicone brace. Again, he stole a glance at Rhiane, wondering if her injury had been kind to her as well.

After a few more minutes of being alone in his thoughts, he heard the women say their goodbyes and promises to talk to each other again. Luke lifted his head from the smooth rock that cradled it to raise a brow at his fiancee across the pool. Awkward silence blanketed the area. Now that there was only the two of them, what do they do?

“I lost the ring,” he finally admitted in a matter-of-fact way. Silence was worse than their squabbles. Besides, they were already mad at each other, what else could he loose after he admitted that he lost the engagement ring. “If you want one, show Luce a photo of the ring and she will buy it for you. I already asked Tobias to rest for tonight. He’s been working really hard lately.” So, it was just him and her, was what he wanted to say. He would stay with her and keep her awake, so she doesn’t hurt herself, were the words forming at the tip of his tongue, yet he did not have the courage to say. Luke shrugged. “Men are not that thoughtful,” he added, more to himself than to her.
If the presence of the female guards was not enough clue to guess that the princess elect might have let go of several hours of sleep in favor of the warm pools, the voices drifting from the natural spring convinced Luke that he was in the right place no matter how bad the timing. The light, melodious sound of her laughter fluttered in the air as if carried by the streams of smoke casually escaping the surface of the water. It made Luke pause with one hand against the smoked glass of the sliding door. Either the farmer had finally snapped or she was sharing the night with someone else. No, she was enjoying the night with someone other than him. It was treason.

It could have been treason, except that living their own separate lives was his idea. He had drawn the line the first night that they met when he told her to stay out of his business and she agreed provided that he would do the same for her. Who she wished to spend the time he stole from their tight schedule with was up to her, as much as it was up to him if he wanted to warm his bed with pretty noblemen’s daughters. Or perhaps a warm shower and a fine bottle of wine would help take the edges off before he returned to his temporary office to dive back into the intricacies of politics and economics.

The prince sealed the crack between the sliding doors, determined to tend to the kingdom’s demands, when an insistent beeping resounded from one of the benches. His shirt and pants lay discarded on the bench, burying the communication device which was curled on itself. The outline pulsed a soft golden light. Luke picked it up, flattened the display, then picked up the call from his younger sister.

“Hello, Luke,” greeted a very cheery Callista. “Hey! Turn the camera back on. You look exceptionally handsome under the dim yellowish lighting. And besides, I miss my big brother.” She was whining and pouting the way she had always done since she was a kid. Despite the image of a polished lady that the media projected her to be, there was a certain childlikeness that the public was not allowed to see.

“No. I’m about to take my robe off.”

The princess made a sound between disgust and dismay, but she did let go of the topic. Luke sat on the bench, watching his sister from the softly glowing screen. “I need to talk to Rhiane. She got me this.” The camera’s vision was filled with the basket and the multitude of products that Rhiane must have bought form the locals that morning after their argument. The princess happily showed the items one after the other, telling his brother how thoughtful her soon to be sister-in-law was and how lucky he was to have been engaged to Rhiane. If only she knew the kind of torture of having Rhiane in his life.

He wished he could tell his sister about it – about how his mind was in conflict with itself, how his nature was rebelling against his logic, and how much he would give to be the one she would choose to laugh with under the stars even when her stubbornness frustrates the hell out of him. But he just snorted, as if none of what she said was true. “Bribery is a crime, Callie. Do not trade your soul for a bag of goodies.”

The princess rolled her eyes dramatically. “Please let me just talk to her.”

Luke’s initial thought was to say no, then reason that he was busy with the paper that Callie had asked him to look at, if only to guilt her into taking back her request. But there was something to gain in indulging the princess. “A minute,” he said with a dramatic sigh.
Long strides brought him quickly back to the sliding doors. He pressed a panel-like switch that automatically slid the door open. The cold autumn breeze from the mountain caressed his cheek and the exposed skin of his hands and feet. Just by the dramatic drop in temperature between the waiting room and the outdoor, he wanted to run and take refuge in the hot water of the spring. Yet, poise held him in place and prevented him from acting like a panicked little boy. One foot ahead of the other, he crossed the short threshold as his bare feet were greeted by the smooth pebbles surrounding the pool. His robe was tossed carelessly to the side before he allowed himself to dip into the warm water, allowed his tensed muscles to relax.

She was talking about a ring, but what surprised him more was that she was alone. Well, technically. He recognized the device sitting not far from Rhiane as a surveillance camera. Tobias asked something about Rhiane’s ring, and the latter asked to be promised about a proposal.

“Rhiane,” her name rang in the night sky before Tobias could respond. It was half an accusation and half a plea. He waded through the water and the steam to her corner of the pool and then handed over the comms device. His back was purposefully placed between her and the camera’s lens. “Callie wants to talk to you.”

“I just want to thank her,” Callie’s voice excitedly spilled out of the receiver even though it was not on speaker mode. She raved about how she was touched by the gesture even though they had not yet spent time together as sisters, that Luke was always around her so they could not talk girl-to-girl. Because she grew up with three brothers and a mother who barely had time for her children, a sister was what she had always wished to have. Now that Rhiane was almost part of their family, the princess was more than thrilled.

Luke listened to the conversation with a bored expression. Casually, he leaned against the edge of the pool, arms crossed about his chest, enough so that the device was smothered with the image of his glorious back.
A little over twenty-four hours after he attended to a global matter together with leaders of different nations, Luke was sitting behind the lens of the conference call again, cascading the agreements and promises of proposals to be reviewed to the heads of ministries and/or their representatives. His uncle, the appointed head of the Ministry of Defense, was in attendance, and as usual critical with how his nephew managed the situation. The next steps had to be examined thoroughly as it posed a threat of diplomatic measures. Whether he liked it or not, the final decision rested on his shoulders as external relations had been under his jurisdiction. And because of the urgency of the matter, Luke had been on the phone with his staff since after the engine of the SUV roared into life. He had almost forgotten about the woman sitting beside him, or the argument they had, if not for the sudden weight of her head against his shoulder. Luke had cupped her cheek gently, careful not to wake her – not that he thought he could – encouraging her to use him as her makeshift pillow.

Afterwards, after the vehicle was safely parked inside the hot spring resort, he had to leave the sleeping princess elect in order to face the responsibilities which he would not turn his back on. It did not matter then that his cousin and Rhiane’s bodyguard, Tobias Lavanchy, was left to look after her. Did Tobias carry her sleeping form like a princess in his arms? If she woke up surrounded by the royal guard, would she like enjoy his warmth more than Luke’s? Finally, would she finally realize how Tobias deserved her more than the fiance she was forced to endure for as long as she lived?

“Your highness?” asked a gentleman with round, gold-rimmed glasses. He looked about in his early forties, but Luke knew better than judge his people’s age based on their appearance. The lord leaned closer to the camera, making his image on the virtual meeting room appear to be at an odd angle. “The line might not be --”

“No, I heard you.” Luke cleared his throat. Mentally, he berated himself for drifting off and dwelling on thoughts and memories which were not supposed to be present. “I expect the analysis on the budget first thing tomorrow morning. You have the format, yes? Send a copy to the Minister of Finance as well. We will make a decision before the week ends.”

Tendrils of steam reaching up to the dark sky speckled with blinking stars waited for him outside the conference call. But he did not arrange the short detour for himself. Half of his mind listened to his constituents, while the other half wondered if Rhiane woke up enough to realize that she should be taking advantage of the limited time they had at a resort. If not for the commitments he made, Luke wouldn’t be caught inside the room. After everything that they had been through the last few days, a few hours away from the cameras’ judgmental lenses, a few hours to relax and enjoy the mountains, was not too much to ask. Such were the thoughts floating in his head when suddenly an idea occurred. Tobias.

A lord cleared his throat, a thick elegant brow arched in question as he cut himself in mid-sentence. “You were about to say something, your highness?”

Luke was aware of the virtual sets of eyes focused on him, waiting for anything, something. The most expectant of which was his uncle’s meaningful stare. Without Luke consciously knowing, he had opened his mouth as if to say something, his posture a little stiffer and his eyes widened in what appeared to be a sudden realization. Of course, it had nothing to do with the present topic, but everybody knew of the heir’s quick mind and temper therefore pausing mid-sentence to give way to what it seemed was either an objection or concession from the next king. “Carry on,” was all he said. No explanations, none was expected.

As soon as he did, a message box popped up on the screen. “What are you doing?” Luke barely glanced at it and the name of his uncle perfectly spelled out in solid blue letters. The lord was one of his greatest critics. One of the piranhas who circled around Luke, waiting for him to slip and make a fool of himself. The lord was too close to the succession for Luke’s comfort, but there was little he could do to change the law his ancestors penned. As long as Luke was holding the position, Callista was safe from the machinations of the power struggle within the House.

The message was ignored. The prince struggled to mentally stay into the meeting, but his mind rebelled here and there. His thoughts drifted to Rhiane, to the afternoon’s engagement. He was a silent observer, more than just a little annoyed at her pig-headedness but at the same time grateful that she did all the work. And now that he was tied to his commitments to the nation, while she was alone with his cousin, Tobias. She could be enjoying a dip in the hot springs and he could be… Luke asked – ordered – Tobias to keep his eyes on the farmer at all times.

He was on his feet as soon as the meeting was concluded. Under normal circumstances, he would wait for the minutes and comment on anything that was missed or wrongly covered, but that night he had a shorter than usual patience. With Nolan on his heels, he left the room and asked to be led to the outdoor pool. There was one for men and another for women. He changed into a robe and ordered for a change in clothes be sent to the women’s waiting room. Ignoring the attendant’s comment that he was going the wrong way, the prince continued to the entrance.

Octavia and Lia were alert at the double doors. If any of the two was surprised to find their crown prince, it did not show on their faces. Gossip was also missing that night. They greeted Luke in unison, but said nothing about the pool being for women only.
In The Betrothed 23 days ago Forum: 1x1 Roleplay
The food was decent and so was the wine. It was not something Luke would crave or miss, but homecooked food was a novelty that was missing in the capital. The flavors were unique in the region, boasted the baron at one point. He was quite proud of the local cuisine, which was obvious with the speed at which he devoured the contents of his plate. His wife ate with more poise than he, often silently reminding the lord of his manners. The prince, on the other hand, took his time. Chewing and examining the food was a perfect excuse to discourage a conversation, even with his fiancee.

Rhiane, on the other hand, did not appear as if she was about to speak to him anytime soon. Starting a conversation with the stubborn woman was not in his priority as well. It was as if the cold war between the couple had escalated to a point where both were engaged in a silent contest wherein the loser was the person who would first speak to the other. It may be a childish contest, but each had a reason to be frustrated with the other for. And perhaps that night they had both reached the limits of their patience.

Luke had ignored her and was continuing to do so when the device on his wrist vibrated. The notifications were all disabled, except for messages coming from any member of the security team. Because of the perceived urgency, he glanced down at the screen just as the text floated on the black screen. Tobias. If it was anybody else, Luke would have appreciated the information, but it was Tobias. The underlying message told the prince how his cousin closely watched the princess elect, how sensitive Tobias was to her needs, and how easily it was for the guard to see through her bright smiles and witty responses. At the same time, he felt bad for allowing himself to be blinded by selfish emotions to such extents that he had failed to look out for the farmer. Since Evolab, he had decided not allow the rebels success in their endeavor, which was to position Rhiane as a martyr in order to deface the ruling house. None of it would matter if she fell ill because he was too proud to ask her how she was faring or if her arm was even bothering her.

“It is rather late, my lord.” His quiet voice commanded attention from the baron while talented young citizens played music in the background.

Lord Ferullo’s eyebrows traveled up his forehead, coaxing wrinkles to ripple the otherwise smooth complexion. Suddenly, the wife was interested in the conversation too. “The people have prepared more presentation for you and your fiancee, your highness. I highly recommend staying a few more minutes.”

“We must decline as we are behind schedule and Rhi –” He caught himself about to say the farmer’s name, followed by a declaration that she needed to rest. The person in question was sitting beside him, and she would have heard and interpreted his words in a way that suited herself. Just as quick, he continued with, “I have a conference call within the hour.”

Without waiting for the baron’s response, Luke got to his feet and clinked his glass with a silver utensil. The high-pitched sound gathered the curious attentions of the attendees. “We – myself and Rhiane – thank you for extending your hospitality. Unfortunately, we need to leave to attend to other matters. But the food is nice, the wine is abundant, and the night is young. Please enjoy the night. You have our utmost gratitude for welcoming us into your home.”

Hands clapped together after the crown prince finished his short speech of appreciation. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder, encouraging her to get up on her feet. When she did, though he still did not ask how she was feeling, Luke snaked an arm around her waist as a silent gesture of support.

The itinerary presented to them stated that they should fly out of the mountains that night, but Luke had made other arrangements. The direction was given to Nolan and Luce Viscomi was also notified. Not too far by land was a spa with a natural pool of warm water exposed to the cool autumn night with its multitude of stars. Nolan drove them to the spa, while Luce made necessary adjustments to the schedule.

The spa was frequented by nobility spending a few days on a vacation in the mountains. However at that time, the whole place was shut down in anticipation for the arrival of the VIPs. It was only Tobias, Nolan, Luke, Rhiane, the caretaker, the cook, and two other members of the royal guard in the property. Luke was not lying when he said that he had to attend a conference call, though it was not within the hour. He occupied one of the rooms, set it up as a temporary office, while he left Rhiane in the bedroom that they were supposed to share. She was free to roam the property, sleep, or indulge in the soothing warm water of the natural outdoor pool. Whatever she felt was right, and whatever would help her recover a little of the strength she poured out to her people.
In The Betrothed 24 days ago Forum: 1x1 Roleplay
If her declaration that she found rest in the clothing of a common person was a reminder that the woman that would bear his heir and the future of the nation was farmer, then the whole afternoon was a confirmation that the nightmare had indeed bled into reality and the reality was one that he was living in.

Not a single word was spoken between the couple since Rhiane had stepped out of the vehicle to surprise everybody in attendance, and perhaps making headlines throughout the nation and the world at her bold choice. Luke had known without glancing over his shoulder how she chose to appear before these people and whether or not it served its purpose, what was done had already been done. There was no more room to backpedal and only the future could tell if she had made the right choice or if she was, as she confessed inside the vehicle, selfishly doing it for herself.

It was the baroness who was the first to verbalize her disapproval, which she bundled tightly with the pretense of concern. “Had she been feeling cold in the clothes the stylists chose for her, she should have said something to them and not to these common people. They have little money to spare and perhaps most of it are allotted to food, not clothes,” Lady Ferullo was telling her husband, though a bit louder than what was necessary. They were at the plantation by then, strolling in between neat lines of green which was dotted with the occasional red bud of a pomegranate and under a dome protecting the crops from the impending harsh weather. It was almost winter, but the leaves were green, and blossoms sprout out of its twigs as if daring the cold to stop it. Research and technology had enabled trees to thrive even when it was not supposed to.

Luke ignored the comment. He essentially ignored most people in attendance. A reporter who had braved the crown prince’s temper stepped into his line of sight at one point while Rhiane was lightly conversing with an older woman. The reporter commented how quickly the couple were back to their feet given what happened yesterday. “It is expected of us,” was his simple answer. But there was no warmth in the way the words formed in his mouth. Unlike his fiancee, the prince’s responses were direct, clinical, and businesslike. If he could answer a question with one syllable, he would. And since he told Rhiane that the afternoon was hers, he refrained from commenting about the failed assassination, reassuring the reporters that the palace would release an official statement soon. Just the same, he avoided any encounter with the farmers, though he quietly listened to their narration about the village and the farm. Any questions that he may have – and he had many – were taken note of in his head, to be researched later when he had time.

Perhaps what he enjoyed most was how Lord Ferullo fumbled for answers. Surely it would be taken out of the broadcast but knowing how little the man knew about the economy of the lands entrusted to him was enough.

The afternoon quietly slipped into darkness as the day was shortened by the season. Soon, they were ushered into the town hall. It was not quite as spacious and grand as the dining hall the aristocrats occupied in the villa, but it was clean, well-maintained, and decent enough. Several tables were setup on the ground, forming a semi-circle around a raised dais. Rhiane and Luke were seated beside each other in perhaps the best seat in the assembly. Beside Luke was the Baron and his wife, while taking position beside Rhiane was an elder, who acted as the commoner leader of the town. He was not a nobleman, but was entrusted a role in governance. The other tables were occupied by selected families.
A plated dinner of delicacies prepared from produces of the land was offered to the esteemed guests, while they were entertained by traditional music and dance from years almost forgotten because of the war. Conversations about the harvest and the seed quality continued even through dinner. Luke’s silence did too. By that time, it was also rather apparent that the couple was avoiding interacting with each other. It could be that both were busy talking with other persons, sometimes Luke would step aside to make a call or answer a call, while Rhiane entertained the farmers and their families with her kind smile and friendly demeanor. Still, it was a glaring flaw, something that the Lady Ferullo would not forget to talk about the next time she met with her other highborn friends.
In The Betrothed 26 days ago Forum: 1x1 Roleplay
She was correct, he shouldn’t be ashamed of the choice of practical garments these people wore on the field. Fashion was the least of his concern, anyway. However, both him and her were holding positions that was above and beyond these people would ever be. They were supposed to be the reflection of the nation and the aspiration of its collective consciousness. What they wore and how they conduct themselves, therefore, mattered not only to fashionistas and socialites, but also to political allies and the world stage.

To say that he was disappointed was an understatement. While they disagreed on a number of things, he expected her to at least consider her betrothed’s reputation when choosing which path to follow. But the truth was, it was who she was. The palace’s stylist could dress her up in the most expensive designer clothes, but it would not change the fact that she was indeed born to the wrong family. Ms. Black did not belong to his world as much as he did not belong to hers. This was who she was.

Like Cinderella after the clock struck twelve, she stripped off the glamour and slipped back into being the peasant she truly was. It was difficult to watch not because she struggled with her broken arm, but because by watching he realized how he had made himself believe that by wearing the brands that he wore, she somehow transformed into a different person, that she was not a farmer but his princess. He stared at the door latch, fighting against the itch to pull it open and be free from the truth. It was only his consideration for her half-dressed fiancee that stopped him. “And what about you?” He asked the latch the question. “You’re painting a bigger target on your back by doing this. The rebels hate you because you are slowing them down. The lords and ladies hate you because they do not see you as their equal. This,” he gestured with his hand at what she was doing, “only makes your standing on both sides worse.” There was also the matter of the queen’s opinion, but ultimately it was Rhiane at the top of his mind as he considered the strategy. He can handle the high society, but by being more likable to the masses, she was getting more and more annoying to the rebellion. The more she slowed down their advances, the more they would want her erased from the picture.

Just like his dare to leap off the cliff, she may not have considered the possibility that she might not survive the fall. When, after a stolen glance, he confirmed that she was sufficiently dressed, he put his hand on the door. But before he exited, he heard her voice whisper words which were perhaps not for him. “I was going to carry the burden for both of us, but -” He shrugged. Still without looking at her, he pushed the door open. “Do whatever you want. The stage is yours.”

Cameras flashed as soon as he stepped out of the vehicle. Although the soil was still damp from the overnight downpour, the air was crisp and the sky was blue that afternoon. Farmers and their families had gathered around the parked vehicles, curious about its passengers. Joining the sea of faces were the baron and his wife. Work boots looked odd when worn with the formal clothes. Without changing into the ones prepared for him, he moved to the rear passenger door where Tobias was standing. He may be rather upset at Rhiane, but the nation need not know that. They had started the charade, might as well continue with it and see where it led them.

From the crowd that had suddenly fallen into fragile silence at their future king’s appearance, came a child running and laughing with abandon, chasing after his ball. Because of surprise and the size of what Luke guessed was a two-year-old, the guards failed to stop him. The mother shouted a name from the crowd, just as the ball landed on the prince’s shoes. The guards prevented the woman from advancing, though her voice had stolen the attention of both Luke and the child.

“Pick the child up, and take the irresponsible parents of this boy,” ordered Lady Ferullo. The boy had light brown hair and similarly brown round eyes which started to tear up. He wore a dark blue oversized button-up shirt, probably handed down by an older sibling, a pair of shorts, and muddy shoes. It was dirtied by playing outdoors. His mother had the same eyes, though it was round and wide for a different reason. She pleaded silently with a guard to forgive the innocence of a boy, that her husband’s wages are barely enough to feed six mouths. A penalty was imposed by the local lords to lesser violation of the common law.

Without Rhiane to escort out of the vehicle, Luke picked the child up before Nolan or Tobias or the other guards could. “Little Alessandro,” he whispered, smiling slightly as the boy’s teary eyes met his. He heard the baroness gasp, frantically gesturing for somebody to take the charge off their prince.

Apparently, a stranger's face was not welcomed. The boy's face grew scared, his mouth quivered, and not a few moments later burst into tears while cradled in the arms of the prince. Luke couldn't help but chuckle, remembering his younger siblings when they were the boy's age. A guard gave the ball back, calming the boy a little as the prince pointed to the boy's mother as if telling him that he was not lost. He turned the sniffling child over to the guard to be returned to the mother. "No harm done here, my lady," Luke addressed the baroness. In an instant, he was back to the snobbish prince.
In The Betrothed 28 days ago Forum: 1x1 Roleplay
If Rhiane earned her place in the upper echelon of the society, Nolan was born with his. But unlike Tobias, Nolan was a son of a close ally of the throne, thus he was entrusted with the life of its heir. The look he gave Rhiane was one that any member of the high society would have given a peasant, especially one who was demanding to be acknowledged. He turned to Luke, possibly hoping that the younger man would rescind the order if only to show the woman her place, but then Luke nodded which left Nolan with no choice but obey.

The moment she asked for privacy, he already knew that it was because she had closed her mind to the possibility that he had a point and she was confining herself only with what she understood, what she believed was right. Rhiane was prepared to launch an argument and a plea, or even a justification for her behavior that morning and Luke just listened. If there was anything he learned from being well-acquainted with women, it was that a man should keep his mouth shut while a woman was in the middle of stating her case.

“My father will do anything for my mother,” he said as if an afterthought to break the silence inside the vehicle after she was done talking. “It was not my idea to drag your mother into this, I doubt that it was the palace’s as well. The television networks are loosely regulated, they do not answer to the crown. Contrary to popular belief, we do not screen the news that are being shown to the general public. We just manage handling of certain information, so it does not reach the media.” But he did get her point. It was unfair to make him make up for something that was not his doing, but he did get what had made her so angry.

“You don’t have to say anything about what happened yesterday. In fact, I am asking you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Do not stop me or contradict my words when I speak to the press and address the people. They are my people too, Rhiane. They have been mine long before you came along. You may have lived the life they are living now, but I am charged to keep them alive.” A civil war would destroy the economy, tip the delicate balance of power. Worst case, it may incite another war as world powers would certainly risk investing in either the rebellion or the crown, hoping to reap gains when the dust settled. He loved his mother’s kingdom. To see it in ruins was not something he dreamt of nor something he would want to witness in his lifetime. Which was why, against his will, he begrudgingly concurred with the foolish idea of the queen’s advisors. “You may lead the conversations with the farmers, mingle with them, listen to their problems, but trust me to handle the rebellion.” The fact that the incident was publicized, he was expected to make a comment.

Rhiane was saved from answering immediately by a sharp rap on the driver’s door. It was Tobias presumably with the requested change of clothes. “May I interrupt for a bit,” Tobias hesitated upon seeing the humorless expressions on the couple’s faces. A small bag was handed out for Rhiane. “The owner insists Ms. Black to keep the clothes, she also does not want to accept any form of compensation for these old clothes.” The package was set down to the driver’s seat before the guard shut the door again.

“Keep my coat, but do not wear those clothes.” After a couple of seconds, he added, “Please.” Being engaged to a commoner, regardless that it was the tradition, was humiliating for the upper class. He was just beginning to wrap his fingers around the idea, then she would further his humiliation by dressing as one.
In The Betrothed 29 days ago Forum: 1x1 Roleplay
There was finality in his tone when he quickly responded with, “You will do no such thing.”

Funny how the tides had shifted -- he was the one pinning his hopes on the success of the farce that was the love story between a somebody of his stature and a nobody of her stature. Before they were paraded around the kingdom and pressured into working together to fake an appearance of being two people who were madly in love, Luke would have agreed that it was a good idea for her to walk away and do whatever pleased her. He would have even raised the suggestion then punctuated it with the phrase “I don’t need you,” if only to make his point clear. However, such statement was not true given the situation they had found themselves trapped in. While he had no problem addressing his people, he needed her more than he thought he would. Rhiane’s part in the campaign against the rebels was one thing he miscalculated. Now that the rebellion had discovered her worth and how her presence could tip the scale, favoring a side in the otherwise deadlock struggle between the crown and its civilian opposition, he would be a fool to ignore her. He would be a bigger fool if he would decide against using her.

Much as he strived to prove otherwise, Lucius Alessandro was still his mother’s son. “When this vehicle stops, both you and I are going to pretend that this conversation did not happen. You will deliver your intended purpose – smile for the camera, flatter the people around you with flowery words, and pretend as if you do not find my presence abominable – and so will I.” It was too late to back down. The contest was already concluded and Rhiane Black was already named the princess elect. As the holder of such prestigious title, she was expected to fully support the ruling house that would one day adopt her as its child. Luke expected nothing less, because during the first few days they had known each other, she had made it clear that it was not ambition or infatuation that pushed her to forfeit her life for a chance to have a taste of royalty. Unlike the other candidates, Rhiane’s goal was to provide for her family, therefore he thought that she had more incentive to be on the queen’s good side.

Luke pressed his fingers on his left temple, massaging the spot as he closed his eyes and sighed. “Are we there yet?”

Discussions in the backseat between the prince and one or more of his subjects was not uncommon, but one involving a woman was. Usually, the ladies that went with his royal highness had far less sarcasm in their beings. Nolan cleared his throat. His eyes shifted to the mounted navigation then said, “We will arrive in a few minutes.” ‘Enough time to wrap-up your lovers’ quarrel’, he would like to add but then decided against it. “There are boots for you in the storage bin.”

“Good. I was just about to ask.” Luke opened his eyes, turning his attention back to the princess. His eyes were a little softer as was the general look on his face. If he was still mad at her, it was probably because she still refused to cooperate, but he also realized that being mean to her was already proven to be ineffective. “I am only telling you not to say anything that may be detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish. By no means did I mean to impress that the baron and his wife will do a better job than you. If I am going to mingle with the people, it is only fitting that the lord overseeing the land should head the tour, is it not?”

Lord Ferullo talked about the statistics of the towns, but those reports were undoubtedly generated by the statistics office. For somebody of his rank, it was not difficult to retrieve data and recite it as if he knew it by heart. It was nothing impressive. What Luke would like to understand was how well did the baron really know the towns and villages entrusted to his name. Was he even aware about the lack of medical facilities, the possible misappropriation of budget, or the possible growing population of the rebels in his area?

Tobias parked the vehicle on an empty lot. The uneven muddy terrain and deep holes forced the passengers to fight against the forces pushing them off balance. Trailing not far behind were the transport carrying the local nobles and Luce Viscomi.
She only had to say a word and the stylist in charge of their outfits for the day would have no choice but reconsider the clothing which was selected for Rhiane. Nobody, not even Luke, had stopped her from verbalizing the thoughts, opinions, comments, and criticisms that ran rampant in her head. It was rather unfair, therefore, that she let go of the issue then and choose to vent out her frustrations at Luke when he hated the dress as much as she did. He hated it more because it gave Tobias a chance to be the kind, protective, and thoughtful man who was by her side at the right place and at the right time.

Luke quickened his pace to match hers. He would not be half the man that Tobias was to her if Luke was still frustrated over how tightly she had shut her mind on the evil deeds of the rebellion. How she did not fully grasp that this organization was not the messiah who will liberate the people from poverty and bring abundance into the land. No. While she chose to keep her silence, he would take up the fight and use her popularity to grab the attention of the masses. If not for the media surrounding the building, and the cameras pointed at their direction from the ground floor, he would have pulled Rhiane aside and demanded to settle the argument once and for all. Instead, he composed himself and followed her as she raised her request to Ms. Viscomi.

He used the slight pause to shrug off his coat, drape it over her shoulders, then afterwards pluck the one she cradled on her arms and extended his arm at his cousin. “It does look odd that one of you is not in uniform.” The chill was bearable given he was wearing long sleeve button-up shirt underneath the coat, but when the wind blew, it was like being embraced by a block of ice. Even he, who enjoyed the cold weather, shivered. The older couple was better dressed for the weather.

Not too long after, a couple of servants in their blue and white uniforms appeared with the tea that the princess elect ordered. One poured the warm liquid for Rhiane, then offered the same for the others. Luke declined, but the baron and baroness indulged the invitation. The warm liquid would help improve the body temperature before they went out into the open.

Luce Viscomi led the entourage once everybody was done with the short break. Cameras flashed as soon as the royalty appeared before the media people. Luke sported a schooled smile, but he forgot to remind his princess to do the same. The SUVs that would bring them to the fields that were due for inspection. One vehicle was assigned for Luke, Rhiane and their bodyguards, while another was assigned for the baron. As usual, Tobias volunteered to drive.

Once the engine had started, he warned her, “If you don’t plan on saying anything helpful, Rhiane, do not speak at all. Let me do the talking. I don’t need you to stand on my way.” He was referring about the rebellion and her misplaced compassion, or was it pity, for the organization. The message would be very straightforward. It would follow the same formula that catapulted the rebellion to fame. He would try to bend the people’s minds by utilizing their emotions. He would capitalize on the fame their fake love story had amassed and use it to sway the public against the evil intentions of the rebels. “If the rebels retaliate, as you fear, then it will only validate the message that we will impress upon the citizens – that the rebellion will do any means possible to destabilize the government. It doesn’t matter who they hurt or who they crush underfoot. It doesn’t even matter if the person they sacrifice is an advocate of the same ideals they say they are willing to die for.”

It was a short bumpy ride and soon the view of the mountainside with parallel lines of green leaves and purple and red fruits came into view. Luke had seen that photo a hundred times, but never had he been close to the real thing before.
It was colder in Aresso than it was in the capital understandably because of the high altitude. There was also something in the air in that place that was distinctly different from the cities. It was crisp and fresh and felt a lot more laid back. If she would be given some days off her hectic schedule, maybe Luce Viscomi would choose to spend a few days in that same town to shake off all her stressors and get in touch with her inner self.

That day was not her day, though. Following through with the crown prince’s decision to meet with his hosts, because she too did not want to face disappointed the lords and ladies who had already spent a full day in town, Luce did not protest, nor did she try to convince Ms. Black to reconsider her choices. She thought it would be disastrous to do so. The prince would not back Luce up and the princess elect would not be inclined to apologize to her fiance. There was no win-win situation and maybe the best option was to keep them from each other’s sight as to not further the damage in the pair’s fragile relationship. However, what the woman had failed to anticipate was that the queen would not be happy to hear from the news about the separate engagements that the couple attended to. The call she got was not at all friendly.

Therefore, Ms. Viscomi came rushing to the venue. Her heels formed a rhythmic clicking as it hit the wood panels of the second-floor balcony that it drew the attention of the tall gentleman standing by a post, watching the diminishing silhouette of the mountain ranges from afar. With not as much as surprise in his features, Tobias regarded Luce’s advancing form rather lazily though it was only to check if the clicking noise was a threat.

“Where is she?” The image manager demanded, almost out of breath.

Tobias kept his silence. The entrance to the hall was a few paces from where he stood. On each side of the double doors was a uniformed guard – not a member of the royal guards, but he was informed that these men were the baron’s men. An armed Nolan was standing a few paces to the other side of the door, with Luke’s other guards nearby. Lia and Octavia had just rejoined Tobias after finishing the errand that Rhiane had asked of them.

Frustrated, but still trying to keep her composure, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath then asked again, “Mr. Lavancy, may I know where she is right now? Is she inside?”

It was difficult to tell what was going on in his mind. Tobias Lavanchy was aloof. She heard rumors in the palace that the royal guard was not always that way, that he was a cheerful boy who used to play with Luke when they were kids. Looking at him now, it would be difficult to reconcile the cheerful kid with the stiff man with a frozen heart. No wonder his perceived warmth around the princess elect had elicited several versions of the same rumor inside the palace. “Who do you mean by she?” Tobias finally asked.

As if on cue, the double doors opened to welcome the princess elect into the cold autumn afternoon. It did not escape her how the prince’s cousin’s attention immediately gravitated towards the dark-haired beauty. He took a tentative step forward, but then the prince stepped out after Rhiane. Whether consciously or not, Luke had his hand at the small of her back as he leaned close and whispered to her ear.

“Aren’t you cold?” Luke whispered. It was a stupid question, and he knew that. He wasn’t really sure why he had to ask. Perhaps it was to test if she was still mad at him. Or it could be that he asked because it was the most sensible question that came to the forefront of his brain given that he had been distracted by how low the neckline of her dress was and how much skin it showed. He did not miss the moment when she had to bend her body a little, how the lords' eyes could have fallen off it sockets. His question subconsciously had a hidden message that, if she could read between the lines, would tell her how much he hated her dress. But even he knew that it was not entirely her fault.

Behind the couple was the baron and his wife. The younger Ferullo had chosen to stay behind to entertain the guests. Actually, the older couple would have chosen to do the same except that Luke insinuated how it would be impolite to leave him to mingle with the commoners when the caretaker of the territories would not. The statement had left them with no choice but lead the tour.
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