Melody made her way across the filling dance floor and curtsied to the man from the gardens. “Would you care to dance with me?” She asked as she straightened and looked into his face.
He tilted his head slightly, and she lowered her voice. “Please?”
A moment passed and a grin spread across his lips. He extended a hand to Melody. “Far be it for me to turn down a lady daring enough to ask. Much less one as lovely as yourself.”
Melody breathed a sigh of relief and placed her hand in his, and he led her onto the dance floor.
They took their place and he put a hand on her waist. The music swelled as couples swirled and they joined the dance.
“Can I ask why you asked me to dance with you? Or is that information confidential?” His pale eyes sparkled as they searched her face.
“Why, because I haven’t noticed you participating in any of the dances this evening,” was Melody’s excuse.
She tried to keep from looking into his face, so she gazed beyond the ballroom to the gardens outside. The sun cast rays of warm light in through the windows, bathing the ballroom in orange light.
“You are a terrible liar, my lady.” He drew her attention back to him. He twirled her in a circle then brought her back to himself. “What is the real reason?”
Melody bit her lip, as if pained. She looked back over her shoulder and found the prince standing alone near the edge of the dance floor.
“Ah. Avoiding the prince, are we?”
Her gaze snapped back to the stranger. “Sir, that is not the reason-” she started.
“You don’t have to make excuses with me, Princess. I saw you talking to him right before you asked me to dance.”
Melody watched her partner with eyes narrowed as they moved in beat with the slow song. “Were you watching me?”
He considered her a moment before answering. “Only a little,” he admitted with a smile. “You’re quite intriguing. First you run away from a prince. Then I find you hiding out in the gardens, and you run away from me. Sometime later, to avoid dancing with the prince, you ask a perfect stranger to dance with you.” He quietly chuckled, and Melody’s cheeks heated as she stared at the buttons of his black shirt.
“What is your name, then?” she asked to cover up her embarrassment.
He only looked at her, and she tried again, “You said I asked a perfect stranger to dance. What, then, is your name, sir?”
He gave an inclined bow of his head, and a chocolate-colored curl fell to brush over his brow. “It’s Lyall. Lyall Monroe.”
“Sir Lyall. You may call me Melody. There, now we’re not perfect strangers anymore.” Melody smiled, and Lyall laughed. He spun her in one last twirl before the music faded and they stopped dancing. They stood there for a moment until the musicians started another song and the couples began dancing again.
Melody looked up at Lyall. She opened her mouth to say something, but noticed Prince Samuel approaching through the crowd of couples, moving straight in their direction.
Melody gave a soft groan, and Lyall noticed and followed her gaze until he saw the prince as well.
He released Melody to offer her a bow and then extend his arm out to her. “Would you do me the pleasure of stepping out onto the balcony with me, Miss Melody?”
Melody breathed a sigh of relief and nodded as she took Lyall’s offered arm.
They turned their backs on the advancing prince and walked through the crowd and up the stairs, arm in arm.
When they reached the balcony doors, Lyall opened the door and held it open for Melody.
She gave a quick glance over her shoulder to the ballroom floor and saw the prince being flocked by a group of young nobleman’s daughters who were talking and waiting to dance with him. She turned back to Lyall and he led her onto the balcony.
The sun was soon to set and the golden rays bathed the palace, casting the entire garden in hues of pink and orange and making the castle’s white marble outer walls glint with gold.
Melody and Lyall stopped along the railing of the balcony and stood side by side.
Melody admired the gardens a moment, her favorite location of both the palace or the palace yards. She lifted her eyes to look at Lyall, and he seemed almost tense as he watched the sun set. She opened her mouth to ask him about it, but decided against it as they stood in a comfortable silence.
After some time, Melody cleared her throat. “Thank you, by the way.” She remarked, reaching up to adjust her mask when Lyall turned to her.
“For what?” he asked.
“For... for helping me to avoid the prince.”
“The pleasure was mine.” Lyall relaxed enough to smile at her. “Now, are you going to tell me why you don’t like this prince? Or is that just another mystery about you that I’ll have to solve on my own?”
Melody gaped at him. Mystery? She opened her mouth but no words came out. She shut it and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “It’s not that I don’t like him. I hardly know him” she started. “He seems to be a pleasant sort of man, but I think he wants to...” she trailed off, and Lyall frowned at her. “I think that he means to marry me,” she finally admitted.
Lyall’s frown deepened, but he remained silent, allowing her to continue.
“I know the queen would have me marry him, although she would never force me to do anything. I’m not sure about the prince, but he did say that he was looking for a wife. That’s why I have been avoiding him.” She looked into Lyall’s eyes and suddenly she found herself admiring them. A thought passed through her mind and she couldn’t help but ask, “Will you remove your mask?”
He tilted his head in question, but couldn’t help the smile that quirked up one side of his mouth. “Why?”
The urge to fidget washed over Melody, but she resisted it. “I would like to know what you look like without it. Will you, please?”
“I could ask you the same question.” He teased but started to reach for the ties of his mask when he stopped, his attention caught by something inside the ballroom.
Melody turned to see what Lyall was staring at and saw the main doors to the ballroom had been pulled opened and a man entered the ballroom. It took her a moment to place him, but she recognized him as King Cassius of the neighboring kingdom of Glendower.
The king had short, dark hair and a trimmed beard. He wore an adorned and costly looking coat of light-brown, brown boots, and a golden crown on his head, but no mask covered his face. He did a full sweep of the room and only then did he start to walk down one of the staircases and out of Melody’s view.
“Is something wrong?” She asked Lyall as she turned to face him again, but he was gone.