I was being sarcastic, Ina.
Alice, Im merely acting in the Princes best interest, Mamma replied smoothly. It is unchivalrous of him to dance so often with just one partner. We wouldnt want word of his poor manners to get back to the Queen.
Even if Leo danced by himself in the middle of the floor, no one could accuse him of poor manners. The truth is, I dont believe you would mind at all if that sole partner wasnt me.
Mamma did not answer; she simply made a grand, sweeping turn and rejoined Papa and all their friends greedily partaking of Leos hospitality, as his private room was furnished with superior refreshments.
Dont vex Mamma so, Alice, Ina murmured, patting the perfectly round sausagelike curls tickling the back of her neck their chestnut brown not quite matching the rest of her hair, although I refrained from pointing this out. Youre awfully impertinent these days.
I? Impertinent? I looked at my sister, my deceptively placid paragon of a sister. Her gray eyes returned my gaze unblinkingly. I daresay the Prince s attentions have gone to your head, Alice.
I wonder that there is only one person in this family who wants to see me happy. Dear Edith, I do wish she were here tonight!
So do I, said an unwelcome voice at my elbow; suddenly the cloying scent of cheap perfume filled my nostrils. Turning reluctantlymy limbs suddenly blanketed with dreadI came face-to-face with Mr. Ruskin.
I had not seen him since that nightmarish last afternoon. Observing the way his eyes glittered dangerously beneath his white, thundering brows, I knew he was remembering that day, too. While, to my great relief, he looked as usualhis clothes were neat, his abundant whiskers freshly groomedI still feared for his reason. What name would he call me tonight? I had never known him to attend a ball before, as he declared them a ridiculous waste of money and time; what had brought him to this one?
Mr. Ruskin. Ina curtsied.
My dear Ina. Now, if only Edith were here, I could behold the lovely Liddell girls all over again. Ina, Alice, Edithsuch pearls you are, still.
Inahardly a pearl; more like an oystersimpered and blushed. I could not find it within me to flirt and carry on, as I once would have done; I had too much to fear of him. Too much to lose.
Alice, my dear, you are simply a vision. He glanced at me, up and downand I felt naked, vulnerable beneath his cold, boldly needful gaze.
Thank you. Despite the heat of the room, I shivered.
You and the Prince make such a lovely pair.
Yesyoure like a flower on his arm. A lovely flower. I could not reply; my heart was beating too rapidly against my tight stays.
A rose, I would say. He leaned toward me, so that his breath was tickling my neck. You look like a beautifulrose. He whispered this last; placing his hand upon my arm, he stroked it, up and down, lightly, as if I were a blossom, opening to his touch.
Ithat is, I mustPrince Leopold! For he was suddenly beside me, having led a flushed Rhoda off the dance floor; I hadnt even noticed the music had stopped.
Laughing, gasping, I reached for his gloved hand; he took mine, pulling me to him, and I felt safe once more.
Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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