No Man Can Tame (Page 13)
Bianca had pined after Luciano for months, and Papà was a lot of things, but not ignorant, especially where his favorite child was concerned. He could’ve predicted her exact reaction and planned for it, expecting her to submit for Bianca’s sake.
And she had submitted.
But not completely, not while she still had moves to make that wouldn’t jeopardize Bianca’s happiness. Papà wouldn’t get away with this. He couldn’t.
Her hands had gone numb, and there they were in her lap, fisted so tightly her blood wouldn’t flow.
Her gaze tracked Papà again. If he’d thought he could play her, deceive her, and think her so stupid, then he should’ve thought of the consequences.
Of being outed publicly for his treatment of her, as he’d be right now.
She scraped the chair back, but a hand closed around one of her fists. A slate-blue, clawed hand.
Glaring at Veron, she was about to demand he release her, when she met that even gaze. That even, tightly controlled gaze, which panned toward the dance floor, and back to her.
He raised his white eyebrows once, as if to encourage an answer.
An answer to what? Had he spoken?
She swallowed, and music filtered in, a prelude—an extended prelude. Her clenched hands slowly relaxed.
“Alessandra?” that steely velvet voice asked, but there was a softness there, a gentleness.
“The dance.” He blinked. “Do you—”
“Oh, yes,” she said quickly. The first dance.
Surrounding the dance floor, myriad faces followed her every movement, the collective whole of the nobiltà watching her carefully, watching the peace carefully. She’d seemed to oppose Veron during their wedding, and he her, and she still needed to show the semblance of acceptance, if only a little longer. And then hope to transition to genuine, clear friendship.
If she didn’t play her part well, the symbolic peace between her and Veron would fail, and along with it… the peace between their peoples.
I won’t let that happen.
No matter what Papà had done.
Forcing a smile, she rose with Veron, allowing him to guide her as the musicians yet again extended the prelude, wary of those sharp claws. It would begin with a quessanade.
The quessanade… A human dance. She drew in a sharp breath, and Veron’s eyes swept toward her briefly.
“Do you know how to dance the quessanade?” she whispered.
His pale eyebrows drew together, his lips pressed into a thin line. “I know the human dances well—”
Thank the Mother.
“—but I haven’t danced in over two thousand years,” he answered, not a muscle moving out of turn.
“Do you trust me?” he whispered, as they approached the center and assumed the position.
Two-thousand-year-old human dances? “You haven’t—”
“Do you trust me, Alessandra?” His voice was soft but firm as his hand clasped around her waist, just the barest scrape of claws against tulle.
Either she would have to lead, or… or she would have to trust him.
No, this could go completely—
But as the first movement of the dance suite began, he drew her in close, just barely apart from his chest, and led her in a gliding step, in a whirling rotation that flowed from one turn to another and another. A dazzling array of colors spun around them, but those shimmering golden eyes stayed locked with hers in unbreakable focus, intense, determined, and he kept perfect form, his hold strong but guiding.
This had to be how her ancestors had danced thousands of years ago, face to face, eye to eye, close enough to breathe in that blend of fresh earth and the scent of the purest water, like a forest stream so clear that the smooth stones at the bottom were perfectly visible, their surfaces honed by hundreds of years or more to the sleekness of glass. Her fingers brushed their hardness—but no, it was his shoulder through black brocade. Holy Mother’s mercy, so awkward—
Those eyebrows pulled inward, and those pale eyelashes shuttered, his unbreakable focus glimmering a moment as he glanced down at her mouth and back to her eyes.
“Good dance,” she breathed.
A corner of his mouth turned up. “They called it the rotante. The young adored it, and the old—”
“Were appalled by it?” she offered, as he led her into a turn.
An amused inclination of his chin as other couples took to the floor, following his lead to attempt this rotante themselves. Excited voices and giggles surrounded them.
The closeness of this dance would have been scandalous, no doubt, but by today’s standards, it was quite tame compared to the sarabande or the volta. “Unafraid of scandal, Your Highness?”
“Veron,” he corrected, searching her eyes. “I… chose the most modern dance I knew.”
A two-thousand-year-old dance? She held back a laugh, but when a smile played on his pinched lips, she allowed a grin. If she had succeeded in leading, this would have been a disaster. “How do your people dance at weddings?”
A glimmer. “We don’t. We do dance for a few occasions, but for most, we have games.”
Lorenzo cut in, beaming like a debutante newly revealed, and Veron joined their hands with a smile, the point of one of his fangs peeking. Fangs.
“Spare your worry, sister,” Lorenzo remarked with a broad grin. “I won’t keep you long tonight.”
Tonight. She breathed deeply as Lorenzo led her, and Veron took Bianca’s hand. The dancing had gone well, but tonight—that was an entirely different matter.
“This will be the newest trend at court,” Lorenzo drawled. “What is it called?”
“The rotante,” she answered.
Tonight, she and Veron would be in a bedchamber, surrounded by officials. She’d be wearing that… nightdress—no, that flimsy swath of chiffon that could barely be called a garment—and would he ask her to trust him then, too?
“Once you look past all the”—Lorenzo frowned—“differences, you might like him, Aless.”
Like had nothing to do with it. She liked plenty of people well enough, or at least didn’t hate them, but that didn’t mean she chose to share a bed with them. And what about Veron? No doubt he wasn’t interested in her either. Did anyone care what he chose? What either of them chose? Or did tradition stand in for choice when Papà or the queen of Nightbloom deemed it so?
Bianca laughed nearby as Veron turned her, his movement controlled, smooth. How much time had he spent learning this dance, and all the others? He had put in more thought and effort as one person learning human culture than the whole of this room had probably spent on his.
And that dark jacket, those tailored trousers—they fit him well, if a bit tight. His build was a bit larger than Lorenzo’s, who had a big frame but spent less time training it. He worked enough to hone his skills with the dueling sword and throwing knives, but he’d always preferred beds over training yards.
“Thank you,” she said to him, “for the wardrobe change.”
With a crooked smile, Lorenzo tilted his head. “Careful, Aless. A kind word or two like that, and rumor may spread that you’re going soft.”
“Holy Mother forfend,” she deadpanned as Lorenzo looked away.
Tarquin cut in before she could object, dark-brown eyes gleaming in that too-handsome face. After what he’d said the night of the masquerade and his rumored membership in the Brotherhood, she wasn’t interested in learning any more of him and his hatred. She followed his lead, but her entire body had gone rigid.
“Even a lion can be afraid sometimes,” he said carefully as he glided into step.
“That is when they are most dangerous.” She didn’t meet his eyes. Wouldn’t. He didn’t merit the respect.
“A sole lion may be defeated with ease,” he replied, not missing a beat, “but only if it forgets its true strength. The pride.”
The Brotherhood? “This lion has no need of a pride,” she bit out.
“You don’t need to wear a mask, princess,” Tarquin whispered. “Not with me. The pride is watching. Only say the word, anytime, anywhere, that you protest, and our strength will… relieve your solitude.”
She shivered. Anytime? Anywhere? How could—
He was already gone, and Luciano was in his place, smiling. “Well, Your Highness, what do you make of this dance?” He led her into it.
This dance was becoming dangerous. And now, more than ever, with the pride’s eyes on her, she’d have to watch her step.
Veron paced the length of the bathing chamber, disrobed down to his shirt and braies. Pausing, he yanked off his boots—well made, but too tight—and resumed his circuit.
They waited in there—the human councilors and lords, their holy men—to know this marriage would be completed.
That was a problem.
To the humans, a marriage was incomplete without what they called the consummation. The first act of lovemaking between a bride and her groom. For royals, especially, as oftentimes such massive consequences relied on marriages, it was imperative that the consummation be viewed by credible witnesses and its performance marked in documents. He well knew this, as it had been so even two thousand years into the past.