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Meeting Princess Marilee

This is a scene from Saving Marilee that I rewrote from my hero’s point of view. It does not contain spoilers, so feel free to read it, even if you haven’t picked up Saving Marilee yet.

A Broken Beauty

I paced in front of a window in the front parlor where a matronly servant had asked me to wait. Rogue let out a half bark, half moan from where he lay on the ground, staring up at me with his big brown eyes. He had obviously picked up on my anxiety. I tapped my middle finger on my thigh in a quick staccato rhythm. The servant had gone to retrieve her highness, Princess Marilee. Or Lady Mary, as I had heard her called since she had married Damian. I had debated coming here every day since the passing of her husband, wanting to offer my help, to lend her some modicum of comfort and let her know she was not alone. But an instinct deep inside told me that I would not be well received by the young beauty who had fallen under the spell of my former playmate. I hoped that instinct was wrong, that she hadn’t been as wholly miserable in her marriage to Damian as I believed. I would simply have to wait to see what happened when she arrived, if she chose to greet me. I certainly wouldn’t blame her if she tossed me out on my ear. She had certainly not hesitated in tossing out the majority of her household. Most of the servants and all of the guards had been dismissed, causing quite the stir to ripple through the surrounding country. The princess was lauded as flighty, unbalanced and even mad at times.

I had never been inclined to agree with such assessments, because I had seen her. It had been from afar, and they had only been moments, but I had watched and knew that there was nothing of madness about her. She was sad and lonely, probably downtrodden as well. Damian had that affect on people. I remembered all too well the way he had treated me in our teenage years. After he had gained enough experience and been told enough times just how special he was. We had progressed from being friends, to being obligatory playmates, and then to barely tolerating one another. If it hadn’t been for Juliana, I would have avoided the entire family. Or, at least avoided them as much as anyone could avoid the sovereign family. Thinking of Juliana made a muscle in my jaw twitch. I still missed her sometimes.

I startled when the doors were thrown open and I forgot to breathe as Princess Marilee walked into the room. Her head was held high, her back straight, her bearing regal. Her eyes snapped with fire. She was magnificent. Even with her hair half done and half undone, I had never seen anyone enter a room with so much presence.


Her gaze was steady and her voice clear as she spoke. “Good day, Sir. Come to gather fuel for the rumor mill?”

The rumor mill? I couldn’t blame her for the assumption. “I—” She didn’t let me finish.

“What do you think?” She held her arms out as though presenting herself for inspection. “Am I as mad as they say? Do you rejoice in my situation because it gives you something to talk about?” The bitterness in her voice wrenched my heart and I stilled. Yes, she was regal and full of fire, but she was also clearly in a great deal of pain.

She opened her mouth to speak again, but Rogue whined from his position on the floor, effectively distracting her highness. Her brow furrowed as her gaze settled on the hound.

“I only came to ask after your welfare,” I jumped in to explain. “I’m Mr. James Sutton, your neighbor.” I stepped forward just a little bit and gave a respectful bow. I didn’t go any closer, not wanting to give her any reason to feel threatened. Best to focus on Rogue and my reason for being here. “I had heard you’d dismissed all of your guards, so I thought you could use a dog in the house.”

Her obvious confusion left her looking young and vulnerable. “You’re giving me a dog?” she asked in a voice that no longer held the power she had commanded before, her gazed fixed on my face, leaving me flustered.

I cast about for something more to explain. “I’ve, uh, spoken with your man, Mr. Tennsworth, and he says he’d be happy to look after him, keep him out of trouble.” I glanced down at Rogue and couldn’t help smiling. “He’s not much more than a pup, but he’s good tempered and a good judge of character.”

Lady Mary batted her eyes in confusion. “A good judge of character?”

Right. Not everyone thought of dogs as nearly human as I did. How to explain? “If he growls at a visitor, it would be best to ask that person to leave.”

“I—” she began, but seemed at a loss. She blinked and for a moment I wondered if her eyes were getting teary. I watched as she swallowed and gave a tiny shake of her head, pulling her emotions back in only a matter of seconds. “Does he have a name?”

The feeling of pride swelling in my chest surprised me. I didn’t know this woman, but I was proud of her obvious strength. “Rogue,” I answered.

The faintest of smiles pulled at her mouth. “That’s just the sort of name I would pick.”

I heaved a mental sigh of relief, glad that she seemed to approve of my gift. My eyes drifted to her hair, wondering what had happened to it. One side hung in a slightly disheveled braid over her shoulder, while the other side wasn’t braided or pulled back at all. It hung in heavy waves that looked soft and caught the sunlight. It seemed she had been in the middle of undoing or redoing her hair when she had come to greet me.

She reached up and quickly pulled the ribbon from the end of her one braid. She must have noticed my staring, but I couldn’t look away as she unraveled the braid and then pulled it all together over one shoulder. It was a very relaxed way for her hair to be done, especially when it was usually pulled back and confined. The style compounded the vulnerability that clung to her.

She fidgeted for a moment before gesturing toward Rogue. “May I?”

I shook myself out of my thoughts and cleared my throat. “Of course,” I hurried to answer. “He’ll come if you call.”

She moved to sit on the delicate sofa and tapped her knee. “Here, Rogue.”

Rogue happily went at her call and I looked on with pride at how well he’d been trained. That is until Rogue jumped onto the sofa and draped himself across her lap.

“Rogue,” I reprimanded, embarrassed that he would be so unruly. “Down.”

Rogue ignored me, no doubt enchanted by the princess’s laugh. Princess Marilee’s smile was wide and unrestrained as she wrapped her arms around Rogue’s neck. “He’s fine where he is.”

Could she truly be all right having a large animal stepping on her lovely dress? “He’s not exactly a lap dog.” Her dress was so different from the ones she had worn recently. She looked more like herself and it was difficult for me to think of her as Lady Mary, especially when she tilted her head back to look at me while Rogue laid his head practically on her shoulder. She smiled. “No, but he doesn’t seem to know that, and I don’t mind.”

She returned her focus to Rogue and I watched as they fell in love with one another. Rogue’s devotion was obvious and Lady Mary’s eyes grew ever softer as she rubbed behind his ears. I looked on in silence, fairly certain that if I were to leave, she wouldn’t even notice.

“I’m going to turn into one of those crazy women who let their pets eat off their plate, aren’t I?” she murmured to herself with a sardonic tilt of her mouth.

I laughed, causing a very ungentlemanly snort to escape. Her gaze darted to my face and I coughed in the hopes that it would distract from the sound. Now that she had brought up the subject though…. “Speaking of crazy women,” I started, then realized that might be insulting. I tried to think of a better way of bringing up the odd manner in which she had introduced herself, but before I could come up with the words, she spoke up.

“I apologize for the way I greeted you.” It was said without malice or offense, so I decided to be bold.

“I think you should know that while there are rumors of the mad widow, they are mostly perpetrated by persons that I and those I associate with do not trust.” I hoped that my words would put her at ease, especially if Damian’s treatment of her was as atrocious as I suspected. She looked thoughtful, but remained quiet, her hands running over Rogues fur.

The silence stretched and I willed her to speak. I didn’t expect her confidence (though I would have welcomed it), however I did want to be sure that she knew I wasn’t going to rush off and disappear the moment our introduction was finished. I truly did wish to be of service, to undo some of the damage that Damian had caused. If only she would let me.

I cleared my throat, surprised by how tight it felt when I thought of the many reasons I had to believe she had been hurt.

The sound pulled Lady Mary from her thoughts. “Down, Rogue.” The dog obeyed and she stood. “He’s very well trained.” There was a note of surprise in her tone.

“He is. I wouldn’t give you an animal that was likely to cause you grief.” She’d been through enough and I wasn’t going to add to her difficulties. “I think he’ll do well for you, and if he doesn’t, you can always return him.”

Rogue nuzzled into her side and she rubbed his head automatically. “I’m sure we’ll get along very well.” Her eyes turned to me. “I thank you for your thoughtful gift. I think he’ll do his job honorably.”

I bowed in acknowledgment. “You’re most welcome, Highness.”

It probably would have been a good time to depart, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave her. She thanked me for the basket of vegetables I had sent over with a servant, and I smiled at her thanks, searching my mind for another topic of conversation, one that would be appropriate for this situation. My mind seemed to be slogging through mud, distracted by the different emotions that danced across her face. After a moment she simply offered to walk me out and all I could do was nod and follow her to the entry.

As we approached the front doors, I realized that her lack of a footman meant that I should open the door for her, since I was, after all, a gentleman. I jumped into action, reaching the door before she had to do it herself, but in my zeal, I seemed to scare her. She flinched and pulled away until I had opened the door and she could safely pass through it without the risk of touching me.

She was skittish, and I hated the many scenarios my mind supplied to explain such behavior.

We stood on the front steps, Rogue stationed between us. “Thank you again for the dog,” she said.

I murmured a response while my hands slid an inch at a time along the brim of my hat, delaying the inevitable, searching for words to say farewell, words that would tell her of my genuine concern.

“Would you like to walk in the garden for a moment?” she asked.

I lifted my head in surprise. Had I actually succeeded in prolonging our visit? I readily agreed and willingly fell into step beside her. I wished to offer my arm for her to hold on to, but the way she had pulled away when I opened the door suggested that such proximity would not be appreciated. So I kept my distance, leaving more space between us than would have been considered friendly. I listened to her breathing, watched her hands reaching out to touch the beautiful blooms along the path we followed. Her movements were familiar. I recognized them from the many times I’d seen her wandering these gardens by herself, only now there was less tension in her stride.

“You seem hesitant to leave, Mr. Sutton. Was there another reason you came?”

I nearly choked at her candid question, tugging at my collar as I convinced myself to answer in kind. “I wanted to offer my assistance.”

She looked at me with her eyes wide and curious, and I forced myself to keep talking. “I’m close at hand and wish you to know that anything you might need, any aid I might offer—I am at your disposal. Whatever it may be.”

She dropped her gaze away and said a quiet, “Thank you.” She fingered the ribbon that tied her hair for several moments before sweeping her tresses behind her shoulder, revealing her neck. I couldn’t look away. My heart seized, not because of the delicate slope of her throat and shoulder, but because of the jagged red line cutting across her skin.

I touched her arm. “Have you been hurt?” I asked, wondering what could have caused such a wound.

She pulled away, her face going white, her eyes panicked. “No,” she answered in a strangled whisper. “I’m not hurt. It’s—” she appeared to choke on her words—“an old injury.”

An old injury? What horrible pain would have caused such a terrible scar? “But it looks—”

She turned her back on me. “I’m sorry, but I have to…you have to leave. Good day.” She walked away, her steps frantic.

I followed after her, afraid I had offended, worried that she might still be hurting. “Lady Mary—”

She whirled back around to face me. “Don’t call me that!” she screamed.

I froze in my tracks as she slapped a hand over her mouth, looking mortified. She fell back a few steps, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t— It’s not your—“

She seemed utterly undone, embarrassed at her outburst, and I wished there was something—anything—I could do.

“I’m sorry, that was not what I meant to…say. I just—”

“What name would you like to be called by?” I asked in the hopes of alleviating her discomfort.

Once again, I watched as she pulled her emotions back, tucking them away somewhere. “Anything but that,” she answered. “My name is Marilee. Not Mary, not Lady Mary. Marilee.”

That I could do. Marilee seemed a much more fitting name for her than Mary. Mary seemed like too sedate a name for the creature before me.

She took a breath and continued. “Highness, Princess Marilee, or just plain Marilee would all be lovely.”

I nodded. “Very well, Highness.” Such a simple request was certainly within my power, but from the way she kept edging away from me, I knew I should conclude our meeting. She needed an escape. “Might I walk you inside?” I asked.

She shook her head with finality. “I don’t need looking after.”

“I—” I hadn’t thought she needed looking after. I just wanted to be solicitous, but I shut my mouth. Clearly her expectations for how a gentleman should behave were somewhat warped, so I would not impose. “I will allow Rogue the honor, then. Good day, Princess Marilee.”

“Good day,” she managed before running, literally running, away.

I stood there in shock, every fear I had ever harbored for her now confirmed.

“Damn you, Damian,” I muttered before turning back toward the stables. As I mounted my horse and directed him to the road, my thoughts whirled with the implications of how my meeting with Damian’s widow had turned out. She was resilient, beautiful, passionate. Those had all come through in our short meeting, but so had her fear, pain and distrust. By the time I had returned to my own home, I was determined to do everything in my  power to not add to her distress.