Part 3


A briny breeze fluttered the dress shop curtains as Cecilia turned from side to side, the billowing dress swishing around her legs as she studied her reflection.

Everyone attending the Godsball was required to wear a costume and mask that honored one the of gods, but Cecilia’s dress was an absolute masterpiece.  Cinched tulle showed off her figure, and twisted into a wired collar of grey, dark blue, and white to look like storm clouds and a skirt of striated cloud embroidery. With her hair neatly tucked into a bun at her nape, and a tilted golden crown on her head, she looked exactly as she’d hoped she would. She finished the look with a dark blue mask embroidered with gold lightning bolts.

“What do you think?” She asked, spinning to look at Rainer.

He stared at the dress, a furrow in his brow as if he was studying a complex puzzle. “Is it unfinished?”

Cecilia tugged up the sheer skirt, and Rainer winced, shielding his eyes. She blew out a labored sigh. “Obviously, I’m wearing leggings and boots beneath.”

Rainer gave her a wary once-over. “I don’t understand. Which of the gods are you honoring?”

“I thought I would do something a little different.”

He leaned back in the chair. “Of course you did.”

“You know some of the old fairy tales say that the Storm Prince is the son of Endros, the God of War.” Cecilia spun, and the dress puffed out around her like a tempest. “I’m the Storm Prince.”

Rainer pursed his lips. “You can’t wear that.”

“Well, I know it’s a little on the fringe but—”

He held up a hand. “Not because it’s the Storm Prince, because it’s indecent. Your father would strangle me if he knew I signed off on this.”

Cecilia turned back to the mirror. She felt suddenly mortified. If her best friend didn’t get the dress, no one else would. The dress brought out her bright blue eyes, making them look bigger and glassier in the reflection.

“Cece—” Rainer’s voice was gentle. “Don’t be upset. It’s a beautiful dress. It’s just your first big court event, and I don’t want you to get off on the wrong foot.”

She bit her cheek to keep from crying, but it didn’t matter. An emotion that strong was impossible to hide it from him. Shaking her head, she turned back to face him.

“I like it. It makes me feel beautiful and powerful. If I’m going to have to dance in front of the whole court, I deserve to at least wear something I like.”

She’d been to luncheons and afternoon teas for years, but the Godsball would be her debut as an eligible lady. Her friend Sylvie had talked about nothing but their marriage prospects since her breakup with Cal. Sylvie wasn’t as eager to get married as she was to play potential suitors off against each other in an elaborate game of betrothal chess.

“I like your costume,” Rainer said. “It’s just that ladies rarely wear pants to a ball.”

“I’m not most ladies.”

Rainer grinned, biting back a laugh. “No, you’re not. But it’s hard enough watching you take hits in the ring. I can’t watch you do it at court, too.”

Cecilia bristled, turning back to look at her reflection. Was Rainer right? Would the ladies make fun of her? Would no one want to dance with her? 

She didn’t understand how she could look the prettiest she ever had, and Rainer didn’t like her outfit. She’d always loved stories about the Storm Prince, a talented storm witch born in the heart of a storm, but wearing a costume to honor him when it was only speculation that he was the son of the god of war, was perhaps, a step too far. She was less concerned with offending the gods than offending the delicate sensibilities of the other ladies at court.

But Sylvie had urged her to be more daring in her dress choices. Of course, she may have meant bolder colors and not a dress that bordered menswear.

Rainer slipped his hand into Cecilia’s. She hadn’t even noticed him approach. He stroked the inside of her wrist with his thumb, as he always did when she was anxious and he didn’t know how to fix it.

She snatched her hand away. “If I have to do the stupid dance, even though I won the solstice hunt games, I am at least going to wear what I want while I do it.”

A crease formed in Rainer’s brow, and he nodded. “I have to go. I’ll come to escort you to the Godsball tomorrow evening.”

Cecilia wanted to celebrate the small victory, but her confidence evaporated like morning dew under the summer sun, leaving her with nothing but dread.

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