Mother is a society belle, but the nobility was well aware of who Tiana’s father was. I am basically a non-person in high society. I don’t get ‘callers’. Somebody from the knight’s barracks, perhaps?
“A caller?” I asked.
Genette’s mask slipped a little, fighting her lips’ impulse to curve into a grin, as she announced, “The Second Prince is awaiting you in the receiving room.”
I hope I didn’t roll my eyes. It would have scandalized my lady’s maid.
While entering the receiving room, I had a fake smile poorly plastered onto my face. “Your Highness, how nice to see you again.”
He looked at me from his seat on the couch and shook his head. “You definitely need to work on that.”
I tipped my head to the side and smiled a little more normally. “I’ll bear that in mind, Your Highness.”
He scowled. “When did you start calling me ‘Your Highness’?”
I nodded toward Genette, who had entered behind me and was preparing to serve tea. “I’m not sure the staff is ready to hear their prince being called by a nickname, Your Highness.”
“And you’re using it with every line!!”
“Is there a problem, Your Highness?” I asked, having now reached a position right next to the couch arm he was leaning on… and slightly behind him.
“Ti, please sit down. I’m getting a neck cramp here!”
I let a little chuckle escape as I slipped over to the other side of the coffee table and sat in one of the high back chairs facing him.
Fitting my legs together, slightly to one side, sitting up like a perfect Lady of the Kingdom, I inquired, “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, You Highness?”
His eyes were nearly bulging from their sockets. “It’s Rod! Rod! You’ve been calling me Rod as long as I can remember, Ti!”
Wrinkling my brow and giving a slight shake of the head, I asked, “Yes, about that… when did you start calling me Ti again? Nobody has called me that for years!”
He studied my face for a bit, then answered with a nod, “Yes, you told everyone to call you Tiana, as I recall. I never agreed though. I guess that shows how little we’ve spoken since I began attending the Academy.”
Tiana’s memory failed to serve this time. If what he said was true, she hadn’t noticed.
Genette began pouring the tea. The prince asked her to leave the room and close the door when she was finished, an idea which Genette did not appear to approve of. But, he was the second prince after all. She obeyed.
“Yesterday, I could see you were upset with me,” he noted after the door closed. “I came to find out why.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Upset? Not really. I had just been cornered into marrying you, with no hope of escape and no opportunity to object. Why would I be upset?”
Rod’s head pulled back. He protested, “I’m sure you weren’t raised expecting to just marry whoever you want? You learned better from our tutors. That’s not how it works for royals and upper nobles.”
For anyone wondering why I was just complaining instead of resisting; aristocratic children literally have no rights when it comes to this. As a royal, Rod could say no, and there was a chance they would respect his objection, but as an aristocratic child, I literally had no say in the matter. I would marry whomever my house’s lord chose. And Mother had chosen Rod.
I leaned forward. “Do you not know that you three are the closest thing to siblings I have? It’s the same as if you told Amelia she had to marry you!”
“But Amelia’s my blood-related sister. You…”
I gave out a huff and sat back, crossing my arms. Tiana’s displeasure must have been simmering inside me ever since the prior day.
“In your eyes, I have a different relationship to you than Amelia does. I understand that. But, in my mind it’s different, Rod! You three are the only thing like siblings that I have! And now I have to become my own brother’s wife! And it looks like he’s happy about it!”
When I had said the same thing to Mother, it had come as a surprise to me, given the way Tiana thinks about him normally. But, sitting there looking at him, I understood how true it was. Tiana did not hate Ged or Rod the way her normal attitude toward them made it seem. She was just reacting to them like a normal little sister.
Of course, from the point of view of the three royal siblings, she had been more a very close childhood friend than a sibling. And, bringing my own perspective to this, I can see that Mother and the King did not understand Tiana’s feelings either, and how complicated it would be for her, emotionally.
This is your fault, Mother. You stuck the King with the job of raising your daughter rather than handling it yourself.
“It was Father’s idea,” Rod noted. “Along with Lady Sasara. I was against it at first. But the more I thought about having you as my wife, the more I liked it. You’re a hundred times better than any of those vapid things that keep crowding me at parties.”
I gave a sigh and a shake of my head. Tiana’s emotions really were completely in control at that moment. I almost felt like I was watching from the audience as my words came out.
“Rod, it’s an awful idea. I’m completely non-human and I’m half monster! I may be an intelligent, civilized, human-shaped monster with citizenship, but I’m still biologically a monster. How will the people feel about their prince being in the clutches of a vampire? And not just any vampire, but the daughter of the villainous Duke of Pendor? Are you insane?”
Rod shook his head, and gave me an easy smile. “You are not a monster, Ti, no matter who your father was.”
My eyebrows rose at his claim. “Really? Do you know why I decided to go directly into knight training? Why I didn’t attend the Academy for a few years first?”
He gave another head shake, still smiling. “No. Why?”
“Amelia. One day we were horsing around, and suddenly, I was growing my fangs and getting ready to sink them into her neck! I barely stopped myself!”
His brow wrinkled. Scratching his cheek, he asked, “You went into training to get away from Amelia?”
“From all young women,” I clarified. I had thought Tiana’s decision was an overreaction as well, until now, when Tiana’s memory of her terror at what she almost did came flooding back to me. Now, I understood.
I added, “Oh, I already planned to become a knight, but I didn’t plan to start so soon. Originally I was going to go to school first. I changed my plan when I needed the isolation of the barracks as soon as possible.”
Rod ran his hand through his gorgeous blond hair. The junior lady-killer had returned. But from my perspective inside as a guy nearly a decade older, I knew he was just trying to project confidence onto me.
“You’re older now, Ti. You don’t need that isolation anymore. You probably never did.”
Tiana, he’s right. You aren’t your father, I tried to tell the part of myself that disagreed with him. It was weird how half of me had a completely different view of myself than the other half. And was trying to reason with it.
I agreed with the Tiana view of the third problem though. It might have been unfair, changing the argument on him yet again, but there was in fact a bigger problem here.
“Rod, no matter what you believe about my self-control, one thing doesn’t change. If I marry you, the Kingdom’s second prince will have a wife with an appetite for the blood of nubile girls. You need to think hard about how that will affect your public image.”
He regarded me with a thoughtful look, and wondered, “Ti, looking at you, I don’t see a vampire. I see a beautiful woman with a heroic spirit and a heart that worries only about others. I think that’s what most other people see as well. What exactly is it that you see?”
I looked away from him, my lips pressing together. Not only was he seeing the old Tiana rather than myself, it was an impossible question for me to answer, after all. What Robert Stewart and other readers on Earth had seen in Tiana was nothing like what she saw in herself, and I had no idea where my new self’s feelings were on the subject.