GLASS SLIPPERS & JEWELED MASQUES
(Cinderella for a new age)
Copyright © 2011 Denysé Bridger
Dedication: For Sara, who gave me Prince Charming long before I ever knew I'd need him!
"You can't be serious?"
"Amerasha needs stability," King Alenzo Coranthaos reminded his only son. "Our future lies with you!"
Michel Alexandros Coranthaos, heir to the island nation of Coranthis, turned from the castle window to look intently at his father. He tried to keep his voice even and free of the irritation that was coursing through his veins like a living thing. "Father, you are in the prime of your years, hardly on the verge of dying of old age. I fail to see why you think it so necessary for me to marry and produce offspring!"
His father's shoulders stiffened. Michel sighed inwardly. He schooled his expression to careful neutrality and waited for the rebuke he sensed coming.
"Why do you think it so necessary to remain unmarried, Michel?"
Startled by the calm question, he took a few moments to seriously consider. He could be flippant about it, or he could, for a change, be honest. The expectancy in his father's eyes decided him and he crossed the distance between them.
"I don't think it's unnecessary, father. I simply choose to wait for a woman I can love and respect, someone I can share my life with, as you did with mother."
Alenzo looked at his son, and nodded, expression grave.
"I wish to see you happy, Michel." He held up a hand to ward off Michel's reply the reply Michel was about to make and smiled, albeit with sadness. "You have played the carefree prince for many years, but there is emptiness in your life that needs to be filled. Tell me this is not truth? If you can?"
Michel stared, genuinely surprised by the turn of the conversation. He'd answered his father's summons with the expectation of another of their increasingly frequent arguments. Instead, he'd been accorded direct honesty, which had once been the core of their relationship, but had been lacking these past few years. He sat down and for a few moments, he remained silent, then he leaned back in the comfortable chair and nodded.
"There is no sense denying what you say, father. I am not a happy man," he admitted, then laughed with real bitterness. "I don't lack for attention, but it feels very hollow."
Alenzo nodded. "It's time to bring a bride to you, my son."
Michel frowned, and waited for the trap to spring. He should have recognized the change in tactics. His father was a supreme manipulator.
* * *
The Lancourte mansion was alive with the usual activities that passed the days for those of wealth and privilege. Cindi looked around the kitchen, quickly assessing what needed attention next. Her stepmother was expecting guests in less than an hour, and she wasn't really in the mood to listen to the shrill complaints heaped on her for oversights, real and imagined. She sighed inwardly as she checked on the dishes that were being prepared, offering words of encouragement to the new maids and conferring with the cook.
The late Richard Jordan Lancourte had been well respected and popular in social circles all over the world. He'd been honest, dedicated to charity and research, and a man of charm and intelligence. His death almost a year ago had left her bereft all over again, a mere two years after she'd lost her mother.
"Why isn't everything ready?"
The shrill demand sliced through Cindi's reverie like a blade, and she schooled her features to polite calm. Turning to her stepmother, Alana, she offered a small smile.
"Everything will be ready when you require it, madam," she said. "Timing is involved in some of the dishes you've requested."
Alana's irritation grew more evident as she stared at Cindi with visible disdain. "If you mess this up, you will be looking for a new home, Cynthia. Your father's not here to persuade me to overlook your attempts to sabotage me."
It was an old argument, one Cindi had long ago