Looking into Sir Leonhard’s eyes, I bared my heart to him.
His sharp eyes widened with genuine shock as he found himself the object of my unwavering stare. I saw myself reflected in his obsidian eyes: shoulders rising with every breath, my face a feverish mess.
My head cooled quickly, as if ice water had been dumped over it.
Huge regret came chasing along with the sense of accomplishment.
Did I really say those words to him with a face like that?
Heavens, no. Wasn’t that the same as proclaiming I love him?!
A whimper escaped.
I can’t mop up the words I’ve spilled. In fact, I hoped in vain he wouldn’t notice, but one look at his expression was enough to wipe out that idea, too.
With his full attention on me, I couldn’t break eye contact.
My heart struck an unsteady pace against my palm, which I realized belatedly, I had placed on my chest. My mouth had gone dry from the tension, and the sound as I swallowed seemed excessively loud.
Leonhard returned my scrutiny with despair in his eyes. All blood drained from my face as fear took hold of me. I was so frightened, I wanted to bolt.
My feelings for him have never been hidden. I think he found out, but let it pass as admiration. The puppy love a young girl has for an older man. An emotion too fleeting to call love, that will change to mere memory with the passing seasons.
This time I’ve outdone myself. I completely spilled the beans.
My feelings were not just a passing fancy. They were serious and troublesome, strong enough for me to put my future on the line.
And when he found out the depths of those emotions, it was clear as day what Sir Leonhard would do.
The young princess was trying to throw away her future for her first love, and the man she liked just happened to be himself?
He’d end it without a second thought. Being cruel to be kind. Already decided on his own that I don’t need him.
“Princess Rosemarie,” he said quietly.
It was the first time he had ever said my name. As much as that simple fact delighted me, I was unnerved and sure I wasn’t wrong.
I shook my head over and over. Like a petulant child.
My disgraceful behavior filled me with shame, but nothing could make me back down.
Even being scoffed at and called off-puttingly obstinate would not change my mind.
As he carefully tried to form his words to end it all, I heard the whisper of despair approach.
“Don’t!” I yelled.
Standing from my seat—more like falling off—I clung to Sir Leonhard as he promptly bent forward to catch me. As he held me in both arms, I covered his lips with my hands.
There was no time to get bashful over the tactile feel of his lips as I pressed against them firmly. He was struck dumb at the contact, and he clearly didn’t know what to do as he looked at me. He couldn’t just rip my hands off, and I stared up at him as I left my hands where they there.
“You can’t say it! Don’t!” I squeezed out.
How cunning, Rosemarie, begging him with tears in your eyes.
I was making the most out of the dirty tricks available to a little girl. Kind Sir Leonhard would never shake off the hand of a child about to burst into tears.
I knew how I was acting, but still I couldn’t back down.
“Please don’t reject me yet.” My voice trembled as I pleaded with him, but I made myself meet his eyes. “Don’t give me an answer now.”
Sir Leonhard looked at me in silence.
His hands came up to slowly pry away each finger stiff from dread.
Though his mouth was now free, he said nothing. He lifted me and gently placed me on my seat, and my tears escaped despite my best efforts to contain them. Kneeling on the carriage floor, Sir Leonhard reached a hand towards my downcast face and gently wiped them away.
“Please don’t cry.”
I lifted my head a little at the sound of his weary voice and saw the same turmoil in his face.
“I’m at a loss when you do.”
At this kind gesture, even more tears fell. The dams broke, and giant drops slipped down my cheeks.
“Bear with me a little more.” I pleaded through heaving sobs, shoulders shaking uncontrollably. “If you’re going to turn me down, wait until I’m older. Please down reject me because of my age. I can’t do anything to change it.”
I won’t be able to give up on him over a reason like that.
I cut myself off. He looked at me worriedly.
Courage was needed to continue. I wanted to shut my eyes to the possibility, and force him to make a promise to me.
But I couldn’t.
Because I’ll never be able to tie down the one I love and leave him with no way out. It wasn’t about righteousness or morals.
I just didn’t want to be hated by him.
“Unless you find someone you love.”
A fresh wave of tears spilled the moment the words left my lips. Just imagining it was enough to bring crushing pain to my heart. I bit my lip to hold back the escaping sobs.
He wiped the tears away from the corner of my eyes, his gaze surprisingly gentle.
I loved everything about him.
The words he spoke to me and the expressions he showed me, I wanted to keep them all for myself.
You can’t do that, Rosemarie. Nothing will come of it.
Stay with you out of pity, and what?
Even if you bind him to you, it will only hurt you both.
If he can’t return your feelings, you have to let him go.
Struggle. Keep floundering as the inevitable is delayed. If it was all—regrettably—in vain, you can still have a place at his side supporting him, can’t you?
“When that time comes, I will accept defeat gracefully,” I blustered, pasting on a smile.