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Rose By Any Other

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“What else is there,” Derek said grandly, “that you aren’t already?”

Odette stared, cheeks flushed. The fight was suddenly taken out of her, and she felt lightheaded at the quick succession between hope and despair, before hope folded back behind her ribs. She imagined Derek could hear the desperate beating. “Which is what exactly?” she pressed on, as if there wasn’t an audience watching their every breath.

They as much on tender hooks as she was, while Derek stood tall and amused, the unapologetic center of attention.

“Are you fishing for compliments?”

“You are proposing,” Odette stated, with her heart in her throat, “Are you not? Is it not the custom to flatter?”

“I..,” Derek faltered, a frown on his face. “That was the proposal,” the frown deepened, a sudden crack in his confidence, “Odette, you are… I mean— you know.” He dragged his hand through his dark hair. “It’s like… And, you are,” he trailed off, as none of the words seemed enough. “You must know,” he concluded, then met her eyes in a beseeching manner. The boy peeking out from behind the man. How could she have thought one summer would have changed that?

“I don’t think I do.” Odette raised her eyebrows, glad to have unsettled him in return. “Now we both have things to think about.”

Derek stepped forward, but Odette held her ground, craning her face up. There was a thrill in having his undivided attention. It felt like his gaze was the only thing tethering her to the ground. As surely as when his hand had been on her waist, warm through the thin satin of her dress, guiding her across the dance floor as if on clouds. So easy to fall through.

She refused to be overwhelmed this time.

“If you have nothing more to say,” Odette said, spying her father over Derek’s shoulder. “Our last few days consisted of traveling, and I would like to retire now. You can ask me again tomorrow, or some other day. After all, the summer is long.”

“Odette,” Derek objected, baffled.

“What else,” she replied, meaningfully, “I too expect an answer, Prince Derek.” Then Odette offered her hand, which he took with a bow, his lips ghosting over her fingers, before lingering on the back of her hand. The blue of his eyes glittering behind dark lashes, the twist of his mouth, full of that familiar challenge.

Good, Odette thought as she left the ballroom; the playing field has evened out again.