"Okay that's Lady Zurenka..." Mia muttered under her breath, smiling as she quickly scanned the party for any missed mingling targets.
"-Mia!" A voice called from her left. Mia turned. Oh. Lady Catherine and her date, Lord Mayhew. Mia picked her way over to them, greeting various people and excusing herself as she approached Lady Catherine.
The Lady took Mia's hand and pulled her in closer.
"Did you happen to see who's here?" The Lady whispered conspiratorially.
"Who?" Mia asked, sweeping the party again, before--oh, no. Looking back at Catherine, Mia grasped the gossip that had required her immediate attention. Lady Catherine smiled, clearly enjoying Mia's discomfort.
"The King Wannabe and Lady Elissa."
Shoot. Figures that he would do his utmost to show up (late!) to a Royal Engagement. Mia scanned for an escape route while making idle chatter with Catherine. Ah-ha! She tittered with the lady before turning to call over the perfect partner-in-crime for the occasion.
"Andrew!" Can't be hiding if she's with her fiance right? Time for a romantic turn about the gardens.
"Ah- yes dear!" Andrew hurried over. "The camera's all ready to go, so..."
"Great!" Mia interrupted. Was her voice a bit too high? Bother. She grabbed Andrew's elbow and started off in a direction away from the incoming hassle. "Let's go this way."
Mia studiously avoided Andrew's pointed glance, and the two glided through the crowd, heading for the maze of hedgerows away from the main party. Partygoers made space for them, smiling, and oohing and aahing at the royal couple. Mia and Andrew kept smilles on their faces and graciously acknowledged everyone until they broke free of the throng.
"Is everything alright Mia?" Andrew asked in a mild undertone. The bushes had ears, as everyone knew. Mia quickly cleared her throat.
"Yep! Just fine!" She met his skeptical glance with a winning smile. Andrew chuckled, shaking his head. He wasn't going to crack this conundrum. Score one for Mia.
"All right then," he posited, turning on his heel as he looked her over. Mia glanced at him quizzically. "I've got an empty sim card, a beautiful fiancee, and a lovely garden. Let's see if we can't make some magic." He winked, and Mia couldn't help but laugh--trust Andrew to break the tension.
"Stop! Don't make me laugh like that, it's improper." Mia rolled her eyes, taking her laugh down to a chuckle. *Beep!*
"I won't tell anybody if you don't." Andrew assured from behind the camera. He grinned cheekily at Mia's indignant "Hey!"
"Now, now, Mia," Andrew tittered, holding his camera out of her reach, "I told you we were going to make some magic, and there's nothing more bewitching than a joyful candid."
Mia leaned on the hand she had placed on his brown-suit-clad and shoulder and continued reaching wildly for the offending device. "Yeah well turnabout is fair play mister. Give that here and let's see how you enjoy a 'joyful candid.'"
Andrew ducked gracefully under her arm and whirled away while chuckling.
"Well, it won't be a candid if I know it's coming."
"Won't be a candid if I know it's coming!" Mia mimicked. "Fine. You get ten pictures."
Andrew squinted at her. "Fifty."
Mia squawked. "What?!"
"Ten pictures is nothing," Andrew groaned and slumped, looking for all the world like a bereaved child.
Mia took mercy for the cuteness. "Fine, then thirty!"
"Tenty nine." Mia challenged him, raising a brow. "We can always go back to ten," she said, with a voice as saccharine as her decidedly not-evil smile.
"Thirty it is!" Andrew capitulated. Smart man.
"Yes!" Mia indulged in impropriety with a brief shoulder wiggle. Andrew raised his camera and took a couple quick photos. *Beep Beep Beep!*
"Careful sir," Mia warned, glaring at her fiance. "You're going to use up your picture allowance."
"Worry not dear," Andrew teased, looking at his captures. "I'll be able to take all the photographs I need."
"Oh, sorry," Mia demurred. "Photographs." She drew out the word in an exaggerated British accent, smiling at Andrew to soften the joke.
"For that," Andrew retorted, smiling back at her, "I'm going to make you regret limiting me to just thirty photos."
"Bring it on."
The next ten minutes were spent walking through the immaculate gardens and stopping for a photo every five feet. Thankfully, once he'd reached his picture limit Andrew turned his camera to the scenery. Mia peeked over his shoulder at one of the photos. It was a beautiful picture of a bee rooting through a pink flower for its prize.
"You're really good at this."
Andrew startled, glancing at Mia in surprise. She was a lot closer than he expected.
"Well um," Andrew cleared his throat. "Thank you. It's been a longtime hobby of mine."
"You always been an art kid?" Mia asked. She smiled and moved back a bit. Looking into Andrew’s eyes and whispering up close like that made her feel a little weird. Butterflies in the stomach weird. Non-romantic butterflies. Yeah.
"Ha. No, not quite." Andrew laughed, continuing their walk. "I guess I just... fell into it as a kid. My uncle gifted me my first camera and it kind of took off from there. Said he figured that since I loved getting close up and looking at everything, I might as well take a photo."
"That's lovely and adorable," Mia assured him, noting the flush starting to make its way up his ears.
"Well thank you," Andrew smiled, glancing at Mia appreciatively. He cleared his throat again and looked back to his camera.
"Speaking of adorable, you did very well Mia, very charming." He flicked back through the earlier photos of her, inclining the camera to show her a particularly good looking shot.
“Thank you," Mia demurred, looking away briefly. Her mistake.
"Wait wait wait," Andrew called.
"What?" Mia looked up and--oh no, not the ‘inspired photographer’ look.
"The light's just perfect," Andrew assured as Mia groaned. "One more please Mia..."
"No more pictures," Mia whined, flicking her floral fan open in front of the camera lens.
"Come on pleeease," Andrew laughed, moving his camera around it in a deft maneuver. "One more..."
"It's very flattering-" Mia started to retort before she cut herself off. She found herself eye to eye with Lord Nicholas Devereaux. How did he always manage to sneak up on her?
"Mia one more picture..." Andrew got into place for the picture.
Mia turned the camera with her fan and cleared her throat to alert her fiance to their new company. She was too late of course, and Andrew managed to snap a picture of a decidedly uncomfortable Lord Nicholas and Lady Elissa.
"Ah," Andrew shifted back into place by Mia. After a beat of awkward silence he caved and took the lead, introducing himself to the Lady.
"Hello, I'm Andrew Jacoby," He bowed and kissed her hand, thankfully able to hide his grimace at his tone. Yes, make it sound like a question why don't you. Do you know your own name? He recovered on the way back up.
"Oh hello, Lady Elissa," the woman replied, giving a slight bow.
"Lady Elissa," Mia greeted with a smile.
"Your Highness," The Lady curtsied. Aaand back to square one.
"Hello," Mia acknowledged Nicholas briefly and looked away to the party. Andrew nodded summarily and suppressed a sympathetic wince. Lord Nicholas had been staring at Mia for this entire encounter.
Andrew was about to pull an escape out of his arse, but he'd waited too long. Lord Nicholas took the helm of the conversation.
"Alyssa and I were just discussing some of her latest achievements," He mentioned, finally turning his head to acknowledge his date. "She's received the Rhodes scholarship."
Andrew made an appreciative noise and Mia “wow”ed in agreement.
"Nicholas please," Elissa demurred, suddenly the center of attention.
"Why not brag? You're an amazing woman," Nicholas assured.
"Congratulations," Mia stated, taking back the conversation. "You know, Andrew did his PhD in Anthropology at Oxford." These were safer waters.
"Oh, really-" The Lady started, before being interrupted by Nicholas.
"You know, Elissa, was in the peace corps," he stated, laser focused on Mia once more. The nerve of this man.
"Oh, really? Well, Andrew spent four months in Papua New Guinnea, studying the bark of a Yem tree." Mia was getting incensed. When would this asshole leave her alone?
Lady Elissa tried to cut in "Uh, And- "
"Well, Elissa-" Nicholas started, only to be cut off by Mia.
"Lady Elissa was actually trying to say something. What was that Lady Elissa?" Mia turned to Elissa, hoping to goodness that she would rescue them all from this back and forth. Elissa smiled uncertainly.
"Andrew, would you like to get a drink? I'm feeling they're going to start a 'my horse, is bigger than your horse' run?" Elissa supplied with a wry twist to her mouth. Oh no.
"Of course, I would love to. Excuse us," Andrew made his way past the arguing nobles and escaped with Lady Elissa, continuing the conversation: "you know her horse, is actually very huge..."
Shoot. Mia looked everywhere but at Nicholas Devereaux, searching for any excuse to leave.
"S-" she cut herself off. Nope. Don't start sentences you can't finish Mia.
"Fantastic party," He supplied, smiling.
"It is," Mia replied, looking for someone, anyone to call her back to it.
"You two make such a lovely couple," Nicholas stated. Mia’s eyes jerked back to his face.
"We do, thanks...” Mia started.
"It's a shame you're not attracted to each other," he finished.
"I know it's such..." Mia stopped. Excuse me? Did he just say what she thought he said? She looked up at his smug face and ooooh, he really did.
"You, I..." Mia spluttered. Nicholas walked off, clearly proud of himself.
"Come back here!" Mia growled, taking off after him.
She finally caught up to him at the center of the taller garden maze.
"Come back here--you can't just say something like that and then walk away. I will have you know that I am very attracted to AndREW!" Mia stumbled in her haste. Nicholas kept walking.
"Well obviously," he called over his shoulder, grinning.
"I am," Mia insisted, spitballing. "We are perfect for each other. He- he understands me-"
"Oh, he understands you? Wow, what passion," Nicholas exclaimed with false cheer, "I didn't hear you mention love."
Mia scoffed, done with the interaction. "You are so jealous," she dismissed, turning and flicking her fan open. She walked away quickly, resisting a wince in the face of that terrible parting shot.
"Why would I be jealous of Andrew? He's going to spent the rest of his life married to you.” Venom dripped from Nicholas’ statement. Mia stopped and looked around her. Nope. She hadn't suddenly teleported to the New York streets. This man really just said that. In her house. Castle. Garden.
Infuriated, Mia whirled around and smacked Nicholas with her fan.
"I loathe you," she spat. Nicholas gaped as if that was the greatest affront of the day.
"I loathe you!" He retorted brilliantly, smacking her with his rolled up program. Mia gasped. How dare he.
"I loathed you first." Mia asserted, aggressively getting into his space.
Whoops. Too close. They looked each other in the eye briefly, and Mia just started to move her foot back when-
Nicholas grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her forward. Mia whipped her fan in between their faces in response and violently pushed him away from her.
"What are you doing- you stay away from me!" Mia shoved him as hard as she could, and Nicholas flailed as his calves hit the fountain and he plunged in.
He exclaimed as he head broke the surface, and Mia was already gone, cantering toward the party. She was flustered—somewhere between enraged enough to spit and incredibly shaken. How dare he touch her? What did he think he was going to do—kiss her and then start an angry make out session? What, was this a Disney movie?
Mia shivered and wiped her hand across the back of her neck, feeling the ghost of his grip. Hopefully he drowned.
She slowed her gait to a slow trot and evened out her breathing as she emerged from the maze. She beelined for the nearest person she moderately knew--there. Andrew was still chatting idly with Lady Elissa, and they were both sitting at a table. Perfect.
"Hello Lady Elissa," Mia greeted amiably, trying not to sound out of breath. "Would you mind if I stole my fiance for a moment?"
"Of course," Elissa demurred, standing up. "I should actually rejoin Nicholas- did you happen to see where he went?"
"What?" Mia cried, before immediately clearing her throat. She was cool, she was cool. "Oh, no, I'm afraid we separated long ago. I have no clue where he is at the moment." Mia crossed behind the still-seated Andrew and put an arm behind his shoulders, steadily maintaining eye contact with Elissa.
"Oh... okay," Elissa replied, clearly unsure of the situation. "I'll just... I'll be over there if you need me."
As soon as Lady Elissa turned away Mia's shoulders dropped and she sat down next to Andrew. She relaxed as much as a seated royal was allowed. Blowing out steadily, she focused on catching her breath and studiously avoided Andrew's gaze.
Andrew glanced around the party and leaned in to whisper in Mia's ear.
"Did anything eventful happen after we separated? You seem a little flushed," Andrew inquired, smiling as if he was... flirting with her. Fiancés flirted right?
Mia smiled and pulled back. She pinned Andrew with her gaze.
"Never. Leave me alone with Nicholas Devereaux again. Please." She ground out between smiling lips and teeth.
That wiped the smile off of Andrew's face.
"Are you okay? Did something happen?" He pressed.
Mia sighed briefly, Assessing the Duke. After a beat, she leaned in to whisper:
"Yes... and no. Everything's fine. Just... if Nicholas returns to the party soaking wet it wasn't me," Mia replied, hopefully not messing up by trusting Andrew with this tidbit.
Andrew quickly drew back while fixing a mild expression on his face.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Mia, there you are!" Lilly cried, barging right into the conversation. "I was just looking for you. Come with me to uh... powder my nose for a bit--I need your help."
Lilly yanked Mia out of her seat and dragged her inside the castle to the nearest restroom. She locked the door and quickly ran to check every marble-covered stall. Once she was satisfied that they were alone she rounded Mia.
"Okay spill. What were you and husbando-boy whispering about back there? You've got your 'save me' smile on."
Mia slumped against the wall and finally let herself breathe.
"Lilly you won't believe what just happened."
"Hence the spill! Proceed with the spilling!"
Mia chuckled. "Did you see Lord Douchereaux enter the party?"