Masquerade by Crystal Heart
Summary: An alternate reality where Darien and Serena had been rivals before they even met. Then things begin to heat up when they meet at a Christmas party, and later find that rumours have nominatedthem an engaged couple!
Categories: > Sailor Moon > Usagi And Mamoru, AnimeManga > Sailor Moon > Usagi And Mamoru > Alternate Reality Characters: None
Genre: Christmas
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 4 Completed: Yes Word count: 42994 Read: 9641 Published: Apr 20 2006 Updated: Apr 22 2006

1. Chapter 1 - 7 by Crystal Heart

2. Chapter 8 - 15 by Crystal Heart

3. Chapter 16 - 21 by Crystal Heart

4. Chapter 22 - 29 by Crystal Heart

Chapter 1 - 7 by Crystal Heart

Chapter One


The blond at the mahogany desk looked absently out her 52nd floor story window to see the amazing night-time skyline of New York City when she was suddenly startled by the ring of a telephone.

Collecting herself, exhausted over her paperwork, she took off her golden-frame reading glasses and picked up the phone.  She sighed, “Larynce and Larynce, Larynce the younger speaking.”

“Serena Larynce, if you don’t come back home later tonight, I will go to New York, knock you out, and carry you back to Massachusetts!”

“Good evening, mother,” Serena lazily sat back in her black leather chair.  It engulfed her thin body, and she felt sleepy.  She rubbed her temples, contemplating the New York skyline, drenched in darkness, smattered with glitter of lighted towers of gold.  “I’ll be there tomorrow early afternoon.  I just have to finish up some business here, go to Cambridge and pick up a few papers there to grade, and I’ll be there.”

“But tomorrow’s Christmas Eve!  We wanted you to be here with us the whole day!”

“I will…later,” she said, picking up another paper and starting to read it.

“Serena…”

“Mother, please don’t start with me.  We went through this last year.  I went though it today.  And Aunt Hetty already threw a fit when I wanted to stay in New York this week, instead of going to the Castle with her.”

“Well that just shows I’m right.  When your SENIOR partner in your law firm, who is also your aunt, calls it a day for both of you, it means that you both stop working.”
“Mother…”

“Don’t ‘mother’ me.  I want you home tomorrow morning.  The Dredsdales are spending Christmas with us, so you have to be here too.”

“ALL the Dredsdales?”  Her heart started to pound.  All the Dredsdales…which included…well…HIM!

“Yes, and if you came to visit more often, you’d know.  But no, you’re too busy with your law firm in New York and teaching at Harvard to come!”

“I’m sorry…” Serena felt her mind in a flurry of wishes…to stay at home, to go there and finally confront him, to just forget he ever existed…

“I’m worried about you…”

When ISN’T she worried? she rolled her eyes, tugging a short gold curl that fell in front of her face back behind her ear.  She focused her thoughts on talking to her mother.  She shouldn’t think about HIM right now.

“Serena, you’re all alone in that city, and you haven’t met anyone…”

*Of all times…of course!  It’s the holiday season…Nothing like packing a bunch of people in a house to know how much you want a bunch a people for yourself!* 

“I’m still young…”

“YOU’RE TWENTY-SIX!”

“That’s not old…”

“Serena, a twenty-six-year-old does not just LIVE in New York. She hides in the office buildings and apartment buildings, and goodness knows where you’ll meet someone in all the millions of people who live there…”

“Mom, I’m fine the way I am…”

“HA!  If you were fine the way you were, you’d be here.  Mark my words Serena, if you had any sense in family tradition, you’d be right here, right now.  And perhaps, if you had a HUSBAND, you’d understand that kind of duty…it’s called love of the family.  Look it up some time!”

With that, Ilene Larynce slammed down the phone, convincing her daughter to get out of her chair, and start to go back to her apartment.  She shut her eyes a moment, gathered her thoughts, and then stood up.

Serena sighed as she packed her things up.  Mother…

Ilene Larynce was still a stickler for tradition and American family values.  Even if it meant beating up her daughter to take her home.  Her reign as the First Lady was over, but the White House was never the same again.  Serena laughed to herself as she thought about it.

She brought her leather briefcase out the door of her nice office, and started to walk to the elevators.  She was the only one left on the floor.  Serena felt somewhat content with that fact, and walked a little lighter.

She got in the elevators and pressed the down button.

Serena was a stickler for work.  It was amazing how her value of American family was so different from her mother’s.  Serena had married her studies and job, and had began in her aunt’s law firm and had worked her way to the top.  She then took on Harvard, as the new law professor.  She rose to be head of the department.  She had a busy schedule, but she liked the business.  It was more professional.  And she was the embodiment of professionalism.

Her very fit body was always in strict business wear, unless she was out in one of those social things her mother told her to attend, every once in a while.  She jogged every morning in Cambridge when she was at Harvard, and sometimes ran in Central Park early in the morning when she was in New York.  But no one could really tell that now.  She looked feminine, and she looked professional.  Right now, she was wearing a pink Laura Ashley business suit, and her gold hair was bouncy and slightly straight, curling at the ends to her neck.  It flowed to just above her shoulders.  But it was now elegantly coiled up in a professional French twist, but strands were falling out and gathering around her soft face.  She took the short haircut out of the fact that there was little maintenance, and not because it was stylish, though she looked very beautiful with her hair that way.

As she stepped out of the elevator, she said good night to the security guard, and put on her trench coat, and buttoned up.  She wound her pink cashmere scarf around her neck, and put on her pink beret.  She then stepped out into the cold bustling of Manhattan.

The scarf and beret gave more away about her than anything else in her appearance.  The scarf showed that she was soft, and very beautiful on the inside, that she liked fun and pretty things, though she didn’t show it too often.  She had learned to restrain herself from careless fancies over the years.  But Serena Larynce, no matter how distant she was to the public, was still a little girl at heart, and only this way with her family and friends.

Now, the scarf was whipping against the late December winds.  Snow was swirling about, in pretty tendrils from the sky.  She walked briskly and lightly down 5th Avenue, passing the shoppers rushing out of Saks, happy with tons of shopping bags.  She passed the crowds walking about the Rockefeller Center, sighed and turned away while passing the beautiful Christmas tree, and after a few blocks, went up the steps to a fancy tall building.  As the doorman greeted her, she smiled and wished him a happy Christmas.  She then walked to the brass doors of the elevator and pushed the up button.  As she stepped in, she rested against the wall, closing her eyes lightly, pressing the button for the top floor, and inserting the key into the elevator that would allow her access to that floor.

As she stepped off the elevator, and got out her key to open her penthouse apartment.  She entered, plopping her work bag and purse to the floor, already carpeted with various other things she had carelessly dropped after coming home other times.

So Serena Larynce wasn’t perfect.  She didn’t have to manage a beautiful life AND clean her apartment.  That was just expecting way too much!  She only cleaned on rare occasions, when she knew she’d have company, or when she had a rare Saturday to herself.  Since she spent most of her engagements in other places, and since she rarely had a free Saturday, her apartment, however nicely it was decorated, was still a mess.

Serena had two main alternatives when she first decorated her apartment, and that was the homey, or the elegant.  She chose elegant, and cream velvet carpets, silky cream curtains, and cream-colored leather furniture.  The coffee table was glass with white marble ends, and her walls were cream, lit dimly by the simple light at the ceiling of the room.  The walls were also decorated with soft Monets and other impressionists.

She sighed as that elegance had more of the homey appearance now, literally, for her coffee table was cluttered with coffee mugs she had been mindlessly leaving there for a month or so, and her couch was cluttered with briefs she was reading, and more papers she was grading covered her laptop computer, which had drowned somewhere in there. She stepped around the obstacles on the floor to the kitchen, which was spotless, for lack of use.  However, her sink was filled to the brim with more coffee mugs.

*And my colleagues actually WONDER why I buy so many mugs, and why I like them for Christmas!*

Serena went to the kitchen counter, by her cordless phone charger.  She reached underneath the pile of papers next to it, pressed the button on the answering machine, and walked away from it, to the refrigerator, wondering if any of the leftovers of Chinese take out she had ordered three days ago was still edible.

“Serena!”

Serena jumped from the refrigerator and laughed when she realized that it was only her mother on the answering machine, and not in her apartment.  If Mom saw this place NOW, she’d kill me!  Her mother had undoubtedly called to find out why her daughter was not at the Castle, and still in New York. 

*She first probably tried Cambridge and then my prof office, and then called here and then my work number right after this, and yelled at me then!  I’ll have to remember that when I check my answering machines at Cambridge!*

“It is 9:30 on the night before Christmas Eve.  It’s bad enough you aren’t here, with the rest of us, but it’s even worse you aren’t even at your APARTMENT!  But then again, it must look like a pigsty now!  You better be out shopping or doing something careless, because if I call and catch you at work I will ground you at the Castle until you have spent all of a year with us!”

Serena then tuned out as she rummaged the refrigerator once more, pulling out and smelling the Chinese carton.  She wrinkled her nose and tossed it into her now slightly overflowing garbage can.  *I’ve got to take out the trash!*

She opened the freezer and finally decided on an ice cream sandwich.

A furious click.  Her mother had hung up.  Serena tuned in for more messages.

“Rena.  Ken.  Call.”

Serena laughed.  Kenneth Larynce DID hate answering machines.

And that was the end of the messages.

She went into the living room, paced around a bit, and finally decided that the phone was in the refrigerator. She went to the refrigerator, and there it was, sitting next to the milk carton. 

*I don’t know HOW it got there, and I don’t know HOW I know.* she calmly told herself.  *I don’t want to know.  If I have time, maybe I’ll clean up a little before I go to bed tonight.  It’s only around ten or so now,* as she looked at the clock on the wall.  *I’ve got a few hours. But I probably need two lifetimes.*

She then remembered the phone call, and picked up her phone and dialed Ken’s cell phone number.

A woman picked up, her slightly deep and rich voice answering.

“Ken Larynce’s phone, his wife speaking.”

“Hey Lita!”

“Rena Larynce, if you don’t get your butt here now your mother will kill you!” Lita scolded teasingly over the phone.

“I know, I know, it’s tough to get things done, though.  I’ll try.  I just got your husband’s message, so can I talk to my second cousin once removed?”  Serena laughed.

“He’s tucking his little princess in.”

“And how is his queen?”

“Fine, my restaurant’s doing great.  I’m thinking of opening in New York now as well.”

“So Boston, Denver, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, Seattle, Orlando and goodness knows where still isn’t good enough?”

“Well, when your husband is the president-elect, the first lady’s got to do something!”

Serena laughed.  “I suppose so.  And are all the Larynces and Dredsdales there at the Castle, listening to my mother rant and rave about her irresponsible daughter who doesn’t have her priorities set straight?”

“Pretty much all the guests have arrived.  Mina Lockhart got here this morning with Andrew, and Chad Larynce and his wife Raye got here this afternoon.  You remember her, right?  The wedding in…what was it…August?  Yeah, right after cousin Loraine’s!”

“Yes, Raye is the somewhat temperamental business woman.  But very kind and sweet once you get to know her.  I remember her.  Didn’t really get to talk with her or anything…hope to be better acquainted, though.”

“And first cousin Amy came this evening, and brought her fiancee, Greg!”

“OHHHHHH!!!  THAT’S SOOOOO CUTE!!!!!!!!!”  Serena squealed.  “It’s about time Amy met someone special.  I remember school years; she was more than a social recluse!”

“Yeah, I’m pleased too.  Greg is a very sweet and intelligent young man. He’s pretty cute.  To top it all off, he also absolutely worships her.  They love each other a lot.”

“I’m glad, but I wish Amy had told me!”

“Well, considering no one can ever get a hold of you…why don’t you try a cell phone, or a pager?”

“I fear having them robbed.”

“Then move somewhere safe!  You’re twenty-six, and alone in a huge dangerous city.”

“You sound like my mother.”

“Well, I worry.”

“Even more like my mother.”

“Serena, you know you’re always the one set apart from the Larynces…you never come to these family things…”

Serena smiled over the phone.  “Well, things get busy…”

“Busier than family?”

“Believe me, I don’t miss much except for my mom, dad, Sam, and you guys.  And sometimes Gram, when she’s not setting me up…”

“Speaking of setups…”

“Oh…No…” Serena closed her eyes rubbing her eyes.

“There’s something funny going on here…”

“And I bet it has to do with me and a Dredsdale.  The lengths my grandmother will go to see me ‘happily settled’.  I can find my own husband…if I want one.”

“Serena…”

“What?”

“Anyways, rumor has it that the Dredsdale PRINCE is here for Christmas.  I don’t believe YOU have ever met him, though almost every other Larynce girl has.  They’re all madly in love.”

“Prince?” her heart beat faster. 

HIM.

“Yes…from what I hear, he’s Gertrude’s favorite, she raised him since his parents had died.  Every Larynce princess is crazy about him.  He is hot, I’m told,” Lita laughed, thinking of the distress that was in Serena right now.

“But Dredsdales are genetically inclined to look fabulous anyhow,” Serena giggled, trying to sound calm.  Her heart…it was up in her throat.

HIM!

“But none are as hot as the prince.  I haven’t met him, but I’ve heard.  Ken tutored him English when he first came to America.”

“From where?” Serena asked, dumbly.  Of course, she knew.  She knew everything.
“Japan,” Lita said, smiling over the line.

“Japan?” she asked again conversationally…trying to sound calm…she knew the story…she just wanted to hear it again, she supposed.

Besides, Lita didn’t know about…that…did she?

“But he’s not Japanese.  He was born in America, had the same story as you did, basically, but this time, it’s not a happy ending.  His parents got killed in a car accident, and he was taken here by Gertrude,” Lita continued, thinking she could hear the shallow nervous breathing on the other side of the line.

“Ah…no wonder the Larynce cats are all sharpening their claws. The matriarch’s prodigy.  I think I’ve heard of him.  Hot, but cruel!  Isn’t he some kind of DOCTOR or something?” she asked, again conversationally.

Of course he was a doctor…she’d known that for years…

“Yeah.  From what I hear, he’s a GREAT doctor, top of his field, teaching at Johns Hopskins.  I hear he also teaches a little med and bio up at Harvard as well.  You might know him,” Lita said.

HA!  Know Him, or know OF Him?*

“I don’t think so.  I haven’t really gotten to know the staff outside of the law department.  I don’t think I even SET FOOT outside the law department buildings and my apartment there.  But anyways, about the prince…what was his name…Darrick, Darren, Dorkus…what was it?” she laughed. 

Keep up the charade…besides, she never really MET him…

“Darien.”

“Ah…with a name like that a girl ought to melt upon just hearing it!” Serena faked a sigh. 

The name, however, was more than familiar.  Ah, the boy Gram always mentioned to Serena, the name that had been stealthily slipped into her mind and memory. 

*Darien did this…Darien did that…* 

She was FIERCELY competitive with the image of all Darien represented.  However, she wouldn’t compete in medicine with him…she wasn’t really into the medical stuff.  She loved politics and American Government and History…and she had an astounding speaking ability…a captain of the Debate team for three years in a row in high school, then another three in college.  No, Darien Dredsdale couldn’t compete with her there, but he did projects with profs and ended up going to places like Poland and Italy to present his ideas…it was ridiculous the way they competed, and she knew it now, but when she was younger, there was an importance. 

“Oh, I’m already feeling my cheeks flush at his name, and my heart is thudding.” 

Actually, it was, for she was going to finally meet, face to face, with the one man she had competed with all her life.  She wondered what it would be like.  And she knew, it would be strange.

“Rena, I wouldn’t talk so fast.  If everything said about him is true, then you will absolutely swoon once you meet him.” *SWOON?  She’ll be in love…she’s already halfway there…though she’s never met him!* Lita smirked.

“I’m sure I will…with laughter…” 

She knew of his good looks.  She never saw him…she had many opportunities when she was younger, at many of the parties, but she never cared much to meet him.  She was always afraid…to go and find that the boy she was competing with, this young intelligent man, would be a nice guy.  It was TOO hard to compete with a nice guy.  Now, she had read some medical journals about him (only to remain up to date in medicine, of course).  His name was everywhere.  She’d never seen him before, but had a vague image in her mind of him.  She imagined the arrogant young man she’d always pictured, with slicked blond hair, and proud dark brown eyes.  He’d be tall and domineering, with an ego the size of Mount Everest. 

To see an actual picture would spoil her image, and spoil her whole fancy.

“Serena…I know you’ve been wanting to meet him.  When I first met you, one of the first things Ken said to me was that you had been fiercely competitive with  guy you’ve never met, and that he was Darien Dredsdale.  I don’t know…we all thought that it would be romantic…” Lita started, thinking that she HAD to tell Serena she knew…it was fair this way, she supposed.  Then she could tease her all the more for pretending Serena DIDN’T know of him.

“HA!  I thought I was beyond the age of romance!” Serena laughed nervously, having been seen through.  Her cheeks colored and she looked up the ceiling, closing her eyes.  Darien’d never hear about this anyhow, but all the same…

“Ken married me when he was twenty-nine.  Darien’s only twenty- eight.  I was twenty-seven.  You’re only going to be twenty-six.  Ken and I’ve been married for ten years now, and have a beautiful nine-year-old, and a wonderful six-year-old.  That wasn’t too late.  Who knows, Serena, Darien could sweep you off your feet, and you could fall in love, as fast as I did.”

“Yeah, but you’re sweet, agreeable.  You WANTED matrimony. You loved each other.  I’m not that kind of girl anymore.  I was when I was a teenager, and that was what being a teenager was all about.  Being foolish enough to fall in love with love.  Now I know romance does exist, but only for certain ones.  Not me.  Especially not with some “prince” all my mindless cousins are swooning over; he’s probably got the body of a tennis pro, a bank account the size of Fort Knox in Switzerland, and let’s not forget the brain of tapioca pudding…”

“He’s the HEAD OF THE MED DEPARTMENT OF JOHN’S HOPSKINS!”  Lita sighed.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.  My cousins don’t care for intelligent guys; they tend to be boring, seeing that INTELLIGENT guys tend to talk about things other than other women’s dresses.  I hope my taste in men is better than THAT, or else, he’ll have to keep me up with fashion trends!”  Serena knew that was entirely untrue.  If he was a blockhead, then she’d never forgive herself for competing with an illusion.

“We’ll see, when you duel with the prince yourself tomorrow.”

“And is my charming opponent already there?” she asked, her eyes bright and wide.  Her heart quivering.

“As a matter of fact, he came in an hour ago.  He then proceeded to be locked up in the den with my husband for an hour, and they discussed macho guy things.  Speaking of which, I think my husband is ready for you now.”  Serena wanted to protest.  She wanted to hear more about Darien…so she’d be prepared tomorrow.

She heard the phone being passed, and she heard a clearing of a throat.  “Rena Larynce.  Why aren’t you here yet?  You’re mother’s worried sick about you!”
Serena laughed.  “And how is my cousin, the president-elect of the United States of America?”

“Good, if his dear cousin Rena will agree to be his wonderful attorney general.”

“WHAT?”

“I meant it, Rena. I want you to be my attorney general when I take office.  I KNOW you’ll just do a great job!”

Serena laughed. “I’m, well, very flattered that you have asked me!  In fact, I am going to something I don’t normally do.  I’m going to accept this position impulsively, and not even bother thinking about that law firm I have in New York.”

“I know, it’s complicated to get out of a law partnership, but Rena, I know it’s been your dream to sweep all of Washington, ever since you’ve lived here to be mortified at the press.”

Serena pressed her lips, remembering the past.  She had changed over the years.  No, the eight year old Usagi Tsukino in that walked carefully onto American soil for the first time would never had guessed she’d end up being Serena Larynce, the former first daughter, successful lawyer.

Sure, she had certainly regretted leaving Japan.  Though she was born in America, she had barely even begun to live when her father was transferred for diplomatic reasons to Japan to discuss politics with the Japanese president. It wasn’t fair that when she was eight, the American government had decided that Michael Larynce was needed back in Washington, where he could preside over American politics.
And certainly wasn’t fair when Usagi Tsukino had to give up her bunny name, her Japanese name, which was a mere adoption to make the Larynces welcome in Japan, to be Miss Serena Larynce, always “Miss Serena” to everyone, or “the Larynce princess”.

And it was even more unfair when she had to learn English from scratch, since the only thing she had known in her life was Japanese.  And being a Larynce didn’t help.  She didn’t understand everything, but she knew that people looked down on her, as the dull-witted princess, the Late Larynce, as she was nicknamed, who’d only get what she want because she had the money to do it.

Well, she showed them.  Serena was very sensitive to what people said, and after going through stages of arrogance, anger and self-pity, she decided not to throw in the towel, and just take the press on a little ride.

She had risen quickly, taking in her information the speed of light, and skipping two grades…the one grade behind she had started before at, and then another grade for good measure.  She was accomplished, and she was ready.  She had shown them all.  Serena Larynce was not a dumb princess.  She was clever, beautiful, and very distant.

It wasn’t her fault if she was born into one of the richest families in America, and it was even less her fault that her father had happened to be likable enough to become Massachusetts state senator, and eventually president of the United States.  So there was absolutely no reason why the press should have had a field day with her anyway.

He became president when Serena was studying in the most prestigious schools in the nation, when she was fourteen.  She heard about it on the radio, and had called her father, who hadn’t wanted to disturb her studies; after all, she had two huge tests the next day.

She spent only two years at the White House, when she was not at her private boarding school, and the remaining six years of her father’s presidential term was spent at college.  She had only been sixteen when she had graduated high school.
Serena Larynce was different, but not quite as different as everyone thought.  She kept the distant image because it suited her study environment.  If she remained distant, the press would be distant with her as well, calling her shots as acts of arrogance, or some nonsense foolishness.  But she wasn’t really as distant and cold as the press said.  In fact, she loved her family, and she loved her friends.  It wasn’t her fault if the press had set out to throw mud at her in the very beginning, and it wasn’t her fault if the press decided to nickname her the Ice Queen.

Of course, in the midst of all this, there was also another icon she always fought…and that was the ever-lasting image of this boy her grandmother had put on a pedestal…Darien Dredsdale, the Dredsdale prodigy…her “intended”, sort of.  She knew her grandmother had hopes for both of them, and it annoyed her.  So she strived to be better than Darien, trying to show her grandmother that she was good enough for anyone she chose…it was her choice, and not Darien’s, not Gram’s.

“Rena?  You there?  Are you reminiscing?”

“Of course!  What else?”

“Rena.  Don’t worry about the press.  You are untouchable now. Perfect.  Besides, you never really cared much about what they said.”

A bump formed in Serena’s throat and she laughed superficially and said, “No, of course not!”

“Well, then just show them you don’t care.  Be my attorney general, and be the best attorney general in history.  Make the Larynces proud.”

“All right.”

“Now pack those bags.  We want to see you here tomorrow, safe and sound, relaxed and cheerful.  It’s the holidays, and we’re going to be one loving family again.”

“Yeah, the bunch of brats, sweeties, gossips, charity saviors, snobs and other things that we are.  I can’t wait.  For a whole week, and maybe beyond, if there is a snow blizzard.  And this time, we do it times two, with a new family there as well,” she sighed, laughing.  No, the Larynces weren’t ALL floozies, only a few.  Over all, the Larynces were a great family.

“Well, see you tomorrow.”

“Bye, Ken, and thank you.”

As she pressed the off button, she placed the phone back in the refrigerator as she mindlessly took out the milk carton and poured herself some milk.  As she gulped down the glass, calm and composed, a smile crept into her like a tide.  She set the glass in the pile of mugs in her sink and shined.

ATTORNEY GENERAL!!!!! 

“WAHOO!!!!!!!” she shouted into the air.

She spun around the things on the floor, and slipped on a stray sheet and fell the couch, laughing hysterically that no matter how late she had to stay up, she was going to clean this apartment, pack up, and leave for Boston first thing tomorrow.
She started to organize her things and pick them up.  She took the shopping bags she had carelessly brought home over the last month and hung the clothes inside the bags up in her closet.  All those nice business suits which she never had the time to get out of the shopping bags.  And all those nice casual clothes she was going to bring with her.  Serena rarely went shopping, but when she did, she went all out.  She spent a whole day.  She knew she had some things in her Cambridge apartment as well, but she decided she didn’t need to stop by there anymore.  She had some papers already here, and she’d take those to grade.  As she piled stack over stack of briefs on the shelves, into the folders of the filing cabinet, she chose a few she was going to bring with her to Massachusetts.

At four in the morning, Serena had cleaned her living room, her desk room, her kitchen, her bedroom and closet.  Her mugs were all washed, and her phone was charging in the phone set.  Two or three of her briefs were sitting on her desk to be packed into her work bag for her trip, a yellow highlighter placed on top, and a stack of papers was at the side, with a red marker placed on top of that.  By that, her packed up laptop computer sat in her nice desk chair, and a sappy romance novel was placed with it.

In her bedroom all the clothes she had planned to bring were folded and laid on the bed.

Serena was laid out on the couch, asleep.


Chapter Two


Serena lazily opened her eyes as she looked around the perfectly clean living room.  She was at first disoriented, but she then remembered why she was in jeans and a sweatshirt, with a dust rag over her golden curls, and sprawled out on the couch.

She got up slowly, and looked at the clock.  It was noon!

Oh shoot!

Serena rushed into the bedroom, starting to place the clothes into the suitcase she had already brought out last night, er, morning.

*I must have been more tired than I thought!  I actually slept for EIGHT hours!*

She stormed into her desk room, attacking her things with a vengeance as they were all shoved recklessly into her work bag.

After she showered and washed her hair, she blow-dried it, and put on a white turtle neck, a pink angora cardigan sweater, and some light khakis.  She drew some of her hair back and clipped it in a pearl barrette.  She quickly fastened pearl earrings in her ears.  She then stuffed her bathroom accessories into her suitcase and out the door she went, hectic at 2:00 in the afternoon, anxious to catch the subway to the train station.


Darien Dredsdale paced his guest room as he talked into a phone, outlining a procedure to some doctors of the phone.  “You’re sure I don’t need to go and help?”  Please say I need to go…

“No, I think we can handle it from here, Dr. Dredsdale.  We just couldn’t read your diagnosis at first…have a good vacation.  Merry Christmas.”

*Yeah right.  Merry whatever…Bah humbug and hope your new years sucks!*

He pressed the “off” button of the cordless, and carelessly tossed it on the bed.  He then threw himself on the soft mattress as well, and stared at the ceiling.

He was trapped.  In Larynce Manor…the “Castle”, as everyone called it.  It was a beautiful place, but he’d much rather be at home, in Washington.

But no, this time his great aunt WANTED him to be here.  Earlier years, she had always sent him off to boarding schools and other things, but this year, she wanted him here.

And from what he’d heard from Ilene Larynce’s wailing, SHE was going to be here. The girl that had haunted his very existence ever since childhood. Sure, she skipped to two grades.  Who cared?  Sure, she was a nice successful lawyer with a penthouse in New York.  So what?  He’d work hard too.

Serena Larynce, the first brat, as he had dubbed her, had too much.

And was a snob, and an Ice Queen, and it was so obvious that she did not know anything about her family, if she wasn’t here already.  Her mom had to DRAG her here! Never mind the fact that HIS great aunt had done the same exact thing to HIM two days before. But he’d listened, and he was here, unlike her.

She was in his memory as far back as he could remember.  This perfect statue, who would always remain a memory of cool intelligence and snobbery.  And now, he was going to meet her, see that face, which he’d always imagined before.

Sure, he’d seen pictures of her in her childhood, from the magazines, since her family was in the spotlight then.  But now, she’d faded into the busy world of New York.  Meatball head.  The very uniquely strange hairstyle she had maintained with her heavy river of hair for goodness knows how long.  He imagined her, though.  A tall blonde very much like her cousins, or maybe even shallow enough to dye her hair to another shade.  He imagined cold dark eyes.  A frail thin body, for starving and overworking.  Her nose would be pointing to the ceiling, and her neck would be arched back permanently, since she had turned up her nose to everyone too long.
He smirked.  He’d be HONORED to meet her.

But, he’d heard rumors from his own relatives, and even his cousins.  Serena Larynce was supposedly one of the most beautiful women in the whole circle, and a whole lot smarter than her cousins.

He hoped so.  There had to be ONE woman here that he could find interesting enough to dance with, or else he’d be alone and fall prey to the scheming cousins.  Serena Larynce HAD to be smart.  After all, she WAS a lawyer.  Sure, he’d hate her for her intelligence, but at least she’d be interesting.  And besides, he didn’t want to find out that this stupid little competition all these years was an floozy.
He sighed, as he picked up another medical journal to read.


Serena hurried off the train onto the platform in Boston at 4:45.  Her family would begin dinner in an hour and fifteen minutes.  From the station, the taxi would take half and hour to an hour to get to the Castle, in GOOD traffic.

As she had noticed, the traffic looked pretty okay, and she signaled a taxi.  She hurried in.  “Larynce Manor.  If you make it in less than an hour, I’ll pay you double!”

The taxi driver, anxious to get that double pay, drove quickly.  Serena quietly looked out the window, watching the familiar sights pass her by.

The Larynce week.  Times two.

Serena remembered the Christmas week with her family in her teenage years.  Even with her crowded schedule, she always spent Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the entire week until New Years Day, with her family.  Most of the time, there was a snow blizzard to bring the New Year, and Serena had to stay a few days longer with her family.

This year would definitely be different.  The Dresdales weren’t total strangers or anything like that.  She’d met quite a few Dredsdales as the years had gone by.  And her grandmother spoke constantly about them, because Gertrude Dredsdale, was after all, her best friend.  So it was perfectly normal that the Larynce traditional everyone-get-together week was extended to more “family” and the Castle was going to be shared.

But this time, Darien Dredsdale would be there.

He was never there before at the gatherings, and if he WAS there, then she’d always have some business or test…or if not, her grandmother had that knack of sending Serena to do something like skiing with her cousins or on some stupid excursion like that.

No, this time, they’d meet, and she quivered at the thought. Him, her only him, whom she had competed with all these years, yearned to beat.  He was a paragon, and now, he was…well…he was going to meet her. And she knew that he probably care less about meeting her.

She could see it now.

Larynce Manor was fondly nicknamed the Castle by all the Larynces, for Serena’s grandmother Gail reigned it like a queen, and the Larynces who lived in it were her subjects.  The Castle was built like a castle as well, by Serena’s great-great-grandfather, who loved castles in youth, and decided to have one of his own when he had enough money.

The Castle was a gothic structure, and finely built.  Not many repairs had to be made on it.  And, as Serena remembered, living in the White House was NOTHING like living in the Castle.

All the Larynces lived in it, at one time or another.  For visits, for life, it didn’t really matter, the Castle was so big, one didn’t necessarily see family every day in that house!

Serena’s own room in her childhood in the Castle would be hers again this week.  Closing her eyes, she imagined the multitude of sleep she could catch this week.  She could see her room, the perfect little place where she’d lock herself in many times, especially when she did not desire to spend time with her gossiping cousins.
There was white carpeting, and white walls, bordered on the top edge to the ceiling and the bottom edge to the floor with a line complex golden design on wallpaper.  The space between was blank, save for the paintings and other things she had hung up.

There was a shelf of awards, newspaper clippings, magazine pictures of her and her family, and photo albums on one wall, adjacent to her wonderful book collection.  There was also a window the opposite side of the shelves.  It was very large, and very wide, and also had a window seat.  Her room was on the third floor and had a view of the rose garden.  She had spent many times sitting on the window seat, dreaming, reading, and studying.  Her desk was inside, by the windows.  Her bed was located next to the desk, a cozy thing with a white silk blanket with gold embroidery.  All her furniture was white.

She shook herself out of reverie as the house came into her view.  The trip, as she checked her brown leather-band watch on her wrist, had taken fifty minutes.  It was now 5:35.  She paid the driver double and grabbed her work bag, her laptop, and her small suitcase and went up to the door, pulling the sash of the doorbell.
Lots of pomp and circumstance.

Serena looked sheepish as she saw that it was dark and she just cut it to dinner by 25 minutes.  Her mother would have something to say, for sure.

The maid opened the door and Serena smiled and greeted her nicely.

“Miss Serena!  Your mother has been worried sick about you!” the maid began.

“What else is new?” Serena rolled her eyes.

It was then when all the people of the house crowded into the foyer and all smiled as they all focused on the very last guest.  Serena the VERY Late Larynce.


Chapter Three


“Rena!”  Amy came running forward.  Serena greeted her with a fierce hug.  She was looking better, with her porcelain face tinted slightly with healthy pink and her blue hair nice and fluffy.  Amy looked very happy and her blue eyes glowed with happiness.

Not at all like what she was like when we were in school.

Amy Anderson was not only one of her best friends, but she was also her first cousin, by her father’s younger sister, and they had studied together, though Serena knew her path would be in law, and Amy’s in medicine.  Amy was a sweet girl, soft blue-eyed, as soft as water, and her hair blue-streaked light, and fluffy.  She was very shy and had met Serena because they shared a dorm room at the private school they went to together.

“Your mom’s-“

“I know, worried about me.”

Another excited squeal was heard and a blond woman pushed through the people on the stairs to run to Serena.  “Rena!!!!!!!!!!!”  Mina Lockhart bounded over to Serena.

However shy Amy was, Mina Lockhart was much different.  The blond, blue-eyed angel was very outgoing and the silver-screen princess.  She was a superb actress, and that was how she had met her movie star husband Andrew.  She looked amazingly like Serena, for they were distantly related because their grandmothers on Serena’s mother and Mina’s father sides were sisters.  However, Mina was also one of the Virginia Dredsdales, for her mother had been a Dredsdale.  The Dresdales were almost as famous as the Larynces, and they owned most of Virginia’s seats in the house and senate.  There was even a Dredsdale as governor!

Serena’s grandmother on her father’s side, Gail Larynce, was best friends with Gretchen Dredsdale, the matriarch of the Dredsdales.  Serena’s grandmother was the matriarch of the Larynces, so it was no surprise that Serena had seen plenty of Mina, since they always met at the constant social gatherings.

Now, as Serena looked at Mina, she was surprised to see Mina’s stomach quite swollen.  “Wait a minute, you didn’t say you were…”

“Expecting?  It’s fabulous, isn’t it?”

“Boy or girl?”

“We don’t want to know yet.  We want it to be a surprise.  But I think it’s a girl.  Andrew thinks its a boy.  I don’t care; either way, I’m going to be a mommy!”

“Mina!  Oh my gosh!”  Serena smiled glowing, dizzy with all the happiness she felt. 

“Congratulations!”

“I wanted to tell you in person!  I wanted to see that face of yours. I knew it’d be quite a show.  It appears the family thinks so too!”

Serena was now speechless.  She just stood, shaking her head, trying to clear her thoughts.

“Also, Serena, your mother is going to lock you up for a year.”

“How many people has she actually TOLD?”

At that moment, she heard a woman shoving her way through the crowd by the hall leading to kitchen.

“Serena Rebecca Larynce!  You are now grounded!”

“Hello mother!”  Serena smiled weakly, hugging the late fifty- year-old woman.  “I had a few problems getting here.”

“Don’t give me that!  You are now grounded and you can’t leave for another year.”

“How about another week?  I do, after all, have some classes to teach, and some more briefs to read.  I still have some leftover papers to grade from last semester.  That is LAST time I decide on an essay final!  And where is Daddy and Sam?”

“Right here sis!”  Sam, a tall young man at twenty-three, with light brown hair and the same eyes as his sister, threaded through another crowd to greet his sister with a kiss on the cheek.  “I have a surprise for you too!  I’m engaged!”

“You are only twenty-three, young man!  You’re already getting married.  I feel ancient now!”

“Meet my fiancee, Mika Stevens.” A redhead with beautiful blue- green eyes approached Serena and she smiled at her warmly.

“Serena Larynce, Sam’s big sister.  Watch out, he talks in sleep,” Serena said.

“Sis!”

“And-“

“That’s enough, Bunny!”

“Daddy!” Serena ran and plowed herself into her father’s arms.  “I missed you Daddy.  You never scold me or bug me, and I’m so happy to see you again.”

“I don’t bother bugging you because your Aunt Hetty reports to me every Monday morning.”

“DADDY!”

“She’s your law associate.  She knows pretty much what happens in your life.”

“Michael Larynce, you will stop frustrating your daughter right now!”  a regal elderly voice hung over everyone.  Serena turned to the entrance of the hall that led to the throne room, and her eyes widened.

“Gram!”  If it was possible to glow even more, Serena did.  She gave the woman a hug.  Gail Larynce looked as regal as she always was, in a gown of blue velvet, with the tall stature she had passed on to her children and grandchildren.

“Now, we don’t have to all stand here.  Dinner is in twenty-five minutes!” Gail now yelled to everyone, looking at her gold pocket watch.  “You’ve all got to wash up and get up in the Christmas clothes!  So let’s get!”

Serena smiled as the crowd retreated.  She was starting to feel claustrophobic.  Gail then turned to her and said, “Now you get going upstairs to your room and get on some classy clothes.  We’ll catch up later.”

Serena grinned, and took her things up the winding stairs, through the crowds of Larynces and Dredsdales…some she knew, and some she didn’t.

She walked down the slightly crowded hall, and into her room.  Nothing like home.  She then plopped herself down on the bed and leaned back, ready to fall asleep.  Instantly, she remembered she had to change for dinner.  She immediately sat up, thinking about what to wear.

She didn’t have to wear anything truly fancy, like “gala” or “wedding” for Christmas dinner.  No, the Larynces wore the “formal familiness” kind of clothing.  She pushed herself off the bed and turned on the small crystal chandelier.

Little rainbows refracted from the crystal danced about the ceiling and Serena went to the suitcase to open it and hang up some clothes.

Five minutes later, she pulled out a skirt of layers of lavender silk, looking misty and flowing, a lavender silk tunic that flowed to her hips in wavy ends of the same layered misty quality that would go over her shoulders with a wide but not low cut collar and tied together at the sides by a pair of lavender satin ribbons on each side tipped with pearls, and a lavender silk blouse.

She took her clothes off and started with the lavender silk knee- highs.  After, she out on the blouse, followed by the skirt and finally the tunic.  She tied a pretty bow on each side.  She then put on lavender silk flats.

She went to the mirror and brushed her hair, sitting down.  She combed her hair up into two buns, capping them with lavender lace covers, as a family joke; Serena had worn that hair style from the time she had hair long enough to age sixteen. 

She wore it occasionally now.  However, the length of her hair no longer allowed streamers of hair to fall down from the buns anymore, so the lace bun covers had thin lavender ribbon hanging down to her ears, with pearls tipping the end.  She kept her pearl earrings on, and decided to unbutton the top button of her blouse to put on a thin gold chain with a single pearl around the base of her neck.

As she stood up, she smiled.  The hair do made her look like a child…a rather big child.  But she was still beautiful, and sophistication seeped her entire being.  She got up from her white wooden chair, with a gold cushion, and opened her walk -in closet door to check herself in the full-length mirror.

At that moment, the dinner bell sounded, and Serena walked to the door, opening it and stepping out, turning the light off behind her.

She walked into a man who was walking out of the room next to hers.  The halls really should have been built larger.

Actually, the halls were rather large, and Serena’s was at the end of a hall, in a circular court of rooms.  Serena had only backed up after she closed her door because she noticed a name plate above her room and read “Serena Rebecca Larynce.”  It was a new improvement.  So was the little gold box by her door, which was apparently stuffed with mail.

“Oh, excuse me,” mumbled softly.

Her sapphire blue eyes turned to meet ocean blue eyes, and was shocked to find the deepest pair she had ever seen in her life.


Chapter Four


He was tall, with dark black hair and broad shoulders.  He was in great shape, Serena noted, and he was very hot.  Who is this?  Serena contemplated.
In the dim lighting of the hallway, she felt a general air of romance, and she smiled him, feeling very romantic and beautiful.  She then turned and walked away, knowing, she’d meet him later.

His mouth was twisted in a slight smile, and his face though strongly and handsomely carved, displaying slight confusion.

Who is SHE?  Darien Dredsdale stood, looking after the blond with the gorgeous blue eyes.

He’d been sleeping the better part of the afternoon after talking on the phone with Washington this morning and finding out that his presence was not needed. 

Between structuring curriculum for Johns Hopskins, and correcting his final essays, he slept some more…being a surgeon, and professor he normally didn’t get much sleep.  He’d been sleeping when he heard the dinner bell.  He was slightly annoyed, for he was very tired, and wanted to sleep a little more.  He quickly checked his slightly sleep-ruffled hair, and quickly went to the closet to grab his navy blue shirt.  He changed his sweatpants into khakis and put on a nice silk tie to finish it off.

And he had stepped out to find a young woman backing into his arms.

As she turned and apologized, Darien’s still slightly asleep mind was trying to register where he’d seen her before.

She was beautiful, in the dim light, all her features were soft and pleasing, especially in that nice outfit.  Her hair was adorably put up, and it reminded him a little of the pictures of Serena Larynce…but then again, all the Larynces looked pretty much the same, blonde hair, and blue eyes.

It was then when he saw her eyes glow as she smiled, and saw her turn and walk down the hall.  He stood there a little while more, trying to place the face, but still failing miserably.  She was either a Larynce or a distant Dredsdale.  Who knew which.  He didn’t know his family.  He’d been ten when he first came to America.  He was twenty-nine now.  He didn’t have the time to get to know everyone in his family, with all his studying.

Darien, however handsome he was, was not as charming as all the Larynce girls thought.  His looks had slightly clouded their minds, for Darien Dredsdale was actually a distant, emotionless young man.  And he saw no reason to marry, though he’d heard rumors of his marrying one of the Larynce princesses.
He prided himself on proving them absolutely wrong.

Where did she come from? he looked around the hall.  There were a few rooms everywhere, but he had no idea which on she had come out of.  As he looked around, his gaze fixed upon one name plaque which slightly interested him. I didn’t know I was staying next door to the Ice Queen!

As he puzzled over the fact that he had not yet seen Serena Larynce, he heard some people coming out of the room two doors down.

Ken and Lita Larynce stepped out of the room, and smiled to Darien.

“Hey Darien!  What are you looking at?” Lita asked nicely.

“Serena Larynce is next door to me,” Darien pointed to the plaque.

“You met her?  She FINALLY got in about twenty minutes ago. There was this huge show in the foyer.”

“I didn’t see her.  I was asleep, I think.”

“Well then, that’s your fault.  Serena’s a very sweet girl.”

“The ice queen?” he said, questioningly.

“I resent that,” Ken shook his head.  “I though I chose an open-minded surgeon general.”

“The press are all in fear of her.  There is plenty of reason to call her that.”

“That’s because they never tried to understand her…” Lita started, in defense for her friend.

“But did she ever try to let herself be understood?”  Darien asked back.

Lita was silent.  Darien had a point.  Serena Larynce never tried to let the press think otherwise about her.

“She’s actually very sweet, Darien, and I know you’ll like her,” Ken looked at Lita and they decided not to tell him that she’d be his colleague when Ken became president.

“Well, let’s get to dinner,” Lita said.  “We don’t want to miss anything!”

Serena sat at a round table with Amy on her left, Mina on her right.  She sat back and looked about her, scanning the room for her mother and father and Sam.
Mother and father sat with Uncle William and Aunt Hilary, the Clintons.  The former president’s grandmother was a Larynce.  It appeared that they were discussing White House life.  It was sweet.

And Sam was over in another corner, talking with Bill Gates, one of the more popular Dredsdales…his mother was a Dredsdale.  Sam was a computer engineer, and was very enthusiastic about it.  Mika, as Serena had found out was in computer graphics.

The dinner was held in the grand dining room, which was only used on very formal occasions.  It was the second largest room in the Castle, and just as beautiful as the Throne room.  The floor was dark green marble, with obsidian swirled into it, and the room was dimly lit by chandeliers at the high ceiling.  The walls were lined halfway up with wooden paneling, and the rest was white, with portraits of Larynces…lining all the way.  Also, every once in a while, there was a lamp on the wall, with a green lamp shade.

Serena smiled as she focused on the doorway.  Ken and Lita entered the room, and smiled and waved at her.  She smiled, stood and pointed to the last few seats left at the table.  She then frowned as she noticed that there was another person walking with them, and that man was the one she had met in the hall.

Ken and Lita made their way to the table, and Serena went forward to hug Lita.  “I didn’t see YOU running to me when I got in!”

“I was trying to get Kevin to take a bath.”

“Did you?”

“After almost knocking him out, yes.”

Serena smiled.  “Nice to see you, Lita.”

She then turned to Ken, “Ken!  I’m so happy to see you, after just talking with you on the phone yesterday.”

“Well, you know talking isn’t the same as seeing.”

“Yeah, I’ve missed you.  I miss having mud in my face.”

“It was your fault if you decided to come out and play football with all of us last year!”

“Yeah, can you imagine!  Me, the ice queen, playing football on the lawns of Larynce Manor, on the day after Christmas, and then being tackled the president elect of the United States of America.”

She had noticed then that the young man previously with Lita and Ken was now up at the table with Gertrude, and taking a seat with her.

So he’s tight with the matriarch.

They talked on, and as they listened to Gail and Gertrude toast the Christmas dinner, they smiled and clinked champagne glasses.

Serena ate dinner to her heart’s content, and after dessert, sat back, smiling at the others.  Chad and Raye came and talked with them a while, and the dinner was generally very fun and heartwarming.

Her eyes, however, always strayed to a faraway table, where a man sat, facing her.  She discovered that he was looking at her as much as she was looking at him.
Catching his eyes made her whole being shake.  She’d lower her eyes, or look away, and be extremely distracted.  The others at the table noticed, but did not know the reason for her distraction.  Raye Larynce, however, noticed, but kept the knowledge to herself.

As dinner finished, Serena got up and walked out early, and into the throne room by herself, looking at the brightly lit Christmas tree, surrounded by darkness at the moment.

The throne room was the largest in the Castle.  On ordinary days, the room would be empty, its velvet curtains drawn back on the whole west and east walls, letting sunlight pour in.  The room’s chandeliers were crystal, and hung from the ceiling.  The floor was gold and white marble, as Serena remembered, and there was a gold carpet running the length of entrance to throne.  The throne was a simple elegance.  Sitting on a platform of gold velvet carpeting, it was gold with slight carving, and white velvet cushion.  Nothing more.

On social evenings, the carpet strip was removed, but the platform and the throne stayed.  There were sometimes tables set up for fancy banquets, or an orchestra was set up in front of the throne, for a night of ballroom dancing.  The chandeliers were lit, and the gold and white velvet curtains were sometimes drawn and sometimes not.

It was Serena’s favorite room.  She loved the whole royalty of it.  She like elegance and style.  She had remembered, that for her sixteenth birthday, Gram let her sit on the throne for the first time, and Serena was absolutely thrilled.

Now, since it was Christmastime, there were golden ornaments, and red ribbons, and red satin Christmas balls.  The tree stood where the throne normally was, so it was large and very intimidating to any child, being a whole twenty-five feet tall.

The star at the top was made out of pure gold, and was glittering beautifully in the light of the candles which were lit around the room.  Serena’s eyes shined as she looked around the ballroom, to see the garlands everywhere, with holly and mistletoe at the doorways, even the ones that led out to the east and west gardens, which were on the opposite window sides.  It was beautiful, and she spun around and around, imagining the balls to be held by her grandmother for Christmas and New Year’s.  The Throne room would comfortably fit more than a thousand people…dancing!  At Christmas time, Serena’s grandmother held the most exclusive, glamorous ball of the rich American social calendar, and she invited people all over the country.

The Christmas Masquerade was the most famous of Larynce traditions.  Everyone in Larynce Port would be invited, the population being a number of successful businessmen, and others.  There were also guests from elsewhere, from around the country.  There were only 150 to 200 Larynces, after all, and there was room for a thousand guests!  There was fun and excitement everywhere, and at the end of the evening, the unmasking occurred.  Each person unmasked his/her partner, and if you were under the golden mistletoe, come next year, you’d be engaged!
Serena never really stayed around to actually get caught.  She had always gotten away with no man ever desiring her company, and she always wisked off early, without anyone noticing and came back at midnight just to see who the destined couple was this year.

It was so much fun to see the surprised expressions on the faces of the dancers as they found out the identity of their partners, and even more fun to see their reaction when they were found under the mistletoe, because it was all so romantic.
She finally turned and walked to the door, and walked out, wanting to go up to her room and read.


Chapter Five


She woke at six in the morning the next day, and got out of bed, and put on a sweatshirt and some sweatpants, and went down the stairs, and out running.

The air was cool and nice, and though it was dark, Serena knew the grounds of the Castle very well, though the grounds were large.  She always jogged the same route, by the pond, up the hill, through the woods, across the wooden bridge over the stream, past the lighthouse, and down the beach, and back to the Castle.

As she jogged in, truly awake, and went up the stairs, she smiled at the young man from the night before as he came in the front door as she was about to go down the hall.  Apparently, he had decided to go jogging as well. 

*He IS hot, whoever he is.  I don’t know who the Dredsdale prince is, but this guy is MUCH hotter than the prince could ever be!*

She made that judgment on the fact that her cousins and herself had far different tastes in men, and while they examined the bank account and the looks, she preferred something much more deep.  *The Dredsdale prince is probably some self-centered twit snob!*

She then took her shower in her private bathroom and changed into a pair of jeans and a white blouse.  It was time to bring down her presents, for the kids would be up in a few minutes.

After breakfast, Serena wandered into the Castle library later, to do some paper grading.

Again she found the young man she had seen before!  She decided it was time to meet him.  He was correcting some papers as well.  “Good afternoon!” she smiled, sitting down next to him.

“It is indeed, Miss…?”

Serena, mistaking his attempt to find out her name for a sign of respect just because she was the former first daughter, smiled and said, “Rena, please.  Just Rena.”

Darien smiled.  Rena.  She smiled beautifully.

“And you are?”

“Dare,” he smiled, giving her his nickname, being friendly.

“Nice to meet you.  Are you a teacher?”

“Yeah.  And you?” he asked, gesturing to the bag at her side, with a paper popping out with a grade.  Being a prof was being a teacher, he supposed.

“Um-hm.  I think teaching’s so much fun, don’t you?” Serena answered, not really distinguishing being a prof and being a teacher.  In her mind, they WERE the same.

“Why else would I live it?” Darien asked.

“Yeah.”  Serena sighed.  “I’m liking you a lot already, Dare.”

“Me too, Rena,” he said, putting aside the papers he was reading by students who were trying for their PhD.  He found Rena a lot more interesting.

They went into dinner together.

By that time, Serena had found out that Dare was indeed a Dredsdale, and he was very into biology and sciences, and was an excellent conversationalist.  He had a motorcycle at his home, by the university.  He was a professor, and loved what he taught.

Darien found out that Rena was a Larynce, and a happy person who loved to talk and laugh.  He liked her smile, and could tell that her teaching must have drawn many students, if there were THAT many student papers for her to grade.  Of course, she had only responded with the fact that she had procrastinated the grading of the papers, which made him like her even more.

“Hey Rena!  Kinda late are we?” Lita smiled at Serena, confused.

*Rena’s already tight with the prince!  Woah!  Just before, she wasn’t liking him much!*

“Yeah, I was talking with Dare here about life in general!”

Lita then realized that Serena probably DIDN’T know this man was Darien Dredsdale.  *Well, let’s not unprejudice her right now.  She likes him, and so, let her, and when she likes him for him, we’ll let her know who he really is.  This will be so much fun!*

“Sit down, Dare.  How have you been?”

“Fine, Lita.”

Serena smiled.  *I didn’t know Lita already knew Dare!”


Chapter Six


After dinner, Serena rushed upstairs to get into costume.  The masquerade was to be tonight, in an hour.  For that reason, dinner was served early at 5:00.  Now, it was 6:00.

She went into her closet.  *Well, now to make myself look like someone other than Serena Larynce.  If they found out who I was, then I wouldn’t be able to leave the ball room.  However, if they had no idea who I was, well, no harming them, and I’ll leave early!*

She pulled her hair into a tight blond bun and pinned it tightly.  She then took a long black wig and placed it over, the tresses falling to her waist.  She pinned it securely and combed hair out.  It was a rather beautiful wig, and she DID look pretty in it, even if it wasn’t her actual hair color.

She then looked at her mask.  She was right in her beginning judgment.  Though the mask covered her eyes, she need insurance.  So, she put in her black contacts and blinked as she saw someone else’s face in the mirror.  But she took some foundation of an almost white shade than her usual and placed it over her face.  She also put sliver glitter on her face.  She looked different enough.  It would work.  She then got up and went to the closet.  She was not going to be an angel, for yet another time, as she had been in childhood.

This year, she was going to be a ice queen, for of all the things the Larynces knew her to be, they never guessed she’d actually GO as the Ice Queen the newspapers all said she was.  She put on a shimmering gown of white satin, embroidered everywhere with slivery thread and jeweled with diamonds and pearls.  Over that, she put on a chiffon overdress, which was also seeded with pearls and diamonds, though not embroidered.  She liked it.  The sleeves were loose and she wore white satin gloves underneath, and tons of silver rings on each hand.  She wore thin intricately bent silver wire snowflakes at her ears, and one on a silver chain at her exposed throat, which had also been whitened and glittered.  She then put on a white mask which was also decorated with pearls and diamonds, and edged with white swan feathers.  She then put on the glittering tiara, and slipped her feet, which were in white pantyhose with silver glitter, into some silver dancing slippers.

*I might just stick around tonight.  I actually still look like a rather pretty dancing partner, so who knows, I might actually get asked to dance!*

As she sat and sighed, with five minutes to spare, she’d thought of the reason why she never wanted to stick around anymore.  Back to a Christmas ball when she was sixteen years old…would HE be here?

 

 ***Beginning of Flashback***

Ten Years Ago

She was beautiful.  She was an angel this year, as usual, but she was enthusiastic about it this time.  A white silk gown, edged with gold flowed to her feet, which were in gold slippers.  She wore white wings, out of real swan feathers behind her back, and a gold halo at the top.  She looked pretty.  Her golden hair was let down this time, flowing to her waist in waves, and her blue eyes flashed with excitement.  She wore a gold mask, jeweled with diamonds.

She entered the ballroom, excited and feeling glamorous.  She relaxing after studying hard for the past few weeks, and she was happy.  Tonight, who knew?  It was out of a fairy tale!  She might meet the prince of her dreams.

Of course, that was only a fantasy, she thought slightly bitterly.  Being a Larynce Princess wasn’t being royalty, as she had found out.  She sighed at that…she only wished.

*Please, anyone who’s up there, if you’re not going to let me live happily ever after, at least give me Prince Charming*

As her eyes fell back from the ceiling to the crowd about her, she froze.  It was him.

But shockingly enough, he was there.  Standing out on the balcony, with black hair and he was very tall.  He was dressed as a prince, in forest green velvet tunic and black pants and black boots.  He wore a gold crown, and a forest green mask.  A forest green cape was about his shoulders.

Serena caught her breath.  He was HANDSOME!!!!!

She weaved her way through the crowd, not really caring where she went, but not approaching her prince.  The prince had to come to her, as Mina always said happened.

And he turned and he saw her, and that moment, time stood still, or at least Serena’s heart did.  He stood up from his place by a table, and approached her.

She caught her breath and smiled warily at him.

“Good evening, bright angel,” he said, taking her hand, and kissing it softly, lingeringly.

“Good evening!” she smiled, a blush creeping up, and a warmth making her hand tingle.  Her heart was pounding, and her mind was dissolving away.  What had happened tonight?  Magic?

“Do you care to dance?”

She nodded, smiling widely.

His eyes glittered with mirth and admiration.

Her teeth were perfect, and dazzled him.

They danced the whole evening.  Serena’s mind was in the clouds the whole time, every thought tingled her mind, and her heart.  Her whole body was almost floating.  And her heart felt VERY warm and full.  It was wonderful, and before the last dance, he drew her out to the balcony and smiled at her, his blue eyes, which were sparkling underneath the mask, smiled in hers.

He bent forward, and kissed her on the forehead, then, trailing a small path down her cheek to her mouth, where she met his in equal ardor, exhilarated and happy.  Her mind and her heart had fused in a glory of sensation.  His lips were warm, and so were his arms, and everything about him.  She curved her arms around his neck, and held on for life, reveling in the youth of love.

***End of Flashback***

It was her first kiss.  It was indeed, something very special.

Serena remembered her prince, and kept on remembering him to this day.  She didn’t ever find out who he was, but she knew that she was waiting for him, and some day, they’d find each other.

So she came to every ball, and waited around, but no one came, so she’d leave.

Now, she started to forget about him, except for whenever she was preparing for a ball…then she’d always remember him…she always looked beautiful for him, in case he ever just “stopped by”.  But he never came.  He was part of the past, and he’d never come for her.  She’d given up when she was twenty-three.

Sure he was handsome, but they weren’t destined, and it was all a bunch of teenage foolishness.  It had to be, as she reasoned now.

As she looked at the clock, she noticed her five minutes to herself were up, and got out of her chair, to come out her room, meeting another person who was already in the hall, about to go down the hall when he heard Serena Larynce’s door open.


Chapter Seven


Darien suddenly stepped back as he saw Serena Larynce in person for the first time in his life.

She was very beautiful.  She had black hair, and dark eyes, though he couldn’t tell what color in the dim light.  He smirked…so she WAS as superficial as to dye her hair.  But she looked gorgeous, nonetheless.  She was very regal.  Her figure was outlined in white, which emphasized a very shapely figure.  She was an Ice Queen, and the way she looked made him think immediately of winter.

“Good evening,” she said, in a cold voice, which she practiced.

After all, the Ice Queen couldn’t go around with her warm cheery voice.

That voice chilled his blood, and he felt the warmth drain out of his face.  No one’s voice had EVER froze his heart before, but he felt it now.

Serena looked curiously at the young man before her.  Strangely enough, her companion  was apparently a sun king.

His hair was golden, a very light brown sun-streaked blond.  His eyes were gold, underneath the gold mask he wore.  His attire was also gold, a gold velvet tunic, golden velvet pants and golden leather boots, with a gold velvet cape with gold satin lining.  It outlined a fit, very built body.  His face was also a golden tan.

He was entirely too handsome, Serena caught her breath.

“Good evening,” he said, condescendingly.  Darien had disguised himself well this time.  He was aware of the destiny thing, and assumed that if the Larynce princesses all knew it was him, they’d go after him and try to end up at the end. 

For that reason, he dressed himself in gold, wore the gold contacts, put on tanning lotion, and a nice golden wig, that went in a full waving mass about his head under a gold crown.  It was going to work, he determined.

“Darien!” Ken smiled.  “You look quite royal-like.  Sun king, cute.  Just make sure you don’t insult her too much!  I couldn’t really tell who you were until I noticed your stride.”

He saw the second of the two figures in the hall.

“Serena!  The ICE QUEEN?  Good choice!  I wouldn’t have known you except for the fact that you’re standing in your doorway.  You two are perfect complements of each other!  Sun king and Ice queen!  You two will have lots of fun tonight!  I had no idea you guys already knew each other!  I was going to introduce you when you started working together at the White House, but I guess that isn’t necessary!”

Serena felt a queer feeling in her heart.  So this was Darien Dredsdale, no mistake.  He was handsome, VERY handsome, and his name was Darien.  There were not many other possibilities.

It was just as well he had chosen to be arrogant royalty!  She inwardly sneered.

*HIM, the SUN KING?  Already assuming too much are we, Prince Darien?  Ha!*

But her heart jumped some beats.  He was FINE!  She felt her cold white cheeks bloom into summer roses.

Darien, meanwhile, was trying to find a way to get away from the Larynce brat.  The former first kid was undoubtedly some prissy snob, and her voice was cold enough to freeze his toes.  But fearing he wasn’t being courteous, he offered her his arm. 

"Shall we?"

“Shall we what?” she asked, with a smile quirking in one of her mouth.

It was a kissable mouth.  Very kissable, and though appearing cold looked soft ad inviting, with smooth curves.  “I only offered my arm for fear you may trip yourself…” over that ego! he completed in his mind.

Serena was determined not to show that she cared for who he was, and determined to show him that Serena Larynce would not be led around like other women.  She wanted to walk away from him, coldly snubbing him.  However, he was offering his arm, and as a matter of courtesy and pride, and somewhat intrigue, she took it. 

“We shall,” she said, in her smooth, icy queen tone.

The evening was a far cry from perfect.

Serena despised Darien.  He was snobbish, arrogant, and too handsome. It was obvious to every female in the room who he was and when he had entered.  Serena couldn’t deny the fact that her partner was more handsome than any other person in the room. 

*But he still doesn’t beat Dare!  Dare is handsome AND sweet!*

As she drank punch with him and danced with him, she saw the way the other Larynce princesses wished her death.  She wasn’t blind. And because she pitied him only for that reason, she kept on dancing with him.  Besides, Darien was a good dancer, and if Darien didn’t dance with her, then she’d end up dancing with Melvin Morris, who was looking at her in that weird way again. 

*He dances horribly, my feet are always blistered when I stop dancing with him, and he gives me these weird goggle-eyed looks!*

There was also a matter of pride, and because she was NOT going to let Darien Dredsdale triumph over her, she stuck to him.  If he chose to be a cold arrogant partner, then she could just as easily be one to. 

*Just remember who started it, Dredsdale!*

Darien, meanwhile, was not about to let Larynce triumph.  She was gorgeous, and she knew it.  That cold beauty, the dark hair and dark eyes with the delicate look to her almost made him believe that she was not a witch underneath all that.  He also saw the way the Larynce princesses wanted to get to him.  Preferring this Larynce to the others, he decided to tough it out.

At least this Larynce had spirit.  Lots of it.  She was different, and separate from others, distinct. 

She had an attitude that bit him, but set her apart, in a good way, even though it made him think even worse of her ego.  Darien thought, as he danced with her, that even though she acted like a two-year-old snob, she DID dance well, and her pride and character was, well, SLIGHTLY admirable.

They danced around the room, each trying to out-dance the other.  They caught eyes, and the spectators all wondered when the “entranced” two were going to “come down from their cloud” and find other people.

Serena was scanning the room for someone that wouldn’t mind cutting in on them.

But Darien just HAD to look intimidating, didn’t he?  With his thick, luxurious gold hair and his piercing gold eyes, he WAS the sun king.  He could cast a spell on her if she let herself, but she wasn’t going to let THAT happen.

She had to admit though, that this man was a maverick.  Not at all like the other men she’d danced with, dined with, and talked business with.  Some of them were attracted to her, some of them weren’t.  But they all couldn’t stay out in Serena’s storm very long.  Men came by and looked, but they NEVER pushed it.  She had the impression that Darien Dredsdale could and would.  And the fact that they were going to work in the White House together made the prospect of attorney general a lot more, well, frightening, but very interesting.

Sure, she didn’t like his type, but there was nothing wrong with some harmless bantering and debating with a worthy opponent.

“So what office will you hold in Washington?” she asked, slowly, curiously.

“Surgeon general.”

“Nice,” she said, slightly surprised.

“And you?” he said, twirling her out and into his arms.

“Attorney general.”

He seemed quite surprised at that.

“Really?” he asked, almost skeptical.

“Um-hm,” she said, a little out of it. 

*WHAT WAS IT WITH THIS GUY?*

She’s clever, intelligent, beautiful.  And a shrew.  Interesting.

As midnight approached, Serena was still dancing with Darien, and having danced three straight hours after they last had a punch break, she should have felt tired, but she was not.  In fact, she felt like she was dancing on a cloud.  Though the company was not superb, the dancing was.  He made her feel so light and dainty, like a fairy with his dancing.  With his remarks, he made her feel like a bitter old maid who had nothing better to do than be unpleasant.

Darien was enjoying the beautiful woman dancing in his arms.  She had a lot of spirit.  And stamina.  Three hours.  He didn’t really feel tired, and in fact, he’d never felt better.  This girl really gave him the workout.

And though they didn’t talk much, he enjoyed their bantering.  They didn’t seem to agree on ANYTHING!  But then again, he didn’t try to agree with her.  She’d say something, and he immediately decided to peeve her by stating that his opinion was just the opposite.  Evidently, he had to change his opinions on almost everything they had talked about.

On the other side of the room, a woman with a black velvet gown and a black sequined mask approached another woman dressed similarly.  “Gail, I think they’re falling for each other.”

“I don’t know.  They don’t really appear to be enjoying each other’s company.  Only the concept of fighting for their dignity.  They look like they’re dueling.”

“But they’ve danced for three hours!”

“Their pride wouldn’t allow for anything less.  He’s determined to dance longer than her and her longer than him.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why I saw them talking this afternoon in the library.”

“I saw them introduce themselves.  They’re Rena and Dare, not Serena and Darien.  But I’d much rather that way, because as their true selves they are getting absolutely no where.”

“It was so perfect when they were younger.  Remember, ten years ago, they had snuck off and kissed for the first time!  Oh, I was so happy that night!”

“Yes, but we can’t just tell them that.  Oh!”  Gail looked at her pocket watch.  “It’s time to unmask.  Let’s see the expression on their faces when they realize that the person they’d been dancing with all night and despising is actually the person they had met this afternoon!  This should be fun!”

“All right everyone!” Gail Larynce went in front of the orchestra, and said into a microphone.  “It’s time to unmask who you’re with!”

Around the room there were squeals of delight and excitement as person after person removed their partner’s mask.

As Serena stopped dancing, she felt the true weight of her body, and her feet began to feel sore.  She looked at Darien.  Should I bother?

“Go on, Serena!” urged Mina, who stood next to her.

“Oh, all right,” she mumbled.

She carefully reached up to removed the golden sequined and jeweled mask.  The face she saw was a familiar shape.

He reached to slowly remove her white mask.  No, that angle of the cheek.  It couldn’t be, could it?

“YOU?” two voices simultaneously stammered out.


Chapter 8 - 15 by Crystal Heart

Chapter Eight



“And let’s see who’s under the lucky mistletoe this year!” Gail smiled into the audience at her granddaughter and her prince Charming, or un-charming, whatever.  The surprise was evident, and it seemed to put an uncomfortable aura of hatred and confusion around them.

She looked above the heads of the surprised two to find they were under the gold mistletoe.

“Serena Larynce and Darien Dredsdale, do you have something to tell us?” Gail beamed.  This was luck!  Who knew the Christmas spirit would agree that Serena Larynce was just what Darien Dredsdale needed, and Darien Dredsdale was just what Serena Larynce needed?  “Now kiss.”

Serena had always laughed at the tradition before, because the two found under the gold mistletoe usually WERE engaged by next Christmas.  It was odd and scary.  This year, she had totally forgot to look to the ceiling for the hidden mistletoe, which she had always found year after year.  She had forgotten, and it was obviously very bad luck that she and Darien were standing underneath the darn thing.

But with the audience around, she didn’t argue.  Christmas traditions were never argued. 

Especially Larynce traditions.  Apparently, as she looked into Darien’s eyes, they seemed to agree on this point.  He leaned in, and kissed her on the lips, and she kissed lightly back.  Immediately when their lips touched, they moved back, stiffly, and they left the room together, keeping charade up, but secretly confused.

Serena entered her bedroom.  How dare the Christmas spirit, or whatever it was, choose her to fall in love with a man she so obviously despised?  It was evident that they didn’t love each other.  Serena didn’t want to get married, and Darien would hardly be the husband she would have chosen if she were actually going to get married.  Sure, he WAS handsome, and he was a worthy bickering opponent, but really, what else could they do together?

What shocked her was the fact that they actually had gotten along that afternoon.  It proved that they could, and to her mortification, it proved they could have a WONDERFUL time together.

Sickened with a queasiness in her stomach, Serena slipped off her gown and went to her shower, attempting to wash away all the mixed-up feelings she was getting. 
*ME AND DARIEN DREDSDALE?!?! HA!!!!*

“It’s destiny, I tell you!” Lita told her husband.  “They ARE attracted to each other, and destiny arranged it so that they’d meet unbiased first, and feel the attraction in person, and destiny made it so that they’d meet tonight before the ball and force them to stick together so long!  And destiny for SURE made the mistletoe above their heads!”

“But who knows if the mistletoe actually works!”

“It worked for Mina and Andrew, and Betty and Lincoln the year before last, and in fact, I think Serena’s own mother and father were under that mistletoe once.  The mistletoe doesn’t lie, Ken!”

“Well, I just think that destiny or not, they are great complements for each other, and anyone can see that though they despise each other, they greatly respect each other.  Who knows?”

The mask was beautiful, with sequins and diamonds and pearls all over it.  It was bordered by swan feathers and had an air of extravagance.

Darien fingered the mask in his hand.  They never returned each other’s masks.  Well, he’d keep hers then.  It was too elaborate and beautiful to just throw away, and undoubtedly expensive.  It was so delicate and sophisticated.  Just like its owner.

So Rena was actually Serena, the former first kid, and the Ice Queen as he had always dubbed her.  From the behavior she had displayed this evening, he’d believe it, but from the happiness, innocence and kindness she had naturally displayed this afternoon, Darien was inclined to disagree.

Serena Larynce was a puzzle.  That was the only way to describe it.


Chapter Nine


Serena got out of her bedroom the next day with her suitcase and her things.  It was six a.m., and she decided that she needed to start looking for a place to live in Washington DC right now.  She’d leave early.  A week early, but it didn’t matter.  She was NOT going to stick around and listen to all the teasing about her and Darien.

She had packed up all her things, and she planned to go to Washington and find an apartment to stay in while she stayed in Washington to do her Attorney General duties.

She had typed up her resignation letter for the law firm last night when she found she could not fall asleep.  She planned to stay as the head of the Harvard law department.  As she took the last bag out, ready to meet the cab that she had called for about five minutes ago, she found that another person had the same idea.

“Morning,” she mumbled to Darien.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yeah.”

“Aren’t you supposed to stay the whole week at this thing?”

“Well you aren’t!” Serena bit back quietly, not wanting people to wake up.  In one hand he held a travel bag and across his shoulder was the strap to a laptop.  On the floor by his feet was a briefcase.

“But I’m not family,” he whispered quietly.

He had a point, but Serena wasn’t going to let him gloat over that.

“Well I have some business to attend to.”

“As do I, and I want to catch my taxi, so if you’ll excuse me.”

Darien went ahead, and Serena, after taking her luggage bag and picking up her work bag, laptop, and her purse, went up behind.

There were two taxis outside, and Serena went to one and said, “Good morning, I’d like to get to the train station please.”

“All right.”

Serena noted as they pulled out of the driveway, which was a huge “U”, that Darien’s taxi just pulled out as well.

Serena leaned back in her seat, and determined not to think about the strange man in that car, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

She decided in her mind that she’d come back for New Year’s Eve to satisfy her mother.

 *But if she thinks I’m going to stick around for all the Larynce women to look at me like I’m a spoiled brat and hear all that teasing, well she’s got another thing coming!*

“Miss, we’re here.”

Serena woke immediately, and got her things ready.  When the cab pulled to the train station , she got out and paid the taxi driver, and went to the platform to purchase a ticket.  To her surprise, Darien Dredsdale got into line behind her.  She ignored him.

She checked her appearance in the reflection in the ticket window anyway.  She looked nice.  Tired but nice.  Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, which was more like a bunch of golden curly tips bundled at the nape of her neck.  Her eyes looked sleepy, and a smooth serene blue.  His reflection was behind her.  He was slightly taller, his blue eyes dark with restfulness. He looked nice in that forest green coat, with a black scarf around his neck.  He was about four inches taller than her five foot ten.

She noted that they LOOKED like a nice couple.  Nothing more. As the old man in front of her walked away with his ticket for the 7:15 going to New York, Serena stepped forward.  “I’d like one for the 7:10 to Washington DC, please.”

He had the nerve to sit next to her.  She didn’t take into account that the seat next to hers was the only one empty.

For being a 7:10 train the day after Christmas, this train was crowded.  This is TOO weird!

At least she got the window seat.  She looked out as the scenes passed by quickly.  She watched the sun fight through the clouds to brighten the snow to an intensity that was brighter than the sun itself.  Serena reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of sunglasses.  She then leaned her cheek on the cold window and fell asleep.

Darien sat up surprised when he the train made a right turn and Serena’s head ended up on his shoulder.

He looked at her golden head, the sun reflecting off the strands making a pretty halo.  She looked so pretty and harmless like this.  She didn’t look like an Ice Queen now.  Of course when she woke up she’d be ready to fight with him again, all rested up and full of that energy that he’d seen in her.

Drat.

“Sir, ticket please?” the railroad official asked.

Darien passed his ticket to the official.

“And your wife’s?”

“My-“

“In my pocket,” Serena said softly.

“Darien reached into her pocket and found nothing.  So he reached around her, letting her fall into his arms as he checked the pocket on the other side, finding the ticket there.

He blushed slightly he conceded that the Ice Queen was VERY soft and warm.

The ticketman smiled.  *Now THERE’S a wonderful couple! Probably just got married, too!*

Darien handed the ticket to the official and the official punched holes in both.  “Hope you and your wife have a good time in Washington DC.”

Darien looked down to her, wondering what she’d say next.  She didn’t jump up and deny the fact that the railroad official thought that they were married, and she hadn’t budged when she fell into his arms as he looked in her pocket.

She looked so…so…she just belonged there, and the embrace was sweet, and made him feel heady and warm all over.  He liked holding her.  It made his arms tingle, and his heart overflow with an inexplicable sensation.  It sprouted warmth in his cheeks, and he had the impulse to just kiss her forehead, but decidedly vetoed that notion, as he remembered this was Serena Larynce, not his wife.

And what was going on with her anyway?

She fell in his arms to rest her head on his lap, face up.  Before he realized what he was doing, he reached out, and played with her blond hair in his fingers, and traced the curve of her face.

“But honey, I thought we were going to the Christmas thing at the Castle.  The Castle is in Massachusetts, an hour outside of Boston.  It’s no where near Washington DC.  You know how my mother gets when I don’t attend family things.  But if you want to go to Washington, that’s fine too.  Then we can finally spend some time away together away from work, Darien.  Wait.  Washington is where we work.  Where are we?” Serena asked lazily, as she took his hand in hers, brought it to her lips, and kissed it, and held it at her breast, right about her heart, where he could feel it beating peacefully.

So she had been dreaming.  Was he supposed to feel flattered that Serena dreamt that he and she were married?  And the feeling that came over him at this moment.  It was pleasing to him.  The tingling warmth in his hands, and the whole happiness she seemed to exhale enveloped him.

“I guess even that doesn’t matter much.  As long as I’m with you.  I love you,” Serena smiled in sleep, turned into his chest, and hugged his waist.

Darien was surprised.

So was Serena.  You didn’t touch things when you were in dreams. What was going on?  She opened her eyes slowly to find herself in his lap…apparently, there was a weird twist in her dream.

She pinched his forearm, painfully.

“Ouch…what was that for?”

She sat up.  Color was flooding quickly into her cheeks, as she realized that she was in his arms, like her dream.  What mortified her even more was that she felt just like she had felt in her dream: safe, loved, and warm.  The feeling of being with someone whose every touch sent a warm thrill to her heart, the feeling of being with someone whose every breath she wanted to share with.  The feeling of being with someone she loved.

She suddenly backed away, confused, and focused on Darien.

“What is going on here?”

“That was what I was going to ask you.” Darien stuttered, coldly.  How did she get that Ice Queen tone so fast after she had been so warm and loving?  He composed himself quickly.  “I wasn’t the one who fell into my lap and kissed me!”

“I did NOT fall into your lap and kiss you!”

True, but who knew?  “What if you did?”

“What if I did?  It doesn’t matter.  I was dreaming I was with someone else.”

Someone else named Darien.  Sure.  Darien mused inside.  He wanted to laugh by decided that they’d leave it at that.

“It was such a nice dream until you just had to take me into your arms and let me kiss you!”

And I thought she loved me.  Darien burst out laughing.

His laugh was rich and deep.  Serena liked it, even IF she didn’t like Darien.  It melted her insides clean.  But she wasn’t about to let him laugh at her.  “What are YOU laughing about?”

“Nothing.”  Darien decided that he WOULDN’T tell her what she had said in her sleep.  Besides that might start something in her and who would like Serena Larynce to follow you around, thinking she was in love with him?

Not that he would have minded much.

Darien rubbed his temples.  WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH HIM?

Darien gladly stepped off the train.  *What was that?  A train ride in another dimension?*  But he was feeling normal again, and he had rationalized it.  They were in sleepy moods and weren’t really aware of what was going on.  His mind was turned off and that was why he actually thought those strange things.

Serena followed him off, back to her normal commanding self.

She walked with ice in every step, and she held her head high.  *Just forget the whole train ride happened.  You don’t even know what happened, so it didn’t.*
It had been a pleasant dream, she smiled inside.  She didn’t know who that husband of hers was, but he was extremely sweet.

Wait.  He was Darien.

She nearly hit herself in the head, but she decided to hit herself later.  It wasn’t a dream.  It was a nightmare, and that train ride was just the beginning.


Chapter Ten


Serena mused over the nice penthouse apartment the agent was showing her.  No, it wasn’t like her New York one, but she had to give that beautiful one in New York up.

Really, this wasn’t bad.  It had a great view of the nation’s capitol, and it took her breath away just imagining the view from the penthouse at night.

The penthouse was larger than the one she had in New York, by far.

There was even a second floor, where her room was, which was also had a balcony, which gave the stunning view of Washington’s skyline.  The bedroom was spacious and was connected to a large bathroom and a walk in closet.

The downstairs was also great.  There was a living room, dining space and kitchen, and a nice large den down the hall, as well as a bathroom across the hall from it.  Both the living room and den had views of the Washington DC.  The living room was spacious, and one entire wall was lined with windows, which started two feet of the floor to two feet below the ceiling.

The kitchen was simple.  There was an island that would be suitable for eating once she placed a stool by there.  The stove looked easy enough to operate, and the refrigerator space was adequate.  There also many cabinets, with glass doors, and plenty of space for mugs.

She liked this place.  She liked it a lot.

It took three days of looking of various apartments to find this one.

Today was December 29th and Serena was relieved.  The search was over.  The cost would undoubtedly be high, but she didn’t really care now.  She wanted this place.

“How much is it for the place again?”

“Fifteen hundred a month.”

“REALLY?” Serena asked.  Her apartment in New York had cost a good two thousand a month, and here was an apartment that was larger and less expensive, by a whole five hundred a month. 

*Location, location, location.* she smiled to herself.

“I’ll take it.  I’ll move in by the fourth of January.”

“All right.  Let’s talk papers now.”

Darien sighed, frustrated, into the phone.  “I’m busy getting ready for going into the White House.  I don’t have time for silly balls.”

“Darien!  This is a family event.  Show up, and if you don’t, I will tan your hide the next time I see you.”

Darien looked at the calendar.  The 30th of December.  Maybe he could leave noon tomorrow.  He’d arrive at around 6:00, and that gave an hour before the ball.  Good enough.  “All right.  I’ll be there.”

“Good.”

>Click.<

Darien leaned back in his chair.  He was tired of arranging things.

On the screen of his laptop, his resignation letter to Harvard was staring right back at him. At least Serena won’t be there. he thought, with something akin to disappointment in his manner.

On the 30th of December, Serena rushed to New York after checking out of her Washington hotel room and getting her things.

She went to her apartment, and put her things back.  She then rushed down to the main floor and talked to the leasing office.  She signed her papers and went back to her apartment.  She called a moving company, and arranged the numerous small details she almost forgot.  The truck would come on the third of January, and she’d be hopefully ready.  She was going to attend the ball at the Castle, after hearing a very annoyed Ilene Larynce reprimand her daughter.  She’d go home later on the first and pack away her things then.  That gave her an afternoon and a day.

At least her apartment was already clean.

Serena went into the closet, grabbed a garment bag, hoping that what was inside it was what she wore to the gala in October.  If it wasn’t, it was hopefully what she wore to the wedding in August, or the one she wore on September 7, or 14.
She then rushed out of her apartment.  It was New Year’s Eve, and noon.  She had no idea the business would take her that long.  She had wanted to stop by the law office to get her very last case outlined for the next lawyer to take.  But she was determined to get to Larynce Manor in time to make a queenly appearance at the New Year’s Eve ball.  She was determined to put on a smiling face and deny the Christmas fiasco.  And she’d avoid Melvin.  But at least Darien wasn’t going to be there.

She rushed out, determined to catch the 12:30 to Boston.


Chapter Eleven


At 5:30, she arrived at the Castle.

Serena let herself in the back door and snuck upstairs into her room.  She didn’t want to hear lectures.  She wanted to prepare herself for the evening.  As she entered the room and closed the door, she locked it also.

She opened the bag.  The November 8th.  Not bad.  She went into the shower.
After washing her hair and taking a relaxing shower, she got out and put on a robe and blow dried her hair.  She then went into her bedroom once more.  She sat at the dressing table and brushed her hair.  She then swept it up and pinned it up.  Deciding she needed to complete the hair style with red roses, she called the maid, and asked her too keep it quiet that she was here.  She wanted red rosebuds.  While she waited, she put on a thin layer of foundation, and a little blush.  She put on some red lipstick. The maid returned, and she weaved the red rosebuds in a crown among her golden folds of curls.  She sprinkled a few pearls here and there.


She then got up and took the dress out of the garment bag.  The red shimmering satin was beautiful.  She put it on, and it fell smoothly to her feet.  It had inch-wide spaghetti straps.  The dress silkily flowed her curves, showing a nice figure, and from her hips, it flowed to the floor.  She stepped into the shoes that were packed with the dress.  They were red satin high heels and she was a whole two inches taller, at six feet.  She then put on the gold rose earrings with the ruby centers, and a red satin choker.

Turning around to check her back, se decided she looked good enough.  She stepped out of her room, to find another person, leaving the room next to hers.
She stopped and just gaped.

As he turned to see her, he did as well.

“D-Darien.  What a, well, what a surprise!” she stammered, her heart pounding to her very toes.  Her body was reeling, the floor was slapping her feet, and she wished it would just break already and let her fall through.

You’re telling ME.

“Good evening, Serena.  I didn’t know you were coming back for this,” he said, carefully.  She wasn’t supposed to be here, not supposed to cause his eyes to glaze over with something of a dream.

“Family thing,” she stammered.  It was hard to act stiff and cold when Darien Dredsdale was standing in front of you in a tuxedo so well made for him. She was about to walk away when she heard her name.

“Serena!” Lita smiled from her door.  “Looks like you and fiancee came back for the ball to show each other off!”

Serena turned to Lita, who stood down the hall and almost blushed.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  She controlled her voice to an icy pitch.  “I wasn’t aware we were engaged.”

“Just teasing.  So are you going to ask to escort her down there or what Darien?”
Darien looked at Serena and decided why not.  When Serena looked like THAT, you didn’t let her just pass you by.

“I was just going to ask her.”

“Great.  Well, I’ve got to help my president get that bow tie straight.  We’ll see you there.”

Darien looked to Serena, “Care to?”

Serena looked at him critically (though she could find no fault) and decided to walk away.  “I know how to walk,” she stomped off, leaving Darien to muse more over Serena’s beautiful face and what had flashed in her furiously enchanting blue eyes.
*Lots of spirit.  But this will be interesting, Miss Larynce.  We’ll see.*

*It’s not as if I like her or anything.  I just like to unnerve her.  I like to see her irritated, and there is just something in her attitude that I like to irk.  Nothing more.  She and I would never get along any other way,* he mused as he went down the stairs after her.

Serena looked around the room, and decided, from the looks of the people talking in the room, that she had arrived, indeed, fashionably late enough.

“Serena!” her mother smiled greeting her daughter with a smile.

“So you decided to join us?”

“Of course!” Serena smiled.

“And there is that charming love of yours.  What was his name, Darien?”

Serena gritted her teeth.  “Mother, Darien-“

“Is right here, and I was looking for you, honey!” he said, mockingly, putting his arm around her waist from behind, and kissing her temple.

Serena looked at him over her shoulder, and saw the bitter challenge in his eyes.  I have you now, Ice.

I don’t think so.  Serena smoothly put her arms around his neck and gave him a cold but very convincing effusive kiss in front of her mother.

The minute their lips met, there was electricity.  Something happened, and she felt this urge to just keep on kissing him.  There was something in her blood pounding into her mind. And she still couldn’t believe that this was the young man that she’d always hated in childhood.  He was a good kisser.  And that was an understatement.

Darien was stunned speechless.  So was Serena, but she didn’t show it.  I can’t believe I just did that. she breathed heavily.

“So where were you Serena?” her mother asked.

“Oh, Darien wanted to help me choose out an apartment in Washington, and we did that.  I’ll be moving there on the third.  It’s pretty nice,” she smiled softly, as Darien took her hands and played with her fingers, his cheek against hers, looking down as he linked their hands together.

“Great!” her mother smiled, beaming with pleasure.  *At long last!*

Serena was laughing on the inside.  *So there IS a use for Darien Dredsdale.  I’ll have to remember this the next time mom starts to get mad at me.*  She wanted to move away from him though.  Her heart was pounding, and she felt her stomach up in her throat.

They stood, together, but apart inside.  Serena was slightly mad at Darien for starting this whole game, but she was determined that she teach him a lesson.
And Darien was determined that she would not win.  “Come on, sweetheart, let’s dance,” he whispered, his lips brushing her ear.

It tickled her ear and she shivered, feeling the goosebumps along her skin.   She told herself to calm down.  He’s only Darien, you idiot!

“All right,” she smiled at him with a hint of ice biting it.

He took her arms and guided her out to the dance floor and they started to dance. 

Since she was on high heels, her chin just reached his shoulder and since it was a slower dance, she moved closer and whispered into her ear, “You will pay for this Dredsdale.”

He laughed.  “Hold on tight, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he smirked as he spun her elegantly out, slowly, and spun her back into his eager arms.

At around midnight, Serena was relieved that her grandmother called that the countdown was on, and there were three minutes left in the year.

Darien was dancing with her and whispered into her ear in a lover- like fashion.  “So what are the worst and best things of the year, Ice?”

“Don’t call me that,” she bit back.

“Hey, just asking a question.”

“The worst thing in this year is you.  The fact that I met you, the fact that I’m dancing with you.”

“I think you just tried to burst my bubble.  But I won’t take that personally, because I can see it in your eyes that this hasn’t been an unpleasant experience,” he said, gently doodling a pattern on her shoulder.

“Yeah.  Right.” Serena rolled her eyes, wanting to pull away.

“And the best thing about this year?”

“The best thing about this year is…” Serena began when she realized one of the Larynce princesses was looking at them shrewdly and had evidently heard every word she was speaking.  Serena casually brushed it off and decided to give her something to gossip about.  “The best thing about this year is that fact that I love you anyway.”  She moved closer, ready to kiss his surprised mocking smile when the countdown of the last minute began.

Serena was relieved and somewhat disappointed.  She really DID want to see Darien’s face after she kissed him.

But as the countdown continued, Serena turned to the throne, where grandma was smilingly counting it down.  She felt Darien behind her, putting his arms around her, his hands meeting at her front, and gather her in his arms closely, kissing the crook of her neck. 

“Good shot Ice, I think you just gave the Larynce clan enough gossip for the next five months.  So the Ice Queen has stolen the Dredsdale prince from the heiresses.”

“Don’t be too sure,” she whispered, irritated.  With him embracing her so closely, heat was creeping into her cheeks, making her sweat, as well as feel dizzy.  “I plan on dumping you-“

“Happy New Year!”

Serena suddenly smiled and sang along with the crowd, looking like a shining star.  When the song was over, Serena looked around to see the people around the room kissing others. 

Suddenly inspired she turned in Darien’s arms, and placed her arms around his neck.  “I plan on dumping you on Valentine’s Day.  Happy New Year, honey.” 

With that she leaned forward and gave him a kiss long and passionate enough to convince everyone in the room that was watching them, which included the Larynce princesses, the matriarchs, and friends, that Serena and Darien were indeed head over heels for each other.

What Darien felt at first was coldness on her lips.  He placed on of his arms right at the her waist, where she was evidently ticklish, and put the other around the upper part of her back.  She was trying to set the rules.

“Big mistake.  I make the rules, Ice,” he murmured before catching her lips in his again, and giving her a kiss that she felt she was going to melt into.


Chapter Twelve


She opened the door of her room, and peeked carefully out.

Seeing that the coast was clear, she tiptoed out, and started walking down the hall.
Who knew who Dredsdale was acting so weird, but she wanted to avoid him as much as possible.

Since the New Years Eve ball, everyone in the Larynce and Dredsdale clans had accepted the two as a happily engaged couple.  And apparently, Darien had no problem with such a belief, and did nothing to disabuse them of the notion.
Serena did plenty.  However, she was always caught in the act by a teasing Darien, and she’d find it hard to keep on protesting…

Now, she was trying to get to breakfast without him, so that she may at least get some time to herself.  She didn’t mind having Dredsdale around…in fact he made life a lot spicier and fun, and exciting, but at night, when she tossed and turned in bed, she wondered what was happening, whether it was safe or not to stay around a sexy, exciting, handsome young man like Darien Dredsdale.

As she slipped down the hall, she turned a corner, and fell right into his embrace.
Backing away and blushing, she stammered an apology.  “I’m sorry, D-Darien, I was going to sneak down right now for some leftover Christmas cookies.”

“I’ll join you,” he drawled, lazily.  Why not?  It was a nice evening, and he loved this.  Though everyone was snowed in after New Years, Serena Larynce helped the time pass more…easily.

“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you…”

“You’re no trouble at all,” he said, smiling that devilish grin at her.

She laughed nervously.  “I’m plenty of trouble, Darien.  You just haven’t seen my good side yet!”

“Oh really?” his eyebrow lifted.

Oh my… her heart fluttered.

She sat back in Darien’s embrace, as they watched, “While You Were Sleeping” with Amy and Greg, Mina and Andrew, Raye and Chad, and Lita and Ken.  His hands were in front of her waist, mingling in her fingers, and playing with them gently.

“I love this movie, though it is totally unrealistic!” Serena sighed.

“And why do you say that?” Darien whispered, kissing her ear.

The kiss brought a blush from Serena and a warm smile from the others in the room.

“Well, I can’t believe a woman could fall in love with a man in a week, and agree to marry him.”

“Well…” Amy smiled smugly at them.  “You met at Christmas, and on New Years…well, everyone knows you two are in love…”

“Everyone?” Serena’s eyes widened.  Everyone but me and him!

“Come on, Serena, isn’t it obvious?” Mina chided her teasingly. 

Darien’s arms came around her waist tightly.

“Well, I knew him before Christmas too!” Serena said, softly. 

“You merely heard about him…” Lita said.

“And he merely heard about you…you two never actually met…” Raye said, her eyes glittering in the firelight, as they saw Sandra Bullock yell yet again at Bill Pullman.

“Oh, this is my favorite part!  Everybody, shh!!!” Serena sighed.

Sandra Bullock took the newspaper-wrapped bundle from Bill Pullman, and unwrapped it, while he talked, “I was delivering some furniture down at Little Italy, when I looked in the store window, and then…”

She flipped over a snow down, with a city inside.  “Florence…”

The strains of pretty music enveloped the room, and everyone was kissing their spouse or fiancee gently.  Originally, had it been any other year, Serena would have mad a snide remark at that about being alone, or she would have felt extremely uncomfortable.

Tears sat in her eyes, and she wanted to cry, as she always had.

But this time, it was different.

This time, well, Darien was here, and though she wasn’t in love with him, she found comfort as he kissed her softly on the cheek, and pulled her into his arms more, and rested his chin on her shoulder, as she rested back on his chest.  The tears subsided.

She sighed, happily.

Eating dinner with the family was usually a terrifyingly trying experience.  Between Ilene Tsukino’s whining about her over-ambitious single daughter, and that daughter’s lack of family value, and Michael Tsukino’s funny lame jokes, there was always something that made every cell in Serena’s body cringe at it.  Probably because she never looked forward to having her mother pick on her single status.

That was why she usually sat with friends at the dinner parties.  However, her mother, wanting tradition to run her family, always forced her family to sit together at least once during the holidays.

Surprisingly enough, this evening was not so bad.  Sam had a fiancee now, and there was that wedding for Ilene to talk about during dinner.  However, Serena had to admit that the largest and most enjoyable change was Darien Dredsdale’s presence.

He laughed with her father, and told lame jokes as well.  He charmed her mother.  Her mother talked constantly of how much she’d like a young man like him in the family…a hint to Serena, of course, and he kept a nice conversation with Sam.
Through it all, he held Serena’s hand.

Serena couldn’t help bit feel lightheaded and happy through the whole episode.
He walked her to her taxi the morning she left, and carried her baggage.  Most of the family was not up yet, but some stood at windows, admiring the couple from afar.

“Dredsdale…it’s been…amazing…this past week…thank you for…making my holidays wonderful.

“I know how it is to be single, and home for the holidays…believe me,” he said, quietly.

“I’ll see you in Washington…” she began.

“Yep.  Don’t miss me too much.”

She smiled brightly.  “I’ll be muttering your name under my breath for an eternity, and I’ll be crying my eyes out over you.  You will occupy every thought I will have until I see you again, and once I see you again, I will obsess about ever sngle action you make around me,” she laughed.

“For the record, Dredsdale, I’ll make it clear now.  I need company during the holidays, but when vacation’s over, it’s work time.  Work time HAS no breaks.” She said, her eyes slightly cold, as she focused on him, trying to make him understand.  “It’ll be back to normal…got it?  I don’t like you, you don’t like me.  I will be this way…it HAS to be this way…”

“I wonder…”

“You wonder what?”

“What would happen if someone dared come into your life, Ice Queen?” he said, gently taking her face in her hands.

“I’d make sure he never gets here.”

“Well,” he sighed, backing away from her.  “I hope you have a good trip.  I’ll see you in Washington.”

She started to get in the car.  “Wait…” he said.  She stopped, her heart froze, and she turned around. “What?”

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “Back to normal…”


Chapter Thirteen


Serena sighed as she put the masking tape on the last of the boxes.

As she finished, she stood up, taking the bright red kerchief off her head and brushing her sweat-coated forehead with her light blue Harvard sweatshirt.  She then put the tape down and brushed her sweat-drenched hands against her jeans, attempting to dry them.

She was tired.  It was amazing.  January twelfth, and NOW she was packing for her move.

What a relief.  Home sweet home.

The game was over.  Who knew who had won.  Whatever happened that week was a miracle, but miracles rarely occurred more than once…not that she wanted to have it happen to her again.

But she could not remember a time in her life when Christmas was more enjoyable than this year.

But after she had arrived at New York and started packing, she started to think about it more.  Her thoughts became suddenly clear.

*He’s obviously playing a game with me, and just because I’m the only one of the Larynces that actually stand up against him, he wants to make me fall
in deep for him.  Sure, to melt the Ice Queen’s heart would be the greatest accomplishment!  Then, he’ll just relish in that heartless sun king role of his.  Get too close, you get burned.  Well, you’ve got another thing coming, Dredsdale.*
She was ready to think about it more, but she couldn’t…not now, at lest…and as it looked, not ever.  She had to move.

She had to move fast.  Ken was being inaugurated the twentieth, as all presidents always were.  Today was the twelfth and she was moving on the sixteenth.  What fun.

She sighed, frustrated, into her boxes.  Sorting things and packing, juggling her college schedule and passing of the case to another lawyer in her aunt’s firm was not easy.

But at least her college schedule was lighter this semester.

Looking around her room, seeing all the clothes she had yet to pack…fancy cocktail dresses, gala things, and wedding things, she sighed miserably.  She’d need the extra time to unpack.

On the twentieth of January, Kenneth Robert Larynce was sworn in as president of the United States.

Serena Larynce became attorney general officially.  Darien Dredsdale became surgeon general officially.

As Serena stood among the on-lookers, and froze her hands in her rose pink gloves, she looked at Darien.  He stood apart from the rest, looking up at his friend, admirably and happily.

He was proud of his friend.  Serena was proud of her cousin. Lita stood next to her husband, and their children, Margo and Kevin, stood by with perfect manners and serious faces. Serena was happy.  Everything was perfect in her apartment.

EVERYTHING was unpacked.

Everything was perfect.

The inauguration ball was the big event of the evening, and Serena was aware of it.  She entered the West Wing of the White House with a small familiarity of the house.  It was funny, coming back as a guest to a place where she had lived once.  She looked around her, seeing the people around smiling and laughing.

Serena had entered carefully, slightly nervous.  A new society.  She always had to deal with the rumors that had arrived before her, and she always had to gain the favors of almost everyone in the room.  Great.

But she had dressed nicely for the occasion.  She wore a black velvet sleeveless that collared around her neck, with a diamond at the center at her throat.  From the collar, the cut of fabric on either side went diagonally from the center of the collar to the crook of her arms and around to the back, where her line of skin reached down to the small of her back.  From there, the velvet clung to her figure, and had a slit on her right side to just above her knee.  She wore black suede pumps and her hair was again pulled up but with small black bows that had diamond centers.  She wore diamond earrings, and some gentle blond tendrils framed her face.

She was ready.  She was going to take the Washington DC society and turn it in her favor.  As she started walking around, she felt someone’s gaze on her.  She turned and focused on the person who watched her.

Darien Dredsdale.


Chapter Fourteen


Serena sighed, tired and typed more into the laptop on the desk in front of her.  It was late February.  She had gone through a month of this, and even gotten through the lonely Valentine’s Day blues with sappy romantic movies and strawberries and white chocolate.  Not to mention plenty of boxes of tissue, especially when she saw “While You Were Sleeping.”

It was odd…Christmas was one of the most depressing times for her, and yet, the past one was so wonderful…but this time, well, Valentine’s Day bit at her heart harsher than usual.  Maybe it was the unusually cold weather that had swept in, blamed on El Nino.  But Serena knew it had to do with the fact that she had a taste of something special at Christmastime, something that she almost wished she had now.

But she had things to do, of course, because she was the busy Attorney General.  But at the same time, she was distressed.  This evening, she had another social thing to go to, the Lara Dredsdale ball thing in Richmond.  But she needed a date.  She was not about to go to find her mother and grandmother both asking her about whatever happened to her sweet heart. 

The problem with Lara Dredsdale was that many of her friends were the mindless Larynce princesses, and Serena did NOT want to have them sneering at her all night, gossiping how the prince probably got back his eyesight after all, and was smart enough to abandon the sickly thing.

Serena wasn’t sickly, but the Larynce princesses did not like her too much, because they always called her the prima donna child, always requiring the best books, the best schools, and the biggest tuition.  The fact that Serena wore minimal makeup also bothered them as well, for she was pretty without the layers of glob, made them all believe she was a pale sickly thing for her lack of make up.  And another fact that peeved them was that she had beautiful golden hair full of vibrancy and always shining.  Serena had beautiful hair, and they all envied her, for no dye job could get such perfectly colored hair.  Serena Larynce was beautiful, and she didn’t care for her appearance as much as she did for socks.  And that was why the other Larynce princesses despised her.

And Serena knew that if she did not show up tonight, they’d talk, and if she showed up without a date, they’d talk more.  There was already going to be enough talk when she showed up without Dredsdale.  And she only hoped that the princesses wouldn’t go after Dredsdale like wolves, for NO ONE deserved that.
Dredsdale.  How quickly people can come into a life and interrupt everything that was happening.  He had changed EVERYTHING for her.  Though the holidays were wonderful, she’d made a point to avoid family things now, because the family would expect Darien Dredsdale to be there with her.  And he couldn’t be.  She wouldn’t allow it to be.

At that moment her secretary came on the intercom.  “Miss Larynce, the surgeon general is on the phone for you.”

Confused, she looked at the laptop screen blankly.

The Inaugural ball had been absolutely boring.  She had spent the evening dancing with various partners, and not one of them was Darien Dredsdale, to her relief, but not one was as interesting as him, nor as wonderful a dancer.  As she danced with partner after partner, she felt close to yawning.  In the end, she decided to just leave.  So she left a couple of hours early.  As she looked around her, she noted that Dredsdale had apparently gotten the same idea, for he was no where to be seen, and as she walked down the driveway of the White House, flagging for a cab, Dredsdale was getting into one.

“Miss Larynce?”

Serena came out of her thoughtful reverie.  “Yes?”

“What should I tell Dr. Dredsdale?”

“I’ll take the call right now, Lucy,” her heart started to pound, and her mind started to throb.

She heard a click, and she breathed lightly into the phone, “Hello?”

“Ice?” his voice, it warmed her. 

But she scowled at the name.  She HAD told him that she wanted everything back to normal, but…

She was an idiot.  He was simply keeping his word.

“Don’t call me that,” she scowled into the phone.

“Excuse me, your majesty the high empress of Ice, Serena Rebecca Larynce.”

“Will you quit that?”  Serena rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

“Then what do you want me to call you, Larynce?”

“Larynce is just fine,” she stated coolly.  “Now why are you calling me?”

“You know what?  Forget it.”

“Forget what?  You never told me anything!”  Serena smirked.

Now THIS was an interesting conversation.  Too bad it only happened with Dredsdale; she was kind of hoping that her prince Charming would be conversational, only less insulting.  And too bad he was acting like this now…for she remembered that more than a month ago…

“Goodbye, Larynce.”

“No, Dredsdale, you called, and I’m curious.  The surgeon general does not just call the attorney general about business and just decide that he doesn’t need to.”
“Look, it had nothing to do with business.”

Serena couldn’t breathe.  There was that really annoying thing in her throat again.  She started to cough.

“Larynce?”

“Just fine, doctor, I don’t need your help.  I had something in my throat.  Now why did you call?  A call that has nothing to do with business?  You of all people know that this could RUIN my rep!” she laughed bitterly.

“I called to make sure your rep WASN’T ruined.  Have you seen today’s newspaper?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look at the paper.”

“I don’t have a copy right here with me.”

“Get one.”

“Why don’t you tell me what’s on it?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

“All right, I’ll believe you.”

“Really?”

“YES!  Now are you going to tell me or NOT?”

“Aliens have invaded.”

“Dredsdale, look, if you want to joke around, I have better things to do…”

“Okay, okay, so that was a joke, but I think you have to look at the newspaper yourself.”

“You mean that aliens have really invaded?” she asked, feigning innocence.
“No, now get that paper!”

“All right!  Just wait a second.”

She pressed the hold button and buzzed her secretary.  “I need today’s paper.”
“I thought you already read it this morning, Miss Larynce.”

“Apparently not carefully enough.  Could you please bring it in here, Lucy, please?”
“Sure, Miss Larynce.”

A minute later, Lucy walked in.  “You put it in the recycled paper bin, with shredded paper, so if there is any of that stuff in there, you know where it came from.”

Serena smiled to the woman who was slightly older than she, and decided that she’d save the newspapers until the weekend from then on.  She was only glad she hadn’t dumped the paper in the trash with the leaking bottle of rubber cement.
As Lucy closed the door behind her, she pressed the button on her phone.  “All right, got the paper.  What do you want me to see?”

“Engagements section.”

“I’m starting to feel sick,” Serena began, “Who’s getting married? One of my bratty cousins?”

“You have to see it to believe it.”

As she opened the section, she read the names.  “Lisa Arnold to John Staton, Maria Cassinger to Luke Wood, and special notice for elite Serena Larynce and Darien Dredsdale…” for a minute, Serena stared at the page.  “Dredsdale, is this some sick joke?  What are you pulling?  I will go over there and kill you for what you just did.”

“Cool it, Larynce, I didn’t do it.  I wouldn’t want to ruin my life.”

“WHAT?”

“Look, we’re both extremely surprised now.”

“How many people will get this news?”

“Well, I believe that the marriage announcement is on its way to People magazine, according to my meddlesome great aunt, who figured she’d speed things up, since we’re getting married in the future anyway,” he said sarcastically.

“I will KILL Gretchen Dredsdale.”

“No, you won’t.  Number one, you’re a lawyer, and you know what that gets you.  Number two, you’re the attorney general, so I don’t advise it.  Number three, I won’t let you kill her.”

“Why?  Don’t you feel like you want to kill her to?  She just complicated our lives by ten million tons!”

“Number four, it’d mean you’d have to kill your grandmother too.”

“Grandma!  She wouldn’t do that…would she?”

“Gertrude Dredsdale and Gail Larynce announced the engagement last night at a function in Chicago.”

“Have you talked to your great aunt?”

“Yes, and that’s all she said.  She thought it was time I settled down, and that we were going to be engaged sooner or later, why not sooner and not later?”

“That is the dumbest excuse I heard, but my grandmother will use something like that on me.  She’ll say she’s old and is worried I’ll be all alone in the world when she “passes on” and give me a break there are about 150-200 Larynces!  I won’t be all alone for the rest of eternity!  She’s seventy-four, and doc says she’s going to go on for longer than that! So what do we do?”

“I don’t know, Larynce.  The way I figure it, we could do one of three things.”

“And those would be?”

“We could pretend the engagement never existed…”

“I like that one.”

“I thought so too, but we’ll get into some turbulence when the news hits the magazines.  But then again, all we have to do is write up…”

“What are your other suggestions, Dredsdale?” Serena rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

“We could stage a fight for tonight…”

“That shouldn’t be hard.  We fight all the time.”

“But then we’d be thought very superficial for being engaged for only a while and argumentative.  Let’s just way we’ll never hear the end of the matter if we do it this way.”

“So what are we left with?”

“Well…um…”

“Just say it.”

“We could follow it through-“

“WHAT?” shrieked Serena.

Lucy came running in.  “What is it, Miss Larynce?”

“Funny, I didn’t think the Chicago Bulls could ever lose,” Serena laughed, putting a hand to her now sweaty forehead.

Lucy then closed the door behind her, and she frowned as she heard Darien’s laughter on the other side of the line. 

“Shut up Dredsdale!” she ordered coldly.  “I’m upset as it is already, I don’t need you to make it worse.”

“Creative thinker, Larynce.  You’re creative.”

“Thanks,” she sighed, sarcastically.  “I’m not going marry you, Dredsdale.”

“No, I wasn’t going to suggest that.  I just thought we could hold off the break up for a while, just to make the engagement believable.  Therefore, when we broke it off truly, then we could just go our own ways and everyone in our families would think we were so hurt, the matriarchs wouldn’t try to pull a stunt like this ever again.  You know, not a marriage of convenience, but more of an engagement of convenience.”

“You DO have a point.  If we pull this off, my family would really lay off with the matchmaking.  But you might be viciously pursued by my cousins after.”

“I can handle them,” he scoffed.

“So we’ll just use the engagement to our advantage.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s only one problem,” Serena sighed.

“And that would be?”

“We couldn’t possibly be a happily engaged couple, Dredsdale.  I don’t even LIKE you!”

“That’s quite a strong thing to say to your fiancee, ICE!”

“DON’T CALL ME THAT!!!”

“All right, all right, Honey.”

“I don’t like that either.  Stick with Larynce.”

“Fine.”

“But we can’t act like…fiancees!”

“We did at Christmas.”

“Christmas is another world…” she said, as her heart pounded.  To have him hold her again…“But then again, we just have to be slightly loving the first few months, and start having some problems with each other so that when the engagement break off comes, it’ll be expected.”

“Good, Larynce.”

“So how long will this last?”

“I have no idea.”

“When do couples normally break it off?”

“There is no such thing as a normal break-up time.”

“So when?”

“I don’t know!”

“Fine, let’s make it interesting, and contradict that gold mistletoe. I feel very poetic today.  I say we break up on Christmas Day, right at breakfast, in front of everyone.  You can get me a totally horrid gift and I’ll start crying about how horrible you make me feel in general, the gift only supporting my argument, and I’ll break it off.”

“But that makes me look like a jerk.”

“And you AREN’T one?”

“I resent that.”

“Besides, no one’s going to believe a man to be tearful.”

“Fine, you break it off.  After all, you have deliver the gut- wrenching news to Gail and Gertrude.”

“Don’t remind me.  We’ll let them be happy old ladies for now, but it most definitely won’t last.”

“So are you coming tonight, Larynce?”

“I’ll be there, but I think fiancees arrive together.  Also, I don’t want to face the curious press and the family alone.”

“All right.  How are you getting to Richmond?”

“Train.”

“Great.  I’m taking train too.  I‘ll stop by your office at noon, and we’ll leave for the train station.”

“But right now, it’s nine o’clock!”

“Yeah, grab your stuff from your apartment, and pack some work. You’d have to leave at this time to get there in time by yourself anyway, so don’t complain.”
“You know, there IS a reason why I’m the LATE Larynce.”

“There’s also a reason why you’re the Ice Queen, but you don’t accept that, so I don’t accept tardiness.  See you later, HONEY,” he bit out. 

>Click.<

Serena hung up the phone and looked at the phone, then the newspaper.  She was engaged to Dredsdale. This would certainly be a year to remember.

Serena got out of her desk and left her office.  She met Lucy on the outside.  “I have to go shopping for a stunning dress.  I’ll be back at eleven thirty.  I think I’ll take today as a sick day.  If anyone calls, take the message, if Dr. Dredsdale calls, place his message on the top.  If the press calls, say no comment and hang up.”

Lucy nodded her head.

Serena left, her trenchcoat in hand, mission in mind.  Two and a half hours, and one absolutely eye-numbing dress.


Chapter Fifteen


Serena breathed in and out slowly sitting back in her seat. 

*12:10.  God Dredsdale.  You’re punctual.* she thought, sarcastically.

At that moment, Lucy buzzed.  “Dr. Dredsdale is here to see you.”

Serena almost fell out of her chair.  He’s here, already?  she though panicked.  “I’ll be right out.”

Serena grabbed her the bag that contained her dress and slung it over her shoulder, as she held it by the hanger hook.  She then grabbed her brief case and walked out. Here we go again.

“Larynce.”

“Dredsdale.”

They stopped in front of each other.  Standing in front of her secretary, the both cringed at each other as they both leaned in stiffly.  He kissed her mechanically on the cheek, and she pecked him.  The quickly stood back up straight, and Darien said odd, clearing his throat, “Ready to go?”

“Yeah.  Lucy, take the rest of the day off, we are closing early this wonderful Friday.  I have a social thing to get to, and I’ve already informed Ken of it.  He’s going to call me using your cell phone, Dredsdale, seeing that I don’t have one.”

“Get a pager.”

"I’m working on it.”

“Sure,” he rolled his eyes.

“Look, let’s just get this over with, Dredsdale.”  With that, she led the way to the elevators.

However, as she realized there would be a shell of press outside the building, as there had been when she came in earlier, she waited for Darien.  As they got on the elevator, she quickly snatched his hand, and held it.  His hand was VERY warm.

Darien nearly jumped back.  “What do you do?  Soak your body in ice?”

“No, it just comes naturally,” she smiled.

She was beautiful when she smiled.  Very beautiful, Darien noted.  He gripped her hand, as he felt the fingers grow warmer by the second. Serena held her breath.  It was odd, the way they touched.

At ground floor, the elevator doors opened. 

The press saw a beautiful couple walk to the door.  Right before exiting the building, Darien helped Serena into her coat, and wound her scarf about her neck, and straightened her beret.  Serena reached to straighten a lock of hair, and he kissed her forehead automatically, though it appeared very loving to the press.  He opened the door for her, and guided her out, keeping his palm at a protective position at the base of her back, at her waist.

“Yes…” she said to a reporter nearby, as they continued to the taxi which waited for them.


Serena walked out of her hotel room, which was across the hall from Darien’s.  He wasn’t out, so she knocked on the door, but found that it was open.

She pushed open the door wider.  “Dredsdale?”

“Here, come in.”

Serena stepped in, with her dress coat on, finding Dredsdale adjusting his bow tie to no avail.

“Ha!  Come on, I can tie it right,” Serena said, coming up to him, adjusting it herself, like the so many times she had done so for Sam when they were kids. 

"There.  you owe me now.  Let’s go.”

As Darien looked at his reflection in the mirror, of the two people who stood next to each other, he concluded that she could tie a bow tie right.  She was already wearing a thick formal winter coat, so he couldn’t see what she wore for tonight.  He only hoped she had as much taste as she had skill in tying bow ties.  But if Larynce had on something that was half as stylish as she had on all those previous evenings, his eyes would be glued on her the whole evening, and that did not seem so displeasing in HIS mind.

“So when did we officially get engaged?”  Serena asked.

“We told our beloved matriarchs yesterday, and are formally announcing ourselves tonight.  We truly got engaged a few days ago, and here is your engagement ring…” he said, reaching into his tux jacket.

“You didn’t have to.  We could have just said we didn’t have time to get it,” Serena protested.

“But then we would have to get the ring later.  Either way, same outcome.  Take it, Larynce, put it on, and let’s go.”

“You don’t know my ring size, and I don’t want a ring!”

“I’ve held your hand before, I think I know by now what your finger size is.  Besides, you HAVE to take the ring.  You’re my fiancee, remember?”

“It won’t fit, and I still don’t want it.”

“You haven’t even seen it yet, now open the box and put it on.”

She looked around, distracted.  She finally focused on him, and said the lamest reason she could think of, “I’m waiting for you to get on your knees.”

She’s stalling.  She doesn’t want to make it official. 

“Fine,” he kneeled down and sighed resignedly.  “Marry me Larynce.”

“You have the romance of a rock, you know that?”  Serena said, rolling her eyes, as she opened the box.  “The romance of…oh my god!”

It was circle of gold, with a diamond that had the purity of water.

“It’s the classic diamond ring, only much richer.  It was my…it was my mom’s.  Her engagement ring.  She’d want my fiancee to have it, even IF we weren’t really getting married.”

“It’s almost alive.  So bright and beautiful.  I…I can’t wear this.  It has special meaning.”

“Great aunt Gertrude wants it this way.  She gave me the ring for my “beloved” when I was twenty-one, and I was to keep it until…IF I got engaged, and if I didn’t give my fiancee this ring, then I was ‘turning my back on my own mother’.  Now come on, try on the ring.”

“All right,” she agreed, dazedly.  “Do you want to do the honors?”

He took the small black velvet box, and took out the ring.  He then took her cold left hand and slipped the ring on her finger.

The moment she slipped in on her finger, it fit perfectly, and at that instant, she realized she had just promised herself in marriage to Darien.It shouldn’t have hit her so hard.  After all, she knew that she was engaged to him beforehand, but now, everything seemed to become magnified, about more than a thousand times.  Maybe because now, it might actually be real.  A part of her was rather sad at the depressing state her life had just slipped into…engaged to a gorgeous intelligent man that her grandmother sent her up with…and she was still not pleased…

The difference was definitely noticeable in her expression.  Darien noticed it, and realized that with that ring, he just sealed an engagement.  No matter how false it was underneath, it was true to the very last detail on the outside.  Serena Larynce was now his fiancee.  Annoyingly perfect, bitingly cold Serena Larynce…beautiful, vivacious Serena Larynce. At least she was interesting… more than interesting…the thought crossed his mind that had it been anyone else, Darien would have opted for breaking off the engagement as soon as possible.  But…there was definitely a distinction with Serena Larynce…most definitely a difference.

“Are we ready, Larynce?”

“All right,” she said, clearing her throat.  “Let’s knock them dead.”


They walked out of the taxi in front of a large banquet hall.

“Looks like we’re fashionably late, Larynce.”

“Well, here we go.  Come on…honey.”  With that, Serena threaded her arm in his, and they held hands.  She noted that his were very cold.

Hers were surprisingly warm, and Darien couldn’t remember for a second why she was the Ice Queen when she was so warm.  It was contrast to what they felt just ten minutes ago, when he’d given her the ring.  He shook his head and they entered the building together, and went into the coat check. As Darien helped Serena take her coat off, he was stunned by her gown.

It was a forest green velvet dress, sleeveless of course, to show off those beautiful pale arms.  The cut was pretty low, and curved around her closely, until it reached her waist, when it was followed by a forest green satin pouffy skirt, with black sparkling lace screening over it beaded with pretty sparkling beads.  At her ears, emerald earrings, glimmering against her hair, which she had pinned up with emerald combs.

Darien should have been used to it by now.  Larynce couldn’t pull that many tricks and still get the kicks.  But he couldn’t get over how lovely she looked each time he met her at one of these things.  Always a different beauty, but nevertheless always stunning.

He whispered teasingly into her ear, “Nice, Larynce.  I think I’m proud.  You’re gorgeous.”

“You know Larynce jewels…they’re enchanted…” she muttered, smiling.  “Just doing my part in the fiasco,” she continued simply, but blushed inside at his compliment. 

It was nice that he appreciated the effort she put into selecting a gown for tonight.  But having him whisper compliments into her ear just gave her a case of excessive shivers.

With that, he put his arm around her waist protectively, as a fiancee would, he concluded, and guided her to the ballroom.  Serena figured that the same thing, and just leaned against him.

The minute they entered, they were barraged with questions.

“You didn’t, did you?”  Ilene pushed herself to the front.

Serena lifted her left hand to show off the engagement ring.

“It’s gorgeous!” Ilene beamed.  “I only wish my daughter TOLD me about it, instead of leaving me to find out in the paper.”

“Sorry, mother, it’s just that things were moving so fast…”  Serena breezed, looking up to Darien, with that glance of admiration a fiancee would have, though it was not entirely fake.

*If it had to be someone, I suppose Darien is the best one.  He’s interesting enough, and at least I won’t be bored these next several months.  Plus, I have to admit, he is the most GORGEOUS guy I have seen in my life.*

“When is the wedding?”  asked another guest.

“Next June.”

“Next March.”

Serena and Darien looked at each other and Darien smiled. 

“We’ve been so caught up in the whole concept of being engaged we haven’t really discussed the wedding yet,” he squeezed Serena’s hand. 

Serena stiffened slightly, and she knew Darien felt it, because he seemed to tease her more by holding it more firmly.

Suddenly realizing she had to spend a whole evening with the Dredsdale, she decided to make the most of it. 

*Just because we’re engaged does NOT mean we like each other.* 

Going back to the game they had played at the New Year’s Eve Ball, she decided that the game was the only way to make it convincing.  Otherwise, she’d kill him by the end of the evening.

A part of her heart felt a warm completeness, as it had felt the week they had after New Years, after being snowed in.  In fact, she was, for the first time, happy again, in all honesty.  There was something about him…

She leaned her head on his shoulder.

Darien turned to look at her head.  She looked up at him, with the challenge issued in her eyes, laughing.

You’re on.

*I’m going to win.  And when I do, we’ll celebrate this hoax tonight.  If I win, you buy champagne.  If you win, it’s on me.*

All right.

With that, his hold around her suddenly got a lot more tight around her, and more personal.  Serena caught her breath.  *Okay, Dr. Dread.  Let’s play.*


 

Chapter 16 - 21 by Crystal Heart

Chapter Sixteen


Serena sipped the champagne they had bought together, fifty-fifty, sitting in Darien’s hotel room, on a chair in the corner, watching TV.  Darien walked out of the bathroom with only his shirt and pants from the whole tuxedo outfit.  The rest was thrown on the bed.  Serena sighed.  This was certainly quite a way to spend the weekend, with a man she didn’t even like.  They wouldn’t even get along, if it weren’t for those silly bets.  At least, that’s what she told herself.  Tonight had been dangerous.  When Dr. Dread was charming, she knew it.  The way he’d hold her, the way he’d keep her close to him.  It was as if they really WERE engaged.  Well, they were, but not in the strictest sense, she hoped.  They couldn’t ACTUALLY get married.  Dredsdale was only around for the games, the make-believe.  It would have never worked if it was real.  Though, Serena thought. 

*If it COULD work out in the real world, it’d make life a lot less lonely and more interesting.* She had floated the entire evening…in his arms, in her mind, in her heart.  With him, she felt as if she was high on a cloud, being swept up and carried over some strange threshold…a new emotion, perhaps, but who knew what it was.

“So Larynce, we have to discuss a few things.”

“What would that be?”

“Wedding date.”

“You said March, I said June.  Let’s compromise.  May.”

“April.”

“WE’RE NOT EVEN GETTTING MARRIED!!!!!!!!”

“So?  We still have to agree.”

“Then I suggest this.  The later we put it, the fewer wedding preparations we’ll have to make before this whole thing is off.  Let’s face it, Dredsdale.  We’re breaking up at Christmas.  We don’t want to start preparing for a wedding that’s never going to happen.”

“True.  But I still say April, and we agree on April.” Darien said.  But he didn’t want to agree with Larynce.  The ease he’d felt when he was with her was entirely too frightening.  The whole sense of being in a couple with her really made no sense at all.  He had tried to charm her out, to see her squirm, but she took it coldly, and just fought back, muddling his mind up with confusing dreams of kissing that beautifully curved mouth.

“April showers…”

“But May flowers?”

“If I AM going to get married, it might as well be beautiful outside when I tie the knot.”

“We’re not getting married, as you are constantly reminding me.”

“But since you’re so in love with me, you’ll let me have my way, right dear?” She flashed those beautiful perfect teeth of hers, and he wanted to melt. 

When she smiled at him, even superficially, there was a certain warmth.  When she smiled genuinely, which was VERY rare, Darien sometimes thought he was in love.  Those eyes were warm, a warm blue sky in the summer when the sun was out.  Pure, joyful, unblemished blue.  And her lips had that special quirk in an honest smile, the kissable quirk.  But it was only that.  She was gorgeous.  Who WOULDN’T want to kiss her?  It wasn’t as if he actually liked her mind or anything like that. 

“Tell me about yourself,” she said, suddenly.

“What?”  Darien asked, puzzled.

“Tell me about yourself.  If we’re engaged, we should be able to talk as if we knew each other.  We don’t right now.  I don’t want to accidentally something that isn’t true about your life, only to have myself contradicted, and we’re supposedly in love, so I’m supposed to know a LOT more about you than I do right now.  You don’t have to get too personal or anything, but tell me enough so that I can talk to others about you without having to worry about being wrong.”

“All right, pour me a glass of that, will you?”

“After I go to my room and get some PJs on.  These heels are killing me, and I’m starting to get cold in this dress.”

“Okay,” Serena said, settling down on the opposite side of the bed in her pink silk jammies.  “Shoot.”

“Well, as you know, I’m surgeon general of this beautiful nation, and I teach at Johns H, heading the med department.”

“Cousin Amy teaches there, right?”

“Yes, that would be Amy Anderson and her fiancee Greg Urawa, who are on Cloud Nine whenever they’re together.  It gets annoying to the staff at times, for they never seem to be able to do anything else but talk about the wedding.”

“It’s an improvement from when she was a child.  She was always so SERIOUS!”

“And you weren’t?”

“What do you mean?” Serena shifted in her place, suddenly self-conscious.  She played with a loose thread on the bed cover. 

“You skipped two grades.  You KNOW what I mean,” Darien said, gently.

“No, I don’t.  I was being ambitious.”

“You were also so studious you didn’t go out in the social circles like your cousins,” he looked at her, matter-of-factly.

“Hey, that’s a PRIVILEDGE!  If I ended up like them I’d kill myself!” she joked, fighting to keep the atmosphere light.  “Okay, so it’s a bad suggestion.”

“If I remember correctly, you’ve met all my cousins, and according to Lita, they’re all in love with you.  Would you prefer I was one of them, another starry-eyed grown-up teenager?  And they’re all very materialistic and stuck up.  They want husbands who look like tennis pros and who have bank accounts in Switzerland.  But my favorite has to be Candy Larynce.  Such style!  No one could wear an elegant dress and still manage to look desperate.”

Darien laughed.  How true.  However, he became serious again rather quickly. "You say that they’re materialistic, but what about you?  What do you live for?  You aren’t materialistic, but you don’t really shine with ideals in your eyes.”

“Fairy tales don’t come true.  I thought they did, but when I came and found that I LIVED a fairy tale, I found that it wasn’t one at all, because fairy tales don’t exist.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like my life, and I like my family, despite all the materialistic snobs (which only total to be about an annoying ten; the rest of them are quite nice), and I like what I do.  I just don’t want to wish for more, because I’ll only be let down in the end.”

“No such thing as love?” he asked, gently, reaching across, taking a small grip on her chin, and tilting her eyes to meet his. 

Serena nervously drew in a breath, and then began.  “There is such thing as love.  Otherwise, Amy would never blush when Greg walked into a room, and Lita wouldn’t get that expression in her eyes when she talks about Ken, even after all these years.  And my every time my father doesn’t think anyone’s looking, he’ll take my mother’s hand, and hold it, or bring it to his lips and kiss it.  There is love out there, but I’m just saying that it’s not out there for me.  I believed in it before, but that illusion was shattered a long time ago.”

“How?”

“Oh, I met a guy, never knew who he was.  He gave me my first kiss, and I got all starry eyed and I hoped I’d see him again.  I waited for him until I was 23.  Of course, in the end, I was totally depressed, and decided that I wasn’t ever going to put myself into believing those things.  Besides, I don’t have time for relationships, and I don’t have the emotional strength.  I can’t believe this.  You hardly know me, and I already told you this.  I’m still working up the courage to tell my friends not to bother with their lame attempts at setting me up.”

“They really can’t do that now, can they?”

“No, but this whole thing was started by matchmaking, only at the highest level, the matriarchs.  But at least the friends stop now.  They all wanted to see me ‘happy’.  You know, marry off the unlucky one.  I’m the last one of all my female friends to still be single.  I’m an endangered species,” she laughed.

“No, you’re extinct now,” he reminded her.

“We’re not REALLY getting married, though.  And why am I saying all this?  I thought you were supposed to tell me about you.”

“You started it.”

“Well now I’m ending it; your life now.  Why don’t you take one of my cousins out of my hair and marry them?”

“Aside from that fact that they’re ALL scheming cats out to rip each other’s faces off?”

Serena laughed.  “No, tell me, you’re the Dredsdale prince.  Why haven’t you actually settled down with a princess?”

“I’m REALLY idealistic, I suppose.  I believe strongly in love, and I believe that it WILL come for me some day.  But not too soon.  It’ll come when I’m ready for it.  I’m a go-with-the-flow guy.  I had to be when my parents died.”

“Lita told me about it.  How old were you?” Serena’s eyes became soft, caressing his face with a gentle almost tearful blue. 

“Only ten years old.  It tore my heart out.  I was totally lost.  But I met someone.”

“You work fast!” Serena teased lightly, “Ten years old and already attracting someone!”

“No, not necessarily attracting.  She just made me think, that’s all.  She was a little girl, running into the hospital room with this beautiful red rose.  Said her brother was born that day, and that she wanted to give it to her mother, but she decided I needed it more.  So she gave it to me.  She was a sweet thing.  She got me believing again.  Seeing her made me realize that I could go on, as long as I toughed it out.”

The alcohol started to make Serena a lot more understanding and calm, but also somewhat light-headed.  “This is so weird, but I need to ask this question.  I bet you know I was in Japan in my childhood, so I guess it’s not that odd.  Do you remember if the girl had a funny hair do, and blue eyes?  And do you remember if that nurse that chased her out had on some fluorescent pink-“

“Bunny slippers?” Darien completed.

“Then…then…Darien, I met you when I was six years old!”

Darien suddenly broke out in a smile.  “This is just amazing.  Are you sure?”

“I remember.  I went to hospital because Sammy was born and I remembered being very bored so daddy brought me to a flower shop.  He let me get one red rose for mommy, but on our way in, I saw that across the room, there was dark-haired boy crying about his parents.  So I went over to him and gave him my rose, and told him to be brave.  Then I was chased away but a nurse with fluorescent pink bunny slippers.”

“Did you ever find out why the bunny slippers?” Darien laughed.

“I didn’t, did you?”

“No.”

A few moments of silence followed in which they both burst out laughing.

“Well, that will remain a mystery to us.  So go on about your life.  What other things happened.  When did the prince get HIS first kiss?  I told you mine.”

“When he was twenty years old.”

“THAT old?”

“What?”

“It’s just that…”

“Let’s just say that I wanted to find THE one.  I told you I was super-idealistic.”

“So did you find her?  And if you took so long to find her, why isn’t she going out with you,” her heart started to sink.  It wasn’t jealousy, but if he had been with someone else…

“It was at a masquerade.  She was so beautiful.  She reminded me of the little girl in Tokyo Hospital, but she was older, more beautiful, and so idealistic.  She was probably seventeen, about to graduate, thinking the world would be in the palm of her hand with no problem.  So I asked her to dance, and we danced the whole evening.  And at the end, I kissed her.”

She was slightly upset.  “So did you ever meet HER again?  That was dumb.  Dredsdale, you are dumber than I thought.  You should have chased her down, found her.  You waited until you were TWENTY for her, for God’s sake.  That’s most of your life!  If you are waiting for her, you should be pretending to be engaged with HER, not me.  Or at least you should be MARRIED!  If you were married to the dumb girl, we wouldn’t have to go through all this!”  Serena said bitingly, with what seemed like a bit of icy envy on the fringes.

“I COULDN’T see her again.” Darien mused.

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t return the masquerade for many years.  My aunt kept me busy all the time at Christmas,” Darien smiled.

“Woah, this is just a little too weird for me.  I have the distinct feeling I will eat those words I said before.  Christmas?  Masquerade?  Was this at Larynce Manor?”

“Yeah,” Darien looked hopefully at her, watching her thought processes go through her eyes very quickly, creating a whirlwind of thought radiating in those blue orbs.

“So then, so then, did you call her-“

“Bright angel?  It IS you, isn’t it?  I kissed YOU that night.  I don’t know, when I saw you the first time just this Christmas, you looked familiar.”

“So I waited until I was 23 for YOU!?!?!?”

“You make it sound as if it is a bad thing.”

“Dredsdale, let’s be serious.  We have done nothing but play this stupid game since we met.  I can’t believe I waited for YOU!!!”

“I crushed your beliefs,” Darien smiled, slightly.  He had affected Serena Larynce.  Of course, crushing beliefs was a very bad thing to do, but HE HAD AFFECTED HER LIFE!!!!!

“It’s just as well that you did, I couldn’t stay up in the clouds forever, you know.  And it wasn’t just you.”

“So what’s made the difference?”

“What in the WORLD do you mean?”  Serena looked up from the pattern of the comforter to his deep eyes.

“I mean what made the difference.  When you were a teenager, the newspapers all said you were a clutz who would never apply herself.  You were idealistic.  But you lost those ideals when I never came back.  What’s made you change?  Was it me?”

“Don’t remind me.”

“No, I’m not trying to insult you.  I’m just curious.  I mean, a princess born into an empire, which you said wasn’t very great for you after all.  Why didn’t you just drop into the crowd and live a normal life?  Some people, after losing their ideals, even drop to the way bottom.  I want to know what kept you up.”

“Because I needed to prove something to myself, I suppose.  It’s true, I guess.  I was an awkward preteen obsessed with what people thought of me, because I had no idea who I wanted to be.  I guess in the end, after deciding the press knew NOTHING about me, I’d show them, and maybe I’d show myself just WHAT I could do.”

“You’ve certainly shown that.  But Serena, are you really happy the way you are?”

“Why shouldn’t I be happy?  I’m part of a legacy that rivals the Kennedys, and I’m able to fight my way from being the dim watt to the star.  That gives me a LOT of satisfaction.  I prof at Harvard, where all my students respect me, and most even like me.  I’ve got a great career in Washington, heck I’m attorney general!  I earned my way there!  I did the work, I was approved by the Senate, though they did frown upon it in the beginning because I WAS a relative.  But my rep stuck, and they accepted me in the end anyway.  And if I can’t hold it out here, I’ll go off into New York again and start up with Aunt Hetty again.  Heck, I could go anywhere and I’d be able to set something up.  My life’s stable.  It’s fixed.  There are no more chances, no leaps of faith, because I don’t need anything.”

“What about anyone?  Do you need anyone?”

“I have my family…” she started automatically.

“When you decide to visit…” he reproached.

“Wait a second here, what are you doing?  Why are you attacking me like this?”  Serena narrowed her eyes, annoyance starting to come in like a tide.

“I just want to find out a little more about you, that’s all.”

“Well, I think that for the first time we’re seriously talking about our lives, this is getting a little over my head here.”

“Sorry.”

They sat in silence for another five minutes when Serena interrupted the silence. 

"And who are you to judge anyway, Dredsdale?  You know nothing about the way I had to life.”

“Larynce, you know that that isn’t tr-” he sighed.  She was crying too much to reprove her.

He wanted to touch her cheek, but decided against it.  She wasn’t his fiancee in real life, and she didn’t like him. 

*And I don’t like her that way either, so we’d just kid ourselves.* 

“I’m not judging, I just wanted to know more.  I’m sorry Larynce.  I’m trying to find out too much about you at once.  It’s just that you’re different.  And I wondered.  You know, when I was a teenager, I’d read about you in the papers, and see how hard they were on you, and I pitied you.  Some others might have caved.  I didn’t know what kept you going.  Maybe it was because you were insensitive to their criticism, or maybe it was because you were so sensitive you were determined to prove them wrong.  The press took your rise to success the first way.  The way I see it now, I think it’s the second.  You’re a very sensitive, passionate person, and I can see that now, and I could hit myself in the head right now if it’ll make you feel better.  Just don’t cry, Serena, please don’t.”

She was silent a few moments, looking out the window.  This was a strange experience.  She actually told Dr. Dread all about herself, and she didn’t feel weak, as she should have felt.  She felt better, having shared these feelings, only maybe sharing them with Dredsdale wasn’t the best idea.  But then again, he WAS her fiancee.

“Serena?”

“How about I hit you instead?” she smiled, trying hard to banish tears from her eyes.

Darien laughed.


It was 3:45 am, and Serena and Darien were still sitting up on the bed, talking.  It seemed that they couldn’t think of one thing NOT to talk about.

“So Dredsdale, since you grilled me earlier, I think it’s only right that I grill you now.”

“Proceed, counselor.”

“Very funny.  Now tell ME, doctor.  How does a ten-year-old boy from Japan not knowing a WORD of English, manage to actually BECOME surgeon general, let alone a head of the department in the finest med school in the nation?”

“I studied.”

“But what kept YOU going?”

“I guess it was you.”

“Me?”

“No, not you now, you as a little girl.  That moment when I got your rose, everything was a lot more clear.  You made everything simplified.  I just had to take everything one step at a time, and keep everything up.  And I guess, it had to do a little with the fact that I was forever trying to conquer your image…Aunt Gertrude always talked about you…’Serena Larynce this…Serena Larynce that…’ I really hated your name at many points in my life.”

Serena laughed.  “Join the club.  If I had to hear your name more time, I was going to scream!”

Darien smiled at her, a lock of his hair falling in front of his face.  Serena’s expression changed, and she leaned forward, pushing back the lock of hair, and kissing his forehead.  She then settled in his lap, and let him play with her golden locks. 

“But weren’t you lonely?”  Serena was startled inside.  She had affected Darien Dredsdale’s life, not only affected, but inspired it!  That gave her a feeling of satisfaction.  And the fact that he was just as miserable competing with her as she was with him…

“Weren’t YOU?” he smiled down into her upturned face.

“I had Amy and Mina, and my own circle.  Contrary to popular belief, Serena Larynce DID have friends.  The Ice does melt, you know,” she smiled.  “So you weren’t lonely?”

“No, Ken was there for me, and so was Aunt Gertrude.  Ken was one of my best friends.  He met me when I just came.  Taught me English and introduced me into the trade.  You know, I got into the circle.  Being a Dredsdale and in the circle, I guess it’s a lot of influence, even though I DID have to spend quite a couple years just as a doctor, and another couple as just a prof.  I wrote a lot of med papers while I was both.  That’s what essentially brought me to where I am now.  I did make a few changes to med procedure in the US, and I guess Johns liked the changes a lot, and so did the health department.  The last few months, when Clinton was leaving office, the surgeon general was preparing for resignation as well and Ken asked him to look into some candidates for surgeon general.  I came up in the conversation, and Ken was interested.  We’d lost touch for a few years, and he called me up one day and asked me if I was going to the Larynce thing at Christmas.  I said yeah I was and we set up an appointment there.  When I got there, he offered me the post.  Of course I took it.  So I guess my road’s been kinda based on luck and my own work.”

“And in all those years, you never tired of just going around by yourself?  Earlier in my career, there were times when I got pretty lonely.”

“I didn’t say that pushing myself to the limits wasn’t painful socially.  You already know that.  And yeah, I guess I DID miss just fitting in and hanging around instead of studying.  But I really didn’t care about that.  I had my share of girls courting me,” he smiled again down at her face as the lock of hair fell again in his eyes.

“Darien!” this time, she didn’t reach to fix it.

“It’s not as if I was looking for a relationship with them, and eventually that number died down.  I pretty much was as interesting as a bowl of oatmeal.  Cold oatmeal.”

“And why are you telling ME this?” she said, as she traced a pattern on her pajama top buttons.

Darien was strangely affected watching her, lying in his lap.  “Because I guess you understand what kind of person I am, and where I came from.  You’ve been through it.  And also probably because we ARE engaged.”

“Don’t remind me.” she said, then looking up at her fiancee, with his heart-pumping smile. 

She then turned away, and looked to the mirror to the right of the bed, and looked at them.  They were a beautiful couple, and in this position, they looked almost loving.  Her heart yearned for something like this, and now that she had it, it was so…so…indescribable.  He took her hand and held it. 

“Larynce, I never thought I’d be sitting up on a bed at late hours talking with the Larynce princess in her pink pajamas.  And I never imagined what a different image you presented from who you were.”

“Yeah, well, I guess that shoots down my image of the self-indulging prince who flirted with every woman in the book.” He laughed. 

“You haven’t even BEGUN to know me, counselor,” she sat up, pushing him, as they both fell back on the bed.  Serena leaned her head on his chest, and he put his hands around her, meeting at her front, where her hands met his.  They reveled in the moment.  They may have both been drunk, but Serena had to admit that she had never felt so warm and safe in her life.  She closed her eyes and drifted off in safety.

Serena’s mind slowly drifted out of sleep, and into the waking world.  As she slowly peeled her eyes open, she pushed herself slowly out of bed, and looked around her.  She thought a while before she realized it, but in the end concluded that last night she had probably exposed herself more than she had ever done before with no one else but Dredsdale.  As she attempted to sit up, she felt a bully of a headache come down on her.  Hangover.  I am NOT drinking that much ever again!  She groaned inwardly as she realized that she was still in his room. 
Where was he?

*Oh, well.  I’ll take advantage of the situation and run into my room, and I’ll just pretend that last night ever happened.  It was a huge mistake.  It was the late hours, and it was the champagne.  He probably doesn’t even remember, and if he does, when I’m through with him, he’ll think he DREAMT all it up.* She went to the edge of the bed and started to stretch, and then set her foot down.

“Ow!”  Serena nearly jumped back.  There, on the floor, with a set of blankets as his mattress and a pillow for his head, Darien Dredsdale slumbered.

I took his bed.  Oops.

Serena decided to sneak out on the other side of the bed, and get out as soon as possible.  She didn’t want Darien to even THINK last night had occurred.

The games were fine.  They could play the games.  They just couldn’t do anything else.  If they let emotions and understanding get in the way, the whole engagement situation, as well as her LIFE, would be seriously messed up.


Chapter Seventeen


She sat up in bed slowly, looking at the clock.  9:00; she stayed up to 3:00 a.m. yesterday for him, and Dredsdale hadn’t called.  And now, she woke up late, when the class she was supposed to teach was at 9:15.

KILL DARIEN DREDSDALE! suddenly entered her list of things to do.

They had gotten engaged only two weeks ago, and she had to admit, it took some getting used to.  They were now the most glamorous couple in the nation, and had their pictures on the front of every magazine in the country.  Just last week, TIME magazine cover featured a picture of both of them, their profiles facing out to the right superimposed on an American flag.  The title read “Camelot Returns?”.  They had appeared together at over twenty social gatherings in a duration of less than two weeks.

At least Dredsdale provided pretty good company.  Spending too much time with someone less energetic, less witty, and less annoying would be too dull.  No, Dredsdale, with his perfect smile, perfect walk, perfect air, was an exciting person to be with.  And she was actually getting used to the idea of being engaged to him; it was actually seemed to be an appealing idea, when one read all the magazine articles about their charming fairy tale so-called “love story” and all that propaganda.  Unfortunately, she didn’t like him enough not to plot his demise. 

*If HE thinks that he has the right to keep me up all night, waiting by the phone…besides!  It’s HIS turn!  He’s supposed to call.  I called the night before!*

Okay, so she DID like talking to him; but he listened, and he talked back, and they had good times on the phone.  The phone was a great way of communication.  She loved the rich smooth sound of his voice, it didn’t make her lose her mind the way his smile did.  Though she could literally hear the smiles over the phone.

Okay, she DID like his company too, and there was just something about talking with him that made everything more fun and interesting, just sitting through the whole day, and wanting to tell him about it, even if she did nothing, which was rarely the case.  And even if there was nothing to talk about, they’d do something about that.

But no, he didn’t call last night.  She was slightly upset, but more cranky than upset.  She dragged herself out of bed, and went to her closet, yanking out a sweatshirt, and some jeans.  She hurried into the bathroom.  Five minutes later, she exited the bathroom, and went down the hall, and out the door, without a glance to the calendar.  Marked under the 27, however, in tiny print, the words “My Birthday”.

“Miss Larynce?”

Serena turned from the front of her still empty lecture room (she was still five minutes early).

Her first student to enter the room, a young happy 19 year old, smiled at her. 

"Hello, Crystal.  How are you this morning?”

“Fine.  But you look tired.”

“I won’t be once I get started in the lecture.”

Crystal smiled.  Serena “Loquacious” Larynce was probably the hardest professor to take notes from.  She had no organized notes, but managed to structure her ideas in her lectures, which were all done without the aid of notes or text, unless she actually Xeroxed something for the whole class for them to read.  Her ideas flowed the speed of light, and it was hard to always follow her; 75 percent of her class brought mini tape recorders, and Serena was noted as the prof who racked up the most costs on campus; even though she did not use any thick expensive textbook, it was the batteries for the recorders, as well as tapes themselves, and notebooks, that costed a bundle.

But Crystal was getting along in the class.  She liked Professor Larynce.  And as Serena had heard, she had Professor Dredsdale as well, before he retired from Harvard.

“I meant to ask you something,” Serena smiled at her student.  Crystal looked to Serena, while putting her books down in a desk in middle back.

“Yeah?”

“Your records…I was checking them out…say that you used to study a little med here as well as law; in fact, you had my fiancee for  professor once for bio…” she blushed.

Crystal smiled.  She has it BAD for him!  “Yeah!  The girls in my class all SWOONED whenever he entered a room!  But I decided after this year that I wanted to go into law for sure; before, I was studying both pre-med and pre-law, but now I’m sure.”

“Tell me, what is my fiancee like, as a teacher?”

“He was a really good teacher, a lot like you; entered the class, and did the class impromptu.  Would draw diagrams randomly and expect us to see them clearly.  No offense, but he’s as bad an artist as you are…” she alluded to the many different diagrams .

Serena had always charted out on the board in crooked boxes that never fit all that she needed to write.  Serena laughed, filing the information in her mind.  She liked hearing praise about him, though she wasn’t in love with him.  It gave her a warm feeling of knowing her fiancee, even if he wasn’t a true fiancee, was a wonderful person.  She also liked to hear about him, which made her feel slightly embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough not to pay attention whenever someone mentioned his name.

“Professor Dredsdale was also a very eloquent speaker, as you are.  I liked his class.  So did most of the female population at Harvard; they were all kinda disappointed when he chose to resign when he became Surgeon General.”

“I’ll bet,” Serena laughed.

Now, the class was starting to fill up, so Crystal went back to her seat, and smiled back at Serena.

“All right, class.”


Serena sighed, as she got into her office at 11:45.  Finding piles of mail in the mailbox (she had gotten in from Washington last night) she decided to read through all of them first.  She’d have a short lunch break at 12:45 and then whisk off to teach at 1:15, and after that, her 4:00 was canceled for the day, for classes officially ended at four.  Today was the last day before spring break.  All her students were all anxious to get of the class, and restless.

She sat back and played the messages on her machine.

“Hello, Rena darling.”

*What’s the special occasion?  Mom’s calling, and using her nice voice!*

“I called to find out if you were all right.  AFTER ALL, you DID miss the St. Patrick’s Celebration at the O’Briens, and you know we ALWAYS go…” Serena sighed.  Gentle reproach.  Not THAT bad, but the guilt trip stung, of course.

“But of course, I understand how you must want to spend as much time as you can with Darien-oh-he’s-such-a-sweet-boy!”  (Okay, so Darien’s name really wasn’t all that, but it ALWAYS sounded like that on the phone, and Ilene Larynce never said his name without the phrase!)

“Call me when you have the time…”

And strength… Serena mentally added.  She didn’t have that now.  It had taken her a whole waste of ten minutes to get her class to calm down this morning, and additional ten to get her talking speed up to par.  It was odd.

I must be getting old.

There were no other messages, and Serena wistfully thought of Darien.  No, she didn’t EXPECT him to call ALL the time, but… She opened up the first envelope, and began to read.

At four o’clock, Serena walked, exhausted after many hours of teaching, in her mind swearing that she had to make up for the jog she had missed this morning. 
As she walked by the super’s office, he smiled at her and said, “Your fiancee left a little something for you…I unlocked the door so the boys could unload it…”

Serena, suddenly very curious, as well as excited, took her stairs three at a time.  Her heart was pounding as she wondered what in the world Darien had gotten her.  On the floor mat of her apartment door, there sat a single white rose.

Serena smiled.  He’s sorry…  She picked it up, smelling the rose smilingly, dreamily.  It was as if the hero had returned, though she wouldn’t admit that.

She unlocked the door to her apartment, determined to find out what Dredsdale had done; sure, they weren’t a truly engaged couple, but the press didn’t know that, and Serena was always a sucker for gifts… However, the white rose slipped gently out her grasp, drifting softly to her hardwood floor, which was gently layered with scattered red rose petals.

She would have sat down, but there was no where to sit.  The couch was drowning in roses, as was the table.  Even her usual eating wood stool had a vase of roses resting there.

“Wha-?”

She laughed and slipped off her shoes, not wanting to crush the rose petals on her floor.  She then entered the room and spun around the room, deliriously. Oh, it as wonderful to be engaged, even IF your fiancee didn’t love you!  But what brought on the surge of romanticism? 

*What’s today?  The ONE MONTH ANNIVERSARY?  No, he’s not that romantic…no, wait…what is today?* She went to the calendar, and then was startled to realize it: *It’s the 27th, as in, my birthday!* She smiled as she looked around.  *So he didn’t have the courtesy to call to wish me a happy birthday, and yet, he goes to these lengths?*  she laughed.

She walked around the apartment, reveling in the romantic sea of candlelight and roses, and stopped by her kitchen counter, where bouquets blanketed the entire white marble top.  It was so beautiful.  Somewhere in her heart, she wondered why a man so arrogant and dense as Darien Dredsdale would possibly be so romantic with a woman he didn’t even love.

In her heart, though, there was feeling of warmth and embarrassment, to know that something about her made him go to all these costs.

She walked though the rose-garlanded and petal-carpeted halls and rooms, she came to her desk, where lay a single white rose, and a card.  Ah… Serena felt a nice glow of satisfaction as she picked up the card and read it.

 

“Go to Helzberg Diamonds on 17th.” 

*Aren’t WE personal today, Dredsdale?* she smirked.  Helzberg Diamonds?

She immediately got her coat, wondering where Darien was leading her. Before she left, however, she made sure all her roses were in water. As she walked out the door, she took her two white roses.


“Ah Miss Larynce!” the forty-ish blonde smiled at her. 

Serena smiled back.  “I take it that you’ve been expecting me…”

“Your fiancee said that you’d be around here about this time.”

Serena laughed.  He had this planned, and she was still wondering…what in the world was his surprise?  Why was he doing all this?

“This is for you…” the woman took out two white roses, as well as a single card and a long flat box wrapped in gold foil with cream roses printed on it. 

She carefully took the wrapping off, and folded it nicely, putting it aside.  The box was long, black, and velvet.  Serena had a sinking, melting feeling as she opened the box, but her eyes glittered wonderfully when they focused on a diamond bracelet, entwined with golden filigree which was shaped into rosy flourish.  Serena wanted to hug the lady who gave it to her. 

“It’s so beautiful…”

“Mr. Dredsdale spent a long time here, but when he saw that bracelet, he snatched it up immediately,” the woman beamed. 

Serena smiled.  “I love it.  Where is he?” she asked, as clasping the bracelet about her wrist, marveling at the living glow of it. 

“I was told to give you these things after.”

Serena took the envelope from the woman, and smiled as she opened it to find yet another one of Darien’s single cards, with the gold rose imprinted in the corner.  On it was written, in Darien’s sharp concise handwriting, “Saks Fifth in Boston.”

*Yet another beautifully eloquent note!* she laughed.

Enclosed was a train ticket for 6:00.  On impulse, Serena decided to follow long and hope that not packing would still be all right.  Besides, Darien planned it.  As she took her four roses out into the Cambridge air, she smiled as she, for the first time in a long time, dreamt of romance.


A tall five ten blond strolled into Saks Fifth, having no idea where to go, but as she walked through the crowd, she walked towards information, where she’d probably figure out where the heck she was to go.

As she approached the counter, the young man smiled at her.

“Serena Larynce?”

Serena smiled, and blushed.  “Yes?”

“Your fiancee left this for you…”

He gave her a white rose, as well as another envelope.  Inside it, she found another card, which said, “Women’s evening gowns…wear it for tonight…”  Gotta teach him how to write.

She smiled, and took her roses with her to evening gown department.
It was a white satin spaghetti strap.  It fit her nicely, and accented her stunning figure, flowing all the way to the floor.  The saleslady also handed her a shoebox, in which were white satin high heels, and white opera gloves, as well as a comb of gold and diamonds.

Serena put all on carefully.

Darien was planning an evening out for her?

There, in her white satin purse, there was another envelope, as well as diamond starburst earrings.

 

“7:30 at Hilton Restaurant on Main.”

She smiled, dazed, as the woman also handed her a night cloak, and a garment bag, in which her sweatshirt and jeans were put in.


She was beautiful, sitting in the elegant surroundings, looking around her for his face.

The white suited her perfectly, as he’d hoped, and his bracelet cuffed her wrist snugly, elegantly.  He hair tumbled form the comb, and the curls lightly danced on her creamy shoulders.  Her figure was stunning.  He had arranged all this as a stunt to show the world just how romantic they were, and perhaps there was a little in him that wanted to see her pleased, melting into her surroundings in wonder and romance.  However, he knew that if he didn’t make his entrance soon, she would most certainly have a lot to say.  It was best to get her while she was still in astonished romantic stupor.

A waiter walked to her table, carrying a tray that held five white roses to bring her total up to eleven.  On the tray was also two empty glasses as well as another envelope, this one with a gold rose imprinted on the envelope as well.

She opened it slowly, to find two tickets to the Rose gala on June 17th and smiled as she read the cream colored piece of paper, with the gold rose in the lower right-hand corner.

 “Larynce”,

Happy 27th on the 27th of March. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to call you
last night…(wince).Anyhow, I wish you a wonderful birthday, and I
wanted to show you how much I appreciate you, and admire your
spirit and enthusiasm, and perhaps show you a little of something
inside you didn’t know you possessed (no, it’s not life; it’s romanticism).
I have to admit, Larynce, if there’s a woman I had to be engaged to, you
are the best one on my list.  So, let’s make your 27th memorable.

Your “beloved” fiancee,
Dredsdale

She smiled into the air.  There he stood, in a black tuxedo, smiling warmly at her, carrying a single white rose…his blue eyes were glittering with mischief, and she couldn’t help but blush under his very startling gaze.  It was the kind that would melt most teenage girls, and maybe even herself at that early age.  However, now she was different, because she was of course older.

But that look in his eye, the flash in the smile, as well as the fact hat Dredsdale went to such a drastic measure to charm her on her birthday made Serena want to just collapse with tears of joy, and fall in his arms and say that she loved him for it, which was totally irrational, because she didn’t love him, right?

*A dozen white roses, and a sea of red…he really is romantic today, isn’t he?*

He stepped towards her, and she watched, dazed and admiring.  Thank you so much, for all you’ve done for me.

She stood up, and as he stood before her, smiling at her sparkling radiant face, he thought he ever saw anyone so beautiful in his life.  He wanted to kiss her, and hold her and tell her that she was the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most interesting person he’d ever met.  She stood up as he approached, her eyes flashing with happiness and unborn tears.  As he got the table, she threw herself into his arms as everyone in the restaurant applauded.

“You went WAY overboard this time, Dredsdale,” she smiled, as the danced to the slow soft music in the background, a deejay had replaced the quartet from dinner.

“It’s worth it, isn’t it?” he teased.  He danced with her as they danced to the slow rhythm of Celine Dion’s “Falling into You”

 

“And in your eyes I see ribbons of color
I see us inside of each other
I feel my unconscious merge with yours
And I hear a voice say, “What’s his is hers”

I’m falling into you
This dream could come true
And it feel so good falling into you

I was afraid to let you in here
Now I have learned love can be made in fear
The walls begin to tumble down
And I can’t even see the ground

I’m falling into you
This dream could come true
And it feels so good falling into you

Falling like a leaf, falling like a star
Finding a belief, falling where you are
Catch me, don’t let me drop!

Love me, don’t ever stop!”

Serena laughed, to interrupt the threateningly true lyrics.  “Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve ever been more stunned and out of mind in my life.  But you still did not call last night.”

He pressed his forehead to Serena’s and smiled into her eyes, saying softly, “You’ll forgive me anyways, right?”

Serena laughed.  “I don’t know, Dredsdale.  It’ll take more than a few roses and a diamond bracelet to make me happy again,” she teased, rolling her eyes mockingly.

“How about a kiss?”

“Umm…” she shifted uncomfortably.  She had to admit…it sounded tempting…but cats would talk before she told HIM that. 

“I was just kidding; of course I forgive you.  Besides a kiss isn’t a really good idea-“

“Shut up for once Larynce…” he leaned his head down and gently captured her lips in an embrace that startled both him and her.

 “So close your eyes and let me kiss you
And while you sleep I will miss you…”
 

It was very gentle, like an angel’s, and it wasn’t the first time they had kissed, but it was the first time that there was that strange underlying feeling.  A warm feeling took her soul, and Serena felt something that wasn’t there before, not only gentleness, but also a certain feeling that was hanging heavy in her heart.  There was security and protection in that promise of a kiss.  Was it love?  As she looked for an answer in his cloudy eyes, she found nothing but a gentleness that held her in a web of admiration and warmth.  Serena shivered as her arms went around Darien’s neck, and she put herself into his embrace.  He held her delicately, and she felt protected, and felt her soul lighten up and her heart started to creep into her eyes.

She quickly closed her eyes, closing away the emotion, and started to back away from the embrace, frightened of what had happened.  Was it supposed to be this way?  She never thought so before?  Did happily ever after exist?  In him?  Darien Dredsdale.  A sea of roses, a glittering bracelet, and all the riches of the world, perhaps, in his eyes, and would he offer them to her?

Her mind closed to questions once more as she just savored the moment, and held him even more tightly, drinking in the atmosphere.  Darien smiled, and kissed her forehead, and held her to him as they danced more.

“I’m falling into you
This dream could come true
And it feels so good falling into you
Falling like a leaf, falling like a star
Finding a belief, falling where you are
Falling into you”


Chapter Eighteen


Darien sighed as paper after paper of medical terms he was tired of staring at started to blur his vision.

Sitting in his bed at half past midnight, he was tired.  Today was a long day.  He had to collect med papers from a few people, and from others, exams.  He’d gotten the exams out of the way, but he was still working on the papers.

Suddenly, the phone at his bedside rang.

Taking his glasses off, he reached for the phone, and sighed into it.  “Morning, Lovely,” his husky voice fell over the line. 

“Am I the only one that calls you this late?” she smiled across the line.  Serena’s heart smattered.  That husky almost sleepy voice of his made her heart pound, and her mind fill up with a love potion.  She couldn’t have fallen in love with the voice.  But not the person.  HA! 

“Yes, I don’t think anyone else is as annoying.”

“Of course, but remember, I’m the fiancee, so I suddenly have the right, don’t I?” she smirked over the line.

As strange as it was, Darien liked getting Serena’s phone calls, and calling her.  They’d call each other every night at around this time, and converse on things that were on the agenda, or questions that were raised.  He loved to hear her voice.  The velvet sound of her almost sore throat (from talking all day) was something that triggered dreams.  Two months into the engagement now, and Darien was satisfied, somewhat.  It was that connection they’d feel, at times. 

She pretended now that on her engagement, she simply went to bed, and nothing important happened.  Darien was smarter than that.  He knew that she was scared, and that first night was extremely weird for both of them.  They really connected that night.  Larynce was an ice cube now, and stayed away as much as possible. 

Except for on her birthday, which was a little touch of heaven.  However, it was different now.  She didn’t even put the bet for champagne on anymore, but only was the quiet fiancee who appeared to say loving things in his ear to make him smile.  At least, that was what the press called it. 

In reality, Serena was making a droll comment on the attire of one of her cousins, or something of that nature.  He’d laugh.  When they were alone, however, it was a different story.  She found the way to push him off, or push him away.  She never stayed around long enough for him to talk to.

But then again, Darien didn’t REALLY mind.  After all, Serena Larynce was NOT the ideal fiancee.  He wasn’t even going to get married, so he didn’t really have to push the matter.

But there were times when he wished that perhaps there was someone out there for him, that would care.

Like that would really happen to him.

Serena and him alternated nights calling each other, when Serena started the tradition the second night of their engagement, asking him what we were going to do with their careers.

“I had that question presented to me by a friend of mine.  I said that I intended to keep my job, and you yours.  But my friend didn’t believe me because we were such a romantic couple she didn’t think we’d get along without each other.” Darien laughed.

Laughing and scoffing comprised most of their hour-long conversations each night.  Even if they had nothing to do, they’d read papers to each other and laugh.  It was odd.  Darien got the feeling that Serena felt safe when she could be with him alone on the phone and not have to see him.

Serena had that EXACTLY in mind.  In fact, it was perfect.  If he tried anything even slightly romantic, she’d just hang up and claim disconnection.  Serena never understood why she wanted to talk to him every night at such a late hour, for such a long time, but she reasoned that she enjoyed their dueling over the lines, and she enjoyed his insights and thoughts, especially since they were so different from the dreary common ones she was used to hearing.

Since the engagement began, since that NIGHT, she had been very careful with the Dredsdale prince.  It was hard to act as his fiancee and not feel the urge to be his in real life, for in public, he was the ideal fiancee, the one she’d always wanted, and he’d make her laugh and he’d do such romantic things.  He always sent her a flower at the office, which ever one she was in for the day, a white rose, and she’d smile like a shy embarrassed school girl.

Now, her birthday was a fluke…it was a touching escapade, and she was surprised Darien never asked for the bracelet back, as she had expected, and so, she decided that he meant to spend more than four thousand dollars on a birthday present he wasn’t actually engaged to.  Of course that was just for the outer appearances.  No one was to know about their agreement.  And she didn’t want to stick around longer than she had to so that he could snub her and make her feel like a brat all over again.  She knew he was acting, and Serena readily admitted that he was a GREAT actor.

But she was pretty good to.  There was more than once when she saw that overwhelmed look in Darien’s eyes.  She relished in those moments.

“So there anything special coming up this weekend?” he asked, casually.

“Going to Mina’s for lunch.”

“Good.  And evening?”

“Plan on staying the night.  Mina and I have a lot to catch up on. You?”

“Hospital seminar.”

“All day?”

“Yes, all day.  But at least now, I won’t have those young female interns giving me those starry eyes now.  I’m a taken man.”

“That is, until we break it off,” Serena reminded him, and herself.

“True,” he said, somewhat disappointed.

Serena couldn’t wait for the engagement to be off.  Only eight more months.  She was surprised they had survived two already.  She had been actually engaged for TWO MONTHS!  She looked at the ring on her finger, and played around with it.  Being around Darien, pretending to be in love with him, when he was pretending to be in love with you, was dangerous for any woman.  If Serena weren’t so set against him, she might have fallen for him.  Emphasize the MIGHT.  But two months had passed.  I’ll be it, two VERY long moths passed, but Serena was sure that eight could be passed the very same way, no complications. 

“So what’s going on up there in wonderful Massachusetts?  Long time since I last came up.”

“So visit some time.  Harvard’s grand this time of year.  Students are cramming and teachers are furiously writing new exams.”

“Well, we haven’t got much better at Johns right now.”

“Oh yeah, clear the tenth of May.  You have to come back and be my fiancee at the Harvard professor gala thing.”

“All right, but the third, a week before, is the Johns H one.”

“And the week before that, the 26 of April.  That’s Ken’s birthday ball at the White House.”

“And the weekend before that is the coming weekend, so we’ve got our next weeks booked.”

“My cousins would sneer that we don’t spend any time together alone, as a couple.”

“But that’s not what we ever wanted in the first place, now, was it?” he asked, hoping to hear something to prove otherwise.  A silence. 

“No, it wasn’t,” she said quietly, and hung up.


Chapter Nineteen


Serena smiled across the lunch table at Mina.  “The salad looks delicious, and I love your ranch!  It’s so isolated from everything else, and so perfectly situated.  It’s got GREAT decor.”

“That’s Susie Setsuna’s job.  Great fashion design, but she is GREAT at interior decor.  And I like the secludedness too.  I’ve been around people all my years, but now, I just want it to be me and my family right now.  It’s nice here.  Very quiet.  The nearest town is an hour away.  You know, you might want a life like this.  You’ve been bugged by people all your life.  It’s so relaxing here.”

“I’ll remember that when Dare and I settle down!” Serena laughed.

“And how is your handsome fiancee?”

“He’s great.”

“Did you invite him here like I asked you to?”

“He had a med seminar, so I didn’t think he could squeeze it in.  I left it at that.”

“It’s just as well, because I didn’t know Andrew was going to have to go out of town for an appearance in LA.”

“Yeah.  It’s just as well because now it’s just us and we can gossip.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“About you and Dare…”

“What about us?” Serena asked, cautiously.

“How are you two?  You don’t get much time together.  I know how THAT feels.  I always wanted to be with Andrew all the time, and it drove me crazy that we weren’t together!  You know, when we were engaged, I called him every night at insane hours and talked to him, just because I missed him!”

At that, Serena looked up, slightly surprised and smiled.  Inside, she was panicked. 

*We talk to each other every night at insane hours, and the engagement is always on my mind, but then again, I think about the ending of the engagement, not about the fiancee.* 

With that, Serena felt comforted.  So long as she looked forward to the end of the engagement, they would be okay.  No emotions or feelings to clutter up her business world.

Mina leaned back in her chair, and rubbed her now very large tummy.  Her smile suddenly disappeared, and she frowned very quickly.  “Oh my gosh, Serena!”

Serena was on her feet in a minute.  She ran to Mina’s side.  “What is it?”

“I think my water just broke.”

Serena’s eyes widened and she looked around, panicked.  She quickly guided Mina to her room, and helped her lie down.  Her eyes focused on the phone on the desk. 

“I’m calling for help.”

She ran to the phone, and instead of dialing 911, she decided to page Darien.  She then gave Mina’s number into the pager, and then called 911.  Unfortunately, the nearest hospital was two hours away.  From the way Mina started to cry and kick and scream, it didn’t look like it was going to be that easy on Serena.
Please, Darien, where are you?

The phone started rang an hour later, after Serena had pulled her hair out, and cried with Mina and reassured her.  “Hello?”

“Serena?  You paged me.  What’s up?”

“Oh, Darien, there’s a huge problem here.  Mina’s water just broke, and the ambulance is two hours away, and she’s really screaming!”

“All right, Serena.  Listen to me.  Ask her how early is the baby.”

“Dare wants to know how early the baby is.”

“A FEW WEEKS!!!!” she screamed.

Serena brought the cordless with her to her friend and comforted her.

“You heard her,” Serena said into the phone.

“All right, and how far apart are her contractions?”

“WHAT?”

“How often is she screaming really loudly?”

“She’s constantly screaming right now.”

“Louder than usual.”

She looked at the clock helplessly.  She then looked at Mina. 

“How far apart are the contractions?”

“An hour and half,” Mina breathed out.

Serena repeated to Darien.

“Looks like the ambulance will get there in time, but you’ll have to do a lot of the work.  Listen to me, Serena you have to do a few things…”


Serena collapsed into the seat by Mina’s bed.  “Whew!  What a trip, Mina!”

The ambulance had arrived at the ranch in time, and Mina had her son at her ranch, but had been brought afterwards to the hospital, to make sure she’d be okay.  Darien was right, and though Serena had to do most of the work, the ambulance driver and his colleague had helped when they had arrived.
And now, they were in the hospital, Mina gently holding her son and Serena ready to fall asleep with exhaustion.

At that moment, a knock came at the door, and Andrew peeked around the corner.  “Dare said that I had to rush back to the hospital.  Are you all right, Mina?”

Serena smiled.  In all the excitement, she had forgotten to call Andrew.  It was a good thing Darien did…*Darien always remembers to small sweet details, doesn’t he?*

“Yes, I’m fine.  Isn’t he beautiful?”

At that moment, Serena realized that she didn’t belong in here, and decided to leave the family to themselves.

As she started down the hall, she looked absently around her, feeling lonely and tired.  She needed someone here for HER right now.  It was an odd feeling.  She felt lonely, and tired and very old.  Everything seemed so much more colorless and empty.  Her life seemed to be missing something.  For the first time, that little emptiness in her heart was swollen and ached.  She wished, for the first time in her life, that someone was here with her.  Him.  She wanted him to be here, taking her in his arms, holding her.

As she decided to that she was overreacting and just needed something to eat, she headed towards the elevators, wanting to go the cafeteria.  Someone down the hall was evidently a Mariah Carey fan, “Whenever You Call” was coming out of one room or another.  Serena wanted to cry.  The melody was more than familiar to her.

Love wandered inside
Stronger than you
Stronger than I
And now that it has begun
We cannot turn back
We can only turn into one

She felt the tears accumulating…this was what all came down to, wasn’t it?  In the end, that strange feeling, called love, which did not exist for cold ice queens…

 

I won’t ever be too far away to feel you
And I won’t hesitate at all
Whenever you call
And I’ll always remember
The part of you so tender
I’ll be the one to catch your fall
Whenever you call

It was just amazing how well Darien knew her…the way he always knew the exact moments to joke with her, and when to be serious…and the gentleness of his touch…a tear slipped down her cheek.

 

And I’m truly inspired
Finding my soul
There in your eyes
And you
Have opened my heart
And lifted me inside
By showing me yourself
Undisguised

No comment, she thought, as she walked down the hall.  This was depressing.

 And I won’t ever be too far away to feel you
And I won’t hesitate at all
Whenever you call
And I’ll always remember
The part of you so tender
I’ll be the one to catch your fall
Whenever you call

She waited a little and the elevator bell dinged.  She waited for the doors to open and when they did, she couldn’t move.  How did he know?  Her face paled and she was frozen in place, when she suddenly smiled.  There he was, mussed hair, exhausted, just like her, from travel, rather than frustration, loneliness and fatigue.  Here for her.  He put his hand to her cheek, and caressed it lightly. 

Serena felt that emptiness quickly being filled, as the wound that was born in her heart suddenly disappeared like magic.  The feeling would not be ignored.  She felt the warmth, creeping into her cheeks, and confusion pervading her soul.  But right now, she couldn’t fight them, when she was too tired, and too weak.  She simply hurled herself into his arms, and started to cry, holding on for dear life.
He held her, holding her shoulders, looking at and feeling the security and warmth flood into her.  The feeling of having her in his arms.  She looked up gratefully to him, as if to say thank you, but instead, her arms twined about his neck and her hands pulled his head to hers, as she kissed him gently.

And I will breathe for you each day
Comfort you through all the pain
Gently kiss your fears away
You can turn to me and cry
Always understand that I
Give you all I am inside

 I won’t ever be too far away to feel you
And I won’t hesitate at all
Whenever you call
And I’ll always remember
The part of you so tender
I’ll be the one to catch your fall
Whenever you call


Chapter Twenty


Serena stepped out of the limo, and smiled to Darien, putting her gloved hand on his arm, as he guided her into the opera house.  He held her hand lightly in his.
Her heart was pounding.  He always made her feel so nervous now.  However, there was something in his presence that indicated that if he WEREN’T here, she’d feel even more miserable.  Therefore, she found a strange comfort in being on her nerves.

They walked up together and walked into a box where they greeted Amy and Greg.
“It’s so wonderful that you could join us!”  Amy smiled.  Serena kissed her friend’s cheek and shook Greg’s hand.  “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, and all.”

“Great.”

“Besides, Darien and I haven’t been able to be together for a while,” she said, tightening her grip slightly on Darien’s hand.  It was all strange and out of whack now.

Serena really didn’t know what to think.  It had been a month since that day Mina had her child, but Serena remembered like it was yesterday.  The holding, the comforting.  Serena and Darien never really talked about it, but she knew that she needed him there when he came.  And she knew that he knew it too, or else, he might not have been there.  He just knew she needed him.  He had flown to Los Angeles, fought the crowds and found Andrew, and together, they had set out for Cheyenne.  Darien had driven them to the hospital in a rented car, and was parking as Andrew rushed to his wife to congratulate his wife and see his son.

Darien rushed to his fiancee, to hold her and tell her that she had done a wonderful job.

And Serena still didn’t know why she cried that day.  Darien never talked about it either.  But she realized one thing that day; she needed Darien that day, more than she had ever needed anyone in her life.  The emptiness was filled that day, and though the emotions and feelings she had been trying to avoid in herself had surfaced, she ignored them, and found that the filling of that void was well worth the confusion.  But only for that day.  It was strange now.  Serena Larynce depended on Darien, for a day.  But it didn’t matter that it was a day.  It was the fact she had depended on him…counted on him…TRUSTED him.  It was strange to have that dependence on someone.  Serena never thought that it would be possible to depend so much on one person.  But then again, after that event, she never really NEEDED Darien to hold her again.  She was all right afterwards.  But she was changed too.

She liked talking to him every night, even if it WAS to argue over something.  But it was hardly like that.  In fact, if they didn’t abhor each other, they might have been friends.  But then again, Serena knew that what they had was not dislike either.

It was all in the middle in that cloudy gray area, she supposed.  Darien was a nice guy to keep conversation with, and a good person to calm her down when she was feeling distressed.  Other than that, well, those feelings of melting were hardly what she called permanent dependence or anything, nor were they anything to worry about, because as for as her life was concerned, those problems did not even exist.  But she liked being around him.  He made her feel beautiful with his flirting and teasing.  It was the game, and the game, and she played the game as well.  To the press, they were Camelot all over again. 

Beautiful princess and HOT TO DIE FOR prince. 

She sometimes thought that it was because she even WAS beautiful, or at least with him, and at times, she believed that she even looked beautiful to him.  And even THAT thrilled her.  The way that he’d look at her while they danced, even if it WAS an act.  The way he’d hold her possessively, even if it WAS all a joke.  It made her feel warm and gooey inside.

No!  She was acting like a teenager?

Was she falling in love with love again?

Or was she falling in love with Darien?

Either was bad, but the second was worse.

She sat at a dining table, alone, looking into the crowd absentmindedly.  She didn’t like going to these events alone.  She wished he had come with her.

As she put her silver fork down on her plate and sat back in her chair, she DID wish that Darien was here.  They’d be playing the game again, or whispering something about Candy Larynce’s low-cut see-though getup.

Serena sighed and played with a stray tendril that came across her face.  She then reached her hand back and fixed in the curls in the amethyst and silver barrette more securely.

At that moment, Darien Dredsdale was standing at the doorway, watching his fiancee in blank and obvious admiration.  Dressed in lavender velvet, with a silver-embroidered bodice, low-cut and sleeveless, and very form-fitting, her blond curls, which now reached past her shoulders, and curled lightly with bright silver and sparkling amethyst among the strands of gold.  The straps of the gown here an inch thick and came down in an oval, and Serena had worn a gorgeous amethyst and silver necklace.

She was beautiful, and Darien knew everything about that beauty, for he studied it time after time after time.  She never was too dull to study, and everything about her appearance was fascinating, and perfect.  But that wasn’t the only thing about Serena Larynce.  She had a heart of gold.  She had frozen it before for protection, but he liked to see that ice melt away, leaving nothing but a vulnerable girl, whom he was falling in love with.

He was accepting it now.  Serena Larynce was different in his eyes from any other woman because he had special feeling for her.  It was different to be with her than any other person in his life.  He was defensive because he was vulnerable.  He had told her more about himself than he had ever told anyone in his whole life.  That touched him, and frightened him.  It was so soon, wasn’t it?

He sighed and decided that he wanted to get SOME dances with his fiancee this evening, and if he just stood there the rest of the evening, he was getting nowhere.

Serena sighed, thinking about him.  *He’s at some dinner with some cousins, and I understand that, but if he were my true fiancee, and if he loved me, he’d be with ME, or I’d be with him.  It wouldn’t matter.  But then again, it’s only business arrangement.  It’s not like we’re going to actually get married,* she thought, regretfully.

At that moment, she felt a light tap on her shoulder and she immediately sensed the touch.  It was the touch of Darien.  Only his would make her feel so frightened and pleased at the same time.  She turned cautiously, hiding her small affection in the midst of blue confusion.

Darien took her into his arms, a gesture of an fiancee that came with the contract, and whispered, “Thought you’d be bored.”

“Without our bickering?  I have to admit, Dredsdale, it IS rather dull without your annoying presence.”

“How about we leave?  It’s only nine, and we can walk around a little.”

Serena felt her heart beat faster.  “How about we stay here?” 

*Where it’s safer for me to stay around you, where you can be that sweet fiancee I want you to be.* Darien, inwardly disappointed decided to accept it, and instead offered his hand, “Care to dance then?”

“I’d love to.”

As the walked out to the dance floor, Serena worried that she was spending too much time getting to know this young man who was easily taking away her life from her grasp.

He held her hand, as they walked into the chapel, and sat in chairs, smiling at Greg, who stood at the front, with his best man at his side.  Serena gripped his hand even tighter as some of the Larynce princesses approached them.

He smiled, and put his hand protectively about her waist.  She smiled at him, and kissed him on the cheek, making her blush, as she realized that they had an audience.  He chuckled, and guided her to a seat.

As they sat, watching the wedding take place, Serena felt her hand being held affectionately.  As Amy walked down the aisle, her eyes sparkling with mirth and excitement, Serena smiled at her cousin, and felt the tears coming.

He smiled at her, and touched her cheek, with his finger, collecting her tears, making her smile.

As the two at the altar said their vows, the two in their seats watched with ardor and a seriousness that forced them to think about this…


Chapter Twenty-One


“Hello Gram,” Serena said, grudgingly as she pecked Gail Larynce’s old cheek with a small hint of coldness.

“Rena, darling, what is wrong?”

“I came here early because I need to talk to you.”

The Fourth of July barbecue was two hours away, but Serena wanted to have some time with her grandmother on her own. 

“What is wrong?”  Gail asked.

“What’s wrong?  You decide to take my life, and throw it into disarray and ask what’s wrong?”

“Oh that.”

“Oh that?”

“I know you don’t usually wear such royal blue, but I thought you’d look nice in it…”
“No!”  Serena stamped her foot.  “The dress is fine.  I wanted to talk to you about my fiancee.”

“Oh, Darien Dredsdale is such a sweet boy.  I’m glad you’re going to marry him.”

Serena sighed, exasperated.  “YOU decided that, now, didn’t you?  Neither Dredsdale nor I know what is going on, and I’m very frustrated now.  You really screwed with my life!”

“But now you’re happy with him, aren’t you?  Doesn’t Gram know right?”

Serena sighed, exasperated.  Confronting Gail Larynce was like confronting a brick wall.

“Sure Gram, I like him enough…” 

*Enough to KILL him for all the confusion he’s causing, and enough to kill HER for starting it.*

“I’ll see you later, Gram.”

“Yes, and don’t forget to wear the royal blue.  You’ll look BEAUTIFUL.”

“Sure, Gram.”


Serena walked about the patio, smiling in the summer breeze at no one in general.  Darien was on his way here, and she was being surrounded by her littlest cousins, smiling and playing along with them. 

“You be the princess, Aunt Reeny!”

She wasn’t really their aunt, but it was easier than saying “second cousin whatever”, and they were in too much awe of her to call her just cousin Serena.  However, they didn’t like saying Serena either, but Reeny just worked perfectly.

“What?  I don’t want to be the princess!” she smiled.

“But you’re pretty!”

“So are you!”

“But you look like a princess.  Aunt Candy says you’re the Ice Queen, and that you could freeze us, but I told her that you weren’t cold at all, and you couldn’t’ freeze us ‘cuz you never did before, and that you weren’t a Queen because you weren’t THAT old!”

Serena smiled.

“Aunt Candy also says that you’re very ugly, but I told her that you were pretty, and you looked prettier than her.  She has too much make up.” Serena was laughing. 

“Well, I still can’t be princess anyway, because I still don’t have my prince!”

“Uncle Darien’s coming, right?”

UNCLE DARIEN?!?!?!?!?! 

“Since when did you start calling him Uncle Darien?  We’re not even married yet!”

“But you’re going to, and when we saw him a month ago when he visited Daddy, daddy told us he was Uncle Darien, and that he was going to marry you!”

Serena blushed.  Kids just say the DARNDEST things!  As she stood, talking with her little cousin, she felt a hand rest on her velvet-covered shoulder.  She turned carefully.  Only one person could make her heart beat ten times faster like that.
But when she turned around, she found that her heart had lied.  But it wasn’t a huge disappointment.  With a little relief, and with more joy than usual, she greeted Raye Larynce.

“How ARE you?  I haven’t seen you in a LONG time!” Raye smiled, her white teeth, brilliant and her violet eyes sparkling.  Serena always loved those eyes.  They were so unique and beautiful.

Though the two women had only met each other last year at Raye’s wedding, they had gone on shopping expeditions, and gone to various functions together.  Raye was a wonderful woman to stick around with, because she was so open and honest.  Chad loved her very much, and Serena liked Chad a lot, and liked his tastes in everything.  And his taste in women was NOT bad.

Raye was always very understanding.  Not only was that special about her, but she had the advantage of knowing Darien when he was a child, for she had gone to school with him.  Raye could always see the whole story, and evidently, she saw the whole story in the engagement too, for a few weeks after the engagement was announced, Raye had called her, and Serena had confessed everything to her, and Raye simply understood.  From that time, they had grown VERY close.

But now, no one knew what was going on in Serena’s head.  Raye drew her friend to a corner and they started to talk.  “So is he coming?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Something’s up, isn’t it?  You’re so nervous around him now.”

“He gives no reason for me not to be nervous.”

“Are you feeling something for him?”

“I…I don’t know!”

Raye nodded understandingly.  “I know I can’t tell you what to feel, but I’ll tell you that in all my years of knowing Darien Dredsdale, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him as happy as he is with you.” Serena nodded, touched by that comment.  A warm feeling of smugness came over her, and she felt a satisfaction that was not known to man or woman.

“But if he hurts you, I will gladly kill him for you.”

Serena laughed.


 

Chapter 22 - 29 by Crystal Heart

Chapter Twenty-Two


“…and that’s why the judge must…” she trailed off, as she looked at the window of the classroom.  He was there, standing, wet, and he looked like he needed her.
An odd feeling…being needed.

“Um…I think I’ll let class out today twenty minutes early, if you don’t mind,” she said, as she checked her watch.  “You all look tired anyway.  We’ve covered a lot of work today.  By next week, I want you to read through the next two chapters, and we’ll discuss more.  Class dismissed.”

The students all sighed with relief, as they stood up, and packed up their things.  She answered all last questions, and walked to Darien, who now had come in.
He stood there, hair rumple from travel, and a slight five o’ clock shadow, but nevertheless there.  He immediately took her into his arms, and he kissed her, thoroughly, at first hungrily, then gently.  She wound her arms around him, taking him into her embrace, showing that she sincerely missed him.

He liked the feeling.  A lot.

So did she.  A blush crept into her cheeks as she realized what she had just done…but it was excusable, right?  What else did a fiancee do when she saw her fiancee for the first time in two weeks?  Never mind the fact that they weren’t really getting married.

“Darien, what are you doing here?” she whispered against his warm chest, as he held her, bound tightly in his arms.  She felt his heat through the many layers of clothing she wore.

It had taken a lot to get him there.  He had gone out of an operation when the patient died anyway, and it hurt more than anything.  It happened, and the chances for success were slim to none.  Standing in the empty corridor, having nurses and surgical assistants tell him that it wasn’t his fault, got to him.  He didn’t need them there.  He only needed Serena, because Serena would know how to comfort him.  Serena knew everything.  He needed her.  He loved her.

“I needed to see you, I guess,” he said calmly.  She started to back out of his embrace, looking at him carefully.  He didn’t want to scare her away.  The look in her eyes was one of fright and bewilderment.  It stated to come to him.  He didn’t want her like this.  Her wanted her to be relaxed with him.

“Come on, let’s go back to my place…” she said, as she got her coat and umbrella.
The walked through the rain in silence, but he found immense comfort in holding her hand…immense warmth.  they arrived, and Serena turned to him, and softly smiled, waveringly.

Serena bit her lip.  “Why don’t you come in and sit down?” she looked up at him.
She was a vision.  The raindrops were playing like clear pearls in her tendrils, and her eyes glittered with a small happiness and fondness.  Her cheeks, which were lightly coated with a sheen of rain, glimmered lightly.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” he said, as he followed her in.  She went inside, and grabbed a flannel blanket, and draped it across his shoulders.  “You’re all wet.  You must be so cold!” she said, softly.

“Well, not anymore,” as he caught her arm, and twisted her into his arms again, holding her warmly.

She backed away, after sharing a few minutes of warmth, and cleared her throat.  “What’s wrong, Darien?”

“It was an operation…and the patient didn’t live.  He wasn’t supposed to, but…”
“Darien, you know those things aren’t your fault…” she said, as she caressed his face lightly, looking softly into his eyes.  “You can’t play God, and as much as you’d like to believe you can save everyone, there are some…” she trailed off.  “We’ve had this conversation enough times for you to know what I’ll say, so we’ll just sit here for a while, while you gather your thoughts, all right?” she said, as she sat down next to him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

He looked at the golden head at his shoulder, and felt a warmth, a care.  No one had ever been able to toss aside work just to sit next to him, and tell him things off life, and no one ever knew when to ever talk with him, and when to leave him alone.  He drew a breath.  It was only right.  She had to know.

“Look, I know things have been difficult, and we’ve been through so much that it’s frightening.  We’ve essentially gone through the part of a romantic couple.  Things are so different now.  I wasn’t counting on this, but I’ll tell you one thing.  Serena, you know me more than anyone else does, and now I see why you’ve always seemed…different to me.”

“What do you mean?  We play games, if that’s what you mean by different…”

“Look, Serena, it isn’t a game anymore.  Don’t you see that?  This is serious.  When we entered the engagement, maybe it was a game.  But things have changed.  You have changed, and I have changed.  It’s different because now we’ve gone though things together.  I know you, and you know me, more than anyone else has ever known me in my entire life.  I think about you every hour of the day, and if I don’t, I make up for it when I feel my heart cry for you.  You are solely the most important person in my life.  Whatever you do, I feel it.  Whenever you smile, I feel it.  When I stand in Washington, feeling a hollowness in my heart, I am glad to know it will fill up again when I see you.  When I am cold or depressed, I know that when I see you, the warmth of your smile will evaporate all sadness or disappointment.  When I’m with you, I can believe that stupid superstitions like the gold mistletoe work, even IF I don’t know why.  When I’m with you, I can almost believe that everything in the world is made of gold and pearl, simply because you love it.  When I’m with you, I can almost believe that life is perfect.  Let’s face it, Serena, I…care about you.  I think I’m…”

“Don’t say something you’ll regret, Dredsdale.” Serena interrupted. 

She stood up from her chair, feeling her knees shake.  No, this couldn’t happen to her now.  It was too soon, and too fast, and this shouldn’t have happened.  She was Larynce, and he was Dredsdale, and there was nothing that would ever make them both of the same world, the same name.  She DIDN’T care for his theatricals.
“You’re only saying this because you’ve had lack of sleep, now, you can go into my guest room and rest.  I know you’ve had a lot of things going around in your life in the last few days, and that’s why you think that what we have is special, why you think we…but Dredsdale, you’re lying to yourself.  You just need rest.”

“Don’t you see that I love you?  I NEED YOU!!!!!”

Serena looked up, startled.  A moment of silence passed between them, and Serena could not remove her eyes form his face.  Finally, she stammered out some words, carefully. 

“Rest…you need rest.  I think I need to go out for a walk,” she said, as she got up, and grabbed her umbrella.


Chapter Twenty-Three


She cried every night before she fell asleep. 

*What’s going on with me?*

It was pain.  He never called her anymore, and when she called, he never answered the phone.  She wanted to talk to him, but he wouldn’t.  The past two months were torturous.  She’d go to various society things without him, and come up with excuses for the people who were concerned.

She’d come up with excuses for herself.

Finally, she just got sick of everyone and everything, and decided to back away and hide out.  She stopped calling her friends and talking with them a week ago, because she got sick of all the pity and comforting.  SHE WOULD NOT BE COMFORTED FOR BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP THAT NEVER EXISTED!!!!

So now she was alone, because that was the only way for her to go on now.  She didn’t want to deal with her problems, and she didn’t want to think about HIM.  Her friends would only want to talk about her feelings, which she had yet to understand herself.

She missed him…his companionship.  He was…everything.  He could comfort her, make her feel drunk with happiness, he could make her feel strangely mad and pleased with him at the same time, and he could kiss her with something that she had never felt before, no matter how many times they had kissed.  He could make her love him.  What they had was special, and he ruined it all by telling her that he needed her.  It was what she needed to hear.

But it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

It was true that she loved him, and it was true that she needed to hear that he loved her, but she didn’t want to fall in love, ever, in her life.  She liked her life the way it was.  But lord, she needed him, no matter how much she was telling herself that she didn’t.  Every minute of this was torture, killing away her heart, leaving nothing but pain and sorrow and tears.

*Life’s so complicated now.  It was perfect before he entered the picture.* 

She was ready to kill her grandmother the next time they met, which was only two months away, at the Christmas dinner.  God, the Christmas dinner.  That was when she and Darien had chosen to break it off.  Who knew what was going to happen now.  They hadn’t broken it off officially yet.   But they were going to, undoubtedly soon.

She loved him, that was true.  But she didn’t want to believe it.  Admitting that she loved him was admitting that she had a weakness, that no matter how hard she was, and how remote she was, and how strong and smart she was, that she was still as weak as anyone else, that she could be crushed in a second by one gesture of his hand.  She didn’t want that.  But even though she didn’t want to admit it, that pain was in her now.  She had spent her life building that reputation of hers, and she spent even longer than that telling herself that she didn’t need anyone or anything.

But it all changed when she was engaged.

Getting engaged had to be biggest mistake of her life.  She thought that it would only be a long game, but now, it had been a path of discovery, and she found that every engagement, no matter how false, influenced life.

Just the concept of being bound to someone else, to feel what he felt, and to go though his troubles, was enough to make her learn life.  But when love played a role, then the whole engagement changed.  As she sat in her room, she looked to the window, up to the moon, as the radio announcer introed the latest from “savagegarden”.

 

 

 

 

“She’s taking time, making up the reasons
To justify all the hurt inside
Guess she knows from the smiles and the look in their eyes
Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one
They’re saying ‘Mamma never loved her much’
And, ‘Daddy never keeps in touch
That’s why she shies away from human affection’
But somewhere in a private place
She packs her bags for outer space
And now she’s walking for the right kind of pilot to come.
And she’ll say to him
I would fly you to the moon and back if you’ll be…

If you’ll be my baby
Got a ticket for a world where we belong
So would be you my baby?


She can’t remember a time when she felt needed
If love was red then she was colorblind
All her friends they’ve been tried for treason
And crimes that were never defined
She’s saying, ‘Love is like a barren place,
And reaching out for human faith
Is like a journey I just don’t have a map for’
So baby’s gonna take a dive and
Push the shift to overdrive
Send a signal that she’s hanging all her hopes on the stars
What a pleasant dream

 I would fly you to the moon and back if you’ll be…
If you’ll be my baby
Got a ticket for a world where we belong,
So would be my baby?”

At that moment, she realized something.


Chapter Twenty-Four


He sat in at his office, taking in the morning around him.  He was depressed.  He blew it.  She wasn’t ready.  But I AM!!!!  She was perfect, everything he wanted in life, captured in one smile, one person.  Pure and beautiful.  He loved her so much.  He had never felt such a bond and such an understanding as he had when he was with her.  She was so special…a delicate moon beam, right in his hands, which so quickly vanished.

It wasn’t going to be the same anymore.  Whenever he stood with her, or danced with her, he’d know, that deep inside, she didn’t love him, and the pain of having her in his arms, but not having her in his heart, was too much to bear.

He was going to let her go.  She had to realize it too.  And this was the only way.
Besides, it was best for them right now anyway, because he couldn’t stand to look into her eyes again without those feelings he wanted in there.

“Darien Dresdale announced earlier today outside the White House that he and Serena Larynce will not marry, and that the engagement just isn’t working out.  Larynce is in hiding in her Cambridge home, she refuses to give a press release.”
Serena stared at the radio as she heard it.

He had broken it off.

It was not possible.  It couldn’t be.

He had broken it off.

It was three in the morning, and she had just settled down at her bed after furiously cleaning her Cambridge home.  She had thought all day after that revelation, and decided that she needed to stay busy, because the revelation scared her.

She WANTED to marry him.  She loved him.  She wanted to be loved by him.  It was a risk, but not worth it, definitely.  She was willing to take the risk, and yet, the risk wasn’t there because she knew he already loved her. Loving him was one of the best things she had ever done, because loving him made her feel whole.
Love wasn’t the weakness.  It was the strength.

She shivered as she thought of her revelation again, the words echoing in her mind.  She wanted him to love her.  The song was important.  The song knew.  And now, she knew.  She loved him.  He loved her.  They could get married.  And she could live happily ever after.  It was all so perfect it was scary.  As she sat back in bed, she had turned on the all news radio station, and had just heard that her fiancee had called it off.  It was then she realized that he might not love her anymore.

Of course she was angry.

She immediately picked up the phone and got Dredsdale’s apartment in Washington.  Of course, an answering machine picked up.  “Dredsdale here, but busy.  Leave a message.”

“DREDSDALE!!!  WHAT DO YOU MEAN IN BREAKING OFF OUR ENGAGEMENT?  WE HAD AN ARRANGEMENT!”

Not really realizing why she had called, she hung up, shocked at herself.  As she breathed heavily, looking at the phone, she started to cry even harder.

The engagement was off, and the chapter was closed.

He didn’t love her anymore.


Chapter Twenty-Five


As she sat in her office, mindlessly working on a case study by the Supreme Court, she looked up as Lucy entered.

“There are some ladies here to see you.  They said that you invited them for lunch.  It wasn’t on your schedule, but the first lady was in the group, so I…”

“Don’t worry, Lucy.  Show them in.”

The minute Mina, Lita, Raye and Amy entered the room, Serena smiled and went to the and they embraced.

“Welcome back into the human world, Rena,” Mina smiled softly. 

“We were worried for a while.”

“It was nothing,” Serena smiled, pathetically.

“So what’s been going on?”

“Well, why don’t we go to a restaurant first and I’ll tell you everything you wanted to know.”

“…and now, here I am, in love, and he’s broken off the engagement, and I can’t really blame him.”

They were speechless.  Serena picked more at the salad.

“So you two never really fought?”

“No.”

“But he still loves you, right?” Mina asked, gently.

“No, he doesn’t.  That’s why he broke it off, don’t you see?  In the White House, we’re fine.  I just do my work, and he does his, and we don’t usually cross paths now, because I’m reviewing some Supreme Court decisions, and he’s doing something or another.  So now, we’re back to where we began, only worse than that.”

“I don’t think he broke it off because he didn’t love you, Rena,” Raye said softly.  “I think he broke it off because he loves you still.  He wants the best for you.  I know him.”

“I don’t think he knows what’s best for me.  If he did, we’d still be engaged, calling each other at insane hours, and deliriously happy together.”

“But given the circumstances…”

“I love him.  That isn’t a circumstance.  That is pure pain and torture.  I can’t say I regret loving him, because it makes me feel special when I think he did love me.  And I can’t deny that loving him has made me a better person.  I love him, and he doesn’t love me.  I’d accept the situation if I were less determined, but I’m not.  I want to fight for him, but I can’t if he won’t let me.  It’s horrid!  And I don’t even regret this pain!  You know, this is the reason why I always thought love was a weakness, but even now, I won’t admit that.”


Chapter Twenty-Six


She caught his eye from across the room at the gala.  He was there, but he brought an escort. 

Candy Larynce.

Serena had a deadly flame in her eye at the moment.  He had the nerve to bring Candy Larynce to a White House function.  She was ready to kill him.

But she calmly told herself in her mind that this chapter was over, and that Darien would always be in her heart, no matter HOW dumb he was acting.

Though this came close to pushing him out of her heart.  She couldn’t believe it.  She still would love him after he did THIS?

She felt tears in her heart, but wouldn’t let them come to her eyes.

It would be humiliating.  Not that it wasn’t humiliating enough.

Candy Larynce.

Love is strength, yeah right.

She wanted to just give up and become herself again, the late Larynce that wandered around , distinct from everyone else.  She wanted to be alone and the Ice Queen again.  But Darien just wouldn’t let that happen, not would he?

She felt her heart, and life, falling out of her grasp and to the floor. 

She didn’t want to see this.

Everything was in tailspin now, all because of one man, and he had to be the one man she’d spent her life building her heart and mind against.  She knew that he would eventually find someone else, but why did it have to be soon, and why did it have to be Candy?  She wanted to leave.  She couldn’t breathe, and she wanted to think by herself.

“Would you like to dance?”

“Yes, sir, I’d love to,” she said to the perfect stranger.


It was killing him inside.  He only brought Candy to make her feel jealous, and only Serena knew if he and succeeded.  Now she was dancing with her fifteenth partner that evening, and he desperately wanted to go and rip that man from his princess.

He hated this waiting.  He had to do something.


Serena sprawled out on her bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to sleep, but her eyes were reluctant.  Her pillow was wet, for countless tears, as she tried, once more, not to think of him… She sat up, and, depressed, she turned on the light, and tried to read a romance to novel to cheer her up.  However, the story was too depressing for her…it told of two childhood enemies, who met later, at a masquerade, and fell in love, and so on, and they lived happily ever after…happily ever afters never existed.

She turned on the radio as she started to cry again, and she looked, from her place on the bed, out the window, to stare, once again, at the moon.
 

I am thinking of you
In my sleepless solitude tonight
If it’s wrong to love you
Then my heart just won’t let me be right
‘Cause I’ve drowned in you
And I won’t pull through without you by my side

I’d give my all to have
Just one more night with you
I’d risk my life to feel
Your body next to mine
‘Cause I can’t go on
Living in the memory of our song
I’d give my all for your love tonight

Baby can you feel me
Imagining I’m looking in your eyes
I can see you clearly
Vividly emblazoned in my mind
And yet you’re so far
Like a distant star
I’m wishing on tonight

I’d give my all to have
Just one more night with you
I’d risk my life to feel
Your body next to mine
‘Cause I can’t go on
Living in the memory of our song
I’d give my all for your love tonight


Chapter Twenty-Seven


She ran up the steps at 5:47.

Never cut it THIS close.

“Miss Serena!  Your mother’s been worried sick!”

Serena smiled.  Nothing’s changed HERE, at least.  It was difficult, but Serena had finally closed the chapter of being engaged.  She was all right now.  She smiled as she thought of the past year.

She HAD changed.  A year ago, she was not even aware that she was going to be engaged, that she was going to fall in love.  She now wondered if she was better off then, not loving, and not hurting inside every time she heard the name Darien Dredsdale.  She loved him.  It was the experience.  She had to go through it.  She was happier now, because she had left that behind her, and let that experience improve her.  Or at least that’s what she told herself.

But did she believe it?

“Rena!”  Mina came running forward for a hug.

Lita smiled as she approached her friend as well, and Amy walked slowly, with Raye, both with slightly swollen tummies.  “Your mother’s going to ground you!”

“Nothing new, now is it?”

They laughed.

Raye hugged Serena meaningfully.  Only she knew how much Serena was thinking of not coming.  She whispered into her ear, “He’s here alone, Rena.  Didn’t bring a date.  I think he’s hiding in his room right now.”

Serena looked, startled, at her cousin.

“So what are you naming the kid?”

“Don’t know if it’ll be a boy or girl yet.”

“Serena Rebecca Larynce, you are now grounded for a year!”

Serena smiled at Ilene Larynce.

“I was worried about you,” Ilene sighed.  “But I’m glad you came.”

Ilene had figured that Dredsdale’s presence in the house must have contributed to her daughter’s already tardy nature.  She wished she could understand what her daughter was feeling, but Serena didn’t talk much about her relationship with the Dredsdale prince, and Ilene decided that it was her daughter’s choice whether she heard it or not. 

“Mother, I’m glad to see you,” Serena said.  “I think that I’d like to talk to you and dad; we haven’t talked in a while.”

Ilene smiled, and realized what her daughter meant.

“Our door’s always open,” she said, meaningfully. 

“And there is my favorite granddaughter!” Gail Larynce smiled carefully, approaching Serena.  She had not talked to Serena since the break off of the engagement, and was feeling slightly guilty. 

“Gram.  I missed you.” Serena smiled, hugging the old woman, showing her that she forgave easily.

“Where’s daddy?”

“Right here, Bunny.”


Dinner was long and difficult.  Serena didn’t really want to eat anything.  Not when he was in the room, sitting with his great aunt.  It was like putting salt on an open wound.  It stung.  She wanted to cry, but she didn’t.  She told herself that she was a better person, and that though she loved him, she didn’t need him.

She finally gave up and went up to her room, saying she had a headache, which was true.  All this forcing herself to go on was getting to her, and her heart was starting to weigh a thousand tons.  As she got some mail from her mailbox, she noticed a small package at the foot of her door.  It was in gold paper, and tied with a cream ribbon.

She picked it up, and went into her room. Curious, she opened it up first. There was no note, there was no card, and nothing to identify who the giver was, but Serena knew.

The gift was a gold chain, with gold snowflake with a diamond embedded in the center.

Serena smiled, as tears came to her eyes, and as she suddenly thought that she had a lot of things to do for the masquerade tomorrow.


She entered the room, golden hair, golden glitter sparkling in the golden folds of her hair, and among it, a gold hair clip.  She had rosy cheeks and a smile, both with gold glitter on.  She wore a dress of gold satin with a large skirt, sparkling, and belling with gold lace and gold embroidery.  Her bodice was gold with gold sequins and gold thread embroidery, and she wore a gold satin sleeveless and low-cut top, with a gold necklace on.  It was a gold snowflake.  She wore a gold crown, and a gold mask…

HIS mask, as he noted form the far corner of the room.  The gold eyes underneath glittered sadly with tears about to form.  Wouldn’t he have loved to see her now?  She flaunted the diamond engagement ring on her ring finger, as she walked about the room on her gold high heels, secretly searching for him.
And she saw him.  At the far corner of the room, there stood a man with white satin, and silver embroidery robes.  His hair was black, but streaked lightly with silver frost.  He wore a silver mask…her mask.  She walked up to him, feeling a burst of courage as she remembered the necklace around her throat.  She offered him her hand, and he took it, wordlessly, noting in his mind, however, that she was wearing their engagement ring.

As they danced, she realized how much she had missed him, and how much she still loved him, even though she had known that before.  It was a reality check.  She had not seen him in a so long, and she wanted to hold on to him forever.  The chapter might have been closed, but she couldn’t help but go back to it again and again.

Her courage was quickly dissolving, as she felt her heart dissolve into tears once more.  But she wouldn’t let it take her over.  As the evening drew to a close, the fairy tale started to drift away, as Serena realized that he wasn’t going to ask her again, that this night was the last night for them, and she whispered to him.

“Darien…I, I…”

“Okay, it’s midnight!”  Gail Larynce said into the microphone.  “It’s time to unmask!”

Darien softly took of her mask, and looked away.  He wasn’t going to look into those eyes expecting to find that the emotion he wanted wasn’t there.  He didn’t want to know what her response was.  He already felt bad enough.

He felt the mask being lifted off his eyes, and he looked down at her, as her eyes were averted and she looked at the mask in her beautiful, metallic gold-colored nails.  He didn’t want her to look up at him.

“And let’s see who’s under the mistletoe this year!”  Gail was saying.  “Serena and Darien again!  I think it’s trying to tell you something.”

Serena, surprised, looked up to find the gold mistletoe indeed above their heads, and a sudden tide of courage overtook her.  She smiled quietly, as tears brimmed over her cheeks.  It WAS meant to be.  She turned to him, and said bravely, teasingly.

“So, my Ice Prince, what say you?  Should we just give it up and accept fate?”

He smiled back, said silently, “What do you mean, my Sun Princess?”

“I think you are crazy about me,” she teased.

“I think you are insane about me,” he smiled back.

“What if I said you were true?”

“And what if I say that YOU were true?”

“Then I’d tell you I love you.”

“You would?” he was startled.

“Yes, I would.”

“And what if I said that I loved you?”

Serena was silent.  The chapter wasn’t over.  It just begun.  Darien kneeled down before her, and took her hand.

“What if I told you that every time I’m without you, I want to scream injustice, and curse love?  What if I told you that every time you smiled, I wanted to keel over with happiness, even if you weren’t smiling at me?  And what if I told you that every time you talk to another young man I want to pull him away and keep you to myself?  What if I asked you to marry me?” Serena gaped. 

He was asking her again.  She started to cry all over again, and looked into his eyes, and saw a world in there, and all of it was reflecting her.  “What if I answered yes?”


Chapter Twenty-Eight


She sighed, dancing in his arms, in the empty ball room.  Her arms were wrapped tightly against his neck, and his tightly against her back.  They danced to the haunting echoes of a distant melody, in the next room.  The grander ballroom was a setting for new love stories, and a new year, but for the two in here, their story was becoming even sweeter.  She leaned her cheek to his shoulder, as he kissed her softly on the ear, and traveled the kiss down from the curl of the ear to her neck, throat, and then her mouth.

It was warm, passionate, true, and everything that was good in the world.  She clung to the warmth, knowing it’d always be there. 

“I love you!” she said, for the hundredth time this vacation, kissing him with a passion that had continued throughout the week. 

He kissed her, and held her tightly, and smiled, “You are so…”

“So what?” her head came back to look at him.

It still happened.

When they looked into each other’s eyes, there was overbrimming joy, and undulled love, and dark passion.  Always.  The meeting of the eyes was a meeting of loves and feelings, and Serena’s heart always felt touched after such a gaze.

“So beautiful, intelligent, perfect…perfect…”  he said, kissing her nose, then forehead.

She loved his kisses.  They made her feel dizzy.  Tears came to her eyes, as she kissed him softly on the lips.  “The minute I saw you, that first night, I felt something in me, and when I found out you were Darien Dredsdale…” she laughed lightly, as he met her forehead with his, softly. 

“When I found out you were Serena Larynce, I laughed…”

Serena frowned.  “At what?”

“Me, not being smart enough to see a princess when she walks up to your face.”
Serena smiled shyly.

“I love how you smile like that…”

“You love everything about me…” Serena teased.  “In the last twenty-four hours, you have told me you love my laugh, my tears, my…”

“I love you…everything about you, Serena.  When I look at you, I wonder how you and I ever got to be…”

“Join the club!” she teased.

“Incompatible from the start…”

“Probably argue ourselves to death…”

“At least life will be interesting…”

“Yeah…interesting.”
 


Chapter Twenty-Nine


Dancing in his arms in white satin and lace, she smiled at the handsome man and said, “I love you…”

Jealous, her husband cut in.

Serena blushed.

“Sorry, DAD,” Darien tried out the new name on his father in law.  “Even former presidents can’t take my beautiful wife from me for long…” Serena smiled, and went into her husband’s arms, as he held her closely.

“Hmm…Serena Rebecca Larynce Dredsdale…long name, but it feels so wonderful to hear!” she craned her head back to look up at the ceiling of the tent, as if looking to heaven.

Darien kissed her neck, and then cheek as she looked to him again. 

“It’s a beautiful name…I love it…”

Serena giggled against his cheek.  “Not as much as I love knowing that I am your wife!”

“That sounds even better…”

“How about I love you?”

“That’s music…Honey, if you keep this up, I probably will never let you go…” “Can I get that in writing?” she laughed in his arms.


She looked peaceful, her face turned to the window of the train, the sunlight filtering down on her face, catching in her golden hair, pooling at that arch of her neck, and glittering on her soft eyelashes.  She looked peaceful, and he caressed her hand, and brought it to his lips.  She fell into his chest cozily and leaned on him as he placed his chin over her golden mass of hair, kissing her temple, her ear, and tracing a line all the way down her neck, and nuzzling at the crook of her neck, feeling rather lazy himself.

“Tickets?”

The attendant looked him questioningly.

Darien took both from his pocket and the attendant punched holes in them.

Serena smiled in his hold, as the attendant smiled to them, “I hope you and your wife enjoy Washington…”

“We already are…” Darien whispered into Serena’s ear, as he saw her a sliver of smile pass through her lips.


It was 5:30 pm.  She was home early today.  Now that she took only taught two days of classes at Harvard, things were better for her.  Most of her meetings were done via computer and phone now, and Serena, though not spending as much time AT Cambridge, still spent as much time working with the people there. 

Today wasn’t a work day, though.  She had to go up to rearrange a few courses though, and that was a meeting early this morning.  The minute she closed the door, she fell back on it, closing her eyes and smiling.  It was over.  Two days away, even though it was only two days, was still torture.

But now, she was home, and she’d be with her husband, and perhaps they’d go out to eat tonight at a beautiful restaurant.  Then perhaps they’d go to a movie, or walk around a while and then warm up at a cafe.  She wrenched off the beige pumps, and tugged at her beige suit jacket buttons, and went up the stairs in the penthouse apartment.  She found her husband already asleep on the bed.  She pulled off the blazer, and pulled off the annoying pantyhose, and decided that there was nothing more romantic than just spending the night in your husband’s arms.

She promptly slipped into bed in her blouse and skirt, and hugged her husband.  She felt the sensation of being moved closer to him, as he put his arms around her, kissed her forehead, and whispered, “Welcome home…”

They walked up the steps to the Castle at 5:30, arguing.  “We wouldn’t have been this late if you had done your Christmas shopping earlier.”

“Give me a break!”

“I would, but I give you too many already.”

“It’s not my fault I’m pregnant.”

“Back to the point, why did you suddenly decide you absolutely HAD to go out and buy a present this morning at eleven o’ clock?”

“Mrs. Dredsdale, your mother…” the maid who opened the door began.

“…Is very worried about you,” they both completed, rolling their eyes.

As they entered the house, Darien took her hand, and held it possessively.  “We’ll probably be grounded.”

“We needed a vacation anyway,” she smiled, leaning into him, and kissing him sweetly on the lips.

“I love you, Serena.”

“I love you, too.”

 

 

 

 

 

The End


 

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