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By Crystal Heart
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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.




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