By Crystal Heart
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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. 

“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?”


“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.


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

Darien passed his ticket to the official.

“And your wife’s?”


“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.”



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.


“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.”


“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.”


“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?”


“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.”


“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!”


“All right, all right, Honey.”

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


“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?”


“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. 


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.



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.*


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