She slid the zip down on the cover of the dress without looking beneath it. With her eyes on anything else in the bathroom, she pulled the dress from its hanger and stood holding it limply in her hands.
This was the moment when her life would change. No matter the decisions and the promises from earlier that evening, Eloise knew that the moment she put on this dress was the moment that she would be irrevocably his.
* * *
When she emerged Eloise thought she’d stepped into an alternative reality. When only moments before it had only been Odir in the room, now there were four people—none of whom she recognised from her life at the palace before.
She frowned. ‘Where is Victoria?’ she asked, wondering why the woman who had been her royal stylist from six months before their wedding wasn’t there.
A small blonde woman turned and in clipped, professional tones delivered the news that Victoria was back in Farrehed, having given birth two weeks earlier.
Life goes on, Eloise realised. First Anders and now Victoria.
For all the time she had been in Zurich, going to work, spending precious time with Natalia, watching the seasons change in that beautiful city, learning that she liked helping to organise her boss’s day and hating the loneliness of the nights, Eloise had never imagined time continuing in Farrehed. But it wasn’t a magical kingdom that had slept in her absence. It was a soon-to-be thriving country under Odir’s care and rule.
The small blonde who was still yet to introduce herself gestured for her to take a seat at the bedroom’s opulent dressing table. Eloise padded over to the chair, her feet separated from the plush carpet by the silk stockings covering her legs, numbing her from the touch of the mundane or the real.
‘We had to guess at your size, Your Majesty.’ The line was delivered without reproach or curiosity. ‘We chose black, as the situation demands, but allowed for the lines of the dress to highlight your femininity. It would not be done to have you looking all boxy.’
The woman sniffed, as if such a thing would be the greatest offence. It grated on Eloise’s fragile nerves.
‘It is the perfect dress for the occasion,’ she found herself responding, and it must have been the right thing to say for the woman seemed eminently pleased.
‘There are changes of clothes ready on the jet that will take you to Farrehed. These will be in the traditional style, and will match the King’s as he makes his first appearance to the public after the announcement.’
Eloise tuned out the soft litany falling from the woman’s lips as she pulled and pushed the dress about her frame to ensure that it was fitting correctly. A man bobbed up and down behind her, teasing tangles out of her hair with a brush, whilst at the same time another girl started applying make-up as if she were an artist with oils and paintbrushes rather than concealer and mascara.
When someone dipped behind her in front of the hairstylist and looped a string of pearls around her neck Eloise tried her hardest not to flinch. They were the same style of pearls that her mother had worn when Eloise was a child. Her hand hovered just beneath the pearls, as if reluctant to touch them—fearful, even. Eloise had never worn pearls for that very reason, and in her mind she was flung back almost twenty years.
She’d been hiding in her favourite place—the bottom of her mother’s wardrobe. It had been dark and warm, her body surrounded by silk and velvet and the finest cotton, and there had been just enough space in the gap between the doors to watch her mother as she prepared herself for another function. Cream. Her mother always wore cream.
She would sit at her dressing table, surrounded by make-up, perfume, and the most beautiful jewellery. It was all so very grown-up, and as a child Eloise had wanted it so badly.
As her mother had applied the base for her make-up, blusher and eye shadow, little Eloise had copied her every movement, swirling an imaginary brush in the palm of her hand, smoothing it over soft cheeks still plump with childhood.
The haze of a child’s imagination had coloured in the spaces with fairy tales of magical evenings full of dancing and serenity, believing the emotion glittering in her mother’s eyes was excitement rather than what Eloise could see it for now...sadness and the effect of prescription medication.