This dress was my only chance, created by the dressmaker from our old hometown. I was only allowed to wear any old dress from my closet, and our hometown’s dressmaker was the only person I trusted not to reveal the truth about my gown.
The maid touched the gown with seeming reverence. “I’m not lying, milady. I’ve worked in dozens of royal balls and this one is more beautiful than most gowns they wear.” She snorted, adding primly, “Or shall I say what little they’re wearing, since most of their gowns are too provocative.”
I laughed at Jane’s affronted tone, knowing it was more the maid’s upbringing talking now than her actual taste in fashion.
Holding the gown up, I studied it one more time, trying my best to be objective as I imagined myself wearing it. The gown was feminine and modest, with a round neckline, long sleeves made of silver lace, and a full skirt made of ice pink silk. The fabric should make my complexion look rosier while the silver lace matched the shade of my eyes.
All I need now were shoes, I thought, and I’d be ready—-
“Oh, how becoming that dress is,” someone exclaimed from behind.
Whirling around, I was shocked at finding myself facing Lady Dezza. What was she doing here?
My stepsister walked up to me, her smile full of admiration as she gushed, “Is that what you’re wearing to the ball?”
Unsure whether to take her friendliness at face value or not, I nodded cautiously.
“Do I know its designer?” Lady Dezza inquired as she circled around me.
As I spoke, Lady Dezza tripped, her foot catching at the hem of my dress.
“Aaaah!” My stepsister cried out as she started to fall.
I paled, immediately reaching out to help her, but Lady Dezza seemed to dodge my hold. She took a step back and managed to right herself in time, but not before the heel of her shoe dug into the fabric and tore out a large piece of the skirt.
Lady Dezza straightened.
The maid gasped, and when I followed her gaze, I could only stare in silent dismay when I saw what was left of my dress.
“Oh my God,” my stepsister gasped. “I’m so sorry.” But even to my ears, she sounded more gleeful than repentant. “What are you going to do now?” She sounded tearful, but the malice in her eyes belied this. “Would you be able to find another dress in time, do you think?”
I shook my head dully. I had more dresses in my closet now, true, but none of them were suitable for a ball.
“Oh, dear. That’s too bad. I’d have lent you something but we are not the same sizes. I’m afraid you’re too short, too fat.” Lady Dezza released a sigh. “I guess that only means one thing.”
When she fell silent, I slowly lifted my head to look at her.
“You’re not going to the ball.”
IT WAS MIDNIGHT WHEN Ella, alone in her bedroom, heard something crick. Bent over her sewing, she looked up, her neck protesting at the sudden movement. Her eyes widened in alarm when she saw the wall next to her bed start to swing open.
About to scream, she instead found herself falling silent in shock when the wall fully swung open to reveal the sheikh standing behind it. He was as beautiful as always, but his hair was badly mussed, and he looked like he had come straight to her room upon arriving.
“Ella.” The mere act of saying her name brought relief to the sheikh, who was still breathing hard as he gazed intensely at her. She had her honey blond hair unbound, her face scrubbed clean of makeup, and her curves hidden under a worn-looking cotton gown.
It should’ve made her look plain, but in truth he couldn’t remember seeing her more beautiful…and tired.
Damn Dezza and her greed.
The sheikh had more eyes than the king did in the palace, and he had been close to strangling his half-sister when he saw the CCTV footage of how Dezza had deliberately destroyed Ella’s dress for the ball.
The moment he heard about what happened, the sheikh had not hesitated, practically running all the way to Ella’s room. All he could think of was giving her comfort, thinking she would be in tears, but while she did appear exhausted, she also had a now-familiar look of fierce determination on her face, needle in hand and her ball gown on her lap.
He should’ve known better than to think his Ella would give up just like that.
Shame burned in Ella’s cheeks when she realized what the sheikh was staring at. “What are you doing here?” Her tone was furious, but it was only to hide the humiliation churning her insides.
Although the sheikh meant to appease her anger with a few well-chosen words, all such thoughts were forgotten when he saw the plasters wrapped around her fingers.