Tamara stared at Erik in disbelief.
"How dare you! How can you stand there and tell me that I'VE been running! You're the one who picked up with the first woman who crossed your path after Galen's unfortunate tirade. and I'M the one whose running. You were running just as fast, only in the other direction." Her voice took on an incredulous tone and she shook off the restraining hand.
"I didn't run." He tried to re-assure her, but she snorted in a most un-ladylike way at that.
"Oh no, you didn't run. In fact it's a natural reaction to finding out someone has some kind of feelings for you to just ignore her and start spending all your time with another woman. Silly me, I suppose I should have known that." She replied sarcastically and began to walk out of the meadow.
'That's no woman......' the punchline of his own bitter joke came freely to Erik's mind, making him wince. How was he going to explain this to her and not look like more of a fool than she obviously already thought him to be?
"That's not what happened. You don't understand." He said, scowling in irritation. He wasn't sure if he was more irritated with himself or with her though. She was making this very difficult.
"No, I don't understand. Why don't you explain it me." She demanded. "I thought that you have at least stuck it out long enough until I had the courage to face you. I even thought maybe you'd've decked Galen for the humiliation he caused. I mean, it must have been pretty embarrassing for you. I know it was for me." Her voice trembled. She hadn't realized just how upset she was at Erik's sudden dalliance with Vector's niece. Now all of the betrayal and abandonment she had felt just poured out of her. She felt the hot tears that stung her eyes and tried in vain to blink them back. He reached out a hand to wipe one away, but she slapped it back and turned away.
"Don't touch me." She took a moment to get herself back under control. She swiped at the tears viciously, hating herself for showing the weakness he brought out in her. when she turned around again her voice was soft, sad. "You know, it was bad enough to admire you from afar, but then Galen had to come along and rip my heart right out when he told you...and then you.....you just took it and stomped on it."
He took her face in his hands, forcing her to look straight into his eyes. This time she didn't protest. She didn't have the strength. "I'm sorry that I hurt you, but you have to believe me when I say that I didn't mean to. There are things that you don't understand. Even I don't really understand them." He thought of watching Dirk change from the glorious Vectoria into his true nefarious self and repressed a shudder.
Tamara stared into those bright blue eyes and despite herself she did believe him. She knew he was telling her the truth. He saw the spark of renewed trust in her eyes and ran with it.
"Have dinner with me tonight, please. Let me explain. Please. We can talk everything over." He watched her intently, hoping that she would agree.
She sucked in a quick, startled breath. Did he just ask her to dinner? Yes, he did. Her head was swimming. What should she say....what should she do?
The little devil on her right shoulder told her she should tell the pompous prince exactly where to stick his explanations and dinner invitations, to hold onto her anger as it was the only way she could keep from getting hurt again. The angel on the left told her she should listen, needed to listen, what he had to say, needed to believe in him again.
"Alright." She agreed. "I'll meet you for dinner. If I can get away."
He rewarded her with a smile that melted what was left of her anger and reservations.
"I'll take care of everything." He promised and started to move away. He stopped and turned back to her, still grinning. "Can I walk you back to the tavern?"
She shook her head quickly.
"I'm not quite finished here. Thank you though." She said, a little flustered again. The truth was she didn't trust her legs to hold her if she moved.
His smile broadened as he walked away and disappeared into the trees.
She stared at him as he departed, her heart nearly leaping from her chest. She was having dinner with Prince Erik Greystone tonight. A dreamy smile slipped over her face as she pictured the two of them sitting at a table together conversing and laughing, enjoying each others company. A small happy sigh escaped her lips. Here she had thought to exile him from her heart and he'd come along and thoroughly swept her off her feet yet again.
"You just won't let me get over you." She murmured giddily.
After a while she gathered up her basket and headed back toward the tavern with a skip in her step. She skimmed her hand absently along a bank of wild flowers, thinking of how dancing with Erik had been every bit as wonderful as she had remembered it. She could still feel the slight pressure of his hand on her waist, the other gently holding onto her own as he'd waltzed her through the meadow. She couldn't hold back a small, girlish giggle.
"Oh, get a hold of yourself." She admonished mock-seriously. "There is absolutely no indication that this is going to turn into a romantic dinner. Just a friendly meal at the tavern to explain recent events. Besides, everyone will be there." That thought stopped her cold. "Everyone will be there." She moaned. The thought of trying to have a meal with the object of her desire with all of their friends watching made her mouth go dry and her stomach somersault nervously.
She walked toward the edge of the forest, her gait slower and stiffer, so engrossed in her thoughts that she never heard the figure come up behind her until a hand clamped solidly over her mouth and she was dragged back further into the trees.
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