“My assistant is currently finishing with Queen Maria. I wanted to tend personally to you, my dear friend,” Lisette said as she came back into the room.
“You do realize, you could have put me in the other dressing room. I do know how get myself undressed,” Evelyn responded before realizing she was in a room full of men. “Excuse me,” she murmured, blushing as she walked into the next room with Lisette.
“I do know you are perfectly capable, but I wasn’t sure how long Queen Maria’s fitting was going to take. I didn’t want you back here and uncomfortable waiting for me.”
Evelyn nodded at her friend’s reasoning. “Then let’s get started. We don’t want to keep my dear mother waiting.”
Undressing was an easy task, seeing as how Evelyn never wore corsets. If her mother knew she would have a conniption, but she kept her in the dark. In truth, all her dresses had some form of built in support. It also didn’t hurt that Lisette fit all her gowns snug to her body so they were like a second skin in most cases.
“Let’s do the coronation gown first. It’s the heaviest and I need to make sure everything fits and lays just right,” Lisette explained as she grabbed the gown.
“You’ll need to step into it. I can’t lift it over your head without assistance.”
It took a solid ten minutes to get Evelyn into the dress and then lace it up the back, but once on, Evelyn could barely breath. The weight of the gown wasn’t too bad, although she would guess the gown was a hefty fifty pounds at least.
“Okay. Turn to the mirror and tell me what you think?” Lisette said with a trace of anxiety in her voice.
“I’m sure I’ll love it, Lis. I always do.”
But Evelyn wasn’t prepared for the sight of herself in the dress. She had known the dress was going to be an emerald green color, but she wasn’t prepared for how it brought out the color of her eyes, while complimenting her hair and making her skin look milky and fair.
The ruby accents along the top of the bodice highlighted her bosom as did the low neckline. Diamonds had been sewn into the tucked diamond pattern of the train, giving the gown a stunning effect. There was also a ruby panel in front of the dress that helped tie the entire look together.
The bodice hugged her curves before flaring out behind her to form the train. The dress was more of a sheath with a train, than a ball gown.
“Do you like it?” Lisette asked tentatively.
“I adore it! It’s simply breathtaking,” Evelyn responded in a soft voice, while absorbing the image from the mirror.
“Do you want to show Queen Maria?”
“Yes, it’ll give me a chance to figure out how to walk in this!”
Lisette helped Evelyn off the pedestal she had been standing on. Evelyn then walked to the door.
“Mother, I’m coming to show you my coronation gown.”
“Perfect. I’m sitting out here having tea and scones. I’m very excited to see your gown,” Queen Maria replied.
Evelyn was nervous because there were also six men in the lounge area, but it couldn’t be helped. Evelyn took a deep breath and squared her shoulders before motioning to Lisette to open the door.
As soon as Evelyn stepped into the room, all conversation stopped and suddenly all eyes were on her. Every man in the room, including Pierce, was admiring the way the dress clung to her body.
“You look stunning. So beautiful, Evelyn. I dare say the Queen’s Men will have their work cut out for them,” Queen Maria said as she took a sip of tea. “I don’t see a single thing that needs to be changed. Hurry and try on your birthday gown. I’m anxious to see it next.”
As she turned to head back into the other room, Evelyn caught Pierce’s gaze for a moment. The look he sent her was one of pure lust before he hid it behind that mask of his. A thrill of awareness shot down Evelyn’s spine. Maybe the man wasn’t as immune to her as she had first thought.
Lisette wasted no time at all carefully stripping the coronation gown from her body. She then grabbed her birthday dress and slipped the silky fabric over her body.
The gown laced up in the back courtesy of a ruby ribbon. The dress was made of an ivory silk with gold thread interwoven. Instead of an empire waist, which was more fashionable, the gown hugged her luscious curves before gradually flaring out slightly at the hips.
There was an intricate filigree pattern with pearls and small diamonds woven into the bodice. The cut on the bodice was surprisingly low, especially because she wasn’t wearing a corset or stays to keep her in. One wrong move and she could find herself in a world of trouble.
“Lisette? You don’t think the cut is too low do you?” Evelyn asked cautiously not wanting to hurt her friend’s feelings.
Lisette studied her in the mirror with a quizzical expression. She approached and moved her this way and that before declaring,”No. I know it seems daunting to wear something so low cut and risqué, but that’s how Queen Maria ordered this dress, as well as the others she had made for you.”
Evelyn groaned. “So, I’m to find a husband by flaunting my goods. That’s all well and good, but the top of the gown is like two inches above my nipples!”
“I know, but that’s how she ordered everything. And who am I to argue with my Queen?” Lisette replied nonchalantly. “Besides, the men won’t know what to do with themselves at the tournament.”
“Oh the wonderful tournament, where am I to be fought over like a hunk of metal,” Evelyn lamented bitterly. She turned this way and that making sure her breasts would stay in place.
“It is very romantic so long as you fall in love with someone and they win your hand,” Lisette said with a dreamy look on her face.
“You are all French, you know that? And completely mad,” Evelyn laughed. She whirled around and stepped off the daisies. “Let’s show them my birthday gown.”
Lisette giggled. “The men in that room won’t know what to do with themselves.”
As Evelyn entered the room, a hush fell over everyone.
“You look stunning. Breathtaking really,” Queen Maria said as she sipped her tea. “You are sure to catch a man’s attention in that gown at your birthday ball on Saturday.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will be falling at my feet,” Evelyn responded dryly.
“It seems like your men will have their work cut out for them,” Queen Maria observed.
Evelyn sighed. She wanted to be free to run her kingdom and get her feet under her before she worried about getting married, but clearly that was not what her parents were hoping for. It’s not like she didn’t want to get married, but she had hoped to wait a few more years.
Evelyn looked behind her mother and caught Pierce’s gaze. He eyes sparkled with lust. It was then she noticed the other men all had similar expressions. Each one eyeing her like she was their prey and they hadn’t eaten in months.
Her gaze shot back to his, and if she didn’t know better, she would have thought he was jealous of the other men looking at her. He was scowling at them like he had just realized they weren’t alone. It made her self conscious, but if her entire wardrobe was to be like this, she’d have to get used to the attention.
With the tournament, it now seemed like there would be even more men interested in one thing — her body or her fortune, depending on their circumstances.
Evelyn turned back toward the dressing room when a thought struck her. If she was to be the prize, then maybe she could convince her parents to let her put a few of her men into the tournament to secure her freedom. She was interested in marrying any of her men, but they could provide a welcome reprieve depending on the men competing.
Evelyn quickly changed back into her morning gown. She was now eager to get home so she could discuss this tournament and any other possible surprises with her parents. Evelyn let out a sigh. Her parents meant well, but she just wanted to run her kingdom and fall in love on her own.
The others moved from the private dressing rooms to the front room with several trunks. “Please let me know if something isn’t right with any of the dresses. I’ll bring the other gowns over tomorrow. I just need to finish the bead work on one and the hem on the other.”
“Lis, the end of the week is just fine too. I know you have a large order and I don’t need those dresses until the end of the week.”
The Queen and Evelyn said their goodbyes while the Queen’s Men and footmen loaded the trunks onto the carriage.
Pierce handed up Queen Maria before helping Evelyn into the carriage. Lightning coursed through her veins the moment their gloved hands connected. She knew it was foolish, but she could swear there was some primal attraction between them.
Once the carriage was underway, Queen Maria turned to her daughter. “The men will start arriving for the tournament tomorrow. I have a few ideas on gown selection based on the new dresses Lisette made.”
“Yes, Mother. I noticed they all had plunging necklines,” Evelyn responded in a clipped tone. Pierce’s attention had been on the road she noticed until she had uttered the phrase “plunging necklines.” Now he was enrapt by their conversation, something that embarrassed her.
“You are trying to attract a future husband. Showing off your best asset will help with the process,” Queen Maria returned in a bored tone.
Evelyn glanced down at her hands before stealing a glance at Pierce. He was currently looking out the window, but it was obvious he was still listening.
“I understand, but the necklines on my gowns are low enough. These are borderline scandalous! I could very well fall out while bending over,” Evelyn bit out in a hushed tone.
“Don’t be ridiculous! That’s what corsets and stays are for. You’ll be just fine. If I had really thought that could happen, I would have had Lisette raise the neckline,” Queen Maria stated.
Evelyn couldn’t believe her mother had just mentioned undergarments in front of a man, but then she probably viewed him as a servant, so what did it matter. But it mattered to her because he was going to know very intimate things about her if she kept up this conversation.
Evelyn decided it wasn’t worth it. She sighed and looked out the window.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Evie, I know you want to say something, what?”
Evelyn shot a glance at Pierce, who seemed riveted to the landscape. Queen Maria followed her gaze and then nodded in understanding. “He doesn’t matter, Evie. He is here to protect you and nothing more. Your wardrobe concerns are of no matter to him because he is looking out for your safety.”
Evelyn could see Pierce wince a little in his reflection on the glass. She wanted him to know she didn’t view him as disposable, but still, she wasn’t sure how he would react to that news.
“Fine. If we must finish this conversation now. Mother, have you ever noticed how my dresses fit like a second skin?”
“Yes, of course I have. I think every man from the time you were sixteen noticed the way your dresses fit.”
“Well, because of the design and fit, I don’t wear corsets or stays,” Evelyn explained in a rush. She was blushing furiously and knew Pierce had turned his gaze from the window to stare at her because she could feel his blue eyes hot on her.
“What?” Evelyn lifted her gaze to meet her mother’s confused expression. “You don’t wear corsets?”
“No, I’ve only ever worn them for special occasions because of how Lisette designs my dresses. She builds the support into the gown, which is great, but not when the neckline is… Is like a few inches… Well you know, not so low.”
Pierce’s eyes were on her, traveling the entire length of her body. He was looking for any sign of a corset but couldn’t find any. His breathing picked up and became more rapid as blood and lust coursed through his body, stirring his member.
He met Evelyn’s shy eyes. He could tell she was nervous about the discussion between her and her mother, but he knew there was more to it than that. He just didn’t know what.
“When did you and Lisette decide how your dresses should be made?” Pierce had gone back to looking out the window like his life depended on it. He could tell by the Queen’s tone and body language she didn’t want to have this conversation in front of him, but they were committed to it at this point.
“When I was seventeen. Because of the latest fashions and my figure, they didn’t lay right and looked more bulky with everything, so Lisette asked if she could try something new. It happened to work and we stayed with it,” Evelyn mumbled the explanation.
“Well I’m glad you and Lisette are capable of making such decisions. Ones that leave you practically naked under your clothing.” Queen Maria’s clipped tone was meant to end the conversation.
Pierce risked a quick glance from the corner of his eye. Evelyn’s cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. But from the set of her shoulders, he could tell she was angry as well.
“I’m sorry I’m not thin and willowy like you, Mother. But seeing as how my dresses were all lowered to the point where I’m practically falling out of them, does it really matter if I’m practically naked underneath?”
Pierce wished he had chosen to ride on top of the carriage instead of inside it. The word naked was being thrown around much too much for his sanity. He had known what he was doing from the moment he had joined the Queen’s Men.
It had always been about being around the one woman who drove him to madness. Why? Because he was the best at what he did, and his brother loved her. He didn’t know why the woman meant so much to Richard, but this meant she had to mean something to him as well. Whether he liked her or not.
Now he was praying for the castle gates so he could stop picturing her naked or practically naked or any form of undressed for that matter. He needed air and distance, and it didn’t appear he’d get either any time soon.
“You’re a prince, Pierce. What do you think about all this? Isn’t a man’s eye drawn to a woman’s breasts?” Queen Maria asked innocently.
Pierce groaned internally. He wanted the earth to open and swallow him whole. He did not want to have this conversation at all, but most certainly not with a queen about her daughter.
Pierce’s mouth was dry and he made the mistake of looking at Evelyn before he answered. “I think I have no business weighing in on the intricacies of women’s fashion. As for men, yes, they usually steal at least one look at a woman’s assets if they are on display.”
Having answered the question, he turned back to the window. He was proud of himself, he had looked Evelyn in the eyes when he had answered and nothing more.
“See? Men are enamored with your chest. So showing it off is clearly the best choice. And it looks like we are almost home.
“Yes, so it would seem.”
For the first time since they had left Lisette’s shop, there was silence in the carriage. Evelyn wanted to talk to Pierce about the tournament. She wanted to know who was competing, what the rules were, and if there was a chance someone could fight for her freedom.
She eyed Pierce for a long moment. He had been staring out that window as if it were his salvation. Evelyn sighed quietly, she supposed it had been a difficult and inappropriate conversation to subject him to. She would apologize later, when they were alone.
She had been so caught up in her thinking, she hadn’t realized the carriage had stopped. Her mother had already been handed down. Pierce was looking at her expectantly from the doorway. Evelyn scrambled to the entrance.
“Your Highness,” he said in a clipped tone.
Evelyn took his hand and climbed down to the ground. “Thank you,” she muttered softly. “I need to speak to you when you have a free moment.”
Before he could respond, Queen Maria came back into the courtyard. “Evelyn, we need to get you dressed for high tea. I just received word King Richard and Prince Sven are both in residence, and a few more gentlemen could be here tonight.”
“Yes, Mother.” Evelyn started walking back to the castle, her guards in tow. She didn’t know when it would happen, but she was determined to talk to Pierce tonight.
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