Leinard stood before me. A solid human being. The space behind him was an unpainted canvas of white.
"F-Famine. What are you doing here?" His voice quivered.
Something felt off about his presence. He was small. Not in the sense of size, but I felt that the surrounding white was devouring him.
"Colonel, I'm here to save you." I held back my cringe at saying a cheesy line.
"No, no, you can't be here!" He insisted. His eyes darted about the space like he was seeing something that I couldn't.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me along at a dead run.
When we stopped for breath, I gasped at his image. The Leinard panting for breath next to me was a younger version about my age.
"The attendants won't find us here. We can be alone for the moment." He assumed his usual stoic expression, but his arms wrapped my waist with too much caress.
"I missed you Charlese-sama." He kissed my forehead, cheeks and lips.
Charlese-sama?! Who the hell was that?! Didn't he call me Famine moments ago?
I struggled out of his hold and almost screamed when I saw my reflection in a cracked mirror, dangling from the edge of black pot suspended in air from a hook nailed to the ceiling trim.
I was a girl! A gorgeous one with dainty blonde curls bundled up in a neat bun held in place by delicate silver pins. Rouge highlighted soft pale cheeks. A wine-red color covered my full lips. The selling point of my angelic face was my glistening green eyes, drawn out with black eye-liner.
I was caked in a bottle-green satin dress that belled out from the waist by under-layers of wired petticoats that rubbed the cloth of the pantyhose sheathing my slim legs.
"I'm a Velvet Rose model." I mumbled in awe as I remembered those watercolor drawings of pretty women in Bulldog's secret Velvet Rose fashion magazine back editions.
No. Hell no! No freaking way I was a girl! Both my hands cradled and felt up my bouncy bosoms to be sure. I groaned at the killer tightness around my waist, which was making it hard to breathe. I was wearing a corset a size too small for my voluptuous curves. My admiration for women, who went to the effort to showcase their beauty, had increased tenfold.
"Charlese-sama. You must be careful not to come here again. These halls are too dangerous for you." Leinard scolded me with a low whisper. He was oblivious to my gender dilemma.
I glanced in my surroundings and saw us taking shelter in a shallow alcove entrance of a white wall corridor. Morning light from the large window panes—dotted along the opposite wall—warmed our faces. Light threw gentle yellow hues over the hanging cast-iron pots lining the bland stone wall on our side, shallow ceiling lanterns and faded gray painted window shutters. The place reminded me of the Kuri basement hallways. So I was in a servant's corridor?
The feeling of hands on my waist pulled my attention back to Leinard.
"Look, Colonel, um, Lei... yeah. I'm not who you think I am."
Leinard's persistent touches made me feel flustered. He reeled me closer and pressed his lips to mine. I reacted with a curt slap to his face.
"Now, here, young'un! You do not put your lips on a lady!" I stood back, wagging my finger austerely before his surprised face.
"Charlese-sama? What's the matter? Did I offend you?" He startled me when he dropped to the floor with a bowed apology.
"Oh, no, Colonel, get up!" My flustered hands gestured for him to rise.
"Leinard! What are you doing?!" A stranger interrupted our conversation.
My eyes went wide when I recognized a younger version of Commander Miles Appleton. He was dressed in a black and white penguin suit with a black bow tie, large polished shoes and pristine white-gloved hands. His blond hair was slicked back off his baby-face. Did he just come from a glitzy party?
His blue eyes widened with a pleasant surprise when he saw my face. They narrowed again with vehemence towards Leinard standing before him.
"You're accosting Our Fair Lady! I'll report you to the attendants." Miles accused Leinard.
"I wasn't." Leinard shyly defended himself with his head bowed toward his feet.
It was the first time I noticed his modest workman's jeans, white cotton shirt, practical suspenders, scuffed tan boots and a tweed flat cap covering his brown hair.
This wasn't making sense. Leinard was a son of a high prince. Why was he dressed as a lowly servant and acting like one? I frowned at his pitiful sight.
"He was helping me with my, um," I looked down and saw my perfectly shaped ankles and bottle-green slipper heels. "He was helping me refit my shoe, which had slipped off when I tripped on the carpet."
Both boys looked at me with raised brows. Their stare lingered on the scrubbed stone floor that was absent of carpet.
"I mean, crack in the floor. Whatever the term for these things are." I awkwardly laughed off, mentally praying to Buddha for a change of scenery.
"To have you in these halls is not fitting for your status Lady Charlese. These lowly servant mongrels will not hesitate to violate you." Miles's condescending voice was grating on my nerves.
"I will escort you back to where our kind are." His voice almost spat out the differences of their status at Leinard. "You will do well not to mingle with these fleabags again."
I gulped when Miles held out his gloved hand toward me.
"Please, Charlese-sama. Allow Monsieur Appleton to escort you back to your kind," Leinard said with an expressionless tone to his voice.
He was a far contrast from the earlier boy with the passionate touches.
"My Lady." Miles prompted, betraying a slight tone of impatience.
I looked to Leinard and sighed. I knew him well enough to know his 'do as you're told' expression.
I grabbed Miles' hand with a manly grip from my own white-lace gloved hand. And swallowed a chuckle at his surprise.
"Charlese-sama, please advise Your Highness that all is well." Leinard formally bowed, turned and walked away from me.
"Leinard." His name escaped my mouth.
I gulped at Miles's glare.
His expression resumed his polite formality.
There was no other option but to follow his lead out of the corridor.
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