Allyssa despised sparring in a dress. However, that was the way her father had taught her to fight. He said if someone attacked her, she would be in a gown, so she had to be able to maneuver in heavy fabric.
“Faster,” Marek instructed. “You’re not focusing.”
She wanted to growl because he was right, she was too distracted. Putting all thoughts of the pretty prince out of her mind, she gave Marek her full attention. He swung his sword, hitting hers near the hilt, making her drop it. Not intending to lose their match so easily, she twisted and came in close to him. When he went to grab her, she rammed her elbow into his stomach. He hunched over and she yanked him down, slamming her knee into his face.
He dropped his sword.
“I win,” she declared.
Catching his breath, he wiped his forehead. “You seem to have gained a few new moves.” Not a question.
“Perhaps,” was all she said in reply. The training room was lined with her personal guards. She knew her father didn’t want her practicing—he’d rather she prepare for the ball. But in order to make it through dinner and dancing, she had to release her anger and frustration.
Marek took their wooden swords and put them back on the rack.
“I’m not ready to return to my rooms.” She still felt off balance and unsettled.
He glanced to the door where Mayra and Madelin were waiting for her. “I need to go over some security details with my father,” Marek stated.
“Then go.” She waved him away. “I’ll only be a few more minutes.”
He briefly spoke with the guards before he said, “Your Highness,” and left.
As soon as he was gone, she put leather gloves on and went to the hay figure secured to the wall. Taking a deep breath, she started punching it, imagining the dummy was the prince. Smiling, she started hitting it harder and faster, allowing all of her aggression to evaporate.
Someone started clapping, and she spun around about to yell at whoever had interrupted her.
Prince Odar stood there with a smirk.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, wiping the sweat off her forehead with her arm. He was accompanied by two of his soldiers and the squire she noticed earlier in the Throne Room.
He clicked his tongue. “A testy remark from someone so delicate and lovely.”
Her eyes narrowed. She was dirty, smelly, and certainly not the picture of a princess at the moment. The squire clasped his hands behind his back, staring daggers at her. He must not approve of a woman who could take care of herself, knew how to fight, and who dared to sweat. She hated him almost as much as she hated the prince.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness,” she said, trying to keep the detest from her voice. “Please excuse me, I must prepare for this evening.”
Mayra rushed forward and placed a cloak upon Allyssa’s shoulders. The princess yanked the hood up, concealing herself so no one from the court would see her all sweaty. She swept out of the room, not looking back. She could have sworn she heard the prince chuckling as she hurried down the corridor.
“Why didn’t you use the opportunity to speak with the prince?” Mayra asked, trying to keep up. “He obviously sought you out.”
Allyssa’s eyes sliced over to her lady-in-waiting. “Because,” she snapped, “I don’t want to talk to someone who flatters with pointless words.”
Mayra laughed. “He is rather charming.”
“He appears to be exactly as a prince should,” Allyssa said. “And I have no interest in princes.”
“Aiming a bit higher?”
“No,” Allyssa replied. “I’m aiming for someone a bit more real.”