FROM THE OTHER side of the room, a different group of women watched the entire scene unfold. Some of the women wore pitiful expressions while others were scowling in disgust, shaking their heads at Petunia, a girl who was one of theirs but had disgraced all of them.
"That Petunia," Dahlia Capell scoffed, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "Absolutely useless as always."
"She's getting bullied, Dahlia," Azalea De Clare piped in. Her eyebrows were furrowed in worry as she tugged a little at Dahlia's puffy sleeves. "That Alicia is a menace! She has His Highness Prince Spade wrapped around her little finger."
Dahlia snorted, rolling her eyes. "If you think she just has the second prince under her command, then you really are ditzier than you look, Lady Azalea." Dahlia cast a surreptitious glance at the silent Rose Whitaker's back before continuing, this time in a whisper, "Rumors say that even Lady Rose isn't a match for her. Prince Hartley has taken a fancy in that girl as well."
"What?" Azalea gasped.. She cupped her hands over her lips, her head spinning left and right to look at both Dahlia and Rose. "But… But…"
"It is not nice to gossip behind people's backs, Lady Dahlia, Lady Azalea," Rose Whitaker finally spoke up.
She turned around, casting a cold gaze upon her two companions. As usual, Rose was radiant in a red dress, hemmed with bleeding hints of white and gold. She only ever dressed in the colors of her name, as if afraid that if she hadn't, her identity would be lost.
"And her name is Alice. You'll want to remember it in the future," Rose added. Gently, she used the lace fan in her hand to create slight wind, the thinner wisps of her hair floating behind her elegantly as she did so.
"Why would that information be useful, Lady Rose?" Dahlia asked.
"Have you not heard of the phrase?" Rose threw the question back. With a snap, she closed her fan, smiling gracefully at the two other ladies. However, as she did so, a chill ran down both their spines. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
☆ ☆ ☆
"It's just a stain," Alice tried to assure Spade. Holding her skirt up, she observed the splotch a little more before wincing. "I'm… sure it will wash off. Maybe."
"It's red wine, Alice," Spade deadpanned. They had moved away from the crowd towards a secluded corner of the ballroom that was close to the corridor. If there was any need to leave, they could do so at a moment's notice. "I don't care if you're not a fashion expert. It's common knowledge that red wine never washes off."
"I'm sure some bleach will work just fine," Alice muttered under her breath as silently as she could. Then, at a normal volume, she said, "I'll just need a shawl or something to cover the stain. It's no big deal. A waste, sure, but no big deal."
"I have a better idea." Reaching for Alice's hand, Spade clasped her small hand in his own, gently tugging her forward in the direction of the corridor. "Come on," he urged. Then, turning around to face Dorian, he instructed, "Stay here and make sure Father doesn't look for me. If he does, tell him that I am attending to some private matters."
With that foundation laid down, Spade and Alice were off, scuttling into the night. They went down the corridor, turning corners whenever one came up. With the weight of her dress added to the speed they were walking at, Alice was starting to find it hard to breathe.
"Wait," she panted. "Where are we going?"
"There's actually a saloon near the ballroom for ladies to rest up and use to freshen up if needed. However, I have one privately prepared for you. We're almost there," Spade answered.
True to his word, they soon arrived at a door. Spade pushed it open without hesitance, stepping in first before leading Alice along with him. As her feet stepped onto the soft carpet, a gasp escaped her lips. It was even more lavish than her bedroom at the Ragans'. Of course, this was the royal palace, after all. Every bit of the nation's extravagance was held in these very walls.
"Have a seat," instructed Spade. His hands finally parted from Alice's, their fingers dragging as if unwilling to separate before ultimately meeting with thin air.
Following his instructions, Alice perched herself on the velvet couch in the center of the room. She waited with bated breaths, her eyes darting back and forth, trying to spot Spade before he made his grand entrance. When she finally did, she caught the sight of him wheeling in an entire rack of dresses, all of which were familiar designs that she had tried on back at the Tewalt twins' boutique.
"Spade!" She exclaimed, her eyes widening in a mixture of surprise and horror. "No, you didn't."
"Did I not?" He countered with a smirk. Nodding at the dresses, he said, "Go on. Pick one."
At once, Alice was up on her feet. She scuttled across the room, pulling out each dress to take a look. A part of her couldn't believe that he had gotten every last one of the dresses that the twins had in their arsenal, dresses that cost a bomb just for one. Yet, Spade had bought all of them without even batting an eyelid.
"When?" Alice asked with incredulity. "How? Why?"
"When?" Spade echoed, "Well, when you were trying them on. I told Deacon that I wanted all of them fitted to your size and shipped to Dorian's address."
Alice picked one of the dresses from the bunch. This one was a pale peach in color. The hems of the dress had golden sparkles, its folds delicate and light. It had bubble sleeves that were made with a translucent material and the neckline was low but still modest, elegantly showing off the wearer's neck and collarbones.
"How? Well, I'm pretty sure you figured that money isn't an issue. And as for why…" Spade paused, watching as Alice pressed the dress against her body to see the effect of it.
When she noticed that he had stopped talking, she looked up, waiting for him to speak.
Spade's tongue ran across his bottom lip, wetting the flesh subtly as he admired the look of Alice's wide eyes and pale skin. She hadn't even put the dress on and was already a visage. The color was perfect on her, complementing her skin tone while accentuating her best assets. His eyes trailed down the length of her hair, following the slope of her neck, past her collarbones, and eventually―
"As for why?" Alice echoed.
Spade snapped out of his reverie. He cleared his throat, blinking a few times before regaining his train of thoughts.
"Why don't you try it on?" He suggested instead. Gesturing to the changing area, he took a step back. "I won't look."
Alice stuck out her tongue playfully. Holding the dress, she made her way towards the changing area, turning back only right as she was about to disappear behind the curtains.
"Nevertheless, despite whatever your reason is," she started to say, "Thank you for all you've done."
That one sentence alone was enough to send Spade's heart soaring. He thanked the heavens Alice was busy with the dress, too busy to see his face that had already bloomed into a brilliant shade of scarlet.