Wind howled outside, shaking the shutters. Hailey fought the urge to reach for her soft silk robe. She wore a bright yellow dress, a proud color of the family she represented tonight. Not even the threat of cold could convince her to appear any less finessed.
The woman’s reveries was broken দ্বারা the arrival of her visitors. She stood politely as the entourage of diplomats entered and bowed deeply. “Konichiwa, Your Highness.”
The Crown Prince of জাপান returned a shallower bow. He was younger than Hailey had expected. “Your rebel king has chosen not to যোগদান us?” he asked with barely hidden disappointment. Hailey cleared her throat to hide her laugh. She too had once been enamored দ্বারা the romantic idea of a young king fighting for good against an evil power, like something out of an old story. Maybe she still was.
“My liege will be joining us shortly,” she answered. “He asked that আপনি all make yourselves comfortable until he arrives. My name is Hailey. I’m an honored ward and sworn emissary of House Romanov.”
The Crown Prince raised a brow, curiosity overtaking his handsome features. She knew the looks: a ward to the king made her an heir, সেকেন্ড only to his sister, unless he named Hailey his immediate successor. Her, a half-breed human-vampire, raised in a brothel দ্বারা her prostitute mother in absence of her pure blood father. The subject made her skin raise with গুজ্বাম্প in both fear and excitement. Her place in House Romanov had come only recently, and she had agreed to it eagerly for the opportunities it offered far beyond her পূর্ববর্তি occupation as a prostitute and secret informant.
“Lady Hailey,” the Prince spoke over his surprise with new respect, “Please, call me Prince Akio. This is my closest advisor, Himura, and this is the son to my trade minister, Tagomi. Our guards chose to wait outside.” The other men bowed to Hailey as lowly as she had greeted them, a প্রদর্শনী of equality that made her blush.
“It’s an honor to make your acquaintances. Please, have a seat. We don’t have to wait for Prince Alexander to get comfortable.” Hailey took a আসন at the small, round table. The intimate setting had been another one of her teacher’s ideas. As was the maid and server who come into the room right on cue with saki and appetizers. This meeting was all about rekindling an old relationship.
“I’ve heard his succession is much up for debate,” Prince Aiko remarked, straight to the point.
“Oh yes, to be king অথবা not? But he is undoubtedly his father’s son, is he not?”
The prince’s advisor, Himura, spoke up. “I believe the crown prince was referring instead to the part he played in executing his sister, the late কুইন Eline.”
Hailey met the advisor’s eyes calmly. She was thankful the topic was being brought up now, before Aleksander arrived. She knew how awfully the subject pained him to discuss and was happy to take that burden off his shoulders. “You knew Prince Aleksander when আপনি were both boys, did আপনি not, Your Highness? How would আপনি describe him?”
“Kind,” the Crown Prince replied without having to think about it, “Quiet, calm. He was the only boy at that terrible hospital on Sakhalin that I got along with. He was smarter and cleverer than me, and I liked that a lot. A good listener, and a quick learner. I taught him every word I knew in Japanese in the short বছর we knew each other, though I’m afraid I could never get a hang of his harsh native Russian.”
Crown Prince Akio
Hailey smiled at the thought of ten-year-old Aleksander asking the slightly elder prince endless প্রশ্ন about Japanese and everything related. “Trust আপনি me, he hasn’t changed even a bit. My prince is all those things now. আপনি will be able to determine for yourself once he arrives that Aleksander committed the act against his family reluctantly and carries a heavy হৃদয় over the matter.”
The Crown Prince relaxed back in his seat, satisfied with this answer. He raised his cup to his lips, but his advisor set a cautious hand on his prince’s arm. “Excuse me, Your Highness, but I was wondering why Lady Hailey had yet to touch her sake.”
All eyes went to her, and the young woman returned them with a blush. She had hoped they would drink and be merry without noting her abstinence. “I’m afraid I don’t drink.”
“But আপনি did when আপনি accompanied your liege at the ball in Monaco two months ago,” the son of the trade minister noted, “and at the ডিনার in Shanghai the weekend after.” Hailey blinked at the recollection. She had not recognized the young man, really just a boy, from either of the events he had mentioned. But perhaps the Japanese were keeping a closer eye on the future leader of the Eastern supernaturals than she realized.
The young woman released a long sigh of defeat. “You’ve got me there, gentlemen. I’m impressed your powers of observation.”
The men on either side of the Crown Prince shifted uncomfortably. But the future King of জাপান watched her calmly, expectant of her answer. If she wasn’t drinking because their drinks were laced with poison, she would be dead দ্বারা a bullet from his advisor’s gun in two সেকেন্ড অথবা less. But that wasn’t her reason.
“I didn’t want to have to reveal this to you,” she answered slowly, feeling the suspense in the room growing. “But I’m afraid I’m not able to indulge in the sake...because I recently found out that I’m with child.”
The men stared at her in surprise, saying nothing. Their eyes travelled from her face, to her stomach--absent of any evidence of a baby so early in her pregnancy--and back to her blushing face. "It's not Prince Aleksander's," she added to break the tension. The Prince laughed at the idea, "But such a romantic thing that would have been. But I'm sure a child with genes from both Alek and yourself would be too feisty for the world to handle." Hailey giggled at the idea, the tension from her confession leaving her body.
The young woman blushed as the son of the trade minister raised his glass. "A টোস্ট to your child, a symbol of continuous hope for our long futures together."
Hailey's eye widened as the men clinked glasses and drank, though the prince's advisor was slower to take a sip.
"Does that mean you'll support Aleksander in his position against Wilhelm Magnus and the other opposers?" she asked with disbelief.
"Of course," the Prince Akio replied. "He was a good friend to me in my time of need when we were youths, and anyone who commands আপনি to their side surely has a good head on his shoulders. I will, of course, like to speak with him myself before committing to anything."
"I'm sure he would like that very much," Hailey agreed quickly. She smiled at a knock on the front door. "That should be him now, I think."
“Shouldn’t our gaurds have escorted him in?” the prince’s advisor asked, a suspicious glance going to Hailey for the সেকেন্ড time that night. The woman faltered, then jumped as the front door was kicked open in an explosion if splinters.
Harumi, Advisor to Prince Akio
The Late কুইন Eline
Tagomi, son to the Japanese trade minister