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Gisele's awakening

I would have been surprised to know that I sank into a deep death-like sleep following the stressful events of the evening and the morning. Despite the sun radiating across the ivory counterpane that covered my prone form, I remained oblivious until a loud clatter shocked me into alertness.

The door burst open and a tall, slender figure entered. A beam of sunlight illuminated her closely-coiffed golden hair.

"Who is this person?" she demanded. "What is going on here?"

On her elegant heels was a slightly smaller form, a young, slim man whose pale face was framed by locks of black hair. His eyes, pale as a cat's, met mine for an infinitesimal moment before I panicked and gave a terrified shriek of indignation.

My room was filled with even more people. Suddenly I found myself at the center of attention, torn from the grips of deep slumber, my hair loose and lost within the linens, my chemise a barely sufficient barrier against the penetrating gaze of the young male.

I brought the covers against me and hulked against the looming medieval headboard as though its carved beasts might offer me protection.

Everyone was speaking at once, except the young man, who was completely silent. The golden-haired woman was looking at me with aggressive jealousy that nearly flattered as much as it surprised me. Was I so far-gone from the bedraggled waif Hildegarde had rescued?

At once my benefactress was at my side with a silken robe to slip around my shoulders. "Stop shouting, Elise," she ordered, with a stern look at the blonde woman. "Gisele's presence here is my affair. She is my acquaintance."

Then another man entered the room, tall, striking, with a dominating stride that reminded me immediately of Hildegarde's. His hair hung in long, silvered auburn strands around a dusky, weathered face. His eyes were a deeper green than the younger man's, with a clouded, opalescent quality. Momentarily my gaze was lost in his, and I felt heat suffuse my face.

When I thought he would speak, he was silent, almost as though stunned, looking at me. As I watched him, he redirected his gaze toward the causes of commotion and barreled out the commands I expected to hear.

"Hildegarde and her new companion will be good enough to meet me in the library for coffee in an hour," he added.

Elise, the young man, and the several servants that had gathered, some hovering in the doorway, made a swift exodus, and he followed, leaving me alone with Hildegarde.

For a moment I was too stunned to speak.

"That was my father," Hildegarde said. The color in her face had risen, and her gaze was defiant. I could tell at a glance they were much alike, and likely conflict flared between their strong personalities. "My brother, and his fiancee, Elise. She is spending this winter in the castle. You must not mind her. She will not care for your presence here."

"Oh, but why?"

Hildegarde stared blankly at me. Then she laughed, her tone gentler. She guided me to the vanity, where lay a multitude of old fragrance bottles and tarnished jewelry, and above the vanity I saw my reflection in the darkened, gilt-framed mirror.

"You are young and beautiful. You are a girl."

"I don't think of myself that way," I said stiffly. But I felt again the color rise in my face as I remembered the way the master had looked at me.

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