"Ms. Sharp, what in the world is taking so long?" Dr. Barlow asked, pressing her ear against the door. She was dressed in a fancy black and blue gown made of silk, one that flowed down her body in a sleek, sophisticated way.
"It's these blasted skirts, ma'am. There are too barking many of them!" A muffled voice grumbled, and Alek had to smile. Since he had found out that his mate Dylan was actually a girl named Deryn, he was still surprised at how little her personality had changed.
Well, except for the love part. That, he was still getting used to (even after two and a half years).
"Ms. Sharp, we all know this is not the first time you've ever been in skirts. If you do not hurry up, this whole operation is going to fall apart."
"Aye, aye. But it's the first time in more than three years, ma'am. I look like a barking ninny!"
"Then the disguise is a good one. Or did you forget we're attempting to start a con here?" Dr. Barlow retorted, rolling her eyes.
"Aye, I remember. In any case, I'm nearabouts ready, don't blow a gasket," Alek heard her mutter. He smoothed his velvet black lapel and straightened the blue rose pinned to his black tuxedo, suppressing the urge to laugh at his poor unladylike friend.
Suddenly the door to Deryn's bedroom burst open and the lady in question appeared in a cacophony of rustling skirts, and Alek immediately fell silent.
Deryn stood tall in front of him, hands on hips, in a beautiful silver gown made of chiffon. There were gems strewn throughout the dress, and faded blue ribbons woven around the middle. It was strapless, and tapered in at her waist before billowing out into a very full skirt that hid her toes. Deryn wore a wig (for her short blonde hair was very distinctive and might cause her to be discovered) that was the same shade of blonde her real hair was, but longer. It was clipped to the right side of her head with a blue and silver butterfly clip, leaving the wig to flow in a tumble of soft curls. Her face held little makeup, but Alek could see darkness around her light blue eyes, making them the main feature of her face.
It was Alek's first time seeing Deryn in a dress and
well, he thought she looked stunning. Different, but stunning.
"These shoes will be the death of me," Deryn exclaimed, pushing one of her feet past her skirts to show them a tall blue shoe that did indeed look like a torture device.
Dr. Barlow scoffed and shoved a silver and blue fan into her hands. "This is hardly the most difficult disguise you have needed to pull off," she stated. "Now get your game face on. Remember, you are the Count and Countess de Buchleitner, here to see the emperor and his new adviser, Count Volger. You two are here to collect intel on the matter we discussed, alright?"
"Yes, yes," Deryn said impatiently, taking Alek's proffered arm. They stood together, awaiting Dr. Barlow's approval. She walked around them a few times, looking them up and down.
"Deryn, as long as you try to act and walk like a lady, the two of you are passable," she finally declared, rubbing her temples.
Deryn smiled a Cheshire cat grin and turned to Alek. "Shall we go and get this over with then, your Highness?"
Alek looked back into her eyes and smiled despite the breathless feeling coursing through his body. She never could seem to stop calling him that, even after all these years as just her fellow coworker. Old habits die hard. "It's just 'count' for tonight, my lady," he replied before tugging her toward the door.
Deryn followed and fell into Alek after a few steps. "Sorry," she muttered, embarrassed.
"It's alright, I'll walk slower," he replied, smiling at her as she regained her balance.
As he opened the door and guided her through it, Dr. Barlow yelled "Good gracious, Miss Sharp, could you at least attempt to walk like you aren't topside on the Leviathan? You were born a lady you know!"
"Oh get stuffed!" Deryn said, slamming the door shut behind herself and Alek.
When Alek looked at her, one eyebrow raised in question, Deryn deflated slightly. "Right. From here on out, I'm Countess de bush-lighter or whatever my name's supposed to be."
Alek just shook his head and lead Deryn to the stairs to the ballroom of the fancy hotel. They looked down the stairs together and Deryn's face went pale. "How am I going to make it down those blasted stairs?"
"You, the Countess de Buchleitner, are going to make it down these elegant stairs like a dainty little lady."
Deryn glared, and Alek felt sufficiently chastised. "Sorry, love," he murmured. "Just trying to ease the tension. You'll be fine; just lean on me and we'll take it one step at a time."
As they were announced to the crowd, Alek lead Deryn down the steps as cameras flashed and she tried not to look at her feet. When they made if halfway down without incident, she finally picked up her head and smiled with new-found confidence.
Alek glanced at her and realized that this incredible, glowing, beautiful and brave woman was all he wanted. And he wouldn't have it any other way.