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Stroke of Midnight: Future Fairytales by Dawn, Stella (1)

1

Petros

The universe is lavish with glinting stars. The Royal space yacht cuts through the velvet night sky, currently circling Delta Ohr. From my spot on the upper deck balcony, I can oversee all the activity on the deck below.

Not that there is much to see. Since this is a royal party, all the guests are pretending to be bored. The aristocracy and diplomats are hard at work playing their perpetual court games: who has more influence than me, and who can I backstab today?

"Your Highness," a sultry voice calls out to me from behind, causing me to turn. "I was hoping I'd find you up here."

She's easily one of the most beautiful women on the ship, so it's surprising I don't recognize her. Most of the girls come from "the best" families and I've known them since childhood, which probably means she's someone's mistress.

Well, whomever she belongs to has good taste. Her fuchsia skin is offset by long, golden curls. My eyes travel along the slick lines of her body, taking my time as I sip my bourbon. It burns against the back of my throat. "It seems you have found me."

She takes a few steps closer until her narcotic perfume fills my nostrils. I'm sure she imagines herself to be an exotic flower, but her attractions are lost on me. I prefer the more tangible scents of brandy and wood.

"I'm surprised you're not with your friends tonight," she says.

I'm surprised too. With all of my royal duties, it was rare for me to be able to get away. That was more my younger brother's style.

My friends think I should let loose once in a while. Bastian is especially insistent. Then again, Bastian is doing enough letting loose for two -- or should I say three? -- people. He's got a scantily-clad woman on each arm. Who would've thought the king's private chef would have an easier time getting lucky than the king?

Maybe that's why I'm up here brooding. When you're running an entire country, you can't afford distractions. Taking time off made me feel guilty, not refreshed.

Taking another sip, I swill around the last contents of my glass and steady my gaze on her. "I suppose I have other things on my mind."

The smile she gives me chills my heart. "What other things, my Majesty?"

She's even closer now, boldly probing my forearms with her long, polished fingernails. How dare she presume to touch me? Something about the way she moves reminds me of a snake. 

I almost remove her hand, but on second thought, take her fingers and bring them to my lips. Her resulting smile tells me this is exactly how she planned this to go. Ah well. I was stuck on this yacht for another three days. Maybe my friends would let me off sooner if I did what they brought me here to do and slept with a beautiful woman.

Just as I lean in to suggest we take our party someplace more private, one of the women with Bastian lets out a squeal. "Awww!"

Both my sexy companion and I glance over to the com screen to see what all the commotion is about. 

There's a leggy blonde pointing to another screen with the words "A RAGS TO RICHES STORY" emblazoned across it in bold letters. Above those words is a picture of my younger brother, the Prince of Delta Ohr holding in his arms a pretty dark-skinned woman. Both of them are wearing matching grins. 

"Turn that up," I demand, pointing to the screen. Completely forgetting my companion. 

"It's a headline from a fairytale, folks. It seems our very own Prince Rupert was opening the intergalactic visitor center and met someone who knocked him out of orbit. She is Dora West from planet Earth, traveling with her recently widowed mother, Gwendolyn, her twin sister, Tori, and stepsisters Cindy and Charlotte Burton. From the looks of things, Prince Rupert seems pretty serious. He has already invited the West family to spend a fortnight  at the royal palace in the Dowager's wing.

"According to Gwendolyn West, Dora's mother, they are very much in love with each other. We can't say whether nuptials are part of this romance but there is more than enough steam between these two to make up for the cold fish King of Delta Ohr. 

"Sorry, but this is one reporter who is willing to speak truth to power.  The King looks like he is dead set upon being a bachelor throughout his reign. Who can blame the citizens of Delta Ohr from wanting at least one royal wedding to occur in their lifetimes? 

"Next up, Delta Ohr's two largest sand and gravel companies plan to merge. My how things seem to be coming together in Delta Ohr. This is Karinga Schultz, so stay tuned for this possible merger after these messages. . . ."

I stand there, stunned, in the middle of everyone. My first thought is clearly there has been a gross miscommunication. There's no way in hell Rupert would meet a woman and invite her entire family to live on the royal estates without contacting me. I mean, I am the king. He needs my permission. Sometimes he could be clueless, but even Rupert knows the press will have a quartz-field day with all of this!

But then again, I think about Rupert's huge heart, and how much he resembles of our departed father, Vlad, who also was incapable of hiding his feelings. It was possibly the reason why mother fell in love with him. That, and perhaps the fact that Vlad was King of Delta Ohr.  She remained with us a while and then ran off with a lover. They settled in another solar system and both of us have never forgotten the pain she left us with. No child deserves to be abandoned. Rupert just lets it all hang out and I, well, I keep it all tucked in. No woman will get the best of my heart ever again. We were teenagers when she left us. Father died a few years later, while we were still at Preparatory school. I don't know how I would have survived that period if it wasn't for Bastian's friendship.

Still, nothing prepared us for return to the castle and the crush of press and photographers and the endless stories of speculation. The country went into a pall. The sense of doom has been an oddly comforting companion since my early reign. I have never dared to provoke the beast of gossip. 

I can live an entire life quite happily without one whiff of indiscretion and without the press inspecting every suspected dalliance. I have earned the moniker King Cod, due to my being perceived as a cold fish. And, I'm rather fond of that title. 

I slowly close my eyes, trying to pretend as if I didn't just hear the whole sickening story broadcast across the planet without a polite head's up from my brother. He respects me more than that. I just need to contact him as soon as possible.

My cell-com vibrates in my pocket as if on cue, and when I see my brother's text in all caps, "SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK? ISN'T DORA A HOT PIECE OF ASS?"

My mouth goes dry. I almost dropped the phone.It's as though someone has dropped a lead stone in the pit of my stomach.

A hot piece of ass? Did he truly just say that? And was that all it took to betray his brother and make a mockery of our kingdom?

How can this be happening? Anger boils every ounce of alcohol away.  How could he have allowed me to learn of his relationship in this public manner?  And who is this woman he's putting up in the Dowager's wing along with the rest of her family? He knows that I detest surprises.

Bastian lurches over, drunk as sin and eager to save the day. "Hey, look. I know what you gotta be thinking right now . . ." Bastian slurs, slapping his arm around my shoulders. 

"Somehow I highly doubt that," I reply through gritted teeth. 

This doesn't deter my friend at all and he leans in, his booze-soaked breath makes me want to gag. "Prince Rupert is in love, pal. These things happen." He juts his chin over to the blue-eyed beauty sitting on the soft white leather benches. "It's love, Petros."

I roll my eyes at his simplistic interpretation of events. No one understands what I am going through. I half wish never to speak to Rupert again. My other half wants to materialize right in his face before he makes more foolish decisions. 

I look past Bastian who is happy to be surrounded by warm curves and blonde haired beauties. I look right through the female in front of me and suddenly remember that I can be in my brother's face within the hour. On the other side of the space yacht is the landing pad. There, I have a sleek blue and white propelled, metallic beauty all my own.

"I'm going to need the hover craft, Bastian."