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The Princess and Peony

by Mercy Loomis

Princess Cara barely heard a word the old queen said, staring with dismay at the giant stack of mattresses that they expected her to sleep on.

“…you must be cold and weary. The maid is preparing a bath for you in the next room.”

Cara’s mind spun, but she thanked the queen graciously (with twenty years of experience, she could be gracious to anyone at any hour of the day) and walked regally toward the other room. She was good at regal too, and it gave her something to do at times when her brain failed her.

The outer door of the bedroom snicked shut as she entered the bath chamber, and Cara shuddered. Locked in, of course. The sumptuous suite was just as much of a cage as her own suite back home.

The maid, kneeling next to the copper tub, rose to her feet. “You’re pale as a sheet, Cara. Get out of those wet clothes right now!”

Thunder rumbled outside the walls, but Cara hardly gave a thought to her bedraggled state. “Peony!” she cried in relief, running across the room and throwing herself at the other girl.

“Ach!” Peony said in mock disgust. “You’re getting me all wet.” But she met Cara’s lips with a searing kiss that made the princess’s bones melt. Cara kissed her back fiercely, half afraid to let go.

Peony broke away first, chuckling. “So you did miss me,” she murmured, turning Cara around and starting to undo the long row of buttons.

“Of course I missed you!” Cara replied indignantly, still a little out of breath. “I’ve missed you every day since my father sent you away.”

“How did you manage to get here alone?”

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