Nathaniel was irritated. Already when Katherine first pressed his hand, he intentionally turned it stiff and unresponsive. Alas, this woman didn't even notice! Now her grip was tight like a steel claw and he couldn't just shake her off in front of this many spectators. Very irritating!
Grumbling inside, he endured her slightly painful grip and as soon as possible ended the conversation with the Milton couple. If Katherine involved herself too deeply with this kind of people, it would be troublesome for both of them. They just took up their diplomat-post a month ago and already managed to offend every single important person in the Icelands. It was only a matter of time till they were killed, even though they were under the king's protection. Hopefully, they still lasted a bit longer, as Dragsa would probably use their death as an excuse to start the long-brewing war with the Icelands. Pretending that they didn't sent them here to get themselves killed in the first place.
The second course came, but Katherine still didn't let go of his hand. She seemed to be in a trance. Not a good one if her face could be taken as an indicator. She had paled quite a bit.
Troubled, Nathaniel tried to awaken her by pressing her hand back shortly. "Katherine... can you hear me?"
No response. His brows furrowed. He didn't know what turned her in such a state or what could get her out of it. Sweeping his sharp gaze over those present, he found that Aston now tried his luck with lady Brandon and the Milton-couple was focused on themselves. Still, there were a few servants in the room, having their eyes everywhere. He didn't know how many spies were among them, so he couldn't fall out of his role.
It would be so simple if he could just lean over and whisper something into her ear to shock her awake. However, he feared that if she jumped in surprise their skins could touch accidentally. That was too dangerous. Obviously, he couldn't openly shake her, too, though he really wanted to.
His face expressionless, he suddenly pulled on her hand that was still covered with her own white glove. The movement was fast, jolting her out of her thoughts. While blinking her eyes she saw... an unbelievable scene. It made her question if she fell asleep instead of being woken up.
His red eyes staring straight up at her, the earl was bend over her hand, his lips brushing her knuckles ever so lightly. A few white strands of hair had fallen into his gorgeous face. Though it originally was a submissive gesture, the eyes of the earl were burning with intensity. In this combination, he was the dominant one, daring her to go against his will and mentally fall asleep again. Katherine held her breath when he raised his head. He looked really displeased. "You are making me jealous of your dreams, my dear."
Katherine felt heat rush to her cheeks, instantly dispelling the paleness. A kiss! He kissed her hand! Though it was only a light touch and annoyance hid behind those cheesy words, she could do nothing but swoon over the earl's s.e.xiness. It would be so damn good if the words were meant that way! Katherine felt like she could come to love jealousy as long as it was displayed by Nathaniel. Her hand prickled.
Suddenly, she heard a gasp from the other end of the table and at the same time, Nathaniel let go of her. She felt a bit empty without his touch. "Oh, lady Balder, you are so lucky! Single-minded men are the best! The gaze of your betrothed... I can tell there is only you in his heart!"
The one who exclaimed was lady Brandon and when Katherine turned to her, she instantly noticed why she'd broken the moment. Her brown eyes where flickering with 'help'-signals in Katherine's direction. The prince had bend widely over the table, making him exceptionally close to lady Brandon. Although his smile looked friendly and brilliant at first glance, his hand had sneaked on the back of lady Brandon's chair, next to her shoulder.
As Katherine opened her mouth, searching her brain for a helpful reaction, the prince suddenly let out a hiss before falling back into his seat. With tearful eyes he looked up at Nathaniel, who coldly raised his brow. Then, without a word to his pitiful younger brother, the earl nonchalantly turned to Katherine. "You should try these beans, dear. They are really good."
Puzzled and pleasantly surprised by the help from an unexpected side, Katherine heeded his advice. After the attention shifted from them, she confirmed in a whisper: "Did you just kick him?"
If not for the funny event at lunch, she might not have believed that the earl would do something mischievous like this. Now she was elated but still felt it was a bit dangerous because the one he hurt was a prince.
"No", Nathaniel told her with a completely straight face. "I didn't kick him." At first, Katherine was disappointed, then she nodded. It only made sense. That was before the earl added: "I literally stepped on him."
Katherine nearly spluttered out the beans all over the table.
Like this, the meal continued. From their actions alone, no one would doubt that the earl of Hymirhall and lady Katherine Balder were an affectionate young couple. Though they didn't interact much, each word and gaze of them seemed to be filled with deep fondness for the other, more than once making everyone feel like third wheels on the carriage.
The prince attempted to seize lady Brandon's attention a few more times but it was obvious that the lady didn't care for his good looks and status, preferring to talk with Katherine instead. Through her, Katherine learned more about the palace and the important figures of the high society residing in the capital. When she mentioned the strange house she saw on her way here, lady Brandon laughed. "Oh, this one! Of course, I know it! Who else but old lady Finley would dare to build such high-class crap? Even writing 'noble aristocrat' on top! I wish I could be this bold. She's the biggest eccentric the kingdom has to offer. But this house actually hits the nail on its head! You must know, the noble villas weren't always this extravagant. In the Icelands, classy and elegant was the ultimate theme. At least before the empowerment of the..."
Suddenly, she paused and glanced at the prince cautiously. "Maybe I should stop here. We can talk about it some other time. By the way, do you have anything planned for tomorrow morning? I could show you around for a bit. There are many great shops in the third ring, restaurants and ancient monuments."
Concerning this, Katherine didn't need to be persuaded. With glittering eyes, she nodded like a rattle drum. "Yes! Yes, please! I would love to!"
Lady Brandon grinned knowingly. It was hard for newcomers to get into the high society of the capital. Right now, she was giving Katherine a free tour and as long as she didn't mess up, the meeting with the princess would do the rest. "Then it's a date!"
With both woman giggling happily, nobody noticed Nathaniel's movement stagnating for a second. Then he continued to grip his glass, taking a sip. The cold water ran down his throat. A date. Wasn't it just two girls going on a shopping-spree? It was something completely normal for their age.
"Do you mind if I join in, ladies?", Aston suddenly grinned, enraptured by their joyful faces. He was very tentative in his pursuit of lady Brandon.
Before the ladies could find an excuse to dissuade him, Nathaniel heavily put down his glass, glaring at Aston. "I mind."
A lady going on a walk with his betrothed? No problem. However, this womanizer? Not in his dreams! Nathaniel told himself that it was a completely natural reaction as Katherine's fake betrothed. He was only doing his job properly. The dangerous light in his eyes instantly put an end to the topic.