10. Spread Your Wings and Die

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Ashley waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Waiting, despite heaps of practice, wasn't one of her best skills, especially since she'd been hiding from the seneschal in her rooms for days. Ever since she'd run past his office that day, he'd wanted to talk to her. At least she'd worn a gown over her chemise. Shouldn't that make the man happy?

A week in, she found herself trying to engage the wallpaper monsters in conversation, but their growls and manic laughter grew old. Plus, they never had anything scintillating to discuss. They mostly grumbled about fading, uneven seams, and unsightly peeling.

All this waiting did was disprove the adage "practice makes perfect." Sheer desperation led to an entire afternoon with her ladies, needle-pointing a Siamese cat cushion. It had to be wholly unraveled when the cat came out looking like a naked vampire. For those not familiar with cats or naked vampires, the only thing the two have in common are the fangs.

To the horror of her lady's maid, Ashley reorganized her gowns in The Vault. Three times. Once by color, once by preference, and lastly, by volume.

While eating buttered toast with jam, she reread every issue of Princess Monthly, memorizing all she could about her potential guests. A real low point came when she took the Princess Monthly quizzes, including Which Dragon Will Most Likely Kidnap You? (Red-horned Bluebelly)Who is your spirit animal? (Unicorn – come on, that couldn't be right), and What's Your Superpower? (Taking Princess Monthly Quizzes).

By the end of that week, her ladies' maid had surreptitiously tossed the smudged, greasy issues into the bedchamber hearth. The resultant fire caused so much smoke it set a flock of geese off their path by hundreds of miles, disrupting migratory air traffic for days.

And speaking of birds, she worried about Domino, who had still not returned. In case she showed up, Ashley slept in the window seat with the window open each night despite the racket from the amorous unicorns in the hedges below.

One moonlit night, ten days after sending poor Domino out with six invitations (what had she been thinking?) without getting a single reply, Ashley threw caution to the wind.

Literally.

Perhaps if she took to the skies, Ashley could find little Domino, and in the process, satisfy her husband's wishes that she learn to fly unicorns. If she died in the process, well, at least she'd have been killed for a noble cause. And it was a more honorable death than being poisoned by an evil queen, or baked in a witch's oven, or crushed by a clumsy giant.

But probably equally painful.

Which is how she found herself sneaking out of her window on a rope of knotted sheets. She almost fell to her death three times because her ridiculous skirts got in the way. Halfway down, she wondered if perhaps she ought to have risked waking her ladies sleeping in the anteroom (who surely would've subjected Ashley to awkward questions) and exited the castle like a non-ninja type person. Too late. She didn't have the upper body strength to climb back up. By the time her tiny foot touched bottom, she had no breath, and her arms ached. But she had to be brave. Domino had been.

She crossed the deserted castle grounds, her stomach as knotted as the sheets of her makeshift ladder. But the twisting of her stomach was not only due to the fear of plunging to her death. The odd anticipation that she would see Gerald, the handsome groom, also contributed.

She banned this thought from her mind.

But the stupid idea kept coming back up like overspiced pheasant.

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