Elle frowned. “Are you certain?”

Emele sighed and glided to Elle’s chair. She took her hand and tugged on it.

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“Alright. I’m coming,” Elle said, positioning her crutches beneath her before she hobbled to her chair. She barely had time to arrange her skirts before the footmen hefted her up into the air, making her yelp at their sudden movement.

They trooped out of Elle’s room and down the hallway at a hasty pace. Elle clutched the arms of her chair as the footmen carried her. Her heart stopped when one of them tripped, but the other footmen corrected him, and in a much shorter span of time than Elle would have liked the footmen set her down in front of an immense door.

Emele helped Elle stand, hovering at her right elbow as Elle shifted her weight on her crutches. Elle set her shoulders and inspected her skirts, settling them into place.

She was shocked when Emele knocked on the door before Elle was ready. The ladies maid jumped backwards, cutely tipping her head and tucking her clasped hands beneath her chin.

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Elle frowned at her friend, but returned her attention to the task before her when she heard a commanding, “Enter,” through the door.

Elle swallowed as Emele eagerly opened the door for Elle, stepping aside so she could hobble through.

Elle cautiously entered, her eyes taking in the small, cozily lit study. There was a large, full length mirror on one side of the study, which was flanked by a wall covered in maps. The other lengthy wall was covered with bookshelves—which housed an inch of dust and enough paper to run a printing press for a year.

Prince Severin was seated behind a massive desk that was piled high with papers, writing utensils, a compass, rulers, scales, and, oddly enough, a vase of roses.

Prince Severin looked up for a moment when Elle paused in front of his desk. He returned his gaze to his work as Emele closed the study door.

“I was told you wished to speak to me,” Prince Severin said, making a notation on a map.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Elle said.

“State your business, Intruder,” the prince said.

Elle eyed the prince for a moment over the nickname before she looked at the ceiling as she considered the problem. Perhaps she should have thought this through before asking for an audience with Severin, because really there was no elegant way to tell the prince that her petticoats made it impossible to walk.

“Well?”

“I am having trouble using my crutches,” Elle started.

“Tell Duval and he will have a new pair made,” Prince Severin said, pushing himself away from his desk.

“No, the crutches aren’t the problem,” Elle said.

Prince Severin stood and stalked to the map covered wall. He studied it for a moment before selecting a map and tearing it off the wall. “You just said you were having trouble using them.”

“Yes, but the problem does not lie in the crutches,” Elle said.

Severin’s ears briefly flattened. “Please stop speaking in circles and tell me what you need,” he said before he sat down again.

Elle shrugged. “Very well. My skirts are too wide.”

Prince Severin looked up and stared at her with his oddly pupiled eyes.

Encouraged that he hadn’t covered his ears, Elle plunged on. “The way everyone explains it I’m supposed to swing myself between the crutches and set my foot down, but my skirts are too wide and thick. I can’t seem to land between my crutches and sort of bounce off them instead. I have to lean forward on the tips of my foot—which is quite awkward and rather painful. I keep stumbling like a fool, but Emele refuses to give me a less elaborate dress. Can you tell her to give me something less…,” Elle held her hand out, grasping for the right word as she passionately looked to the ceiling again.

“I see,” Prince Severin said.

Elle lowered her gaze and tried to gauge the prince’s reaction. He seemed understanding? His ears were upright and still, and his feline forehead was free of wrinkles. “Do you?” Elle asked, thoroughly intrigued.

“You find it difficult to move and recuperate in this year’s fashions. I will inform Heloise of the required change to your wardrobe.”

“Heloise?” Elle blinked.

“Is that all?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Elle said. She hesitated, wondering if she should attempt a curtsey. As much as she disliked his ethics he was a prince, and he was letting her stay at his chateau.

Prince Severin correctly interpreted her silence. “It’s fine. Good evening, Intruder,” he said waving a clawed paw at her.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” Elle said before she swiveled on her good foot and thumped her way across Severin’s study. She stopped to tussle with the door and glanced over her shoulder.

The cursed prince was looking down at his paperwork, but he was opening and closing his right hand, rubbing his thick fingers together as if feeling something. He flicked his eyes up and stared at Elle, who unabashedly smiled at him before she pulled the door open and slipped into the hallway.

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