Prince Loki bowed over her hand and spoke with a tone and smile calculated to win her over, if she were some empty-headed girl and not a commodity, as he promised, "If I don't win your heart in a month, we'll call off the wedding.”
“You can try, Your Highness, but my heart is not so easily won.” Sif smiled politely back but made it clear to him that his silvertongue had no effect on her. She would do her duty, because she had no choice, but she wasn’t going to pretend to be happy about it.
Worse, everyone knew what sort of prince Loki was: glib, skirt-chasing, spoiled, odd, empty-headed layabout were just some of the words people used to describe him. Nobody like that was winning her heart.
The engagement party didn’t make her change her mind, as he tried to charm her. He told her she was beautiful, brought her drinks with his own hands, and told stories to court sycophants who hung on his every word. She was not impressed.
The following day, she followed her own custom and rose early to walk the property. The dew clung to the plants and the air was cool, perfect for her light wrap, but the sun was already threatening heat mid-day. She walked the rose garden, paused at the fountain, and looked back at the main house. The king had promised Jotunheim Manor to Loki as his wedding gift, and she had to admit she might also buy a spouse if she could have such a beautiful house and well-tended gardens, if she was interested in such things over marital and familial contentment.
She headed to the marvellous ancient oak that stood in the center of the rose garden and wondered if the young princes had climbed it.
A flash of white caught her eye above and she amended the thought to the present tense. She moved around beneath the overhanging banches, until she could confirm that indeed Prince Loki was sitting on a tree branch and appeared to be reading a book. Neither climbing trees nor reading seemed to mesh with the man she had met yesterday.
“No one warned me you were touched in the head, my lord!” she called up, teasing.
He startled, lost his balance, and in grabbing for another branch to rebalance himself, lost his book which fell right to Sif’s feet. She bent to pick it up, and when she straightened, he dropped down. He landed gracefully and her eyes widened at the sight of him in shirtwaist, trousers, and boots – no waistcoat, no coat, no cravat – indeed, his collar was open, and her eyes felt drawn to that bared area of his neck.
But he seemed not embarrassed, offering a low bow as she curtsied. “Good morning, my lady Sif.”
“You read in trees, my lord?” She opened the cover, expecting some light novel or perhaps poetry to quote at her, but the title instead was, A treatise on the motion of the stars. Her eyebrows climbed in surprise. “You are interested in the natural sciences? That is… unusual,” she added tactfully. She hadn’t heard either of the princes had much learning. Thor at least had military prowess, but the younger had a clever tongue and little else. So they said.
She was starting to think the gossip had little basis in fact, however.
“Oh, yes. I have my own laboratory behind the hedgerow and a telescope,” he said with enthusiasm and a gesture toward the roof of the main house, but then he cleared his throat and tried to force his face impassive again. “I don’t speak of it at court, since most find it terribly dull or eccentric.” He gave a small self-deprecating laugh. “And it is definitely not charming to ladies.”
Her fingers underlined the title, thinking this surprise was far more charming to her than any amount of pretty words, because this, at least, was true. This prince might very well win her heart. She glanced up at him and held out the book. “I have not read this one, so if you would be so kind, I would like to borrow it, when you are finished.”
His smile returned, happy and astonished, as if he’d never expected to hear that she was interested at all. “My lady, may I remind you that, if we wed, my library will be entirely yours. As will all this.” He gestured all about them, from the garden to the house and the fields beyond.
But she didn’t look away from him, teasing lightly, “Well, I do like a man with a good library.”
“Oh? Then I should show it to you.” He offered his arm. “Shall we?”
It turned out to be a very promising library full of handsome volumes and interesting words, and its owner needed far less than a month to win her heart.