His father's ball had never seemed so dazzling, so magical before. Perhaps tonight it had to do with her, his mysterious young maiden. Even with the drastic change – face clean, shiny golden hair tumbling down her back, the sky blue gown – Charming had recognized her at once. He had eyes for no one else. Time flew as they danced, talked, laughed.
Now kneeling before her in the garden, his smile faded into something more serious. He asked, "Won't you tell me your name?" Hope, longing, and tenderness colored the low words, his expression reveling all his dreams as he gazed into her eyes.
This time, instead of turning her head away as she had at their previous meeting, she continued to look into his face. The girl's eyes started to brighten, countenance transforming to gentle acceptance rather than shame.
Butterflies fluttered in his chest, belief and happiness flowing through him. She was going to tell him! Had he won her trust? Did she…did she care about him just as he did for her? Holding back a smile, and his questions, he simply squeezed her hands.
Voice steady, she softly answered, "My name is—"
The clock in the tower started to strike the hour though he barely noted it. But she abruptly broke off, eyes swiftly moving to gaze at something up in the distance. With a breathless cry she ripped her hands from his grasp, leapt to her feet. Then she was running…away from him.
The prince froze, stunned at this unexpected abandonment, hurt and bewildered. What had he done wrong? Had he misread everything between him and her? The girl's last quick glance before she bolted filled his mind: face pale, her gaze had flashed with panic, regret, possibly something like heartbreak.
He jumped to his feet and took off after her. She was almost out of sight at the end of the path. A burst of adrenaline increased his pace. "Wait! Come back!" he shouted desperately.
She didn't stop or turn back.
Letting out an explosive breath, Charming willed himself to run faster. Not again. He wouldn't let her go without an explanation, an answer to his question; lose her a second time.
Minutes later he stood out of breath at the bottom of the staircase...carriage gone, she gone. Only a glass slipper he cradled in his hands. He swallowed back his dismay.
"I will find you," he promised, willing the words to reach her.