ll she’d given him.  “Will you finish before your coffin comes?”

“Of course, it will take a long time, but my flowers are selling at a higher price than you think,” Erna said coldly, angry at his disbelief.

Bjorn watched her closely, reevaluating his opinion of her.  She’d seemed shy and timid, but after all, she could say what she had a mind to say.

“Making flowers takes skill, Prince.  I don’t mean to brag about myself, but I’m good at it.  I like flowers.”

“So it seems.”  Bjorn’s eyes twinkled as they went from one flower to another on her dress.  He burst suddenly into uncontrolled laughter.  Though so different from the court dresses he was familiar with, this woman with her unsophisticated ambitions and skills was beautiful in her own way.

“Well,” he said, finishing his laugh, “you’ll do as you please.”  He shrugged half-heartedly.  He didn’t care about getting the trophy or its value from Erna.  Bjorn had hoped to use it as leverage to win his bet—right now, that was all Erna meant to him.  The potential for a great victory at high stakes… after that, he didn’t care if she disappeared forever.

“Thank you!  Thank you so much for understanding!”  Erna repeated her gratitude over and over, delighted.  “Keep the flower, Prince,” she said, as he made a motion to hand it back.  “Think of it as a token of my promise.”

She smiled brightly, facing him as she left the carriage.  For a second, Bjorn idly wished he could keep the smile and return the flower.  Then he put her out of his mind.

Fortunately, Erna was able to reach home before dinner, though to do so, she had to run from the cab stop to Hardy Street.

“Miss!  Where have you been?” Lisa greeted her, the obvious worry on her face replaced instantly with relief.

“I’m sorry, Lisa, I just left for a moment… a walk…”  Erna stumbled through a lie, sitting down on a chair by her bedroom window, breathing heavily.  After having seen Prince Bjorn, she didn’t dare tell Lisa where she had really been.  Fortunately, Lisa asked no more questions and focused on her job.

As she dressed and had her hair done, Erna reflected on the day with a little excitement.  She’d done all she had meant to do.  Hard as it was to adapt to this strange city, now with her flowers she felt that she wasn’t reduced to a helpless fool.

And the Prince had praised her bouquet.

Erna was happier than ever as she reflected on that fact.  She had given him her best flower.  She hoped he’d use it sometime as a boutonniere.  She would be proud if the Prince found one of her flowers useful.

He was a bad man.

Despite the events of the day, Erna kept the same conclusion.  On the basis of his reputation, there could be no doubt.

But he had been kind to her.

That was also a clear fact.

He was a bad person, but a kind one.  Erna smiled at her silly conclusion.





“Why are you so late?”

Leonid started right off with a hard question.  But then, Bjorn was a full hour late.  Even in the way Leonid set down the book he’d been reading, you could see a clear sign of disapproval.

Bjorn glanced at the clock and smiled casually.  He sat down at the table, opposite to Leonid.

“Something unexpected delayed me,” he said.

“What happened?”

“Private affairs.”  Bjorn’s face tightened stubbornly and he showed no signs of explaining.

Leonid sighed deeply.  He knew how stubborn his twin brother was when he was in this mood.  Just in time, the butler reported that dinner had been served.

The two stood up to walk to the dinner table.

“What’s that?” Leonid asked suspiciously, gesturing towards the flower Bjorn held.

“Ah,” Bjorn said, realizing that he was still holding Erna’s flower.

“Were you with Gladys?”  Leonid’s expression hardened as he noticed that the flower was a silver bell, the Princess’s favorite flower.

Bjorn tossed the flower into the ashtray, where the cigarette ash quickly stained its beauty.  “Dinner,” he said carelessly.  “Let’s go, Your Highness.”  He took the lead with a light step, as smooth and casual as ever.  As if he’d already forgotten Erna and her flowers.

“I’m sorry I was late,” he said lightly.  “I’ll give you a break in the game.”

Leonid snorted, recalling his promise to play billiards after dinner.  “A Prince doesn’t need a break,” he said.

“That’s true.  You’re a Prince of billiards.”  Bjorn grinned.

Just look at him!  Leonid snorted again.  He had to reflect again on his mother’s request in order to keep his patience.  Throughout dinner, he tried to get Bjorn to talk, listening for anything unusual or suspicious.

The table was set on the terrace, where the fresh evening breeze of the midsummer night brought the garden scents wafting over the dinner.  By the time the meal was over, Leonid had concluded that his mother was just a fussy old woman.  Bjorn was the same as ever.

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