Erna curled up into herself, trying desperately to stay sheltered from the rain, under the old clock tower, not that it mattered as she was soaked through.
The rain had started up not long after she found Pavel’s house say cold and empty.
They had agreed to meet under the clock tower in the afternoon, but as the sun started to set and he hadn’t showed yet, Erna went to his house.
That’s when the rain started and she returned to the clock tower.
It was getting close to midnight now and Erna’s eyes were growing heavy.
She looked up and down the water logged streets with half closed eyes.
They were empty, cold and dark, just like everything else in her life.
Without the money Pavel promised, she could not return to Buford.
She didn’t want to return to Hardy Mansion either, but she was wasn’t going to be able to escape her father.
She could always go to the train station, do what ever she could to get back to Buford and even if the trains were not running this late, she could find some where to stay for the night.
Erna struggled to keep her eyes open.
She couldn’t stay here, she needed to get to the station and wait for Pavel, maybe he was already there, maybe he meant the clock tower in the station, not that it was an actual clock tower, more a clock face on the front of the building.
With renewed hope, Erna could feel warmth spread to her stiff limbs and she rose up.
Her legs wobbled from being cramped up for hours and buckled.
Erna could not fight the emotions any more.
Anxiety gave way to despair and she let herself give completely over to sadness.
She cried as she sat on the cold, wet floor.
The rain hid her tears.
She felt abandoned and truly alone.
She wished above all else that she was home in Buford, with her Grandmother, sitting by a warm fire.
The rain stopped suddenly.
Erna looked up from crying into her hands.
The rain had stopped for her, but she could still hear the pitter patter on concrete.
Above the long shadow cast by the light of a gas lamp, she saw a pair of polished shoes standing close.
and when she looked up….
“Pavel?” She was about to ask, but the person she saw was….
Erna couldn’t believe her eyes.
It was dark, she was tired, tears blurred her vision, but it was still Bjorn that stood there, holding an umbrella over her.
Bjorn didn’t know how to handle the situation and just stood there, staring down at the hapless woman.
They stared at each other for a long while, until a flash of lightning lit them up and the sound of thunder pushed them to action.
Bjorn offered a hand, but Erna turned away from him.
He considered her with his cold, grey eyes and face as implacable as ever.
He knelt down beside her and turned her face toward hers by gently grabbing her chin.
She trembled at his delicate touch.
Bjorn sighed and muttered a curse under his breath, Erna did not hear.
He moved his hand to cup Erna’s cheek and ever so gently turned her face to meet his.
She finally looked up at him properly and they froze in time as their eyes met.
Bjorn looked at Erna until the trembling stopped.
Her eyes were bright and clear, but so full of sorrow, even in her surprise to see him, just like the time on the riverside.
Bjorn thought that was the last time he was going to get to see her.
Erna looked at Bjorn with wonder and was stuck some where between dream and reality.
The running carriage, the pouring rain, sight clouded by heat and in the middle of it all, Bjorn’s face.
It was like a very vivid dream.
Why was he there?
Did he know she was there? Was he looking for her?
The questioned flickered through her tired mind, but Erna couldn’t say anything because of struggling to stay awake, there was no energy for talking, only sleep.
“I don’t know who you were waiting for, Miss Hardy, but it seems like that person is not coming.
He abandoned you.” Bjorn said.
Erna barely heard, she was struggling with keeping her eyes open and the rocking carriage didn’t make it any easier.
She tried to deny it, refusing the Prince’s cold words, but what else could it be? It was already past midnight by the time she reluctantly climbed into the carriage and she promised she would give Pavel until midnight.
Had he really abandoned her, her long time friend?
Bjorn let out a frustrated sigh.
The cape and hat were water logged and clung to her body irritated him.
He thought about throwing them away and being done with his irritation, but thought it would be more irritating without them, allowing the cold wind to bite at her skin.
He watched Erna as she slowly drifted off to sleep and realised it was not her clothes that irritated him, it was her situation.
It was clear to him now that it wasn’t just forced marriage that pained this woman.
The moment he saw her bruised face he realised.
It was probably all the scandal that turned a ruthless man to violence against this beautiful flower.
The first time Erna hid away from the public eye was soon after the first scandal hit the streets.
Now Bjorn figured out why.
Not out of shame, or to keep a low profile, but because her own father turned his maliciousness on her.
He scratched his most expensive and valuable wares.
Walter Hardy was a pitiful merchant and a pitiful man.
Cold anger seethed through him. There was so much of tonight that made him angry, from the moment he saw Erna collapse under the clock tower, to the realisation of her father and no doubt the man she was waiting for.
It had to be a man, why else would Erna willingly wait out in the bitter rain?
She was probably going to run away with this disgraceful man that abandoned such a sweet rose.
What hurt more was that this man was probably a close friend to Erna, or pretended to be, he probably took her money, promising to sort out all the travel arrangements and then flee the city at the last minute.
Only thing is, Bjorn knew Erna didn’t have enough money to attract scam artists, she barely had money selling flowers to pay off her debt to him and that’s when he had a thought.
Erna had one other friend in the city, someone he had seen her with many times, an artist, Pavel, was it?
Bjorn remembered seeing him at the Royal Academy of Arts, that’s how he knew he was an artist.
He was burly, red haired young man.
He seemed bright enough and not at all like someone who would go out of his way to harm a young lady.
Bjorn suddenly thought of the Genius Poet of Lars.
It was an unexpected memory of the man that had taken Gladys from him.
He died a couple years ago, before he even turned thirty.
A talented artist who passed away young.
With a cynical laugh, Bjorn scrubbed the thoughts from his mind and looked out the window.
The dark, empty streets were so quiet, save for the clopping of horses’ hooves and being drawn to the sound, he could hear the approach on the other side of the road and sure enough, a single horse trundled past and driving was a burly red haired man.
Pavel Lore, that was his name.
Seeing the face made Bjorn remember the name.
He had been wrong, Pavel had not abandoned Erna.
The perfect manner in which seemingly random events fell in line made Bjorn smile as he watched the man trundle past.
At least one thing was different from what he guessed, but it was not to Bjorn’s liking.
Thunder rumbled over head and Erna stirred from her shallow slumber.
She looked about with a vacant stare, the brief nap fogging her memory.
She looked like a lost child and it rubbed against Bjorn’s nerves.
The moment she looked out the window, Bjorn reacted instinctively and closed the curtains.
There was no way she could spot Pavel now, but he wasn’t willing to take that risk.
Erna looked at him blankly, but sank back into her seat.
With the situation back under predictable control, Bjorn let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes.
They sat in silence for the rest of the journey.
It wasn’t a long before the carriage turned into Tara Boulevard, where the Hardy Mansion was.
The driver knocked on the door to let the passengers know they were at their destination.
Bjorn moved to take Erna into his arms, wrapping a spare cloak around her as he did so, then he had a thought.
He opened the door and gave the driver an order, who was surprised at the words spoken to him, but Bjorn was the Prince and so, the driver followed his order without question, confused as he was.
Bjorn tried to put Erna back into her seat, but she nestled into him like he was a giant teddy bear, no doubt finding the warmth of him comforting.
She stirred a little as the carriage moved off again.
It did not go to the Schuber Palace, but to somewhere in the northern part of the city.
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