A/n: written for some random romance story competition i joined. it was kinda retarded. and of course, i didn't win because i can't write proper non-psycho romance for nuts. many thanks to my beloved onee-chan for staying up and editing this for me and yes, i finished this at like, 4am in the morning and that morning, i had to wake up at 6am for 2 major final exams in school at like, 7.45am. no wonder i screwed that exam up and got a B4 for english then, ugh. anyway, enough of my rants. enjoy and please do read and review (: oh and the name of the guy was Ean cos i 3 my almost twin (whose name is Ian ^^)

I must admit, I could not have had a better childhood. My father was a wealthy merchant and my mother came from a family of wealthy merchants. I grew up in the capital, had princes and princesses for company as my parents were on good terms with the King and Queen. As I walked down the bustling streets, I was filled with nostalgia as fond memories of running down the streets in the rain with other children surfaced in my mind. Yet a terrible sadness filled my heart that hot summer day...

I sat by one of the various fountains in the capital - the statues of the fountains were Prince Dion and Princess Xylena, the famous pair of star-crossed lovers in ancient folklore. Prince Dion and Princess Xylena were from warring tribes but they loved each other. Prince Dion's father found out about their love and had Prince Dion executed for treason. Overcome by grief, Princess Xylena threw herself into the Yriba River which flows through the capitol. Soon after, Prince Dion's tribe was defeated and since then, Princess Xylena's tribe ruled the country.

Somehow, my sitting at that fountain seemed apt - I could not believe the situation I was in.

Mother and Father have been declared bankrupt - how could it be? My eyes stung as I felt tears well up with the thought of the scene nights before when my parents declared that I was to be wed the next evening to a foreign prince so as to pay off their debts. How could it be? I was their only child; the daughter they had doted on for sixteen years, the apple of their eyes...

Tonight would be the last night of freedom I had. A ball would be held in the palace tonight to celebrate midsummer - I had been looking forward to it all summer and now... I shivered though it was not cold, my back was slick with perspiration and my cerulean dress clung to my skin.

The evening bell tolled and I knew that I should return home. I looked around me and saw girls giggling and chatting amongst themselves, arms linked. My friends had deserted me once they knew that my family was in trouble and I wondered if the friendships then were true. Of course, they were not. Hastily, I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand and headed for home - my maid, Renee, would berate me if I was late.

"Sit still, young mistress," Renee snapped as she brushed my sable locks.

I said nothing but I could not stop myself from shivering in trepidation. At least the ball tonight would be a masquerade - no one would recognise me, a fallen angel, so as to speak, beneath my mask.

Renee shoved an intricately fashioned lilac mask under my nose as she pulled me to my feet. She had always been a punctilious person and tonight, I had to be perfect. She adjusted the sash around the bodice of my dress and suddenly stopped.

"Renee?" I frowned.

"I forgot your corset, young mistress," she softly, I could see her amber eyes shine with tears in the candlelight.

"I noticed," I answered coolly, willing myself not to cry. Renee had looked after me since I was born and she was like a second mother to me - we could not bear to part.

Renee put the mask on for me and it was only then I realized how gnarled her swarthy hands were and how old she was growing. "Go free, young mistress," she whispered and upon hearing familiar footsteps outside my room, she added hastily "Just for tonight."

My mother had arrived to take me to the last ball I would attend, free.

We arrived at the palace like any other wealthy merchant family would - fashionably late, in a grandiose carriage pulled by six dapper-looking white horses. I was thankful for the mask hiding my face though Mother had chided Renee for picking one that hid most of my alabaster skin which was according to her, my best asset. I wondered why she even cared - I was no longer a girl who would have a chance to have a season and make her debut in society.

Father showed his invitation to the officer stationed at the gates and we were led into the opulent grand ballroom, decorated with the finest silk in the country. The orchestra played a lively waltz, young females with elaborate hairdos swept across the dance floor with their paramours.

I heard a sharp intake of breath and realized that it was my own. Mother nudged me with her fan and pushed me into the crowd as she and Father left for the food table as usual, in search of new business partners, I supposed. Since when did they become so uncaring towards me? I bit my lip in an effort to stop my tears from falling.

I surveyed my surroundings - everything seemed so foreign to me. The palace was no longer the one I used to know, it seemed so cold; distant. I struggled to take in all that had changed, stumbling backwards, hitting a palace servant.

He glared at me as he adjusted his silver cap, indicating that he was a higher ranked servant, but bowed to me all the same. "Would my lady like some champagne?" he asked, gesturing to the flutes of bubbling liquid that was on the tray he held with his other hand.

I shook my head as I regained my balance and straightened my full skirts. He shrugged and disappeared into the crowd.

The orchestra finished the waltz and the conductor gave the signal to play a new dance. My face burned with shame as I realized that I was going to be the only one on the dance floor without a partner. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Prince Alexei, (who was recognisable under the flimsy excuse of a mask he wore) my supposed best friend, holding Sera, my archrival when I was still welcomed in the palace, in his arms. The acrid taste of jealousy on my tongue stung me as I stormed away from the dance floor, pride wounded, when someone tapped my shoulder.

I whirled around, half expecting the person to be someone who had recognised me and had come to insult me. "What do you want?" I snapped bitterly.

It was not someone I knew.

"I'm sorry," he muttered hastily and stepped back.

My face was beetroot red. "No, I'm sorry," I looked at the floor, both unable and unwilling to meet his gaze. Then again, I need not have looked down for he was a head taller than me, looking straight would have sufficed.

"No, I should be sorry," he half stammered. "Did I scare you?"

I shook my head vigorously. An awkward silence followed.

"Um. Would you care to dance with me, my lady?" he offered me his hand.

I looked up into his stunning azure eyes and found no trace of mockery or whatsoever in it. It was a genuine request. I took his hand.

The orchestra struck up another waltz. Again, it was in a minor key, with a hint of melancholy in it. My partner spun me around skillfully and caught me in his arms. I was breathless, exhilarated. He was a much better dancer than Alexei ever was, not that I really meant to compare.

"What is your name, fair maiden?" he asked.

I hesitated as he spun me around again. Would he abandon me the moment he knew my true identity? Perhaps he would wait for the end of the dance and leave, just like what a supposed gentleman was expected to do...

"What's yours?"

He seemed taken aback and his eyes glowed with renewed curiosity. "Ean," he leaned forward and whispered into my ear.

I shivered, feeling his hot breath near my earlobe. "Alyssea," I replied softly, giving him my middle name, hoping that he did not know me. Then again, I had never heard of anyone named Ean who moved around in the higher circles of the wealthy and aristocratic... I frowned. Could he, like me, be hiding something beneath his mask? Yet it was highly unlikely, for unlike the ornate masks the others wore, his was simple, pure white... Then again, looks were deceiving... I shook my head in an attempt to clear my thoughts.

"It's a beautiful name," he smiled and his eyes glittered, mesmerizing me. His skin was fair, uncommon even for aristocrats as it was usually the females who were fair. I wondered if he was like me, another angel who had fallen from grace as he held me close for a brief moment. I froze for a split second, shocked by the oddly intimate gesture. I heard the sound of familiar footsteps, Alexei and Sera were fast approaching.

My heart throbbed so hard against my ribs that it hurt - I wanted to be bold, daring with my new paramour, supposedly, in front of Alexei to scorn Sera. Ean was more handsome than Alexei was, for he had a slightly androgynous beauty that Alexei did not possess. However, it was an undeniable fact that by far, Alexei was one of the most handsome eligible princes in the country with his bronzed skin, well sculpted muscles, rugged good looks and cheeky smile... I guess my jealousy was getting the better of me but at that point of time, what did I have to lose?

On purpose, I tripped over the hem of my long skirt just as the orchestra transited from a passage of strings to a loud tutti and tumbled gracefully into Ean's arms. He raised an eyebrow quizzically then smirked. I frowned. What did he have up his sleeve?

Ean caught my chin between his thumb and forefinger and tipped my head up, brushing his lips against mine. He was so gentle with me that I almost thought that the kiss did not happen at all. It was nothing like I had imagined - I had spent numerous afternoons hiding behind willow trees in the palace grounds peeping as Alexei stole kisses from the palace maids and trust me, gentle was the last word you would use to describe them.

I blinked as his lips left mine and he spun me around once more. He smiled and I heard Sera sniff and demand a kiss from Alexei. I resigned myself to the fact that I was recognised and would not be able to continue dancing without any embarrassment.

"You intrigue me, Alyssea," Ean flicked his tongue across his lips. "And you taste like peaches and honey..."

I blushed and looked away, averting his gaze. The waltz ended with a loud tutti and I curtsied, more than eager to leave when Ean caught my arm. I looked at him, puzzled. "Yes?"

"Don't go," the pressure he applied on my arm did not hurt, but I could tell that he wanted me to stay. "At least, not yet..."

Ean reached for my mask and I stepped back instinctively, afraid that he would unmask me. "Your mask... It's loose."

"Oh," I mumbled as I adjusted it on my own.

A higher ranked servant came up to Ean and tapped his shoulder. He turned to me. "I need to attend to something for awhile... Would you still be here when I return?" he looked at me searchingly, and I knew that my answer would not be the one that he sought. Yet I was torn between nodding and running away for I had never met anyone half as enigmatic as Ean was - Alexei did not even come close.

"I'll be here," I said in a strangled voice. In the end, the desire to know more about him overwhelmed me, washing away whatever else I had been feeling.

He took my gloved hand and kissed it, then turned to leave.

I felt my cheeks burn. Alexei used to do this to me too. I frowned as I accepted a glass of light fruit wine, one of the capital's specialties, wondering if I was just another green-eyed monster for Alexei's love. I was starting to behave out of character...

I jumped as I felt a vice-like grip on my shoulder. I turned around slowly, almost rooted to the ground in fear of what the person might do to me.

"Mother," I gave a sigh of relief as I downed the entire glass in a single gulp.

Mother glared at me disapprovingly. "Drinking," she sniffed. "How unbecoming."

I shrugged, a gesture of open defiance.

She took no notice. I wondered why.

Mother removed a golden pocket watch from the folds of her voluminous dress. "Leave before midnight and return home," she turned to leave. "Or your father and I will ensure that your life after this will be worse than it already will be."

The moment Mother was out of sight I fled to a deserted corner and burst into tears. How could she do this to me? I could not and would not believe it. Had some sort of cruel prank been played on me by fate that transformed my parents into the monsters they were now? I shuddered as I sobbed into my black gloved hands, aware that my mask and make up were ruined.

"Why do you weep, fair maiden?" I heard a familiar voice.

I looked up and hastily blinked back tears. It was Ean. I looked away and realized that I had made a fool out of myself in front of him by crying in public. If I still reigned among society's princesses there would have been a huge brouhaha over my public crying the next day... I tried to regain my composure but failed.

Ean cocked his head to the left and smiled ruefully. He unlaced my mask and I let him. I was too tired to resist. He produced a small silk handkerchief from out of nowhere and wiped away my tears carefully, as well as the rouge that was covering my cheeks. "Much better," he said, almost inaudibly.

I blinked, not understanding what he meant.

He pulled me close to him and laid my head against his chest. His left hand rested somewhere below the small of my back and I felt a tingling sensation from my fingertips to my toes. His right hand stroked my hair and pressed against him, I could hear his steady heartbeat, a great juxtaposition with my erratic one.

"Are you alright, Alyssea?" Ean asked softly, his voice husky.

I took a deep breath and realized that Ean smelt good, of musk and sandalwood. I shivered. "I... Think I'm much better now..."

I looked up and he smiled. Heat flooded my cheeks and I tried to turn away, but he held me tight in his arms. "Ean?"

"Shall we return to the dance floor?" he asked. His voice was strangely detached and far away. I wondered what had happened when he left me...

I shrugged, then realized with a pang in my heart that my mask was ruined - there was no way I could return to the dance floor in such a state. I pulled away from Ean. "No, I... I'm sorry..."

Ean caught me by my wrist. This time, it was not gentle but rather, aggressive. "Do you really wish to leave me, Alyssea?"

I bit my lip. His tone was cold, somewhat accusing. I was confused by the way he was acting, but at the same time, I was drawn to him, the way the two poles of magnets were drawn to each other.

"Follow me," he slid his hand into mine and held it, the way a lover would. He started walking, lapels of his midnight blue coat flapping up and down from the speed at which he was moving. I struggled to keep up - the folds of my dress and the petticoats I wore underneath added so much volume that it restricted my movements greatly.

"Ean?" I asked meekly. We had left the ballroom by now and were headed towards the forbidden grounds of the castle.

He did not answer. Under the moonlight, I realized that there was intricate silvery stitching all over his coat that I had not noticed before. Was he some sort of magician? I frowned.

"Ean?" I tugged at his hand. "We're in the gardens... It's out of bounds, isn't it?"

"Who cares about rules tonight, fair maiden?" he spun around and held my gaze.

I blinked. "What do you mean?"

He pulled me closer. I did not resist. He took my hands, removing my gloves and placed my right hand to his cheek. His skin was cool, my palm was warm. He led me to the lacings of his mask and whispered "Unmask me."

I held my breath as I did as I was told.

"Who goes there?" I heard someone call from behind me.

Ean swore as he gripped my hand tight and we ran into the gardens. I felt my hand let go of his mask along the way but it did not matter, by then, we were already deep into the labyrinth that was called the gardens of the castle.

We came to a clearing and stopped. The both of us were panting heavily. I looked up at Ean. He cocked his head to the right. "You alright?" he asked.

I gasped.

"You..." I whispered softly.

He frowned, puzzled.

"You've always been there, haven't you? When I was playing in the castle. I watched you sometimes, when I could..." I dared not breathe, though my lungs were gasping for air.

Ean looked at me, puzzlement evident in his eyes.

"You're the gardener's son, right? They always said that the King had an affair with a palace servant... You're the product of that, aren't you?" I asked brusquely. I knew that it was impolitely of me to say such things, but at that point of time, I could not care any more.

He did not blush nor look away, but merely nodded. "So?"

"I..." I was at a loss for words. My face flushed once again, because I was embarrassed and breathless after running. I took a step forward and tripped over the hem of my skirt into his arms, this time accidentally.

Ean tipped my head up again and this time, I did not flinch nor try to look away. He bent down slowly and I felt my body arch against him.

"I think... I'm in love with you, Alyssea..." he whispered against my lips.

I pressed my lips against his on an impulse, wanting to let him know that I felt the same way towards him. It was amazing how I finally saw, that the one I loved was not Alexei, but Ean...

I felt his hands slide around me and tighten around my waist and I gave in. I heard the bells toll midnight and cringed, but I was not going to care about what Mother said any more. Like what Renee told me, tonight, I was going to be free. Ean's hands reached for the fastenings of my bodice and I broke the kiss.

"Alyssea?" he asked, unsure of whether to continue.

I shook my head. "Alyssea's my middle name," I bit my lip. "My name's Ophelia."

Ean smiled, a devastatingly handsome one. "Ophelia," he kissed me again and his fingers continued whatever they were doing before.

And I let him. I did not know what the next day would bring, but at that point of time... All I wanted was to have that kiss forever.

A/n: the ending was kinda rubbishy according to my onee-chan T.T but oh wells, what can i say, i'm almost rubbish when it comes to normal romance (to that he'll say that that's because i'm not normal, sigh) XD