Happy Valentine’s Day! In celebration, I’m offering a special short story from The Twisted Files. A night at the opera. A case of mistaken identity. A proposal of marriage. Join Brendan and Stasia for a night of fairy tale fun.
“Brendan, you’re fidgeting,” Stasia mutters to me as we walk through the columned promenade leading to the opera house.
Intricately carved friezes cover the entrance, flank the glass doors, and wrap around the sides of the building. It’s beautiful but not nearly as gorgeous as the woman walking beside me. It’s all I can do not to stare at her in her bronze silk dress. This is the first opportunity we’ve had in awhile to let our hair down and enjoy time together as a couple.
“What’s going on?” she asks, her arm tucked in mine as we walk through the columns covered in fragrant roses, their sweet perfume tickling my nose as we pass.
The ring in my pocket feels like a lead weight. “It’s … uh … nothing.”
I’ve debated for the last month whether or not this is the right time, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are no guarantees in life.
“Seriously, Brendan? The last time you squirmed this much Priscilla was interrogating you about the hydra with a god complex. We’re here to relax so relax.”
Right. Deep breaths. Act cool. I have this.
I press my hand to the box in my breast pocket, and my heart gallops in my chest.
I don’t have this.
What if she says no?
What if she says yes?
Ogre’s teeth, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’d rather face down a flock of angry dragons than hurt the woman by my side.
We step through the glass doors and enter a whole new world. Dark gold velvet carpets line the floor, and matching runners cover the grey-veined marble stairs leading up to the balcony seats. A magnificent crystal and gilt chandelier hangs in the lobby entrance and casts a soft light below.
Stasia lets out a low whistle. “Wow, and I thought the palace was posh.”
“Who do you think funds this place?” I pick up our tickets, programs, and binoculars from a young man at the ticket booth who wears a red uniform edged with gold fringe, then I lead Stasia to my family’s box seats. Opera is my guilty pleasure, one I share with my mother. Stasia has never been to the opera and has asked me to take on several occasions, so I’m praying she’ll enjoy this.
Black tuxedos and elegant dresses dotted with expensive jewels fill the seats. The elite of the city brought together for an evening of entertainment. Stasia settles in the seat next to me, and I wrap my hand around hers and squeeze, offering her a smile. She really is the most amazing woman.
After a few minutes, the lights dim and the first act of the opera begins. An elfin woman dressed in an azure gown and wearing wings spelled to flutter, steps onto the stage. She sings about her lost lovers in an ethereal voice that sends shivers across my skin. Fairy lights weave intricate patterns behind her, in time to the music as the chorus and dancers join her.
“What do you think so far?” I whisper in Stasia’s ear. Her vanilla and lavender perfume wraps around me, reminding me that she is my home.
Stasia’s eyes sparkle as she watches the performance. “It’s fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more beautiful.”
I can’t take my eyes off her. I touch the box in my pocket again.
Only a little bit longer.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” My heartbeat ratchets up when I think about what’s coming. “The second half is better than the first. I caught this show a few years ago when Vinaldo the Tenor performed.”
Ogre’s teeth, I’m rambling.
Stasia quirks an eyebrow at me, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Oh brilliant and wonderful partner of mine,” she leans in close enough that our noses nearly touch, “what are you up to?”
I look away quickly.
Stare at the stage, not at her.
“Taking my lovely partner on a date to the opera. That’s what I’m up to.”
Her quiet chuckle tells me that I haven’t fooled her at all.
“Hey, Brendan, do photographers normally take pictures of the opera-goers?”
“What are you talking about?” I scan the audience.
Stasia points to the box directly across from us. The photographer is stealthy, but the lights from the stage wink off the lens of their camera which is aimed directly at us.
“I’ll be right back,” I whisper as I duck out of the box.
“You’re not going without me.” Stasia hoists the long dress up and drapes it over her arm. “I can’t let you have all of the fun.”
“Who said anything about fun? I’m just going to ask why they’re taking our picture.”
“Like I said, fun.” She gives me a feral smile.
Oh dear. The claws are out. I hope I can keep her from terrifying the poor clod.
Down the hallway, into the lobby, and ….
There he is. It’s hard to miss a five-and-a-half-foot troll with neon pink hair and a camera with a telescoping lens hanging from his neck. His eyes go wide when he sees us. He points a shaking hand in our direction.
“It’s them. Bianca and Gustov LeFleur. The pair that stole the King’s crown.”
Motion in the lobby stops as every eye turns to us. Stasia gives me her patented ‘what now?’ look. I open my mouth to deny the claim when a large hand settles on my shoulder.
“Let’s not start any trouble,” a gravelly voice says from behind.
The hand belongs to the nearly seven-foot ogre in a security uniform standing behind me. Normally, I’d zap him with a spell, but I don’t want to get into more trouble than we’re already in. Plus, I have still have an important task this evening.
“There’s been a mistake, sir.” I raise my hands to show I’m not armed.
“It’s not a mistake. Here. Look at this.” The troll pulls a sheet of paper from his jacket, unfolds it, and hands it to the ogre.
I catch a glimpse of it as it passes me. A wanted poster.
“Let me see that.” Stasia snags it before the ogre gets it. “Hmm … I can sort of see the resemblance, but if you read the—”
The ogre rips the poster from her hands. “Nobody asked you.”
A low growl rumbles in Stasia’s chest. I lay a restraining hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll let the Constables sort this out,” the ogre says, crumpling the poster and tossing it into a wastebasket.
“Fine by me,” I say. “Make sure to ask for Captain Priscilla Greenwood.”
It doesn’t take long for a pair of Constables to arrive and escort us to the Constables Offices located in the heart of the Magister’s District. I refuse to answer any questions until I speak with Priscilla. Cuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed. Not exactly what I had in mind for the evening.
We’re put in separate interrogation rooms and the minutes turn into hours. I rest my head on the cold metal table, dozing as the time passes.
The door to the room opens, and I look up into the startled blue eyes of Priscilla. Her lips press together in a thin line.
“Is this some sort of joke?” Her icy eyes focus on the Constable who had arrested us. “This isn’t Gustav LeFleur.”
“Did you even bother to check his I.D.?”
“And did it check out?”
The Constable turns a lovely shade of red as he rubs the back of his neck. “Yes.”
“So why is Brendan Hunter still sitting in handcuff taking up space in one of my interrogation rooms?”
“Get him released. I’m guessing the woman you brought in with him is Stasia Weatherly. You do realize you arrested the shifter clan Matron, right?”
The Constable wobbles a little, his face as white as the walls around us. “I’ll fix it.” He unlocks my cuffs and then disappears into the hallway.
“Don’t you think you were a little hard on him?” I rub my wrists.
“Not when I have a flock of reporters sitting on my front steps ready for a press release about how we caught the infamous LeFleurs at the opera.” Priscilla sighs. “Sorry for the trouble, Brendan.”
“No big deal,” I say. “It’s made for an interesting evening.”
Priscilla pinches the bridge of her nose. “I don’t doubt it. Why don’t you wait in my office while I arrange to have someone drive you home.”
Stasia is silent on the drive back to my apartment. With her arms crossed and her lips pressed together, her demeanor screams ‘don’t talk to me.’ It’s not the first time we’ve been arrested, but it is the first time we’ve been arrested without a legit reason. I let her stew for a bit. Better to let her vent in my apartment away from witnesses and Constables. We don’t want to end up in jail for a second time tonight.
I watch her as we ride the elevator up to my floor. She still hasn’t looked me in the eye. The anger rolls off her in waves, and it will be a bit before my shapeshifting partner cools down enough to talk. I press my hand against the box in my pocket. Looks like I won’t be popping the question tonight.
Once inside my apartment, Stasia stalks across the room and throws herself on the couch, hugging a pillow to her chest. I sit next to her and wrap an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad. We’ve been through worse.”
“Can it, Brendan. The night was totally ruined. You didn’t even get to propose.” She buries her face in the pillow.
“Wait, how …?” I shake my head. “Never mind. I can’t ever pull one over on you.”
I pull the box out of my pocket, drop to my knees in front of her, and present her the open box. A silver ring etched with runes and set with a mage diamond sparkles from it.
“Miss Stasia Weatherly, I know this isn’t the most romantic of proposals, but would you do me the honor of spending the rest of our days with me by your side?”
Stasia looks up from the pillow, her eyes wide. She carefully sets the pillow aside, and her eyes glitter with tears as she takes the box from my hand. She sets it gently on the pillow and slides forward, wrapping her arms around my neck and placing her forehead against mine.
I close my eyes and relish the feel of her in my arms. She is my home, and I never want to lose her.
“Yes, my brilliant and sweet partner.” Her lips touch mine. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of kisses, and I savor every second of it. “Will you walk with me and be my rock?”
I swallow the lump in my throat. “Always.”