Sterling watched as Pearl was spun around in sync with the other couples on the floor by Jett, and Sterling was curious if Jett was aware that he was second-best to their sister. Sterling and Pearl had already had a dance together, and Sterling did not recall seeing Jett have the pleasure of watching the pair.
It mattered not, he supposed. Sterling knew that he had his sister’s support, and that was more important than seeing Jett’s jealousy.
Sterling turned his gaze from his siblings and onto one of the knights in front of him. “Yes, Sir Galin?”
“I was curious if you have an idea as to where you wish to start your pilgrimage,” Galin said. Galin was a knight of the Southridge division, one where the rough lands bred muscular people born to survive in the wilds. Galin was a surefire choice for Sterling’s band across the land.
“I wish to see the wyvern grounds,” Sterling admitted. “Imagine the glory and honor that we would gain if we tamed and returned home with such creatures. My brother claims to be a master of fire magic. I long to see his expression when I come home riding atop a creature that breathes the flames he says he can control!”
The entourage of knights and soldiers chuckled appreciatively, and Sterling returned his attention to the dance floor. His gaze caught his mother’s, and he inclined his head politely to the queen. She returned the gesture from her throne, but he was sure she would much rather him mingle with the women of the court.
Sterling knew a woman was not how he would earn the throne from his father. He would not need one, not just yet. When he returned home with tales of heroics, women would throw themselves at his feet, and he would merely have to pick his choice from the lot. While Jett worked on wooing the nobles with pretty words, Sterling would actually go out and prove his kinghood with deeds.
Pearl appeared in his line of vision, his beloved sister strolling with all the poise bred in her blood toward him. Her fair hair was pinned up in the style that mimicked their mother’s, and she stopped a foot away from Sterling and his allies to curtsy to the group in her white gown.
Sterling bowed to his sister just as the knights had, but his dark gaze lingered on the faces of the knights. Galin, at the very least, had his eyes on Pearl’s budding curves rather than her fair face, and Sterling moved forward to block the knight’s line of vision while smiling graciously to his sister.
“What can I do for you, Pearl?” Sterling asked.
“I was hoping for another dance with you,” she said, her gaze flickering to the expressions on the soldiers before settling on Sterling’s face. “You’re much lighter on your feet than Jett, I’ll admit. I hope your friends will not mind me stealing you away for a second time.”
“They don’t mind.” Sterling smiled and handed his wine glass to one of the passing servants. “It will be my pleasure, Princess.”
Sterling led his sister onto the dance floor once more, sneaking a look at his brother. Jett looked thoughtful, almost pleased, and Sterling did his best not to show his puzzlement. Surely Jett could not be happy with their sister favoring Sterling with two dances? What did Jett have up his sleeves of his oversized sage robes?
Sterling refocused on his sister, her face alight with delight as the pair danced, and his worries melted away. Nothing mattered at this stage of the game.
“Sterling?” Pearl looked up at him near the end of the waltz. “I’m aware that Jett is more interested in the noblewomen than you are, but may I suggest that you at least dance with Princess Marina?”
“Princess?” Sterling echoed. “Of Leau, correct? I didn’t even know she was here.”
“Jett does,” Pearl said, her tone admonishing Sterling. “She’s one of Father’s favorites for the future queen of the land. She’s the woman in the navy gown over by Mother’s throne with Queen Iris. You see the redhead?”
“Yes,” Sterling said, nodding. “Thank you, Pearl.”
“Twirl me once more in the last stretch of the song,” Pearl said, “and we can end our dance so you can ask her for the next ballad.”
“Very well.” Sterling kissed his sister’s forehead and matched her smile, figuring that he may as well mingle a little with the nobles. He did as Pearl said, ending their dance with a twirl and bowing to each other before he moved over toward his parents’ seats. Whatever discussion that the queens and the princess had been having died when Sterling reached them, and he bowed to the women.
“Forgive me for intruding, ladies,” he said, casting his charming smile at the trio, “but I was hoping that I could have the pleasure of a dance with Princess Marina?”
“I would be honored, my lord.” Marina curtsied in return and allowed herself to be whirled away onto the dance floor. Sterling noticed the pleased expression on their mothers as they resumed their talk when he led the princess away. He imagined the approval from both queens as he returned his attention to the princess in his arms.
Marina was of lean stature with small, but solid, muscles of a swimmer native of the island country. She was attractive, and Sterling could imagine his own son sharing her red hair and blue eyes. Perhaps Sterling would take his father’s preference into account when he was ready to settle down.