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An Excerpt of Code of Honor

   I turned to avoid Darius Masoud’s gaze as he entered the hall, and found myself looking at the elaborate stone fireplace. I tried not to notice him when he stepped up next to me, which was approximately as successful as not noticing a scorching flame. The man radiated heat, and I almost fanned myself when he spoke.

   “The stone looks as though it has rivers of blood running through it. A bit disconcerting, isn’t it?”

   I turn to stare at him, and I’m pretty sure my mouth fell open too, just to complete the expression of WTF on my face. 

   The Disney prince sighed when he saw my face. “As am I, no doubt, for having observed something so morbid. Right. I’ll just go then,” he seemed to say to himself, “before she has me removed from the premises.”

   “Talking to yourself isn’t helping the serial killer vibe,” I said, because I have the subtlety of an elephant in a hot pink tutu.

   He didn’t immediately bolt, so I must have surprised him, which was novel. I usually inspired something closer to fear with a side of self-preservation. Men were especially susceptible to this, probably because I looked so much like my sister at first glance, which didn’t prepare them for the utterly inappropriate things I said.

   He seemed to actually look at me then, and his gaze gave me sweaty butterflies. I’ve determined they’re a thing, since I don’t get simple, fluttery, girly butterflies like most straight women do when a ridiculously handsome guy notices them. My butterflies flap around so hard they make me feel slightly nauseated, which inevitably leads to a mild case of the sweats. Ergo, sweaty butterflies. 

   “I can promise I’ve never referred to myself as Precious, if that helps,” he said in his low, accented voice that made the little bastards flap harder.

   “I don’t know. Are you more of a Buffalo Bill ‘Precious,’ or a Gollum ‘Preciousssss?’ Because that might determine your creep-factor.” I seriously needed help. The sheer nonsense I was spouting in the face of such pretty Disney royalty was staggering, and if the look of confusion on his face was any indication, Mr. Darius Masoud was about thirty seconds away from making his polite excuses and beating a hasty retreat. So I got there first.

   “Sorry, I just remembered I have to pee.” Oh, that was much better. His expression was morphing from confusion into amusement, and I pressed my lips together to keep from upping the mortification factor any further. “Excuse me, please.”

   I hurried down the corridor toward the sounds of conversation and wondered if the laughter came from behind me or ahead. I was clearly not fit for polite company, much less gorgeous, rich, high-class company. 

   I entered a reception hall the size of a ballroom, thinking I’d be able to lose myself in a crowd, and then practically screeched to a halt. Chandelier people – the kind who dripped glittery things and tinkled with laughter – filled the room. They were that special breed of people who chatted easily, laughed at all the right moments, and moved gracefully from group to group like best friends. My feet felt rooted to the thick silk carpet that was covered in an elegant vine pattern and looked far too expensive to walk on.

   Then my imagination kicked in, as it always did, and I pictured tendrils of ivy creeping across the carpet to wrap around my ankles and hold me fast. And because that image was so compelling, I began to feel the silken leaves weave themselves around my legs. I pictured thorns budding from the vines to prick my skin and send a deadly neurotoxin sliding up my veins to paralyze my lungs until the lack of air made me black out and fall to the ground, which would tear Colette’s hot pink gown on the thorny vines and send boobs spilling out everywhere.

   “You’re not breathing,” the Disney prince said quietly in my ear.

   Oh no, no, no, no, no! I actually tried to press my lips together again to stop the words, but they slipped on the pink oil slick and opened of their own accord. “Of course not. The neurotoxin from the deadly vines around my ankles has paralyzed my lungs, and I’m pretty sure I only have a few moments left to live,” I said.

   Out loud. 

   My sister hated this about me. She despaired of my imagination because she was also pretty sure I had an undiagnosed case of Tourette’s syndrome – this despite being genetically identical to her – and the combination inevitably resulted in unfiltered fantastical nonsense spewing forth with horrifying regularity.

   The silence at my right ear was deafening for the space of several exceptionally loud heartbeats before a low chuckle sent my sweaty butterflies into frantic flight.

   “It’s a cat,” he purred. 

   A cat?

   The cat purred? No, the man purred. Men didn’t purr, did they?

   I threw the switcher on my brain-track and wrenched it back to the situation at hand. The silken ivy I’d pictured wrapped around my ankles was, of course, an actual cat winding itself around my legs. 

   “I knew that,” I said. “You purred when you said it, though. Are you some relation?”

   “To the cat?” Darius Masoud stepped around my shoulder to look into my face. The sweaty butterflies hung suspended in mid-flutter, and I grinned because they weren’t making me sick at the moment, which was reason to celebrate.

   Darius seemed to think the grin was for him though, and his slow, answering smile started the fluttering right back up again. “Don’t do that,” I said with a scowl.

   “Don’t smile?” A look of confusion dimmed the smile down to something the butterflies could manage, and I nodded.

   “Thank you. The sweaty butterflies were making me a little ill.”