“Oh, excuse me!”
Paying far more attention to the music than the direction she was moving, Sonja Haraldsen had just gone twirling through a doorway and crashed into a tall, solid young man.
“Are you all right?” she heard him say as he grabbed her arm to steady her. “Oh—your dress—I’m so sorry—”
She glanced down, suddenly realizing that the contents of the wine glass in his hand had splattered all over her pale pink dress. Was every other party guest watching this?
“It’s fine,” she murmured hurriedly to his chest, too embarrassed to glance up at the man’s face. “Please excuse me.” She darted back into the kitchen, desperately hoping she could somehow lessen the dark stain.
She had not wanted to come tonight, she thought as she wetted a towel and began scrubbing the soft chiffon. It was the first time she had been out at all since her father’s death three months ago, and she was only attending Karl Stenersen’s birthday party at her mother’s insistence. Now here she was, preparing to spend the evening fighting a losing battle against the stain she’d clumsily inflicted.
She had been trying, as always, to look perfect tonight and had worried all day about whether she was wearing the right thing. It was a spaghetti-strap, tea-length dress she had made last spring with long-stemmed appliqué roses on the full skirt, and after much deliberation she had deemed it suitable. A great difference it made now, she thought, as she looked down at the now-red rose at the center of the stain. Suddenly, the whole situation struck her as ridiculous, and she laughed.
“Miss? Have you had any luck with that dress? I’m terribly sorry.”
The man she’d twirled into, she supposed, still scrubbing her skirt. He sounded truly regretful. “No, it wasn’t your fault. I should have been watching where I was—” she looked up at him “—going,” she finished in a mortified whisper. She was looking into the face of the Crown Prince of Norway.
For a moment she merely stared. Was it really…? Yes, this was the striking young man she’d seen on countless magazine covers and in hundreds of newspapers. But what on earth was he…she hadn’t seen him earlier…but then she’d only been at the party ten minutes or so…
“Your Royal Highness,” she gasped, sinking into a deep curtsy. “Sir, I had no idea…my apologies…” She felt her face redden, and she silently prayed for the hardwood floor to swallow her whole.
“No, it was entirely my fault.” It wasn’t, and if the laugh she could hear somewhere in his words were any indication, he knew it. He reached out a hand and lifted her out of her curtsy. Towering over her—she guessed him to be a few inches over six feet—he was even more attractive in person than in all the photos she had seen. His eyes shone brilliantly blue, and his build suggested he had the strength of an Arctic moose, but his smile held her attention the most. It was small and hesitant and barely showed his teeth, as though he were so shy that he hoped neither his smile nor himself would be noticed. Charming, she thought.
“I’d be happy to pay for that dress if it’s ruined,” he went on.
Of course it was, but she was too stunned by his presence to care any more. “I’m fine. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. I’ll go home tonight and see what I can do. I’m quite good with fabrics. I’m a seamstress.” She closed her eyes momentarily in embarrassment. She was babbling, and she knew it. This was likely the only time she’d ever meet royalty, and she was not achieving anything near the perfect impression she would have desired to make.
“Oh, do you sew?” He sounded interested, but she did not believe it to be any more than years of practice at surviving dull conversation.
“Yes,” she said, then shut her mouth. Mindless chatter would not help.
Suddenly the Crown Prince blushed. “I’m sorry—forgive me—I ought to have asked your name.” He paused. When she said nothing, he continued. “Well, what is it?”
“What is what?”
“Oh!” Her cheeks were surely a deeper shade of pink than his now. “I didn’t know—that is, you didn’t ask, you only said you should have asked, so I didn’t know that you really wanted to know. I’m sorry. Sir.” Perfect. Now he thought she had the intelligence of a strawberry.
He laughed, his small smile erupting into a grin. “I do want to know. In fact, I still want to know. What is your name?”
“Sonja Haraldsen,” she said, realizing she still had not given it to him and laughing herself. She was surprised to find herself slowly relaxing in his presence.
“I’m Harald of Norway.” He offered her his hand, and she shook it then giggled again at the absurdity of the moment.
“I know your name!”
He nodded. Then suddenly he asked, “Would you like to dance, Miss Haraldsen?”
“Excuse me?” Surely the Crown Prince hadn’t just asked her to dance. Surely not, not after such an embarrassing performance on her part.
“Would you like to dance?” he repeated with a small smile.
Panic seized her. Dance with the heir to the throne? What do I do now? “I—why, yes, yes, I think I would,” she answered.
“I think I’d like to dance with you, too,” he said in a tone of the utmost seriousness. “However, you’ll have to guarantee me that you won’t go twirling into anything and taking me with you.”
She laughed, and he took her hand. There was something very strange in having her hand in the Crown Prince’s, and she forced herself to swallow her nerves as he led her back into the party and onto the dance floor. The music was American rock and roll—Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover”—and she was spinning and twirling, leading most of the dance, but if his easy laughter were any indication, he didn’t mind. He was having fun with her, she realized, and, much to her surprise, she was having fun as well. She could not recall any such sensation in the three months since her father had passed away and she had been called home from England.