For a little while the party continued as if his absence hadn't been noted, but one person was watching carefully for her opportunity to escape. What she didn't realise was that she was, herself, being watched. Scanning the party carefully, she waited until Hilda had engaged Augusta in a discussion on the political situation in Russia, Charles was lecturing John, Will, Amy and Ricky on the correct behaviour of a gentleman and Charlie seemed deep in discussion with David, and then walked in what she hoped to be a nonchalant manner to the hallway.
She was just pulling on her coat when a discreet cough behind her made her spin around, blush already spreading across her cheeks and giving her away. Staring levelly at her was Charlie, hair tousled from mingling among all the people in the Salon, top rumpled fashionably, face unreadable.
“Um,” stumbled Millie, in the silence that followed. “It – The – I was getting quite hot, I decided just to take a small walk.”
“Odd,” commented Charlie, still neutral, still unreadable. “Especially as the hottest thing present has now left the room.”
It took Millie a moment to grasp her meaning, but when she did the deep red that had filled her cheeks disappeared, and she gave a disbelieving, shocked laugh. All at once she looked ten years older, wiser, a real adult instead of the small girl Charlie expected to see.
“Mother!” exclaimed Millie. “What on earth would dad say if he could hear you?”
“Not as much as he'd have to say to you,” retorted Charlie. “You know he's turning into a liberal version of Joey; you've greatly upset him once already today by reminding him you're a young woman who makes decisions on her own, now. What would he say if he knew who you were sneaking out to see, on top of all that?”
“Well,” rationalised Millie, desperately trying not to talk of what she was planning when she left the house. “We could hardly not get involved, with the Prime Minister kidnapped, could we? She might not be a princess, but we're still Maynards!”
“And the running off to Sphinx?”
Charlie watched in some bemusement as Millie flushed again. Her daughter might be growing up, but she was still young enough to naively believe that she could keep secrets from her mother. She was almost old enough to be able to do it, too, and Charlie knew that this might be one of the last times she could win her daughter into confiding in her – unless, of course, she'd done her job well, and Millie would always need her mother's guiding hand sometimes.
“It's just a walk!” protested Millie. “I might not see anyone else.”
“And I might be queen one day!” retorted Charlie. It was a well known family fact, from when Len had done some research into their family using papers saved from Pretty Maids, that Charles was nine-hundred-and-forty-second in line to the throne, just behind Stephen. “Just – be careful. Promise.”
Millie nodded and was pulled into a fierce hug. When she stepped back again, there was something tiny pressed into her hand, and she slipped it into her coat pocket, then turned and opened the front door. But just before she left, she turned and smiled at Charlie, who winked and smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging manner, determined not to show her sadness. Instead, she put her mind to keeping Charles so engrossed in the party that he wouldn't notice the absence of a certain two people.
Meanwhile, Millie, pulling her coat more tightly around herself, set off down the path towards the Freudesheim gate, where a dark shadow was waiting to greet her. Slipping an arm through hers, Sphinx fell into step behind her, with a conversational,
“You really shouldn't be out on your own. There are kidnappers and murders and drug barons out there.”
“I heard they were all stopped by a wonderful hero, who dashed in and saved everyone and still looked very handsome at the end of it all,” replied Millie easily, staring up at him with a smile. Moonlight poured around them, giant now that they were so high up, the stars twinkling invitingly for as far as they could see, meeting the jagged mountain peaks in the distance. Sphinx barked a laugh.
“Are you calling my mother handsome?”
“Silly!” retorted Millie playfully. Stopping, she disengaged her arm so that she could turn to face him, looking up into his eyes, suddenly feeling awkward and nervous. Seeing nothing else for it, she reached up her hands around his neck and leant up, kissing him softly. Almost automatically his hands circled her waist, protective, desirous, sensual, and as she shut her eyes and leant her head against his chest the whole world felt unchangeably perfect.
“I've wanted to do that for so long,” groaned Sphinx. “You're so beautiful.”
With a memory of exploring the Platz as a small child, Millie took his hand and led him a short way down the path, to a naturally hollowed glade in the mountainside, protected on three sides, where they would be hidden from the gaze of anyone who happened to pass at such an hour. Together, they sat down on the slightly damp grass, Sphinx slipping an arm around her waist again so that Millie could lean into him.
“Isn't it so lovely?” she whispered, fingers gently stroking the inside of his leg.
“I don't care about the view,” he replied, turning her face up to him again. Softly they moved in the age-old dance of love, touching and exploring, melting into each other and finally sinking into the grass, as soft as any bed. The night air was balmy, warm, and the moon provided all the light that was needed. The gentle hum of fireflies was the only noise, apart from the soft breathing of the two people, seemingly alone on the mountainside.
Author's Chapter Notes: