“I know it is early, Michael,” Caroline began, “but I felt that it was imperative that I inform you of my discovery as soon as possible.”
Michael sat down and poured himself a cup of coffee. “It is quite all right, Caroline. Speak your mind.”
Caroline set her notes on the table. “AJ and I have discovered a strange pattern with the previous chosen.”
“AJ?” Michael echoed. “I thought that I had assigned Barbara yesterday.”
“Lady Robin fell ill and she sent AJ in her stead. Anyhow, My Lord, all of the chosen we have record of gave birth to magical children.”
Michael frowned. “Are you quite certain?”
“In fact…Nell Brown is the daughter of one of them,” Caroline said. “Eleanor Morgan, born to James and Kylie Morgan. She married Frederick Brown and then later assassinated King Nikolas. She was executed for her crimes and because of her, there is the ban against enchantresses. Her sister, Mariette, was among the first sent to the work camps. There were three boys. Adam, Harold and John. All sorcerers.”
Michael muttered something under his breath and motioned for her to continue. Caroline nodded and set another page of notes on top of the previous. “Hugh Quartermaine and the Princess Adelaide. They were before James and Kylie, so their daughter Olivia lived a long life with many children. She and her brother Wendall were the first in the family to have the gifts.”
“This—this is an extraordinarily bad thing.” Michael stood and began to pace. “We have less than nine months to lift the ban. Elizabeth could become pregnant from the first night alone. I will not allow her children to be persecuted, Caroline. You cannot tell another soul what you have found.”
Caroline narrowed her eyes. “It is not right to keep this from the council. They deserve to know—”
“They deserve to know nothing,” Michael retorted. “Elizabeth has had enough sorrow in her life. If she gives birth to a daughter—I will not allow the child to be ripped from her arms, are we clear?”
The blonde just stared at the normally calm and collected council member. “Lord Corinthos, I know that the Princess is your niece but you have a duty to the kingdom to inform them of threats. Enchantresses cannot be trusted—”
“Because one woman a thousand years ago assassinated a king. She did this because the king had recently ordered her family to be evicted from their family’s lands. It was only through the prince’s loyalty to James Morgan that the family did not lose everything. One woman does not mean all women with powers are bad, Caroline, and I do not appreciate your prejudice.” He raked a hand through his dark hair. “I have given you an order, Caroline. No one will know of this until I say differently. Inform AJ of this as well.”
“My Lord,” Caroline began to protest.
“That is an order,” Michael repeated coldly.
Jason found his mother in Alexis’s kitchen, having shooed the servants out. No one cooked for Susan Morgan.
“Good morning,” he greeted his mother with a kiss on the cheek.
“I was hoping we would have a chance to speak this morning.” Susan gestured towards the table. “Sit and I will get you something to eat.”
A few moments later, his mother set a plate of meat and eggs down in front of him next to a glass of cold milk. She then sat at the head of the table and took something from her pocket. “I intended to give this to you when you married.” She opened her palm to reveal a handmade silver ring. “Your father gave me this after our wedding.”
“You have not worn that since Father died,” Jason observed.
Susan sighed. “I could not bring myself to do so,” she admitted. “It is not my wedding ring—though I cherish that as well. It is a ring he made himself and he gave it to me days after we’d been married. He told me that while the ring he’d given me during the ceremony was a symbol of our vows, this was a symbol of his love.”
She stared at it with a soft smile. “You are so like your Father and he knew that it would be the same for you. You see…your father and I did not meet until the day of our wedding—”
“He told me this once,” Jason said. “That he did not see you until you walked down the aisle. He said that moment he saw you, he knew that he would love you for the rest of his life.”
Susan exhaled slowly and smiled. “That is what he told me when he gave me this. And as you grew up, he said that it would be the same for you. It would happen in a moment and once you’d found the woman, you would hold fast.” She held out the ring for him to take. “I believe Elizabeth is that woman.”
He took it from her gingerly and stared at her. “It seems every time I try to tell her how I feel, I mess it up,” Jason admitted. “Yesterday, her mother told her that she would try to get us released from the marriage. The Queen does not find me suitable enough to control her daughter and she is now threatening to send her to a work camp.”
Susan gasped. “Her own mother?”
Jason nodded. “Elizabeth was devastated but—but she was trying not to show it as always. And she said that perhaps from my perspective, it was not bad news. That now I could find someone more suitable to marry.”
“She is stubborn. She has made her mind up that she will not be a good wife for you or a good mother to your children,” Susan informed him.
“I know—I told her that I did not want to find anyone else—that I wanted to marry her.” Jason sighed and pushed his fork around his plate. “And then she asked why.”
Susan closed her eyes. “What did you say?”
He frowned. “I thought—I told her that there were many reasons but the main one was because she understood me—understood that I am okay with my life as it is.”
She shook her head. “That was not the answer she was looking for.”
“Yes, I gathered that when she smiled that fake smile at me and left the room,” Jason remarked dryly. “But I don’t understand—what is it that she wanted to hear?”
“She does not want you tell what she wants to hear,” she tried to explain without injecting impatience into her tone. “She wants to know how you feel.”
“It has been five days since we laid eyes on each other, I cannot tell her that I love her.”
“Do you?” Susan asked simply. “Because if you do, I think that you should tell her for I doubt she hears it often, if she hears it all.” She stood. “You are marrying a very lovely girl, Jason; eventually you will have to learn to talk to her.”
Jason touched her arm. “Can you help me?”
Robin signed her name at the bottom of the letter and folded it carefully before sliding it into an envelope already addressed to her parents in Derwyn.
She heard a soft knock on her sitting room door. “Come in!” she called.
“Good morning, dear—you wanted to speak with me?” Barbara remarked. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” Robin stood and smiled faintly. “I’m writing to my parents see if I might take a short vacation with them. I think it will do me a bit of good to get away from Rhigwyn for a while.”
“Oh.” Barbara sighed uneasily. “Then I shall be alone for a time here.”
Robin touched her arm. “I’m sorry, Barbara. I didn’t realize…”
“No, no. It’s just that before you moved in, it was myself and Anthony and well—I’ve never lived alone.” She sighed. “It seems silly since you were going to be marrying Jason in six weeks but at least then you would be in the area…”
“Well—” Robin hesitated. “You know that I appreciate everything you have done for me, Barbara—but I cannot live here forever.”
“So many things are changing,” Barbara sighed. She shook her head. “Soon, you might not even recognize the people you leave behind.”
Robin frowned. “Barbara—are you feeling all right?” She touched her arm. “You’ve been acting strangely for the past few days. What’s wrong?”
Barbara cleared her throat. “Nothing you need to worry about. Why don’t you let me take that letter up to the meeting today? I believe Michael is planning on sending some people to Derwyn after the Dawning.”
“All right.” Robin handed her the letter. “Barbara—I think of you as an aunt. I hope you know that you can come to me if something is wrong.”
“Well…” Barbara smiled weakly. “I should get ready for the day. Excuse me, Robin.”
Summer held out her hand and wiggled her fingers. “I told him I did not need a ring but he gave it to me anyway!”
Her two best friends had been fawning over her for the past day since she’d announced her impending marriage and when Lucas had given her an engagement ring this morning, she had immediately sought them out in the room that Gia and Maximilliana shared in the palace.
Gia squealed and grabbed Summer’s hand. “This is the most romantic thing that I have ever heard of! It is such a large stone!”
Maximilliana Matthews nodded her agreement. “Kyle had a lovely proposal and I do so adore him but to be asked by the Captain of the King’s Guard…” she sighed dreamily.
“Why did you not tell us you were seeing him?” Gia scolded for what seemed like the thousandth time. “We could have been trusted.”
“He swore me to secrecy and I must admit it, the forbidden part of it had such a wonderful edge to it. But I am very thankful Lord Corinthos arranged for me to leave the job.”
Gia nodded and sat on her bed. “Lord Corinthos is a very intelligent man. Do you know that he has betrothed Jason Morgan to the Princess?”
“Is he not a peasant?” Maximilliana asked curiously. She took a brush from her vanity and started to brush through her long blonde hair. Though she was no more than a maid for the queen, she took great pride in her long honey blonde hair.
“He is Lady Davis’s nephew and his forefathers were Captains of the Guard once,” Gia corrected her. “I have never seen my lady smile so much. She loves him.”
“Do you know that I have never seen the Princess?” Summer said. “She nearly never comes out of her room—how could she have fallen in love with this man in a week?”
“That is what makes it so romantic,” Gia sighed. “He probably saw her and fell in love in an instant and decided he couldn’t live without her. I wonder what he had to do convince Lord Corinthos to break the betrothal between the Princess and Sir Lucas.”
“They did not meet until after the betrothal was broken,” Summer confided. “Lucky told me that Lord Corinthos broke the betrothal because of the Dawning.”
“The Aurora Dawning?” Gia asked. “Well—then that means…” her eyes grew wide. “Do you think that Jason Morgan and the Princess are…the chosen ones?”
“Well it must be,” Summer said logically. “It is not me and Lucky or we would have been told. And there is no way that the council would have approved a marriage between the crown princess and a farmer no matter who his aunt was.”
“Well, this is most exciting!” Maximilliana exclaimed. “And even more so romantic. I remember when the sky turned black—signifying that they had met. There were shooting stars.”
“So?” Gia asked. “What does have to do with anything?”
“If two people see a shooting star on the day that they meet, they will be in love forever,” Summer informed her. “That explains why the Princess is so in love with him. Do you think that he is in love with her?”
“I have only seen him once,” Gia admitted. “Tuesday morning.” She hesitated. “I will not be going with her when she moves to his home after the wedding.”
“Not going with her?” Maximilliana squeaked. “But you have been her maid since you were girls. How can she abandon you?”
“She feels that she cannot gain the respect of her future family if she brings a maid with her.” Gia sighed. “She has a point, but I am to look after the other Princess once the wedding is over and I am not comfortable with that idea.”
“Why not? Princess Emily seems to be nice,” Summer said.
“But I loathe the idea of getting used to another person. I wish that I could be married. You no longer work and will be a noble woman,” Gia said to Summer. “And once you and Kyle are married,” she turned to Maximilliana, “you will no longer work, yes?”
“If Kyle becomes the head groom at Lady Davis’s stables, no I will not,” Maximilliana replied. “Gia, you will meet someone someday. I am quite sure of it.”
Nikolas knocked lightly on his sister’s door. “Elizabeth? It is me.”
She pulled it open and he was surprised to see her already dressed for the day—her breakfast table cleared. “Good morning, Nikolas.”
He entered the room and looked at her oddly. “You are up rather early.”
“Not especially. Was there something that you needed?”
“I wished to tell you some good news.” He sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to him. She joined him and he smiled. “I came to see you yesterday but you were not here. When I left your room the night before last, Emily and I talked and she loves me just as I love her.”
“Oh…that is so wonderful!” Elizabeth threw her arms around her brother. “I am so happy for you.”
He kissed her cheek as he pulled away. “Now—I heard that the Morgans are staying with Lady Davis until the wedding. Have you spoken to Jason?”
Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. “We spoke yesterday. Twice—and you were right, Nikolas. About why he said what he did. He has had experience with a woman and he did not want to do anything to compromise me.”
“Well, then. He seems to be a respectable man. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
“Mother was by yesterday,” Elizabeth informed him. “She says that she is going to have the council release me from the marriage after the Dawning and send me to a convent.”
“She cannot do that—Michael will never agree,” Nikolas said firmly. “You must have a very good reason to release someone from a marriage and simply because the girl’s mother does not like the boy is not a good reason.”
“Jason and I brought the news to Michael last night and he said that if we wished to remain married, we would be.”
“Good. Michael is a good man, Elizabeth. He wants your happiness.”
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head, clearly unwilling to change her opinion about her uncle. “Jason said that he wanted to marry me, can you imagine that?”
“Of course I can imagine that. He is very lucky to even be in your presence much less being your husband and I do not mean because you are the Princess.”
Elizabeth smiled faintly. “Thank you, Nikolas, but I fear that you are biased.”
“Of course. I must be going—I have an appointment to meet my wife in the library and read with her.” Nikolas smiled and stood.
“I am very happy that things worked out for you and Emily, Nikolas. It is very gratifying to see someone get a happy ending.”
He took her hand in his and pulled her to her feet. “Do you love Jason, Elizabeth?”
She blinked. “I—I am not sure, Nikolas—”
“No, do not tell me that. Tell me the truth,” Nikolas pressed.
She smiled tremulously. “I think that I am. Y-yes, I do love him.”
Nikolas smiled again and kissed her cheek. “Then perhaps you will get your happy ending as well.”
Emily was at the entrance to the west wing when she heard a voice call out to her. She turned to see her mother-in-law approaching her. “Good morning, my lady,” Emily said politely.
“Emily, darling, I am so thankful that I was able to catch you this morning.” Mirielle smiled as wound her arm through her daughter-in-law’s and steered her away from the west wing.
“Was there something that you needed?” Emily asked, looking over her shoulder longingly. She and Nikolas had made an appointment to meet each other in the library and read to one another that morning and now it looked as though she would miss it.
“You and my son have been married for six months and yet you have not produced an heir,” Mirielle began. “Now—that is certainly no reason for alarm. You are young, my son is healthy. There is time yet. But six months of sharing the marital bed and no heir? Have you thought about seeing the sorcerer?”
“As you said, my lady, I am quite young and your son is quite healthy. We both feel as though we should concentrate on our marriage before having children,” Emily replied.
Mirielle laughed. “What is there to concentrate on? You are not wed to my son so that you may have a relationship with him. This is not a fairy tale, my dear Emily. You are to give him heirs, not love.”
Emily frowned. “But I do love your son and he loves me and we wish to be in love a little longer before we have children and we do not have as much time for each other.” She smiled. “I love the idea of having children but they can complicate things a little. I look forward to the complication, do not misunderstand me—I just would like more time with Nikolas.”
“Children do not need complicate things. You give birth to them, you hire a nanny and that is usually it. Where is the complication?” The Queen frowned. “And what is this nonsense about wanting more time with Nikolas?”
Emily stared at the queen. “I intend to raise my children and Nikolas intends to be a father. We do not simply want a family to further the lineage, though that is of course in our minds. We love each other and we want a family.” She pulled her arm from the woman’s grasp. “I know that you love nothing but your position but I want nothing more to be a wife and a mother. One day, I will be a queen and your son a king, but they will be secondary to my position as Nikolas’s wife and the mother of his children.”
“How dare you speak to me in this manner—” Mirielle protested, outraged.
“No—how dare you speak to me in this manner,” Emily retorted. “You treat your daughter like a leper for reasons I do not know and your son as though he is nothing more than a prince. I am not a brood mare. I am a person and I demand to be treated as such. If you are determined to be this cold and heartless, perhaps you should avoid speaking to me in the future.”
Emily turned and walked away, her head held high leaving the queen in a sputtering rage.
Jason found his sister seated at a window seat, staring out over the meadow in the back of the house. “Good afternoon, sister. How do you like your stay at Aunt Alexis’s home so far?”
She smiled as her brother sat next to him. “Is it wrong to say that while I miss home, I love it here? I can see the village from the house and there are so many shops and buildings, Jason. Can you imagine how many people must live there?”
“Since I pass through it each day to visit the palace, yes I can.” He hesitated. “Chloe, you are fifteen.”
“Yes,” Chloe said. She was tempted to make a joke but she could see that he was about to say something serious.
“I think that you are looking for a future—perhaps—a husband?” Jason questioned.
Chloe hesitated. “I wish to marry one day, Jason. I know that other girls are often married at sixteen but I do not want to be one of those girls. The Princess is nineteen, I feel that perhaps that is a better age for settling down.”
Jason nodded. “I agree. But you will find that with my marriage to Elizabeth, there will be possibilities open to you—and to Alexander—that were not before.”
“Mother told me about the university. That Alexander no longer has to pay and I think that’s wonderful but how could I benefit?” Chloe asked.
“We will no longer need a dowry for you. There will be men falling over their feet hoping to marry the sister-in-law to the princess.”
Chloe’s eyes widened. “Do you mean that? I could have my choice from many?”
“Yes—but I fear that you are so young and sheltered in some ways. I was wondering—Alexander is moving to the village when he begins the university in the fall. He will be living with Alexis and I wonder—if you might want to stay with her as well?”
“Really?” Chloe’s eyes lit up. “Could you get Mother to agree with that?”
“I think that I could. There is a whole world beyond our farm, Chloe. I am content to stay there and raise my family but you and Alexander do not have to make that choice.”
Chloe smiled and cast her gaze down, already imagining her life here. She then noticed one of Alexis’s picnic baskets was resting on the floor next to Jason. “What are you doing with that?”
“I—I was on my way out when I saw you here. I’m going to meet with Elizabeth,” Jason informed her.
Chloe smiled brightly. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, really. Why does that make you smile? I thought that you did not like her.”
“I never said I didn’t,” Chloe said surprised. “I agree that I treated her badly that day she was out at our home but the second she risked her life yesterday morning to save ours—she gained my respect Jason and I can see that she makes you smile. I like her just fine.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You’re a good brother, Jason. And you’re going to make a wonderful husband.”
Caroline rubbed her eyes and turned another dusty page in the volume of the genealogical book she was studying.
Across the council table, Skye and Jasper were talking in lowered tones about something—she wasn’t sure she cared what it was. Barbara had asked Michael to be removed from this project and he had agreed—reassigning AJ to it.
The Quartermaine heir had yet to appear.
A single long-stemmed red rose dropped onto the pages of her book and she looked at it for a moment, wondering if her mind was playing tricks on her. After a moment, she slowly lifted her eyes to see AJ standing there, with an armful of the flowers.
“What—what are you doing?” she asked softly.
AJ glanced at Skye and Jasper (out of the corner of his eye) who were now looking at him with obvious interest. He decided to ignore them and continue with his prepared speech. “I am an idiot,” he declared.
Wisely, Caroline kept her agreement to herself hoping he would get to the brunt of the joke quickly.
“I said things that I wish I could take back,” AJ continued and he set another flower next to the first. “Each one of these roses represents a mean and hateful thing that I have said to you. I counted,” he added.
He set the rest on top of the book and she found herself staring at them, her mouth agape. For the life of her—she could not imagine what joke he could possibly be making.
“You are a beautiful woman and Jason Morgan was a fool to let you go,” AJ told her. “But if I should be as lucky, I would not make the same mistake.”
She looked at him sharply. “What exactly are you trying to pull here?” she demanded.
“Nothing—I am trying to apologize, Caroline and to make amends—”
“You do not have a sincere bone in your body, AJ Quartermaine. I am not stupid and do not wish to be treated as such. Whatever it is you are up to, I will discover it,” Caroline promised. She stood and left the room.
“Where are we going?” Elizabeth asked as Jason led them through a thicket of trees. He’d shown up at her door twenty minutes previous, a basket in hand and asked her to spend the afternoon with him.
As was becoming her custom, she left word with Gia to cover for her if her mother were to drop by for a visit and followed him without question but now she had to wonder if he even knew where they were going.
“We’re here,” Jason said as he pulled her into a clearing. “My aunt told me about this place before I left her house.”
Elizabeth nodded and watched as he opened the basket he’d brought with him and took out a light blanket to spread over the ground. “What is that for?” she asked curiously.
He knelt down and began unpacking the food from the basket. “My mother packed us some food. Have you never been on a picnic?”
“I’ve never eaten outside of the palace,” Elizabeth admitted. She kneeled down and arranged her skirt around her legs. “Why would one eat outside where there are insects and wild animals?”
“When my mother would take us out like this—she would put a charm over the area where we were eating to repel such things. She suggested you might try it.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. I do not use my powers.” She stared down at the red and white plaid pattern of the blanket.
“You do not know how,” Jason corrected. He took her hand and showed her what his mother had told him. “Just wave it like this and close your eyes—imagine a bubble over the area.”
She looked at him skeptically but did as he asked. When she opened her eyes, she frowned. “How do we know if it worked?”
He narrowed his eyes and looked at her thoughtfully. “You know…I did not ask my mother that.” After a moment, he shrugged and handed her the cloth-wrapped cheese and bread his mother had packed for her.
Elizabeth took it with some hesitation. “Why did you want to spend the afternoon with me?” she asked curiously.
“Why do I need a reason?” Jason asked instead.
She studied him for a moment but could not find any hidden motives in his eyes. She set the napkin down and reached into the pocket of her skirt and took out Morgan.
Jason smirked. “You brought the cat?”
Elizabeth set the kitten on the blanket and fed her a piece of cheese. “She gets lonely in the room by herself. She already has every crevice explored and when a cat gets restless, she finds something to do and no one can know she is inside the room.”
Morgan lost interest in the cheese quickly and pranced over to Jason, proceeding to climb into his lap. “She looks fatter than she did just a few days ago,” he observed.
“I have probably been spoiling her.” Elizabeth leaned over and scratched her behind the ears. “Yesterday, she got into my paints and left blue paw-prints all over my bedroom floor.”
“Someone will not ask about those?” Jason asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. “No one goes in there—just my sitting room. Jason—I really—I really love her. I do not know that I can ever thank you enough for her.”
“We have so many cats out at our place, one was hardly missed,” Jason admitted. “I glad she has got such a loving owner.” He cleared his throat. “My mother says that my sister will make a good mother because she is always out in the barn taking care of the kittens and puppies. Feeding them, cleaning them…”
“A kitten is hardly a child,” Elizabeth said sadly. “A child—especially when he is young—requires so much attention, patience and love…”
Jason lifted Morgan out of his lap and placed her on the blanket between them. “Elizabeth—yesterday, when we spoke I think that I said the wrong thing again.”
“When?” Elizabeth removed a piece of string from her pocket and dangled it in front of the kitten who immediately leapt up at it.
“When you asked me why I wished to marry you.”
Elizabeth yanked her eyes off the cat, momentarily ceasing the dangling of the string. Morgan, unprepared for actually catching the string got her claws wrapped around it and was suspended in air for a moment. “You did not say anything wrong.” She cleared her throat. “I asked a question that was not very fair and you answered it.”
“Yes—but it was not the answer you were looking for,” Jason insisted.
“No,” Elizabeth admitted softly. “But I cannot fault you for answering me honestly.” She kept her eyes on the kitten as Morgan lost interest in the string and curled up in a ball to take a nap.
“It was an honest answer, yes, but it was not a complete answer.” Jason inhaled deeply and paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “You are—you are very beautiful, Elizabeth. Extraordinarily beautiful in fact and you have such a kind and compassionate nature.” He reached into the pocket of his pants and kept his palm tightly closed when he withdrew it.
Elizabeth drew in a sharp and shaky breath. “Jason—”
“My mother and my father were married for nineteen years at the time of his death and I—I had never seen two people more in love. Granted, I was not exposed to many other married couples—” Jason shook his head. “They did not meet until they said their vows—they were an arranged marriage.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Many marriages are.”
“My father told me often that the moment he laid eyes on my mother, he knew he would love her for the rest of his life. He told me that some men are like that—and others need more time. Not time to fall in love, but to realize that they had,” Jason explained.
Understanding the direction this conversation seemed to be going, Elizabeth’s throat dried up and she could only nod and gesture for him to continue.
“This morning, my mother told me that my father said that I would be in the first group but I believe that it is more of the second. She…she wore this ring every day from the moment my father gave it to her until the day that he died.” He opened his palm to reveal the small silver ring. “It is not her wedding ring—my father told her that one represented his vows to her but this represented his love for her.”
“Your father sounds like he was a wonderful man,” Elizabeth managed to say, both surprised and pleased that her voice was even.
“He was the best.” Jason hesitated. “My mother was saving this ring for me to give to the woman I was going to marry. When she gave it to me this morning, I was planning on waiting for the wedding to give it to you but I think that I am going to do what my father did.”
Elizabeth glanced down at the ring before looking back at him. “What do you mean?”
He reached for her hand and slid the ring onto her finger. His mother had resized it herself to fit Elizabeth’s hands. “In two days, I will put another ring on this finger and it will represent the promises I will make then but this one represents the way that I feel about you.”
“A-and how d-d you feel about me?” Elizabeth asked, slightly terrified of the answer. The metal of the ring felt strangely cold against her flushed skin. She searched his eyes.
“I was hoping that you would not ask because I do not know if you are ready to hear it,” Jason admitted. “But since you have…” He cleared his throat. “Well—see…okay…I—I…” he hesitated. “I love you, Elizabeth.”
Breathing was no longer an option. Elizabeth blinked at him. “Jason,” she breathed. “You—do you really mean that?”
“Yes,” Jason replied, feeling a bit better that her immediate reaction was not to laugh at him for being so silly though he didn’t really think that would have happened.
“No one—no one has ever said that to me before,” she whispered. “I—” She swallowed hard. “I’m not exactly sure how to respond.”
“Well—under ordinary circumstances, you would usually…say it back or—let me down gently or you know—we could forget that I said anything—”
His out of character ramblings were abruptly cut off by the feel of her smooth fingers pressing against his lips. “I never want to forget that you said it,” Elizabeth told him softly. “It is just—I never imagined that anyone would want to say it to me. I was often told that no one could ever feel that for me.”
“They were wrong,” Jason said quickly. He leaned forward and kissed the corner of her mouth lightly, just grazing her skin really.
“Say it again,” Elizabeth breathed, closing her eyes.
“Why?” Jason asked amused.
Jason touched the side of her face and smoothed his fingers over her jaw line. “I love you, Elizabeth,” he repeated.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him, the expression lighting her whole face up. “I love you, too,” Elizabeth admitted shyly.
Without a second thought, Jason closed the distance between them and kissed her. It was different than the other day. She’d asked him to kiss her then out of pure curiosity.
But this—this was so different. Elizabeth’s eyes widened as Jason’s kiss was almost forceful compared to their first. When the tip of his tongue pressed against her lips, she hesitantly parted them to allow him entry.
Jason seemed to sense her confusion and scaled the kiss back. He didn’t end it though. He gentled his touch and tried to coax her into a more active role.
Elizabeth slid her hand from the base of his neck into his hair and closed her eyes. When his tongue slid into her mouth, she tentatively rubbed hers against his, moaning at the delicious sensations the movement sent down her spine.
Jason skimmed his hand down her back and gently lowered her to the blanket, covering her with his much larger frame.
Elizabeth instinctively parted her thighs to cradle him there. Jason’s mouth left hers and roamed over her throat, nipping here and there until he came to the neckline of her dress.
She didn’t even realize she’d unbuttoned the top half of Jason’s shirt until her hands hit the smooth warm skin of his chest. She pushed it off his shoulders, reveling in the way the muscles rippled beneath her fingers.
He sat up abruptly, his chest heaving, his breathing shallow. He raked his hands through his hair. “We—we cannot do that again.”
Elizabeth shakily sat up and smoothed hands over her wrinkled dress. She nodded. “Right. It is not appropriate out of marriage,” she remarked dully.
“No—well, no it is not,” Jason admitted. “But I do not think that would have bothered me right at this moment. It is not why I stopped.”
Elizabeth hesitated. “Because of the Dawning,” she realized, closing her eyes. “What takes place that night must be the consummation of a holy union,” she recited. “I did—I was not thinking.” She pressed a hand to her cheek, still flushed from their intimate encounter.
“I was just—” Jason shook his head. “We should be more careful, Elizabeth.”
She nodded. “Yes. We should be. But I remind you that it was you who kissed me,” she said with a smile.
“True,” Jason admitted. He reached out and grazed his fingertips against her neck, where he’d left evidence of his mouth. “I left marks,” he realized with a start.
She frowned and glanced down. Her neck was red all over but in a few spots, it was darker. “Will they not go away?”
“In time but you might want to speed the process. I doubt that you would like everyone to know that we came close—to well…came close,” he fumbled. “Just put your hand over them and imagine that they are gone,” he explained at her blank look.
She did so and was pleased to see it had worked. Jason had shifted back to the other side of the blanket. “Jason?” she asked hesitantly.
He unwrapped another napkin with cheese. “Yes?”
“I—” Elizabeth paused. “Perhaps this is another one of those things that is inappropriate outside of marriage but I—” She paused again. “The night of the wedding when we are expected to…” Her cheeks were even warmer now. “I—I have read books and my brother—well, he has told me next to nothing and you said that you h-had experience—”
“Elizabeth, what is it you are trying to say?” Jason asked.
“Well…” she exhaled slowly. “I am trying to ask what happens.”
“What happens?” Jason repeated. “You mean—no one has even spoken to you of this?”
“N-never mind,” Elizabeth said hastily. “I should not have brought it up.”
“Elizabeth…” Jason hesitated. “Perhaps you should tell me what you already know,” he told her.
“Well…I know the m-mechanics of it,” Elizabeth stammered. “That we—we—I do—I do not…” She closed her eyes. “I am really trying to ask how it feels, I suppose.”
“It is different with everyone, I suspect. With—my one time…” Jason took a deep breath. “The woman—there was some pain at first,” he admitted. “But it went way and after that—it seemed to go all right.”
“All right?” Elizabeth echoed, disappointed. “Is that all?”
Jason hesitated. “Elizabeth,” he began, “it is not appropriate to be having this conversation. Perhaps I should take you home—”
“No,” Elizabeth interrupted. “I—I am sorry. I will not bring it up again. I was only curious.” She glanced down at her lap. “I warned you that I often forget my place. We have spoken of so many things—I thought that we could speak of anything. But—I am sorry.”
“No, it is me who should be apologizing.” He shook his head. “You have no place when you are with me, Elizabeth. We can speak of anything. I just—I am not sure how to speak of this. You see—I never have before.” He hesitated. “I suppose blunt honesty would be the way to go.”
Elizabeth nodded hesitantly. “All right.”
“I suppose you could at least surmise the woman was Caroline,” Jason admitted. “It was just once—I had made the decision to propose to her on her twenty-third birthday. We were in her hayloft one day—she was showing me something, I cannot remember now what it was and I kissed her and it really just happened. Almost the way it did today. You see, Elizabeth, I had convinced myself that I was love in with her.”
“You were not?” Elizabeth asked, surprised. “But you were to marry her.”
“It was convenient. She was an only child. The farm would become hers upon her parents’ death and as such, mine. I cared for her very much, Elizabeth, I do not want you to think that I am uncaring person.”
“I do not think so at all,” she assured him.
“When she made the decision to go to the council, she assumed that I would go with her. Quite the way I assumed she would give that up and remain with me. Neither of us was willing to budge and so we parted ways.” He cut a slice of cheese and ate it, mulling over his next words. How could he say them without sounding truly heartless?
He decided to speak the truth, as he had promised her. “The truth is, Elizabeth, that at the time—the act was very—pleasurable. I thought that it could not have…felt better. But I was wrong.”
“When did you discover that?” she asked curiously.
“Two days ago, when you asked me to kiss you. That is the real reason that I said those things. Because in that simple embrace, I felt more love and passion than I had ever felt for Caroline.”
Elizabeth blinked. “You did?” She shook her head. “That is impossible.”
“Why?” he asked with a frown. “I know how I felt, Elizabeth. You cannot say that I do not.”
“You hardly knew me two days ago.” She hesitated. “You hardly know me now. And for that matter, I hardly know you. What if this is all just part of the Dawning—what if all of these feelings disappear when it is over?”
The thought had not occurred to him before and he leaned back, surprised that he had not considered it. He was not an impulsive person and yet—a mere five days after meeting this woman, he proclaimed his love for her? Did that not sound insane?
His silence led her to believe that he had not only considered her question, but thought that she was right. She whimpered and picked Morgan in her arms. “I should return home before someone comes looking for me.”
“Elizabeth.” Jason reached for her but she stood and slid the kitten into her pocket, ignoring the animal’s mewing protests.
“I had a very nice afternoon. Thank you for speaking with me so candidly.”
By the time Jason got to his feet, Elizabeth had already disappeared into the thicket of trees. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the hurt and distrust he had seen reflected in her beautiful sapphire eyes.
“My Lord, you requested to speak with me?”
Michael waved the young man into his sitting rooms. “Yes. You were assigned to follow Jason Morgan until after his wedding in two days, am I correct?”
Brian Beck nodded and shifted uncomfortably “Yes, My Lord.”
“Well, today was your first day on this assignment; I was hoping you could give me a report.” Michael sat at his table and peered up at the younger man.
“He stayed in his aunt’s house most of the morning before leaving for the palace in the early afternoon. He took the Princess on picnic lunch,” Brian’s cheeks reddened. “The two talked for nearly two hours before she left. Jason Morgan then returned to his aunt’s house where he remains, sir.”
“There is something that you are not telling me, Mr. Beck,” Michael told him. He rubbed his chin. “What is it?”
“My Lord, it is of a personal nature,” Brian admitted. “I am not sure that it is anyone’s business but their own.”
“The Princess is my niece. Anything that concerns her concerns me.”
“Well, I suppose you have a point. They talked before—well, My Lord, Jason Morgan kissed her—and she did not stop him. I believe that they nearly—” Brian hesitated. “They stopped before it went too far, My Lord.”
Michael closed his eyes and nodded. “Thank you. You may go.”
When he heard the door click shut, he sighed deeply. Perhaps he should have a conversation with his niece. He doubted that his sister had discussed this subject with her and if it had to be him, well then so be it.
Alexis entered her small private library and found Jason reading a book in the corner. “I did not expect to find you here. What are you reading?”
“I found a book on social etiquette,” Jason held it up to show her title. “I thought it might be useful.”
She nodded and took a seat next to him on the sofa. “This was delivered by royal messenger a few moments ago. It is from the Princess.”
He took the envelope from her and removed the note first. In Elizabeth’s feminine script, a message was scrawled. I have no need of this.
He frowned and looked inside the envelope again, his heart sinking when he retrieved the ring he’d given her only hours before.
“What is that?” Alexis asked curiously. She leaned forward. “It looks like your mother’s ring.”
“She gave it to me this morning,” Jason said quietly, rolling the tiny ring between his thumb and index finger. “I gave it to Elizabeth today and now she sent it back.”
“I thought things were going well between the two of you,” Alexis remarked. “What happened?”
“We—we were discussing something and she asked me a very curious question. Over the last few days, Aunt Alexis—we have become—it has been going better than well between us,” Jason stammered. “I love her and she loves me.”
“What did she ask you then?” Alexis asked, elated by her nephew’s revelation.
“If our feelings were created by the Dawning and what would we do if they disappeared after it was over.” He sighed. “I am not an impulsive person nor do I tend to jump into things headfirst but Elizabeth—how can I have fallen in love with her in five days span?”
“If it makes you feel a bit better, we have no account of any of the chosen claiming to have lost feelings after the night is over. If you feel as though you love her, then you just might. Jason, she has been through such a difficult life. Do not say those words to her again unless you are positive.”
“I want to give her life that she wants,” Jason told his aunt. “Where she is free to paint, sit outside in the sun for hours upon end. I want her to have the freedom she has never known. I want her to have all the kittens and puppies and animals that her heart desires but—I also want her to love me and I suppose part of me is—is scared that she is right. That it might be the Dawning affecting us and not our own hearts. I like the way that I am feeling, Aunt Alexis, and I do not want to lose it.”
“I do not believe that you will,” Alexis murmured. “Give her the night to be by herself. You both need a little time to yourselves and tomorrow—go see her and discover if you cannot come to some sort of agreement.” She stood and kissed his forehead. “But for the record, Nephew, I want you to know that when you speak of her, your entire face lights up. I have never seen you look this way before but she makes you happy, Jason. Such a feeling cannot be false.”
Oh how I love Emily. she rocks. Poor Liz no one has given her the “talk” now her uncle whom she doesn’t like is going to. and poor Jason, he doesn’t talk much and she is asking such personal questions that any guy, let alone Jason would have a hard time answering.
Love this story