“What happened to it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Honestly, this island has been through so much turmoil, it got lost at some point—perhaps when the Elders took over and many of the penthouses got destroyed.”
“Well, we’ll just have to design a new one,” I said.
I fetched a notepad and pen. My mother and I spent the next half hour sketching out ideas before we finally came up with the final design.
She beamed at me. “Let’s take this to Corrine… and then we need to start spreading the word to make sure more people than just your father and I show up.”
￼￼￼￼Chapter 38: Caleb
“Theon?” I called up, stopping in my tracks and looking him over.
He bowed his head slightly, his amber-gold eyes fixed on me.
“What brings you here?” I asked, moving closer.
“I’d like to speak with you,” he said, his voice calm.
I climbed up the steps to the porch and stopped a few feet away from him. “I’m listening.”
“That one’s special,” he said.
There was a pause as I wondered what exactly his angle was. “Yes,” I said. “Rose is special.”
“There aren’t many like her.”
“There certainly aren’t,” I replied, holding his gaze steadily. You’re preaching to the choir, dragon.
“I trust you will treat her right.”
I frowned at him. “I’m not sure I understand the purpose of your visit.”
Closing the small distance between us, he motioned to touch my shoulder but stopped, his hand hovering midair. “May I?”
I looked from his hand to his face. Then shrugged.
He closed his hand over my shoulder. As we were practically the same height, his eyes were level with mine as they stared straight at me.
Of all the crazy experiences I’d had in my long life, this turned into one of the most bizarre. His pupils dilated and the amber of his irises became more brilliant. Although I had no intention of breaking eye contact, I had a strange feeling that I couldn’t have averted my gaze even if I had wanted to. The intensity of his stare felt like he was digging a hole right through my pupils and carving out a tunnel through to my soul.
But whatever he was trying to see in me, I wasn’t afraid. He could challenge me about my worthiness of Rose’s love, but I knew what I felt for her. I had nothing to hide. He could rip right through to my soul and he would see that I held nothing but devotion for that woman.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed, but it felt like at least five minutes before his eyes dimmed to their former color and he let go of my shoulder. He stepped away from me, though he still held my gaze.
Silence fell between us as I looked back at him, unflinching.
“Well?” I said. “Did you see all that you wanted to see?”
“I saw more than enough,” he said quietly. “But, admittedly, it was not what I’d hoped to see… Vampire, you have a strong heart. Stronger than I’d thought. If there is anyone deserving of that woman other than a dragon, it is you.”
He stepped back further, moving toward the steps.
“I bow out, with respect.” Without another word, he turned on his heel and strode off down the mountain.
I remained staring in his direction long after he’d disappeared, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
Still unsure of whether there was anything to draw from the experience, or perhaps even some reason to feel offended by it, I turned my back on the night and entered the cabin.
Whatever the case, even if nothing else, it would make a good tale to tell our children one day. That I had passed the test of the artist of romance, the dragon prince himself.
￼￼￼￼Chapter 39: Rose
Corrine was over the moon to work on my dress. We spent the rest of the day fixing my outfit, making arrangements for the venue, and then organizing invitations. All throughout, I kept thinking back to what Caleb was doing, but I didn’t have much time to ponder.
I would’ve loved to go personally around the island to invite everyone, but instead Ashley, Becky, Abby and a few other classmates offered to do it. Rumors spread like wildfire among my peers, so I wasn’t worried about the message making its way around the island.
Once I had finished all the tasks that I needed to be directly involved in, my mother returned with me to the penthouse. I washed off the subtle makeup we had applied during the dress rehearsal, and then my mother took me to my room and tucked me into bed, as she used to do when I was a child.
“Sweet dreams, my darling,” she said, planting a kiss on my cheek.
“Good night, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
She gave me a watery smile before retreating out of the room. As her footsteps disappeared, I could have sworn that I heard a sob.
I tossed and turned that night, trying to fall asleep. My mind was just so alert. I was thinking about all the things that we had discussed today, and how everything was going to go tomorrow. But more than anything, I was thinking of Ben. How he should be sleeping in his bed further along the corridor. How I would have barged into his dark room early in the morning to wish him a happy birthday. How my mother would have cooked us both our favorite breakfast.
How he would miss my wedding.
Perhaps that had been the cause of my mother’s sob.
* * *
The next morning went by so fast I could barely believe it. Before I knew it, I was staring at myself in the mirror, dressed in a gorgeous white gown that covered my feet, my hair flowing down my shoulders in soft curls.