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He worked to smooth out the deepening line between his brows. “Nothing.”

“Jared,” I warned. I became impatient very quickly when he kept things from me, and he seemed to be taking that risk more frequently.

He sighed. “I was hoping your answer would be different, that’s al .”

“Different how?” I asked.

“I was hoping that you would say you saw yourself married this time next year,” he said quietly.

“Oh,” I said, sheepish.

“I’m trying very hard to be patient about this,” he said, his voice suddenly strained. “I don’t understand why you’re putting it off.” He chuckled nervously. “I thought we’d be married by now.” His eyes were stil bright, but I could hear the edge of worry in his voice.

“We’ve discussed this, Jared. A lot. I don’t have time to plan a wedding right now. It’s not that I’m putting it off, I’ve just got a lot on my plate is al ,” I said, twisting my ring around my finger.

Jared rested his hand on mine. “I know you do. But it doesn’t have to be an elaborate event. We’re engaged, we’re living together…is there a problem I should be aware of?”

“Of course not,” I smiled. “I just need a little more time.”

Jared’s contrived smile didn’t hide the heavy disappointment in his eyes, but I pretended not to notice. I wanted to marry him more than anything, but I wanted to do it right. I certainly didn’t want to feel rushed to get home from our honeymoon because of chapters to study, papers to write, or learning how to run another department of Jack’s company.

“A year is a reasonable engagement. Two years is….” he trailed off, clearly vexed by the idea of waiting another year.

“We won’t have a two year engagement, Jared,” I assured him.

“So you’re going to settle on a date sometime this year?” he asked, hopeful. The look in his eyes made it impossible to say anything but yes.

“I wil . I just have to find time to plan a wedding between twenty hours of school and Titan.” I felt my expression compress as I thought about the ramifications of my statement.

Jared looked ahead, his eyes tightening with focus. “I wil find time. I wil create time if I have to.”

“Wel , you do have Divine connections. I’m sure you could make that happen,” I teased. I peered up the giant tree, squinting from the sunshine poking through the leaves. The branches swayed with the breeze, and I smiled. “I love it here.”

“Good. I do, too.”

“It’s so amazing that Gabe brought Lil ian to this exact spot.” My eyes lingered on the rudimentary heart and initials of Jared’s parents, and then on the elegant details of the vines and leaves inside the heart with our initials inside. I looked back to Jared’s glowing blue-grey eyes. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

“Just get my fiancé to actual y marry me,” he said, winking.

I pressed my lips together into a tight line. “I said I’d set a date.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Jared said, raising an eyebrow.

“Is that a chal enge?”

“Whatever works,” Jared grinned.

“I promise. I’ll set a date.”

“Within the next ten years?” he asked playful y.

“I’ll set a date for this year,” I said, stubbornly raising my chin.

“This year,” Jared repeated, dubious.

“Did you think I was kidding when I said yes?”

“No. I just didn’t realize when you said yes that you meant someday.” His tone was lighthearted, but I felt a twinge of guilt in my chest. Jared immediately reacted. “I’m kidding, sweetheart,” he said, tucking my hair behind my ear. Instead of the ends of my hair wrapping around the bottom of my ear like it used to, it brushed against my shoulder.

I looked down, picking at my fingernails. “I know, but it’s true. You didn’t expect a long engagement.”

“Wel , I assumed maybe a year with everything happening so fast. But when the year came and went and you never so much as mentioned it….”

“Oh. You think it’s not important to me,” I said, my face feeling hot.

“I didn’t say that,” he quickly backpedaled.

I looked up at him under my lashes. “But that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Wel ,” he hesitated, “you do tend to insinuate that there are other things you’d rather focus on. I understand, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed. It was my idea after al ,” he grinned, kissing my forehead.

I slowly crawled into his lap. “I love you, Jared Ryel. There is nothing I want more than to be your wife. I promise to get right to work on that date, okay?”

Jared beamed. “Thank you.” His lips traveled to mine, but quickly pul ed away. “You’d better keep this to yourself. I think mom has final y accepted that no amount of encouragement on her part is going to produce a wedding. It’s probably best to let her think you have other things on your mind.”

“Good plan,” I said, leaning him back against the blanket.

He smiled. “Speaking of Lil ian…she invited us to dinner. Apparently, she has a surprise.”

“A surprise….” I trailed off. “Do you know what it is?”

Jared shook his head. “Not a clue.”

I looked at my watch. “We’d better get going if we’re going to wash up and make dinner.”

Jared stood up and brought me with him. We rol ed the blanket and I fastened it to the back of Jared's motorcycle, and then we made a quick stop at the loft, trading the bike for the Escalade.

After a quick stop at Cynthia’s, Jared drove us to his mother’s. We had been to Lil ian’s more than enough times for me to get past the night of the invasion, but no matter how many times we made a visit, an overwhelming sick feeling stil came over me as we pul ed into the drive.

“No need to be nervous,” Jared said.

“I’m not. I’m starting to wonder if it’s post-traumatic stress,” I said with a half-smile.

Jared didn’t share my humor over the subject. “It’s a possibility,” he said as he opened the passenger door.