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“. . . It’s me?”

“Of course it’s you.”

I was speechless. I laughed in shock and started giving him kisses and giggling between each one. Maxon, so pleased with the affection, took every kiss and laughed along with me.

“We’re getting married?” I yelled, kissing him again.

“Yes, we’re getting married.” He chuckled and let me attack him in my excitement. I realized then that I was in his lap. I didn’t remember getting there.

I kissed him on and on . . . and somewhere in there the laughing stopped. After a while, the smiling dwindled. The kisses turned from playful to something much deeper. When I pulled away and looked into his eyes, they were intense, focused.

Maxon held me close, and I could feel his heart racing against my chest. Guided by a deep hunger for him, I pushed his suit coat down his back, and he helped me as best as he could while holding on to me. I let my shoes fall to the floor, thudding a little song on their way down. I felt Maxon’s legs shift underneath me as he slipped his off as well.

Without breaking our kiss, he lifted me, crawling deeper onto the bed and laying me down gently somewhere near the middle. His lips traveled down my neck as I loosened his tie, throwing it somewhere near our shoes.

“You’re breaking a lot of rules, Miss Singer.”

“You’re the prince. You can just pardon me.”

He chuckled darkly, his lips at my throat, my ear, my cheek. I untucked his shirt, fumbling with the buttons. He helped with the last few, sitting up to toss it aside. The last time I’d seen Maxon without his shirt on, I didn’t get to really appreciate it because of the circumstance. But now . . .

I ran my fingers lightly down his stomach, admiring how strong he was. When my hand got to his belt, I gripped it and pulled him back down. He came willingly, dragging a hand up my leg, resting it comfortably on my thigh underneath the layers of my dress.

I was going crazy, wanting so much more of him, aching to know if he’d let me have it. Without even thinking, I reached around and dug my fingers into his back.

Immediately, he stopped kissing me, pulling back to look at me.

“What?” I whispered, terrified to break this moment.

“Does it . . . does it repulse you?” he asked nervously.

“What do you mean?”

“My back.”

I ran a hand down his cheek, staring directly into his eyes, wanting to leave him with no doubt about how I felt.

“Maxon, some of those marks are on your back so they wouldn’t be on mine, and I love you for them.”

He stopped breathing for a second. “What did you say?”

I smiled. “I love you.”

“One more time, please? I just—”

I took his face in both of my hands. “Maxon Schreave, I love you. I love you.”

“And I love you, America Singer. With all that I am, I love you.”

He kissed me again, and I let my hands move to his back, and this time he didn’t pause. He moved his hands beneath me, and I felt his fingers playing with the back of my dress.

“How many damn buttons does this thing have?” he complained.

“I know! It’s—”

Maxon sat up, placing his hands along the bust line of my dress. With one firm pull, he ripped my dress down the front, exposing the slip underneath.

There was a charged silence as Maxon took that in. Slowly, his eyes returned to mine. Without breaking that contact, I sat up, sliding the sleeves of my dress down my back. It took a little bit of work to get it all off; and, by the end of it, Maxon and I were kneeling on my bed, my hardly covered chest pressed to his, kissing slowly.

I wanted to stay up all night with him, to explore this new feeling we’d discovered. It felt as if everything else in the world was gone . . . until we heard a crash in the hall. Maxon stared at the door, seeming to expect it to burst open at any second. He was tense, more frightened than I’d ever seen him.

“It’s not him,” I whispered. “It’s probably one of the girls stumbling to her room, or a maid cleaning something. It’s okay.”

He finally released a breath I didn’t see he was holding and fell back onto the bed. He draped an arm over his eyes, frustrated or exhausted or maybe both.

“I can’t, America. Not like this.”

“But it’s okay, Maxon. We’re safe here.” I lay down beside him, cuddling onto his free shoulder.

He shook his head. “I want to let all the walls down with you. You deserve that. And I can’t now.” He looked over to me. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” But I couldn’t hide my disappointment.

“Don’t be sad. I want to take you on a proper honeymoon. Someplace warm and private. No duties, no cameras, no guards.” He wrapped his arms around me. “It will be so much better that way. And I can really spoil you.”

It didn’t sound so bad to wait when he put it that way, but as always, I pushed back. “You can’t spoil me, Maxon. I don’t want anything.”

We were nose to nose by then. “Oh, I know. I don’t intend on giving you things. Well,” he amended, “I do intend on giving you things, but that’s not what I mean. I’m going to love you more than any man has ever loved a woman, more than you ever dreamed you could be loved. I promise you that.”

The kisses that followed were sweet and hopeful, like our first ones. I could feel it, the promise he’d just made, starting now. And I was afraid and excited by the possibility of being loved so much.



“Would you stay with me tonight?” I asked. Maxon raised an eyebrow, and I giggled. “I’ll behave, I promise. Just . . . would you sleep here?”

He looked to the ceiling, debating. Finally he caved. “I will. But I’ll need to leave early.”



Maxon took off his pants and socks, neatly stacking his clothes so they wouldn’t be too wrinkled in the morning. He crawled back into the bed, snuggling up with his stomach against my back. One of his arms he laced under my neck and the other he gently wrapped around me.

I loved my bed at the palace. The pillows were like clouds, and the mattress cradled me into it. I was never too warm or too cold under my covers, and the feeling of my nightgown against my skin was almost as if I was wearing air.

But I’d never felt so settled as I did with Maxon’s arms around me.

He placed a gentle kiss behind my ear. “Sleep well, my America.”


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