“I didn’t arrange this marriage,” Finn said incredulously.
“But you think I should marry him, and you’ve done nothing to stop it.” I shrugged. “You might as well have arranged it yourself.”
I wiped at my eyes, and he didn’t say anything. I lay down on my bed and rolled over so my back was to him. After a few minutes, I heard him walk away and the door shut behind him.
Sara Elsing, Queen of the Vittra, was set to arrive at three the next afternoon to collect Loki Staad, so the morning was filled with a series of defense meetings. I attended with Tove, Aurora Kroner, Garrett Strom, the Chancellor, and a select few trackers, like Finn and his father.
Elora was noticeably absent. She didn’t have the strength for it, and she wouldn’t be able to regain her strength until after Loki left.
When we stopped for lunch, Tove invited me to join him, but I declined. I liked Tove as much as I always had, but I felt weird around him knowing that we were expected to marry.
Also, I wanted to get in a moment alone with Loki before he left. It might be the last chance I ever got to speak with him.
This time, I didn’t use Duncan to do my dirty work. I sent the guards away myself. They protested, but with an icy glare I reminded them I was the Princess. I didn’t care if anyone talked about it. Loki was leaving anyway. There would be nothing left to gossip about.
“Ooo, I love it when you’re feisty,” Loki said after I made the guards leave. He leaned on the footboard of the bed, his usual cocky grin plastered on his face.
“I’m not being feisty,” I said. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“You’ve come to say good-bye, I take it?” He arched an eyebrow. “You’ll miss me terribly, I know, but if you want to avoid all that, you can always come with me.”
“That’s quite all right, thank you.”
“Really?” Loki wrinkled his nose. “You can’t actually be excited about the upcoming nuptials.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, tensing up.
“I heard you’re engaged to that stodgy Markis.” Loki waved his hand vaguely and stood up. “Which I think is ridiculous. He’s boring and bland and you don’t love him at all.”
“How do you know about that?” I stood up straighter, preparing to defend myself.
“The guards around here are horrible gossips, and I hear everything.” He grinned and sauntered toward me. “And I have two eyes. I’ve seen that little melodrama play out between you and that other tracker. Fish? Flounder? What’s his name?”
“Finn,” I said pointedly.
“Yes, him.” Loki rested his shoulder against the door. “Can I give you a piece of advice?”
“By all means. I’d love to hear advice from a prisoner.”
“Excellent.” Loki leaned forward, as close to me as he could before he’d be racked with pain from attempting to leave the room. “Don’t marry someone you don’t love.”
“What do you know of love or marriage?” I asked. “You were all set to marry a woman ten years older than you before the King stole her away.”
“I wouldn’t have married her anyway.” Loki shrugged. “Not if I didn’t love her.”
“Now you’ve got integrity?” I scoffed. “You kidnapped me, and your father was a traitor.”
“I’ve never said a nice word about my father,” Loki said quickly. “And I’ve never done anything bad to you.”
“You still kidnapped me!” I said dubiously.
“Did I?” Loki cocked his head. “Because I remember Kyra kidnapping you, and me preventing her from pummeling you to death. Then, when you were coughing up blood, I sent for the Queen to help you. When you escaped, I didn’t stop you. And since I came here, I’ve done nothing to you. I’ve even been good because you told me to be. So what terrible crimes have I committed against you, Princess?”
“I—I—” I stammered. “I never said you did anything terrible.”
“Then why don’t you trust me, Wendy?”
He’d never called me by my name before, and the underlying affection underneath it startled me. Even his eyes, which still held their usual veil of playfulness, had something deeper brewing underneath. When he wasn’t trying so hard to be devilishly handsome, he actually was.
The growing connection I felt with him unnerved me, but I didn’t want him to see that. More than that, it didn’t matter what feelings I might be having for him. He was leaving today, and I would probably never see him again.
“I do trust you,” I admitted. “I do trust you. I just don’t know why I do, and I don’t know why you’ve been helping me.”
“You want the truth?” He smiled at me, and there was something sincere and sweet underlying. “You piqued my curiosity.”
“You risked your life for me because you were curious?” I asked doubtfully.
“As soon as you came to, your only concern was for helping your friends, and you never stopped,” Loki said. “You were kind. And I haven’t seen that much kindness in my life.”
He looked away from me then, staring at an empty spot down the hall. I think he was trying to hide the sadness in his eyes, but I saw it just the same—a strange loneliness that looked out of place on his strong features.