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Snow covered everything, making it glitter like diamonds under the moonlight. The wintry weather should’ve killed off all the plants, but the blue, pink, and purple flowers were in full bloom. The frost on their petals only made them more beautiful.

The vines of ivy and wisteria that grew over the wall remained green and vibrant. Even the small waterfall that ran through the orchard of blossoming trees still flowed, instead of freezing solid the way it should have.

A thin blanket of snow crunched cold under my bare feet, but I didn’t care. I ran down the side of the bluff, slipping in a few places, but I never fell. Two curved garden benches stood next to the pond, and I sat down on the nearest one.

The garden was a little piece of magic, and I loved it for that. I leaned back, breathing in the cold night. My breath came out in a fog, and the moon sparkled off the ice crystals in the air. I’d been locked in the house for far too long.

A snap of a twig behind me pulled me from my thoughts, and I whirled around. I couldn’t see anyone, but I saw shadows moving along a hedge near the brick wall.

“Who’s there?” I asked.

I assumed it was Duncan or another tracker sent to fetch me. When nobody answered, I began to worry that I’d made a rash decision coming out here alone. I could defend myself, but I didn’t want there to be a need for it.

“I know somebody’s here.” I stood up. I walked around the bench and peered through the trees.

I saw a figure standing by the wall. He was too far away to get a good look at his face, but the moon shimmered on his light hair.

“Who’s there?” I repeated. I straightened up and tried to look as imposing as possible, which is quite hard for a Princess in a dress, alone in a garden at night.

“Princess?” He sounded surprised and stepped closer to me. When he ducked around a tree and walked toward me, I finally got a good look at him.

“Loki?” I asked, and I felt joy swell inside me, immediately followed by confusion. “What are you doing here?”

“I came for you.” He seemed just as bewildered as I was. “What are you doing out here?”

“I needed fresh air. But I don’t understand. How did you know I’d be out here?”

“I didn’t. This is how I come in.” He gestured to the wall behind him. “I scale the wall. You should really get security on that.”

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Don’t pretend like you’re not happy to see me.” His cocky grin returned, lighting up his face. “I’m sure you’ve been miserable since I left.”

“Hardly,” I scoffed. “I’ve been planning my engagement party.”

“Yes, I’ve heard about that dreadful business.” He wrinkled his nose in disgust. “That’s why I’ve come to save you.”

“Save me?” I echoed.

“Yes, like a knight in shining armor.” Loki spread his arms wide and bowed low. “I’ll throw you over my shoulder and scale the wall with you like Rapunzel.”

“Rapunzel used her hair so a prince could climb into a tower, not escape it,” I told him.

“Forgive me. The Vittra don’t believe in nursery rhymes or fairy tales.”

“Neither do I,” I said. “And I don’t need to be rescued. I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

“Oh, come, now.” Loki shook his head. “Princess, you can’t believe that. You’re not supposed to be locked away in a horrible castle, engaged to a boring fool, forced to sneak out in the night for a chance to breathe.”

“I appreciate your concern, Loki, but I’m happy here.” Even as I said it, I wasn’t sure if that was true or not.

“I can promise you a life of adventure.” Loki grabbed a branch and swung over, so he landed on the bench with astonishing grace. “I’ll take you to exotic places. Show you the world. Treat you the way a Princess really ought to be treated.”

“That all sounds well and good.” I smiled up at him. I was flattered by his invitation, even if I didn’t trust it. “But … why?”

“Why?” Loki laughed. “Why not?”

“I can’t help but feel like you’re only trying to get me to shirk my responsibilities as a Trylle Princess so I can aid your cause,” I said honestly.

“You think the King put me up to this?” Loki laughed again. “The King loathes me. Despises me. Threatens to behead me on a daily basis. The Queen had to go against his wishes to get me. He wanted you all to execute me.”

“Now I really wanna go back to that,” I said with a smirk.

“Who said anything about going back? I’m asking you to run away from all of this, from all the Trylle and the Vittra, the silly royals and their silly rules.” He gestured widely around us.

“Is that why you looked upset when Sara suggested I come back with you?”

“That was dreadful,” he admitted. “For one horrible minute, I thought you would accept, and that would be the end of everything.”

I cocked my head at him. “The end of everything?”

“The King would never let you get away again,” Loki explained. “And you couldn’t survive there.”

“Why are you so certain I wouldn’t survive against the King?” I asked. “I’m strong and smart, and sometimes I’m even brave.”

“That’s exactly why. Because you’re good and brave and kind and beautiful.” He jumped down from the bench, landing right in front of me. “The King destroys anything that’s beautiful.”