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“Then how have you survived for so long?” I meant to keep my tone teasing, but as soon as I asked it, his eyes flashed with pain, and he lowered them quickly.

“That story is too long for tonight, Princess, but I can assure you that my survival has come at a price.” He swallowed hard, then cleared his throat, and his smirk returned. “Wait. Did you just call me brave and beautiful?”

“Hardly.” I laughed and stepped away from him, all too aware of his presence next to me. He seemed to exude heat as well as charm. “So, what would happen if I took you up on this offer? Where would we go? What would we do?”

“I am so glad you asked.” His whole face lit up. “I have some money. Not a lot, mind you, but I’ve hidden some of my mother’s old jewelry. I could pawn it, and then we could go anywhere. Do anything your heart desired.”

“That doesn’t really sound like much of a plan.”

“The Virgin Islands,” Loki answered quickly and took another step toward me. “We wouldn’t need passports to get there, and there’s no trolls of any kind. We could spend all day in the ocean, and all night on the beach.” He paused, his smile painfully sincere. “Just the two of us.”

“I can’t.” I shook my head, and I hated how tempting the idea was. To run away from all the pressure and stress of the palace. “I can’t let the kingdom down. I have a duty here, to these people.”

“You have a duty to yourself to be happy!” Loki insisted.

“No, I don’t,” I said. “I have too much here. And let’s not forget that I have a fiancé.”

“Don’t marry him.” He scoffed at the idea. “Marry me instead.”

“Marry you?” I laughed. “You told me that I should only marry for love.”

“That I did.” In that rare moment of honesty, Loki looked almost stunningly handsome. He stepped toward me, moving so close we were nearly touching. “Wendy, marry me.”

“That’s…” I shook my head, astounded by his proposal. “That doesn’t even make sense, Loki. I barely know you, and you’re … you’re my enemy.”

“I know I haven’t known you that long, but I’ve felt … a connection from the moment I saw you, and I know you felt it too.”

I floundered, wanting to deny him, but unable to. “Loki, a connection isn’t enough to build a life on.”

“I don’t care where I come from or who your people are,” he said simply. “I can make you happy, and you make me happy. We could have a happily ever after.”

His eyes were on mine, and even in the dim light they glimmered gold. A slow wave started to wash over me as relaxation flowed through me. Just when I realized that Loki was trying to knock me out, the sensation stopped.

“What happened?” I asked, as the fog lifted from my mind. Loki stood inches in front of me, and I knew I should move away, but I didn’t.

“I’m not going to do that to you,” he said quietly. “What I told you before is still true. I want to know that when you’re with me, it’s because you want to be, not because you have to be.”

“Loki—” I started to protest.

He put his hands on my face, and they felt warm on my skin, even though they should’ve been cold from scaling the wall. He leaned in to me, but he paused before his lips touched mine. His eyes met mine, searching them for any resistance, but I didn’t have any.

His mouth covered mine, and warmth stirred inside me. He tasted sweet and cool, and his skin smelled of fresh rain. My knees felt weak, and my heart battered against my chest. His hands moved back, tangling in my hair and pressing me to him.

I wrapped my arms around him, and he felt strong and powerful against me. I could actually feel his muscles, like warm marble, and I knew he could crush me if he wanted to. But the way he touched me was passionate and delicate all at once.

I wanted to give in to him, to his invitation, but a voice of reason gnawed at me. My stomach fluttered with butterflies, then twisted with knots.

“No, Loki.” I pulled my mouth from his, gasping for breath. I put my hands on his chest and took a step back. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“Wendy.” Loki watched me walk backward away from him. His expression was so desperate and vulnerable, it made my chest ache.

“I’m sorry. But I can’t.”

I turned and ran to the palace, afraid that I would change my mind if I hesitated any longer.



The next few days were a blur. I did everything I could to keep my mind off the kiss with Loki, or the horrible ache inside me that I knew I might never see him again. I just had to put it behind me and move forward with my engagement.

The training with Tove left me with a constant dull headache in the back of my skull. Making arrangements with his mother left me with pain in the remainder of my head. Willa tried her best to work as an intermediary, but Aurora didn’t seem ready to let our earlier conflict go.

Elora was feeling better, so she joined us one afternoon. I thought having her there would help dispel the tension, but it didn’t. When Aurora wasn’t busy picking at me, she was picking at Elora. And when she wasn’t doing that, they were both picking at me.

I spent most evenings in the library with Duncan, studying as much as I could about the Trylle way of life. I’d found a Tryllic dictionary, and I had to keep leafing through it as I looked through older documents. It was impossible to guess what it meant, since Tryllic didn’t use the English alphabet. For example, the word Tryllic looked like this—