Chapter Twenty-Two – continued
“Oh, um, Camille told me you’re Crown Prince now because no one could find James,” she said with wide eyes.
He nodded and scratched at the side of his head. “That’s about it. We suspect James and Merike’s handmaiden ran away together.” He sighed and leaned back against the desk, folding his arms. “James’s assistant, Kyanan, just informed me they detected a fae wish stone ripple. By now, they could be as far away as the linked world.”
“Are you…”Abigail started before her voice wavered.
“Going after him?” Adrian asked, raising his head with a half smile on his lips. “It would certainly solve the problem of making you Queen. I know that’s not what you want.” He pressed his lips together, inwardly debating what to say, but this was Abigail. “I won’t court you if you don’t want to become Queen,” he finished softly.
He couldn’t look at her, couldn’t see all his dreams go up in flames. But he heard her sharp intake of breath and heard the rustle of her skirts. He jumped a little when he felt her soft hands on his arms.
“I…heard rumors about the mermaid princess,” she said softly. “I wouldn’t want to doom James to that kind of marriage.” She took a breath. “I’m glad you’re not going after him. You’re right; he’s probably as far away as the linked world by now. Adrian, I don’t want to be Queen, but I will be if that’s the only way I can be with you.”
He drew in a breath and clutched back at her, half afraid she would disappear. “Abigail, I won’t force you into it. I’m sure there’s another heir around here somewhere.”
She snorted and turned her head, a blush staining her cheeks. “You know as well as I do that Andalissa would be next in line. She’ll laugh and say no. Next would be Peri, who’s currently training to be a chef in the linked world. After that is-“
“I got it,” he said with a sigh.
She shrugged as best she could as his hands tightened around her. “I have a choice, Adrian,” she said softly. “Marry you and become Queen or lose the only one I’ve ever loved because I didn’t want to become Queen.”
“The choice is yours, Abigail,” he said softly. “It’ll always be yours. I no longer have one, so I need you to have one.”
“I know, Adrian,” she said, her voice sounding strong. “Everyone has been so intent on throwing me at you regardless of how I feel, but you’ve always given me the choice. I’ll be Queen. My father has always said I was the placid one and my mother always said I had a way of repairing relationships. I believe they would agree I’d make an acceptable one. Provided I’m not required to speak at every ball, reception, and dinner.”
“More than acceptable,” Adrian said earnestly.
She smiled at him, a soft, shy smile. The kind of smile he’d grown up working hard to elicit. That sweet smile that helped send him off into sweeter dreams because he was the one who had made her smile.
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