LUCIUS PULLS BACK from me, just a step, but continues to
hold both of my hands in his, and his eyes are boring into mine,
and gradually I see them change again.
Lucius has told me, many times, that he loves me. And I’ve
seen that expressed in his eyes. But never like this. “I’ve brought
you here this evening to ask you to marry me, Antanasia,” he
finally says. “I wanted to do it in this place, so significant to both
All at once, everything—including time—seems to stop.
“Lu...Lucius...” I stammer his name, not sure I’ve heard
right. Marriage to Lucius—both avoiding it and desperately
desiring it—is practically all that I’ve thought about since meeting
him and learning of the pact. I know that it’s definitely in our
future. And yet I still can’t believe my ears. I keep searching his
face, almost as if I’m afraid he’s joking. “Lucius...?”
For once, though, there’s no mischief in his expression. Not a
He squeezes my hands more tightly, pressing them harder to
his chest. “I want to ask you, Antanasia—in this place where we
were promised to each other by mandate—to marry me not
because doing so is required of you, but because you love me as I
love you,” he says. “I ask you to choose me of your own free will,
because that is how I choose you. Not to fulfill a pact, but to
follow my heart, which will settle for nothing less than a life with
you by my side.”
I want to scream, “Yes!” I want to cry out and hurtle myself
into his arms. But my feet seem rooted in place, and my tongue is
locked in my mouth.
And then, standing before me as an equal, which seems right
for Lucius and me—better than having him drop down on
bended knee—he poses the question I’ve wanted to hear...
maybe since the day I first saw him.
“Antanasia, will you marry me?” He releases one of my hands
to push my curls away from my face, and his voice is softer as he
asks again, “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
That rare vulnerability I’ve just seen in Lucius’s eyes is echoed
in his voice, and it’s that sweetness—that unguarded, hopeful
request—that finally helps me speak. Because I know that this is
the closest that Lucius will ever come to pleading for anything in
his entire existence, and he’s doing it for me.
“Yes, Lucius,” I cry. At least, I think I cry out. But in truth,
my voice is soft, almost choked. “Yes,” I repeat, pulling my hands
from his and wrapping my arms around his neck. I know he’s
heard me, but I keep agreeing, over and over again. “Yes, yes, yes
. . .”
He clasps me to him, whispering in my ear, too. “Thank you,
Antanasia. Thank you for loving me—and for choosing me, too.”
We hold each other for a long time as reality sets in. We’re
getting married—not to fulfill a treaty but because we can’t live
without each other.
Then Lucius slips one hand up into my hair, and I shift in
his arms to see his face again just before he bends to meet my lips
with his, kissing me softly. We kiss like that again and again—
just gently. It’s as if we both recognize that the moment deserves
reverence, just like the space in which it takes place.
And somehow, while we’re still kissing, Lucius takes my left
hand and places a ring on my finger. I never even noticed him
reaching into his pocket and have no idea how long he’s held the
object in his palm.
I know that most girls would probably squeal and pull back,
wanting to see the diamond, but I don’t even open my eyes. I just
slip my arms back up around his neck, not caring what the ring
looks like. I’m perfectly content with what we’re sharing right
The voice intruded on my dream, and I rolled sideways,
shutting it out, not wanting to leave everything that I was
reliving behind. But the voice—Mom’s voice—interrupted again, and I felt pressure on my shoulder as she shook me.
“Mom,” I groaned, wanting five more minutes of the
dream. “Please . . .”
But my mother shook me harder, and as I reluctantly
opened my eyes, I heard her laughing at me.
I blinked about three times, because sunlight was
streaming into my room—and glinting off the huge, sparkling
diamond that was always on my left hand now. A Vladescu
family heirloom, which had been removed and hidden by
Lucius’s mother, Reveka, when she’d faced her destruction.
Then I looked at Mom, who seemed happy again, and
maybe a little surprised to hear herself say words that kind of
shocked me, too, even though I’d been planning, anticipating—and occasionally worrying about—this day for
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” she urged. “You’re getting married
Continue to Chapter 13...