5. Plans

I snuck in a copy of the Tryllic workbook Tove had gotten for me so I had something to do while Aurora went over all the last-minute details. It was the day before the wedding, so I hoped everything was on track. We didn’t have time for anything else.

I sat in a chair with the book open on my lap, while Aurora and Willa went over a checklist with about twenty wedding planners. Aurora had even put Duncan to work counting table centerpieces to make sure we had enough.

Sometimes they asked for my help, and I gave it, but I think Aurora was happier when I didn’t have input. I might disagree with her if I did.

All my bridesmaids were here, and most of them I’d never even met. Willa was my maid of honor, and she’d chosen the rest of the wedding party because she actually knew them. Aurora insisted that this had to be huge, so I had ten bridesmaids.

“It’s the wedding of the century, and you’re studying,” Willa sighed as the day drew to a close. Aurora had checked everything twice, and the only people left in the room were me, Willa, Aurora, and Duncan.

“I need to know this.” I gestured to the book. “This is essential to being able to decipher old treaties. I don’t need to know about lavish party planning. You and Aurora have that covered.”

“That we do,” Willa smiled. “I think everything’s all set. You’re going to have a fantastic day tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” I said and closed the book. “I really do appreciate everything you’ve done.”

“Oh come on, I loved it,” she laughed. “If I can’t have a fairy tale wedding, at least I can plan one, right?”

“Just because you’re not a Princess doesn’t mean you can’t have a fairy tale wedding,” I said and stood up.

She gave me a pained smile, and I realized what I’d said. Willa was a Marksinna dating my brother Matt, a human, and if anybody found out, she’d be banished. She wasn’t even supposed to date him, let alone marry him.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be.” She waved it off. “You’re doing the best you can, and we all know it.”

She was referring to my efforts for more equality among the Trylle, trackers, and mänks. We were losing most of our population because they fell in love with humans, and then they were exiled. Nobody was staying around.

From any standpoint, it made more sense to let people love who they loved. They were going to anyway, but if we stopped making it illegal, they would stick around more often and contribute to society.

I hadn’t done much to convince people of this yet, but I was too busy struggling with a Vittra solution. Once we got this fixed (if we ever got it fixed), I would make equal rights for everyone in Förening my top priority.

“Are we all done here then?” I asked.

“Yep,” Willa said. “You’ve got nothing left to do except get some rest, and get pretty tomorrow before the wedding. Then you just have to say ‘I do.’”

“I think I can handle that,” I said, but I wasn’t sure that I could.

“Are you alright by yourself, Aurora?” Willa asked as we headed to the door.

“I’m just finishing a few things up,” Aurora said without looking up from the papers she was going over. “Thank you, though.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Sleep well, Princess.” Aurora glanced up to smile at me.

Duncan and I walked Willa out, and she kept trying to convince me tomorrow would be fun. At the front door, she hugged me tightly and promised me everything would work out the way it was meant to.

I don’t know why that was supposed to be comforting. What if everything was meant to be a disaster? Knowing that it was meant to be horrible wouldn’t make it any better.

“Do you want me to go in with you?” Duncan asked when we got to my bedroom.

“Not tonight.” I shook my head. “I think I need some time to myself.”

“I understand.” He smiled reassuringly at me. “I’ll see you in the morning then.”

“Thank you.”

I shut the door behind me and flicked on my light, and I stared down at the giant ring on my finger. It signified that I belonged to Tove, to somebody I didn’t love. I went over to my dresser to take off my jewelry, but I kept staring at the ring.

I couldn’t help myself, and I pulled it off. It was really beautiful, and when Tove gave it to me it had been so sweet. But I’d begun to hate that band.

When I took it off, I glanced into the mirror on the back of the dresser, and I nearly screamed when I saw the reflection. Finn was sitting behind me on the bed. His eyes, dark as night, met mine in the mirror, and I could hardly breathe.

“Finn!” I gasped and whirled around to look at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I missed your birthday,” he said, as if that answered my question. He lowered his eyes, looking at a small box he had in his hands. “I got you something.”

“You got me something?” I leaned back on the dresser behind me, gripping it.

“Yeah,” he nodded, still staring down at the box. “I picked it up outside of Portland two weeks ago. I meant to get back in time to give it to you on your birthday.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “But now that I’m here, I’m not sure I should give it to you at all.”

“What you are talking about?” I asked

“It doesn’t feel right.” Finn rubbed his face. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.”

“Neither do I,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to see you. I just… I don’t understand.”

“I know,” he sighed. “It’s a ring. What I got you.” His gaze moved from me to the engagement ring sitting the dresser beside me. “And you already have one.”

“Why did you get me a ring?” I asked tentatively, and my heart beat erratically in my chest. I didn’t know what Finn was saying or doing.

“I’m not proposing to you, if that’s what you’re asking.” He shook his head. “I saw it and thought of you. But now it seems like poor taste. And here I am, the night before your wedding, sneaking in to give you a ring.”

“Why did you sneak in?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He looked away and laughed darkly. “That’s a lie. I know exactly what I’m doing, but I have no idea why I’m doing it.”

“What are you doing?” I asked quietly.

“I…” Finn stared off for a moment, then turned back to me and stood up. “I don’t want you to marry him.”

“Finn, I-” I began, but he held up his hand, stopping me.

“No, I’m not asking you not to,” he said. “You need to do this. We both know that. But I don’t want you to.”

All I’d ever wanted from him is for him to admit how he felt about me, and he’d waited until the day before my wedding. It was too late to change anything, to take anything back. Not that I could have, even if I wanted to.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked with tears swimming in my eyes.              

“Because.” Finn stepped toward me, stopping right in front of me.

He looked down at me, his eyes mesmerizing me the way they always did. He reached up, brushing back a tear from my cheek.

“Why?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“I needed you to know,” he said as if he didn’t truly understand it himself.

He set the box on the dresser beside me, and his hand went to my waist, pulling me to him. I let go of the dresser and let him. My breath came out shallow as I stared up at him.

“Tomorrow you will belong to someone else,” Finn said. “But tonight, you’re with me.”

His mouth pressed against mine, kissing me with that same rugged fierceness I had come to know and love. I wrapped my arms around him, gripping onto him as tightly as I could. He lifted me up, still keeping his lips on mine as he carried me over to the bed.

Finn lowered me down on the bed, and he was on top of me within seconds. I loved the feel of his body on mine, the weight of it pushing on me. His stubble scraped my skin as he covered my face and neck with kisses.

His hands went to the straps of my dress, pulling them down, and I realized with some surprise how far things might actually go tonight. He’d always put the brakes on things before they got too heated, but his hands were cupping my breasts as he kissed me.

I reached up, unbuttoning his shirt so fast, one of the buttons snapped off. I ran my hands over his chest, delighting in the smooth contours of his muscles and the pounding of his heart. He leaned down, kissing me hungrily again, and his bare skin pressed to mine.

His skin smoldered against me, his mouth searched mine, and his arm was around me, holding me tighter still.

As we kissed, my heart swelled with happiness, and a surge of relief washed over me when I realized my first time would be with Finn. But that thought was immediately darkened when I realized something else. My very first time might be with Finn, but that would also be my last time with him.

I still had to marry Tove tomorrow. And even if I didn’t marry him, I could never be with Finn. Not really. I had the kingdom to worry about. A war was imminent. People were suffering and dying. I couldn’t throw that all way on a tryst.

Even if I slept with Finn tonight, it wouldn’t mean anything.

“What’s wrong?” Finn asked, noticing a change in me.

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.” Finn looked ashamed, and he scrambled to get off me. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry.” He stood and hurriedly buttoned his shirt.

“No, Finn.” I sat up, adjusting my dress. “You don’t have to be sorry, but… I can’t do this anymore.”

“I understand.” He smoothed out his hair and looked away from me.

“No, Finn, I mean…” I swallowed hard and let out a shaky breath. “I can’t love you anymore.”

He looked up at me, his eyes startled and hurt, but he said nothing. He only stood there for a moment.

“You said that I belong to somebody else tomorrow but you tonight, and that’s not how it works, Finn.” Tears slid down my cheeks, and I wiped them away. “I don’t belong to anyone, and you don’t get to just have a part of me when you can.

“And I know that’s never what you meant to do,” I said. “Neither of us meant for this. We were together when we could be. Hidden moments and stolen kisses. I get that. And I don’t blame you or anything, but… I can’t do that anymore.”

“I hadn’t…” Finn trailed off. “I never wanted this for you. I mean, this thing we’ve had going on, whatever it’s been. You deserve more than I would ever be able to give you, more than I would ever be allowed to love you.”

“I’m trying to change things,” I said. “And I’ll admit that part of it has been selfish. I wanted to repeal the laws so maybe someday we could have a chance to be together. But… I can’t count on that. And even if I can, I am marrying somebody else tomorrow. He’s a good man, and I won’t do this to him.”

“I wouldn’t expect any less of you, Princess,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” He walked to the door and paused before leaving, but he wouldn’t look back at me. “I wish you all the best for your marriage. I hope the two of you find nothing but happiness.”

After Finn left, I tried not to cry. Willa would be so upset with me if my face was red and puffy tomorrow. I went into my closet, fighting back tears as I changed out of my gown and put on pajamas. On my way back to my bed, I noticed the small box on my dresser, the present from Finn.

Slowly, I opened the box. It was a thin silver band with my birthstone, a garnet, in the center of a heart. And for some reason, the sight of it broke me down. I lay down on my bed and sobbed.