Chapter 2 - Rowan

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I love going for walks but this time the fresh air didn't lift my spirits the way it usually does. My parents' words echoed in my head the entire time. I tried to block them out with thoughts of Rowan. He would understand. Better yet he'd probably have a plan for what to do.

I wiped my tears with the back of my sleeve. This competition was a total joke. Not just because I would sooner drop dead than go through with it, but because somebody, somewhere,  thought it was a good idea. Really, how big was the king's ego that he would think every girl in the nation would just throw themselves at his feet? Granted, I knew a few such girls, but still.

As much as I now detested the king, a part of me was curious. He was very private and secretive. Nobody outside of his immediate circle has ever seen his face. The only image of him available to the public was an old portrait from the 1800s. All of this secrecy was meant protect him from ongoing and serious threats against his life, but I couldn't help but think it to be a bit excessive.

I also couldn't help but wonder what it was about me that caught his eye. Sure, I could be pretty with some effort. People would often comment on how striking my blue eyes are. But my blonde hair was in constant disarray and I'd lost hope of ever trying to tame it. Aside from that I had no wealth or talent to speak of. I was completely, utterly unremarkable. But Rowan thought I was special. And whatever he saw in me, I was grateful for it.

Finally, I reached my destination. Rowan lived in a run-down apartment on North End with his mom and two younger sisters. His mom waited tables at a ritzy seafood restaurant in Bayside. He worked part time for a remodeling company. It cost him a weeks pay to take me to his mom's restaurant on a date, but he did it anyway. I teared up thinking about the memory and what I was just about to tell him.

I knocked on the door and stood back, rubbing my raw eyes. My mind went blank as I tried to imagine how our conversation would go. There's no way he'd believe me and I wouldn't blame him. Part of me still wished the whole thing was an elaborate prank; that I'd go home and no trace of Melanie Caldwell or the golden sealed invitation existed.

The door opened and thankfully, it was Rowan. I took in the sight of him - his deep brown eyes, the messy black curls of his hair, his golden skin. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me and never let me go.

"Avery, what's wrong?" he asked. The smile that had appeared across his face when he first saw me disappeared and was replaced by a look of worry.

I opened my mouth to speak but the only thing that came out was a strangled sob. Rowan tenderly placed his hand on my shoulder and ushered me inside. The door creaked shut behind me. I grabbed hold of him and buried my weeping face in his chest.

He drew back. "Let's talk in my room, OK?"

I didn't want to let him go, but I nodded. He took my hand and led me down to his room.

Rowan's room was small - it barely had enough space for a bed and a dresser. I liked it though. It had a cozy charm to it. The fact that it was one of the few places we could be alone together helped also.

Rowan threw some of his clothes off of the bed and sat down, gesturing for me to join him. "Do you want to tell me what's going on?"

I took a deep breath in an attempt to calm myself down. "I don't even know where to begin."

"How about the beginning?" he shrugged.

I steeled myself and told him about seeing the shiny black car car in my driveway, the meeting with Melanie Caldwell, and the king's ridiculous proposition. The whole time he looked at me like I was growing a pair of horns on my head.

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