CHAPTER ONE (draft)

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CHAPTER ONE

June, 2048.

Today is the most impossible day of my life.

Today I plummeted from orbit in an alien transport shuttle, landed in the private airfield of the Imperial Palace in Poseidon, and took my first steps upon the surface of the planet Atlantis—while carrying bags made too heavy by the excessive gravity, wearing wraparound sunglasses against the merciless glare of Hel, the white sun, and awkwardly hiding tears caused by a devastated heart.

And then, in just a few hours, a crazy whirlwind of unbelievable events took place, for which I have no words.

Culminating in all this . . . whatever this is, happening right now.

Aeson Kassiopei, the Imperial Crown Prince of Atlantis, has just done the unthinkable—after cruelly brushing me off only this morning in the shuttle, he now singled me out from the Palace crowd, grabbed me by the hand, dragged me up the red path toward the Throne, and announced me as his Imperial Consort and Bride.

And then he kissed me in front of his Father the Imperator and all the Imperial Court.

Right now, I am in shock.

I am standing next to Aeson before the Imperial Throne.

Okay, what has just happened?

I am holding his hand—or he is holding mine—and I am shaking with a perfectly insane combination of euphoria, joy, triumph, confusion, terror, and absolute blazing anger.

I still feel the sting of his impossible kiss on my sweetly bruised lips. . . .

Raw pulses of desire still move in waves throughout my body, concentric circles of wild energy slowly receding outward with every heartbeat. . . .

And my ice-cold fingers are enclosed in his warm, powerful ones. His large palm covers my trembling hand with steady strength, clasping me tight. From it, sweet heat is spreading. . . .

Oh, no, I am so damn furious at him! I am also relieved and confused and stunned, and infernally happy, all at the same time!

What has he done? He chose me!

This is the most surreal moment of my existence. I am still unable to grasp what has just happened to me—to him and me—and whether I've just hallucinated everything.

Is this just a bizarre dream?

No, it's real . . . it must be.

Indeed, the reality of other sound around me is registering at last, slipping in past my euphoria. The Imperial Court of Atlantida is humming like a beehive in turmoil. . . .

From all directions I can hear it, the loud whispers . . . people shifting in place as they stand . . . turbulent movement as heads turn, draw closer to each other to speak with discretion . . . nervous looks exchanged, general confusion moving through the Atlantean ranks in clamoring waves. . . .

This tumult in the crowd around us, on both sides of the red path where we stand, is echoing my own internal state.

What has he done?

As though Aeson Kassiopei senses my crazed mix of emotions, he now squeezes my hand meaningfully. At the same time he again pulls me with him, and together we take another step closer to the dais, approaching the Imperial Throne.

Approaching the Imperator, his Father.

I glance sideways in that moment, and see Aeson's inflamed gaze, as he turns in the same moment to look at me. His eyes are fierce, desperate, filled with wild emotion, imploring and overwhelming me at the same time. . . .

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