Chapter Seventeen

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As expected, the rest of the evening was uneventful, and just as Alex predicted, the party dragged on for what seemed like forever. As soon as the last guest was bid farewell and the Councillor had given her leave, she took off as fast as she could go, removing her shoes with one hand while taking the pins out of her hair with the other, as she made her way back to her chambers.

The mistresses had her quarters turned down for the night- the curtains were drawn, and the room was aglow by candlelight. Once she shut her door, she let out a deep breath she didn't realize she was holding and headed to the vanity dresser where she began removing her Empress- like accessories before setting out to find Treyan.

A case for the crown was already waiting on her dresser, so with careful hands she gently laid the delicate relic to rest for the time being. She looked in the mirror to begin taking out her earrings, and only then did she notice the reflection of the room behind her.

She turned around in surprise and only then did she finally notice exactly how many candles there were lit around her. From the door to the windows they were set on every table top, bookshelf, and flat surface they could fit. They encircled and surrounded her bed, and eventually stopped at the sitting table where she and Treyan shared their meals.

And there her Prince quietly sat, all formal clothes removed, wearing a loose shirt that showed his chest, casual pants, and legs crossed while he watched her, with a glass of wine in hand.

"So, this is where you've been hiding all night?" she asked as she turned in the bench to face him.

He shrugged. "Someone had to track down the palace's extra supply of candles."

"Jamison couldn't do that for you?"

"No, this was a top secret mission."

"Apparently so," she smirked. "What's all this for?"

"You, of course. Just because the celebration has finished downstairs doesn't mean it must stop here." He smiled as he stood, walking over to her with a second cup of wine in his hand. "Besides, don't you enjoy sleeping by candlelight?"

She stood and walked over to meet him, happily taking the wine from his hand. The first, sweet sip was joyous as it hit her pallet. "I don't enjoy the potential of my dress or bed sheets catching fire, no..."

Taking another sip, she walked to the edge of the bed and put her cup down on the sitting table. "Speaking of, will you help me out of this thing? The weight of this dress alone is exhausting."

She turned her back to him for easier access to the bodice's laces, half- expecting him to come over and assist her with a schoolboy's enthusiasm, but when there was no response, she glanced over her shoulder to check on the whereabouts of her Prince.

He hadn't moved, but instead remained standing where he was, watching her as the candles bathed him in firelight and shadow.

"Treyan, what's wrong?" she turned to face him, and as she did so she noticed his wine glass was down as well and his hands before him, fidgeting with an unseen object. His blue eyes were on her with such yearning behind them she couldn't keep herself from blushing.

"Alex..." he began. "Ever since I was young, my dreams involved the Empress, and I wondered what our future would be like together. And now you are here, after all these years, and finally my life feels as though it has meaning."

She bit her lip, but remained silent while he continued on.

"You know this is something I've wanted for a long time." He took her left hand in his right as his left hand held up the object for her to see.

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