Chapter 21 - The Choice

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We left La Sirène and got back into the convertible. The king drove us silently through the hilly countryside. The sky was beautiful and clear tonight, a dark blanket dotted with glittering stars. I closed my eyes and inhaled the sharp breeze that cut through the air.

    The peaceful moment was shattered when I opened my eyes and saw the train of black vehicles of the king's security detail tailing behind is in the side mirror.  I was starting to understand by what he meant when he said he couldn't go on a "normal" date.

    Our stop was a small lake park. Willow trees grew from the bank, their branches grazing the water's surface. A cobbled path wound through the area, punctuated by the occasional bench and iron street lamp. The water's surface reflected the night sky like a dark mirror.

    "It's beautiful here," I said as we exited the car.

    "I figured you'd like it," the king replied as he shut the door behind me. "Let's take a walk."

    I nodded and stepped into pace behind him. As we made our way onto the cobbled path, I glanced back to the car. The guard's vehicles were nowhere to be seen, but I knew they had to be somewhere.

    Knowing we were being watched made it hard to relax. It was unsettling, being aware of the fact that there were guards with eyes trained on my every move. Even more unsettling was how necessary this level of security was. The king was shot in the middle of nowhere on a yacht. Compared to that, this secluded park was child's play for anyone with a mind to take the king's life.

    "Are you any closer to finding whoever shot you?" I asked.

    "A bit of a grim topic for a romantic evening, don't you think?" the king replied, chuckling.

    "Yeah, but don't I have a right to know? I did save your life."

    He glanced at me inscrutably, causing me to shrink back. Then he shoved his hands in his pockets and sighed. "You're right, I'm sorry."

    I couldn't help the satisfied smile that appeared on my face at his admission.

    "To answer your question, no, we haven't. My men combed the beach shortly after everything happened, but they couldn't find a trace. Whoever did it covered their tracks well," he said, voice weary. "But don't fret over that. It's being handled."

    Though he tried to sound reassuring, his tone did not convey it as well as he hoped. Clearly something was wrong. But would he tell me about it? And why did I want to know? I should just take his hint and put it out of my thoughts, but how could I when I was there that night? When I had saved his life by giving him my blood? I couldn't distance myself from this.

    A forlorn expression appeared on the king's face. His eyes met mine and my heart started racing.

    "I'm so glad you were there that night," he said quietly. Desperation and longing rippled beneath the surface of his blue-green eyes.

    Unsure of what to say in response, I turned my gaze toward the lake and watched the moon's reflection glide over the water's surface. I hated when he looked at me like that. It stirred feelings inside me that should stay buried.

    "I'm curious," I heard him muse. Still looking away, I braced myself for yet another probing question.

    "What was going through your mind during that moment?"

    Relaxing, I turned back to him. That look of longing was gone, replaced by curiosity. Why was he asking me this? I tried to recount what I was thinking, unsure of how to answer. The memories were a blur. Everything happened so fast, I barely had time to process what was happening.

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