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It had been two months since I returned home. My parents were glad to see me and even more glad to show me the balance of my new bank account. The money wasn't enough to assuage the heartache I felt, but it helped.

Rowan had, thankfully, kept his distance. My parents told me he left town some time after the video chat, but they didn't know where he went. I had some theories. Rowan hated vampires. He hated the king in particular, and he no doubt hated him even more because of his suspicions about my feelings for him. Despite the rift between us, I hoped he was ok and not caught up in something so stupid or worse, fatal.

I buried Lydia's phone number in a stack of old papers. I couldn't call her, even though I promised I would. She was a reminder of the competition, and I couldn't stomach any if that. She obviously won. There couldn't have been any other outcome.

The thought of her sighing dreamily to me over the same man whose heart I had broken left me feeling cold as ice. I knew it would be better to tell her the truth about everything, but I didn't want to ruin her happiness. It was better to fade from her memory and have her fade from mine, even if it made me a terrible friend.

To pass the time, I got a job as a cashier in my mom's store. I really didn't need the money — my time in the competition had earned me enough to pay for several years at the most prestigious university and then some. But I needed the distraction; to have something besides the king occupy my mind. Every time I was alone, my thoughts swirled with regret over the potential life I left behind.

It was difficult at first. I'd keep replaying memory of his kiss over and over in my head. I'd catch glimpses of him in the corner of my eye and turn around to find that it had only been my imagination. The late summer breeze would carry his voice on the wind, whispering my name. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, eyes wet with tears.

But like all heartache, it faded over time. The king's face waned to a blurry afterimage, his touch a ghostly specter. The grief never truly went away but I eventually convinced myself that everything I had been through happened to someone else, in another lifetime.

I had just gotten off my latest shift. It was after sunset, and I was sitting in bed, nose deep in a book.

"Honey?" I heard my mom call from behind the door.

"Come in," I said.

My mom opened the door and stepped into my room, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

"You have a visitor."

"Who?" I asked, not liking the way she was looking at me.

Was Rowan back? No, it couldn't have been him. I've told my mom about our breakup, so she wouldn't be this excited. Could it be Lydia? I've mentioned our unlikely friendship in my few scattered stories about my time in the competition.

She was probably tired of waiting for me to call her and decided to drop in on my doorstep. It sounded like something she'd do. Her family connections even allowed her to find my address. An unsettling thought, but I was drawing a blank at who else could drop by and elicit such a reaction from my mom.

Guilt washed over me. She was probably peeved I hadn't called. Could I tell her I was busy? That I didn't know when the competition would end? Would she believe me? Damn it, my awful choices were finally catching up to me.

Sluggishly, I got up and trudged through the hallway and down the stairs to see the mysterious visitor. But once I saw who it was, I saw who it was, I stopped dead in my tracks. The person waiting for me below was not Lydia. It was the king.

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