Chapter 24

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         I expected to have my parents run over and pull me close. Queen Amberly would be crying as she hugged Maxon. King Clarkson would give him a firm, but fond handshake. All of that would happen in an instant. Then a few minutes later, we would all be sitting around the table saying how happy we were and all that other stuff you say when you haven't seen each other in months.

        Let's just say that in a few minutes we were not at the table. We all just stared in silence, unsure of what to say. Our parents gave each other surprised glances every now and then, but mostly just gaped at us in awe. I wanted to break the quiet, but the words got stuck in my throat. Maxon stood rigidly next to me.

        I felt tears my eyes as my gaze landed on my father. He was wearing a suit that belonged at a funeral. Joy sparkled in his eyes. The tears started to fall as I finally found my voice. "Daddy."

        Dad jumped to his feet. I pulled my hand from Maxon's grasp and started towards him. I tried to be professional and walk slowly, but I couldn't stop myself from sprinting into his arms. I wrapped my arms around his waist and his strong arms surrounded me. I buried my face into his chest as I cried.

        Mom joined us. Tears streaked down her cheeks. She stroked my hair as she murmured, "Shh, shh. It's alright. I'm here, America. We both are, your father and I."

        "I love you both so much," I whimpered. My father held me tighter and I felt his tears wet my hair. I'd missed them so much. My heart was about to explode from the happiness building inside of me.

        As my family embraced, I listened to what was going on around us. A chair was pushed aside and high heel shoes clicked on the floor as Amberly said, "My boy! Oh, my beautiful boy." I heard Maxon's footsteps as he approached his mother.

        "Hi, Mom." My heart ached at the love in his voice. I smiled at how beautiful their reunion was.

        More footsteps approached Maxon and I looked up. King Clarkson was standing in front of his son. His air of confidence was missing as he stood in front of the son who he'd wronged so many times before. Maxon held out his and and the King took it. It was supposed be just a handshake, but the King did something completely un-Clarkson like. He hugged Maxon.

        He'd used their clasped hands to pull Maxon forward and wrapped his other arm around Maxon. The hug was slightly awkward, like he hadn't had much practice hugging his son. I could tell Clarkson's show of affection was genuine when he pulled away and said, "I've missed you, Maxon."

        Maxon was obviously surprised my his father's actions, but managed to say, "Yeah, um, I missed you too."

        I pulled away from my parents and turned towards the royal family. The King was looking at me expectantly. We had grown close during those long weeks. I walked over to him and gave him a tight hug. He was stiff at first, but relaxed after a moment. It was strange to be hugging someone, who a few months ago, hated my guts.

        King Clarkson whispered so softly only I could hear. "Thank you for bringing him home. I might've misjudged your character and I'm very sorry for the awful things I've done to you. I guess I didn't realize your potential to be a good princess and an excellent daughter in law. My boy is very lucky to have someone as special as you."

        I held back tears of gratitude. I hadn't realized how much I'd craved to be accepted by him and the whole royal family.

        I pulled away from the embrace. I stood on tiptoe and gave him a peck on the cheek before walking over to Amberly and giving her a hug as well. She held me warmly for a moment and then nudged me back towards Maxon. I returned to his side. Maxon was looking at me incredulously. I winked at him and gave him a sly grin.

        After an hour of talking with our parents, Maxon and I walked to his room. We were escorted by about twenty guards. I guess it made sense since both of us had been kidnapped.

        When we reached the door, I turned to Maxon. "I'm not going anywhere with you until you take a shower or something. Seriously, Maxon. It's been months and I've been polite about it, but I can't anymore. I love you, but you smell- like really badly. I'm probably not much better. So, both of us will go to our rooms and get cleaned up. Meet back here in an hour or so?"

        Maxon chuckled and nodded. He signaled to the guards. "Could half of you escort America back to her room?" He leaned down and kissed me before sending the guards and I on our way.

        My body trembled at the thought of a nice hot bath. It would take at least half an hour to scrub off the dirty that had gathered on my skin. I was pretty sure the tangled mess I called hair was a lost cause. Hopefully, my maids would be there to help.

        When we reached my room, I took a few steadying breaths. Last time I'd been gone for too long, the girls were practically jumping off the walls. It would be even worse this time. I'd missed them, I really had, but I was desperate for a bath and a little rest before I had to meet Maxon.

        I stepped through the door. Mary and Anne were sitting on the bed- crying. Lucy was doing her best to comfort them. I rushed over and knelt before them. "What's wrong girls?" They both laughed between sniffles.

        Mary said, "These are happy tears, silly." Relief flooded my body. They pulled me into a hug and I cried with them.

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