the darkness.

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"what's wrong with you?" d.j. asked.

i shook my head, pulling the covers up to my chin.  "nothing.  i just don't feel good."

he cocked an eyebrow.  "really? because you haven't felt good for the past three days.  you've just been up here, in my bed, watching re-runs of old, crappy sitcoms, doing nothing?"  i nodded.  "bullshit." he said, shaking his head.  "because i know for damn sure there's a bottle of cuervo tucked under the mattress."

i blushed.  "my best friend is leaving me in four days to go to my favorite place in the whole wide world for two weeks.  i'm allowed to be a little depressed, okay?"

d.j. sauntered over and jumped on top of me.  "ohhh, norrriee, don't pout."

"noo!" i squeaked as he began tickling my sides.  "please no!"

"whoa, damn," arabella chuckled as she stood in the doorframe, "didn't know foreplay happens when no one's around." she winked.

d.j. rolled off of me and playfully punched his sister's shoulder as she walked up to the edge of the bed.  "wow, sis, if that's foreplay for you, i hate to see what you and shawn do at night."

arabella gasped with a smile.  "hey!" she exclaimed.

d.j. shrugged.  "hey, whatever keeps you satisfied."  he grinned and rolled off the bed, nearly tripping over himself, as he moved into the bathroom.  arabella and i burst out laughing as he almost hit the ground.  "shut up!" he exclaimed from behind the bathroom door.

"how ya doin', kid?" ari asked as she sat with one leg on the bed.

i shrugged.  "i know i'm not going to that dinner tonight."

charlie and kara had announced their engagement the night he proposed.  the senate expedited the approval vote, and the palace had been in a whirlwind ever since.  they were getting married two months from that saturday.  that night, isabel and king dominick were throwing a dinner party to celebrate.

arabella shook her head.  "you can't avoid him forever."

"three days and still goin' strong," i said, raising a fist.

"listen," she began, "uh, petra has to go home to see some family here in a couple weeks, and she can't go on the goodwill trip.  as a royal, i have to have an assistant with me, so i was wondering if you-"

before she finished, my eyes widened and i smiled.  "yes! yes, yes, oh my god, yes!"

the door to the bathroom came swinging open.  "now, that sounds like some good foreplay," d.j. quipped.

"shut the fuck up, dominick," arabella laughed.  "listen, i've got to get ready for this dinner.  i expect i'll see you both down there."

* * *

d.j. couldn't convince me to go down to the dinner.  instead, lynette snuck into d.j.'s room with a tray full of tacos and a bottle of wine.

"lynette," i said as i squirted hot sauce on my second taco,  "besides isabel, you're like my second mom."

lynette chuckled.  "well, if i can't have my own daughter," she smiled.

"oh god, lynette," i said, my face falling, "i'm so sorry.  i wasn't thinking."

she shook her head.  "all in the past." she patted my hand.  "if i can't talk to my real daughter, why don't you tell me about why you're avoiding charlie."

"i'm not avoiding charlie!" i lied.

lynette rolled her eyes.  "nora, i've known you since you were five-years-old.  you and d.j. followed charlie everywhere until he got too cool for you guys, then you avoided him like the plague until the past month, when now you're sneaking between his and arabella and d.j.'s rooms at all hours of the night.  suddenly, he's engaged, and you've been holed up here ever since."

i sighed and set my glass of wine on the bedside table.  i bit my lip, fighting the words, but eventually, they came spilling out of my mouth.  "i think i'm in love with him."

"well," lynette said with a pause, "duuuh."

"that obvious?" i grimaced.

lynette grinned.  "not to anyone but me.  bel thought he was going to end up abdicating because he couldn't find anybody."

"yet, he chose kara baker," i sighed.

"sweetie," lynette said, her smile fading, "he didn't choose kara baker.  the senate chose for him. he wasn't ready to name a wife yet.  he wanted to spend more time with someone before he decided, but they weren't having it, so they told him who to propose to."

* * *

i was sitting in utter darkness.  i could here the grandfather clock in the back corner of the room ticking quietly.  i'd been here for an hour or so, cuddled up in the overstuffed arm chair.  i heard the door squeak open, and saw the glow of the yellow light in the hallway spill into the room.

my head popped over the arm rest.  charlie was there alone.

"shit," he breathed, "you scared me."

i melted.  "i'm so sorry," i said as i hopped out of the chair.

"for what?" he asked as he wrapped me in a hug.

"for avoiding you," i choked.

"no," he whispered, "i'm sorry." he rested his chin on the top of my head.  i could hear his heart pounding.  i looked up at him.  he looked down to face me.

within seconds, our lips were locked together.  he bit my bottom lip, and i buckled further into his arms.  i wrapped my arms around his neck, and he tightened his around his waist.  he moved his lips from my lips to my neck.  the second he hit my sweet spot, i let out a quiet moan.

charlie walked me back toward the bed.  he tore off his shirt.  i ran my hands across his chest.  i was throbbing.  my hands fumbled for the button on his pants, but then my hands fell to my sides.

"you're engaged," i whispered into the darkness.

i felt him push his tousled brown hair back.  "we've got a deal that we're free until the ink on our marriage license is dry."

i propped myself up on my elbows.  "so you- you're not in love with her?"

he snarled.  "i don't think so. actually, i know i'm not."  he sat down next to me.  "nora, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, they, they didn't choose their wives.  the senate told them who to marry, and their marriages were fine."  he hopped off the bed.  "so, so, i should be fine, right?  i mean, i could learn to live with it... right?"

i sighed.  "charlie..."

he stood up, "nora, don't.  just, don't.  i already feel bad enough as it is."

"charlie!" i exclaimed.  he rushed off to his bathroom.  "chuck!"

he didn't respond.  i jumped off the bed, adjusted my shirt, and bolted out the door.  slamming it behind me.

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