X. May 17, 1923

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For the past week, I've tried everything to ignite the white flash and propel us into another time in history—helping those who serve this house, showing obedience to the people acting as my parents, and spending way too much time getting to know Aakil. With every failed attempt, I grow closer to a wedding with a man I don't wish to marry, and I'm scared as hell.

To make matters worse, we are on the third day of the wedding celebration and today Aakil and I will make it official. A swarm of women dances around me, tugging on my hair, painting my hands with henna, and applying my makeup. No matter how beautiful the dress and how sweet Aakil has been, I am not looking forward to our nuptials in the coming hours. It's impossible for me to be at this moment when my mind is always drifting to someone who is not the man I'm marrying.

I can't stay focused when it feels like Sage is always near, but never within my reach. He escorts Aakil to our daily meetings and sits down the table from me at dinner, but we haven't found a moment alone since that first day.

It turns out that Sage's employer also holds an interest in the marriage of Aakil and me. The joining of our families will fortify the territory and could pay off handsomely in trade with England. Our wedding will benefit so many, but force me to vow my love to someone who I don't have that feeling for.

But time is running out, and there are just mere minutes until the ceremony is to begin. All the thoughts I'm having are useless because it's becoming clearer and clearer that there is nothing I can do.

The last few strands of my hair are curled and my makeup is perfect, but I feel like I'm going to have a panic attack at any moment, and I have to get away...there are too many people around and not enough air in the room.

I turn to the young lady who just fastened the golden piece of jewelry around my neck and whisper, "I really need a second alone. Where can I go?"

She smiles and pushes a loose strand of hair from my face. "You do not have to go anywhere. Leave it to me." Stepping around me and raising her voice, she says, "Everyone needs to leave the room; the bride needs a minute alone." She shoos everyone out and winks at me as she closes the door behind her.

Taking a deep breath, I sink into the high-backed chair in the corner, my heart beating out of my chest. I don't see any way out of this, and I can't imagine even touching Aakil after what happened in the forest with Sage, even if in my heart it means nothing.

I stand and pace in front of the window at the back of the room, and when I see Sage in front of the fountain in the courtyard, my heart leaps into my throat. I have to see him.

I tap my fingernail on the glass, softly at first, then louder so he can hear. His head snaps up, and a smile spreads across his face—a smile full of both overwhelming joy and heart-wrenching sadness. I gesture for him to come up, mouthing the words I need to see you...please. Glancing around the courtyard, he nods once and disappears.

Two minutes later, there is a soft knock at the door and I rush over to open it, grasping his wrist and pulling him into the room.

"Sage," I manage before a sob escapes my throat. 

His head whips back around and his eyes go wide. "I don't know if this is such a good idea, Rylan. If you and I are caught..."

I turn the lock on the doorknob and rush to the window, pulling the curtains closed. "I had to see you. I'm panicking here," I say as I cross the room back to him, putting my hands in his.

His thumbs brush over my knuckles, and he says, "It will be all right, just do what comes naturally to you. It has been your instincts that have gotten us this far, and I trust you to do the right thing."

"How are you so sure it will be all right? Everything about this time is different from the rest. We've been here longer, we're in a different country...and it sure isn't Woodstock," I whisper, a smile threatening to pull at my lips despite everything.

One side of his lips quirks up. "No, it's not Woodstock, but I've seen you live through some very tough moments. Think about it; you have talked someone off the ledge and given up your belongings for a child. Hell, you have rushed into a burning building that was on the verge of collapsing. You've got this."

I swallow and inch closer to him. "But none of those things involved vowing my love for another man," I whisper.

"No, they didn't."

"What if this wedding isn't the trigger? What if I give myself to Aakil and we never leave?"

"And what if you don't and the people outside these walls starve to death? You have to weigh the options. What are you saying no for, and what are you saying yes for?"

"I understand that, but...but this is my life too, Sage. At some point, don't I have to live for myself? I don't want to see anyone starve to death, but the thought of spending an undefined amount of time with anyone other than y—" I clear my throat. "With a random person," I say, shaking my head. "I can't even imagine it."

He weakly smiles and lifts my knuckles to his lips. "I don't want you to marry him either, but there is either a happy ending for us or one for thousands of people." He places a gentle kiss on my hand and releases it. "The choice is yours to make, princess."

My eyelids fall shut and I count Sage's steps as he walks from the room, leaving me to make the right decision. Us or all of them.

A firm knock comes from the door. "Are you ready, Riya?"

I take a deep breath and open the door.

Everything is a blur of bright luxurious fabrics and delicate exotic flowers. I'm carried on a plush chair to a gazebo adorned with flowing chiffon and green vines, where my groom sits upon one of the two golden thrones. Our parents are seated on either side, eager for us to complete the traditions which will lead to our union. I go through the motions, exchanging floral garlands, releasing spices and herbs into the fire in the center of the gazebo, and reciting the words passed down through generations. When Aakil places a necklace around my neck, my palms become slick with perspiration. I know what comes next, but can I make the seven Hindu vows to my husband-to-be?

For the first time since the ceremony started, I lift my chin and find Sage standing to the side with his hands clasped in front of him, his lips pressed together in a tight line and his eyes trained on me. It is so difficult to read what he is feeling at this moment. Part of me wants to run into his arms, but I know the consequences of my actions will be dire. This time it will not be hunters or terrorists that take innocent lives; it will be me.

I pull my gaze from Sage's and return it to my hands as the vows begin. I pray for provisions and nourishment for Aakil and my family, and we pray together for strength in our times of weakness. We ask for prosperity, our families to stand by us, children, and health. When the seventh vow begins, my stomach turns.  Aakil promises me his friendship, love, and loyalty for the rest of his life. I take a moment to muster the courage, but when I do, the edges of my vision burn white as the words flow from my mouth. And India flashes away.

 And India flashes away

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