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A Thousand Heartbeats: Part 3 – Chapter 94


I could see that she was bracing herself. If I broke her, she’d never admit it, taking it all with a graceful smile.

So like her mother.

“You already know the most important things: your brother and his wife are alive, and so are you and I. I’d call that a miracle in and of itself.”

“As would I,” she said.

“My mother died in your arms, and I don’t know if anyone told you that Nickolas was killed last night by Mamun.”

She sat up a little taller. “What?”

I nodded. “I can see now that Mamun was trying to hide his tracks. He didn’t know how much longer he would need to keep his deal with Kawan a secret, so he took Nickolas out of the way when he started talking. Nickolas was a coward, but it seems he was innocent, in the end.”

Annika shook her head. “He wasn’t.” She swallowed, her eyes tracing the details in the blanket covering her. “He locked me in my room and went off to kill Escalus—he didn’t know Escalus had left. I picked the lock and ran.”

“I’d expect nothing less from you.” I nodded to myself, proud and thankful. “Bravo. Kawan is in chains, as is Mamun, and they will receive a proper trial. My friend Inigo is well, and I’ve found out Blythe survived the night.” I smirked. “Inigo is tending to her most enthusiastically. Palmer helped set up an area to treat all the wounded, and the guards are taking care of the deceased.”

She nodded. “Are you stalling? I need to know what’s coming more than I need to know what’s happened.”

“True.” I swallowed, perhaps the most frightened I’d been in my life. “I just need to ask you a question, then.”

She steadied herself again, adjusting blankets and sitting up as tall as she could manage. “And what is that?”

“It is simply this: Annika Vedette, will you do me the extraordinary honor of accepting my hand?”

She stared at me, and I watched as the tears formed in her eyes. “I want to say yes more than you know . . . but if my people have to leave, you know—”

I shook my head, walking over and setting the books on her bed. “I’ve been poring over this book, reading names that sound familiar and coming across accounts that I swear I’ve heard before. But,” I began, lifting the second book, “what you found here is equally as fascinating.”

I flipped to a page with an old map. Here, finally, an account of all seven clans was documented. It even went so far as to give detailed maps of each clan, showing major families in each, pointing out who originally owned large sections.

“Look,” she breathed happily. “There you are. We were neighbors.” She drew a delicate finger over the line that marked the border between her ancestors and mine.

“Yes, we were. See how large your land was? It’s not surprising your people felt betrayed when they were passed over for mine. But you know what else I found?”

She shook her head.

“This book outlines how your ancestors organized the clans to battle against the multiple invasions they were facing. I saw their military plans, their sacrifices, their work. Annika, maybe my people had something taken from us, but none of it would still be here had your ancestors not fought so valiantly. That is worth remembering. And I’m thankful for it.”

“I’m glad. I’m glad we saved it. And I’m glad to hand it over to you in one perfect piece.”

“Are you quite sure about this, Annika? Do you truly want to give me your kingdom?”

“No,” she whispered. She looked down, lovingly touching the ring on her thumb before tugging it off and setting it in my palm. “I want to give you your kingdom.”

I saw spots on the blanket from where her tears fell. I gave her a moment; I needed her to be able to hear me.

“You might remember that my people are not simply Dahrainians,” I said gently. “They come from several countries, adopted into our protection. I have no intention of barring them from Dahrain . . . and I have no intention of barring your people, either.”

She finally met my gaze.

“And I keep thinking of your mother. Down to her last breath, Annika, all she wanted was peace. Wouldn’t she be so pleased to see you embracing my people as your own?”

She closed her eyes and nodded, and I dropped to my knees beside her bed.

“According to this book, you’re right: I ought to be king. The crown should have passed down my line, but it wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for yours. So, for once, let’s not make anyone choose. I think you and I, Annika, could be something. We could build something.” I took a deep breath. “So stay with me. Marry me. Otherwise, this victory is empty. Otherwise, I am empty.”

She turned her head, and for a moment, I feared I’d lost her.


She was covering her mouth still when she turned back to me, but the crinkles beside her eyes said she was smiling.

“Sorry,” she said, finally pulling her hand away and wiping at her tears. She placed her palm flat across the pages that marked our joint history, both the good and the bad. “It’s just, all this time I’d been looking to fairy tales to find my happily ever afters. It seems I was studying the wrong books.”

I took her hand, and she held mine back, and I felt the world settle into place.

“Lennox Au Sucrit,” she began.

I didn’t realize how much my name meant to me until she said it.

“I want nothing in the world but to be yours.”

And that was how I, in less than a day, came to have everything.

How we came to have everything.

There was a knock at the door, and Palmer entered.

He looked at Annika, noting the tears in her eyes. “Are you quite well, Your Majesty?”

She smiled. “Oh, I am perfectly fine. And you, Your Majesty?” she asked, looking at me.

I was lost for a moment, unable to believe that the dream I’d always wanted had been dropped into my lap. I crossed the space between us, giving Annika the gentlest of kisses and basking in her radiant smile. “I have never been better.”


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