My son runs at me full tilt and I grab him, scooping him up into my arms. “Daddy!” he shrieks, burying his face in my neck. “Daddy here!”
“Yes, I’m here,” I tell him, tears in my eyes as I rub my face against his. “Daddy’s here.”
“You’re here!” Layla rushes up to us, panting and red-faced from running after our wayward son. “You’re really here, what are you doing here?” She collides into me, hugging the both of us tightly, tears in her own brown eyes.
“I had to come back,” I tell her, laughing at how happy I am. “I came back for you.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, holding me tightly. “I’m so sorry. I was stupid, I was so stupid to push you away. I shouldn’t have said no, I didn’t mean it.”
“Layla,” I tell her, interrupting her. “I love you.” She stares at me, mouth agape, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“And I love you too,” I tell Jasper, who’s patting my cheek to get my attention and holding onto me like he’s never going to let me go again. I can’t blame him.
We stand there for a long moment, the three of us hugging and shedding a few tears. Jasper wriggles out of my grasp though and I set him down. He pushes Layla’s legs, trying to push her towards me.
We both laugh and I grab Layla and obey my son’s wishes, kissing her deeply, almost knocking the two of us off the pier in my excitement.
“I love you,” I tell her again. “I came here because I love you and I needed you to know that. I don’t want to be in the service if I have to be away from you. I’ll stop if I have to. I’ll quit. I’ll give up my status as a miou for you, I’ll give it all up if you’ll just say I can be with you and Jasper. We can live here on Zerva if you want.”
“Oh, Kerym!” she throws her arms around my shoulders and pulls me back in for another passionate embrace. Jasper hugs me around the ankles and I feel so happy. “I love you too,” she says, cupping my cheeks. “I love you so much. I was stupid to push you away. But we’re not staying on Zerva.”
“What? Why not?”
She glances over at Jasper. “I packed everything up this morning, first thing. Sold some stuff and bought two tickets. Jasper and I were going to come find you in Vhoig. I even gave all my stuff away. I couldn’t live here another minute if it meant living without you. I’ve already paid for our tickets and I’m willing to go anywhere if it means I get to be with you,” she says.
I can only stare at her in awe. She really is so incredible. I can’t believe this amazing, intelligent, stubborn, beautiful woman wants to be with me. “I can’t let you give up the job you worked so hard for,” she adds. “Your job is everything. I can live anywhere in the world as long as it’s with you.”
“But what about Jasper?” I ask, glancing down at my son who is still sitting between us. “Aren’t you worried about his safety in such a big city?”
“Yes, of course I am,” Layla says, shrugging. “I’d be foolish not to worry. But at the end of the day, if we’re there with you, I know things will be okay. You’ll protect us. I know you will. You won’t let any harm come to us. I trust you.”
“Gods, you…you’re incredible,” I say, throat tight with unshed tears. “I will protect you, I’ll protect you both with my life.”
“I know you will,” Layla says, her own brown eyes shining as she gazes at me.
I wanted this moment to be special, romantic and perfect but I can’t hold back a second longer. I have to get it out right now, or I’ll go crazy.
“Layla,” I tell her. “I know this isn’t the grand, fancy gesture that you deserve but I can’t wait another minute to ask you this question. I’ve wanted to ask you this since the day you left for Zerva. I actually came to see you that day, to ask you but you were gone. I’ve waited a long time to ask you now.”
“Ask me what?” she says, tilting her head as she regards me with curiosity.
“Layla Whitlock,” I get down on one knee, not caring that we’re in the middle of the pier where everyone can see. “Will you accept to be my mate?”
“Yes!” Layla says, throwing herself at me, hugging me and kissing me all over my face. “Yes, I’ll be your mate. It feels like everything is complete now.”
“Mama,” Jasper says, tugging on her dress. “We ride in boat now?”
The ship immediately lets out a warning signal that they are going to be departing soon. I look down at Layla.
She shrugs. “I mean, we’re already packed.” I smile and grab my son, hefting him up into my arms. Layla grabs the bags and we head back for the ship.
The captain looks absolutely irked as all get out to see me again but I pay him even more gold for his trouble and promise I’ll stay out of the way for the duration of the journey.
I lead the three of us down to a bigger cabin that can fit us all and we get settled again. “So, I had dinner with my parents yesterday,” I tell her.
“Oh?” she raises an eyebrow.
“They were all their usual selves. I told them about us. They were shocked and my father was angry. But the good news is that my brother Salnath was supportive.”
“I remember you talking about him!” Layla says. “How is he?”
“He’s mated now,” I tell her. “Her name is Ursalah. I’ve not spent a lot of time around her but she’s always been quite lovely. Also, she’s pregnant. They’re having a girl.”
“Jasper is going to have a cousin?” she asks.
“Yes,” I turn to my son, who’s playing with his stuffed toy on the bed. “Did you hear that, bub? You’re going to have a cousin!”
“Cousin?” he asks, scrunching his nose up in confusion.
“Yeah, it’s like a best friend for life,” I tell him. “I hope they will be best friends, anyway. I don’t think Salnath would keep them apart.”
“That’s exciting,” Layla grins. “A whole family. Wow. Well, maybe not your parents.”
“Don’t worry about father,” I tell her. “I won’t let him harm a hair on your head. No matter what he throws at us, I’ll be prepared. I stood up at dinner and told them all off. Said if they tried to hurt you I’d kill them.”
“But I don’t think it will come to that. Actually, I think mother might come around quickly. She will probably be easy to bribe once she sees Jasper. She’s going to love him.”
“I’m glad,” she says, holding my hand in hers. “Will we be able to see my family again soon?”
“I don’t want you to worry about a thing anymore,” I tell her. “My job as a Lieutenant comes with a high salary. You can live a good life now. You can go back and visit your family any time you want. We can even help them move to the continent if they want. I can find them better work than in a mining village.”
“You would do that for me?” she asks, eyes wide.
“I’d do anything for you,” I tell her seriously, leaning down to kiss her forehead. “You mean the world to me. Your family is my family now. I can help your cousin find a job as a seamstress, or perhaps a governess if she wants. I’ll make sure that you and everyone you care about are happy.”
“You’re incredible,” Layla says. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. When do you want to have the mating ceremony?”
“As soon as possible?” I suggest.
“Well, what about in…a month?” she offers. “That gives us enough time to set up our new lives in Vhoig and plan a ceremony.”
“Sounds good,” I say, glancing down to see that Jasper is listening. “Little pitchers have big ears,” I nudge her.
“You and Daddy gonna get mated?” he asks curiously.
“That’s right!” Layla says, scooping him up and putting him on her lap. “Me and Daddy are going to be mated and you’re going to help us out. You’ll get a big role in the ceremony. I bet you can handle it, can’t you bub?”
“I can do anything!” Jasper says excitedly. “Look!”
He closes his eyes and two white pavo appear in the air above us, circling around. They’re tiny and their beautiful song fills the air. “Wow!” I exclaim. “You’re so good at magic!”
I’m so excited that I can share my gift with my son now. That I can be with the woman I love and have a family. Maybe even more children someday.
Everything is perfect now that I have Layla.
Leave a Reply