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A slave is rescued...for the moment.

..I mean, just the idea of being married was..."

I sighed. "Maybe we shouldn't even think about marriage right now. We haven't even..."

"Do you need the physical connection before you can commit yourself to me?"

I wanted to say no. I wanted to tell him that he was perfect and I was sure he'd be just the same in the sack, but I couldn't. What if we didn't fit sexually? Then again, the last man that had fit sexually had fit me with a baby and ran like hell.

Tolem shook his head at my silence. "One time," he surrendered.

The shock must have registered on my face.


"Yes, tomorrow night. Give the upstairs help the night off so we won't be overheard."

I lifted a brow. "It's like that?"

He smiled. "It's like that."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"You do that...tomorrow. I'm taking the princess to bed."

I watched him gather Ella into his arms and exit the room.

I didn't even bother picking up my book again. I just turned off my lamp and settled in to sleep. My mother was leaving Georgia the next day. She'd arrive on Thursday, have a day to recover and then she'd have to attend the dinner on Friday evening. I was worried about her traveling such a substantial distance alone.

Even worse, prince Irial Force was arriving first thing in the morning and I had to be nice to him, even though the only reason he was coming was to size me up for marriage. And why wouldn't he want me?! The most important thing a king needs is an heir and I had child-bearing hips...and I'd already made a child! I wondered what he looked like, I hoped he was ugly, that would be the best excuse. I'd have no qualms about saying, "I cannot marry you Prince Irial; your appearance offends me greatly!"

I fell asleep with my thoughts and worries unanswered and swirling in my head.


The next morning I drug my feet once out of bed. I was not ready to face the prince. For once Tolem didn't hurry me along. I dressed slowly, picking out a plain white t-shirt and a pair of well-pressed khaki trousers. I pulled a brush through my hair, settling with pulling it back into a simple ponytail and put on my favorite flip flops. I looked very plain, and very unroyal.

Everyone stood when I entered the dining room and my heart sank. There were two new male faces in the room and neither one of them offended me greatly...not even a little bit. The prince rose from his chair with fluid grace. His hair was even longer than Tolem's, but black as pitch. It looked soft and had an unbelievable shine. It flowed around his narrow face as if he was being followed by a gentle breeze. His eyes were rich brown; his skin was pale as moonlight and his lips were generous and a pale pink. His ears stuck out from the sheet of his hair, and they were pierced with diamond studs. When I entered, his dark eyebrows raised a millimeter. I didn't want to think about why. Whether he was impressed, surprised, or disappointed in my appearance, didn't matter. I was just annoyed that he was so damned handsome...his chin was strong and his cheekbones could cut glass. He put me in the mind of Johnny Depp. I pushed that thought aside. That kind of thinking wouldn't help me figure out a way to get rid of him.

Behind him, his security detail eyed me warily. Irial must have been an important somebody, or someone thought he was...he had two...count 'em elves behind him. One woman and one man both stared me down.

The woman was tall, of course, she was a head taller than me with long chestnut brown hair tied back. The thick braid almost reached her, impossibly high behind. She had narrow grey eyes, a slender, oval face, and a permanent frown. The man looked like a male version of her, except taller, with broader shoulders and his brown hair was short, but shaggy. They both wore dark blue tunics and neatly pressed beige pants.

I attempted to smile at my guests but failed. "Good morning," I said as politely as I could.

Lady Ilyn smiled and bid me the same.

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