“A contingency plan sounds great, and while I have no idea how this challenge is going to go, I can tell you that if Kyanna wins, there won’t be time for a contingency. She’ll probably have me executed on the spot.”
“Then she’ll have to kill me too because she’s going to have to go through me to get to you.”
“No. I don’t want that. If I lose, I want you to protect Shay. Promise me.”
“Okay. But you’re not going to lose.”
She didn’t want to spend what might be her last night arguing, so she just nodded. “I know.”
He smiled and kissed her as he pulled her into his arms.
She let him embrace her so she could close her eyes and lean on him and let him support her. Because otherwise, she was going to collapse.
As if sensing her distress, he bent and caught her under the knees, lifting her into his arms. He carried her to the bed and set her down gently. Then he sat beside her and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. “You’re a strong, capable woman, Willa. People love and respect you. A lot of Kyanna’s power comes from the fear she creates in others. Your power is real. Don’t forget that.”
She took his hand, brought it to her lips and kissed his knuckles. “Thank you. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’m really glad you’re going to be with me.”
He smiled, filling her with confidence. This warrior of a man believed in her. “I didn’t just tell your dad about the bracelet.”
He shook his head. “I told him I had plans for you.” Nick’s gaze dropped to a spot on the quilt.
“What kind of plans?”
His gaze came back to her, his voice solid and sure. “Future plans.”
She just stared up at him, trying to read his eyes in the dim light.
“Permanent future plans.”
She stilled, unsure what was happening. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Yes, you do.”
She shook her head, a small, simple back and forth. Suddenly the looming challenge was the furthest thing from her mind.
His smile widened. “And if it helps, your father gives his blessing.”
He was asking her to marry him. She couldn’t answer that. Couldn’t deal with that. Not now, not with all that lay before her and the chance that her future might be over tomorrow if she lost the challenge. But she had to say something. She couldn’t just leave him hanging. She tried to form a sentence that wouldn’t hurt his feelings or make him think she didn’t care. But, before she could say anything, Nick leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Go to sleep. Do your best to let go of your nerves and rest.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“Roll onto your stomach.”
She did as he asked, the thought of him wanting to marry her still at the forefront of her mind.
He moved her hair out of the way and slowly began to work the muscles in her back and shoulders with his strong, capable hands, kneading and massaging and stroking the tension—and the thoughts—out of her.
She sighed with the sheer pleasure of it. And then, somehow, fell asleep.
Morning came bright and cheerful, but that wasn’t how Nick was feeling a few hours later as he stood beside Willa at the doors to the great hall. She identified herself to the guards, then they opened the doors to let her and Nick in.
When the doors closed behind them, she grabbed his hand. “I know you didn’t have much of a choice, but thank you for coming with me.”
“Wouldn’t be anywhere else.” If he could, he’d take her place in the challenge. Whatever was necessary to keep her from harm. “Although I’d rather be the one fighting.”
She smiled. “I know. It’s enough that you’re here with me.”
He kissed her temple. “Always.”
They both took a look around. The great hall had been transformed from a gathering place into an arena. The long tables and benches had been pushed to the walls, leaving the center of the enormous space uncluttered. In that open area were two waist-high cubes of polished wood.
Nick had no idea what purpose they served, but it was clear they’d be involved in the challenge in some way. He tipped his head toward them. “What are those for?”
The room didn’t interest him as much as she did. She was a true fae beauty this morning, dressed in a long flowing robe and dress of pale purple and blue. A simple gold cord accented her narrow waist, and her hair was twisted back in a knot of braids to fall free down her back.
She looked every inch the queen she would become today.
She caught him watching and smiled, but worried lines creased her forehead. “What? You’re making me nervous.”
“I was just thinking how beautiful you look.” He smiled back as she blushed a little. He wished there was something more he could do to alleviate her worries. “Don’t be nervous. You’ve got this.”
“I hope.” Her gaze scoured the hall again. “I’m glad we came early.” Then her eyes narrowed on a distant spot. “Not early enough though, I see.”
Nick turned. Kyanna and Zane walked toward them from the interior doors.
Kyanna smiled radiantly. “Good morning, sister. Sleep well?”
Willa smiled wickedly at Nick before answering Kyanna. “Eventually, yes.”