“You did Kyanna’s bidding. Colluded with her. Kidnapped us. The dungeon’s the best place for you until we figure this out.”
Kyanna struck at Willa, but Nick snaked his arm out and blocked her attack. The guards took her to the floor of the grand hall a second later, pinning her there until she went still.
Willa stood over her sister, shaking her head. “Now who’s pathetic, Kyanna? You’re sprawled on the floor of the grand hall, your silk gown’s dirty and torn and your demented dreams of ruling this great kingdom shattered. As they should be. You’re done as All Seer. And done ruining Rhoswynn. You were never the right person to take over after King Edwyrd.”
“And you are?” Kyanna snarled as the guards hoisted her to her feet, her hands confined behind her back by wooden shackles.
“I’m certainly more qualified than you.” Willa shook her head and inhaled a deep breath. “Take them away.”
With sharp nods, the guards hauled Kyanna and Zane off. Kyanna went, fighting and cursing the whole way. Zane just trudged along, head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
Gerard nodded his approval. “You handled that well.”
“Thank you.” She sighed. “It’s been a long day. All I want to do now is rest.”
He put his hands together. “My apologies, Your Highness. I understand you must be very tired after such a display of your considerable power, but the king has asked that the coronation ceremony take place immediately.”
“Immediately?” Her grip on Nick’s arm tightened.
“I’m afraid so. I can give you an hour to rest at most.”
“Two,” Nick countered. “She’s exhausted.” Anyone who couldn’t see she was pale from her efforts wasn’t looking hard enough.
She let out a shallow exhale. “I am. Two hours sounds great. Otherwise, I may not make it through the ceremony.”
“Very well. Two hours, not a second more, then back here.” Gerard hesitated. “May I also be so bold as to say I am very glad you won.”
He gave her a short bow and strode away, off to prepare for the next stage of Willa’s life.
She slumped against Nick. “I love you for getting me that extra hour, but how are we actually going to get out of here?”
He nodded, wishing he could have gotten her more. “Lean on me. I’ll get us back to your parents.” He lifted his head and looked around. The crowd was thick and straining the silk cords. “Guards, your queen and her family need an escort.”
A six pack of fae royal guards looked at Willa. She gave them a weary nod. They fell in around them. He held Willa upright as he bent down, grinned at Shay and jerked his thumb toward his back. “Climb on.”
Her parents went ahead of them. Nick kept an arm around Willa’s waist as Shay rode on his shoulders. The crowd clambered around them, reaching for Willa and congratulating her, but the guards kept them back. Nick pressed forward. He wanted to return her to her parents’ as quickly as possible.
But with the crush of the crowd, almost twenty-five minutes passed before they were safely in her parents’ home once again.
Willa slumped even further as soon as the door was shut behind them. “I know there’s a lot to discuss, but I’m about to collapse, so we’ll have to save that conversation for later.”
“You need to rest.” Melinna nodded. “Do you want anything? Tea? Something to eat?”
“No,” Willa said. “Just the longest nap I can get away with.”
Nick leaned down so Shay could slide off his shoulders. Then the little girl ran up to Willa and grabbed her hand. “I’ll tuck you in.”
A tired smile answered Shay. “Thank you, sweetheart.” Willa let her little sister take her off to bed.
Nick watched them go, and the sudden realization that he was losing Willa struck him like an armor-piercing round. The impending loss resonated through him in sharp, grinding waves that refused to calm.
In less than two hours, Willa would be crowned queen of the kingdom of Rhoswynn. Her family was here. The family she’d just been reunited with. There would be no place for him in her life. And no reason for her to come back to Nocturne Falls.
He’d faced hell in the Rangers. Willingly. But this was a brand new kind of torture. Losing Willa wasn’t something he’d bargained on, just like he hadn’t figured on falling in love with her either, but he had.
And now the picture that he’d been painting in his head of their future was blurred and muddy. What future could they have when she was fae royalty and he wasn’t even fae?
He almost laughed. The irony of that wasn’t lost on him. But there was nothing funny about the reality of the situation.
Could he stay here? Maybe. But he’d be giving up a great job and his house to live in a place where his people had once been held as slaves. And how much of Willa would he really get? As queen, her responsibilities would be numerous. Her time would not be her own. There wouldn’t be any quiet dinners out, no more lazy summer picnics.
Instead, there would be pomp and circumstance and round the clock protection. Her life would be lived under a microscope of public scrutiny.
Something his presence would only intensify. People would talk. Judge her for her relationship with him. He couldn’t do that to her. Couldn’t undermine her rule that way. It wasn’t fair to her.
But she’d known that, hadn’t she?