Willa glanced at Nick and nodded. “Yes. And no need to wait two hours this time.”
“I understand. Shall I begin the proceedings then?”
Willa gave Shay’s hand a little shake. “Ready to become queen?”
Shay’s nod was the most regal thing Nick had ever seen. “I was born ready.”
The crowd laughed along with Willa. “Good.” Then she pulled Nick closer. “Because all I want to do is go home.”
He leaned into her. “Me, too. But until we can do that, I’ll go stand with your parents again. This is Shay’s moment.”
Her smile went from joyous to knowing, and she bent her head close to his. “If you try to leave me again, I’ll have the royal guard hunt you down.”
“You saw that, huh? I can explain.”
“And I’ll expect you to. Later.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” He jumped off the dais before she could say anything else. He was still stunned she’d given up the throne for him. It was a gesture that humbled him and made him realize that he had truly met his match. Willa was the most amazing woman he’d ever known, and it was overwhelming to think she’d chosen him over all the other men she could have had.
He stood beside Melinna, who smiled at him before turning her attention back to her daughters. He joined her in gazing up at them and smiled with the kind of satisfaction he hadn’t felt in a long time.
Queen Willa wanted him.
Shay went through the coronation ceremony like she’d done it a hundred times, which reinforced Willa’s decision that giving her little sister the crown had been the right thing. With the help of their parents and Gerard, Shay would be just fine. And she’d grow into the job as she continued to grow into her powers.
Willa’s sense of peace continued even after she took the crown from her head and placed it on Shay’s.
And as the king left and the last of the gathered crowd was ushered out, she finally managed to relax. Just Nick, her family and a number of guards remained. She and Shay came down off the dais to stand with them.
“That was a bold move,” Jarrel said.
Willa nodded. “I know, but it was the only thing I could think to do.”
“That’s why you asked if I would help Shay if she needed me for something big, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And thank you.”
Her father nodded. “Anything she needs.”
Shay hugged Jarrel. “You can be my counsel, Daddy.”
He bowed to her. “Whatever Her Highness requires.”
They all laughed. Willa slipped her hand into Nick’s.
Melinna clasped her hands hopefully in front of her body. “You must be starving. Let’s all go back to the house and have a grand dinner, what do you say?”
Willa smiled. “As wonderful as that sounds, I really need to get back to Nocturne Falls. My poor cat, Jasper, has been locked up in the house with no one to look after him since we were kidnapped.”
“You have a cat?” Shay’s eyes rounded. “I want to meet him.”
She crouched to hug Shay. “I would love for you to visit. I just don’t know how easy it’s going to be for you to travel now.” She sighed. “I hope you don’t end up hating me for making you queen.”
Shay looked at her with great seriousness. “I could never hate you, Willa. And I’ll come visit. You’ll see. I’m the queen now. No one can tell me no.”
Nick laughed. “The crown suits her.”
“Too much, perhaps,” Melinna said. She laid a hand on Willa’s arm. “I’m sorry for how your visit here came about, but not sorry for the end result. I hope you’ll come and visit us, too.” She smiled at Nick. “Both of you.”
He nodded. “We will.” He put his arm around Willa’s waist. “Right?”
“Right.” She gazed up at him, wondering how it was possible to love a man she’d only known for a week this much. She reached over, yanked the bracelet off his wrist and tucked it in her pocket, which no longer held the key to the Crystal of Ardwynn-Rhos. “I think we’re done with that now.”
“Good.” Nick’s stomach growled.
She laughed. “Mother, I know I said we had to head home, but maybe you could make us a few sandwiches for the road?”
Melinna nodded. “I’d be happy to.”
Forty-five minutes later, Willa and Nick had each had a sandwich and were ready to go, another bag of sandwiches and a flask of water packed for the trip. They stood out in the garden of her parents’ home, aware they would soon be the subject of many curious eyes, but not caring.
“You ready?” Nick asked. “It’s going to be a long trip, but not nearly as long as the one up here. I can fly it in about half the time.”
“I’m ready,” Willa answered. She wanted to be home more than anything. She hugged her parents and Shay, pausing to say a few last words to the new ruler of Rhoswynn. “You know you still have to decide what’s going to happen to Zane and Kyanna, but if you want me to help you, I can come back in a few days and—”
Shay shook her head, her bright gaze sharp. “No, I can do it. It will be my first ruling as queen. They deserve to be punished for what they did to you and for what they were planning to do to the kingdom. I’ll figure it out.”
Willa kissed her cheek. “I have great faith in you.”