Authors: Barbara Kloss
Alex was the one who eventually pulled back. He wiped the tears from my face, but he didn't look into my eyes. I could see that his were full of tears, too, and he was trying very hard to be strong for me. He was always doing everything for me.
"You should probably go." Even his whisper cracked.
And I knew he was right, but, oh! How could I go? How could I leave him here like this? I would go to Orindor as an empty shell of a human because Alex would always have my heart.
He reached up with his hand to touch my chin and stared deeply into my eyes. "I love you, Daria. I will
love you. They don't yet know the brilliant woman who is about to land in their grasp. Let them see it. Blind them with it as you have blinded everyone else you encounter. If anyone can turn the tides of this war, I know it is you."
I bit my bottom lip to hold back another sob, and then he released my chin and stepped back. It felt like he was permanently severing our connection. I also noticed he wasn't making any move to come back with me. "You're not coming?"
"I…" he started, then looked away and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Daria. I can't."
I inhaled slowly and my breath trembled. I understood. It hurt, but I understood. I wouldn't have been able to watch him walk away from me to marry someone else, either. I touched his cheek and turned it so that I could gaze into his deep green eyes. One last time. "Alexander Del Conte, I love you. More than I ever thought it was possible to love anyone." My voice cracked. "Promise me you'll be careful. The only way I'll be able to survive this is if I know you are alive and safe."
His emotions surfaced, an exact a mirror of mine, and the two combined were unbearable. I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the lips, letting my mouth linger there a moment. Drawing it out. Not wanting our last moment together to end. I knew I had to leave or I never would.
My chest tightened like someone had both hands around my heart and was squeezing the blood out of it—out of me. With a deep and shuddering breath, I stepped away from him and turned around. And with trembling steps and tears streaming down my face, I walked away from him.
'd always known this day would come, but nothing could have prepared me for the pain of it. It felt like my soul had torn from my body and was walking away from me, leaving only half the person I was intended to be. I wasn't sure if I knew how to be half.
I watched her walk away. I watched long after she'd gone because I knew as soon as I looked away, the moment would end and she would be starting a new chapter. A chapter I was not allowed to be a part of. Not like this.
I gripped the balustrade so tightly my hands ached and closed my eyes. Still, she was there, her beautifully structured face imprinted on my mind forever, looking up at me with those intense gray eyes, seeing everything I didn't say. Everything I was and tried to be. Eyes I would easily get lost in. I could still taste the fullness of her lips. I loved kissing her. My only regret was that I did not kiss her more.
I wanted to make her stay. I wanted to ask for her to wait for me, but there was no longer any time. I hoped I would not be too late, for as long as I had breath in my body, I would never stop loving her.
I let go of the balustrade. I had to go; I would have to move quickly.
"Del Can't," said a voice I really didn't want to hear.
I didn't bother turning toward the voice. I should've expected this to only encourage him further.
Thad leaned against the balustrade beside me, pretending to stare at the city. He still didn't know how I felt about him, and I preferred it this way.
"She's gone," he said, when I didn't say anything.
I'd already assumed she'd gone, but hearing it made me suddenly angry.
"Did you hear me, Del Can't?" he repeated.
I turned on him fast. Something in my face must have frightened him—which was a rare circumstance—for he took two steps back, while one of his eyes widened. His other was still purple and swollen.
"And you're not going after her?" he asked.
I clenched my jaw and glared back out at the city. Thad reached out and touched my arm, but I threw him off.
"For the love of all that's holy…" Thad said.
"That's not a long list for you, considering," I remarked. "And take that blasted piece of grass out of your mouth."
Thad smirked, chomping on that blasted piece of grass with renewed vigor. "Del Can't, you can't let her marry him!"
I stood up to full height, turned around, and left the portico.
"Whoa, whoa, wait!" Thad jogged after me.
"Most people leave when they know they're not wanted," I said.
"I'm not most people," he said, taking almost two steps for every one of mine.
Thad buzzed around me like a mosquito. "Give me one good reason why you shouldn't go after her."
Here, I stopped and bent my face so that it invaded his personal space. "What makes you think I'm not?"
Thad's eyes widened and the grass angled so far downward I thought it might fall right out of his mouth. To my utter disappointment, it did not. His lips stretched into a conspiratorial smile as though I had just let him in on a secret. I'd already said too much. Before I could divulge anything further, I walked past him.
This time, he was nipping at my heels like a Chihuahua. "I'm coming with you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied flatly, turning down a narrow pathway. I didn't dare take the other route yet, or Thad would know exactly where I was headed.
"Come on, Del Can't," Thad continued. "Whatever crazy plan you've got up your tight sleeves, you know you're gonna need help."
"Well, I'm coming with you whether you like it or not, so you might as well warm up to the idea."
I stopped and faced him, and he shrank back a little.
"You know, you can be really scary when you wanna be," Thad said.
"Lot of good it does me," I said through tight lips.
I folded my arms and stared hard at him, but he stood resolutely in place. I could use the extra help, and if I were being completely honest with myself, it would be nice to have the company. Even if it was Thad's. At last, I sighed. "Fine. But if I catch even a whiff betrayal, I will kill you."
Thad stuck out a hand, looking elated. He even lost the blasted blade of grass. "Deal."
I looked down at his outstretched hand, then turned and kept walking. He grumbled something behind me, but I didn't hear.
"So, uh, just how do you plan on getting her back?" Thad asked. "You going to start a war for her or something?"
"Yes, Thaddeus," I said. "That's exactly what I'm going to do."
Thanks to all of my readers. You guys are incredible! All your encouragement and poking and prodding has helped me get through the inevitable tough times, and you give me the courage to keep moving. Thanks for believing in the story and the characters and sticking with me. I know it's frustrating reading a series before its completion. Good news: You only have to wait for one more!
To my ever-patient and gracious critique partners: Christine and Ashley. After everything I've thrown at you, you still allow me to send you new material. Thank you for always beating me up gently, and for still loving Alex.
And my betas: Jenny, Madeline, Jules, Anthony, Sari, and my sister, Annie, and my mom. You have helped me with every book, and are still willing to help me with each subsequent one. Thank you for knowing my characters better than I do, seeing the big picture I tend to miss through the details, and for always telling me the truth. I know that it's hard giving criticism, and you all bestow it masterfully, thus making each story that much stronger. Thank you for not allowing me to release those horrid drafts I hand to you.
To my editor, Laura. You are Wonder Woman. I thank you for catching everything, and for always taking the time to explain and "right" all my grammatical and figurative "wrongs." Apparently, there's no end to what I don't know.
And, of course, my incredible husband, Ben. For always letting me throw sticky plot points at you and for allowing me to talk about my imaginary friends ad nauseam. You always listen patiently while also giving me excellent (and sometimes very painful) advice. You bear the brunt of my unruly imagination, and you are also so very forgiving when I've locked myself away in my writing cave while the house is in shambles. Thank you. I could not do this without your constant and unfailing support.
Other works by Barbara Kloss
The Keeper's Flame
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