Antia stared down sadly at her hands as the carriage drew closer to the dark keep. Her fingers gripped her dress and her heart fluttering in fear. The idea of an arranged marriage was abhorrent to her, even if it was necessary. “You know I wouldn’t ask this of you if there were any other way.” Her father said, his voice tinged with worry.
“I know.” Of course she knew. He was a good man, kind and gentle, he cared for his people like they were his family and what his family needed was peace with one who had once been their enemy.
“He promises not to harm you.”
“He’s a demon king, he could be lying. They are known for their brutality.”
He reached over and placed his hand on hers. “He seems a man of his word. If we are to unite our people then this must be done. I’m sorry, Antia.”
“It’s okay daddy, it’s not your fault.” She gave him a smile, trying not to show her fear. “I’m the oldest, I can do this.” She was terrified of meeting her husband to be, even more terrified to be alone with him. She had heard rumors about him from her father’s soldiers. She swallowed when the carriage pulled to a stop, her heart giving a leap.
“Be brave, Antia.”
“I will.” The door opened and her father climbed out then turned and helped her. Her eyes moved up the stone steps, following the line of the castle to the highest tower. There was a coldness here, but she knew she could do this and if she had to, she would fight him.
She hadn’t thought he was waiting on her, but when they were let inside he was standing just inside the door, his eyes very obviously going over her. She couldn’t read his expression, but she was ready for anything. She wasn’t as quick to trust this as her father seemed to be, but she was willing to try this for her people. If marrying him could stop all the heartache that was caused she was more than willing to at least try. It was just hard for her to trust a man who would accept a bride as a means of peace, a man who she supposed may not be capable of love so could settle for a loveless marriage just to have a wife. If it was to have someone to do his bidding all the time he had another thing coming. She agreed to be a wife, not a servant and she knew her father wouldn’t fault her for demanding his respect.
Fear wouldn’t diminish her self worth so she would demand to be treated properly. “Welcome, it is nice to meet you Antia.” His voice was kinder than she expected, but she wasn’t ready to be put at ease “It’s nice to meet you too Sir Divna.”
“You are to marry me, it makes more sense for you to use my name as well Antia.”
Andrej’s eyes slid from her, to her father. “Larkin.”
“Divna, it’s nice to see you in good health.”
Andrej huffed out a laugh. “No need to lie.” He gestured to the rest of the keep. “I am sure you are both exhausted. Allow me to show you to your rooms and then you can join me for dinner.”
“You’re going to show us?” Antia asked and he let his eyes move back to her. She swallowed at his all too knowing gaze.
“Is there a problem with that princess? I have lived here all my life and I am quite capable.”
“I…very well then.”
He held out his hand to her and it took her a moment to realize he wanted her to take it. She didn’t like she couldn’t tell what he was thinking and she glanced at her father who gave her a nod. She reached out and took his hand and he pulled her close, placing her hand in the crook of his elbow. He guided her away, heading toward the stairs and her father followed behind. “I hope you will find my home to your liking.” He said. “I am sure it will take some getting used to.”
“I’m sure I’ll manage.”
He nodded. Andrej could tell his bride to be didn’t like him. It radiated off of her and she only seemed to tolerate his touch for her father’s sake. He, on the other hand, couldn’t help but notice the warmth of her skin and her sweet scent, he even found her attitude amusing. “If you would like, once we have seen your father off tomorrow, I can give you a tour. I would not want you to get lost.”
“You’re leaving daddy?” She asked as she turned to look behind her.
“Until the wedding, there are things I have to take care of, plus your brothers will want word that everything went well.”
Sadness crept into her heart at the thought of them being alone so soon. She had hoped her father would be around at least a few days so she could have some piece of home before being alone in a strange place to live with a man she only knew by the things she had heard about him. She wondered why he hadn’t told her that so she could better prepare herself emotionally. She knew the entire situation was hard for him as well so maybe it was that. She knew the guilt he felt that it had come to this. He was her father and a loving one at that. She knew he’d prefer her be happily wed to someone she loved, someone with a much better reputation than this man had so she wouldn’t say anything else and she wouldn’t show how her heart ached at the thought of being simply at Andrej’s mercy, or lack there of so soon.
Though she tried her father knew her too well to not notice and he felt even worse but she was determined to do this for their people and he knew if they backed out now things would only be worse between them and Andrej. They soon entered a room that surprised her. She hadn’t expected to be in the dungeon or anything but her room was actually pretty, it was honestly something she would have designed for herself. She might wonder if he had cared enough to decorate, paint and set the room up to her liking but they didn’t know each other, how could he have known how to make a room comfortable for her.
Dinner wont be long, someone will come for you. Just try to relax in here until then Antia. I will be off now to show your father to his room. She didn’t know what to say to him and he didn’t seem to expect her to say anything as he simply walked out of the room and shut the door behind them. She walked around the room, feeling the furniture and her bed, taking in the space that would be hers until she had to share a room with Andrej. Instead of sulking she took a deep breath in and a slow breath out, finding gratefulness in her heart that so far he seemed to want to stay true to what he said to her father, that he’d treat her well.
When the belongings she had brought from home were toted in her room by servants she pulled out something nice to wear and decided to shower. She may not like Andrej, but she wanted this to work. He was obviously willing to make some sort of effort so she would too and clean herself up from the journey here. Antia made it a quick shower, not wanting to still be inside when someone came to get her for dinner. Once dressed she dried and brushed out her long white hair in front of the mirror in her room, messing with it until she felt she looked pretty. She took a long, calming deep breath in again and let it go, reminding herself of all the people she was doing this for. She could handle this life and she still had time before their wedding. She wasn’t his wife yet and this really was a nice room.
Andrej and her father were waiting for in the dining room when she was escorted from her room. Her heart drummed quickly in her chest as Andrej’s eyes swept over her, seemingly studying every inch of her. Her skin flushed when his grey eyes finally met hers, reminding her of storm clouds. “Red is a good color on you.” He finally said.
“Oh, thank you.”
He stood and pulled out the chair next to his. “Please, join us.” She took a moment to look him over as she crossed to him. He had changed as well, now wearing a loose dark blue shirt and soft looking black breeches with knee high boots. His hair hung loose down his back, blue black and reminding her of raven wings. She had to admit he was quite handsome. “Was the room to your liking?” He asked as he pushed her chair in and took his spot next to her.
“Yes, it’s nice. The colors and decor…”
Andrej looked at her father. “He asked you be comfortable so I asked him about some of your favorite things.”
“I hope I got everything right.” Her father said.
“Your father said you prefer warmer colors.” Andrej added. “They suit you, little elf.”
So he had done it on purpose thanks to her fathers request. “Thank you.” She felt calmer, actually hopeful that this would be an okay marriage. This could all be show until after the wedding, but while she worried she also was logical enough to see he was doing things he didn’t have to do. He could have simply greeted her when she walked in then had a servant show her to her room. While her father had requested she be comfortable Andrej hadn’t needed to go out of his way like he had with her room. He certainly didn’t have to pull out a chair for her, she couldn’t remember the last man who had done that that wasn’t trying to get in her pants.
His traveling eyes suggested he probably did want to have sex with her, but as his wife that would be something she’d have to do regardless, it was one of the first things she had started mentally preparing herself for when it was decided this marriage would happen. She waited a bit into dinner to ask, “So exactly when do you have to go tomorrow?”
“Probably right after breakfast, there really is a lot to do.” He sounded so apologetic. Even the way he held his body seemed sad so she tried to comfort him by trying to come off as not being worried in the slightest “it’s fine, simply wondering”
“A week isn’t so long.”
“Not at all, I’m sure it’ll fly by.”
“We have plenty of things here to keep you occupied.” Andrej said as their food was brought out and placed in front of them. “Of course if you wish you are welcome to wander at your leisure. I only ask that you stay out of the forest unless I am with you. It can be quite dangerous.”
“Are there any places inside that are off limits?”
“This is your home now, go where you wish.”
“What about my family, will they be allowed?”
“Antia.” Her father said. He knew she could be stubborn, but Andrej was a demon and they were in his territory.
“Of course, I only ask for notice.”
“I think I can manage that.”
They sat and ate for a few moments in silence, Antia’s mind constantly on what living here would entail. She had heard a lot of horrible stories about demons, especially the men and Andrej was, she hated to admit, a bit intimidating in both size and temperament. Did he expect obedience and would he hurt her if she disobeyed? “Someone’s far away.” Andrej’s fingers brushed her hand and she jumped, surprised when an amused grin pulled at his lips. “So skittish, like a little bunny.” He cast his gaze to her father. “You should have told me, Alvar.”
“She isn’t usually.” Her father replied and she could see mirth creeping into his worried eyes.
“You only surprised me, I was deep in thought.” She felt heat crawling up her neck again and cursed her pale skin.
“And what were you thinking about?”
“I see.” He took a drink of his wine, his eyes never leaving her. He breathed her in, letting everything about her play over his senses. He wouldn’t admit it to her, not yet anyway, but the moment he had seen her he had been shocked by how truly beautiful she was and had been drawn to the stubborn fire burning in her eyes. He had never met a woman like her, a woman with a wildness in her heart.
He wished she would have said anything else as they ate, but he understood. He was truly just grateful her aura didn’t feel so against him anymore. He wanted a real relationship with her, especially now that they had met in person. “Since your father is leaving you two may go enjoy my library or wherever else you’ll be comfortable. I can sense how much he will be missed by you.” Andrej stood, straightening out his clothes. “Goodnight princess Antia.” he wanted to bend down and kiss even her forehead, but he wagered she’d be faster won if he didn’t push too hard. Andrej would wait until she was more at ease around him.
“Goodnight Andrej…I want to thank you again, for making this first evening nice.”
He was looking into her eyes as he said, “I want you to be happy here. I’d rather have a bride who isn’t only with me for her kingdom’s sake.” She blushed again and he made no effort to hide his grin.
“That was…something.” Her father said once Andrej was gone.
They both stood and she took her father’s arm, walking out of the dining room with him. There was another maid waiting there for them. “The library is this way, ma’am.”
The woman gave a slight curtsy then lead them down the hall to a set of double doors. “If you need anything, please call for one of us.” She pushed the doors open and Antia’s mouth fell open when she saw the shelves upon shelves of books. The fireplace had been lit and it felt warm and cozy. The room itself was beautifully constructed in a gothic style that to some might seem sinister, but in the light that poured through the large, ornate stained glass window it was gorgeous.
“Wow.” She finally said.
“Wow indeed.” Her father agreed. They took a seat in front of the fireplace and her father took her hand. “Are you going to be okay without me?”
“I’m going to have to be.”
“I am sorry, I should have said something, but I was so focused on bringing you here, on what might happen, that I…”
“It’s really okay daddy, I’m not mad, I know you have responsibilities back home and I’ll be fine. He seems to be trying. I’m scared, but I’m going to try for all of us.”
“It has been a relief to see his treatment of you so far. Not that I think you’d ever stay with a man who was horrid to you. I wouldn’t expect you too either so keep that in mind. I wont blame you if this falls apart because he was treating you poorly.”
“I love you dad.”
“I love you too my beautiful girl.” They had a nice night and when morning came she made sure not to let any tears fall down her cheeks. It was only a week and she could see him again on her wedding day. Not to mention Andrej had already given his word her father would be allowed to visit.
“Are you alright Antia?” Andrej asked as they watched her fathers carriage ride off.
“Are you ready for the tour of your new home?”
“Yes.” She was happy he had saved the tour for after her father left. The distraction would help her not let the tug at her heart of parting with her dad get the better of her.
Andrej guided her slowly around, his hand pressed gently into the small of her back. He showed her the kitchen, introducing her to the cook and his daughter who assisted him. He made sure she knew the names of each maid as well as the butler who oversaw them and the rest of the workers. Now that she was actually paying attention to her surroundings, she realized how truly amazing it all was. A lot had gone into designing and building this place. She loved the living area and how beautifully decorated it was and she noticed there was a space above the fireplace where a painting had been. “What was up there?”
“My father’s portrait.” He answered. “Not exactly the kind of man you want staring at you all day.”
“Was he cruel?”
“Of course, but you can say it worked in my favor.”
“Because I would not be the man I am today if not for his cruelty. He wanted an heir that was also a weapon and he got me. I’m the perfect mix of strength, intelligence, and instinct.”
“Oh, I see.” Not just from people, but she had learn from books as well that demon males were often monstrous, committing heinous acts for the pleasure of it. She kept wondering when Andrej was going to pounce and if maybe this was all an act, but then again wouldn’t he have dropped it the moment her father left?
“You have heard the stories about me I presume.” His voice brought her out of her own thoughts.
“Yes, though they’re not all nice.”
“Good, embellishments bred fear which gave me the advantage.” He guided her out and to the ball room. “I don’t have the pleasure of using this, but perhaps with you here it won’t be such a waste.”
“Do you dance?”
“I learned, but I was never interested in it.” He smiled. “Perhaps you will give me the pleasure of dancing with you.” A blush tinted her cheeks and he chuckled. “Red really is your color, princess. It’s like watching flowers blooming in the snow.”
Her heart stuttered at how sweetly he was looking at her. Mostly because he wasn’t even close to what she had expected.”Would you like to try dancing now?” He gave her a half bow and held out his hand. She took it and he gently guided her to the center of the room. “Should I call on someone for music? We can just talk while we dance as well.”
“We can talk.” She wanted to get to know him more, the real him if what he was saying was true. He lead, moving them around the room expertly. “You really haven’t danced much?”
He chuckled again. “Once I learn something I never forget.”
“That must be nice.”
“In some ways, in other ways its a burden to have such a good memory. ”
“Because of your dad?”
“I can’t even imagine, my dad has always been so wonderful, so has my mother.”
“I gathered that, you wouldn’t have seemed so sad at the thought of him leaving otherwise.” There was something about dancing with him that eased her. It made him glad he had given her a tour and brought her here. She didn’t want to spoil his seemingly good mood, but she had to ask so the question of why he’d want an arranged marriage wouldn’t plague her. “Why would you want an arranged marriage?”
He didn’t seem mad due to the question, but it took him a second to answer, he had wanted to be careful answering a question like that. “It’s something that’s been done all through history and it has about as much chance of working out as choosing your partner. There is also the added fact I can rest assured the war between your father and I is completely over. He loves you very much so I know he wont go back on anything we’ve agreed to in this peace we’ve arranged. I’m not accusing your father of being fickle just to be clear. I think if we both give this a chance we could be happy together Antia.”
“What would happen to me if another war broke out?”
“Nothing, I would keep you safe. You are not a bargaining chip to be used. This is your home and no matter what happens, I want you to be happy here. Besides, I doubt there will be another war between your father and I.” He pulled her a little closer, enjoying the heat of her pressed against him. She tipped her head back to look into his eyes and he found himself grinning.
“I just realized how much smaller you are than me. It’s cute.”
Her face flushed with embarrassment. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Not at all, you’re perfect.”
“W…well, you being so tall has its advantages I suppose. So, I guess you’re perfect too.”
He never realized how hard it was not to kiss someone until he met her and as they finished their dance, he compromised by bringing her knuckles to his lips and kissing them instead. “Thank you for that.”
He finished showing her around then asked, “How was your time in the library yesterday? Did you find any books you are interested in?”
“After I finished admiring it I mostly spoke to my father.”
“You like it?”
“It’s beautiful, everything around here is beautiful.”
“I agree.” He said with a smirk that she understood. She begged her own body not to blush, but he had her yet again. He looked so amused and happy because of it though she guessed blushing wasn’t so bad.
“S…so, do you recommend anything?” She asked as he took her back to the library.
He chuckled. “How cute you are trying to run from your own embarrassment.”
“I’m not, it’s just you do it so easily, it’s not fair.”
He smiled as he let her go and let his fingers run over the spines of some of the books. She admired how incredibly gentle his touch was for a warrior and blushed as she wondered if that’s how he would be with her. She didn’t know why her thoughts had to drift there and silently reprimanded herself. They barely knew each other, but the fact that he was so kind and handsome didn’t help. “Here we go, my little elf, I think you’ll enjoy this one.” He pulled one of the books down and went back to her, holding it out. It was bound in blue leather and well worn like he had spent a lot of time reading it.
“What is it?”
“Short stories about elves and dragons and even demons. There’s a lot of magic and sword fights and romance.”
“Thank you. Do you have a favorite?” She flipped the book open and he moved to look over her shoulder.
“The one about the dragon and his gold.”
“Dragons seem to always make for good stories. They are such interesting creatures.”
“Have you ever been near one? Besides through a book?”
“Yes, a few times.”
“Oh, could I hear about it?”
Her heart stuttered, he truly seemed to want to hear about her life. “Um, sure.” They sat down, Antia holding the book in her lap and Andrej sitting near her, unable to resist the urge to be close to Antia. “Well I was out for a walk when I was a teenager and found one sleeping. I was surprised, I didn’t think they ever just slept in the open. It had seemed to be in a deep rest, but it seemed to sense me walking towards it and woke up immediately. I was in such aw, it was gorgeous, most dragons are. If they aren’t gorgeous they’re…” she blushed again, she had almost said bad ass, but she wasn’t sure his point of view on women cursing. Things were going so well, she didn’t want to start them going in a bad direction, “cool looking.” She said instead.
“And how did it react?”
“We just stared at each other for what seemed like forever and then it stood and shook out its wings. They were so pretty. Then it nodded at me and took off. Seeing one in flight, it was just amazing.”
The adorable way she described that experience had his heart tripping over itself. She looked so sweet and sincere, her face bright red, a gentle smile on her lips. He hoped he could always make her happy. It occurred to him that he hadn’t even properly asked her to marry him. Even though he was happy with their arrangement, he was sure it had been a shock to her. He had never had to give up anything, had never been forced to uproot his life and start over. He decided to continue getting to know her and then hopefully she would truly say yes when he asked. “Antia?”
“Hmm?” She looked up at him and for a moment he got lost in her eyes. “Yes?”
“Could I show you something amazing?”
“You haven’t already?”
He chuckled. “Okay, something just as amazing.”
She smiled as she closed the book. “Okay.”
“You don’t mind a little wind right?” He asked as he guided her out of the library.
“Not at all. Where are we going?”
“To the lookout tower. You can see everything from there.”
Her heart danced excitedly, she knew that would be amazing. His land was beautiful, she had watched it’s landscape go by on her way here and hoped the view would be everything she was hoping. So far everything was better than she would have thought so her disposition was much more hopeful and eager than it was when she arrived just yesterday. He could tell and that made him incredibly happy, especially when they arrived at the the top of the lookout tower and she was as pleased as he was hoping she’d be. “Wow.”
“I hope you realize I mean it, you are welcome to go anywhere you please in this castle as much as you desire.” She pulled her eyes away from the land and looked at him again, his eyes instantly locking with hers. The need to kiss her awoke in him again, she was just so gorgeous. He once again compromised by simply kissing her knuckles. That sweet gesture winning her over all the more.
They spent a little longer standing up there, her taking in the view and him admiring her. She gave a little shiver and he drew her into him. “Would you like to go?”
“We don’t have too, I’m alright.”
“You’re shivering. Let me take you inside.”
And she was blushin again at being so close to him. “Alright.”
“May I carry you?”
“Yes, of course.”
He lifted her gently in his arms, his own heart matching the stuttering pace of hers. Her arms went around his neck and he chuckled. “Afraid I’ll drop you?”
“No, does it bother you?”
“Not at all, in fact I may just carry you everywhere.”
By the time night came she was actually sad to part from him, but she was hardly going to ask if she could share his room. It was an oddly happy sadness though as he shut her in for the night. She actually wanted to be with him, she could help her people and truly be happy at the same time. She sat on her bed, opening the book he had left her with and began to read. She hadn’t even realized she’d fallen asleep until he came for her the next morning. He smiled when she answered the door. “You look like someone who was reading all night.”
“It is a really good book.”
“I wanted to walk with you to breakfast, would it be alright if I waited for you to get ready Antia?”
“Yeah, I’ll be quick.” She happily got ready, taking a little time with her hair but no so long as to make his wait terrible. He smiled when she returned, lifting her into his arms.
“I did warn you I may carry you everywhere.” She blushed, wondering if it was a desire to hold her that made him come so early to her bedroom.
He sat next to her as they ate, making her blush with his every little flirtation. He even asked her about which stories she had read and if she had any favorite characters. She asked him about his childhood and if he had any good memories. She wasn’t surprised to find that they were all the ones her father would define as dangerous. Climbing up to sit on top of the lookout tower, stealing his father’s horse and being chased down by some of the guards. “I wouldn’t peg you for the rebellious type.”
“Oh?” He looked so amused.
“Well I mean from the way my father and the other soldiers describe you, you don’t seem like the type to disobey.”
“Just because I was raised to be a weapon, does not mean I never found it tedious. I also think a little rebellion is good for the soul. Have you never done anything you shouldn’t?”
“So pure, how sweet.”
Her heart stuttered. “Well, I suppose in fairness I just never felt the urge to rebel. Right away I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my parents with the kingdom. I also had my little brothers, I’ve spent many hours just playing with them.”
“I hope you’ll always tell me if you miss them too horribly.”
“Thank you.” They spent another day just getting to know one another and that night all he could think about was a way to propose to her. Tomorrow was her fourth day here which meant there were only three more days until their wedding and he wanted to ask before. As his heart grew founder of her he wasn’t even sure he could marry her if she was only doing it for her people. He wanted her to be happy, he knew she could find happiness out of the war ending, but he had a mind to give her that anyway. She deserved a peaceful life, a life of her choosing. By morning he knew precisely how he’d ask and started making arrangements as she still slept peacefully in her room.
Antia woke later that she expected and couldn’t help the smile pulling at her face. Happiness wasn’t something she ever thought she would feel here, but Andrej had been so kind and understanding that it welled up in her immediately upon waking. There was a gentle knocking on her bedroom door as she got up and she knew it had to be him. His smile sent heat sweeping up her neck and had her heart dancing happily in her chest. He had a coat draped over his arm. “Good morning princess.” He said.
“Good morning. Sorry I slept so late.”
“It’s not that late. I have a surprise for you.”
“It’s waiting for you up in the tower, if you would accompany me.”
“Of course, just let me get dressed.”
She was a little nervous as she pulled on her favorite red dress and did her hair. She didn’t know why when he had been so sincere. When she finally opened her door and stepped out, he held up the jacket and she slipped into it. “Thank you.”
“I wouldn’t want you getting cold again.” He replied as he lifted her and she put her arms around his neck, making him smile.
He hoped she would never tire of being toted like this as he took her back up to the tower. He found himself struggling once again not to kiss her as her scent enveloped him. It was so beautiful, as pure as she was and he hoped if she said yes today she would spend the night in his room tonight so he could hold her, so his room would smell as amazing as she did. When they entered the differences caught her eyes immediately. “What’s going on?” She asked as she took it in. It looked so romantic now, like their breakfast together was more like a date. “You deserve to be wooed properly…is this too much?”
“No, not at all. It just surprised me.”
“It’s not the only surprise in store for you princess Antia.” Her heart stuttered again as he set her down. They sat together, her quickly taking a bite of the incredible looking meal before her.
“This…is amazing Andrej.”
“I hoped it would be to your liking. You haven’t complained about anything so I hope you will tell me when you don’t like something.”
“I will, I’m not really the type of person to keep quiet.”
“Are you warm enough?”
“Yes. Why did you do all this?”
“Because you deserve to be showered with affection and I have something for you, another gift.”
She laughed and every cell in his body sang. He loved that sound, how musical it was, how her face lit up. “If you keep giving me things, I’m going to feel spoiled.”
“I like spoiling you. Let’s eat, I’m eager to get to the other half of my surprise.”
Antia’s mind was on what else he could have planned as she ate and they talked. He periodically checked on her to ensure she was warm, causing her to smile and blush at his attentiveness. She wondered what everyone back home would think if they heard he was actually this sweet.
His heart beat a little harder once she finished her food, he was actually a little surprised at just how nervous he was about this. Being nervous wasn’t something he was accustomed to, but falling in love also wasn’t something he was accustomed to. He stood then offered his hand to Antia to help her up, goosebumps forming as she took it. He gently tugged her over to the window then called out what sounded like a name. A large, mostly black dragon with blood red eyes soon came swooping in, hovering beside the window. “What’s this?” She forced herself to look away from the beautiful creature and at her soon to be husband.
“This dragon is an ally of mine and I asked him a favor. We can’t ride him all the time but he permits it today.” This couldn’t be real, she couldn’t even speak. Andrej found her loss of words adorable. “I’ll get on first then help you.” She gave a small nod, making him deeply desire to kiss her again. Once they were both settled he locked his arms around her tightly, unwilling to risk her falling though he knew the dragon wouldn’t be so foolish as to let her die. Antia took her new homeland in, still speechless at the fact she was actually on a dragon and how beautiful her new home was certainly wasn’t helping words find her again.
“Are you happy?” He asked, his mouth close to her ear, his breath tickling her skin. She nodded, this moment feeling like a dream. It was so beautiful. “I have something else.”
She turned her head to look at him. “Truly?”
He stroked her cheek, savoring her softness and warmth. “I’m a little nervous, but I feel like you deserve more than an arranged marriage.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring he had picked out for her. “You are so beautiful and extraordinary, you’ve captivated me, surprised me, made me fall for you so hard that I am already scared of losing you.” He gently lifted her hand and slipped the ring on her finger, hearing her heart skip a beat, a gasp escaping her lips. “Will you marry me, Antia? Not because of some peace treaty, not because your father and I arranged it, but because you want to, because you love me too.”
She teared up, letting her eyes move over the ring. It was gorgeous, the ruby stone glittering in the sunlight. “Andrej.”
“I will love you regardless of your answer, you are the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me and I want to give you everything.”
“Yes, of course yes. How could I not say yes? You’ve done so much for me, you’ve been so sweet.”
He finally dared to kiss her, emotion tugging at his heart even harder as she instantly kissed him back. The dragon took them home, landing right in front of Andrej’s castle. Andrej carried Antia inside asking, “May I dance with you again?” He wanted more than anything to keep her close right now, to bask in this happiness of her truly wanting to be his wife.
“Mhm.” She sounded so happy as she agreed. Once in the ballroom he took her jacket off then had a servant get some music going. Music in this room was another thing he arranged to have. When her family arrived for the wedding her dad actually cried he was so relieved to find out his daughter was happy. The guilt he had carried with him since the deal was made finally lifted off his shoulders.
“I thought I might find you here, my sweet princess.” Andrej said, making Antia jump and look up from the book she was reading. He smiled as he crossed over to her and picked her up then sat with her on his lap. “I finished my vows. Are you excited for tomorrow?”
“What’s happening tomorrow?” She teased.
“Well if I remember correctly I am supposed to be marrying this beautiful, outspoken, princess, but perhaps I am mistaken.” He reached up, his fingers sliding over the nape of her neck and pulling her down. “Oh that’s right, you’re the one I’m marrying.”
“How could I forget?”
Her cheeks flushed and he pressed his lips against hers, his other arm wrapping tightly around her waist. “I love you my sweet little elf and I have never been more excited about anything. I finally get to sleep with you.”
He chuckled. “What? You don’t want too?” He ran his fingers through her hair, causing the red in her cheeks to deepen.
“Of course I do, I’m just nervous.”
“Don’t be, you know I will only take what you are willing to give.” He brought her knuckles to his lips. “Speaking of bed, we should get to sleep, it’s a big day tomorrow.”
“You’re right.” He couldn’t resist giving her one more kiss before slowly carrying Antia to her bedroom. This would be the last night he would have to part from her, but it was still hard. She noticed he was walking slowly and smiled, relaxing even more against him. He set her down in front of her door and she hugged him. “I love you Andrej.”
She wanted to hear those words from him again so was happy when he answered, “I love you too Antia, rest well.” They were both so blissful that night sleep found them easily and before they knew it, he was in his tuxedo and she was dressed in a gorgeous, red wedding dress tailored perfectly to her body. It wasn’t tradition but she was an extraordinary woman, that normal wasn’t really fit for his bride. Plus red truly was her color.
All he could see was Antia and all she could see was him until her father’s sniffle pulled her attention away. “Daddy.” She whispered in a loving tone.
“You’re so beautiful Antia.” He whispered back. It was the last words between them before she was standing in front of Andrej. He took her hands, eager to speak his vows. He hoped they were as moving as he felt they were when he wrote them.
“When this was arranged, I did not think I would fall so hard for as fast as I did. The moment I met you, the first time I heard your voice and our eyes met, I couldn’t help but want you, need you even. Everything about you moved me. Standing here now, I have never felt so lucky, like every moment before now was leading up to this, to us, to loving you and being loved by you. Antia, thank you for choosing me, even when you didn’t have to, thank you for loving me even though I know I don’t deserve someone as beautiful and as bright as you.” He lifted her hands and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, smiling at her, his gaze pure adoration.
Tears shimmered in her eyes and it took her a moment to start speaking. “Andrej, you were not at all what I expected when I met you. I was scared and I thought I was going to hate this place. You took me by such surprise, your kindness, your generosity, how gentle and sincere you are touched me. I have never known a man as amazing as you and every moment we spend together I fall more and more in love with you. I am so happy that this, that we, happened and I love you more than I can truly express. So I want to make a request, I want you to marry me not just like this, but also in the way of my people. It’s the only gift I can give you, my absolute trust with every part of my being.”
He knew what that meant and absolutely couldn’t stop himself from kissing her. Since the moment she arrived he had to control himself and those words were enough to break him of that control. The man performing the ceremony actually chuckled, “Well it was time to kiss the bride anyway.” They slid rings on each others ring fingers then walked back down the aisle together. The day was beautiful and filled with numerous well wish’s and that night, though Antia had been nervous, ended the best day of her life with the best night of her life. When she was too tired to go on he held her gratefully. He couldn’t believe he had such an amazing, perfect wife and he hoped she would always know how thankful he was to have her at his side.
~ The End