A Game of Hearts

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Chapter 12- Until the end

"I wanted to write down exactly what I felt but somehow the paper stayed empty and I could not have described it any better."

-WTM

Cane's hooded eyes watched me as I processed what he'd just asked. How did he think I would react to that? He tilted his head to the side and ran a hand through his already messy hair.

I opened and closed my mouth several times before I figured out exactly what I wanted to say.

"Although I appreciate your offer, my answer is no."

The muscles in his jaw tensed. "I guess having my ego bruised once by your rejection wasn't enough for me that I had to go and ask you to marry me," he chuckled half-heartedly.

I was about to apologize but he waved it away, not wanting my pity.

"Friends," he countered. "We'll be great friends."

I gave him a small smile and looked away, anywhere but at him. The books on his desk caught my attention. "Are you any closer to figuring that out?" I asked, pointing towards his books.

"I am looking into the possibility of using wind to generate electricity," he said knowledgeably.

"That would be a game changer," I said awed. "And you understand all of that?"

"My father was insistent that I learned a bit of everything. Little did he know that I'd be using that knowledge to deter his plans to monopolize creite. I hoping to make it worthless."

A knock at his door interrupted our conversation. Opal stuck her head in. "Everything alright, your majesty?"

I smiled, trying to ease her worry. "Yes, Opal. Thank you. I'll be leaving in a moment."

I returned my gaze towards Cane who now stood with his hands in his pockets.

"Tell me this, Cane."

His posture moved to match my serious tone.

"Did you have anything to do with the kidnapping of my parents?" he looked surprised by my question so I quickly filled him in.

"I did not," he said genuinely, "but I promise to find out everything I can."

"Thank you," I said, accepting his answer, for now.

I wouldn't take his response at face value. A second later, his usual brooding stare and small smirk had returned. "I'll be here until noon tomorrow in case you change your mind about my proposal," he said smoothly, no sign of any other emotion on his face.

I shook my head. "I'll see you around sometime, King Romulus," I said, using his given name and title.

Opal's eyes widened and I mentally smacked my forehead. I didn't want this getting out.

Cane shut the door behind us. "I'd appreciate it if you keep Cane's real identity to yourself, Opal. And put surveillance on him. I don't trust him completely. I'll rest better knowing he is being watched."

"Of course, Majesty."

I returned to my parent's for the night, taking comfort in their presence. I ignored their frailness and scarred wrists and necks. We spent the night catching up and swapping stories late into the night. At one point, I was the only one with anything to say. Their stories had begun to be more of the same, starvation, shackles, beatings, and rare visits from the people dressed in white.

I didn't leave their side until they'd fallen into a deep sleep, worried that if I closed my eyes it would all have been a dream and they'd still be missing. I waited until my eyelids started to drift shut to head to my room. Only then had I allowed myself to close my eyes and sleep.

***

I'd woken a few hours later and dragged myself out of bed. Georgiana was still on bed rest and probably would stay that way until baby Jasmine came into the world.

I'd promised Kealie breakfast before her classes, which was how I ended up eating toast, half awake. across from her and Thomas. Apparently, Kealie and Thomas had been hanging out. Her cute little face looked up at him in awe. It seemed she had a small crush on him and he was oblivious to it.

Thomas's presence at breakfast had been a surprise. If I'd known I'd have at least combed my hair but that thought was gone as quickly as it had come.

"You're still beautiful, Pen" he whispered as I tried to wrangle my hair into something mildly presentable.

His words had sent a comfortable warmth down my body. I continued to chew on my toast as I watched Kealie and Thomas together. If I chose Thomas this is what our life would look like, him Kealie, and I.

"Right, Penelope?" Kealie asked.

I tore my eyes away from Thomas and looked at the pair of little brown eyes staring up at me. "Uhm, what?"

Kealie's bottom lip popped out.

"I'm sorry, Kealie. What were you and Thomas talking about?"

Thomas' face held a knowing grin. There was no way he knew my line of thoughts but the smirk plastered on his mouth made me think differently.

"About the festival going on in the town. You said we could go and meet my friends from Rose Suite there," she said unsurely.

"That's right. I did say that, didn't I?"

She nodded. "I was telling Thomas he could go with us."

I smiled at Thomas. "Yes, that'd be nice. Would you like to join us?"

He ruffled his hair as he pretended to think about it. Kealie's face held so much hope and fear that he would decline.

"Of course, I'll go," he chuckled as he tapped her nose.

She giggled. "Promise?"

"Of course, kiddo."

She smiled lovingly at him.

Kealie's teacher came for her a few minutes later, leaving Thomas and I alone on the Terrace.

After Kealie disappeared back into the palace, Thomas and I turned to face each other again. I pulled my jacket closer to my body, trying to soak in any warmth the piece of clothing could offer.

"I don't have to go to the festival if it makes you uncomfortable, Pen."

"Don't be silly. Kealie wants you there," I said looking away from his penetrating gaze.

He tilted his head to the side as he watched me. "Do you?"

My eyes snapped back to his. "Yes."

"Good, because I was planning on going whether you did or not," he chuckled.

I widened my eyes and let my mouth fall open in mock surprise.

"What? I promised the kid," he laughed.

I chuckled. "Thanks for spending time with her. Ever since George died she's been having a tough time. She needs a male figure in her life."

He nodded solemnly.

"So," I said steering the conversation away from Kealie.

He raised an eyebrow as he rubbed the light stubble on his face, as he waited for me to continue.

"My parents are back."

He sat up quickly. "Why didn't you say so sooner? How are they?"

I sighed. "They're different."

He waited for me to continue.

"They try to act as if they're okay and make it seem like they're just tired but the look in their eyes haunts me. There's something they're not telling me."

He thinks over my words a bit before answering. "Give them time, Pen. Let them adjust to being back. Maybe then they'll open up a bit more about what they're hiding."

I sighed. "I hope you're right. Will you go see them today and tell me what you think?"

"Yeah," he said as he laid a hand over mine and rubbed small circles into my palm.

Being this way with Thomas wasn't any different than before. He would have reacted exactly the same before anything had changed between us but his hand on mine felt very different than it would have. The small circles he rubbed into my palm made my heart race just a little bit faster. I bit my lip and stared up and him from beneath my lashes.

"Do I make you nervous?" he asked sounding surprised.

I laughed breathlessly. "This is new for me. I don't know how to be around you."

"Be yourself, Pen. Just be yourself."

I huffed. "Easier said than done."

He chuckled and the sound chased away the chill in the air.

"This is new territory for us and I'm scared to ruin what we have." I sighed. "I feel like I need to be honest with you about everything, Thomas. I know when I kissed you there wasn't much talking," I said, slightly blushing.

He smiled and waved for me to continue. And so I did. I told him everything the Great Mother had shown me.

His eyes were wide. "We had children?"

I nodded.

"And you loved me?"

"So much," I whispered.

He stood and paced around the small space. His brows furrowed as he processed all I'd unloaded. I stood and grabbed hold of his arm.

"You okay?"

His eyes turned hard as he stared at me. "Is that the only reason you decided to keep me around?"

This answer was important so I made sure to word it just right. "I want you here, Thomas. I care about you. You are my best friend and the only person who knows all there is to know about me. The Great Mother showed me what our life would have looked like and I felt robbed, Thomas. It was something I never knew I wanted until I saw it. I realized just how much I'd buried any feelings towards you."

He held onto my forearms as I poured out my heart to him, our breath visible because of the cold, intertwined.

"I can't guarantee how this will all end up but I do have feelings for you. I couldn't ask you to stay until you knew everything."

He released me and moved to lean against the metal railings, waiting for me to continue.

"I've cut Rowan and Cane from the group. Only you and Tobias are left."

His eyes widened.

"I...I have feelings for Tobias but I think you already knew that," I said softly.

He nodded.

"Knowing everything, do you still want to stay?" I asked nervously, afraid to hear his response.

He yanked me to him, enveloping me into his arms. "I'm here until the end, Pen."

His breath was warm against the crook of my neck. I shut my eyes and exhaled as I sunk into his embrace.

When I reopened my eyes, I looked out onto the palace grounds below us and my eyes connected with Tobias's bright blue ones.

I didn't dare move out of Thomas's arms.

Tobias held up a hand and waved before continuing inside.

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