A Game of Hearts

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Chapter 6- A ferocity that could not be tamed

"I believe in second chances, I just don't think everyone deserves them."

-Tumbler

How Viktorya and Georgiana managed to squeeze in a group date today was beyond me, but here I was. I spent the early afternoon with Kealie and was now in between a group of three participants who were trying desperately to hold my attention, but they were as interesting as a speck of dust. Dean, Ryan, and Nolan would not be making it to the next phase.

The group date was bigger than the last with the remaining guys all in this one. I had to split my attention between all six of them. Spending time with Thomas was easy, I mean it was Thomas, but I had yet to even say hello. Rowan was part of this group too and he'd been watching me since I'd arrived, but I had yet to head in his direction as well.

We were currently having a picnic by the lake and the weather was beautiful. We didn't have direct sunlight on us, clouds covered the fading rays while a soft breeze cooled the early evening heat. It would be dark out soon, but the palace staff set out long torches to light the night and keep the mosquitos away.

I excused myself from Dean, Ryan, and Nolan and headed for Thomas. Cane stepped in my path, blocking my way. I raised a brow while he smiled cockily.

"Stealing a bit of your time wouldn't be considered a criminal act, would it?" he asked playfully.

I smirked. "You've got to get what you can when you can."

He smiled a heartwarming smile and I was nearly left breathless. The simple genuine smile changed his entire face. Yes, he was handsome with his deep-set forest green eyes, broad forehead, and strong bone structure, but this smile could leave you weak in the knees.

I ended up spending twenty minutes with Cane and I can't say I wasn't entertained by his easy banter and conversation. He somehow managed to get me to ask him for a one on one date, easily holding onto a spot in the game. He was sly and knew how to get what he wanted. I was a bit wary of him, but not enough to not be curious about him.

Rowan was waiting for me and as much as I wanted to continue avoiding him, I couldn't. Thomas would have to wait again. I mouthed 'sorry' and he shrugged his shoulders and managed to look at ease amongst the rest of the competitors.

Rowan offered me a seat on a stone bench slightly removed from the group. I took it and he hesitantly sat next to me. We sat in silence. I knew why I was quiet, but why was he? He's wanted this opportunity for months and now that he has it he's quiet.

"Hello," I said breaking the silence.

He finally managed to look at me. The regret and pain in his eyes was a testament to how he felt and I could appreciate that he knew what he did was wrong, but a huge part of me was still angry with how he lied and knew I was back in the game and how Tobias had been blackmailed into staying away from me. But the betrayal that hurt and angered me the most was that he slept with me knowing all of this.

He took my virginity from me with his lies and deceit. It was something I thought I was freely giving to the man I loved and trusted, but I didn't know what I was doing. It wasn't something I'd ever be able to get back and because of that I'd avoided Rowan as much as I could, but it seemed time had caught up with me. It was time to face the man who'd shattered my ability to trust.

"Penelope," he voiced.

It was strange to hear my name from his lips. I'd gotten used to Moonstone, but after everything, I couldn't stand that name from him.

"You look well," I started lamely.

He sighed. "Penelope, I don't want it to be like this between us. I know I have a lot of apologizing to do, but please don't continue to punish me for the stupid things I did."

I faced him and truly looked at him. He was still as beautiful as ever with his starry eyes and chiseled face, but there was a tiredness to him. His shoulders sagged, dark circles lined his eyes, and his gaze held a deep regret.

I exhaled. "Rowan, I can forgive you for what you did."

A spark of hope ignited in those dark speckled eyes of his. His shoulders raised an inch as he waited for me to continue.

"But I don't know if I'd ever be able to trust you again," I said honestly.

His shoulders fell, but his eyes still held that flicker of hope.

"I'll take whatever you give me, Penelope, and we can start from there."

I nodded. The conversation went easier than expected. I'd healed more than I thought. The sight of him still managed to anger me, but I was ready to forgive him and try to move past it. I wasn't sure if that meant anything more than a possible friendship, but a part of me was relieved to be on speaking terms with Rowan again.

I stood and gathered the group. "It's been a wonderful evening and I thank you for your company, but I think I'd like to close off the evening."

Several eyes flicked over to Thomas who didn't get any time with me in the group date. Their gazes all said poor guy, but the smirks that came after clearly said they were glad he hadn't.

" Have a good night and I will see you all at breakfast tomorrow."

They all started to leave, but I quickly raised my voice. "Oh and Thomas, would you mind staying with me?"

He grinned broadly and nodded. Ryan, Nolan, and Dean all wore a sour look. Cane was reassured. He had nothing to fear for the moment. He knew he'd gotten a one on one.

Thomas and I watched as the group disappeared.

"You are an evil one," Thomas chuckled. "Did you see the looks they were giving me?"

"All part of the plan, my friend. All part of the plan."

He cracked a grin. "So, what's up? I feel like I haven't seen you in ages."

"Just trying to stay above water, Thomas."

We both walked to the edge of the lake, removed our shoes and socks, rolled up our jeans, and promptly slipped our feet into the timid water. It was just like old times and it brought a smile to my face.

"I've missed you, Thomas," I said as I laid my head on his shoulder.

"Same here, Pen. Same here."

"How are things going for you here with the other guys?" I asked.

He laughed. "Not easy. Besides Tobias and Rowan, the others don't like that we've been friends all our lives. They call it an unfair advantage. All know that Tobias was in the previous game and most know Rowan was part of the Trinity, but they don't hold the same amount of jealousy towards them as they do with me."

"Sorry about that," I mumbled.

"Don't be stupid. The Great Mother chose me to be here for some reason and you know I'd help you in any way I can."

"I know and thanks, Thomas. You make all of this ridiculousness bearable."

"If I may offer a bit of advice..."

I motioned for him to continue.

"Don't drag this on for too long. If you know who you might see a possible future with then cut everyone else who doesn't make that list. Once you do that then you can truly concentrate on everyone that matters."

How had I ended up with the bestest best friend in all of the Midland Territories? The Great Mother had truly blessed me.

"I think I can do that, Thomas. Thanks."

"Any time, Pen," he smiled. "So, any news on your parents?"

My face fell. I swished my legs through the water freely, trying to gather my thoughts.

Thomas lifted my chin with his index finger and calmed me with the look in his kind brown eyes. "What's happened?

And so I told him. I told him everything. We stayed out late catching up. He told me about his time with his uncle and the ins and outs of running a merchant trading post. Time with Thomas was always easy and it was a quality I cherished.

I said goodnight to Thomas and rushed to my room to change. As it was, I was already running fifteen minutes late for my walk with Tobias. I threw on another off the shoulder shirt and rearranged my braid before leaving to meet him.

I walked into the glass room and found him sitting on the bench where I told him I loved him. His head snapped in my direction as I walked in.

"Penelope," he whispered.

Wordlessly I sat next to him. That moment could have been a turning point for us. If he had told me everything then, things could have been different.

Just as I did that day, I laid my head on his shoulder. I could feel him fighting for control of his breathing. Once he had, he laid his head on mine.

We were supposed to go for a walk, but I was more than happy to continue to sit here in our quiet bubble.

Tobias broke the comfortable silence that enveloped us. "You make a great and beautiful queen."

"Thanks," I mumbled.

He raised his head. "Look at me, Penelope."

I turned to face him.

"I mean it. You are a great queen. Iron Forge is lucky to have you."

I smiled up at him. His blue eyes warmed and scorched every inch of my body.

His smile caused my stomach to roll in sheer panic. I had a decision to make. Stay away from Tobias or damn it all and do whatever the heck I wanted.

His eyes watched my mouth as he bit his bottom lip.

Oh, damn it all to hell.

I closed the distance between us and captured his lips with mine. A fire ignited between us. Our lips met with a ferocity that could not be tamed. His hands grabbed my face as his lips attacked mine. He left a trail of fiery kisses down my neck to my collarbone and back up to my lips again.

He pulled my bottom lip into his mouth and bit down lightly. I moaned into him, enjoying the searing heat between us. His tongue swept along my bottom lip deliciously.

His hands traced my skin, burning it. I pulled back gasping for air. What were we doing? I knew I was the one who initiated this but was I ready?

I stood quickly and paced near the door.

"Penelope," he called. His eyebrows furrowed as he waited for me to respond.

He stood and slowly moved nearer.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"For?"

"For whatever just happened," I motioned wildly between us.

"I'm not."

He stalked closer and closer until he towered over me. My chest heaved as he stared at me intently. Before I knew it, I was in his arms again. The door slammed into my back, but there was no pain. Only the fiery burn making its way through my pounding blood.

He pulled back and laid his forehead against mine. "Penelope," he breathed.

His voice caressed my name like I was the last source of water in Iron Forge and he couldn't get enough of me. I whimpered against him.

Trying with him again was scary as hell and what was even more terrifying was that I wanted to.

"Tobias," I answered before finding his lips again.


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