Adjusting his cloak in the front, Cade walked from the library as quickly as he could without causing suspicion. He had to leave as fast as possible, or he was afraid he would go back to Mae. Her draw was too strong, and he would have to avoid her at all cost. He had hoped he could speak with her and just enjoy being in her presence, but he saw now it was impossible.
One look from her could undo him. A simple brush of her hand against his left him weak. He shook his head as he put a hand subconsciously to his lips. Kissing her felt like he had taken in too much wine. It was addicting, sweet, and left him light-headed. Pulling back from her in that small room had taken more strength than he thought he possessed.
Almost everything within him told him to go to her and fall at her feet. He should beg for forgiveness and relief from the agony he was in. To think he could spend every day with Mae, loving her as he desired, was a dream greater than any he thought possible, but it was just that a dream.
He had never thought to feel this way about anyone. For as long as he could remember, he had told himself he would never fall in love. He didn’t think it was possible. He had seen plenty of beautiful ladies, and he could admit some were desirable. He had kissed a few he met in taverns and inns in the city and even done a bit more with them, but it was easy to set them aside when he was done. He got some pleasure out of those times, but he never dwelled on them.
Mae was different. From the moment he saw her, he felt an attraction beyond what he had ever experienced. After speaking with her a few times, he knew he was in some danger of gaining feelings for her. He tried to stay away from her but found it impossible. She fascinated him with her passion, intelligence, and goodness. He started waking up each day desperate to speak with her and stand by her side.
“Cade,” said Thad as he hurried to Cade’s side. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going for a walk. I might head to the stables after and go for a ride. I cannot go to the palace for a while.”
“You left Mae alone to face the Highest One? You didn’t even walk with her?” asked Thad incredulously.
“She has said over and over she wished to go alone, and I cannot be in her presence any longer. Tomorrow I will start doing everything I can to save her family so she can leave.”
Thad reached out and grabbed Cade’s arm. He took him over close to the wall of the palace. “When are you going to stop acting like this? You are not only punishing yourself, but you are hurting the one you love too. She will get tired of it at some point and find a way to move on.”
“Good, the quicker, the better. She should get far away from me.”
“Do you hear yourself? Only you could find a reason to be miserable when you are pledged to one of the most impressive women in the kingdom. You love her as well. You are willing to throw this woman away because of your cowardice?”
“I am willing to set her free so she can be safe. Look at what has already happened to her because of me. She almost died. You beat her, and don’t think I have forgotten it, Thad.”
“I was wrong, very wrong. I have done everything I can to atone for it though it will never be enough. I don’t know why I ever thought she could do anything so vile. She is goodness itself.”
“I know exactly how you feel about her. You can’t keep away from her, can you?” asked Cade angrily.
“You have declared she cannot have you, so she is essentially free. Perhaps, I will work with you to save her family. Then I can stop holding back any feelings I might be able to gain for her and keep her as my own.”
The prince leaned forward, looking at Thad, his eyes wide. “You wouldn’t dare. You don’t deserve to even speak to her.”
“I agree, but at least I see what a rare treasure she is. I would treat her as such. Why shouldn’t I take her as my wife if you do not want her? I can give her everything- security, attention, and support for her and her people. She will never want for anything.”
Cade pushed Thad against the wall. “You will leave her alone and not confuse her. Let her be. She should go back to Adaria far away from here.”
Thad caught himself and moved toward Cade. “So you don’t want her, but no one else can have her. Is that what you are saying? You expect her to go back to her home and pine over you for the rest of her life. She should be miserable just because you are.
“I have always defended you to everyone, saying you are a good man, but now I see what a horse’s ass you really are. You are selfish and unfeeling, and Mae is better off without you. I’m done with you, Cade. I will still keep my loyalty to your father, but you are on your own. Go hide away and be miserable. Leave the rest of us to find happiness without you.”
Thad started walking away, keeping against the wall. Cade hurried after him. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to find Mae. I am sure you have done something to upset her, and now she is going to see the most dangerous man in the kingdom without a clear head. I will not desert her as you have. You must despise the woman.”
“I could never despise her. I love her so much that my heart and head are constantly full of her. I am not deserting her. I am trying to save her,” said Cade.
Thad stopped, a look of disgust on his face. “Save her? You think your actions are helping her? Let me tell you how she is treated because of you. She is mocked as an unwanted woman. Lord Gibbens outright told her he believed you didn’t want her. A few said they looked forward to when she was shipped off to Adaria, where she belongs. They call her a false queen.”
Thad shook his head. “I guess you agree with them, though. You believe she belongs in Adaria, and you would never choose her as your queen. So, you can talk of loving her all you want, but in your words and actions, you show your displeasure.”
Thad hurried off as Cade fell against the wall, leaning his back against it. She was being ridiculed because of him. She was shown nothing but scorn and disrespect. How could anyone think he wouldn’t choose her if he could. She was above anyone in the despicable city, especially him.
He turned his head to see Thad disappear around the corner as he ran towards Mae. Was the man serious in his vow to win some part of Mae’s heart? Would he truly try to convince her to be his wife? Cade didn’t think he could bear to see her on the arm of Thad, looking at him in adoration. To think of Thad holding her, kissing her, loving her made his stomach ache as he balled his hands into fists.
He stood there and suddenly realized what he had done. Not only had he practically thrown Mae into Thad’s arms, but he had probably left her a confused mess just before she was set to meet with the Highest One. That man had probably already plotted to kill him, and Cade knew he wanted Mae’s access to power more than anything. He pushed off the wall and ran towards the temple, not caring who saw him.
He got to the temple just as Thad opened the door for Mae with a temple guard standing by. She grinned at him as he said something to her.
“Mae!” Cade called out to her.
She stopped in the doorway and looked out to him. He kept hurrying towards her, but she did not wait. She turned her back on him and walked into the temple, the guard shutting the door behind her.
Thad looked at him as Cade bent forward, putting his hands on his knees.
“You are too late, but you shouldn’t worry. That woman is stronger than you can imagine. I even believe she can get over you,” said Thad before he walked off.
Cade looked at the guard in front of the door. He walked forward. “I need to enter the temple quarters.”
“Are you expected?” asked the guard.
“No, but my future wife just walked into the building. I need to be with her when she meets with the Highest One.”
“Only she was invited,” said the guard. “I am sorry, your highness, but I cannot disobey my orders even for you. I could send in a message for Lady Maela or the Highest One if you wish.”
“Tell Lady Maela that I wish to see her as soon as she arrives back in the palace. I will be waiting in the small parlor that holds the picture of our last queen.”
“I will send word, your highness,” said the guard.
Cade walked back to the palace slowly. After coming in the door and handing some servant his cloak, he made his way to his father’s study. He knocked and opened the door without waiting for a response. His father looked up from his desk with a small smile that quickly faded away.
He stood up abruptly. “What is it, Cade? What is the matter?’
Cade walked over to the fireplace, where a pitcher of wine sat on a low table. He poured a glass and drank its contents in one gulp before filling another. “I messed up, father, and I am not sure it can be fixed.”
His father walked over to him as Cade sat down in one of the chairs by the fire. “Have you finally seen what a fool you have been?”
“I am starting to, but it is still hard to imagine loving her freely. I feel like there will always be a dark cloud over us. I will always worry something will happen to her.”
“That is life, Cade. You should thank the goddess you have someone you care enough to worry about. You must also remember what I said earlier. Mae is strong and sure of herself. You can do all you can to protect her, but she can take care of herself as well.”
“I’m not sure it matters anymore. I think I went too far this time. I may have lost her, and as you said, there is another ready to do all he can to win her over,” said Cade.
“And the thought of your young woman with this man makes you feel how?”
“Miserable, angry, and jealous beyond what I thought was possible, but it is beyond that. It made me see that it is impossible for me to live without her. I thought of avoiding her at all costs after what happened in the library, but I know I could never do it. I never could stay away from her.”
“What happened in the library?” asked his father.
“More than enough,” mumbled Cade. “I confused and angered her and then left. You know who she went to see just now. How could I put her in such a state to see him?”
“Did you not try to catch her and tell her something, Cade? You could have apologized or told her you had made a mistake. You could have been honest and said you loved her,” said his father.
“I tried, but she was already at the door when I came. I called for her, but she only turned from me. What if I have already lost her? Another was there to comfort her. I left word for her to come to see me in the queen’s parlor, but what if it is too late?”
“I assume we are talking about Lord Aimon?”
Cade nodded. “He mentioned that he should try to win her over. He said he would treat her as she deserved, making sure she wanted for nothing.”
“But she does not want him. She wants you,” said the king.
“She believes I am not an option, though. I have told her so many times that we cannot be together that I think she finally believes it.”
“Do you want to be with her? Is your mind finally made up, or are you just feeling a moment of jealousy? If you are going to hurt her again by pushing her way, it would be best to let her go.”
“I cannot let her go, so I must be with her. It will not be easy, but it is the only option.”
“Then I believe you know the answer, Cade.”
“What is it?”
“You will apologize to her for the pain you have cost her. You will show her that you are steadfast in your decision to love her and make her your wife, and you will endeavor not to hurt her again. In short, you will work as hard as you can to win her back.”
Cade stood in front of the fireplace in the small parlor, looking up at his mother’s portrait. What would she think of him and what he had done? He doubted she would be proud, breaking a woman’s heart, especially one such as Mae. He would make amends. He would prove to her his love was real and sure. He was still frightened, but he would put his fears aside if he meant he could have Mae in his life, always.
The door opened, and Cade took a deep breath and turned around. He was not greeted by Mae but by Mrs. Wynn.
“Your highness, I have a message from Lady Maela. She has returned but is tired and wishes to go to her room. She is not able to meet with you here.”
“How did she seem? Was she well?” asked Cade anxiously.
“She did seem well, but she says she does not want to be disturbed until supper by anyone. She was adamant that no one bothers her.”
Cade nodded, understanding what the message meant. She did not want to see him. “Thank you, Mrs. Wynn,” he said quietly as he slowly sat down. He looked up at his mother’s portrait. “Now what?”
He had a feeling her advice would be much like his father’s.