I held Laylar by the hand as we both watched the doors to the hall. My heart racing at the thought of how she would react.
The guards moved over the main floor, ushering people to clear a path from the main table to the doors.
I looked at her and when she met my eyes, she raised her brows in question. I gave her a small nod and turned back to the doors.
From the top of the steps leading down to the hall, I saw a dark shadow approaching. As it stepped into the light from the chandeliers, I smiled wide to see my brother's mask reflecting the light.
“Uncle!” Laylar shouted at the top of her voice, and let go of my hand. She ran as fast as she could, her long dress flying behind her. Raylon came down the stairs and as she got close, he opened his arms and caught her.
My heart swelled to see him hold my daughter in his arms. She had missed him terribly. The bond they shared was stronger than anything I had ever seen. Sometimes I feared even stronger than with me.
At his side, I saw Connie enter and when Laylar saw her, she embraced her as well. The crowd clapped and cheered, and I called over my other children and we made our way to the doors.
Raylon came to me first.
“Brother,” he said and I pulled him into my arms for a hug. I had missed him so much.
He pulled away from me and I could see his eyes held traces of tears in them.
I left him to greet the other children and went to Connie. She looked so beautiful in the dress she wore. Her face held a joy in it that made me smile wide.
“Hello again, Connie,” I said and took her hand. I placed a kiss on her fingers and she blushed.
“Hello, your highness, it’s nice to see you again.”
“My family call me Zasrus. And you are now a part of my family, sister.”
I spotted movement behind her and looked up to see Rein standing nervously at the doors of the Hall. He met my eyes for a moment, then bowed, “Good evening, My king.”
I took in a long breath and tried to remember what my brother spoke of while we planned this surprise. To not get angry at the boy and to avoid having him killed for as long as possible.
Raylon thinks he is worthy. I trust my brother, but she is my daughter.
I left Connie with Raylon and the children and went up the stairs to him.
As I approached, he kept his head down and moved out of my way.
“Walk with me, Rein,” I said and made my way to the patio.
“Yes, my king,” He said and hurried to walk beside me. I stopped and turned to him. His eyes still remained down and his body stiff.
“Look at me,” I said to him.
He raised his eyes and met mine. He held my gaze for a moment, then looked away again.
Am I that horrid that people cannot look at me?
“I trust I can count on you to not disappoint me?” I said.
“Never my king. I could never-”
“Then you better have something very special for my daughter on her birthday.” I tried to keep my smile hidden as his eyes shot up to meet mine.
I let out a breath, “Rein, I am not blind. I spent all the time you were away from her here, watching her miss you. I know she cares for you, and I love her too much to break her heart. I will allow you to give her the gift you have for her. I will allow you to spend this evening with her, as long as it is not in the hall in front of everyone. But when this night is over, and her birthday has passed, you will need to prove to me that you are worthy of my daughter.”
“I will do anything you ask of me, my king. Whatever it takes to prove to you that I love her. Command it, and it will be done.”
“For now,” I turned to find Raylon, Connie and Laylar watching me with anticipation. I reached my hand out to Laylar, “I command you to make my daughter smile.”
She came to me and threw her arms around my neck.
“Thank you, father,” she said and pulled away meeting my eyes, “No stiff old men?”
I laughed, “No stiff old men. I was told my daughter did not want them here.”
She gave me a kiss on the cheek and went over to Rein. I turned away from them as the boy pulled out a long black box from his pocket.
At the landing bay, I saw Raylon’s shuttle still standing there. I frowned and as I was about to ask what it was still doing here, I saw a woman emerge from the door, fussing over a long white dress.
I ran my gaze over her paper-white hair, framing her face. Her long legs breaking through the slit on the side of her dress as she walked towards us. Her green eyes hypnotized me as I stared at them, framed by dark lines and long lashes.
I swallowed, feeling hot suddenly.
She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
I felt Raylon’s hand on my shoulder as he whispered into my ear, “Close your mouth, brother.”