Hannah froze. Had he just said her name out loud? In front of everyone? In front of the King?! Lukas was turning around now, scanning the edges of the room. Hannah wanted the ground to open up and swallow her whole.
Lukas started moving around. ‘Hannah, I know you’re here. Please come out.’
He was getting closer. She really wanted to run away right now. But she also really wanted to know what he was doing. She stepped out from between the plants. Lukas saw her immediately.
He put down the glass and came over, eyes sweeping up and down. Hannah felt the effect and bristled against it. She lifted her chin. ‘What do you want, Lukas?’
He stood in front of her. ‘You, Hannah.’
Hannah’s legs nearly collapsed. Lukas took her hand and led her into the middle of the floor. Hannah was aware of gasps and a flurry of whispers. Someone said, ‘She’s just a maid.’
Hannah pulled her hand out of Lukas’s and hissed at him, ‘What are you doing?’
He turned to face her. ‘You’ve been ignoring my attempts to contact you, so you’ve only yourself to blame. This could have been done in private.’
‘What could have been done in private?’
‘I’m sorry about how I left that morning. I was a coward. But the things you made me feel…it was too much. I had to get away. Even without saying a word, you were asking something of me that I couldn’t give. Not then.’
He continued, ‘But then I got back to the place I’ve called home since I was eighteen and it wasn’t home anymore. It was never home. You were right, I’ve been living in limbo. You humbled me. You brought me back to life, Hannah. But it’s a life that I’m not interested in unless you’re in it with me.’
Hannah felt dizzy. She shook her head. ‘What are you saying?’
There was no sound in the room. Even the King was rapt.
Lukas moved closer, took her hands, rooting her to the spot. To him. He said, ‘I love you, Hannah Mendoza. I’ve always loved you, but not like this. I want to spend my life with you, have a family with you…because you’re the only person that I can imagine doing that with who will understand the terror that brings, who can give me the courage to live a fuller life. There’s no one else I want by my side, or in my bed. You’ve ruined me forever, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.’
Someone sighed nearby, but they didn’t notice.
Emotion was stuck inside Hannah’s chest. She was afraid to breathe in case it exploded, and she’d never contain it again. But she couldn’t stop it. It was expanding, making her chest hurt and her eyes water.
She whispered, ‘I’ve wanted you for so long, Lukas…I’ve dreamed of you saying such things, but what happened between us was just a fantasy. What if I’m not what you really think I am? What if—’
He was shaking his head. ‘What happened between us was very real. Not a fantasy. It was the most real thing I’ve ever experienced. Do you love me?’
The strength of love she felt for him made her tremble all over. She nodded. ‘More than anything.’
Lukas smiled. ‘Then what if we just…love each other and trust that all will be well?’
Hannah’s vision was blurring now. She nodded and smiled and buried her head in Lukas’s chest when everyone around them started clapping. Then he swept her up into his arms and said, ‘Can we go somewhere private now? There are things I want to do to you that are not fit for public consumption.’
Hannah’s face burned. She pressed a kiss to his mouth, reveling in its firm texture, already imagining it on her body. ‘Yes, please.’
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