“I would do it for us,” Laszlo said.
“Don’t.” Sofia was shaking with temptation.
He was here, so sharply handsome she could weep at his sheer beauty. And he was offering himself. Her brother’s words about breaking rules were ringing in her head. She wanted to break the worst one—the one where she put self-interest above duty and grasped at what she wanted in the moment, exactly as her father had done thousands of times.
But she couldn’t do that to Laszlo. She couldn’t do it to Vallia.
She shook her head, voice thinning. “I don’t want you to lose yourself in my life. You’re not a man to stand in anyone’s shadow.”
“I would be standing in your light, Solntse.” The tenderness in his gaze was sweet, and it made an ache rise in her throat.
He closed in on her and she folded her arms between them, pressing her forehead to his jaw while the rest of her trembled.
“Please don’t do this. I don’t think I’m strong enough to send you away.”
“You are strong, Sofia.” His hands rubbed her upper arms and shoulders. “You’re so strong you scare the hell out of me. You walk around with a broken heart and withstand it because you must, but I won’t break it again. I can’t. I love you too much to do that to you.”
She gasped and closed her fist into the fabric of his jacket, pressing closer, letting his declaration sink into her skin and blood and bones.
His hands ran soothingly up and down her back. “The first thing I admired about you was that you understood how hard it is to keep wading into the fight when everything seems stacked to defeat you. When we were in Madrid, I formed this little dream that you could be my haven, my confidant. The person who made taking on such fights worth the blows and disappointments. Then we retreated to our separate rings and I ached for you until it struck me. Why shouldn’t I be that person for you?”
He was tearing her apart in the gentlest, most profound way.
“I don’t know what to say.” She lifted her head, tears leaking down her cheeks.
“Say you’ll wait for me. Say you’ll marry me when the time is right. Say yes.”
Queens did not marry commoners. Sofia had always known she would face a metric ton of pushback if their affair came out. Gaining approval to marry him would take more time than he needed to free himself from his own obligations.
But all she could hear was him saying, I have to believe I’ll see you again. Otherwise, what’s the point in living?
“I’ll wait as long as I have to. I’ll marry you when you ask. I love you, Laszlo. Yes.”
He smiled and the greatest joy exploded in her heart. When he crushed her close, she thought she would burst from sheer happiness.
Their mouths met, sealing in all the promises they were making to one another. Vows to support and share secrets and love with their whole hearts. Oaths to celebrate their love with the passion and hunger that never seemed to abate between them.
“Slow down or I’ll ravish you on that desk,” he warned.
Sofia had a feeling that desk had seen action in the past but managed to collect herself enough to ask, “If I send a car later—”
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