If I slept with Finn now, that’s exactly what would happen again, the same thing that always happens whenever we get close. He would vanish immediately. He hides away in shame and avoids me.
And I couldn’t bare that this time. I couldn’t give myself to someone completely only to have them disappear from my life. I needed him to be here with me, instead of leaving in shame. I needed Finn to choose me over duty, and the best he could offer me was one night.
Even if I slept with Finn tonight, it wouldn’t mean anything. He would be gone tomorrow, and I’d be even more heartbroken than before.
“What’s wrong?” Finn asked, noticing a change in me.
“I can’t,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” Finn looked ashamed, and he scrambled to get off me. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry.” He stood and hurriedly buttoned his shirt.
“No, Finn.” I sat up, adjusting my dress. “You don’t have to be sorry, but… I can’t do this anymore.”
“I understand.” He smoothed out his hair and looked away from me.
“No, Finn, I mean…” I swallowed hard and let out a shaky breath. “I can’t love you anymore.”
He looked up at me, his eyes startled and hurt, but he said nothing. He only stood there for a moment.
“You said that I belong to somebody else tomorrow but you tonight, and that’s not how it works, Finn.” Tears slid down my cheeks, and I wiped them away. “I don’t belong to anyone, and you don’t get to just have a part of me when you can.
“And I know that’s never what you meant to do,” I said. “Neither of us meant for this. We were together when we could be. Hidden moments and stolen kisses. I get that. And I don’t blame you or anything, but… I can’t do that anymore.”
“I hadn’t…” Finn trailed off. “I never wanted this for you. I mean, this thing we’ve had going on, whatever it’s been. You deserve more than I would ever be able to give you, more than I would ever be allowed to love you.”
“I’m trying to change things,” I said. “And I’ll admit that part of it has been selfish. I wanted to repeal the laws so maybe someday we could have a chance to be together. But… I can’t count on that. And even if I can, I am marrying somebody else tomorrow. He’s a good man, and I won’t do this to him.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less of you, Princess,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” He walked to the door and paused before leaving, but he wouldn’t look back at me. “I wish you all the best for your marriage. I hope the two of you find nothing but happiness.”
After Finn left, I tried not to cry. Willa would be so upset with me if my face was red and puffy tomorrow. I went into my closet, fighting back tears as I changed out of my gown and put on pajamas. On my way back to my bed, I noticed the small box on my dresser, the present from Finn.
Slowly, I opened the box. It was a thin silver band with my birthstone, a garnet, in the center of a heart. And for some reason, the sight of it broke me down. I lay down on my bed and sobbed.
I wanted Matt to walk me down the aisle. He’d been the closest thing I had to a real parent for most of my life, but the other Trylle officials would have had a field day if he did. Marksinna Laurent would probably get me overthrown on the grounds of insanity.
But at least Marksinna Laurent and the other Trylle had no control over whom I allowed in my dressing room. Duncan had been waiting outside my bedroom all morning, shooing anybody away that wasn’t Willa or Matt. Everybody else could wait to see me until I was in the ballroom, with Willa’s father Garrett giving me away.
I’d been ready for hours. After my fight with Finn, I hadn’t really been able to sleep, and the sun hadn’t even risen by the time I got up and started getting ready. Willa had come over early to help me, but I’d learned how to do my hair and makeup on my own. She really only helped button up my wedding gown, and she tried to comfort me, but that was all I needed.
“You’re so pale,” Willa said, almost sadly. “You’re almost as white as your wedding dress.”
She sat next to me on the chest at the foot of my bed. The long satin train of my gown swirled around us, and Willa continuously rearranged it to make sure it wouldn’t get wrinkled or dirty. Her dress was lovely too, but it should be since she picked it out. It was dark emerald with black embellishments.
“Stop fussing over her,” Matt said when Willa once again tried to smooth out my dress. He’d been pacing my room, fiddling with the cufflinks of his suit or pulling at the collar of his shirt.
“I’m not fussing.” Willa gave him the evil eye but left my dress alone. “This is her wedding day. I want her to look perfect.”
“You’re making her nervous.” Matt gestured to me, since I’d been staring off into space.
“If anyone’s making her nervous, it’s you,” she countered. “You’ve been pacing around this room all morning.”
“Sorry.” He stopped moving but didn’t look any less agitated. “My kid sister’s getting married. And it’s a lot sooner than I expected.” He ruffled his short blond hair again and sighed. “You don’t have to do this, Wendy. You know that, right? If you don’t want to marry him, you don’t have to. I mean, you shouldn’t. You’re too young to make a life decision like this anyway.”
“Matt, she knows,” Willa said. “You’ve only told her that exact same thing a thousand times today.”
“Sorry,” Matt repeated.
“Princess?” Duncan cautiously opened the door and poked his head inside the room. “You asked me to get you at a quarter to one, and it’s a quarter to one now.”
“Thank you, Duncan,” I said.
“Well?” Willa looked at me, smiling. “Are you ready?”
“I think I’m going to throw up,” I told her honestly.
“You won’t throw up. It’s just nerves, and you’ll do fine,” Willa said.
“Maybe it’s not nerves,” Matt said. “Maybe she doesn’t want to go through with this.”
“Matt!” Willa snapped, and she looked back at me. Her brown eyes were warm and concerned. “Wendy, do you want to do this?”