It's a good thing you picked a Wolfe to love, my dear. Only one of us could be stubborn enough to make you admit your true feelings. Just remember who said I love you first when you go trying to best me at Gem Soldiers.

-Brendan to Lina

Chapter Twenty Four

Brendan sat behind his desk, which he no longer had to refer to it as his father's desk, as he'd had that monstrosity removed and replaced with one of Devlin's furniture creations. He'd been sitting behind his desk for two hours now, staring unseeingly at a piece of paper that made absolutely no sense to him. How this piece of paper had made it through the defenses at Bryune Castle he had no idea. He could only attribute it to a lack of Barnes. When Barnes was butler, everything ran perfectly. Smoothly. While Brendan liked Kerr well enough, he was entirely too easy-going for the butler position. Unfortunately, Brendan had hardly been thinking clearly when choosing which footman to promote to butler upon returning from Bethel that fateful day.

In fact, he'd hardly been thinking clearly at all these past three weeks. While he'd assured Lina that she had succeeded, that he would continue to enjoy life as she'd taught him to do, it was nearly impossible to do so without her around to enjoy life with.

His first instinct once Lina left had been escape. In order to keep from thinking about her, from having to hear about her and that blasted Officiate, he'd fled to the capital city under the pretense of presenting himself, fully healed, before his King. He then proceeded to throw himself back into his old way of life, hopping from party to party, from house to house, from woman to woman.

It didn't work. Every woman who graced his arm was naught but a shadow of Lina. Their conversation was inevitably dull and unintelligent. They were inevitably unremarkable in looks. And the one time he'd actually allowed one of them to return home with him, it was only inevitable that she would fail to incite his lust as Lina had. Thus he'd sent the disappointed, tawny-haired woman home after one measly kiss that was, inevitably, quite boring.

Just as every woman he attempted to use to forget about Lina was naught but a shadow of her, he'd become naught but a shadow of himself these past few weeks. Even Ryaden had remarked upon it when they'd met up at the capital two and a half weeks ago. When his friend had regretfully informed him that the family he wished to foist his future wife upon was none other than the Thomassons, as he had suspected since seeing Lina and Beatrix together at the Duke of Raldem's birthday celebration, Brendan had merely grunted in response. Having expected something far more dramatic, Ryaden had immediately demanded a concise explanation.

Brendan, usually give to fits of drama, had responded with, "She left me."

And that was really all Ryaden needed to know to completely understand the situation. So for the next week, his friend had remained at the capital with him, doing something he had never done, not in all of his years.

He party-hopped. To keep his friend company, he went from party to party and even danced with a few women. It was a miracle.

Of course, Ryaden was too worn out after one week to continue his new life of dissipation—apparently merely being seen at a party, not actually participating in all of the drinking and seduction that tended to occur at them, was grounds for dissipation. Thus he'd returned home, likely to inform Brendan's Uncle Angus that his nephew needed cheering up.

Unfortunately, Douglass had found him first. For the next week and a half, Brendan was too drunk to remember he was supposed to be heartbroken. When Douglass realized that even massive amounts of alcohol could not induce his brother to forget Lina by burying himself in another woman, even one that resembled her, he'd dragged his brother back home to 'heal.' How a professed drunk and womanizer like Douglass could have come up with such a deep realization was beyond Brendan, but here he was. Healing.

Now that Brendan thought about it, it was probably Douglass who had let this letter slip through the cracks. It was Douglass, after all, who had been meeting with his local Officiates and handling all correspondences since Brendan returned home. At Brendan's insistence. If he received one letter remarking upon that damned Officiate's wedding…

Except that was exactly what the letter he held detailed. It was written by the Officiate himself, too, as if he'd somehow known that Brendan had spent the past three weeks torturing himself with pictures of Lina and her lover exchanging vows in front of that picturesque cottage home, living there happily, sharing a bed, sharing their bodies…as if he'd somehow known that Brendan would never seek the truth out himself, but would wait indefinitely.

Now he knew, and he wasn't sure what to feel. Relief? Anger?

Right at that moment, he was warring between both. After all, Lina had lied to him. She'd told him she was in love with Christopher Davisson, but according to his letter, they were more like brother and sister.

According to the letter, the young man was now happily married to some woman named Annie, and so it was no longer necessary for the Duke to continue avoiding him. Apparently the Officiate had expected to meet with the Duke upon his return to Bryune, and when that meeting did not occur, he was worried that his relationship with Lina might have been the cause. So he strove to assure the Duke that all sense of romantic involvement between the two of them had, apparently, ended shortly after that day he and Lina had visited Bethel. He'd written her a letter requesting her hand one last time. She'd written back that it was time he moved on.

And that was that.

So Lina had lied. But why? Unless she truly did not love him but was afraid he wouldn't leave well enough alone if it were only a lack of love keeping them apart. And he wouldn't have. He would have kept her with him forever until she finally fell in love with him. Only the knowledge that she would have been miserable with him, without the one she truly loved, had given him the courage to set her free.

But she hadn't been in love with Chris, not in that way. Which meant she'd had another reason to leave, one more important than his happiness, perhaps even than her own happiness. But why?

When the door to his office creaked open, Brendan crumpled the letter in his fist and glared at the oak finish on his desk, assuming that Douglass had come to witness the results of his intentional slipup. "You know, when I requested that you read all of my correspondences, that you keep all of them from me, I really did mean it. In your state of drunkenness, you might have thought I was joking, but I wasn't."

"Well, it's certainly a good thing I came in person, then."

Brendan's head snapped up so quickly, it was a wonder he didn't suffer from whiplash. Great Dmond, was he hearing things? No, it was her, standing just a few feet inside of his doorway, hands clenched tightly in front of her and a strained smile on her face. She looked…nervous.

She damn well ought to be nervous. If Brendan weren't worried he'd kiss her instead of strangle her, he would have leapt across the room to show her exactly what she had to be nervous about.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded gruffly, trying and failing to keep all emotion out of his voice. At least, he hoped, he was managing to appear somewhat calm, even if his voice gave him away.

"This room looks different," Lina remarked with a frown, not bothering to answer his question.

"Windows," he grunted.

Realization dawned as she took in the two large windows to either side of his desk that he'd had added while he was in Dmondia. "You have a new desk, too. I like it," she remarked.

"That's nice. However, it doesn't explain one damn bit what you're doing here."

"Well…you see, that day…well, there was something I should have given you, but there wasn't exactly time. And when we got your letter and realized you were home," she rambled, "we decided I should bring it to you."

"Have you lost your mind?"

"Excuse me?" she asked, clearly startled by his question.

"You are speaking in the plural."

"Oh." She laughed nervously. "I was referring to Trixie."

"What were you doing at Trixie's house?"

"Living there, of course. When we were discussing the possibility that you might propose to me, she told me I was more than welcome to stay with her as her companion if things went sour between us, and as things seemed to have gone quite sour…"

"Dmond, you have been staying with Trixie," he remarked, for Lina had never possessed a tendency to ramble aimlessly before, which was a decidedly Trixie trait. "Hell, you planned leaving me?" he added, stunned as he put together what she'd just told him. "Both of you."

Lina took a deep breath, preparing herself for another long speech.

"In five words or less," Brendan said, holding up his hand to halt her rant.

"You would have ruined yourself."

His harsh expression softened immediately as her explanation sank in. So that was it. She was trying to protect him?

"If I had cared about my reputation, I would never have asked you to marry me," he reminded her.

"I know. And if I wasn't such a damned coward, I would have said yes," she admitted, her voice shaky. "But I was talking about the book, the one Officiate Davisson killed Dom because of…"

"I don't care about the blasted book, Lina. And since you obviously don't even have it with you…"

"Trixie is taking it to Devlin to ask him to read it to her. She's going to pretend he's Douglass and the book is a collection of sordid love poems. I think she's in love with him, you know."

"Lina." Brendan stood and walked slowly towards her, letting her know with his eyes that she damn well better hurry up and explain her real reason for being there before he exploded with anxiety. If she was there for the reason he thought she was there…

Before he could, once more, demand an explanation, a blur of fiery red burst into his den, pushed past Lina, and hurled herself into his arms.


Before he knew what was happening, lips were pressing frantic, sloppy kisses all over his face and a lush woman had latched herself onto his body. As Lina was standing just a few feet away, completely detached from him, he barely reacted to this revelation except to calmly attempt to detach the woman. To no avail. And by the time he'd finally managed to set her aside, Lina's expression was one of stricken dismay, and she was already turning around to leave.

"Lina!" he cried, and the red-headed vixen gasped.

"Oh, damn! Hey, Lina! Wait!" Before he could even get a good look at her, the red-head turned and fled his office, only to return moments later dragging a reluctant Lina behind her. Her face was split by a rueful grin as she placed a reluctant Lina back in front of him. "Sorry, cousin. Didn't mean to interrupt. We'll do the kiss attack later."

Brendan stared, stunned, as his cousin Raya quickly left the room. No wonder her parents were despairing over their daughter. With a face and a figure like that, every man in Laporia was probably fast on her heels. The last time Brendan remembered seeing her, she was still in pigtails and flat as a board, and she'd been fifteen at the time. Apparently Raya was a swift bloomer. And what was she thinking doing the kiss attack on him? They hadn't played that game since they were children.

"I think she did that on purpose, the little runt," he said bemusedly. When he looked back at Lina, she was staring quite intently at the floor. "Now, where were we?"

She shook her head.

"No? I was quite certain you were about to tell me something important before my ridiculous flirt of a cousin came barreling in here," he prodded.

When Lina looked back up at him, there was no nervousness in her eyes but instead violet fire, an expression Brendan had become quite used to during her stay at Bryune Castle. "She might have been your cousin, but what about Julianna Dubress? Or Alyssandra Georgeson? Or…"

She was cut off with a gasp when Brendan reached out and yanked her hard against his chest. "Or what about you left me?"

"I left you for your own good! And you certainly wasted no time in getting over me," she quickly fired right back.

"Tell yourself it was for my own good all you want, Lina, but the truth was that you were scared. And I sure as hell didn't get over you. I still haven't gotten over you. Taking those women round to parties was certainly an attempt to forget about you, but trust me, it didn't work."

"Well I kissed one of Trixie's footmen while I was living with her," she announced, and for a moment Brendan was overcome with a black, murderous rage.

Very quickly he reminded himself that he had been equally unfaithful, and he even commented, "Then we are even."

Lina immediately pulled back and looked up at him, her expression a mixture of shock and hopefulness. "You didn't sleep with any of them?"

He had to fight back a smile as he assured her, "Not a one."

A beautiful smile lit her face as she flung her arms around his neck and pushed herself up to connect her lips with his. For a long time they simply kissed, savoring the remembrance of one another until they were both flushed and ready to consummate the act right there in the middle of his den with the door wide open.

"Ah, Lina," Brendan murmured as he gently stroked her wild, silky strands of hair. "How could I even look at another woman when I've had you?"

"But I did leave you," she argued, switching sides now, "and so you had every right to look elsewhere. Did you really think I would marry Chris?" She screwed her nose up distastefully at the very thought.

"That was exactly the reason I was having Douglass filter through my mail. I didn't want any correspondences from Bethel, where your old friend is now the local Officiate. Except Douglass had just presented me with a letter from Christopher himself, requesting congratulations on his recent nuptials. To some woman named Angie."

"Annie, actually," Lina corrected. "A very sweet girl, and much better suited to a man of Chris's disposition. I would have walked all over him."

"You can walk all over me any time you want." He leaned down to kiss her senseless again, only to pull back with a scolding look on his face. "Haven't you forgotten something?"

She smiled sweetly up at him. "No."

His eyes narrowed. "You can't keep running away forever, Lina. I swear on my life that I will never leave you. What are you so afraid of?"

"You can't control everything, Brendan. You might never want to leave me, but what if something happens and you must? What if you die?"

"Then I want to spend every last second up until that point with you by my side. Is it better to live away from the one you love, distancing yourself from that person, only to miss the time spent together? I don't think so. Think of your fathers, Lina. When you lost your real father, granted it probably didn't hurt as much, but don't you ever wish you could have met him? Spent time with him? And even though you lost Dom, don't you cherish the memories you have of him?"

With a sniffle, Lina nodded slowly. "Yes," she admitted, her voice shaking with emotion. "Oh, Bren, I wouldn't have come here if I wasn't ready to say it, I just…I need a moment."

"Take all the time you need, love. I'll still be here," he assured her. "Even if King Harolde throws a fit and banishes us to The Wilds, I will always be there for you."

"I know," she whispered as she leaned into his embrace, resting her face against his chest with a contented little sigh. "It's why I love you so much."

"See now? That wasn't so bad."

Lina snorted out an endearing little giggle, a sound so un-Lina-like that Brendan was forced to smile. "You really have been spending too much time with Trixie. And what was that you were saying about her being in love with my brother? She's insane if she thinks Douglass will ever settle down."

"I said she was in love with Devlin, not Douglass."

Brendan laughed raucously. "Unless she can turn herself into a book, she really is chasing after a hopeless cause."

"Well…she doesn't actually realize that she's in love with him, I think. Unfortunately, once we've been banished to The Wilds, we won't be here to play matchmaker." Lina looked so completely dejected at not being able to remain at Bryune Castle and interfere in his brother's love life that Brendan's chest clutched painfully. Why did they have to leave? It simply wasn't fair that they should have to leave Meyjia simply because he was a Duke and she a commoner.

"We could always show the King that book my father was hiding," Lina told him. "If we wanted to stay, I mean. The book is the Prophecy of Nature, and it clearly states that all of the Dukes must love and be loved in return before poor and rich can be united and peace can return to our land. Of course, he could probably find another man who is in love with a rich woman to take your place," she remarked.

"Wait a minute, Dom Watkins was killed because of a book relating the Prophecy of Nature?"

Lina nodded.

"Amazing. You know, Devlin has at least fifty copies of that text in his personal library. There are so many different variations of that particular legend, and Devlin had to have every one."

"Well he doesn't have this one, I can assure you. We believe it is the original text."

Brendan's eyes widened. "Truly? No wonder people were willing to kill over it. The true method for finding utopia…" With a sigh, he pulled her head back to rest against his chest. "You are right, though. King Harolde might totally misinterpret the text. I say it is best simply to let nature run its course. If the legend was meant to be, it will happen with or without our assistance. And if the King disapproves of our marriage, then so be it." He paused. "We are getting married, aren't we?"

"Of course. Would I have come all the way back here just to tell you I love and then leave?" Lina demanded indignantly.

"I could see you doing something like that, ye-ow!" Brendan leapt back from the pinch she had cleverly executed on his backside.

"Are you running that trap of yours again, Brendan Wolfe?"

The sound of a husky female voice broke the moment, but this time Lina's hackles did not immediately rise. When she turned and took in the beautiful red-haired woman, clearly at least fifteen years Brendan's elder, she correctly deduced that this must be his Aunt Lillya. There was a great deal of resemblance between Lillya and her daughter; both women possessed a certain sensual allure in they way that they smiled. It was no wonder Brendan's uncle had fallen victim to the woman's spell, though Lina could tell from the sharp intelligence in her midnight blue eyes and the kindly smile on her face that she was more than just a beautiful, empty vessel.

"And in front of a lady, no less." Lillya did not brush past Lina as Raya had done, but instead stopped directly in front of her, eyeing her up and down in a thorough inspection before breaking into a brilliant smile. She reached out and embraced Lina as if they were already family. "As beautiful as I knew you'd be, my dear girl," she murmured. "You deserve him."

"Thank you," Lina whispered, feeling oddly contented knowing that at least one member of Brendan's family approved of her.

"Now. Your Uncle Angus is going to have a talk with those twins of yours about sibling support and all that. Seems we heard that one of them bailed out on you while you were still injured, and the other tried to talk you out of marrying yon chickadee," Lillya said, clucking her tongue disapprovingly. "My Raya could marry a stableboy if it would make her happy and keep her from smooching every man in Meyjia."

Brendan was fighting back a smirk, a clear indication that such forthrightness was typical of his boisterous aunt.

"What is family for if not to support one another? It's what we are. A support system. I support you, you support me. Vice versa. Which is exactly why I went to the King just last week and petitioned him for this piece of paper," she pulled a sheet of vellum out of her pocket and shook it out so they could see the writing on it. It was a marriage contract. "Here it states that this contract legally binds Brendan Wolfe to Lina Fenway Watkins. Isn't it lovely? Just lovely."

Brendan and Lina were both too stunned to speak, but they needn't have bothered. Lillya was more than happy to oblige them in explaining both how she'd come about the license, as well as her motives for doing so.

"You see, we were having a nice family dinner at Ry's home a few weeks ago when word reached us about dear Trixie's little party. We were quite amazed to learn that our nephew was parading a violet-eyed strumpet as my daughter from a marriage I'd never had. Oh, no offense meant by that strumpet remark. Merely repeating gossip." Lina must have murmured something slightly intelligible, for the woman continued. "Anyway, what I found most remarkable was the young woman's whole-hearted defense of a person she'd never met. A woman often condemned for her background. And this young woman jumped to her defense in front of a whole crowd of people for no other reason than out of the goodness of her heart. I was quite impressed, you know.

"So when Trixie wrote me shortly thereafter explaining the whole situation, I simply couldn't help myself. I might not like lying, but for family…" She shrugged. "For family I'll do about anything. So I went to the King and confirmed your story, except with a little twist of my own. You were my daughter from a prior marriage to a Methysian artisan. However, shortly before my marriage to Angus, you were kidnapped by savages from my homeland and somehow ended up in the care of a kindly reformer named Dom Watkins. He raised you as his own, instilling in you the necessary lessons of how to act a lady, since he could tell right away that you were a child of good breeding. Thus you are quite presentable. Also, a few years ago, my nephew discovered you in his local village of Bethel and we were reunited. Since then, we have kept you a secret because of your unorthodox upbringing. Even still, you are quite acceptable as a spouse for a Duke. Half Wilds you might be, but luckily, the King likes me."

Lillya smiled cheekily at her nephew, who was still trying to absorb everything she had just told him.

His aunt had lied for them. The King had approved their marriage. Lillya was holding the very marriage contract that would bind them together forever, and they wouldn't even have to hide out in The Wilds to be together.

While Brendan was taking some time to come to grips with what his aunt had done, Lina did not waste a moment in launching herself right back into the curvaceous red-head's arms. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she cried. "You have no idea how much this means to us."

"My dear, I can assure you that I do," Lillya murmured. "If it hadn't been for the support of my Angus's friends and family, I might never have been accepted into polite society at all. It's what family is for. Don't you ever forget that."

"Oh, I won't," Lina assured her.

"In that case, I believe I will leave the two of you to contemplate your new future together." After placing a chaste kiss on her nephew's cheek, Lillya quickly bustled out of the room.

"Did she…?"


"And did the King really…?"

"Oh yes."

Brendan finally broke out of his stupor, and this time it was to whoop with joy and lift Lina into his arms so he could twirl her around in a full circle. "I believe this must be the happiest day of my life."

At that exact moment, the very ground of Bryune Castle shook and a loud blast could be heard from the deepest bowels of the structure.

"Fate confirming our happy future?" Brendan inquired.

Lina merely shook her head. "Trixie and Devlin."

Brendan's lips twitched with the beginnings of a smile. "Looks like you'll get to play matchmaker after all."

The sounds of screaming and cursing could be heard from down the hall, and Lina could not help but laugh out loud. "Lasga help us all."

Author's Note: And there's Book One. If you didn't like it, then I'm sorry for wasting your time. If you did...well, there's five more to go:) Book Two is done and will be posted a few chapters at a time starting this weekend, so keep an eye out if you're interested. If you couldn't guess, it's about Devlin and Trixie. Personally, I like Book Two better than Book One, but that's just my own opinion. Anyway, thanks for reading (and reviewing) and I hope everyone has a wonderful 2008!