Author's Note: Take that writer's block!! Wa ha ha! Yeah, so this one came out fairly quickly. I'm not sure it's even been a month since I started it, and I'm totally on the last chapter. Normally I'd start posting when I'm a little more than halfway through, but since I wrote this one so quickly, there's a LLLLOOOOTT more to edit. Hopefully, I'll finish the last chapter and the Epilogue tonight. We'll see.

So anyway, I've really been looking forward to writing this book, and I know a lot of people have remarked that they've been looking forward to reading it, so I only hope that I've done it justice. I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go when I started, but as usual, some things changed along the way...Hope everyone enjoys!


Prologue

"Come on, Doc. Be straight with me. Something's wrong, isn't it?"f

Doctor Galbraith looked up at Makenna, his brown eyes impossibly large behind his steel-framed glasses. Even magnified, she could not determine what the man was thinking just then. Apparently, growing up or working at the capital city during the reign of King Klausius gave one the ability to do this, as Geybrial had been much the same way when he first returned home from his extended stay in Kurish. Still, she just knew that something was wrong. Every morning when he examined her, he would check her over in his typical perfunctory manner, congratulate her on the progress she'd made – no thanks to him, as it had all been a result of magic – and then send her on her way. Today, however, there were no congratulations, and his examination had paused quite drastically as he was listening to her heart.

Her damned heart. That had been the real problem all along. Makenna's heart, apparently, was faulty, beating at an irregular rhythm with a little hiccup that, as time went on, grew more and more pronounced. Doctor Galbraith had managed, within just a few months of living with them, to come up with a formula based on the duration of that little hiccup from one week to the next that could determine approximately how much longer she had left before her heart just stopped entirely. None of the magic remedies she'd enjoyed thus far had been able to stop, or even slow, that deadly progression.

The good Physician could have beaten around the bush with her. He could have offered her some lengthy diatribe filled with terms she would not understand, just like all of the other doctors who had examined her. Makenna rather suspected that they did that because they didn't actually understand what was wrong with her, but they didn't want to admit as much.

Doctor Galbraith was still around for a reason. Even though he'd admitted that he could do nothing to help her, Makenna's father had insisted he stay just because he was the only Physician thus far that his daughter had actually liked. He spoke to her like a person. He was honest with her.

"The stutter in your heart is more defined this week. More defined than it should be. I might have to recalculate my formula."

Which essentially meant that the year or so he'd given her to live might have just been cut down significantly. A year had not been a very long time, but less than that…

"How long will it take you?" She needed to know. Though some people preferred not to know when their time would come, Makenna insisted on it. She was putting her family through enough shit right now without adding a spontaneous death to it all.

"Just a few minutes, if you would like to wait." When she nodded, he turned away from her and walked over to the desk in her room. That desk was certainly well used. Before her illness hit, she'd spent a great deal of time there, writing letters to her friends and suitors. There had always been a multitude – both of friends and suitors. The former had largely been superficial, desiring an acquaintance with her because of her status as a Lord's daughter and her notoriety as the reigning beauty in her country. The latter had always been quite devoted, visiting her regularly to try and tempt her into…well, something. Some of them were actually quite respectful and desired nothing more than marriage from her. First, anyway. The sex could come later, she was certain. Most of her suitors, however, had been after only the sex, and for a time, she'd been willing to somewhat oblige some of them. If she was in the mood. Now, she only seemed to be in the mood to leave her suitors dangling from a little string, crushed and defeated.

And even that did not seem to satisfy her anymore.

Her enjoyment in writing letters to her friends and suitors – much of the time filled with thinly veiled insults just because it amused her, especially with those of her friends and suitors who were entirely false – had long since come to a close. And though her family had often noted that she was extremely passionate about her new letter-writing habits, there was certainly no real enjoyment in the letters she wrote to their surly neighbor. Not when he refused to acknowledge those letters or do anything about what she wrote in them. His "castle" was a monstrosity, and it completely ruined any pleasure she might have once received from sitting outside and enjoying her gardens.

Now the desk was being used for another purpose entirely – to calculate the length of Makenna's existence.

How depressing.

The silence in the room was almost nauseating to her. Makenna hated silence of any kind and had essentially turned "small talk" into an art form. The year or so she had spent under her brother Emry's tutelage, learning how to be proper so she would have an excuse not to be vocal or loud in an effort to keep from revealing her illness to her family, had been the most boring year of her life. While she loved her brother, and spending so much time with him had actually brought them closer than they'd ever been before, she could not have spent the rest of her life speaking softly and politely. It wasn't in her nature. Even Makenna's typical small talk always had to have some kind of undertone to it; something that was at least the slightest bit naughty. Otherwise, how could it possibly be interesting?

At least ten minutes of silence passed. As much as she wanted to start some sort of conversation with the man, she knew he needed to concentrate. This was a very important formula he was re-constructing.

Finally, Doctor Galbraith turned. His once inscrutable expression was marred by a frown – not a good sign. The lines around his mouth were more defined as he stared down at the piece of paper; that was really the only reason she knew he was frowning.

"Well?" Her voice cracked over the word.

"It could be worse." His attempt to reassure her was not appreciated. The only way her current situation could possibly get worse was if either her sores or her weak lungs returned. Those had been the two parts of the illness that had most affected her level of comfort, but thanks to her sisters-in-law, they were but distant memories now. As for what remained – well, she was going to die regardless. How could it get any worse than that?

"Just tell me," she insisted.

With a sigh, Doctor Galbraith handed her the piece of paper, as if he could not quite bring himself to speak the words. Makenna looked at his scribbling, following the lengthy equation down to the very bottom, where the result was located.

Her heart sank. Maybe it couldn't get worse than death, but when she'd still had a year, there had at least been some hope left that they could find her a cure. Now…

Now, in a little less than three months, she would be dead.

And just like that, the protective wall of faith her family had been building around her for the past few months crumbled.


They were talking about her again. She could tell by the way they kept putting their heads together and whispering…and then occasionally glancing in her direction. They were so obvious about it, as if they did not expect her to notice or care.

Well, she did notice, but she didn't care. She didn't give a damn about anything anymore. What was the point? In three months, she would be gone. Three measly months.

"Makenna, we have decided that you need to make a list," Emmi finally announced after quite a bit of conspiring between her three sisters-in-law. Emmi was, by far, the least vocal and confident of the three, and yet somehow she had been designated the speaker for whatever plan they had concocted.

"A list of what?" she grumbled, staring up at the ceiling. She'd been lying silently on a chaise in their front sitting room for the past hour, watching her sisters-in-law conspire against her. She only spoke now because, in spite of her current attitude of antipathy, she wanted to know what the hell they'd been discussing. Not even the prospect of death could kill her curiosity, apparently.

"A list of everything you want to do before you die."

Makenna turned to look at the mouse-haired, horse-faced woman her brother Emry had fallen in love with. Her expression was one of utter disbelief. This was the first time she could recall that anyone in her family had ever spoken of her dying. Before, the attitude had been 'this is not going to happen.' None of them had accepted that she might one day pass on; in their minds, she was already cured.

But now Emmi seemed to think she needed to make a list. Of things she wanted to do before she died. Because now, of course, her death was certain.

As depressing as the thought was, she could not help but wonder where this random suggestion had come from.

"Why?"

Emmi shrugged. "We were talking, and I…well," she started to blush, a trait she and Makenna's brother had very much in common, "There was a time when I did not expect to live." Makenna knew about it, of course. Emmi might not have been aware that she knew, but Emry had felt duty-bound to sit down and tell his sister that it was possible for Emmi to heal her. Completely. Unfortunately, the side effect of that would be Emmi's death – something the poor girl had once considered inconsequential. As much as she wanted to live, however, there was no way Makenna could ask her brother to sacrifice the love of his life for her. She would have lived the rest of her life mired in guilt.

"I did not have time to come up with a list, precisely, but there were definitely things that I knew, in my head, that I wanted to do before I died," Emmi continued quietly.

"What were those things, by the way?" Cait wondered.

"Yes, you never did tell us," Meena piped in.

"That is hardly important," Emmi insisted, turning a deeper shade of scarlet.

"Actually, it is," Makenna argued, mainly to be contrary. "I do not have the slightest idea what sort of shit I'm supposed to put on this list. Tell me what sort of things you wanted to do before you died, and maybe that will give me an idea."

Her sister-in-law sighed deeply, and then she reluctantly said, "Well…one of the things I wanted to do before I died was eat chocolate. We do not eat chocolate in Jumyria. The previous Minister of Law believed that it was an aphrodisiac, and so he created a law essentially outlawing it. The first time I ever ate chocolate was in Kurish, and it was wonderful." She smiled gently as she told the story, and it was clear by the time she'd finished that she hoped her one contribution would satisfy them.

It seemed to satisfy Meena and Cait. Not Makenna, however. She was feeling far too bitter right then to drop a subject that might make someone else uncomfortable. "What else did you want to do?" she prodded.

Emmi winced. "Um…well, I…"

"Oh, come on," Cait complained when she realized that there was, in fact, more. "How long have you lived here? You can damn well start being more comfortable around us."

"It is not that, it is just…well, it is not exactly an appropriate…topic…"

"Emmi, you must begin to understand that here at Damarkia, there is no such thing as an inappropriate topic," Meena assured her. "There are no limits. No rules."

"But there are rules I have placed upon myself," Emmi immediately argued.

"God, she sounds like Em," Makenna grumbled. "All right, I'll let you off the hook. You wanted to have sex, right? I mean, that's the only inappropriate thing I can think of that someone might want to do before they die." That Emmi would think of doing, anyway. There were any number of inappropriate things Makenna could think of doing other than sex – many of which she'd actually already done.

"You are correct," Emmi managed to confirm, in spite of the fact that all of the blood that had rushed to her head should have long since made her pass out.

"You should definitely add that to your list," Cait said, even as Meena excused herself to go and fetch a piece of paper and pencil.

"What makes you think I haven't already done it?"

"Your brother is my lover."

"Oh. Right. Stupid, nosy brother," Makenna grumbled. As soon as Meena returned with the writing implements, the four women gathered around the main, oval coffee table in the room. They sat on the floor and waited while the youngest of them put the pencil to the paper. Though she thought this was entirely pointless, Makenna was prepared to humor them. Her sisters-in-law tended to be relentless when they wanted something; she'd seen the results when that stubbornness was used against her brothers, and unlike them, she knew better than to fight against it.

1) Have sex.

Once the words were on paper, she realized that something did not quite sound right. So she scratched out number one and started over again.

1) Have really good sex.

"Why did you change it?" Meena wondered.

"Well…just because I have sex doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be good, right? I mean, I don't want to die a virgin, but I'd rather die a virgin than someone who's only had really rotten sex," she explained.

"Oh. All right."

It was obvious that Meena did not understand. In fact, none of her sisters-in-law seemed to comprehend what she'd just said. Then again, all three of them had successfully managed to remain virgins until they found their soul mates, and Makenna imagined that with one's soul mate, sex was probably always at least good. With the frequency Cait and Shaun did it, she imagined it was far more than just good.

Lucky bitches. Makenna would be hard-pressed to find someone who could keep her interest for more than a kiss, let alone to do the whole deed. Though some of her suitors had certainly been quite skilled in the seductive arts, there had not yet been one who made her throw caution to the wind and relinquish her wretched virginity. Until that happened…well, before she'd found out that she only had three months left to live, she'd decided that, until that happened, she would remain a virgin. Now she might just be desperate enough to settle for something a little less than perfect.

"So what will number two be?" Emmi asked. "I am certain you have probably enjoyed chocolate quite a bit."

"Yeah, me and chocolate are old friends," she assured the older woman. "Let's see…"