It was a week and a half after the invasion at the Academy. Luke, Evan, and Izzy had been given Merits- which aren't as small as they sounded. It was apparently a huge deal in their society. Few people got them in a century.

Which pretty much wrapped things up in a tidy bow for Rowan. She kept her friends in court with her. Evan remained Rowan's guard, but she would have to find a replacement for Luke, because he was going to be helping her with ruling.

She wasn't sure yet, but she had a feeling that he might be king someday. Now that he had a Merit, it would be entirely appropriate for them to wed.

Not that she was thinking about that seriously just yet. She wanted to get to know him better, and there were already enough changes going on in her life right now. Rowan didn't want to make any decisions like that for a long, long time, and not until after her head stopped spinning from all of these changes.

Luke was more helpful than she could have dreamed. His father had been the advisor to her own father, and her mother, and had taught Luke a lot before an untimely death. Goodness knew Rowan could use someone to show her the ropes. Between Luke and Jerry, Rowan was learning a lot, learning all the time, about what would be expected of her as queen.

Rowan was accepting the crown on her eighteenth birthday. Talk about pressure. But she thought she could handle it. It helped that she was surrounded by friends who were entirely confident in her abilities.

She was sitting with Evan and Lane, doing her very best not to stare at them. Ever since the day Lane was kidnapped, they'd been a lot closer. They were dating very openly, and had absolutely no problem with PDA. Rowan did her best to ignore it. She had thought things would cool off after the craziness and the high emotions of that day.

But they still hadn't.

Edwin and Izzy were less nauseating when it came to their relationship. They rarely kissed in public, which Rowan was intensely grateful for.

Rowan and Luke never, ever kissed in public. It wasn't befitting a princess, he would tell her with a smile. Really, Rowan thought it was because he was afraid of what Ash would do to him, but she kept that thought to herself. Or, kind of to herself. It wasn't her fault if she had thought it while Luke was looking her in the eyes, was it?

Speaking of Luke, where was he? Rowan stood and turned around to say goodbye to Lane and Evan, but they were too engrossed in each other to notice her. She shook her head and bit back a laugh. They were adorable, but it was getting old fast.

Rowan walked down the corridor of the mansion that served as the royal palace, admiring the paintings on the walls. Rowan could remember living here as a child. She never thought she'd see it again.

And the paintings? They were all her mother's.

It was good to be home.

Rowan found Luke in his room, straightening his tie for the billionth time that day.

"You look dashing," Rowan assured him, tiling her head up for a kiss.

"You're just saying that so I don't back out of going to the ball tonight."

"You're darned right. Is it working?" Rowan nuzzled his neck, and he shivered.

"Yeah," was all he said, smiling down at her. He kissed her again and Rowan smiled.

She could get used to this. And the rest? She was starting to think that she could handle that, too.

- - -

Oy. I'm so, so sorry about re-posting chapter 25 instead of the end. Thanks so much, iheartstarsx, metallicdiamond, and for bringing this to my attention.