§ § § - June 10, 2011
Christian's ears roared and his head began to swim; he couldn't stop gaping at the doctor. "Wh-what did you just say?"
The doctor winced and glanced pleadingly behind the prince, as if appealing to someone. A few seconds later, Christian's father-in-law's voice startled him. "My daughter is dead?" he asked, low, shocked.
"Massive skull fracturing, sir," the doctor said with a nod, closing his eyes. "It was too severe; we just couldn't save her."
Christian stared at his father-in-law. "That woman..." he breathed, unable to speak in much more than a whisper. "She hit Leslie twice in the head with a metal bat. She...swung it so hard...I'll never forget that sound..." He turned back to the doctor; the simple motion of rotating his head made it swim even more, and he staggered slightly. "She's truly dead?" The doctor merely nodded, eyes still closed.
"I need to see her," Christian muttered and started toward the swinging door.
"No, Your Highness—" a nurse began.
"Let him go," the doctor interrupted her. "He needs to say goodbye." He turned to Christian. "I'll show you to her room, Your Highness."
Sixty seconds later Christian stood at the side of a hospital bed, staring at the pale, still face of his wife. If Leslie hadn't looked so bloodless—so waxy, he found himself thinking—she might have been asleep. He gathered her hand in his, his fingertips searching out the pulse in her wrist, moving from point to point as if unsure he was looking in the right place. Then he explored her neck, found nothing there, and finally flattened a hand on her chest. Still no heartbeat—and he realized then, too, that her body was cooling. Full understanding crashed head-on into him and he gaped at her bloodless face till it wavered in the tears that filled his eyes.
"Leslie, Leslie, my Rose," he choked out, begging her to come back somehow, not quite ready to let her go. "No..." He twined his fingers through her hair, cradling her broken head, lifting it with the utmost care from the pillow and touching it to his own head, beginning to sob softly. It was the worst loss he had ever endured, far more even than his mother's death. Memories of Leslie marched before his closed eyes: her bashful smile when he'd complimented her on their first date; the way she had felt in his arms during their stolen moments at the late King Errico's coronation in Santi Arcuros; the sight, sound, smell and feel of her the first time they had ever made love; the radiance of her face the day they had finally been married; the joy that had emanated from her when the triplets were born...it all paraded across his mind in a slideshow as he grieved. "Leslie, my darling...I can't...how can I go on without you? Oh, my Rose..."
His questing fingers seemed to detect fragments of bone under the skin on the back of her head, and he broke down completely then, caressing the fatal injury for a moment and then pulling his numbed fingers away to cradle her face. "Leslie, I love you," he got out in a breathless moan, dropping his head onto the pillow beside hers. He left his hands where they lay, shock stealing over him, freezing his body there beside hers. He knew then what his sister must have gone through the day they'd all thought they were burying Esbjörn; all he wanted was to follow Leslie into her grave. He had never been able to fall in love with any other woman; he would spend the rest of his life alone.
His mind had blanked out and he knew only his immense sorrow, so it took several minutes for him to realize that he was feeling gentle warmth beneath his palms. This had barely registered when he heard a thready moan, and he lifted his head, wondering absurdly where it had come from. Then Leslie's head shifted slightly toward his left hand, as if nestling into his palm, and he almost recoiled. He'd barely accepted her death, and now he was hallucinating, he thought wildly...
Leslie's eyes fluttered open and she stared up at him with a bleary look, her mien puzzled, fuzzed out, hesitant. "Christian, my love?"
"But...you died," he blurted inanely.
She opened her mouth as if to reply, but then slammed her eyes closed and moaned, this time in sheer agony. "I think I'm about to. Oh, hell, my head is killing me."
Ten different responses flashed through his reeling mind before it sank in fully at last. "Leslie, herregud, you're alive!" he cried, and squeezed her hand before springing off the bed, bounding across the room and shouting down the corridor: "She's alive!"
The swinging door exploded open and the doctor, the two nurses, and Leslie's father barreled through, crowding into the room behind Christian, who proudly gestured to Leslie. "Look at her," he exclaimed jubilantly. "You said that skull fracture was fatal, but obviously you were wrong. Look at her, she's alive!"
Even Leslie's father evinced disbelief; he approached the bed, staring at her, even touching her cheek before shaking his head. "How do you feel, child?" he asked.
"I have the worst headache of my entire life," she groaned, and squinted at Christian with pain glittering out of her eyes. "Even worse than that hangover."
Christian began to laugh; being hurled to the depth of despair and then catapulted into a relieved joy had left him lightheaded and a touch hysterical. "My darling," he murmured, caressing her head, kissing her cheek. "Never again will I object to anything you do. Oh, I love you so much, so much."
"I love you too," she croaked. "But oh, please, get me something for this headache." She winced hard at the laughter this evoked; Christian read the bewilderment in her face and brushed her lips with a kiss, promising to explain it all to her later.
§ § § - June 12, 2011
Leslie's father, sitting at the desk, had spread out prints of her X-rays on the desk in front of him and was shaking his head slowly. One of the prints showed a shattered skull; the other, taken only that morning just before Leslie's discharge from the hospital, depicted a perfect, smooth expanse of bone. "Never before have I witnessed anything like this," he said, half to himself, his dark eyes flitting back and forth between the before-and-after shots. "There must be some explanation."
Leslie, who still had a residual headache but of less intensity than when she had first reawakened, sighed patiently. "Father, you've said that at least half a dozen times since I got released from the hospital. Don't tell me you're so dumbfounded that you can't even get your brain to start considering the possibilities." She grinned when her father gave her a pointed stare, and went on slowly stroking Anastasia's hair. The toddler had refused not only to let Leslie out of her sight, but even to allow her to let go of her. Her thumb was in her mouth, and her other hand was fisted around the shoulder strap of Leslie's tank top; there was a wary look in her eyes, and she wouldn't even let Christian take her away for a while.
"At least we don't have to worry about the media descending on us here," Christian remarked. "I have no idea how we'd ever explain the truth of the matter."
"I'm still not sure I believe it," Leslie said, "or at least I'd have a harder time of it if it weren't for those X-rays. For the life of me, I have no memory whatsoever of being attacked. The last thing I can recall is putting Stasia in her car seat—the next thing I remember is waking up to a monster headache and Christian crying."
"I told you, my Rose," Christian said, "you were dead. That...that useless excuse for a human being did her utmost to crush your skull, and went a fair way toward succeeding. Those photos prove that those fractures were too massive and complex to be anything but fatal. And yet...here you sit, healed and whole, as if it had never happened."
Leslie could only shrug at him; at that point they both realized her father was staring at Christian, as if something had begun to occur to him. "Christian, explain to me again in as precise detail as possible what happened when you were alone with Leslie."
With a hint of resignation in his voice, Christian obliged, speaking slowly so as to dredge up every minor nuance of what he had felt—both physically and emotionally—as he was grieving over Leslie. "It took some time for me to realize that she was warming, rather than cooling," he concluded, "and that's when I heard her moan, looked around, and saw her wake up. Truly, that's as detailed as I can be."
His father-in-law's dark eyes seemed to be drilling holes in him; Christian, a little rattled if not intimidated, scowled back in perplexity. "What, for fate's sake?"
"You say you cradled her head," the older man mused. "That you felt the bone fragments at the back of her head. That you held her face between your hands..."
"Yes, and what of it?" Christian demanded.
"Father, what're you implying?" Leslie wanted to know.
Her father's gaze shifted to her and seemed to intensify, as if he expected her to pick up on whatever he was thinking. "Christian's narrative reminds me of some very old stories I recall my parents telling, when I was a child," he said. "It hardly seems possible...but perhaps it has happened. Perhaps..."
Christian and Leslie waited; but when he seemed to sink into his own thoughts, they looked at each other, and Christian grumbled, "I've always absolutely hated it when he gets enigmatic. It makes my stomach do backflips."
Leslie laughed. "Father's being enigmatic doesn't necessarily mean it's something bad, my love. On the other hand, it'd be nice to get some answers, even if he isn't sure they're the right ones."
Behind the desk, the chair creaked, and they looked around to see Leslie's father sitting back and regarding them with the tolerant amusement of a wise elder for an undereducated stripling. "Perhaps one day, by the time my grandchildren have grown, the two of you will have developed something resembling patience," he said. His features broke into a broad grin at their dirty looks. "Very well, but for the moment you'll have to keep this to yourselves, because it will be necessary for me to do a great deal of investigating.
"But I suspect that one of the clans we had thought was extinct for centuries is not, after all. There were stories as I was growing up, stories of the way the members of that clan restored even the most grievously injured or ill people to life and health. I believe that my parents witnessed some of these instances firsthand. I recall, as a young man, hearing them speak with regret of their dying out. In any case, the stories clearly described the methods those clan members used to restore life to the dead." His gaze landed on Christian again, and he sat forward, folding his hands in front of him on the desktop. "They did this using almost exactly the same gestures you did when you brought Leslie back. Christian, I strongly believe you are a member of the clan."
Christian, stilled beyond speech or movement, gaped at him, so overwhelmed that his eyes seemed vacant with dumbfounded shock. Leslie stared at her father in pure amazement, trying to process the concept; after a good five minutes, she cleared her throat. "Do you know what could happen if this goes public?"
The question viciously kicked Christian from his daze and he cranked around so hard to glare at her that she flinched back instinctively. "Don't even think it!"
"Christian, you know better," she said, shaking her head. "You're a prince. If you really have the power to restore the dead to life, this is one secret you and I and Father will have to keep to ourselves, and never tell another soul on earth. That's the only way we could keep you from being overpowered, kidnapped, used and exploited, enslaved even...you name it." She put her attention on her father. "So how did he inherit the power, if he really is a member of that clan? Whose family line did it come to him through? And is he the only one in the family with the power, or are there others?"
"Those are the most pressing questions I have, as well," her father said with a nod. "I'll be involving the tribunal in the research; it will give them something constructive to do, for once. Meantime, Christian, I want you to think, as far back as your memory will go, and tell me if you can recall any specific instance that might have provided a clue that you've had these powers from your birth."
Christian shook his head almost before he had finished the question. "I can tell you right now, there's nothing of the sort, not even remotely. Not that I wouldn't have wished for that power at certain times..." His voice trailed off, and Leslie saw the transformation of his expression. Then he bolted upright, his back stiff, his voice filled with a sort of desperate hope. "You say I can...I can raise the dead, if you'll excuse the phrase. Could I...what are the chances of my bringing Mother back?"
Leslie's hand began to drift to her mouth, but she saw her father's dark eyes fill with regret and immediately felt her own hopes plummet. "There are some questions about the ability that I can answer here and now. I'm sorry, Christian, but the power is limited: it will work only on someone who has died within the last forty-eight hours. That's why you were able to bring Leslie back, for you had contact with her less than two hours after she was killed. Forgive me, my child, but yes, you were medically dead; the hospital had been in the process of completing your death certificate when Christian put out the alert that you were in fact alive."
Leslie grinned a little crookedly. "Well, it might not exactly be Star Trek's fal-tor-pan, but it works for me." She gazed down at Anastasia, who had finally dozed off with her thumb still firmly lodged in her mouth. "Poor baby. She's had to put up with so much tension over the move, had to witness all the complaining and crying and carrying on her brother and sisters have been doing...and me too, at times. And every time she seems to be recovering from the last ordeal she goes through, she has to face something else. Christian, my love, you said she witnessed what happened to me, from beginning to end. I wish there were some way to erase all those awful memories for her. She's only two years old. Why should any child that young have to have a head full of trauma like that?"
Christian leaned down and pressed a kiss on the top of Anastasia's head, then smiled at her. "Perhaps if you spoke with Liselotta...or even your friend Frida. I make no guarantee that they will, or even would be able to, help, but the possibility is there, so I think you'd be wise to explore it. I agree with you; no child as young as Stasia should be forced through such unhappiness. Even if she forgets the actual events, their impact on her may well last a lifetime. It simply isn't right. Go ahead and ask about it." He dropped a kiss on Leslie's lips and then paused, as if reflecting on the simple action, so often performed. "How many times have I kissed you, my Rose, and assumed you would always be there for me to do that? It'll be a very long time before I can take your presence for granted again." She smiled at him, and he returned it before refocusing on his father-in-law. "Forgive me, I'm afraid we were a bit sidetracked. But ach...to have the power, to imagine the potential for restoring life, only to find that there are limits. For a few sweet seconds, I had visions of bringing Mother into my children's lives...and Leslie's mother as well."
"That you have the power at all will be the cause of great change in your life," his father-in-law observed. "For it to be unlimited in scope would merely increase that change exponentially, to unimaginable proportions. You stand in enough danger as it is, just as Leslie mentioned, should word of this power of yours get out. My recommendation is that we three, together, create some manner of story that will satisfy the media once it gets out that Leslie was attacked and that her assailant has been imprisoned. I would also suggest that, since you have never before had reason to apply the power, and since the circumstances that called for it in this case were so extraordinary as to warrant its use, you merely continue to live your life as you always have—making whatever public appearances are required of you, tending to your business, raising your children, loving your wife."
Christian and Leslie both nodded; then she said, "This is going to sound really inane, but it crossed my mind to wonder whether this would apply only to people, or if he could bring back, oh, say...pets and other animals, and maybe even dying houseplants."
"Fate have mercy on us," Christian uttered in pure disbelief, staring at her.
Her father burst into laughter. "While it may seem silly to you two, as a matter of fact, he does indeed have that power, should he choose to use it. When it comes to this ability, no question is a stupid question—and Christian, you should keep that in mind as well, for I know you'll want to learn all you can about this. I do have another question before we give the subject a rest and I have a chance to return to the tribunal to put them to work on the research. Can you think of any other happenstance, whether or not it involves you, that might suggest someone else in your family could have the power?"
"You'll have to give me a few moments," Christian said, and Leslie's father nodded; the prince sank into thought, and Leslie watched him, seeing him in a different light now that she knew he was the descendant of a clan thought to have been extinct. It made him something other than her, made her wonder what kind of effect it would have on their love for each other and their marriage, and their everyday relationship with each other. The questions built up in her mind, and she began to have the feeling she'd be asking for far more information than Christian would.
Then Christian spoke, sounding hesitant and awed. "You know, now that I think of it...something Liselotta recently told Leslie just came back to me. My Rose, maybe you should recount that conversation for your father—the one about Matti and the Liljefors powers, you remember."
"Oh, that's right. Liselotta mentioned that she was amazed not only that Matti lived, but that he was a perfectly normal child. She explained that most of the few boys ever born into the Liljefors clan die soon after birth because something's wrong with their brains—maybe they're not fully developed or something. But Matti was one of a very rare few exceptions." She peered at Christian. "What would that have to do with this, though?"
"I simply wonder what would make Matti one of those rare exceptions. Having been told of this power I apparently have, I've begun to wonder. A moment." He arose, unearthed his phone from a pants pocket and called his nephew.
Within ten minutes Gerhard and Liselotta were in the study, looking somewhat guarded; like the triplets, their children were under supervision at the resort swimming pool at the moment. "What can we do for you?" Gerhard inquired.
"Gerhard, we have to ask you about something that may be painful for you to relive," Christian began, choosing his words. "It's in regard to Matti's birth. Leslie repeated Liselotta's revelation about him to me, in confidence. But something has come up that requires your explaining in full detail, from your own point of view. I know it's a lot to ask, but bear with us, please, and I promise you'll get a full explanation."
Gerhard regarded them with wary apprehension, but the encouraging expression on Leslie's father's face seemed to put him a little more at ease. "All right," he acquiesced, though his reluctance was plain for all to see. "I hope the payoff is good." He shot Christian a look that made the latter man smile crookedly, then heaved a sigh and sat down beside Liselotta, settling back and letting his gaze slip out of focus.
"Matti was born on a Monday. I had to leave work in the middle of the day to take Liselotta to the hospital in Sundborg that the royal family has used to bear the next generation for probably the last sixty-five or seventy years now. The birth was easy...maybe too easy. They told us we had a son, and for some reason Liselotta burst into tears. I remember being thoroughly confused, wondering why in the world she'd react so.
"After about an hour, Liselotta's attending doctor took me aside and explained to me that after the usual tests had been performed on Matti and he'd come out with an alarmingly low score, they had given him a more thorough examination, and discovered that his brain was..." Here Gerhard hesitated, tried and didn't quite succeed in controlling a wince, and then shook his head, closing his eyes. "The word they used was 'atrophied'. His condition was so severe and unusual, they had never seen it before and had no idea what to do about it; in fact, the doctor admitted that the problem was simply insurmountable. And while she was speaking with me, a nurse came out and very quietly informed her and me that Matti had died. I had barely even seen him..."
Liselotta had gone stark white and was gawking at Gerhard in shock. "You never told me that," she quavered.
Gerhard came to with a start and squeezed her hand. "I'm not finished yet, blomman min," he said gently. Turning back to the others, he pulled in a long breath and continued: "I insisted that I have the chance to hold Matti and tell him goodbye, and not to tell Liselotta until I could be with her. They probably wouldn't have agreed if I weren't one of the royal family, I'm sure, judging from the looks on their faces. But I wouldn't be budged, so they agreed. They put me in a small room with my son, and there I sat, holding him in my arms, grieving his loss, dreading what to tell my parents and especially Liselotta."
Here, Leslie's father broke in for the first time. "Forgive me for the interruption, Your Highness, but if you would, please elaborate for me precisely how you held the baby."
Gerhard stared at him, confused. "I held him as you would hold any newborn, with his head resting on my arm for support..."
"But you were grieving the infant's death," came the reply. "Consider it carefully, think back, and give me as much detail as you can."
"Well enough," Gerhard said dubiously, and shook his head once or twice before turning his mind fully to the memory. His face began to clear a little as he thought. "Come to think of it...I lifted Matti to my shoulder and cradled the back of his head while I cried for him. I rested my head against his for a bit." His words slowed. "I think I...I believe I also smoothed whatever hair he had. I...I simply cuddled him and rocked him a bit." His face took on a look of remembered disbelief. "I'm not sure how long I sat there holding him that way, but after some time I felt him squirm a bit in my embrace, and I realized he was quite warm. And then, before I had time to react to that, he began to cry, in that peculiar odd wail that newborns seem to have, that sounds more like a bird than a human child somehow. I was shocked—they had told me he was dead, for fate's sake! And yet here he was, crying! He looked perfectly healthy and whole to me...and the staff who had attended at the birth were beyond shocked."
"How in the world did you keep it from leaking out?" Christian wanted to know. "Not even the family is aware of this. What did you do?"
Gerhard shrugged. "I knew the media would play havoc with it, particularly since they had spent so long excoriating Liselotta for being who she is and for daring to presume she could become one of the royal family. My goal was to protect her and our son at all costs, so I warned the staff that they were not to even hint that Matti had been anything other than perfectly normal at birth. I really stretched my authority as royalty that day, I'm afraid, but they agreed finally. They knew how I go to the defense of those I love most. The whole thing was so unbelievable, though, that I felt it best to keep it strictly between me and those few staff who knew Matti's true condition till I...well, till he..." Lacking the words, he trailed off, then noticed Christian's face. "Why do you look like that? What exactly is going on here?"
Christian drew in a deep breath. "Gerhard, you should know something. When Mrs. Lindblom attacked Leslie, we...it was much, much more severe than we let on. After what had happened, we felt it best to downplay the truth of the matter, and the more I learn about the reason for it, the more I think it's best that way. What you don't know is that Leslie was clinically dead for a while. Sorina Lindblom's mother fractured Leslie's skull so badly that there was no saving her." He cleared his throat. "Not by any means known to modern medicine, at any rate. But evidently I..." He paused, glanced at Leslie and then at her father, and hunched his shoulders, lost for words. "I think you should tell him. I'm still not altogether certain I believe it myself."
"You see, Your Highness," Leslie's father said gently, "you and your uncle appear to be the descendants of a particular clan that has long been thought to be extinct...a clan that has the ability to restore life to the dead."
Liselotta clapped both hands over her mouth; Gerhard simply stared. After about thirty seconds, Liselotta cried, "So Matti was not a Liljefors rarity at all! If it weren't for this, he would have died, yes? Gerhard saved our son!"
"But how?" Gerhard finally demanded, stunned. "So perhaps Matti, and now Aunt Leslie, would be dead, except that Uncle Christian and I have this...power...to bring the dead back to life? You'll have to forgive me if I express my extreme skepticism over this."
"Quite understandable, Your Highness, but it's the only explanation. Your son's brain at birth was too underdeveloped for him to have lived under any other circumstance; he was clinically dead when you had your moments with him, and only you were with him at the time. When you next brought him into the presence of other people, he was alive and whole and healthy, was he not?" Gerhard could only nod, and Leslie's father turned to Christian. "And as you are well aware, Leslie was also clinically dead when you went in to make your farewells to her. When you alerted the medical staff and me to the fact that she was alive, you had been the only one with her all that time. You must therefore have been responsible for bringing Leslie back to us."
"I understand perfectly well what you're saying," Christian told him, "but that doesn't make it easier for me to accept. Not that I'm not profoundly grateful, mind you, since otherwise I'd be a widower trying not to face the fact of Leslie's death and funeral. But to find that I seem to be responsible for my wife's resurrection..."
"Even I find it difficult to believe," Leslie's father admitted with a wry smile. "The clan expired long enough ago that they had become half legend, even among the other clans. A good bit of research is necessary, but I have resources and help at hand, enough that I hope to have some answers and explanations for you tomorrow. In the meantime, whatever you do, it is absolutely paramount that you keep this a closely guarded secret. I'm sure you see the reasons for yourselves." He let a few beats elapse, then looked at his daughter. "Leslie, I believe you had a request to make of Liselotta."
"Oh...I did," she mumbled, blinking. It was hard for her to shift her brain from her father's revelations—and the likely ramifications thereof—to anything else. Meeting Liselotta's questioning gaze, she explained about Anastasia and all the trauma she had been witnessing throughout the last year. "I wondered if it's possible for you to ease the effects. She's seen much more than she should be expected to endure, and I'm scared of the permanent effects it could have on her at such a young age."
Liselotta nodded. "It's an unusual request, but I can do it." She slipped her hand into Gerhard's. "It's one of our strengths as a clan—easing one another's emotional pain. We've had to do so much of it through the centuries, when bigots and the superstitious tried to destroy us. I'll be happy to help Anastasia."
Leslie thanked her, and for a moment or two there was a heavy silence in the room. Then Leslie's father arose. "Perhaps it's best if I return to the tribunal now and see to it that they begin the research. I believe Rogan is making rounds, Leslie, so if you prefer to remain here in his absence, you certainly may. In fact..." His eyes twinkled. "I've spoken with him about your being his summer assistant, not just this year but for all the seasons you and Christian and the children come here." He smiled at Leslie, then aimed it at all of them. "You have much to discuss amongst yourselves as well, so I'll leave you to it. I'll return tomorrow, so you may assure the children they need not bid me farewell just yet." Christian and Leslie laughed, mostly in spite of themselves, and her father chuckled back, then simply vanished there where he stood, leaving Gerhard and Liselotta blinking.
"So now we're part of a clan," Gerhard said after a moment of uncomfortable silence, still clutching Liselotta's hand. "Ach, herregud...it's going to take a long time to absorb this. And what on earth are we to do with the ability?"
"Perhaps, merely, what you did with Matti and I did with Leslie," Christian said, his voice heavy and slow and still a bit dazed. He slid an arm around his wife and studied her minutely for the first time since he had brought her back, as if examining his handiwork. "My Rose, as grateful as I am that I was able to save myself and the children from losing you, I must admit to enormous trepidation in regard to this. You must be feeling something too; I wouldn't believe you if you said you didn't."
Leslie nodded faintly, staring back at him, with the creeping feeling that she was trying to find something different about him now that would mark him as being something other than simply earth human. "Nothing will be the same after this..."
Something in her tone seemed to alert him, and his gaze grew wary. They stared at each other, each reading things into the other's gaze, and Christian whispered bleakly, "No, I think you're right. My life will never be the same again."
"Mine either," Gerhard mumbled, glancing at Liselotta.
Uncle and nephew eyed each other, and their wives looked at them and then at each other as well. Leslie felt her stomach lurch, and she snuggled in as close to Christian as she could get without crawling into his lap, resting her head on his shoulder even while still clutching a slumbering Anastasia in her left arm. Fate help us, she thought, a creeping fear beginning to take hold of her. Just when I realized once and for all that my home is with Christian, wherever he is, this happens. Now what are we in for? And what are we going to tell the family? Who can we trust? She let her thoughts race, trying to shut out the frightening awareness that Christian had yet to return her embrace, hoping with all her heart that it was no more than shock from the newness of all this. She remembered their wedding vows ten years before and pressed in still closer to him. Stand by him, Leslie—he gave you back your life, and you owe him.
"Christian," she whispered, begging, and he turned to her with an isolation in his eyes that made hers fill with frightened tears. "I love you. I'll love you forever, please don't ever forget that. Please. Whatever you think I'm feeling now, just don't get the idea that it means I stopped loving you, because I didn't and I never will."
He smiled at last and hugged her close, Anastasia and all, and she relaxed against him. They had a long, strange road ahead of them, but at least they would travel it together. Once more she wondered what would happen, and closed her eyes.
Of course the story will continue...even I'm not sure how it will all play out, but I look forward to it—and I'm going to have fun writing it. I hope you'll also have fun reading it! Look for a new book soon...