Alright, this may seem like a random update, and it definitely is. Truth is, I got married, finished school, and bought a house in the last two years, and now that things have calmed down, I decided to finish this story. Here's the second to last chapter, hopefully!

Chapter 13

Alanna awoke on the day of the wedding to find shadowy clouds hanging low over her home, filtering the light until all that remained was a gloomy darkness. She lay curled up in bed, unwilling to rise and face the winter chill, choosing instead to simply gaze up at her ceiling. She listened to the noise of the manor coming to life around her: the sounds of the kitchen, of the maids in the halls cleaning, of the manservants calling to each other outside.

Her brother would be married today. Alanna felt as though her life were slipping by, and as try as she might, she couldn't slow it down. It wasn't as though she was unhappy with the prospect of Nicolas married and settled; quite the opposite really. She simply wished things would never change, that they would stay the way they always had been. The future was uncertain, and Alanna simply did not enjoy being ignorant of what would happen.

Alanna sighed, and then smiled slightly. Enough with her morning musings. She pushed herself up from the warmth of her bed and stretched, then padded over to her wash stand, pulling on her dressing robe as she went. After washing her face and hands, she selected a simple blue gown from her wardrobe and comfortable slippers. Since the actual wedding wasn't until later that night, and she assumed she would be helping her mother with preparations all day, it would be silly to dress in the ornate gown she was to wear to the ceremony.

She soon learned differently, however. After presenting herself in the parlor, Lady Annette took one look at her daughter and directed her back to her bedroom straightaway.

"You won't need my help with anything?" Alanna asked, baffled. "And anyway, it's ridiculous to think I need the whole day to prepare for the ceremony."

"Of course not," her mother replied, her attention already claimed by a maid holding out a list for her to consider. "But once you are ready, it's your responsibility to help Rebecca. Her day must go as smoothly as possible. There are to be no problems for the bride on her wedding day."

Alanna sighed, knowing it was useless to argue. She returned to her room, sending for her maid Margaret along the way, and then gazed at the gowns laid out for her on her window seat. She was to wear two gowns today, the first to the actual ceremony, the second to the ball taking place afterwards.

Thoughts of the ball occupied her mind throughout the entire morning, as Margaret helped her bathe and fix her hair. She wondered if Prince Daniel would ask her to dance, then immediately scoffed at herself, thinking that of course he would, he had said as much the day before. She thought of herself in his arms, dancing in front of the entirety of Bentworth's nobility, as well as visiting dignitaries. Alanna couldn't help a grin from appearing on her face when she thought of Leila's face when her rival saw her dancing with the heir to the throne of Kyrria.

Her smile faded, however, as she pictured another face in her mind. Tyson. She had not spoken to him since the dinner party at the Montgomery's three days before, but he had been on her mind constantly, more so than the prince even. She found herself growing angry at him again, for his ignorance and stubbornness, but fought off the feelings. She asserted that today would be a happy day and that she wouldn't let a proud man interfere with her plans.

"Ready for your dress, dear?" asked Margaret, startling Alanna out of her contemplation.

"Oh," she said, rising from her seat before the vanity. "Yes, of course."

Margaret was holding the flowing sky blue gown, the one intended for the ceremony. Alanna stepped into the dress and stood patiently as Margaret began lacing the back. She observed herself in the mirror, turning her head this way or that to get a better angle. Her hair was done much more elegantly than usual, curled and pinned up in a complicated twist with tendrils left to frame her face. Margaret had also applied the slightest bit of rouge, as well as some coloring to outline her eyes, so that her face stood out a bit more and her eyes shone more distinctly. The gown was simple, intended so that the bride would not be overshadowed, which seemed ridiculous considering Rebecca's beauty, but it was tradition.

"There we are," said Margaret, tying the last lace. "You're ready to see to Miss Rebecca now. Don't forget to come find me to help change into your ball gown. You'll need my help to get into that contraption."

Alanna laughed. "I truly will. Mother picked an absurd gown, didn't she?"

"Absurdly hard to dress, but there is no doubt that it's beautiful, especially on you."

Alanna smiled at her maid in the mirror. "Thank you, Margaret."

Margaret picked up the discarded dressing gown and made a shooing gesture towards the younger girl. "Go on, you best run along. Your mother will have a fit if you're not exactly where you're supposed to be."

Alanna laughed, gathering her skirts in one hand as she left to find her sister-to-be.

Tyson grew increasingly nervous as the day progressed. The thought that he would see Alanna in a few short hours constantly distracted him from his daily tasks, and he finally admitted defeat after reading the same letter three times without having a clue to what it said. He retired to his room, emerging only when his mother was prepared to leave for the Thetcher's manor. He took considerable pains in dressing, choosing a dark coat with a fashionable cut and a white high-collared shirt. He attempted to put his hair in order, but he knew the efforts on his unruly hair were in vain. By nights end, he was certain there would be no idea about how carefully he had arranged it now.

The carriage ride to the manor was a quiet one. Tyson was caught up in thoughts of the evening, and his mother knew better than to interrupt him. When they arrived, Tyson helped his mother from the carriage and led her into the manor, where they were directed into a large hall just off the entryway. He knew from the decor and the feeling of general excitement that this was where the ceremony would be. They found their seats a few rows back, and exchanged expectant chatter with their neighbors.

At last, the ceremony began. The High Chancellor rose to his place in the front of the room and gave the signal to the musicians, who immediately began a slow promenade. Nicolas stood beside the older man, looking handsome and nervous, but undeniably happy. When the doors at the rear of the room opened, every eye turned to watch as beautiful Rebecca, her long dark hair curled down her back, slowly make her way down the aisle, beaming with pleasure.

Tyson couldn't help help but smile at the sight of the bride, her eyes bright with excitement. As she passed, however, his eyes were pulled to a figure seated in the front row. How he hadn't noticed Alanna before, he didn't know, but he saw her now. She looked lovely, of course, dressed in a simple blue gown, and she watched Rebecca with tears in her eyes and smile bursting with happiness. Tyson began to smile at the sight, but the corners of his mouth turned downwards as he noticed who she sat beside. Daniel was also watching the approaching bride, but his face was less rapt. His expression was bored and resigned, and as Tyson watched the prince stifled a yawn.

The ceremony continued as Rebecca took her place beside Nicolas, the two immediately joining hands. The High Chancellor began his prepared speech, which droned on for a good twenty minutes before approaching the actual wedding vows. As the young couple made promises to love and protect each other, Tyson heard sniffling and murmurs of approval from throughout the crowd. When they exchanged rings and shared their first kiss as a married couple, the audience burst into applause and rose to their feet.

Nicolas and Rebecca, after receiving quick congratulations from family and close friends, made their way back down the aisle, stopping intermittently to accept hugs and good wishes from their guests. Tyson and his mother joined the throng that followed the beaming couple from the hall, where the bridal party soon separated from the revelers to change into their evening apparel. Tyson got a quick glimpse of Alanna's smiling face as she escorted the bride out of sight, and immediately was sad for the loss. He followed his mother through the great double doors that led into the grand ballroom that had been prepared for months for this very occasion.

The entire room was adorned in beautiful white roses and lilies, with candles and chandeliers high overhead illuminating the enormous space with a flickering but constant light. A group of long tables held the results of days of labor in the Thatcher's kitchen: roasted pheasant and veal, golden toasted rolls, a variety of soft cheeses and fruits, along with what seemed like all the wine in Bentworth.

"Tyson, I'll be over there with the ladies," his mother said, gesturing to a group of older women talking and laughing. "Will you be alright?"

He nodded, and she patted his arm with a knowing smile. She disappeared into the crowd and left Tyson standing alone. Almost immediately, he felt a slight tug on his other arm.

"Lord Tyson, how good it is to see you again!" chirped the fawning voice of Leila Dontabar. "It's been such a dreadfully long time. How have you been?"

Tyson sighed resignedly. "I've been well, Leila. And yourself?"

She beamed. "Oh, I've been simply wonderful, very busy in fact. My mother and I are planning a trip to Frell in a few weeks to shop for my wardrobe. These old gowns of mine are awfully plain, don't you think?"

It was an obvious ploy for a compliment. Leila smoothed the skirt of her dress (a beautiful pink gown with lace detailing, embroidery, and a scandalously low neckline) and looked up at him through her lashes.

"No, of course not," he dutifully replied, his voice a low monotone. "It's lovely, and you look lovely in it."

"Oh!" she giggled, ducking her head and swatting him on the arm she still held tightly. "You are too kind."

Through the crowd, Tyson caught a glimpse of Prince Daniel making his way towards the grand staircase where the newly married couple would descend from shortly. Tyson was desperate for an escape, and he did the only thing he could think of that would make Leila release him.

"Can I get you some wine, Leila?" he asked politely.

"Of course!" she said, placing one hand over her heart, conspicuously near her scarcely covered bosom. "That would be lovely."

He gave a quick, short bow, disentangled her arm from his, and started through the crowd. Now was his chance to talk with Daniel before Alanna returned to the ball.

He tapped Daniel on the shoulder and couldn't help himself from curling his fingers into tight fists as the prince turned around and smirked.

"Tyson," he said, taking a sip of his sparkling red wine. "What a surprise."

"Daniel," Tyson said in a low voice. "I need to talk with you."

Daniel's eyes turned cold. "Interesting. My ignoring of you has been so nice the last two years. Why ever would I stop?"

Tyson was grateful for the crowds of people, or else he may have done something he regretted. He gritted his teeth. "Daniel, either you come talk with me or I say it right here."

Daniel's eyes only widened slightly, but Tyson noticed. There was fear there. The prince recovered quickly.

"Don't be so dramatic, old friend," he scoffed, handing his drink to a passing waiter.

Tyson didn't wait for a response. He turned and walked to a less congested area, far from the dance floor and food, where only a few people stood mingling and laughing. Daniel followed, sounding his reluctance with occasional sighs and impatient coughs. Tyson turned on him and crossed his arms.

"I want you to leave Alanna alone."

The prince looked as though he had been expecting this. "And why would I do that? She seems to enjoy my attentions."

Tyson didn't blink. "You know why. If you don't, there will be a few less secrets in Bentworth about the royal family."

Daniel narrowed his gaze. "Are you threatening me?"

"No," replied Tyson. "Blackmailing would be the correct term. You leave Alanna alone or everyone in Bentworth will learn what you did."

Daniel laughed. "You think anyone will believe you? Or care, even? It happened so long ago."

"I'll make them care."

"Tyson, you're being simply unmanageable. And just so you know, this conversation has only made me want her more."

Tyson grabbed Daniel's arm and pulled him close. "If you hurt her, I'll⎯"

Danile shrugged him off. "You'll what? Tattle on the prince? Grow up Tyson. Things have changed since we were children."

Tyson was about to make a short retort when he noticed Daniel's eyes gazing at something behind him. His mouth had parted slightly, and slowly it stretched into a pleased smile.

"Goodbye Tyson," he said, and brushed past him roughly.

Tyson, shaking his head to clear his vision of red, finally realized that the crowd was cheering and clapping. The bride and groom must have entered the ball. He turned towards the direction Daniel had gone and saw Nicolas and Rebecca, resplendent in their wedding attire, descending the grand staircase in the center of the room. Although Rebecca looked lovely in her ornate white gown, it was the second woman that Tyson knew had caught the prince's eyes.

She wore a gown of deep red, as dark as the richest wine sipped by the guests. The sleeves lay just off her shoulders, draping beautifully against her creamy white skin, and the neckline dipped just low enough to suggest certain ideas into a man's mind. The skirt was full with a slight train, but the bodice was laced tight to show the wearer's tiny waistline and curvaceous figure. Her chestnut hair was pulled up into an elaborate twist, with silky tendrils curling tantalizingly around her face. Her eyes were more bright and vivid than ever, and her cheeks were flushed pink as she continued her journey down the stairs.

Alanna looked more beautiful than Tyson had ever seen her. She was altered, somehow, from the playful, pretty girl he had first met at the lake. She was alluring, stunning, and utterly unattainable.

He watched as Daniel arrived at the base of the stairs. He was the first to greet the newlyweds, and then Lady Thetcher and her husband. Finally, he approached Alanna, who stood demurely behind her mother. He took her hand and slowly bent over it, kissing it while keeping his eyes on hers. She ducked her head slightly and smiled. Together, they moved towards the dance floor.

Tyson gritted his teeth. He couldn't bear it any longer. He must tell Alanna.

Alanna couldn't believe how well the evening had gone so far. First, not only had she not made a fool of herself on the dance floor, but Prince Daniel had asked her for not one, but two dances, and she could see him out of the corner of her eye approaching for a third. She pretended not to notice until he stood directly in front of her, that peculiar twinkle in his eye.

"Would you care for another dance, Lady Alanna?"

She extended her hand gracefully. "With pleasure, Prince Daniel."

He took her hand and led her onto the floor, where they stood face to face as they waited for the music to begin. Alanna was smiling at Daniel when she noticed his gaze on something to her left. She turned and saw Tyson standing just two spaces away, also preparing to begin the dance. She stretched forward slightly to look down the line of women. Who was his partner? Her eyes landed on beautiful blonde in a pink dress that made her blush. Leila.

Alanna was bewildered, and angrier than she had any reason to be. Why would Tyson ask Leila to dance? He couldn't stand her, and, although Kyrria knows her dress was revealing enough, Tyson didn't dance, let alone with a girl he detested.

She glanced back at him, and to her embarrassment he was looking right at her. Alanna quickly turned her gaze back to the prince, but now he knew that she had been looking at Leila, and heavens knows what her expressions might have been. She forced another smile to her face, and Daniel smiled back.

The dance began, a slow promenade that brought the couples often very near to each other. Try as she might, Alanna couldn't help but be distracted every time Tyson and Leila twirled near to her. She shook off her feelings and confusion and attempted to focus on the feelings of security and warmth she received from Daniel's hand on her back. Dancing with the prince was a safe thing; he knew the steps well and guided her with complete confidence and skill.

The music ended with a long, drawn out note, and the couple separated to applaud the musicians. Still clapping, Daniel turned to Alanna with a mischievous grin. "See that you keep the last dance open for me."

The dancers began to leave the floor and Daniel, after one last searing glance, disappeared into the crowd. Alanna put a hand over her heart. Four dances? Any more than three was considered scandalous if the couple was not engaged or married. She could only hope Daniel knew what he was doing.

She began to leave the dance floor herself, but a voice from behind stopped her in her tracks.


It was Tyson. Alanna turned slowly, and saw him standing with his hand outstretched, his face stony and unreadable.

"Dance with me," he said, not a question, but not really a command either. She looked from his eyes to his hand and back. What was he thinking? What was his plan?

The music began. Alanna's eyes widened as she realized that it was the waltz, a new dance that proper societies labeled as scandalous because of how close the man and woman were forced to dance.

"It's the waltz, Tyson," she said, doubt obvious in her voice.

"I know," he replied.

She hesitated only a second longer, and placed her hand in his. The second they touched, Alanna felt a scorching heat between them, burning, but she was incapable of letting go. He pulled her into his arms and the heat spread. Their right hands remained joined as she gathered her skirts with her left and he rested his other hand on her lower back.

As they began the steps, everything Alanna had learned in her lessons flew from her mind. Unlike with Daniel, she didn't count every step. In fact she couldn't. She could barely keep up with Tyson as he twirled her, skillfully and deftly, around the floor. She had had no idea that he could dance like this, with so much fire and passion. Each time he spun her, he brought her back into his arms, causing her heart to beat with such force she was sure he could hear it.

They didn't speak. The nature of the dance was quick paced, and didn't allow for breathing, let alone talking. When the music ended, sooner than Alanna had expected, Tyson held her for just a second before finally exhaling and stepping back. The heat left, and Alanna immediately felt the lack.

They stared at each other, neither one aware of the applause, the dancers leaving the floor, or the new ones taking their places.

"I thought you hated to dance," she finally said.

"It's balls I hate," he said. "Dancing I like."

She nodded, and looked away.

"Alanna," Tyson said quietly. "We need to talk."

She looked back at him and nodded once more. She allowed herself to be led off the dance floor and away from the great crowds of people. Her hand in his was a blazing connection as Tyson headed away from the light and into a small, darkened portico where the sounds of the reveling were muted.

A chill breeze brushed up against Alanna's face and bare arms. Tyson released her hand and turned to face her as she wound her arms tightly around herself.

"Alanna," he started, his voice firm and assertive. "I know I've been mysterious these past weeks, and I'm terribly sorry that it's taken me so long to tell you the truth, but I had to be sure before I told you."

Her mind whirling, still tangled in the recent memory of their dance, Alanna was hardly able to keep up with what he was saying. She walked to the edged railing and looked out over the gardens, barren now in the bleakness of winter, hidden almost completely in the shadow of night. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear what Tyson had to tell her; she wasn't sure she was in the right state of mind to listen to anything, considering how that dance had seemed to muddle her thoughts.

Tyson followed her to the balcony rail and rested his arms on it, facing her as she gazed out into the blackness. "Alanna, there's something I've been keeping from you, something that only a very few people know about, as the reputations and honor of several people are at stake." He exhaled. "Including the prince."

She looked at him sharply. "I don't want to be part of any ill-mannered gossip about Daniel."

"This is certainly not gossip," Tyson said quietly, his voice restrained. "It is a personal experience that I think would enlighten your opinion of the prince."

A personal experience? Alanna thought. What in Kyrria could he be talking about?

"It's a very serious matter that I want to share with you. I'd like your word that you won't repeat it."

He looked her straight in the eye as he spoke, his voice grave. Alanna studied him, the light from the hall illuminating only half his features, leaving the right side of his face immersed in shadow. She had never known him to speak so intensely.

She bit her lip and looked away. Prince Daniel had always been kind to her, a true gentleman. He could be flirtatious at times, of course, but what handsome young man was not? Did she really want to listen to something that spoke against him?

Then again, could she afford not to? If there really was something terrible in Daniel's past, should she not know of it? And she owed it to Tyson; they had been friends long before Daniel had entered their lives.

She sighed. "Very well. I give my word. Now what secret is so ghastly that you can only tell me on a dark patio in the middle on my own brother's wedding celebration?"

He had the grace to look slightly abashed. "I am sorry for the timing, but once I had made up my mind I couldn't bear to wait any longer."

He straightened from where he had been leaning on the rail. "The first thing that I must tell you is that two years ago, while I still lived in Frell, I was. . . well, I was engaged to be married."

The look of shock on her face must have startled him. "No, no, it wasn't really like that, nothing very official. She was the daughter of my parent's closest friends, and we grew up together, or very nearly. It was assumed that we would be married as soon as she turned sixteen. I was happy with the agreement. I liked the girl Cora's her name and I thought we would make a good match."

"I had no idea," Alanna said, trying hard to keep her voice even. Tyson, engaged? The possibility had never crossed her mind, but of course it made perfect sense. He was a duke, after all. He would have been the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom, after the prince, and a marriage would undoubtedly been arranged for him at a young age.

"Not many people knew, really. Just our two families, a few of the other Frellan nobles, and of course the royal family."

Alanna understood the significance immediately. "So Daniel knew about it."

Tyson nodded, a steel glint coming into his eye for the first time. "Yes, he knew. I told him myself. You see, we were friends in those days. All the noble children myself, Daniel, Cora, among others we all were thrust together constantly during our childhoods. Balls, coronations, weddings, births; we were always together, and as a result, Daniel and I became close friends. Close enough that I told him myself about my upcoming engagement, and he clapped me on the back and congratulated me. Not even a week later, at his own father's birthday celebration, he betrayed that trust.

He paused for a long moment. Alanna wasn't sure if she should speak, but when the silence stretched unbearably long, she whispered, "What happened?"

He sighed. "There was a ball that night. I wanted Cora for a dance, but I couldn't find her anywhere in the great hall. I went looking for her."

Brusquely, he turned away from her, as if he could not bear to look her in the face. "I found her. She was with Daniel, and they . . . she and him . . . well, you can imagine, I assume."

She fought not to gasp. Turing again to the dark landscape of the garden, she held a hand to her heart, where is pounded painfully hard. "Daniel . . . and Cora? Daniel would do something like that to you?"

"Yes," he said bitterly. "Without regret."

"And Cora? What of her part?"

His voice softened slightly. "I don't blame Cora like I do Daniel. She was young, hardly fifteen, and had grown up very sheltered. And when the prince himself approached her, how could she refuse him?"

"Easily," Alanna fired off, her voice rising. "When you are engaged to another man, or nearly so, it should be a simple matter to reject other men's advances. Every girl knows this."

Tyson gave a smile. "I'm afraid that not every girl does know this. In fact, in Frell, that type of girl is very rare indeed."

She turned back toward him. The light from the hall lit up around him, making his features impossible to discern. Her mind was racing, attempting to keep up with the rush of information. "What happened after?"

"After seeing them, I left immediately. The shame was too great, and after the embarrassment was gone I was angry, angry that they would . . . ." He stopped again, to catch his breath. "I'm sorry, but even after all this time the thought of them together makes my blood boil."

Alanna shook her head slowly. "I can only imagine. I'm so sorry for it."

He nodded. "Well, anyways, the next day Cora came to me, begging for forgiveness. I couldn't bear it any longer. I broke off the engagement then and there. For her sake alone, I decided not to share my true reasons with anyone but my family. She would be absolutely ruined if anyone knew. As it was, we both suffered months of excruciating rumors. It seemed everyone in Frell had a theory as to why the wedding was off, and I couldn't go out in public for weeks. Even then, I couldn't stand it. And then . . . ."

Tyson gulped noticeably. "And then my father died. It was unexpected and sudden. My mother and I simply couldn't stand Frell a moment longer. We came to Bentoworth, where we knew the rumors wouldn't reach."

Alanna managed a question. "Why did it take you so long to tell me?"

"I was afraid you wouldn't believe me."

"Why ever not?" Alanna was taken aback.

He shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. "You and Daniel. It's obvious he's using you the same as Cora, and I was afraid he would have, well, convinced you into thinking I was lying."

A bubble of anger began welling up inside her, though she suppressed it as well as she could. "Did you really think I wouldn't hear the truth about Daniel and not recognize it? I was certainly flattered by his attentions, he is the prince after all, but how could you think I'd side with such a man after hearing what you've told me?"

"Obviously I thought wrong," he said hastily. "I'm sorry, Alanna, I'm truly sorry. I just . . . . I just care about you too much to have not been worried about what Daniel was filling your mind with."

"It was nothing," she snapped, turning away. "Just a few flirtatious smiles and dances."

But in her heart she knew it was more than that. She had thought Daniel liked her, maybe even loved her. She had certainly thought that tonight when he had chosen to dance with her three times. The realization that he was nothing more than pleasure-seeking womanizer shocked her to the very core.

"Alanna?" Tyson's voice was concerned.

"I'm fine," she hissed, but she wasn't. The little part of her heart that had begun to hope for Daniel, curse him, ached terribly, and she was ashamed that she should feel that way about such a terrible person.

"Alanna." This time his voice was softer, gentler. She took a deep breath to collect herself and turned back to face him.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't mean to get angry. Although there is a part of me that truly liked Daniel, I'm mostly angry with myself for trusting him. I pride myself in being a good judge of character, but I really messed up this time."

She looked up into his eyes, so much higher than her own. "Can you forgive me for treating you so terribly these last few weeks? I've been truly rotten."

He smiled. "No need. I know how it feels to be duped by Daniel. It's not an easy thing to go through."

"Good," she grinned. "Friends again?"

She had expected a simple answer to her question. Yes, of course. Friends. She even took a step towards the door in anticipation of returning to the brightly lit celebration, but he didn't answer. He simply stood in the dark and gazed at her, seeming to be debating something within his mind.

"Tyson? What is it?"

He took a step towards her. "Alanna, I thought I was in love before, with Cora."

Alanna tilted her head to one side. What was he getting at?

"I realize now I had no idea." He took another step in her direction. "What we had wasn't love. Love is talking for hours, joking and laughing, sharing interests. Love is anticipating the moment you see each other and the thought that nothing else matters."

Alanna felt herself begin to tremble. It was the cold, she told herself. Nothing else.

"Tyson, what are you saying?" she whispered, not daring to look in him the eye.

He now stood before her only inches away. He reached out his hand and brushed the length of her cheek, leaving his hand cupped under chin. She couldn't move. She couldn't even breathe.

"I can't back to just being friends with you. I may not have felt any of those things with Cora, but Alanna, I feel them with you."

The next second he was kissing her, tilting her chin up so that their lips met gently. The fire was immediate. Alanna simply had no control over her body as her arms slid up his broad, firm chest to wind tightly around his neck, pulling him closer. In response, his arms wrapped snugly around her slim waist and he deepened the kiss.

Warmth spread throughout Alanna's body like a wildfire. No thought entered her mind except for how to be closer to him, and that the kiss must never, ever end.

"Alanna?" A high young voice broke through the haze surrounding Alanna's mind. She stiffened immediately and broke away, breathless, only seconds before Nolan stepped into view on the portico.

"There you are," he said jovially. "It's been a real pain to find you. Why are you hiding out back here?"

"Not hiding," she said quickly, very carefully avoiding Tyson's penetrating gaze. "Just talking."

She was extremely glad that it had been Nolan who discovered them. She was certain anyone but an eleven-year –old boy would have immediately noticed her hot pink face, her disheveled hair, and the thick tension that now hung between herself and Tyson.

"Anyway, Mother wants you. Nicolas and Rebecca are leaving. She wants you inside."

Alanna nodded. "Alright."

When he waited for her, his face expectant, she knew she wouldn't be able to speak to Tyson alone. She looked at him, and his eyes were filled with such longing that she had to take a steadying breath before speaking.

"Goodnight, Lord Tyson."

He lowered his eyes. "Goodnight, Lady Alanna."

Without another word, Alanna hurried after her brother, confused, dazed, and entirely unsure how her whole world had turned upside down in the space of single evening.