Now… I understand it's been ages since I've updated, and it always takes me forever to update, but the ONLY reviewer was the person that created our heroine to begin with! (THANK YOU InChrist-Billios!)
This chapter is Shannaye's "birthday." February 7 was the day I started this story!! Wow! This is certainly cause for jubilation.
I've got a surprise for you. Meet me in the library after your morning tea with those quite… pleasant Glenlow ladies.
The short note was tied to the stem of a single, white rose. I puzzled over what the surprise could be, then sighed.
"A white rose?"
I dropped the rose, startled. I turned to see Kaylla at my door. She was gaping at the rose sitting on my chamber floor.
"You know what that means, yes?" She giggled.
I looked down at the rose in confusion, then back up at my sister's face. I raised my eyebrow at her. "It means it's my birthday today."
"It means he's gone to mother and father."
"It's a fairly new tradition going around Glenlow. As such a popular member of the royal family, he would know everything that's new."
I picked up the rose and twirled it in my fingers. "So this note is probably him wanting to meet with me so he can…"
"Ask you to marry him!" Kaylla finished enthusiastically. "Trust me."
I laughed. "Or he could have just remembered that I simply adore white roses. I told him so just the other day! You do realize it's my birthday… Just because he sent me a white rose does not mean he will ask for my hand."
"You want him to, though! It's about time he did, too," she added. "How long has it been since the ball? He's come to visit seven times already in the past six months."
"Six months is not very long, Kaylla," I reminded her. "A normal couple would court for at least a year before thinking about it."
She sighed and sat down on the edge of my bed. "No, Shannaye. There's something… different about you and Duke Rushell." She eyed me with curiosity. "It is almost as if you've met him before. Of course, it's impossible that you have."
I shrugged. "I really don't see it."
She sighed. "Maybe I'm just crazy." She stood and took my arm. "Come, let's go have tea with the oh so dignified women of the court and then you can go see your precious duke."
"Yes, let's," I said with a giggle.
We stood about the parlor, chatting with each other. I stood by the window with Kaylla and Anya, chatting fondly of our childhoods. Two of the ladies from the Glenlow court were nearby.
"Did you hear the scandal?" said Lady Wellington, touching the arm of Baroness Gauche.
The baroness gasped. "Ooh! I love a good scandal! About whom?"
I faintly wondered if Lady Wellington knew I could hear her. Perhaps she had forgotten the fact that she was a guest in my parlor, and not in her own home! Kaylla and Anya stared at me, hearing Lady Wellington as well. Even though I knew it was wrong, I decided to listen in.
"I hear he's taken a fancy to the princess here," Lady Wellington said in a half-hushed tone. "They say he's come to the city to visit her."
"Yes, I've heard that, too. So what's the scandal?"
"Well, I also heard from a reliable source that he fancies Mademoiselle Colette from the city. She's an opera singer! I fear this will not end pleasantly."
Kaylla raised her eyebrows at me in surprise. "Do you think it's true?" she asked in a quiet voice.
I could have laughed right there, I could have walked right up to those women and laughed right in their faces, even. However, I merely grinned at my sister, thinking of the enchantress. "Oh I don't think he'd dare fancy another woman, Kaylla."
She smiled at me. "I hope you're right."
I shook my head. "I know I'm right."
I grinned as I snuck up behind Rush in the library. "Hello, darling!" I said happily, tapping him on the shoulder.
He turned around and grinned at me. "Ah, my birthday girl!" he cried, taking my hand and planting a kiss on it. "I suppose you're wanting your surprise?"
I nodded and laughed. "What is it?"
"A surprise, that's what it is! Now come, we must get going." He took my wrist and led me to the stables.
I frowned in confusion as he had two horses saddled. "Who will be our chaperone?" I asked, realizing this would only fuel more rumors.
"I am," said Edmund, leading a horse out of a nearby stall.
I laughed with surprise. "Edmund!"
"It was part of the surprise," came the answer from Rush.
I gaped at him. "Edmund knows about the surprise, too?" I asked with confusion.
Rush smiled. "I felt he was… appropriate for this particular outing."
"What do you mean?"
He laughed and didn't answer.
I shook my head at him in frustration and mounted my horse. Once we were set, we headed towards the woods. Once in the woods, I realized where we were going, and why Rush said Edmund was appropriate as chaperone… Except I wondered why he has said that. Edmund didn't know Rush was Rush… did he?
"We're going to… the castle?" I asked in confusion. I wasn't sure how to respond. In one of his letters from right after the curse was broken, he had mentioned it had been broken into. Was it still in bad condition? And my music room! My heart felt heavy as I recalled the fact that it had been badly damaged. I recalled the fact, however, that Rush had worked on it diligently, which brought my spirits up immensely. I felt my excitement grow again.
Rush looked over at me with a smile, but didn't say a word. I watched ahead of me with impatience. I was anxious to see the castle again!
When the ground changed to the familiar cobblestone pathway, my heart felt like it was about to burst from my ribcage, and when I saw the sight, my heart stopped.
The gates were not as scary as I recalled. They opened to a smooth cobble drive leading up to the barely recognizable castle. The architecture was still the same, but it was no longer shrouded in darkness. The stone was no longer as black as night, but a softer stone color. The appearance was overall welcoming, which shocked me. I glanced at Edmund, but he did not look surprised at all.
As we approached the doors, I paid more attention to the gardens, which were in order and blossoming. Finally the wait was over. We reached the doors, and to my surprise, they swung open. Two men bowed to us and one took the reins of Rush's horse, the other took Edmund's. Rush dismounted and helped me down. When we were all dismounted, the two men took the horses around to the back. Rush offered his arm and I took it, amazed at the transformation. I felt overpowered with awe, making me speechless. Stepping inside, the walls were still vibrantly painted, but much more vivid. Everything seemed to glow ten times brighter than I remembered. I felt myself wanting to rush back up to my old bedroom and the library… and to my music room.
"Rush, let's go see the music room, oh please?" I begged, yearning for it terribly. "I want to see it…"
He smiled slightly and shook his head. "No, no, let's have lunch first, shall we? I happen to be starving."
With frustration, I followed him to the dining hall with Edmund in tow. With the servants rushing about, I felt as if I were back home. The castle had undergone a huge transformation since I had last visited. It was no longer foreboding and unwelcoming. It was very warm and felt alive. Before, the castle felt like it had been dead. It was always so lonely and dull in the castle…
"How do you like your surprise so far?" Rush asked as our wine was being poured.
I grinned. "The castle has changed so much! I have to say… it was very fearsome before. I was quite disheartened by its appearance, but now it's a vision of beauty! And ever since you told me about that awful band of thieves came in, I was so afraid it was in ruins."
"I'm glad to hear you're pleased with it. It has been quite a struggle getting it put back to its former beauty."
I frowned, swirling my wine in my glass. "So when did you two talk about… well, you being who you are?" I asked the two men, finally voicing my surprise about Edmund knowing about the castle and Rush's identity.
Edmund shrugged. "Right after the ball, actually. He approached me and told me everything. It took a bit of convincing, but I managed to grasp what he was telling me."
Rush laughed. "I needed help renovating this place. I figured your brother could help me out."
"You've been working on it since the ball?" I asked with shock.
They nodded and began their soup portion of the meal. I followed their lead and the conversation lulled. Not much else was said, only Rush telling me about the renovations that had been made.
Once the main course was cleared, Rush said with a smile, "I had the cook make you a cake. I hope you don't mind chocolate cake." On cue, a server came in with a modest-sized cake on a plate. The cake was round and simple, frosted with vanilla icing. The cake read in green icing, "Happy Birthday."
"Oh Rush! It looks delicious. Thank you so much. Today has been wonderful," I told him, patting his hand as the cake was served.
He grinned mischievously. "This isn't all there is," he said. Seeing my reaction, he stopped grinning. "What?"
I stared at him. "Rush, this has been so much!"
"Not really, Shannaye. The castle has needed it anyway. Now eat your cake."
I obeyed and ate the delicious, moist cake. When we were finished, Edmund excused himself to check on our horses. Rush held out his arm, I settled my hand at his elbow, and we went to the music room. At the doors, he paused. "You open it," he offered.
I smiled timidly and turned the knob. When we walked in, I was taken aback. It was almost exactly as I remembered it. I ran my fingers over the piano keys, hearing the slightly out of tune notes it made. I looked to Rush.
"The thieves damaged that quite badly. I had to get a specialist come in to work on the piano. He said he's done the best he can," he said apologetically.
I nodded and moved on to the music boxes. I could tell that they contained a great deal less than I remembered them to hold. I smiled at the memories of sorting that music with Rush.
I finally turned back to Rush with tears in my eyes. "You've restored it so well," I said happily. "Oh, how I've missed this room. It's such a pleasant room."
He stepped forward and enveloped me in his arms. "I'm glad you're happy," he whispered.
I pushed him away with a grin. "Play me something for my birthday, please."
It was his turn to grin. "I think I can do that," he said, sitting down at the piano.
Soon the music room was filled with the notes of the wedding march. I laughed at his absurd behavior and he stopped, still grinning. He pulled me down on the bench beside him and then got down on one knee in front of me.
Pulling a ring from his pocket, he smiled nervously. "Will you marry me?" he asked timidly.
"Oh Rush, of course. Yes!" I answered, both crying and laughing. "I guess I was always wrong," I said.
"What do you mean?" Rush asked, moving back to the bench.
"I always told myself I'd never marry."
He laughed. "You were very wrong." He slipped the ring on my finger and kissed me. "I'm glad you were."
"My, how silly Lady Wellington will feel," I muttered with a chuckle. Rush gave me a quizzical look and I supplied, "Only this morning she was saying you were such a scandalous man, taking an opera singer as your mistress!"
He laughed and kissed me again. "I'm sure the Enchantress would have had a fit should that had actually happened."
"My thoughts exactly," I said, laughing with him.
He jumped from the bench and held out his hand. "Come, let's dance."
I jumped up and we began to waltz, just as we did the night I rode out on my own, when I first realized that I had fallen in love with a kidnapper.
"I now pronounce you man and wife."
Rush leaned in to kiss me gently as was expected. We smiled at each other with bliss before going back down the aisle.
Once we returned to the castle in the woods, the party began. Toasts were made and compliments graciously given. Rush and I refused to leave each other's side.
As the party began to come to an end, a loud raven flew overhead. Rush and I looked up and laughed. To the guests, it sounded like meaningless caws coming from the raven. A few people whispered about bad luck. However, my husband and I could distinctly hear congratulations and well-wishes coming from the sky. I leaned into him, smiling happily. Rush leaned down and whispered in my ear, "I think we will live just like the characters in your books."
I looked up at him with confusion. "What do you mean?"
"How they all end: 'Happily ever after.'"
Yes… It's the end. I'm sorry, however, I felt it was a good ending (better than How To Be Invisible by far!and it had run its due course… Truth be told, I do not think I would not make much of a novelist. I don't think I would be a good short story author, though… Good thing I don't plan to make a living with this stuff.
Anyway, review and go read my new story, They Came From Near and Far. Oh, and review that, too!
Thank you to InChrist-Billios for her donation of Shannaye, and for so faithfully reviewing. I am most certainly thankful!
A big THANK YOU goes to the rest of my readers as well, to those who both reviewed and did not review. Thank you very much for the support!