Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and elements from the Night World series belong to L.J. Smith. No copyright infringement is intended.
She must have slept because the next thing Hannah knew she was awake and sunlight was streaming in through the windows, making the gold burnished walls glow. The king-sized bed beneath her felt the way she imagined a cloud would feel. Hannah smiled. It had been five lifetimes since she'd been a princess but she felt like one now. There was only one thing missing. Where was her prince?
As if he'd heard her think of him – and maybe he had – Thierry's mental voice sounded in her mind. I was hoping to be back before you woke up. I slipped away to get your birthday present and then there was a call from a Council member I couldn't ignore.
It's all right, Hannah thought, hoping he would hear her. Spares you my bed head and morning breath.
You're always beautiful to me, Thierry said fervently. I would love you just as much as I do now if..if…if you were bald and toothless.
Hannah could feel his sincerity. She couldn't reply with words. She focused on how much she loved him, knowing he would feel it. And since she was neither bald nor toothless, she brushed her hair and then her teeth. Hannah took care of other necessities and decided against a shower before dressing.
She'd expected one of the CIA-looking staff to offer her breakfast, eager to serve their liege lord's soulmate as they all were, but she never expected what awaited her. Staff and Circle Daybreak members alike had all gathered in the foyer and as soon as she appeared at the top of the stairs, they began to sing.
When she was in elementary school, Hannah had always found it embarrassing to stand at the front of the room as her classmates sang her "Happy Birthday." This was even more embarrassing because after they were done, no one made silly jokes or teased her or asked if they could have ice-cream now. They all just stared at her, smiling and looking so genuinely happy even though they'd only met her a few days ago that Hannah felt a lump form in her throat. Do not cry, she ordered herself.
"Thank you," she said simply. This was the first time she had lived to see her seventeenth birthday and they all knew it. It was about more than just her and Thierry. A cycle had been broken; one that had repeated for thousands of years. It gave hope to everyone; perhaps the odds against the unity they were trying to build between Night People and humans weren't insurmountable after all.
Lupe bounded over to her. "Chef didn't know what kind of cake you liked best so he's baking ten of them."
Before Hannah could process that or begin to reply, Poppy was there asking her favorite singer and Quinn was suggesting bronzing the stake that had killed Maya and Nilsson wanted to know if she had any special requests for the party. Hannah was a little overwhelmed.
Ash Redfern came to her rescue. "You think she wants to be clucked at by you hens, or be with her soulmate?"
Looking abashed, the crowd around Hannah parted and one of the CIA types offered to show her to Lord Thierry's study. She followed him, glancing back to give Ash a grateful look.
Thierry was sitting behind a huge desk, a phone held to his ear, when she entered. As soon as he saw her, he set the phone down on its receiver without a word. He stared at her. His dark eyes were no longer pensive or sad-looking; they shone with love and joy.
"Wasn't that call important?" Hannah asked, feeling more like Cinderella at the ball now than she'd felt in front of the singing crowd.
"It was," Thierry admitted. "But I don't mind letting him think I'm throwing a lordly tantrum if it means being with you."
Hannah took the hand he held out to her and just savored the connection between them for a moment. Then she sighed. "I need to call my mom and Chess." Chess must have opened the letter she'd left her by now and Hannah knew it would only make her frantic with worry, afraid she'd gone insane in addition to running away.
"Let me give you your gift first," Thierry said. He took something from a drawer and held it out to her. "I meant to give you this in your last life..." But Maya had killed her before he'd gotten the chance.
It was a rose, carved blossom and stem from a single piece of ivory. It was beautiful, and Hannah knew without being told that Thierry had carved it himself. "Thank you."
"Thank you," he whispered back, his long fingers reaching out to stroke the birthmark on her cheek.
They kissed, and when they finally separated, Thierry said, "How would you like to talk to your mother and your friend Chess in person?"
Hannah would like that very much. But, "I don't think I'll be allowed to miss this party everyone's planning."
"You won't have to. I sent people to pick them up and bring them here."
Her mother wouldn't like that, but it might be for the best. It would be easier to convince her and Chess that Hannah hadn't lost her mind if there was a vampire in the room to flash his fangs or a friendly werewolf to transform. She thought of her psychologist Paul Winstone, who'd become a friend.
"If it isn't too late, can they bring Paul too?" He would be relieved to know that she wasn't crazy and neither was he for almost believing her.
"Anyone – and anything - you want."
She could tell she was quickly going to get tired of such deference, but she and Thierry could discuss that later. First there was something they finally had time to do. Hannah took her prince by the hand and led him up to the gold bedroom.