Title: After His World Stopped
Characters/Pairings: DG/Cain, rest of the cast, O/Cs
Rating: NC-17
Warnings/Spoilers: Adult content. Smut
Summary: Cain and DG come to terms with their new lives after the eclipse. A/N: Thanks for the reviews I have received. This was my first time posting in . I didn't realize that the length of chapters would be a problem so I am reposting using more bite-size pieces. Nothing new except the format and this note.

Disclaimer: Don't own anything, anyone or anyplace.

Chapter 9

"Are you okay?" Jeb asked. "Didn't things go well last night?"

Cain shook his head. "Everything was perfect last night. I'm just tired this morning," he assured his son.

Jeb gave his father a smirk. "They went that well?"

"She is going to be my wife. You will not be disrespectful." But his tone was light as he reprimanded his son.

"I was completely disrespecting you, not DG," the younger man laughed as he headed off to complete his morning duties.

But Cain had a nagging thought in the back of his mind all day as he went about his duties. He was unsettled with how he and DG had parted in the morning. He watched for her all day. Usually they ran across each other several times during the course of their work. But it was getting late in the afternoon and he still had not seen a sign of her. He had even stopped by the archives but she hadn't been there.

DG leaned against the door, not daring to breathe until she was sure Cain was past. She had almost not heard his voice coming in time to duck into the room before he saw her. She squeezed her eyes closed. She felt a tear slid out of the corner of one eye. She brushed it off her cheek with a rough swipe of her hand.

Her mind played back to the minute Cain decided they had to get up that morning. And then she remembered the meeting she had with her mother. Again she felt her chest fill with panic. Her breathing became short and labored. She held onto the back of a chair with one hand while the other pushed into her side as she tried to breathe. That was how Glitch found her.

"DG? Are you okay?"

"Can't breathe!" she gasped.

He put an arm around her waist and dragged her over to one of the windows. He leaned her head out the opening.

"You're okay," he assured her. "Just slow down. Take a deep breath.' He was rubbing her back reassuringly. "Now do it again."

He could feel her relax as she began to breathe easier.

"I'll go get Cain."


Glitch turned to look at DG. "Have you two had a fight?"


"Has he done something to hurt you?"

"Not yet."

Glitch cocked his head. "That was a telling answer."

She glared at him. "It's none of your business. Don't breathe a word of any of this to anyone or I'll have mother send you out to inventory the Munchkins' feathers," she threatened before she stormed out of the room.


Cain entered DG's suite after final meal. He was surprised to see Carolynne waiting for him in the sitting room.

"Why are you here so late?" he asked.

"Colonel Cain," Carolynne greeted him, clearly upset. "Her Royal Highness has retired for the night."

"Okay, thanks," he said as he head toward the bedroom door.

Carolynne put herself between Cain and the door. "I've been instructed to tell you that you are not to be allowed in under any circumstances."


He reached around her to open the door. The door was locked. His eyes snapped back to look at the lady-in-waiting.

"Give me the key," he said firmly.

Carolynne shook her head. "I don't have it."

He pointed a finger at her. "Stay here until I get back."

Cain left the suite only to return a few minutes later.

"Carolynne," he told her as he returned, "DG won't need you any more tonight."

"I think that's up to her to decide how much she needs me."

"Well, tonight I'm making the decision."

"I'm not sure you have that right. What did you do to that poor girl last night?" Her tone changed from formal lady-in-waiting to worried friend.

"I asked her to marry me. What did you think I was doing in that get-up?"

"Did she say no? She's been upset all day," Carolynne stated.

Cain looked worried. "Things were a little … abrupt this morning."

"And then this afternoon?"

"I haven't seen her since this morning. What happened this afternoon?"

Carolynne studied him for a long moment. "You really don't know what might have happened to her this afternoon?" Her tone was suddenly low and serious.

"No," he answered equally as grave. "Did someone hurt her? Do you know?"

"I honestly thought it was just nerves – her being so young and all – that maybe you two had a tiff. But if you haven't seen her all day …"

"Did she say anything?"

Carolynne shook her head. "She came in a little while ago. She was deadly pale … terribly upset. She said she didn't want to see anyone. I asked if I should order dinner for both of you. She said she especially didn't want to see you before she locked herself in the bedroom." She glanced at the locked door. She turned back to Cain. "But if it isn't a lovers' quarrel then why is she so upset with you?"

"Carolynne, please … go. If something has spooked her, I need to work this out with her before it goes too far."

Carolynne nodded. "Yes, you do." She shook her head, "That poor girl won't be able to do everything they're planning for her if she doesn't have you to support her." She patted his arm. "I'll bring first meal in the morning. Send someone for me if you need me before that."

Cain watched her leave the suite. He walked over to the bedroom door. He took another few minutes to center himself before he used the master key he had retrieved from Jeb's office.

DG stood looking out the window, her fists clinched at her side. Upon hearing the door open, her back stiffened.


She stood with her back to Cain, not making a sound.

"If I hurt you or disappointed you, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you this morning."

She turned to face him. Her eyes were fixed, her mouth was a tight line. She stared at him for a long time before she opened her mouth. When she spoke her voice was brittle with anger.

"Do you remember when we talked about the guys I've been with?"


"You never asked what happened to them."

"I thought it was your private business and that you would tell me if you wanted me to know."

Her eyes hardened. "I thought we didn't lie to each other."

He sighed and lowered his eyes. After a moment he forced himself to look at her. He moved to stand in front of her but did not touch her.

"I didn't want to hear about you with other men," he confessed.

"After I let them take me to bed, they just … they both …"

She clinched her teeth so hard the muscles in her cheeks flexed. A solitary tear ran down her cheek.

"They left you?" he asked gently.

She nodded, a sobbing sound escaping but no additional tears slid down her face.

"I'm not leaving you, DG," he stated firmly.

She eyes flashed with anger. "Yes, you are!" she snapped.

"What makes you think that?" he asked gently. He reached out a hand. She jerked away from his touch.

"This morning," she whispered.

He sighed. "I know. It was abrupt. But I was so relaxed I let us sleep too long."

"And as soon as you left my bed, you made arrangements to leave the city." She turned back to the window.

"DG, look at me." She made no move. "Look at me," he ordered more firmly.

Slowly she turned back to face him, her face hard.

"I swear to you, I am not leaving," he insisted.

She glared at him. "Don't lie to me! You are the only person in my whole life who has never lied to me! I won't be able to stand it if you lie to me, too," she cried.

He pulled her toward him. She lashed out, pushing his arms away. She took a step back so she was pressed against the window casement. He took another step forward until he was only inches away from her. He took hold of her upper arms.

"What makes you think that I'm going to leave?" His question was spoken softly but with a firmness that demanded an answer.

"The Queen told me."

He cocked his head, completely puzzled by her answer.

"Your mother?" He was sure he had heard wrong.

She nodded.

"You must have misunderstood. Your mother asked me to go on a mission to the north. She wanted me to leave immediately – tomorrow in fact. And I would have been gone for several weeks. I wouldn't even be here for the engagement announcement. I told her I wouldn't leave you right now. She seemed upset, but told me she understood."

She looked at him, uncertainty coming into her eyes. "She said … she told me … that you … asked to lead the expedition. She told me that I should tell you that I understood that you needed to leave … and that I agreed it would be for the best." Her voice was soft and confused.

His hands spasmed as they held her. She was amazed to see the angry fire in his icy blue eyes. He took a deep breath.

"I know you need to rebuild your relationship with Lavender and Ahamo. And I know we need to show solid support for Lavender in order to bring stability to the government. But by Glenda's Wand I have had it with their callousness toward you."

"Then you … don't … want to leave?" She tried to hide the desperation and fear in her question.

His jaw was granite as he spoke through clinched teeth, "I would never do something like that without discussing it with you first."

"What's going on?" She suddenly sounded unsure of herself. "After telling us they wanted us to announce we were getting married, why would she try to separate us so soon?"

"Evidently your parents don't want us to become too dependent on each other. They must've decided being able to announce I'll be your Consort when you become Queen is one thing. But me being around to stand up for you and advice you now is something else all together."

He saw the confusion in her eyes as she tried to understand the political exploitation being attempted.

He sighed, "I wish you'd come to me when you thought I was leaving."

Her heart plummeted as she heard the pain and disappointment in his voice.

"I'm not surprised this happened," he went on, "since you told me about your past. I understand that you were frightened and angry. But, DG … we can't let your parents play us against each other. If they succeed in doing that, they'll use us to manipulate each other to get whatever they want from either one of us."

She nodded looking down. She ran her hand across his chest. "I don't know how to ask you to forgive me."

"Forgive you?"

She raised tear filled eyes to gaze at him. "I let my fears do something terrible … just like when I was little … just like the cave. I could've destroyed everything again."

"But you didn't. You listened … you believed … in me … in our love." He hesitated. "You do believe that I don't want to leave … that I would never leave without tell you?"

She nodded. "Yes," she answered in a small voice. "But I feel so bad that I didn't trust you. How could I've believed her without even talking to you first?" She started to move away from him. "What was I thinking?"

He pulled her gently into his arms. His hand began to stroke her back.

"Who in your life has ever done anything to teach you trust? You were shoved away from your home and both of your parents so they could play their political games. You were lied to by robots who told you cryptic stories that hinted at your real life. You were used by men on the Otherside. You were dumped back in the O.Z. without any preparation or explanation. Your family coerced you into risking your life trying to defeat the witch who was possessing your sister."

"You're angry?"

His arms tightened around her. "Hell, yes, I'm angry. You extend love and respect to everyone you meet. And all the time, you have to expect them to hurt you in the end because that's what you've been taught will happen. In spite of that, you still reach out. You're the most amazing person I've ever known."

She tilted her face toward him. He captured her lips with his for a soothing, loving kiss. He led her over to the bed so they could lie down. She shivered and snuggled tighter against him. He kissed her forehead.

"Go to sleep," he told her. "I'll be right here to catch you if you fall. If you'll let me, I'll make sure you are never alone, never betrayed again."


"How dare you!" Lavender demanded. "You forget yourself."

Cain glared at her. "I forget myself? I'm not the one that's been using DG like a marker on a game board for the last 15 annuals. And it stops today. Neither one of us is going to be a political piece that you can manipulate."

"You are not her husband yet," Ahamo stated, a veiled threat in his tone.

"She was terrified I was deserting her – just like everyone else in her life has. Do you really think you'll get what you want out of her if you actually force us apart? She knows I won't leave her willingly."

"What is it you want?" Lavender asked. "What position in the government will keep you happy?"

Cain shook his head in disbelief. "You really don't get it. There's nothing I'd like more than to take DG to the most remote spot in the O.Z. and live there with her for the rest of our lives – away from the Court – away from you. And I truly believe she'd be very happy to do that."

"She is too valuable for you to even consider such a thing!" Lavender exclaimed.

Cain nodded. "She's staying here because she believes it's her responsibility to support you. She knows how important her presence is to the people. The only thing I want is to make sure that the changes that are coming in her life are as easy as possible for her … and to take any of the burdens off her shoulders that she's willing to allow me to handle. I want to help her do what she thinks is her duty."

The Queen and Consort relaxed. "What do you want?" the Queen asked again in a much more relaxed tone.

"You two are done manipulating her. From now on, when you need her help or input on something, you discuss it with her and let us have a chance to talk it over. No more plots or guilt trips or pressuring her into something like the projection with the viewer or anything that causes her pain. She'll bend over backwards to help you, if I know her at all. But I won't stand by and watch her tricked into doing something she doesn't feel comfortable doing. And I won't have her hurt again."

Lavender and Ahamo looked at each other. Slowly Lavender turned Cain. "As long as you do not try to convince her to act against the Realms' best interest, I see no reason why we can't accommodate your request. Anything else?"

"I'm taking DG away for a few days. It's the only thing she's asked for – a break before the engagement is announced."

"What about the plans?" Lavender asked. "I need her here to help plan the engagement ball and the wedding."

"Are you really going to listen to anything either one of us want? We all know this is going to be a big, flashy circus that DG and I are both going to hate. I take her away. You can make whatever plans you want. I just want her to be rested before it all starts."

"Where are you going?" Ahamo asked.

"We'll pay a visit to Raw's people and then head to Finaqua. We'll be back in about seven days. You can announce the engagement in two weeks. Oh, and last night DG told me she wanted to get married immediately."

"That is impossible," Lavender stated flatly.

"I told her that you'd insist on making the wedding a political statement."

Lavender looked angrily at him.

"I said I'd talk to you about how quickly a wedding like you want her to have could be arranged."

The tight line of her mouth relaxed and she nodded her approval. "How soon will you leave?"

"Tomorrow. Jeb will stay here. We'll take a dozen guards with us … nine of the Palace Guards and three Tin Men."

Ahamo nodded, "That sounds appropriate. How will you travel?"

"Horseback. DG likes to ride and we can go along some beautiful trails if we leave the vehicles behind." He stood up. "If there is nothing else?"

When there was no answer, he left the room.


Cain returned to DG's suite as Carolynne was arriving with a tray of food. The couple ate quietly. Finally, DG put her spoon down, ate a last bite of toast and took the coffee cup off the tray.

"So now what?" she asked. "What new palace intrigues do I need to worry about today?"

"Nothing. You are to do nothing but relax. Tomorrow, you and I are going to get on our horses, ride out of the city and take a little trip."

"Really?" Her eyes were bright with excitement. "They're just going to drop it?"

She watched the expression on his face change. As he went to look out a window, she noticed that he was walking stiffer.


There was no reply.

"Wyatt, please talk to me."

He walked over and sat on the edge of the couch. He held both of her hands between his.

"I probably overstepped my bounds. I'm afraid I threatened them."

"Get out of here!" she exclaimed.

He nodded solemnly standing up. She grabbed his hands.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"You told me to leave," he answered.

She tugged on his hands. "Sit down. I swear I'm going to write an Othersider dictionary for you. That just meant I was surprised by what you said. What'd you do? Did you pull your gun on Ahamo?"

He chuckled. "No. I told them that they were done using you as a political game piece. From now on you would not be dealing with them alone."

Her mouth dropped opened. "I'm sorry I missed that. What'd they do?"

"Your mother offered me a post in the government."

"You didn't take it, did you?" she asked in mock horror.

"I told them I couldn't 'cause I was leaving."

"You're what?" Her voice cracked.

He smiled. "I told them I was talking you on a trip, remember?"

"Oh … yeah. And they said I could go?"

"I didn't exactly phrase it as a question."

She threw her arms tightly around his neck. "I love you so much!" She sat back. "Where are we going?"

"I thought it could be a surprise. Do you trust me?"

She laughed. "I am so not falling into that trap."


DG sat by the small lake, ignoring the activity going on in the clearing behind her. She heard a footstep and looked up to smile at Cain. It was their third night on the road. Their guards knew their assigned duties so camp was quickly established. He squatted down beside her.

"Are you happy?" he asked.

She smiled at him. "Only one thing would make me happier," she giggled.


"If the guards were far enough away from our tent that you could make me scream your name again," she said answered softly.

His roar of laughter caused several guards to glance in their direction. They exchanged amused looks before returning to their tasks. They had quickly become totally devote to their beautiful princess. Her kindness and friendliness were not something they were use to in the royalty of the O.Z. They were even more surprised when they were encouraged to return her informality.

DG blushed as she remembered their last morning in the Palace. It was the first time she and Cain had made love since the night he asked her to marry him. It had caused them to delay their scheduled departure two hours. She still tingled as she remembered the exquisite things Cain had done to her body.

Holding hands, DG and Cain walked back into the center of the camp. Their tent was in the center. The guards' tents circled theirs at a discrete distance.

Everyone chatted amiably as they fixed final meal and ate. As the evening turned dark, wood was added to the fire. As it got later, DG and Cain were talking softly to themselves, sharing food from their plates and trading light banter. Cain noticed the glances the guards were giving him and DG. He said something to her. She whispered her response. He looked around at the other men then nodded.

"Gentlemen," he raised his voice to get everyone's attention, rising to his feet.

All the Guards and Tin Men stopped what they were doing so they could move closer to the couple.

"Phillips," he called to one of the Tin Men who was traveling with them and who happened to be standing close to one of the baggage animals. "If you look in my blue saddlebag I believe you will find some smooth sippin' whiskey wrapped in a blanket."

There were hoots and yells as the Tin Man pulled the bundle from Cain's bag. He took the package to Cain.

Cain unwrapped two of the bottles, opened them, pour a shot into his cup and then handed each bottle to a man to start around the camp. He set the remaining bottles on the ground in front of him then stood up.

"You have probably been wondering what we're doing, roaming around the countryside of the O.Z.," Cain started. "Obviously, with this small of a group we're not on a military expedition. And from the informality, I assume you've guessed this isn't a diplomatic mission." Cain smiled at DG and then looked back at the officers. "This is our last fling to do a little sightseeing before the Queen announces our engagement." He turned to DG and kissed the fingertips of the hand he was holding.

There were shouts and whistles and calls of congratulations.

Cain raised his cup. "Gentlemen, a toast to my beautiful fiancée."

There was a roar as the men yelled, "To the Princess!"

DG blushed. "Thank you," she called to them.

"And now, gentlemen," Cain set down his cup, "I wish you a goodnight."

Turning to DG, he picked her up and threw her fireman-style over his shoulder. Everyone whooped as DG screamed at the unexpected inversion. Cain turned back to face the men.

"Sorry, but whoever drew guard duty tonight is limited to two drinks. Everyone else had better be ready to ride at first light, no excuses."

There were catcalls as Cain deposited DG in their tent. He saluted the guards as he closed the flap. Things were just beginning to settle down in camp when DG let out a sparkling peal of laughter.

"To the Princess," one man called.

Everyone yelled in reply, "To the Princess!"


DG laughed again as she heard the men yell their final toast. She threw her arms around Cain's neck. He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her feet off the ground as he hugged her to his chest. Tenderly he kissed her mouth.

"Are you happy now?" he asked. "No one will be shocked if they hear you screaming my name all night long now."

She smacked his chest. "There will be no name screaming tonight."

She smiled as he looked a little crestfallen.

"But I suppose I could stuff a pillow in my mouth," she added mischievously.

In moments they had removed their clothes. They stretched out on the sleeping bag they had been sharing, their hands tracing the area of the bodies they were quickly learning as well as they knew their own. He smothered her mouth with his as he shoved firmly between her legs with very little foreplay.

The friction of his assault on the tightness of her opening made her gasp into his mouth. One of his hands played with her breast while his other hand slipped under her buttock, rocking her slightly. He moved slowly until he felt her silky slit slowly become slippery with her juices. She put her feet flat and shoved against him as she was ready for increased activity. He was the one that had to stifle a cry as he felt her thrust, retreat and thrust again.

He suddenly knew that he was the one that was going to lose control first tonight. He lowered her bottom so he could move his hand to the tender area that was snug between their bodies. Her head thrashed violently from side to side and then she buried her mouth in the side of his neck. She moaned deep in her throat, barely able to stop her cries.

With one more deep thrust, Cain stiffened. He collapsed on top of her, using his elbows to keep the majority of his weight off of her. He had shoved his face into her hair to help deaden the groan of his climax.

Their breathing became more regular. Suddenly DG began to giggle. Cain chuckled, too.

"That was so teenage!" she managed to get out. "I can not believe you would do something like that."

"I believe I had some help," he smirked.

A few minutes later, they settled down for the night.

It was in the predawn that the sounds of the camp woke them. DG spread her fingers through the hair on his chest, playing with the chain that held his bonding ring. Her other hand reached around to stroke his ass. He hissed as he grabbed the wrist of the hand that was behind him. He pulled it around, kissing it before moving away from her.

"Do not start anything," he warned, humor heavy in his voice.

She threw the blanket off, lying on her back, her legs spread, one knee raised, her other leg stretched out. Cain took a sharp breath as watched the flash of her bonding ring rising and falling on its chain as it lay between her breasts. His eyes roamed up to look at her smoky gaze.

"You are going to be the death of me," he breathed.

He dropped beside her, gathered her tightly in his arms to kiss her passionately.

"Now, get dressed. If we can go far enough today, we'll reach Raw's village tonight."

DG was laughing at Cain as they left the tent a few minutes later. One of the men handed plates to them as they came over to the fire.

"We'll be ready to leave in a few minutes, sir."

"Can you get a cup of coffee for the Princess before you break camp? The day will be much nicer if we make sure she gets her coffee."

The man tried to stifle his laughter.

"You will pay for that," she shook a finger at Cain who only chuckled.


DG stretched. She closed her eyes tighter against the sunlight that spilled across her bed. "Uggh! Wrong bedroom," she moaned. "I want to move to the other side of the palace."

Cain wrapped an arm around her waist pulling her snuggly back against his chest as he rolled onto his side. His hand moved lower. Slowly his palm stroked between her legs. She moaned softly and rotated against his strong hand. He moved his hand to give her a playful slap on her hip.

"Now that I have your full attention, it's time to get up."

"You are twisted," she whined when he pulled away from her. She shivered as the cool air replaced the heat of Cain's body.

"I thought you'd be up before first light," he said getting dressed. "You were so excited about coming to Finaqua."

She stretched again. She remembered his reaction several days earlier in their tent. Through partially closed eyes, she watched his reaction to how she twisted her body. She smiled when he stopped buttoning his shirt to survey her sensual gyrations.

"You are wicked," he muttered. He put a knee on the bed beside her, drew her into his arms and kissed her deeply.

"And you love me," she whispered.

"I do indeed," he replied as he dropped her back to the mattress so he could continue dressing.

She watched him tuck his shirttail into the waist of his pants and finished fastening them. Rolling over onto her stomach in his direction, she reached out to run her hand possessively over his bottom.

"I do love your ass in those pants," she purred.

He looked over her shoulder and chuckled. "Will you get up and get dressed?"

She looked up at him with smoldering eyes. "After what you did to me last night, I don't know how you expect any of my parts to function at all today."

He leaned down to kiss the top of her head. "Okay, I guess I can start sleeping in my own room so I don't disturb your rest."

He laughed as she threw a pillow at him as he left the bedroom.

Within a few minutes she was dressed. They decided to have first meal in the dining hall. Even though the majority of the men had eaten, there were still a few lingering over the first meal they had eaten in a formal setting in a few days. They all beamed as DG greeted each one of them by name.

DG broke into a grin when she saw Raw sitting at a table. She threw her arms around the viewer's neck from behind as he sat eating.

"I am so glad you decided to come with us!" she exclaimed.

Raw chuckled. "DG said that at village. DG said that when got here last night. Raw can feel DG happy Raw with her."

Cain laughed as he held the chair next to Raw so DG could sit. She plopped into the chair, took hold of Raw's hand and gave it a squeeze. She released his hand immediately, knowing that the viewer would be flooded with her emotions if she continued the contact. Raw smiled at DG and Cain.

"Glad you found what you both seek." Raw smiled. "You good together. Is good for O.Z."

Cain gave him a nod of the head in acknowledgement.

After eating, the trio walked out of the palace to the lakeside gazebo. DG sat in the swing, moving slowly. Cain leaned against a support column behind DG, watching her with a tender smile on his face. Raw sat on a step in front of her, calmly watching the lake.

"Peace feels good," he commented.

"Was there trouble in your village?" Cain asked.

"Regular things. Meant after village."

Cain straightened up. "Have you sensed trouble on the trip? Why didn't you say something?"

Raw turned so he could lean against the railing and see Cain who had moved closer to DG.

"Raw not say problem. Just big emotions when see people. Everyone happy DG visit. Guess about DG and Tin Man. Just lot of emotions."

Relaxing, Cain reached out for the ropes of DG's swing. He moved the swing back and forth as she raised her feet off the floor holding her legs straight out in front of her. She looked back at Cain.

"How long can we stay here?" she asked.

He smiled down at her. "Two days. It was two days before we got here. It is two days today. It will be two days when we leave. I don't want to have to notify your parents that we're going to be gone any longer than I told we'd be."

She sighed turning to face the lake again. He pulled the rope so the swing was close to him. He leaned down, kissed her neck where it slopped to her shoulder and then let her swing again.

"But we can come back here for our honeymoon. I'm making all the arrangements while we're here," he told her.

She turned to Raw. "And you'll come with us?"

Raw chuckled. "Tin Man jealous."

DG giggled as she turned to watch Cain tug his hat lower so they could not see him blush.

"It's going to take me a little while to get use to the idea of taking a honeymoon with 50 other people," he grumbled.

DG jumped out of the swing and hurried to Cain's side. His arm went around her shoulders to pull her firmly against him as they walked over to Raw.

"I promise I won't notice anyone but you."

He tenderly kissed her.

"Raw go now."

"You don't have to leave," Cain assured him.

"Need time alone. Won't have long alone."

DG patted Raw's arm as he walked past them. She and Cain went down the stairs. Hand-in-hand they walked to the edge of the lake.

"Can we swim in this?" she asked. "I don't remember if we did as children."

"I suppose you can," he said.

She kicked off her shoes, glad she'd picked a skirt and blouse to wear this morning so her legs were bare. She walked into the water and then squealed as she jumped back.

"It's freezing!" she gasped, the cold had literally knocked the breath out of her lungs.

He nodded. "Coldest unfrozen lake in the O.Z."

He laughed as she struck his upper arm with her balled fist.

"Careful, Kiddo, you'll leave a bruise," he complained lightly.

She walked back toward the lawn.

"What makes you think you'll be taking off your shirt around me, for me to see it? Letting me walk into that lake without a warning!"

With a laugh, he gently tackled her and rolled her onto the grass until she was pinned beneath him. One hand came up to caress her cheek.

He pulled something out of his pocket. With a soft smile he handed the small package to DG. Her eyes looked a question.

"Open it," he instructed.

She broke into a brilliant smile as she saw the earrings she had admired at the street market where she had found Arianna.

"You've had these since the street market?" she asked. "Why haven't you given them to me before now?"

She leaned forward to give him a lingering kiss then straightened. She put the earrings on.

"Well?" she asked again.

His eyes twinkled. "I was just waiting until I thought you deserved them."

"And what did I do to deserve them?"

He sobered as he stared into her eyes.

"You were amazing."

"Were?" she questioned, her eyes shining with humor.

He smiled. "Are," he admitted. "But I was thinking about what Raw said about his village and the people we've come across on our trip. You are a natural born queen. The O.Z. is going to be so lucky to have you on the throne."

"Not for many years if I have anything to say about it. The last thing I want is to take on that load of trouble a day before I have to."

She would look back on that sentence the next day and wonder if her magic had been trying to warn her.

For the rest of her life, she would wish she could have made her world stop on that perfect day.

The End?