Michael rubbed his face tiredly as he walked the distance to his cabin. His mind was busy thinking of words to tell her. Were there even sufficient words to apologize? It was so clear now. And it was all because of Max.
How could one man, who wasn't even that tall, have that much insecurity inside and not burst with it?
This was what he had to do. Go back. See Maria. Kiss Maria. Apologize to Maria. Kiss Maria. He hoped she let him kiss her. He should probably insert kneel down and beg somewhere there.
He hoped Isabel was taking care of freeing Alex. That much they owed them for all they put their princess through.
He glanced up and saw the cabin in the distance. It was odd. All the windows were shut and the door was closed. They didn't usually close the opening since the fresh breeze was wonderful.
Michael's pace picked up as he neared the place. He had no idea what was going on but his heart was pounding like crazy.
He stopped at the foot of the steps, bizarrely caught fascinated with the small dark patch at his feet. He knelt down on the sand and touched it. He raised the moist almost black sand to his face and peered at it.
Faintly he heard the phone inside the cabin ringing. Too afraid to put his suspicion to words, he raced inside, almost breaking the door down in his haste.
"Liz. What's going on?" he demanded. "Where is she?"
It was the most difficult trip he made in his entire life. By the time he got to the white city hospital, he was gasping for breath. He frantically searched the waiting room and saw his best friend. She seemed so afraid of him.
He stepped closer to her. "Liz."
She bit her lip.
"What room is she in?"
going to see her, Michael."
"Is she—" He choked on the words.
Liz shook her head. "It was nothing. She didn't hemorrhage." He breathed in relief. "One of her vessels burst. She fell and—They fixed her up I think. I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"They didn't let me see her."
The first tear crept down the side of her face. "Half an hour, maybe more, after we got here the hospital was full of Terrans, Michael! They surrounded the place. They didn't let me go near her. I heard her. She asked for me. But they won't let me go." She swallowed the know in her throat. "She was still under surgery—they were cauterizing the vessel so it won't bleed so much—when this troop of people strode in and this guy… Highness they called him. He ordered that Maria be loaded to his plane. He said he didn't trust Antarians to treat the princess."
Michael drew Liz into his embrace and murmured soothing words while desperately thinking of a way to find Maria. Liz sobbed.
"She was still out when they rolled her to the helipad."
And then it slowly sank in. Maria was gone now. Alex… Isabel must have freed him. And his first order of business was to whisk his sister away from Antarian soil.
He walked calmly to the desk and asked for the phone. "Isabel. I'm glad you're home. I need you to do something for me."
"You're not that insane! Tell me you're not," Maria pleaded with her brother. She had been home a month now and everything was going great. She hardly cried now. She still thought about Michael every minute and regretted lying to him though.
Alex smiled at his sister. "I'm not. And I think this is a good opportunity for you."
"That's it! You've gone nuts."
"Admit it, Maria. You need to be married. You're… A single mom at your position… That's just unheard of!"
"You want to form diplomatic ties by marrying me off! Don't you think it's really anti-diplomatic that you're saddling some poor creep with a hotheaded Antarian kid? Does this
guy even know he's not getting a virgin bride?"
"Great!" Maria threw her hands up. "A desperate man."
"Maria," Alex chided, "you've known your whole life that you're meant for an arranged marriage. Think of Terra," he advised. "You always said you'd do anything for her. And for me."
"Oh Alex." She went to her brother and hugged him. He was right. That's always been her belief. Her entire life was for Terra. But that was before summer and before she found just how beautiful life can be. "I'm sorry."
"So you'll do it?" His eyes gleamed in excitement.
"Good. Because I think they're here."
Maria rested one hand involuntarily on her stomach, where her baby slept. Almost she lost it, the only remembrance she would ever have of the last wonderful months. If only she got to apologize to Michael. "What!" Maria screeched. "You gave them the go ahead before I even said yes?"
To her utter irritation Alex merely shrugged. Maria fumed the entire several minutes they waited for the new arrivals to be announced. "Cheer up, Maria. You wouldn't want your fiancée to see how difficult you are to handle."
"The leader of the Antarian Republic, Miss Isabel Evans, and party."
Maria's lips parted in surprise. Isabel? Where did Max go then? And Republic? Since when was Antar not a monarchy? And oh…
Standing behind Isabel was the one and only, the #, the jerk. All her feelings of contrition flew out the window at the sight of his smirk.
Alex laid a hand on her waist and kissed her on the cheek. "You didn't think I'd just marry you off to some random prince, did you, sweetheart?"
Isabel and her party walked over to the two Whitmans. Even with all her attention on Michael, Maria felt strong vibrations coming off from Isabel and Alex when they got closer.
Michael took in the sight of her, noticing the slight bump of her belly. He itched to lay his
palm there, and feel the fluttering heartbeat of their child. "Maria," he said, almost reverently.
Maria drank in his face, his eyes, his lips. She had missed him so. She opened her mouth to tell him that she still loved him, and that she hurt every time she had to lie. Instead, what came out was, "So what, you expect to just waltz back into my life after you yelled at me?" She jabbed her finger into his chest. "After you won't let me speak, huh? After you… you…" She breathed in to calm herself. "Well don't think just because they're marrying us you're forgiven. You have a long way to go, mister, before I let you touch me again!"
With that, the princess stalked off. Michael met Isabel's eyes and shrugged. And then he started following his reluctant bride. "We were already engaged, you know!" Michael yelled after her. "Technically… technically… I didn't even have to ask your brother's permission. We didn't break up."
"Not break up!" they heard Maria gasp from the corridor. "You covered my mouth with your huge ogre hand to shut me up!"
Alex nodded and murmured to Isabel that the idea was a good one for someone like Maria.
"What are they doing now?" Isabel asked one of her escorts.
The man craned his neck to watch the display outside. "The princess is still walking away, and the general is hot on her tail. Oh wait, he's taking your suggestion earlier, ma'am. He's whipping out the box."
They heard Michael calling to his bride again, "Hey Maria! I forgot to give you something back at the island. I thought you might want me to finally give you one."
"She's turning around, she's turning around," the escort related.
Isabel grabbed Alex's hand and they hurried to the door to themselves watch the scene progress.
"I always knew you were the one," Michael said. "Even that first day when you yakked about how I polluted the ocean. But I never thought that argument would lead to this." He stepped closer and drew the ring out of the box. He picked up her hand and slipped it on her ring finger. "I love you, Maria. You're who I'll come home to if I'm hurt or bleeding inside."
She looked at the ring on her finger and then into his eyes. "Really?" she said, uncertain still. She needed the words. Say the words.
"Say the words," Isabel murmured from her door space.
Several yards away from them, Michael raised the hand to his lips and kissed it. And he
said, "I trust you."