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Wisteria Sneak Peek: Chapters 1 & 2

It’s HERE! Chapters 1 and 2 of Wisteria are yours to read!! Now some of you got an early preview of this, because it was in our newsletter a few days ago. For those of you desperate for more Wisteria (and desperate to get it earlier than anyone else), you should maybe consider subscribing because there may just be more where this came from!

Now, let me shut up so you can get reading!!

Chapter One

It’s said that the wisteria vine is a symbol of immortality.

Blythe Hawthorne had often admired the flower—as deadly as it was beautiful, and resilient enough to thrive for centuries even if left forgotten. Yet as she crushed a petal from the looming vines between her fingers and let its color bleed onto her skin, she pitied the wisteria for the fate that she and the flower shared. How tragic that they were to forever remain rooted in Aris’s garden, their splendor wasted on the likes of him.

Blythe, at least, had one advantage over the wisteria—she had thorns. And when it came to Aris Dryden, she had every intention of using them.

Blythe trailed a look across the garden to where dozens of guests stood in wait. Sunlight cut through the wisteria canopied above them, bathing the courtyard in a golden haze of light that had people squinting as they chatted, their breath pluming the air.

Blythe envied their fine coats. Her skin was chilled from autumn’s dampness, and the gossamer sleeves of her gown did little to stave it off. November was an unusual time for a wedding, though with Aris, she supposed she should always expect the unusual. If the alleged prince decided he wanted to get married on an autumn morning at an hour when the sun hadn’t yet dried the dew upon the moss, who was society to question him?

Aris Dryden was a man who got what he wanted. This day just happened to be a rare exception, for he was being forced to marry a woman he could not stand.

And to be fair, the feeling was mutual.

“You don’t have to do this.” It was Blythe’s father, Elijah Hawthorne, who spoke. “Say the word, and I’ll get you out of here.”

In any other world, Blythe would have taken him up on the offer to flee Wisteria Gardens. But to secure Elijah’s safety after he was falsely accused of murder, Blythe Hawthorne had spilled her blood upon a golden tapestry and bound herself to Aris—to Fate—for the remainder of her years. She even had a glowing band of light on her ring finger to show for it, the golden hue so faint that it was nearly invisible to the eye.

“I’ll be all right,” she told her father at last. It was no use to try and sway him with sweet words about how much she loved Aris or how happy she was to be marrying the brute. As it was, she was shivering in the damp air, itchy from what felt like a hundred layers of taffeta, and had to keep fighting off a sneeze every time her veil brushed near her nose. She had no patience left within her to lie, and Elijah was no fool; he knew that Blythe had never intended to marry.

“You’ll make a beautiful princess,” he whispered, and Blythe surely would have agreed, had Aris actually been royalty. “But I want you to remember that Thorn Grove will always be open to you. No matter the day or the hour, you can always return home.”

“I know that,” Blythe promised, for she understood that truth better than anything.

Only when Elijah seemed certain that there would be no talking her out of this wedding did he bend to kiss her head. He adjusted Blythe’s veil to shroud her face as he eased away. She scrunched her nose, turning to the side to sneeze.

When the lilting pings of a harp began a sauntering melody, Elijah extended his arm. “Are you ready?”

Never. A million years would need to pass before Blythe could even consider being ready. But instead of the truth, she told her father, “I am,” for if this was what it took to keep him from being hanged, it was more than worth the sacrifice.

As much as Blythe tried to focus, the world swayed as she stepped into the courtyard. The ground was a pathway of stepping stones with vibrant clovers that curved around each one; Elijah steadied her as she nearly slipped upon them, her choice of shoe providing little grip on the dampened soil.

Blythe’s heart beat against her chest like a torrent, drowning out the pinging of the harp that slowed its tune to match her careful footsteps. She looked to the crowd, to faces that blurred into sharpened slivers of too-white teeth and hungry eyes that devoured her with every step, as if readying to pluck the skin from her bones. Blythe held her chin sharp even as her hands fought a tremble, refusing to let anyone scent her fear.

It wasn’t until she saw her bridesmaid, Signa, standing near the front of the crowd in a beautiful lace gown that the pressure in Blythe’s chest deflated. Death loomed behind Signa, his shadows winding around her own fretting hands.

Tiny shocks pulsed up Blythe’s spine at the sight of his touch upon her cousin’s skin. Everything in her body ached to flee from Death’s presence, and yet . . . he was the one Signa had chosen. Blythe would never understand why, but if Signa was happy and Elijah was free, then all was well in the world.

As Blythe passed her cousin, the harp song faded and her father drew to a halt. Blythe was left with no choice but to finally turn her attention to the golden-haired man who stood before them in a coat as richly hued as a sapphire. Handsome, she supposed others might think him, and yet all Blythe could see was the resentment that festered within Aris Dryden like a poison. He masked it with a cleaving smile, as if ready to join the fray of predators set to devour her.

Aris stepped forward, offering Blythe his hand. Had Elijah not tensed beneath her grip, reminding Blythe of his presence, she may not have taken it.

“Hello, love.” Aris may have whispered the words, but his voice was a weapon that slipped through Blythe’s skin and carved her from the inside out. “I hoped you wouldn’t make it.”

She squeezed his hand, forcing her own smile onto a face she hoped looked half as vicious as his. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, my darling. Though do feel free to divorce me tomorrow.” The thread between their fingers shone bright, searing into their skin so intensely that Aris laughed to cover his grimace.

“And spare you from a lifetime of misery? I think not. You have no idea how much I intend to—” he froze, having been speaking so quietly that their heads were bowed, nearly touching each other, when he demanded in a dangerous tone, “What on earth are you wearing?”

Blythe didn’t need to follow his gaze down to her feet to know that he was referring to her velvet green slippers. Her favorite pair, in fact. She’d adjusted her dress just enough to allow him a glimpse. As buttoned-up as Aris was, Blythe hadn’t had any doubts that he’d notice.

So, it seemed, had their guests. A quiet tittering sounded from the audience, and though Blythe paid it little mind, Aris’s jaw tensed. He squeezed her hands, hissing words through a false smile. “You are not marrying me in slippers. Go and change.”

Blythe curled her toes into the velvet. “And stop the wedding? I wouldn’t dream of it.”

If she weren’t already so aware of Aris’s power, she would have realized the full extent of it as his eyes flashed gold and the world fell still. Elijah’s foot had stopped mid-step on his way back toward the guests, and Blythe reached out to stroke her finger along the belly of a hummingbird that had frozen beside her, its wings unmoving. Some of the guests had their mouths ajar, bodies bent in stilled whispers, and not a single eye blinked in awareness. Only Signa and Death continued to move, swathed in the shadows. Signa drew a step closer, though Aris halted her with a scowl that seared like a melting sun.

“Go and put on shoes.” Aris bowed his head to Blythe’s level, holding back none of his contempt now that their guests were frozen. “This is ridiculous. I refuse to play your games.”

Blythe had earned every bit the reaction she’d hoped to from such a proud man, and the grin she sported said as much. “It seems you haven’t noticed, my love, but you’re already playing.”

The millions of golden threads surrounding them glimmered. Several wound around her wrist, and as Aris made a motion as if to tug her forward, Blythe braced herself. Yet it was Aris who stumbled back, clutching his own wrist with a hiss of pain. He looked not at Blythe, but to Signa, whose face was stony.

Had her cousin also struck a bargain with Fate? It seemed that he was unable to harm her, and Blythe’s realization came in the form of a baleful laugh as she drew chest-to-chest with Aris. Or chest-to-stomach, really, given that he was a good head taller.

“I will wait out the rest of my life rooted in this spot if it means beating you,” she told him, meaning each and every word. “Free the others from whatever spell you placed upon them and let’s get on with this charade.”

A long moment passed in which Aris did nothing. So long, in fact, that Death began to stir. Though she knew the reaper meant to help, Blythe tensed when his shadows inched closer. It was all she could do to keep her eyes on Aris, trying to ignore Death’s presence by putting as much heat into her glare as she could summon. She couldn’t say how long Aris matched that stare until, eventually, he gritted his teeth and grabbed hold of her skirts, tossing them over her slippers. Only then did Elijah’s foot hit the ground with a slap and the quiet whispers resume. The hummingbird darted over Aris’s head as the minister approached.

“Will thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife,” he began, and no sooner had the words left his mouth did Blythe’s world sway. She dug her heels into the earth, rooting deeper with each vow that passed his lips. “Will thou love her . . . Forsaking all others . . . Keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?” Though she missed most of what the minister said, her world came crashing to a halt with his last question. Blythe glanced sideways at Aris, who kept his head down and his jaw so tight that she thought his teeth might snap.

“For as long as she lives,” he agreed, so curt that the minister flinched before turning his attention to Blythe.

“And will thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, serve him, love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?”

Aris shot Blythe a black look that halted her laughter before it could escape. She cleared it from her throat. “I will marry him, and I will love him even more when he is sick.” She said it so sincerely and with such a disarming smile that, though the minister was thrown off, he brought forward a golden ring designed to resemble a snake, set with eyes of jade.

“Repeat after me. With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship . . .” Each word was acid in Blythe’s mouth, the ring burning as Aris shoved it down her finger while reciting the vows. Blythe bit her tongue as he pressed it so deeply toward her knuckles that she’d have to oil the blasted thing to get it off. Which she certainly would be doing the moment they were out of the public eye.

“Hello, wife,” Aris spat, voice too low for anyone else’s ears.

Blythe smiled through the pain, curling her hands around his so that she could dig her nails into his palms. “Hello, husband.”

Neither looked away as the minister motioned them to their knees for the ceremonial prayer. Whatever the man said was lost to Blythe, whose ring finger seared beneath her golden band.

It was not a ring, but a shackle. One, it seemed, that neither she nor Aris would be escaping any time soon.

Chapter 2

Most days, Blythe found solace in the act of slipping into her favorite ball gown. Yet on the day of her wedding she couldn’t stop fidgeting, claustrophobic in the mountains of taffeta that’d been piled upon her. Her feet, too, were positively freezing, the morning dew sinking into the fabric and dampening the velvet soles. Had she not fought so hard to aggravate Aris, she would have long since changed into something warmer.

She reminded herself how sweet that small victory had tasted as the slippers squished beneath her toes and a perpetual chill settled into her bones. Yet all the while she kept a grin plastered to her lips as she stood beneath a wisteria awning, stuck beside Aris as they were forced to greet their guests. Surrounding her was a blur of faces she’d known all her life. Too many of them, in fact. This was no small ceremony, but a celebration worthy of a prince, where delicate chocolates and miniature cakes decorated with golden leaves were ceremoniously displayed on gilded trays and everyone’s wrists and throats glittered with their finest jewels.

Charlotte and Everett Wakefield greeted the newlyweds with smiles and words of encouragement. The duke and duchess leaned into each other, a sparkle in their eyes that had Blythe wondering what it must feel like to be so in love. She likely would never know.

There were faces in the crowd that Blythe didn’t recognize, too. Arrogant ones that waltzed about the reception as if in constant assessment. As Blythe scrutinized them more closely, however, she noticed their eyes were glassy and that they never uttered a word to anyone but one another. They must have been Aris’s guests, as it would have drawn attention if he didn’t have any in attendance.

The townsfolk never let these new guests stray far from sight. From the corner of her eye, Blythe watched as Diana Blackwater slid closer to one of Aris’s enchanted puppets—a man who could be no older than thirty, who claimed a pretentious air and was neatly styled in imported fabrics. Diana positioned herself in an effort to capture his attention, though the man could spare her no notice even if he wanted to as he looped slow circles around the garden, inspecting the decor. After several moments of following after him, Diana gave up with a hiss, fanning herself in a fluster. The moment she noticed Blythe watching, her spine stiffened. Ever so slowly—as if doing so physically pained her—Diana curtsied.

It was then, as satisfaction warmed her from head to foot, that Blythe realized how irredeemable her own soul truly was. That curtsy alone almost made her soggy slippers worth it.


“Can you not simply magic this day to its end?” Blythe asked after she and Aris were congratulated by a woman who ran a modest apothecary shop in town. Blythe had never properly met her before, yet she smiled and accepted the woman’s profuse congratulations all the same. “Must we see this charade through in its entirety?”

“You’re the one who insisted on a proper wedding,” Aris reminded her. “I wouldn’t dream of taking such an experience away from a blushing bride.”

Blythe swallowed the foul words that threatened to sear holes in her tongue. It wasn’t worth getting into another bickering match with him. Especially not when her father stood in the near distance, observing the newlyweds with a cautious eye.

It wasn’t that Blythe had wanted a wedding, exactly. Rather, she’d hoped to delay her inevitable fate for as long as possible, and had wanted something that Elijah could bear witness to. She’d wanted her father to see that she was well and that he needn’t worry, which was why she now smiled so wide that her cheeks were beginning to ache. She even wound herself around Aris’s arm when she wished for nothing more than to recoil. His hand snaked around her waist, gripping so tight that pinpricks shot along her skin and all she could think was how she would have to burn this gown and scrub his touch from her body the second she had an opportunity.

It wasn’t until Signa approached that Aris eased his hold, his steely demeanor cracking. If Signa noticed—and Blythe assumed she would have, given that Signa tended to notice most things—she said nothing. Instead, Signa took Blythe’s hands in her own. “You are the finest bride I have ever seen,” she told her, and Blythe smiled despite knowing she was one of the only brides Signa had ever seen. Blythe couldn’t believe that only a few short months ago she’d been uncertain whether she’d ever speak to her cousin again, just as she couldn’t believe that she’d only known Signa for the span of a single year. After all they’d survived, it felt as though they’d shared a lifetime together.

Signa looked to Aris next, whose jaw ticked. Only Blythe could feel how greatly he deflated in Signa’s presence, and while she did not favor Aris, she did pity him. Aris believed Signa to be the reincarnation of the woman he’d spent centuries searching for; he believed her to be Life, the only person Aris had ever loved. And Signa would never be his.

“Miss Farrow,” Aris greeted coolly, though every part of him turned predatory as Death’s shadows loomed closer. “Brother.”

“A shame that my invitation was lost in the mail.” Death’s voice was the shock of an eclipse, or the danger of seawater filling one’s throat. It suffocated Blythe, so different from Fate’s rich exuberance that she at once felt ensnared in an icy current and at a loss for breath.

“Have you plans for the honeymoon?” Signa asked. Despite the fact that the honeymoon was meant to be a surprise to the bride, that hadn’t stopped half of everyone who’d greeted them from asking about it. Still, from Signa the question was odd, for surely she could not be hopeful about this sham of a marriage. She was the only one who knew just how preposterous it truly was, though Blythe suspected that Elijah was also leery. And yet the warmth in Signa’s eyes was so genuine that Blythe’s stomach curled. Leave it to the girl in love with Death to be optimistic about Blythe being bound to Fate.

Signa, in part, had always reminded Blythe of an owl. Her eyes were unnervingly large, and whenever she was lost in her thoughts she often forgot to blink. Blythe had long since made up a game in which she would count how long it took Signa to remember, and Blythe played it then as her cousin stared Fate down with a pinch between the brows. It had been thirty seconds so far, and still Signa had not blinked. It was no wonder so many people found the girl odd; it was a wonder, too, that she never complained of dry eyes. Signa only stirred when Death steadied a gloved hand on her shoulder, and Blythe wondered whether he, too, counted the seconds. Or perhaps the couple filled their evenings staring into each other’s eyes and seeing who could be the most unnerving and go the longest without blinking.

“Why do you want to know, Miss Farrow?” Aris asked, the timbre of his voice earning the reaper’s attention. “Would you like to join me, instead?”

Death, to his credit, did not take the bait. Though his eyes were dark, fathomless things, Blythe got the distinct impression that the reaper was watching her. Every inch of her skin crawled, and the hair upon the back of her neck stood alert. As Blythe soothed it back down, Signa chided, “This situation is only as bad as the two of you make it. If you’re stuck with each other from here on out, I’d hope that at the very least you stop trying to kill each other.”

Blythe bit back her scoff. How easy that was for Signa to say. She wasn’t the one who had to spend the rest of her living years with this beast.

“I can’t kill her,” Fate corrected in a flat monotone. “You saw to that when you made me vow not to hurt her. It’s no matter, though, as her pathetic human life will soon pass and one day I shall build my bed atop her bones and sleep soundly for the rest of eternity.”

As silly as the imagery was, it sparked a fire in Blythe’s chest. “Don’t sound so eager, husband. I plan to live at least a century more, if only to spite you.”

Signa pressed her lips together, and Blythe knew her cousin well enough to recognize there was something on her mind as she took hold of Blythe’s gloved hands. “Let me know the moment you’ve returned home,” Signa whispered, an urgency in her tone. “There’s something I really must tell you.”

Blythe wanted to tell her that whatever it was, it needn’t wait. And yet Signa was already being pushed forward by the never-ending line of guests eager to congratulate the new couple on a happy marriage. The next time Aris decided to throw a soiree, they would need to discuss the list of attendees beforehand.

Quickly, Blythe promised, “I will, of course,” before Signa and Death were swept away.

Blythe hadn’t the faintest awareness of how long she stood there, lips frozen into a false smile and her tongue thick from repeating her thanks. It was a relief when the line ended and she was finally able to get her hands on a glass of champagne.

She watched as the others drank, then waited for Aris to try a sip before she cautiously took the flute from his hand and drank that. She ignored his scowl and waited five minutes to ensure nothing happened before taking another sip.

Across from her, a striking woman with deeply suntanned skin and a pompous man of fair complexion greeted fawning guests. They wore outfits adorned with gold, and the woman’s hair was nearly a perfect match. They had the glassy eyes of the other marionettes, though these two at least spoke to those around them with pleasant smiles.

“Who are they?” Blythe asked, squinting at the golden haze around the couple to distinguish the thousands of threads woven around their bodies.

Aris polished off his champagne. “They believe themselves to be my parents,” he said, as simply as if he was telling her that the month was November.

It was not the response she’d anticipated, and Blythe cleared her throat before she could choke on her drink. “What do you mean they believe themselves?”

Aris’s eyes shone for the briefest moment as one of the staff passed by. Blythe watched as his threads ensnared the maid, altering her path so that he could pluck two more flutes from her serving tray. Blythe reached out, expecting that one of them was for her until Aris made fists around both stems. “Someone had to play the part. It wasn’t as though a prince would be allowed to marry without his own family in attendance. Besides, they’ll forget everything that’s happened once their purpose has been fulfilled.”

“It’s not fair to turn these people into your puppets, Aris. You shouldn’t twist someone’s mind just to fit your agenda.”

“Why not?” He twirled a finger lazily along the rim of the crystal flutes. “I’ve done it to you thrice.”

It was fortunate that she’d not yet eaten, for Blythe’s stomach flipped. Vaguely, she remembered one of the times, back when Aris had tried to extract information about Signa and why she’d been banished to Foxglove. Blythe had a feeling that the second time had to do with the gap in her memory from her first night meeting Aris and visiting Wisteria Gardens. But as for the third…she hadn’t the faintest clue, which was all the more terrifying.

Trying to fight back the shakiness from her voice, Blythe told him, “You will never again use such powers on me.” She wasn’t sure what leverage she had or what she could offer to make such an agreement worth his while. Regardless, she spoke the words plainly, and with every ounce of fire that raged within her.

“Dear God, do you always screech when you talk?” He rubbed at his temples with a groan. “Your cousin already saw to it that I can bring you no harm.” Though Blythe had guessed something of the sort based on their earlier conversation with Signa, she was surprised by how easily Aris admitted to it. For someone as dangerous and as aggravating as he was, the man was certainly forthcoming.

Still, Blythe pressed, “Even if it’s not to hurt me, you must promise that you’ll never make me into one of your puppets. I will not live in a home with someone who manipulates me.”

She tipped her chin, defiant despite having no leg to stand on in this argument. Still, to her surprise, Aris did not taunt her. He only drank deeply from his champagne and said, “That was never my intention.”

The squeeze of her chest loosened. “I’m relieved to see that you can be reasonable.”

“Reasonable?” So bleak was his laugh that Blythe was immediately on edge. “It’s not worth the effort to manipulate you when I have no desire to even look at you for any longer than necessary. Though I do advise that you get comfortable with my powers, love. If you insist on keeping up our guise, know that there is a cost.”

Blythe set down her flute with such force that she had to double-check she hadn’t shattered the glass. “If you hadn’t pretended to be a prince in the first place, there would be no guise to keep up with.”

Aris shrugged. “Perhaps. But with a face like mine, what other role do you expect I might play?”

She couldn’t tell whether he was joking, but Blythe laughed at the ridiculousness all the same. She was about to inform Aris just how much of a fool he was when Blythe caught sight of her father. Though he’d been in conversation with Signa, it seemed that Blythe’s laughter had drawn his attention. Her spine snapped straight as Elijah descended on them. Quickly, she leaned toward her husband and commanded, “Pretend that I am the most brilliant person on this earth, or I will make every second of your life absolute misery.”

“Do you mean to say that you’re not already doing that?” Aris scrunched away from her, though there was no time for him to ask questions before Elijah stood across from them. Aris straightened. Powerful though he was, it seemed even a deity could become nervous in the presence of a father-in-law.

“Mr. Hawthorne,” Aris acknowledged with a dip of his blond head.

“Your Highness.” There was an iciness to Elijah as he greeted the prince, though it melted as his attention turned toward his daughter and he held out his hand. “Dance with me.”

There was no universe in which Blythe would ever refuse. Letting her hold on Aris slip, she took her father’s hand and wordlessly allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. Given Elijah’s lack of concealment over his distaste of society, Blythe had nearly forgotten just how refined her father could be, his chin high and his shoulders confident as he swept her into a waltz, each of his steps utterly precise. Even more surprising, however, were his words.

“I put a knife in your travel chest.” Elijah spoke easily, and Blythe was grateful for the swell of the music that swept his voice away from the other dancers. She gaped up at him, though there wasn’t so much as a furrow between Elijah’s brows.

“An unusual gift for a new bride,” Blythe admonished. “Do remember that I chose this, Father. Aris isn’t forcing me into anything—”

“Oh, come off it.” Though his words were blunt, they were not unkind. “I was set to hang. I have been in this world long enough to know not to look for coincidence where none can be found. You may bat your eyes at that man all you’d like, but do not take me for a fool.”

Blythe ground her teeth, knowing there was no choice but to choose her next words carefully. “Marriages of convenience happen every year.”

“They do,” he agreed, cutting cleaving glances in Aris’s direction. “But that was never meant to happen for my daughter. I would sooner have died a thousand deaths than have put that on you.”

“You’ve put nothing on me,” she whispered, breathing a little easier now that some truth of her and Aris’s arrangement was out in the open. “Perhaps you were ready to die, but should we have a million more lifetimes, I still would not be ready to let you go.” Blythe had lost too many people she loved in the past two years, and she’d be damned to let anything happen to her father. Something in her expression must have made him understand as much, for his hold on her softened.

“Very well,” Elijah whispered. “But know that you are my world, Blythe. You are my proudest accomplishment, my heart and my soul. Should anything happen to you—”

“It won’t,” she promised. “It’s marriage, Father, not murder.” Though she tried to say it jokingly, Elijah’s eyes held storm clouds.

“I put a knife in your travel chest,” he repeated, and it was an effort for Blythe to not roll her eyes. As perceptive as her father was, there was no way for him to ever know that a mere knife would never be enough to kill Aris. Still, if it made him feel better, she’d accept it.

“I’m glad you told me before I accidentally stabbed myself,” she said. “I’ll accept it, though I’ll have no need to use it.”

Elijah continued without pause. “I want you to write to me every week, at least for the first few months. End every letter with a random fact so I know it was written by your hand. And should something ever happen—should you need me, or if you’re hurt—mention your mother by name and I’ll know to come at once.”

“It’s not as if I’m going far,” Blythe said. “Wisteria Gardens is but a carriage ride away.”

“No doubt Aris will want to return to Verena,” Elijah challenged, and Blythe wished with everything in her that she could tell her father such a place was not even real. She’d tried to look for it on a map once, just to see, though every time she searched her vision would swim and her mind would grow hazy until she eventually forgot what she’d been searching for. Aris was nothing if not thorough.

“We’ll remain here in town once we return from our honeymoon.” Neither she nor Aris had actually spoken of their plans. In fact, they’d hardly spoken at all since the day she spilled her blood onto his tapestry. She hadn’t given thought to where they might live, for the answer seemed obvious—there was no Verena. Surely, they would remain at Wisteria Gardens. And yet her father’s eyelids drooped, and while he made no further argument, he seemed saddened by Blythe’s confidence.

“A letter,” he repeated, holding her tighter as the music quieted, the song coming to its end. “Every week, no matter where you are in this world. Promise me that.”

It seemed there would be no getting around it. “If I cannot take a carriage ride here myself, then fine, I will send you a letter. And you will send me one as well, so that I know neither you nor Thorn Grove has crumbled without me holding everything together.” She punctuated her jesting with a smile, though it wavered at the corners. Most young girls assumed they would one day leave their home to start a new phase of life, but Blythe had never seen the appeal. She loved Thorn Grove, just as she loved her family. The idea of leaving them behind—especially when her father had overcome so much these past years—was something Blythe never thought she’d have to face.

Blythe held tighter as the waltz came to an end. It was Elijah who slowly released hold of his daughter, though he waited a beat too long to do so.

“It is my hope that I’m only becoming more paranoid in my old age,” he told her softly. “It is also my hope that Aris is a good husband, and that you will one day share the kind of love that your mother and I once had. But if not—if anything should ever happen—there’s always the knife.”

Even Elijah cracked a smile when Blythe laughed, though it was short-lived as guests began to file toward the courtyard where four gray horses waited with an ivory carriage.

Gently, Elijah squeezed her hand. “Do not make yourself small. Do not change yourself to suit him. Teach him how to treat you, and remember that you deserve everything this life has to offer.”

Heat prickled Blythe’s eyes, and she looked away before her father could see the tears fall. She turned her face ahead, to where Aris waited, and nodded. “I will.”

Before she could change her mind, Blythe released her hold on her father and stepped toward Aris and into her new life, feeling her heart shatter with every step.

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