She jerked her head my way. “He’s not one of your past lovers, is he? You had a couple of them before Iston. I can’t remember their names.”

Laughing, I bumped her with my shoulder. “Owen wasn’t one of them, I promise. I’ll introduce you to him tomorrow.”

Marin smiled at me. “Thanks, Ella.”

We both sighed and watched as all the warriors picked partners to fight with.

“What do you say? You ready to show me what you got?” I asked.

Marin snorted as we made our way to the field. “Your aunt Meliantha has been teaching me new tricks, Princess. You might want to watch out.”

We joined everyone and I pulled out my sword. “I’m not worried, my dear friend. Now show me what you got.”

Marin grinned and the fight was on.

* * *

We trainedfor most of the day, and then Marin joined me at my house so we could get ready for dinner. With the Winter Solstice Ball tomorrow night, we were expecting thousands of guests from all the courts, including Iston and the remaining royals from the elvish kingdom. However, I spent tonight with my entire family, including my grandparents on my mother’s side, King Oberon and Queen Tatiana from the Summer Court. My grandmother never ventured much into the Winter Court, but I was happy to spend time with her. She’d never gotten over all of her daughters separating from Summer. Calista went to the Fall Court, Meliantha to Spring, and my mother to Winter. My uncle Drake was the only one who stayed with the Summer Court after he married my father’s sister, Sorcha. That was when they formed the Court of Oceans, an extension of the Summer kingdom. Still, my grandmother missed us all and had no qualms in guilt-tripping us every time she was around.

“How did it go with your grandmother trying to coax you into switching to Summer?” my mother asked.

It was as if she’d read my mind. Grabbing my glass of faerie wine, I took a good, long sip. “I told her I was Winter, through and through.”

My mother sat down on the couch across from me and laughed. “You sound like me.”

I stared over at her, loving how we were so much alike except for our eyes. Hers were so blue they could be seen from miles away, but I had my father’s brown eyes.

“Where’s dad at?” I asked.

My mother looked away as if concentrating on something in her mind. I knew she must have listened to my dad’s thoughts. My parents were bonded in more than just marriage; my father was her Guardian. When she turned twenty-one, he had fought to win the right. It was unheard of for a Winter warrior to want to guard a Summer princess, but he did it to get close to her. After he won, they were bonded by blood, hence, opening the mind link. They could hear each other’s thoughts and communicate with one another. It was a love story from the very beginning. I used to make my dad tell it to me every night before bed when I was little.

My mom focused back on me and smiled. “He’s in the Great Room with the guys.”

“Does it not get intrusive to hear each other’s thoughts?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Not in the least. At first, I used to block him out all the time, but now it’s such a comfort to feel him in my mind.” Lifting her glass, she drank some of her wine. “Do you still believe that not having a Guardian for yourself was the right choice?”

I didn’t hesitate. “I do. You raised me to be independent and strong. Guardians are sworn to protect with their lives. I don’t want anyone protecting me. I can do that on my own.”

My mother smiled at me over the rim of her glass, her eyes misting. “You’ve grown up way too fast, Ella. There are days when I wish I could turn back time.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying in Winter for the rest of my life.”

“Good,” she said, grinning wide. She finished her wine and set her glass down. “How is everything with the Hereafter?”

I shrugged. “It’s good. Although a little heartbreaking at times when I’m called away to help others cross over. Of course, I always have Merrick to cheer me up.”

My mother chuckled. “Oh, Merrick. I had the biggest crush on him when I was young.”

I could see that. Merrick was both good-looking and charming. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a crush on him when I was younger, too.

“Haven’t we all,” I confessed.

Her eyes widened. “You two aren’t . . .?”

“No,” I shrieked, holding up my hands, “I promise. I love Merrick, but our relationship has never been like that. He sees me as a sister.”

Clasping a hand over her chest, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Don’t get me wrong, I love him too, but he’s nothere. You need someone you can have a real relationship with.” Then, she cleared her throat. “And speaking of relationships, Iston will be here tomorrow night. You two haven’t seen each other for a couple of weeks.”

Tags: L.P. Dover Fantasy
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