Medieval Lucinda didn’t recognize the vast array of flowers; she would have no idea how this was possible in February—and she still loved every inch of the surprise. But Lucinda Price knew that the pure-white peonies were more than just a Valentine’s Day gift. They were the symbol of Daniel Grigori’s eternal love.

The candlelight flickered on his face. He was smiling but looked nervous, as if he didn’t know whether she liked his gift or not.

“Oh, Daniel.” She raced into his arms. “They’re beautiful.”

He swung her in a circle and steadied the wreath on her head.

“They’re called peonies. Not traditional Valentine’s flowers,” he said, tossing his head thoughtfully, “but still, they are … something of a tradition.”

Luce loved that she understood exactly what he meant.

“Perhaps we could make them our Valentine’s tradition,” she suggested.

Daniel plucked a large blossom from the bouquet and slipped it between her fingers, holding it close to her heart. How many times across history had he done the exact same thing? Luce could see a glimmer in his eyes that suggested it never got old.

“Yes, our very own Valentine’s tradition,” he mused. “Peonies and … well, there ought to be something else. Oughtn’t there?”

“Peonies and”—Luce racked her brain. She didn’t need anything else. Didn’t need anything but Daniel … and, well … “How about peonies and a kiss?”

“That’s a very, very good idea.”

Then he kissed her, his lips diving toward hers with unsurpassed desire.

The kiss felt wild and new and exploratory, as if they’d never kissed before.

Daniel was lost in the kiss, fingers woven through her hair, his breath hot on her neck as his lips explored her earlobes and her collarbone, the low cut of her dress. Neither of them could get enough air, but they refused to stop kissing.

An itch of heat crept up Luce’s neck, and her pulse began to race.

Was it happening?

She would die of love right here, in the middle of this glowing white forest. She didn’t want to leave Daniel, didn’t want to be cast into the sky, into another black hole with only Bill for a companion.

Damn this curse. Why was she bound to it? Why couldn’t she break free?

Tears of frustration welled in her eyes. She pulled away from Daniel’s lips, pressing her forehead to his and breathing hard, waiting for fire to sear her soul and take this body’s life.

Only—when she stopped kissing Daniel, the heat faded, like a pot being lifted off a fire. She flew to his lips again.

The heat bloomed through her like a rose in summer.

But something was different. This was not the all-consuming flame that extinguished her, that had exiled her from past bodies and sent whole theaters up in smoke. This was the warm, dazzling ecstasy of kissing someone you truly loved—someone you were meant to be with forever. And for now.

Daniel watched her nervously, sensing that something important had happened inside her. “Is anything the matter?”

There was so much to say—

A thousand questions jockeyed for the tip of her tongue, but then a gruff voice jarred her imagination.

The only Valentine’s Day you kids ever got to spend together.

How was that possible? So much love had passed between them, and yet they had never before spent or would never again spend the most famously romantic day of the year in each other’s arms.

Yet here they were, stuck in a moment between past and future, bittersweet and precious, confusing and strange and incredibly alive. Luce didn’t want to screw this up. Maybe Bill, and the kind young clergyman, and her dear friend Laura were each right in their way.

Maybe it was sweet enough just to be in love.

“Nothing’s wrong. Just kiss me, and kiss me again and again.”

Daniel lifted her off the ground and held her cradled in his arms. His lips were like honey. She wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. His hands traced the small of her back. Luce could barely breathe. She was overcome with love.

In the distance, church bells rang. They would be drawing from Cupid’s Urn now, boys’ hands randomly selecting their sweethearts, girls’ cheeks red with anticipation, everyone hoping for a kiss. Luce closed her eyes and wished that every couple on the green—that every couple in the world—could share a kiss as sweet as this one.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Lucinda.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Daniel. Here’s to many, many more.”

He gave her a warm, hopeful look and nodded. “I promise.”

EPILOGUE

THE GUARDIANS

Back on the green, four troubadours completed their last song and exited the stage to make room for the presentation of Cupid’s Urn. As all the tittering single young men and women pressed excitedly up to the platform, the troubadours sneaked off to the side.

One by one, they raised their masks.

Shelby tossed down her recorder. Miles strummed one more chord on his lyre for good measure, and Roland harmonized on his fretted lute. Arriane slipped her hautboy into its slender wooden case and went to help herself to a big mug of punch. But she winced as she tossed it back and pressed a hand to the bloody cloth dressing the new wound on her neck.

“You jammed pretty well out there, Miles,” Roland said. “You must have played the lyre somewhere before?”

“First time,” Miles said nonchalantly, though it was clear he was pleased by the compliment. He glanced at Shelby and squeezed her hand. “I probably just sounded good because of Shel’s accompaniment.”

Shelby started to roll her eyes, but she only got halfway there before she gave up and leaned in to peck Miles softly on the lips. “Yeah, probably.”

“Roland?” Arriane asked suddenly, spinning around to scan the green. “What happened to Daniel and Lucinda? A moment ago they were right over there. Oh”—she clapped her forehead—“can nothing go right for love?”

“We just saw them dancing,” Miles said. “I’m sure they’re okay. They’re together.”

“I told Daniel expressly, ‘Spin Lucinda into the center of the green where we can see you.’ It’s as if he still doesn’t know how much work goes into this!”

“I guess he had other plans,” Roland said broodingly. “Love sometimes does.”

“You guys, relax.” Shelby’s voice steadied the others, as if her new love had bolstered her faith in the world. “I saw Daniel lead her into the forest, thataway. Stop!” she cried, tugging on Arriane’s black cloak. “Don’t follow them! Don’t you think, after everything, they deserve some time alone?”

“Alone?” Arriane asked, letting out a heavy sigh.

“Alone.” Roland came to stand next to Arriane, draping an arm around her, careful to avoid her injured neck.

“Yes,” Miles said, his fingers threaded through Shelby’s. “They deserve some time alone.”

And in that moment under the stars, a simple understanding passed among the four. Sometimes love needed a lift from its guardian angels, to get its feet off the ground. But once it made its first early beats toward flight, it had to be trusted to take wing on its own and soar past the highest conceivable heights, into the heavens—and beyond.


Tags: Lauren Kate Fallen Fantasy
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