She no longer cared if he was not the prince she thought him to be, no longer cared if he did not love her, if he would always think she was just a woman he fucked.
She just wanted to be with him, any way she could.
Julian felt so far away from her now.
“Please,” she sobbed. “Please come back—-”
Julian whirled at the sound, and everything in him shattered at the sight of Cass on the floor, crying and begging for him.
In a second he was kneeling in front of her, pulling her into his arms—-
And she saw——
WEDDING BELLS CHIMED in a joyous melody, a tinkling sound that blended in harmony with the cheers and laughter of the crowd as they celebrated the newlyweds.
Cass was a radiant bride, her face glowing as she lifted her head to receive the kiss of her groom – now, her husband.
Hidden in the shadows was a tall figure, dressed to blend in obscurity. He was an austere-looking man, his once strong body now noticeably thin. Once the prince of Ethereal from the House of Rivera, Julian had given up his bid for the throne and even his right as prince to live a life in the darkness.
Once, the darkness had threatened Cass’ life. But never again, every second of his life devoted to watching Cass from afar, turning the darkness into a shield that would protect her from harm.
Every day he gazed upon her face, her smile bringing wonder to his heart. But there were many times he would also see her laughing in the arms of another man, and though he wanted to close his eyes to it, he did not allow himself to. It was punishment for the time he had thought of her as a woman he only fucked.
Every night, sleep eluded him, and not even liquor could numb the ache in his heart. Every night he would end up tormented by the knowledge that Cass was no longer his.
“You are now man and wife!”
Cass’ lips received her first kiss from her husband.
Julian’s face became wet, but he pushed his loneliness aside. Be happy, Cass. Be happy.
This was the future Julian Rivera, once the Prince of Ethereal, had carved for himself because he believed Cass deserved someone better than him, a lifelong sentence for the pain he had caused to the woman he loved beyond his duty to his kingdom, his life, and everything else he stood for.
“CASS?” JULIAN DEMANDED, terrified at the way she had become pale and almost limp in his arms.
Hearing him call her name pulled her out from the dark future of Julian’s world, and the tears streamed nonstop as she came back to the present.
Her lip wobbled at the effort it caused her not to cry, to be coherent as she whispered, “I saw.”
Instantly, he understood, and Julian stiffened.
Her control shattered, and she threw her arms around him, her sobs causing her body to shake.
Julian said brokenly, “I don’t deserve you.”
She cried harder. Reaching out to cup his face, she said fiercely, “You do. You do, Julian. You do.”
Her love shone like a fierce light in her eyes, humbling him, breaking him a thousand times with its innocent strength. “I love you,” he rasped out just before his arms closed around her like steel binds. He would never let her go now. Never. He had tried. God knew he had tried, but he couldn’t do it a second time.
“I love you, Cass. I love you.” He had to say it. He would say it over and over until he deserved to say it. “When I realized you were in danger, I knew then. All those years I had trained as a child, wondering why I had to suffer, it was then I knew. I had to learn how to kill, how to be tough, so I could have the strength to save you.” His voice became ragged. “When I saw you in Jose’s hold, I was thankful – I was so goddamn thankful I went through those years—-”
She stopped his words with a kiss, his love for her so fierce and strong it made her weep harder. “I love you, Julian. Thank you for coming for me. Thank you for saving me.”
His own voice shook as he answered, “Thank you, Cass, for bringing me to life.”
One year later
Cass was seated at one of the benches lining the boardwalk when she sensed a man coming to stand a few feet away from her, facing the ocean. She bit her lip, trying to resist the urge to meddle. She had made a bet with Julian that she was capable of not reading anyone’s fortune and just taking a day’s off from her “work” while he left to inquire about the boat that would take them back to St. Roch.