In the last week before the year and a half were up, Eric became annoyingly quiet about the whole ordeal. He never mentioned the proposal once, he had multiple meetings, he didn’t even give her a hint of what he was thinking of. He even canceled their date night on the last night of the period, claiming he was overcome with work but wouldn’t tell her what it was. Giselle was on the verge of asking him if he had changed his mind or if he had forgotten. It was all she could think about and she was nerve rackingly tired of keeping it to herself. But every time she thought to mention it, doubt hit her. What if he realized she wasn’t the queen he wanted for his kingdom? She had no doubt he loved her, but she would never hold it against him if he decided not to marry her for the better of his kingdom. The past year of living there had done nothing but increase her love for the kingdom. She had an apartment near the orphanage, and often went for visits in the afternoons after she had finished Skyping her classes if she didn’t have too much prep work. After the first month or so of adjusting to life there, she began making friends, and managed to find a rhythm to follow daily. Most nights she had dinner at the palace. Fridays were date nights, a concept Eric was skeptical about initially. Her favorite thing to do was tour the kingdom with him. She met so many fascinating people, tasted incredible food, saw strange and wonderful sights. Everything was beautiful to her. And she refused to be a dampening or a downfall to this beautiful place, regardless of how much she loved Eric.
"Does he still want to marry me?" She asked dejectedly as she pushed her food around on her plate. She sat at the royal dinner table with Shane on the night she had hoped to spend with Eric, counting down the hours until midnight so that he could propose to her. When she saw that even the queen had been called away for the evening, she knew whatever the matter was that Eric was attending to was more serious than she thought.
"He definitely wants to marry you, no doubt about it," Shane said and leisurely took a sip from his wine glass. Giselle turned the stem of hers and stared into the glass.
"Then why won’t he say anything about it? I told him that he shouldn’t propose again if he thought I wasn’t adequate to rule at his side one day. Is that what this is about?" She asked. Shane sighed. "Giselle, look at me."
She stopped twirling the stem and lifted her eyes to the man across the table. She had grown to love Shane like a brother, and he was exactly the type of brother she would have hoped to have. He drove her crazy at times with his annoying antics, but made her laugh ten times more than that. She had seen his highs and experienced his low when he and Rose decided to break up. She had his back and he had hers. She felt at home with him, like he had been family forever. She wanted to be part of this family. She adored the queen, she loved Eric more and more every day, being at his side, speaking to his people, assisting the queen and learning from her, growing in understanding of what it took to actually be the queen of this kingdom . . . she never thought she wanted to lead. She still didn’t, not if Eric wasn’t beside her. But with him, supporting him, being called one of his people . . . Yeah, she wanted that. She had fallen in love with the kingdom, the history, and the people – especially the people. Over the past year of living there, she had been shown a different perspective, and she was never going to be able to look back. She was more Palanadian than she had ever felt Cashadin. She felt she belonged here.
"Eric loves you. He will marry you someday. He will propose to you, I can assure you of that. If he feels you’re not ready yet, then he will wait until you are, but rest assured, you will become queen of this kingdom one day if he has anything to say about it," Shane said. Giselle smiled sadly. A wave of emotion pushed up her throat.
"Thanks, Shane," she said, already feeling much better. What was she thinking? A year and a half wasn’t enough for someone to decide who would stand as queen of an entire kingdom. She had to trust Eric. If he didn’t propose it meant she had more to work at. His people were her people. It was about more than marriage.
"Plus, he’ll be back tomorrow then you two can talk. It’s not my business to tell you or Eric when you’re ready," Shane said.
Eric and the queen did arrive the next evening, after dinner. Giselle had been outside in the garden, playing with Lucie and Carton just as the sun was setting.
"I see Ronan allowed you to keep them after hours," Eric said, making her turn to him. Lucie took advantage of the distraction and tugged hard at the rope between them, causing Giselle to stumble. Carton was there in an instant, licking her face as she sat up.
"Hey!" Giselle giggled as she tried to evade, but Lucie joined, making it more difficult. One whistle from Eric got them both running towards him.
"Sit," he said, and they obeyed. "Stay," Eric added as he walked towards Giselle, wearing black cuffed track pants and a gray sweater with sneakers. Giselle stood and eyed his outfit and the tiredness around his eyes. She gave a faint smile.
"Long flight?" She asked as he wrapped his arms around her and bent to kiss her. Eric pressed his forehead against hers when he broke the kiss and she felt the exhaustion in him.
"Hmm. I feel like we haven’t stopped moving for three days," he said, rolling his head against hers.
"Maybe you should get to bed."
Eric brought his head back from hers and she looked up into his ever determined gray eyes. "Not a chance." He took her hands in his. "Besides, I’ve got a gift for you," he said, making her heart skip a beat. He led her to the porch steps where a dark leather violin case stood. At this point, Lucie and Carton had started playing on the grass, ignoring the two of them.
Eric planted himself on the steps and Giselle sat next to him as he handed the case to her. "You got me an instrument," she said.
"You sound disappointed."
She ran her fingers over the leather then snapped it open. A scent lifted to her nose, masculine and elegant. Her heart seemed to jump to her throat as she stared at the polished violin in the case. Everything clicked into place instantly. Giselle couldn’t breathe.
"Eric . . ." She heard her voice crack and ran her finger carefully over the strings. "This is your dads," she said and looked at him, her eyes pooling with tears. Smiling, he cupped her face with his hands as the tears spilled over quietly, releasing some of the pent up tension she had experienced the last few days. Eric drew her closer and kissed her until she could feel how much he loved her.
"Maybe after this I’ll start getting you strange instruments to bring you closer to playing every instrument in the history of the world." She sniffed and laughed, recalling the night they met. She ran her finger over the polished surface. She was holding a piece of history in her hands. An instrument that was played with such passion that she could almost hear it.
"Alright, before you begin to play and I lose my train of thought . . ." He took the case out of her hands and placed it down gently on the other side of him before turning back to her. Giselle felt a burning in her chest and a building word vomit.
"We should get to what both of us actually want to talk about tonight," he said, as he turned back to her.
"Before you say anything," Giselle said, placing her hand on his arm. "I need to tell you that I am going to do everything in my power to become worthy of this kingdom. I’ve never felt this sense of responsibility and love towards anything. Even if you don’t propose tonight or next year or in the next ten, I’ll still be here until you feel I’m ready. There’s no one who makes better choices for their kingdom than you and I love you more for it than I will ever love anyone else. So if you decide I’m ready, and only then, will I feel like I can stand by your side and look after your people."
A smile tugged at his lips then broke into a full grin. He laughed quietly, his eyes never leaving hers. He gave a small shake of his head. "How did I ever become so lucky?" She heard a strange click and dropped her eyes to where it came from. Giselle gasped at the sight of an open blue velvet box between his fingers that held a single large oval cut diamond with a silver band that held a fine treble cleft at each side.
Eric bent on his knee before her. "Everything you do confirms that you were born for this, Giselle. You’re kind, brilliant and passionate about everything you take on. You pour your heart into everything. You don’t hold back any love and it seems there’s an endless supply in you. I’ve waited a year and a full agonizing day to ask you –."
Eric blinked then laughed. His laughter was cut off when Giselle claimed his lips with hers, nearly toppling them both over as she lurched at him. Eric laughed again when she broke the kiss. Warm tears of happiness and relief streamed down her face.
"Will you marry me, Giselle Balaco?" He asked, stroking her hair back as he stared at her with amusement bright in his silver-gray eyes. Giselle giggled and nodded. Eric took the ring from the box and lifted her left hand. Giselle sat back and watched him slide the ring onto her ring finger. She stared at the ring, felt the weight of it on her finger. A wave of emotion pushed up her chest until her vision blurred. She took a deep breath to center herself.
Eric stroked her fingers with his then turned her hand over and kissed her palm. He didn’t think that seeing the ring on her finger would cause such a powerful stir of emotion inside of him. He had been dreaming about it for so long that now that it was happening, he wasn’t prepared for it.
"What on earth made you doubt my proposal, love?" He asked as he took up the space next to her again. Giselle shook her head. "You gave me no hint of any plan! Did you purposefully decide to make this the simplest engagement ever? No flowers, no candlelight, no music."
His brows lifted playfully as he looked at her. "I’m exhausted! I had a whole thing planned out with all of that and your family was going to fly down but then business called." He shook his head. "I just couldn’t wait another day to see that ring on your finger. Besides, you have a lifetime of extravagancy ahead of you, in a few years you’ll look back at this moment as the last time you had any peace and you’ll fall to my feet in gratitude for it," he said. She laughed. "Let’s not get ahead of ourselves now," she said, putting her forehead to his. Giselle jumped at a loud pitch then looked to where it might have come from. A bang caused her to jump again, against Eric’s chest, then colorful flames lit up the sky and she relaxed though he could feel her pulse racing when he chuckled into her neck as Lucie and Carton ran inside. Eric’s arms folded around her.
"Well, that didn’t last long. Remember the quiet you had a moment ago and hold on to it. You won’t be getting it back for a while," Eric said as another pitch sounded and more fireworks exploded. There was a quiet rumble of voices cheering in the distance as more and more fireworks shot up and exploded in splendorous colors.
With her brows lowering over her eyes, she looked at him. He brushed a strand of hair from her face and cupped her cheek.
"Hear that?" He asked, lifting a finger from his free hand. "The cheering or the fireworks?" She asked. He smiled, clearly amused.
She lifted her eyes, staring at nothing in the sky as she listened. He caught the moment she heard the distinct horn sounding somewhere in the distance, harmonizing with a few others.
"What does that mean?" She asked when she looked at Eric again. "Well, my dear, that plus the fireworks, plus my kingdom cheering is evidence of two things; one, one of their princes just got engaged, two; my people adore their future queen," he said, bringing her closer as Giselle smiled happily.
She wiped at the tears on her face, lowered her eyes and squinted slightly as her brows drew together in concentration. Eric chuckled and reached behind him took the violin and its bow and handed it to her.
"I know that look," he said when she looked at him. She laughed and took the instrument from him, pouring out her emotions into music.
As he listened to her, he marveled at what his life would become because of her. And as she played, he knew this would be the new anthem for their lives.