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Darien had another week before he had to return to the stupid dragon council so he could be officially sworn in as the new leader of his people. She understood why he had to go, and was glad it wasn’t happening too soon after his father’s death. At the same time, she was also getting annoyed with him always having to leave. She was pretty sure he felt the same way.

A new determination was in him, though. A fire she hadn’t noticed when they’d first met, and with that fire came a great deal of his undivided attention. Just about every day since their night on the roof, they had a date of some sort. Tai enjoyed the time spent talking with him and just being in his company. Their moments together were simple, but he put so much of himself into them it touched her heart.

Three days before he had to leave, the two went up to sit in the sunning room. Tai lied on her stomach on the large, squishy, blue mat spread across the floor while Darien lied next to her on his back with his feet sticking in the pool.

“I hardly ever got to do anything interesting during the summertime back home,” Tai said as she watched him. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was falling asleep. “Am I boring you?”

“No!” He slowly sat up and faced her. “You know how when you come inside after a cold day, and you put on your sweatpants when they’re fresh from the dryer, and you feel warm and cozy?” She nodded. “That’s how lying in the sun makes me feel. I swear I’m listening.” He closed his eyes again, frowning. “Do you want to do something interesting for the rest of the summer?”

She laughed. “More interesting than being taken by a dragon and thrust into the middle of a political thriller?” she asked and flicked some water onto his face playfully. It’d help perk him up again.

Darien snorted and brushed the water off of his face. “I could show you outside of the city if you wanted. There’s the harbor to the north, and the countryside to the south. Both are gorgeous this time of year. We have three more weeks to make this the most amazing summer ever. Remember, I want you to stay.”

How could Tai forget that? She wanted to point out that she wanted to stay, too, but the timing didn’t feel right. There were still three weeks left, and he might interpret her wanting to remain as a sign that she felt more for him than she actually did. Yes, she was growing to care for him more and more with each passing day. The one true love thing was still a ways off, though.

“The country could be nice. I saw a lot of ocean back home, seeing as how my island isn’t that big.” She poked him in the side.

He opened his eyes and glanced over at her. “The harbor is different than the beaches at your island. I know you like those. Was that something you did with your mom?”

“No, my Mom is afraid of the water. She didn’t like me spending time there. Eventually, I got old enough where I went anyway. Not like I did much swimming in the ocean. I liked to watch the waves, nothing more,” Tai said quietly. She’d been trying hard to not talk about her family, but every so often he’d find a way to get her to open up about them. It was all part of the “getting to know you” game they were playing. She understood even if she didn’t like it. How would he have felt if she’d started prying into his memories of his father?

Darien’s jaw dropped, seemingly unaware of her turmoil. “Afraid of the water? How can anyone be afraid of water?”

Tai shrugged. “She never told me why.”

“Is that normal?” he asked, closing his eyes again.

“Is what normal?” She rolled to her back, and stared up at the sky through the windows overhead. A few clouds floated by, but beyond that the sky was clear and blue. For a moment, she forgot she was in the middle of the grandest city in the world, and that made her remember the feelings of homesickness. The sky had been big and blue on the island, too. Uninterrupted. The world felt bigger when there weren’t glass skyscrapers blocking the sun.

“Not talking about things,” he said. “I notice you do that a lot. Is there a reason why? Did you pick it up from your mother because of habit, or did something happen to make you not want to tell me things?”

She sighed. “It’s not just you.” She’d had the same problem with her friends back home too. Well, the handful of people she could sort of call a friend.

“Did something happen?” he pressed.

Tai didn’t say anything for a while. If she was going to work on trusting him more, her past would be a good place to start. “Can’t say there’s a whole lot to tell. When I was around two years old, my father left and he never came back. My mom never fully recovered from it.” She stopped, not wanting to continue. Hopefully he’d understand. I don’t want to hurt like that, ever. Tai waited to see if he’d pick up on the thought, then remembered he was touching the water. Of all the times for the connection to fail.

“She never fell in love again?” he asked

She shook her head. “If she did, she kept it from me. I’ve seen her be interested in other men, but she never did anything with it. I didn’t let her.”

“Why?”

She sighed deeply, running her hands over her face as she tried to make sense of it. “I guess because I didn’t believe a man could ever love a woman the way she deserves. We think of love differently, you know. Men and women. Similar, but different.”

Darien’s hand reached for hers. When she rolled to her side to look at him, she saw him still on his back with his feet in the pool. He still couldn’t hear her, yet he could sense her feelings anyway. How was it that he knew her so well based only on intuition?

“I’m not going to go anywhere,” he said. His hand wrapped around hers gently. “I promise I won’t make you regret letting me in.”

If she became attached to him and lost him, she didn’t know what she’d do. So much of her would go with him. “I’ll try to remember that.”

“You think I’m going to let you down,” he said as he moved closer to her, also turning to his side now so he could face her. “Believe me when I say, I’m going to do everything I can to not allow that to happen.”

Tai nodded, wanting to believe him. He pulled her hand toward him and kissed it gently. His blue eyes sparkled when they met her own, and after a moment of hesitation he touched her face with his fingertips. She closed her eyes, taking his tender touch in, letting him comfort her. Darien’s fingers brushed down her jaw line and cupped her chin. Then he pulled her lips to his own, kissing her slowly. She found herself kissing him back. It only lasted a fraction of a second.

“I love you,” he said confidently, and for the first time she believed him.
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