For the next few hours, they walked in the places where they’d played together as children. It was the first time they’d really been alone with each other since being in Korisan. When they came to someplace familiar, one of them would say, “Do you remember build-ing a fort here?” or “This is where you showed me how to whistle,” or “This is where we fell into the creek.” Kieran was pleased to note that Jessa seemed happier than he’d ever seen her.
When they reached a wide clearing, Jessa stopped. “This is where I taught you to dance.”
Kieran started to hum their song and extended a hand. “Shall we?”
Her eyes widened, and she gave him a smile that only magnified her beauty. She took his hand, laid her head on his chest, and they started to dance to the song of the Eldalafar, waltzing through the forest as if it were their private ballroom. Soon, he felt the song in her reaching out to the fire in him, and he knew something in her had changed. Her heart had opened up to him in a way it never had before.
In time, they were under the tree again, and he gave her a hand up so she could climb to the lower branches. He followed and sat next to her. After a few moments of silence, Jessa took in a quick breath.
Her hand was on the names “Kieran and Jessara.”
“When did you do this?” she asked.
“I carved that just before you were taken.”
When she looked at him, he felt the anguish she’d carried for ten years. It mingled with his own, and for a time he held her as they wept for all the years they’d lost.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to save you that day,” he whispered into her hair.
She put her hand on his face. “Kieran, I know you tried.”
He wiped the tears from her eyes and then said, “Marposa nish tehai.” In a matter of minutes, Kieran was pleased to see that hun-dreds of butterflies had landed on or around the tree. Many were on Jessa and some were on him.
Jessa’s eyes widened in astonishment. “Did you do this?”
“Just for you, Jess.”
If there had been any doubt in Jessa’s mind about Kieran’s love, this moment had erased it.
She couldn’t believe how many butterflies were here, and she recognized only a few—Monarchs, swallowtails, skippers, fritillaries. They seemed to wear every color of the rainbow. She wished she had time to look at each fluttering jewel.
And then she felt Kieran slow time so she could.
After what seemed like hours, she jumped from the tree and Kieran followed. She leaned into him and put her arms around his waist, feel-ing his heart nestled beside hers.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” she murmured, “and for the butterflies.”
Kieran tipped her chin up and held her eyes with his. “I hoped you would like this.”
She still didn’t understand why or how Kieran loved her, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he did love her.
When he moved in to kiss her, his scent was wild and inviting. As she reached up to kiss him back, she felt the last petal of her heart open and realized the truth. It was time to tell him.
“Kieran, I love you.”
A look of surprise crossed his face. Then he dropped to one knee and tried to speak, but his voice faltered. She took his hand to encourage him.
“Jessara, my Eldala, will you marry me?”
She pulled him up and looked into his stunning eyes. Her heart was beating a rapid staccato, but her voice was steady and sure. “Yes, Kieran, I’ll marry you.”
He wrapped his arms around her, and she drew his head down and kissed him, all the while looking into his eyes. He pulled her closer and kissed her mouth and eyes and neck with a fierce passion he’d never shown before, as if he’d been waiting until now to show her how much he adored her.