Emily was sitting in the common room, engrossed in a game of chess with Janick when Cullen arrived. She knew he was there even though her back was to the door. The deadly hush that descended over the room alerted her as well as the slight tensing of Janick's body.
She made her move and snapped the button of her clock down, passing control of the board to her friend. She heard Cullen approach but kept her eyes fixed to the board.
"I have come as summoned, my Princess," Cullen's sweet voice said close to her. From the corner of her eye she saw his low bow of respect.
"Rise, Cullen," she said quietly. "It pleases me that you are once more in our presence, my husband, even if it did require a royal command."
Janick made his move and passed control of the board back to Emily. She knew both men were watching her closely.
"Would my Princess prefer to conclude our game at a later time?" Janick asked, breaking the silence as Emily studied the board.
"I'm sure my husband would like to spend some time greeting family and friends," she sighed softly. "I know they will be overjoyed to see him again. We will talk when I have concluded my game, Cullen."
She heard a slight hiss as he sucked in his breath. His voice was even when he spoke though. "As my Princess commands," he said quietly and spun on his heels and walked away.
Emily slowly released a long, slow breath and made her move, hitting the clock once she had done so.
"Prevaricating?" Janick asked with a small smile.
She looked at him and saw resignation in his eyes as well as concern for her.
"Just a little, my friend," she smiled softly, patting his hand gently in way of apologising for the hurt she knew he was feeling. "Sometimes I am not in so great a rush to break my heart."
Cullen found her the moment he entered the room. It was as if his eyes were pulled to her against his will. God, she looked so beautiful sitting there with Janick, pouring over a chess board with an expression of deep concentration. Was she deliberately with Janick to try and get a reaction out of him? He held onto his anger at her and strode over.
He seethed when she didn't even look at him after summoning him back so summarily. Her dismissal of him, so she could continue her game, angered him further. His mood was black as he made his way over to Liam, Dorian and Alice. He nodded and sat beside them on the sofa.
"I would say you're looking well, Cullen," Dorian said quietly, "but I believe livid would be a better word?"
Cullen sighed and tried to reign in his temper. "I'm not in a very good mood," he agreed and attempted a smile, his eyes fixed on Emily across the room. "It is not every day a man is summoned home, against his will, by his wife only to be ignored once he has arrived. It does tend to blacken one's mood."
"Oh, Cullen, don't be angry," Alice said gently. "She's just working up the courage to speak with you."
Cullen snorted in disbelief, his eyes dark with emotion. "More likely she is enjoying her power over me," he hissed through clenched teeth.
"Cullen, you know that is not true," Liam sighed, rubbing and weary hand over his eyes. "Emily has been most subdued since she told us you were coming home. You are the one person that she seems incapable of dealing with at the best of times. And these are not exactly the best of times, my friend."
Cullen forced himself to relax and take the scowl from his face. "Do any of you know what she wants of me?" he finally asked.
"It has something to do with Elizabeth," Dorian answered. "That is all we know."
Cullen looked at him in surprise. "Elizabeth?" he asked quietly.
"She came the night Emily summoned you," Dorian explained. "They talked privately for a long time in her room and then Elizabeth emerged. It was evident she had been crying. A while later, Emily came out and said you were coming home and that you were going to file for divorce."
Cullen listened intently, his expression closed and guarded.
"Did you really mean it, Cullen?" Alice whispered, her beautiful face full of anguish. "Are you really going to divorce Emily?"
"Yes," he finally admitted painfully .
He turned to his friends. "We can't keep doing this to each other," he told them. "It has to end. If divorce is the only option then I will file for one."
The sound of hands clapping filled the room and they all turned to see Emily rising from the chess game. Janick rose too and took her hand, bowing his head to kiss it.
"I fear my Princess was distracted this evening," he said with a small smile. "Though I will take the win however I may get it seeing as she usually wipes the floor with me."
Rumbles of laughter filled the room and Emily smiled back at him.
"Hardly, Janick. You win one in five games against me. Which is more than anyone else does," she laughed.
"Still a severe blow to my pride, Highness, when I was once the undefeated champion," he retorted lightly. "Perhaps your husband should come home more often and then my odds for winning would improve immeasurably?"
Emily's smiled tightened slightly as her friend let her know of his deep hurt at Cullen's return. She slowly withdrew her hand from his.
"Deftly done, my friend," Emily responded, letting him know that his barb had hit it's target.
"I take no pleasure with a win in such circumstances, my Princess," Janick said, a hint of remorse in his tone.
"I know, Janick," Emily sighed softly. She smiled once more. "I suppose I must now attend to my husband seeing as I summoned him back so summarily. The joys of marriage." Her tone made it plain that she found no joy in her current circumstances.
She turned to face Cullen. Pain lanced through her as their eyes connected and she saw the pain and anger in his. His beautiful face was so composed in every other way but his eyes screamed at her. She slowly walked towards him, wondering what he was reading in her own eyes.
"Cullen," she said softly when she reached him. "I know this is the last place you want to be and that you're very angry with me for making you come. I ask only that you hear me out before you reach any decisions which cannot be recovered from."
He stared at her a moment and then nodded once.
Emily sighed and turned towards the private quarters. Cullen followed her a fraction of a second later. They walked in silence, each glancing surreptitiously at the other. Emily motioned him to enter their room before her and closed the door behind them.
Cullen turned to face her and she could see his eyes greedily roaming over her as hers where doing to him. It had been so long since she had last seen him. The time without him had seemed so empty and unreal.
"Cullen," she whispered in anguish, her eyes filling with tears. "Please give me one moment, just one, my love."
Strong emotions crossed his face and then he was pulling her into his arms and holding her desperately, his face buried in the side of her neck. They held each other for a long time, their pain radiating around them. Finally Cullen pulled back and moved away from her.
"What did you want to talk about, Emily?" he asked with his back to her, his voice strained.
"It is not I you need to speak with, Cullen," she answered quietly. "You need to speak with Elizabeth."
He turned, his expression puzzled. "Elizabeth?"
Emily nodded. "She will be here soon. She comes every night around about this time. I ask that you hear her out, Cullen. Really listen to her words. If you wish to speak with me once you have done so, I will be in the meeting room. If you choose not to speak to me then you may leave and I will never summon you back again. I will accept our marriage is over and you may have your uncontested divorce."
Cullen stared at her intently, his thoughts confused. What could Elizabeth possibly have to say which would make any difference? His heart ached to see Emily's pain so clearly on her face. His heart ached for his own pain too. Was this finally the end to their relationship? Had they always been doomed to follow this path?
"What will you do if Elizabeth's words make no difference?" he finally asked quietly. "Will you go to Janick?" He felt bitter jealously deep inside as he thought of her with the other man.
"Possibly," she answered truthfully, her expression haunted. "He loves me and I do care a great deal for him. He isn't you but he would love me as fiercely as he could. Maybe he has enough love in his heart for both of us."
Cullen's heart twisted painfully in his chest and he hissed in pain.
"What would you have me do, Cullen?" Emily half sobbed. "If you do not want me must I spent the rest of eternity alone so your feelings are not hurt? Would you consign me to a life of loneliness?"
"No," he ground out through clenched teeth. "I would want you to find what happiness you could, Emily, irrespective of how miserable it made me."
Emily wiped tears from her face and turned to the door.
"I will send Elizabeth through when she arrives," she said quietly. "I will wait for you for one last night, Cullen."
She left the room quietly.
Cullen watched his wife walk away with a haunted expression on his face. He wanted to run after her, stop her from going. To tell her that he'd stay and everything would be all right. Instead he sat down on the side of the bed and buried his head in his hands and cried.
He couldn't bear the thought of Janick touching her, loving her as he once had. He had seen the connection between them. He knew what she felt for the other man was tepid compared to what she felt for him. But Janick wasn't leaving her every five minutes. Janick wasn't breaking her heart with every word that came out of his mouth. Janick would worship her as she deserved to be worshipped.
A knock on the door brought his head up and Elizabeth entered. He stared at his first wife with a surprised expression on his face. She looked so different and yet still the same. The cold, hard edge he had come to know so well was missing. Instead he saw the girl he had fallen in love with when he had first met her.
"Elizabeth?" he said, his expression confused.
"Cullen," she whispered softly, her eyes taking in the tears still wet on his cheeks. She began to weep silently, her back pressed against the door. "How I have wronged you, Cullen," she finally said. "I have wronged Emily too but the worst of my actions have been done to you, Cullen."
She silently crossed the room and knelt at his feet. Tentatively she took his hands in hers, sighing when he allowed her to do so. She gazed up at him, her expression full of anguish.
"I never left you because I hated you, Cullen," she said softly. "I left you because I loved you. I lied so you would let me go. I had to make you hate me so you would give up on me."
"Why?" Cullen whispered, his voice tortured. "I loved you, Elizabeth. You were my entire world back then."
"Did you think I didn't know that?" she sighed. "Did you think I didn't see the deep wounds on your soul with every life I took back then? I was slowly killing you, Cullen. Each time I killed I saw you take responsibility for my actions and I saw it tear you up inside. I could bear it no longer. I had to get away from you so I would stop destroying you."
Cullen was stunned as he listened to her. He stared at their joined hands, his thoughts whirling madly in his head.
"I should have left sooner, Cullen, but I loved you so much," Elizabeth continued. "Perhaps if I had gone sooner then you would have not suffered as greatly as you did. Maybe you would have realised that you weren't responsible for my actions even if you were the one who brought me to this world. You would have eventually allowed yourself to be happy once more."
Her revelation tore at his heart, opening up the feelings of a time long past. His hurt at her rejection. The pain he felt every time she took a life. He groaned deeply and she squeezed his hands gently.
"I'm the one responsible for the killing, Cullen, not you. Stop punishing yourself for it. Please, my love. Absolve yourself of any responsibility you feel. Allow your soul to be healed."
Cullen found himself crying once more. Elizabeth's arms surrounded him and he held onto her as he felt all his carefully built walls tearing down and great waves of pain come crashing through them.
"I tried so hard, Elizabeth," he cried. "I wanted to help you and there was nothing I could do. When you said those things to me it just made everything so much worse. I had created you out of love and you were a monster with no heart, no compassion. I lost faith in myself the day you left me. I couldn't understand how I could be so very wrong about someone I loved so dearly."
"I know, Cullen," Elizabeth wept. "And I'm so very sorry, my love. I'm so sorry my actions ruined your life for so long, denied you the happiness you so deserve. But it's not too late, Cullen. Emily waits for you. Happiness waits for you. You just need to believe in yourself again. It's all right there for you to reach out and grab."
"Emily," Cullen groaned deeply.
"Will forgive you, Cullen," Elizabeth said urgently. "She has such a generous heart. She has even found it in her heart to forgive me despite me being the architect of her deepest heartache."
Cullen swallowed hard and sat up straight. He took Elizabeth's hands gently in his and stared into her beautiful face. He saw the love she still had for him. The love she probably had always felt for him. He would always care about her. She had been his first love and despite everything, there had been moments when they had been blissfully happy.
"I see the girl I first fell in love with before me today," he sighed softly. "She is beautiful and radiant and her heart is as generous as anyone's. I forgive you Elizabeth, for everything. I will always care about you. I was quite astonished when I realised that fact, the day Emily threatened to cut your tongue out. I had thought that I hated you up until that point."
"She was rather intimidating your wife," Elizabeth managed to weak smile. "She was protecting you, Cullen. She somehow knew that my words could still cut you to the quick and she reacted out of her deep love for you. You would have seen it for yourself if your confused feelings for me hadn't gotten in the way."
"Loving each other has never been an issue between Emily and I," he smiled. "Staying together has been a bit more of a challenge," he added ruefully.
"Are you at peace with yourself now, Cullen?" Elizabeth asked anxiously. "Can you now finally accept that you are blameless in all this?"
"I can, Elizabeth, thanks to you," he answered, his expression thoughtful. "I owe you a deep debt of gratitude. I know doing this must break your heart at least a little, Elizabeth."
She smiled wanly at him. "A little," she admitted. "But the happiness and closure it brings me is an adequate reward. I can now move on with my life and hopefully find a love as special as you have found. Don't hurt her anymore, Cullen. Let her in, trust in her and trust in yourself."
Cullen hugged her to him and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I will always be your friend, Elizabeth. If you ever have need of me then just call. I will do what I can to help."
"Thank you, Cullen, but I think I'll give you and Emily a bit of a break from my interference for a while," she laughed. "I think you both deserve it. A second honeymoon sounds like a place for you both to start."
Cullen smiled, the haunted look gone from his eyes to be replaced with hope. "If I can tear her away from her duties."
"Just go out to the common room and tell that lot you're taking your wife away on honeymoon. I think you'll find them eager to help you pack her suitcase," Elizabeth laughed again. "They long to have their Princess happy once more."
Emily sat quietly upon Alexander's throne in the meeting room. Her heart was racing as she wondered how Cullen was responding to Elizabeth's admission. Was he listening to her or were her words falling on deaf ears?
"I think the King would be most surprised to see your lack of respect of his throne," Janick laughed softly as he came into the meeting room to find Emily sitting sideways upon the throne, her legs across one arm.
Emily turned her head and smiled at him as he approached. "I think my Grandfather has given up on being surprised at my actions by now," she smiled.
Janick took a seat on the dais steps, sitting low enough that he could look up and see her face.
"You wait for Cullen," he said softly, his expression resigned.
"I wait for Cullen," she echoed, her voice quiet and introspective.
"Do you think he will come?" Janick asked.
Emily sighed. "I have no idea, my friend. I sit here and I hope he will. I've been trying to ask my intuition what the outcome of this night will be but it appears to have deserted me. I can only wait and hope."
"I find myself feeling most confused, Emily," Janick finally said when the silence between them stretched on. "Part of me hopes he doesn't come so that I may have a chance with you. The other part of me hopes he will come so I may once more see your eyes sparkle with happiness and love. It's very vexing."
Emily had to smile at his rueful tone. "Oh, Janick, it breaks my heart to know you suffer so, my friend. I am sorry that I am the cause of such confusion for you."
Janick laughed softly. "It is I who am the cause of my own confusion, Emily. You have been very clear about your feelings for me. I am not him and I never could be. I accepted that fact a long time ago. The fault is not yours, sweet Emily, it is mine."
"Even still, I hate to see a friend in such pain, Janick," Emily sighed. "I care about you deeply, my friend."
"That's half your problem, Emily. You spend all your time caring about everyone else that you do so to the exclusion of your own happiness. It is a noble thing to do but it is also incredibly stupid too."
Emily burst out laughing. "Don't hold back now, Janick," she laughed. "Speak your mind."
"My apologies, Highness," he said soberly. "I overstep the mark."
"Nonsense, my friend," she smiled. "I ask you constantly for your counsel. I would be a poor ruler if I became annoyed with you for doing as I ask. Your words are valid, Janick, though it is sometimes the burden of one who rules to sacrifice what they want for the greater good. I must confess that I'm getting heartily sick of it myself."
"You give to us all so unreservedly, Emily," Janick sighed. It is time that you took something for yourself."
"It is not mine to take, Janick," she said quietly. "It is his to give. If he chooses not to then I must find a new path to travel."
"I've always said Cullen was a fool," he snorted, his tone annoyed. "How any man could walk away from what you offer so freely, I am at a loss to comprehend. A man would have to be mad to do so. Or gay," he added as an after thought.
Emily burst out laughing again. "You never cease to make me smile, Janick," she laughed. "No matter what the outcome is tonight, will you always be my friend?" her tone held a hint of a plea.
"You know I will, Emily," he said softly. "Though, if Cullen stays, it may be a bit difficult. He may not approve of our friendship knowing how I feel about you."
Emily frowned. "There is always that," she admitted.
Janick hated to see the frown on her face. He smiled and tried to lighten the atmosphere.
"However, he may feel generous at having his wife back and take pity on a poor soul," he quipped.
"He would indeed feel generous towards the man who had cared for and supported his wife in his absence," Cullen said suddenly from the deep shadows beside the door. He had entered the room not far behind Janick but had stood silently and listened to their conversation.
Janick jumped up in surprise as Emily gasped in shock when he spoke.
To be continued....