Edward cupped his hands around Betsy’s cheeks. He savored the velvet of her skin, the silk of her curls, her sweet smile, her soft blue eyes. She was perfect. Every inch of her petite form pleased him, from her curves to the strength he knew hid beneath her uniform.
He took a deep breath, praying he would recite the words he had practiced, had even written down trying to perfect them. If only they would come out without error. He wanted both Betsy and himself to remember this night for the rest of their lives, to tell their children and grandchildren with sighs and smiles, like his parents did.
“Betsy, I know we cannot make plans for our future until after graduation, when we receive our duty assignments. But I want to make my intentions clear so that you will know. I love you, Betsy. I love you and I want to marry you, as soon as possible. I love you enough to even dare ask the Warlord for permission to court you and ask for your hand.”
Betsy blinked rapidly. Her smile widened. She touched his cheek with trembling fingers. “Oh, my beloved Edward,” she whispered. “I do so love you, too.” Mischief crept into her smile. “But don’t say anything to the Warlord yet. He takes his role of my guardian so seriously, he is likely to make a great fuss and threaten to throw you in the dungeon lest you be carried away by your feelings before we take vows. Please, wait until after graduation. I turn 21 that day, and he will be totally different.”
Edward’s eyebrows pinched together. “What is he likely to say then?”
She giggled. “Most likely he will throw his arms around you, weep joyful tears, and thank God I am your problem now!”
He laughed with her, then blinked as the laughter drained out of her like water. “Betsy?”
She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead on his chest. “I love you, Edward. I loved you from the moment I first saw you. But I have secrets, my love. They are a terrible burden, and I cannot reveal them to you until after graduation. Once I do, your heart may change.”
“Secrets?” He tipped her chin up. “Darling, there can be no secret so dire it can change my love for you.”
Her poor attempt at a smile faded quickly. “I hope not. I pray not. I believe with all my heart you are a better man than all others. But like others in the palace, I have borne secrets for the princess my entire life. Sometimes they have caused me to weep into my pillow at night, or scream in frustration at the poor Warlord who could change nothing for me. Many men would either rage at me for only keeping the secrets, and others could not share the burden of my duties once I take them up.”
“I swear, nothing will change my love! We will marry no matter what your duties are!”
“I believe you mean that, now. But please, for my sake, speak no more of our future until you discover what I must keep silent about. The poor Warlord does not deserve to listen to my frustrated screams again.” She made a better attempt at a smile this time.
“Hmph. If I must keep silent for your sake, he may find himself forced to listen to mine!”