Author's Note: Thanks so much to everyone who's read and reviewed this story. This is the last chapter before the epilogue—I'm kind of sad it's over. Anyway, I hope you like it!

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Blue Skies

When Darren got back to the carriage and awoke the startled driver, Aidan was still unconscious. He laid her across the seat as they rolled down the road.

He pushed a strand of her golden hair to the side, marveling at the contours of her face. Her closed eyes, her slightly pointed nose, her porcelain skin that made her pink lips stand out.

This might be the last chance he ever got to kiss her, Darren thought, running a finger over her lips. He lingered there for a moment, and then abruptly, he pulled his hand away and sat back in his seat.

There was nothing but farmland between his uncle's house and home, and it was three hours before they found an inn.

Aidan opened her eyes slowly, waking to the sight of Darren, who was still sleeping. She smiled at the familiar picture, and then realized suddenly that the room was not familiar.

For the first time in her life, she was outside of Lord Marcus Farmond's estate. Aidan felt her heart beat faster.

She slid out of bed and padded silently towards the window. She'd never seen a window, but Darren had certainly complained about the lack of them in his uncle's house.

Aidan pulled aside the curtain, and early morning sunlight streamed into the room. The land surrounding was awash in a million shades of green. Tracts of land, some with narrow, red-brown footpaths winding through them, but in the end always green, stretched out as far as she could see.

She turned the latch and pushed open the glass panes, letting the outside world hit her with full force. Thoughts of the night before drifted into her head, but before her fears could fully take shape again a breeze blew up from outside. She gasped at the feeling of the cool, soft air blowing against her skin.

Aidan stood by the window with her eyes closed, soaking up the wind and the sun until she could stand it no longer—she had to get outside, not just view the world through the window.

She glanced at Darren, but he was still sleeping. She wondered if he would be angry with her if she woke him up.

She changed out of her wrinkled nightgown into the simple, knee-length skirt and white shirt that had been provided.

Darren was still sleeping.

The sweet smell of the earth was flooding into the room, carried by the breeze.

She decided to wake Darren up.

"Darren." She said softly. "Darren, wake up."

He didn't stir.

"Darren, wake up!" She said louder this time.

He didn't move.

Aidan shook him. "Darren!"

He opened his eyes blearily. "What?"

"Wake up!"

He groaned and turned over. "It's too early."

Aidan was determined. "Darren!"

"Emmph."

She yanked the covers off of him.

"Hey!" He said, glaring at Aidan.

"I want to go outside!" She said, bouncing eagerly onto the bed.

"It'll still be there in hour." He said grumpily.

"I don't want to wait an hour!" She cried impatiently, grabbing his ankle and pulling him from the bed.

"Hey!" He yelled with surprise, grabbing onto the bedpost.

He let go of the bedpost, falling to the ground with a thump and sending Aidan reeling backwards. Lying on the floor, they collapsed into laughter.

"Are you awake yet?" Aidan asked when she had finally stopped laughing.

"Alright, I am." He said grudgingly. "Just give me a few minutes to get dressed."

It was one of those perfect days. When the air is warm but not quite hot. When the sky is a cobalt blue, marred only by white puffy clouds resting in the sky and casting their wide shadows over the land.

The air was fresh and sweet, and Aidan's eyes were wide with wonder. She'd been given a pair of thronged sandals, but had almost immediately kicked them off, wanting to feel the earth under her feet.

It was nothing like the soft carpets at what had always been home. The ground was rough, uneven, and Aidan felt as though she good almost taste it through her feet.

"You never told me the sky was blue." Aidan murmured.

"I always thought you knew."

She shook her head with wonderment, unable to take her eyes off the blue expanse.

They walked down a dirt path that wound past the fields, wandering amid the sea of green.

"That's corn." Darren pointed to the field on Aidan's left. "In a months time, it'll be as high as your head."

"I don't believe you!"

"It's true, I promise." Darren said with a laugh. He fingered the small brass key in his pocket nervously, unsure of how to do what he wanted to.

"What on earth to they do with it when it gets that high?"

"They wait for the vegetable inside to become yellow, and then it is picked and eaten."

"Yellow? I still don't believe you."

Darren brushed her hair away from her neck, twisting her collar until he found the lock.

"What are you doing?" She asked without really caring. "You don't have to make it tighter—I can't take it off."

He turned the key, and with a small click the lock came unfastened.

Aidan froze when she heard the sound of the lock, her eyes darting to Darren. He pulled the leather band off her neck and placed it in her hand with the little brass key.

Aidan brought her other hand to her bare neck. Darren realized she was trembling, staring at the leather band in her hand.

"Really?" She asked Darren.

"Really."

She took the collar and threw it as far as she could, and the band of leather spun off far into the field. She dropped the key into the dirt, and ground it into the earth with her bare foot.

Suddenly, she took off and sprinted down the road. "Darren!" She called back to him. "Tell me to come back."

"Come back." He yelled at her.

"NO!" She said, and laughed wildly. "NO!"

"Tell me to do something else." Aidan said when she had stopped laughing and Darren had caught up with her.

"Sit down." He told her.

"NO!"

"Run into the cornfield."

"NO!"

"Spin around."

"NO!" She cried again, and with each negative she laughed harder, until the tears were streaming down her face so quickly she could hardly see.

"I will do whatever I want to and whenever I want to do it, and I will never have to do anything anyone tells me!" She told him. "If I want to sleep till noon every morning, then I will! And if I want to eat pancakes hanging upside-down from the window, then I will!"

Darren laughed. "Why on earth would you want to do that?" He asked her.

"I don't!" She cried. "And so I won't!" She laughed again, loud and long and impolitely, yet she'd never been more beautiful to Darren.

She ran down the path, intoxicated with her freedom. Darren hurried to catch up with her, but she turned around and ran back at him, threw her arms around him and kissed him. "And whenever I want to kiss you," she said as they parted. "I will!"

She laughed and kissed him again, a long, deep kiss as she flooded herself in his taste and smell and the feel of his lips against her own.