Of all the articles printed about me, my favorite dealt with the concept of exceptional times, that someone like me coul ever possibly be standing where I was today. If I didn't want my parents worrying about concussion symptoms, I'd dare to call my journey magical. Magic didn't disappear from the earth when the first light bulbs turned on and curious scientists gathered in university alcoves to discuss its properties. Science is modern magic.
Taking the throne was a big decision afforded by science, and I didn't know if I was making the right choice. Mom wanted recognition of what I've done. Dad asked if they should consider applying for permanent residency. Niklas offered a trial period until the spring. Something about needing to experience the northern lights skiing. He might have been a terrible king, but he knew what I liked.
There was one thing I needed to do while standing in a position of power, and I didn't feel guilty spending money that wasn't mine to do it.
After the last physical therapy session, Marcus and I headed for the boreal forests beyond his family's ranch. Amy had more than tripled in size since the night we first met. Emma requested her return to Svalbard for experiment continuation. Given their sacrifice, I owed the Haalands more than a small favor, but refused to send Amy back. A brown bear can't masquerade as a polar bear forever. She belonged to the forest.
I wondered, come spring, where I would belong.
On my nerves Gull trotted quicker along the snow dust path; Marcus reined Styrke against her shoulder until their hoof beats marched together. "Am I sentencing Amy to certain death? At least with the scientists she'd eat."
"She will learn." He pulled his scarf from his mouth so I could glimpse a sincere smile. "Assuming she does not attack the horses."
There was a real chance she might, if she followed us home this time. "And shelter?"
"She is as resourceful as her human mother. There are many warm caves."
"We ought to bring her back in the spring." Winter closed rapidly on its official calendar date and we'd brought her to the wild north.
"She will survive."
Our horses halted, neither bothered by the trailing bear. Tendrils of white breath rolled into the stars as the polar wind crinkled through frozen pines. "But-"
Marcus looped Styrke's reins through a snapped trunk and after I'd dismounted, secured Gull to a branch nearby. "You fought for this happy ending."
Amy's fur was a few shades duller than the snow. I couldn't look her direction and settled for scuffing pine needles with my boot heel. "This isn't happy."
Marcus took my hands. "Do you know why the stories always end with 'and they lived happily ever after?'" He squeezed gently until I met his eyes. I shook my head; no. "Because we all need something to believe in." His thumb rubbed against the back of my mitten, a tenderness which thrilled more than it should. We both knew he wasn't talking about endings.
A winter-fattened Amy thrust her snout between our knees and saved me from the conversation I couldn't have right now. She rose onto her hind legs. Marcus extended her a hand for the strangest high-five I'd ever seen. "Stay away from our ranch. Pass this along to the others." He rubbed the top of her head. "Good luck, spirit bear."
Words meant nothing, but looking into her eyes, I wished they did. I wanted her to know that we'd be okay, that I'll survive the palace and she'll endure the wilderness. Amy dropped onto four legs an shuffled backward. Two steps and already my cub stood dwarfed by nature. I sighed. "Maybe it's wise, making this our happy ending."
She hesitated, an ivory reflection of the solar winds high above.
"But you don't just get one . Life is a series of short stories. There's more happy endings in store." Tears cooled my cheek. A furry chin found my shoulder and I was conscious of the incredible creature before me. "For both of us."
"Ready?" Marcus asked in a husky voice. The longer I thought the harder leaving got. I threw my arms around her neck. Her tongue lapped my chin. She smelled of dirt and frozen pine. How a bear should.
In the short minute that followed I swore she understood that when we let go, we were done. "Goodbye, Amy." We stood huddled in the cold until the white bear disappeared beneath the dancing lights in the land of the midnight sun.
Book Two teaser:
As May approaches, a recovering Allie decides whether or not the life of a queen is right for her, and who, if anyone, she wants at her side. But killing your ex's mother (who happened to be the former monarch) has inescapable consequences, as she soon learns when the phone rings in the night, setting into motion a scheme that could destroy her life and everything she holds dear.