Mihai nodded his head and walked out, heading toward Theresa’s room. He was surprised to find it empty. After several inquiries he discovered that she had gone to the observatory.
Mihai had spent hours in the observatory as a boy with his astronomy tutor and then by himself mapping out the irregular patterns of the planets. Venus fascinated him the most since the sun obscured it often because of its closeness to the horizon. He loved to hunt for Venus in the sky, and celebrated with delight when he found the brilliant planet close to the horizon, threatening to steal away from him again by darting just underneath his line of sight.
He crept quietly up the steps, holding a candle to light his way. Theresa was probably still upset and he had no idea how to deal with that. Then he caught the faintest smell of smoke, but this wasn’t the smoke from a man’s cigar. It was light, airy, and easy to breathe. He closed his eyes, remembering how his mother would burn this type of smoke from time to time in her study. Finally he came to the door; it was cracked open. Candlelight peeked through the crack. Not knowing what he would find, he walked inside.
She appeared stunned and lunged for her cards, assembling them. “What are you doing here?”
“I want to talk to you about Alexandra. What were you doing?” He stood over her as she hurriedly gathered her items. Tarot cards? His heart thumped in his chest. His mother would read tarot cards on occasion. Only witches would possess such things! As the realization that Theresa may be involved in witchcraft flooded his body, he cupped his face and stepped back. Theresa just couldn’t be a witch!
“I’m playing with cards,” Theresa retorted. “What could you possibly say to me about your mistress? That I must accept the fact you love her and she’s having your baby?”
Mihai dropped his hands and raised his chin, aware this conversation wasn’t about his fears and misgivings. Not yet. Right now, Theresa’s hard, piercing eyes bored into him. This was about Alex.
“I’m sorry she treated you so poorly. That’s not how I wanted you to find out. I should have told you. It was a bad choice on my part to hesitate so long. I’m very sorry.” He had to make better choices, he determined, especially if he was to succeed as a monarch.
“I just didn’t expect to have to deal with your mistress.”
“She’s having my child, which makes her a big part of my life. I will support Alexandra and stand by her; however, I will discuss her actions with her. What she did was inappropriate.” Mihai’s eyes darted away from his bride-to-be.
Theresa stood up and placed her pack of cards on the table as she brushed off her hands. “Why don’t you just marry her?”
“It isn’t what I want.”
“Don’t you love her?”
“My feelings for Alexandra are complicated and I don’t feel like talking about them right now.”
“Just what do you feel like talking about? Do you even care for me? This past week you have yet to show any affection toward me.”
“Theresa, I enjoy your company. You make me laugh. You make me feel like part of the conversation and not the object of it,” he replied. His nose twitched at the lingering incense. He was confused by the unspoken signals of her possible involvement in witchcraft. A part of his heart wanted to believe she was innocent of it. Theresa froze in place, as if taken off-guard by his remarks.
He walked into her personal space and this time put his hand on her arm. He had wanted to touch her a million times, but always pulled back at the last minute, afraid of what would happen. This wasn’t about love. It was about having the right queen for Moldavia. Theresa was better suited to queenship than Alexandra, and he didn’t want an unpleasant relationship with the woman who would reign with him.
“I make you laugh?”
“I don’t mean to insult you,” he began, pausing slightly. “I know this is a short span of time, but I’ve become comfortable with the fact that I’m going to marry you.”
“You make our marriage sound like a duty to you.”
He cupped her chin with his fingers, forcing her to look at him. “I do have a duty to marry, and I want it to be pleasant between us,” He paused. “But I do have a concern. I have to ask you something, and I don’t expect you to lie about the answer.”
“Are you a witch?”
“I won’t tolerate such practices in Moldavia. I won’t have a witch for a wife.”
“That’s ridiculous, Mihai! I’m not a witch. Why on Earth would you ask me such a thing?”
“You play with tarot cards, and you burn a witch’s incense. What I am suppose to believe?”
“Well, I don’t mutter spells and I don’t curse people. My family grew up exploring the mystical aspects of life yes, but not witchcraft.” Her eyes blazed with indignation.
The candles cast flickering shadows over her face. She looked like his mother in that second, pure, yet haunted by past disappointments.
“I want you to be my wife, but you must accept I am committed to Alexandra, and you must promise never to explore the art of witchcraft,” Mihai continued, his voice barely edged with control. The starlight brought out the red highlights of her hair. His physical attraction to her lithe frame was getting harder to hide by the second.
“Why does that disturb you so?”
“There are too many legends about Romanian beasts that give my country a foul reputation. Witches are bad, Theresa, but werewolves and even vampires can’t be denied in this part of the world either. I’m moving this principality forward and I won’t have the taint of such evil legends touch the royal family.”
She stepped back from him. “I’ll do as you ask.”
Their eyes locked. He leaned forward, reaching for her. She tried to push him away, but Mihai held her firmly. God, yes, he wanted to hold her. He’d been aching too since their time at the winery.
She put her hands on his chest, but didn’t push. He wrapped his arms around her and they stumbled backwards. He pinned her to the stone wall. Part of him wanted to kiss her until she fell into his arms and part of him thought the best thing to do was leave right now and never look back. Blood pulsed through his veins. She stirred his desire, and damn him, he couldn’t deny it. With one hand, he cupped her cheek again, forcing their eyes to meet.
“I love you,” she whispered.
He froze. How could she be in love with him after such a short period of time? Alexandra had professed the same feelings shortly after meeting him. The difference was that he hadn’t slept with Theresa yet. Alexandra’s want and need was never as genuine as the want he felt emanating from Theresa.
“How can you say you love me, Theresa? How do you know?”
“I just do, Mihai. You were meant for me and I was meant for you. It’s in the stars.”
“I don’t believe in the stars.”
“Well, they speak to you now. Venus is in the sky tonight.”
Mihai was stunned by her words. “How do you know about Venus?”
“I just know.”
“Swear to me you are not a witch, Theresa.”
He remembered in London when he had tried to impress Alexandra with knowledge of the night sky. Her confession about how it bored her had stung him deeply. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them.
“I believe you.”
Then, as if he couldn’t hold back anymore, he kissed her. She tried to turn her head, but he raised his hand to hold her cheek still. She had denied being a witch and he accepted her denial. Nothing else mattered now. She was his.
She put her hands on his shoulders and then, as if embarrassed to admit her desires, she dropped them to her sides.
His lips dropped to her neck and he began to nip gently at her tender skin. His hands squeezed her waist. He should pull away, give her space, give her time to get used to their situation, but he couldn’t. He wanted her.
She put her hands on his chest and he thought she was going to push him away. Instead, after a moment’s hesitation, she ran her hands up over his muscles to his shoulders again.
He almost lost every vestige of control he had. He grabbed her hands, tearing ore himself away from her. “We should wait.”
“Wait? For what? We are engaged.”
“I won’t rush what’s happening between us.”
“And what is happening between us?”
Mihai swallowed. It took every ounce of strength he had to hold back. “I don’t know - all I know is that this is different with you. You cared enough to learn Romanian. You converted to my religion. You like wine and the stars and yachting. You have an interesting family, and your stories about how you grew up make me laugh. Knowing we have this in common excites me.”
“Theresa, don’t press me. This is all new to me. I need time to get used to being back in Moldavia. I need time to get used to my duties and responsibilities, which include taking care of Alexandra. I need you to be patient with me.”
“Patience was never my strong suit.” Theresa brushed past him and reached for her cards.
He put a hand on her shoulder. Words failed him.
She kept her back turned to him. Nothing else was said. Together, they blew out the candles and incense and he followed her down the steps.
How can this woman affect me so? How on Earth did she know about Venus? How can a normal woman take only two months to learn Romanian when it should take longer? She denies being a witch, and I believe her, but I can’t have her experimenting with any more tarot cards or incense. I believe her interest in me is genuine and I want that from the woman who must be in my life. Alexandra can never give that to me.
He saw Theresa to her room, and when she shut the door, he collapsed against the wall next to it and took a deep breath, trying to settle his racing heart.
4 Stars, Foreword Clarion Reviews
4 Stars, Floyd Orr, IUniverse reviewer