“It’s been two days! I’ve waited long enough.” The door burst open to reveal Damien pushing Helena away as she tried to usher him out.
“Your majesty, I’m so sorry-”
“Not now, woman. Alexandra, I need to speak with you. It’s urgent.”
Nodding to Helena, I slipped out of the bed. “Would you sit with her? This shouldn’t take long.” I led Damien out of the bedroom, closing the door most of the way. “I want to make one thing clear. You will respect my staff and call them by name, understand?”
He glared inside the bedroom before relenting. “Fine, please, accept my apology.”
I crossed my arms, nodding and waiting for him to continue. “Now, what is so important you felt the need to barge in at a time like this?”
He gestured to the marble bench, sitting me down. “The advisors and I have been discussing your future, and they agreed it’s time for you to consider marriage.” He took my hands. “After all, you are of age-”
I ripped my hands away, standing up. “So this is what you’ve been doing? Deciding my future? You’ve not spoken a word to me since you first met Zinnia, and now you expect to just plan my life?”
He stood up to tower over me. “With all due respect, your majesty, you still have obligations to your kingdom.”
“This could’ve waited, and you know that.” I turned away.
He gripped my shoulder. “I don’t like the way your gardener has monopolized your time.”
I whirled around. “I’m taking care of Zinnia. Of course it’s going to take my time!”
Damien scoffed, letting a dry laugh escape. “She’s been intruding since she got here.”
“Intruding on what? It’s not as if she forced her way into the castle.”
“No, but she’s certainly driven a wedge between us, hasn’t she?”
I took a step back, colliding with the wall. “There hasn’t been an ‘us’ for a long time, Damien.”
He closed the gap between us, cornering me. “How can you say that?”
“You’re not the man I grew up with, and we both know it.”
He threw his head back, cackling. “I’m so glad I’m not that witless child anymore.”
I cringed, turning away. “I don’t know when, but somehow, you lost your humanity. I’m not a pawn you can control.”
He cupped my chin, forcing me to face him as he leaned down. “You may not be a pawn, but I could control you just as well.” He released me, strolling down the hall without another word.
I rushed back into the bedroom, locking the door behind me. Helena sat shushing Zinnia as she trembled, gasping.
“What happened?” I raced over, taking Zinnia’s hand.
“She started shaking almost as soon as you left with him. It got worse when he started all the commotion.”
I gripped her hand, running my thumb across her knuckles. “I’m here now, don’t worry.” I sat beside her on the bed, placing my hand to her forehead. “She’s cold. Helena-”
“I’ll get the doctor, stay here.”
I nodded as she left the room, appearing with the doctor in tow a minute later.
He checked her heartbeat, shaking his head as he grasped her free hand. “It’s like the first night you found her. What happened?”
I refused to meet his eyes, staring at Zinnia as she shivered. “Damien burst in and dragged me away so he could speak with me. It turned into an argument, and when he left, I came back to see her like this.”
“The stress must’ve taken a toll on her. You must try to keep her as calm as possible in order for her body to rest properly.”
“Yes, of course. I will.” I looked up at the doctor. “Thank you.”
“Call me if there are any more changes, your majesty.”
Helena and I watched him leave, and she took to my side as he shut the door behind him.
“Poor girl, getting all worked up cause Damien had to shove his way in here.”
“He’s gone now, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother her again. I wish there was more I could do.”
Helena rested her hand on my back. “Dear, you’ve been keeping her company this whole time. She needs you.”
I kissed Zinnia’s cheek, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear as her breathing slowed. “I hope she wakes up soon. I miss her. I know she’s right here but-”
“I understand. It’s natural to feel that way when you care that much for someone.” Helena smiled down at her. “She’s a wonderful girl.”
“I know she’s only been here a short time, but I can’t imagine living without her now.” I held her closer, tucking the blankets around us.
Helena leaned over us, kissing the top of my head before she headed out. “You two make a lovely couple.”
My head popped up, but before I could protest, the door clicked shut. I looked out the window, tracing the silhouettes of flowers with my eyes before I looked down at Zinnia once more.
I watched her chest rise and fall as I pressed my lips against her forehead, smiling. “Wake up soon, darling.” I laid back with Zinnia in my arms, letting myself fall asleep to the sound of her steady breathing.
A breeze trickled in with the morning sun, and a peppermint aroma woke me. I shifted in bed to see Helena opening the window. I smiled, looking down at Zinnia. My breath caught in my throat as her eyes flickered open. She groaned, trying to shift, so I helped her sit up. I slid over and propped a pillow behind her.
Her eyes widened and she stared from me to Helena, opening her mouth to speak. Before she could say a word, I wrapped my arms around her, burying my head into her shoulder.
“Don’t suffocate the poor girl, now. She just woke up.” Helena pried me away, offering Zinnia a glass of water.
Zinnia took it in both hands, bringing it to her mouth and gulping it down in seconds before handing it back. Helena poured her another, telling her to sip at it.
“I’m sure you’re starving, huh? I’ll be right back.”
Zinnia nodded, and Helena smiled, slipping out of the room. I started to shift out of the bed, but a hand on my shoulder stopped me. I turned back and forced myself to meet Zinnia’s stare.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am for the way I treated you. This was my fault. If I hadn’t been so cold, you wouldn’t have pushed so hard.” I took a deep breath, blinking to avoid crying. “I’m so happy you’re awake, and I swear, I’ll make it up to you. Can you forgive me?”
She rested her hand over mine, smiling. “How could I not? I heard everything.”