Just Once - Page 40

“Father . . .” Annika began as the king moved purposely toward Art.

Her father ignored her.

Once the king was standing directly in front of him, Art felt as if he was facing down not a king, but a Nordic berserker of old despite the utter civility of the king's elegantly tailored black attire which highlighted the paleness of features he shared with his daughter. While the king was no more muscular than Art and actually a bit shorter, the fire in the king's eyes lent him the illusion of height and the promise of power.

Art steeled himself.

Then the king embraced him like a long-lost son and whispered, “Thank you.”

Everyone in the vicinity went silent from shock, but none more so than Art and Annika.

Exchanging a look between them that silently asked the question if the other had anything to with this even as they both simultaneously realized that would have been impossible without the other one knowing, Annika rallied her thoughts enough to stammer, “You're not . . . angry?”

“I was at first,” the king admitted with a smile as he stepped a pace back from Art.

“But I thought . . .” Annika began, but her father gently hushed her.

“But how could I stay angry at the father of my beautiful granddaughter?” he asked rhetorically in a voice pitched to carry to the ears of the nearby reporters. As much for their benefit as for anyone else, he added, “A man who not only saved her life, but the life of my beloved daughter not once, but twice, a man my daughter clearly loves with all her heart just as he loves her in return.” Having said his piece, the king took Art and Annika by the hand, and joined their hands together once more.

While Art and Annika stood stock-still, unsure what to do next, a mixed crowd of well-wishers shouting their congratulations, reporters shouting their questions, and security trying to hold everyone else at bay descended upon them.

“Huh,” Caleb muttered, momentarily forgotten by all but a few dedicated security personnel coming to protect him and Gwen as well. “That was . . . unexpected.”

Page 40

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