Promise Me

(3 customer reviews)

Sven is a grieving widower and the father of five. In a deathbed promise, he vows to live and love again. For his children and for himself, he must honor the promise.

Maeve is alone and frightened. Frightened of going hungry; frightened of life without her parents. Most of all, she is frightened of the brutish Simms men who want her for their own.

When Maeve seeks protection at Journey’s End, she and Sven both get a second chance at life and love. Can Sven move out of the shadow of his wife’s grave? Can Maeve find the security and love she desires in his arms? Will Sven keep his promise?

This is book five in the Journey’s End series and can be enjoyed independently.

Publisher’s Note: This historical western romance contains elements of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, sensual scenes, adult themes, and power exchange. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.

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Sample Chapter

Prologue

The men of Journey’s End gathered, bare-chested, around the well and passed the dipper of cool water from hand to hand. Throats coated with the grime of harvest welcomed the liquid like a forest on fire welcomes rain.

To a man, they were tired, exhausted, fatigued and drained. Late summer meant harvest and preparation for winter. Corn and potatoes had been stored in the cellar. The garden’s harvest of tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and beets sat in baskets ready to be canned. The children had gathered raspberries and strawberries to be made into jam, and apples hung like ripe rubies from fruit laden limbs. After they were picked, the women would select the most perfect ones to store for eating. They would make apple butter, applesauce and filling for pies with the rest. Nothing was wasted. Nothing left unused.

Today the five men harvested hay. Hay that would sustain both the cattle and horses through the winter months. It was back breaking work of long hours spent bent low to the ground swinging a scythe in relentless rhythm, but pride at their progress rippled like a swift undertow hidden beneath a surface of calm.

Sven poured a dipper over his white-blond hair and thrashed his head from side-to-side pelting the others with flying drops of water.

“Sven,” Lars protested through a laugh. “Stop that, brother.”

“Let’s get cleaned up and see what the girls have made for supper.” Sven motioned toward the pump. When all five were buttoned into fresh shirts, they headed for the house with the reserve of a stampeding herd.

Sven opened the door, and the five men stepped through and drew a collective breath. The five women and eleven children scattered through the room were their real treasure. They were honor bound to protect and provide for them, keep them safe, nourish them.

Journey’s End was a wistful name for a ranch, half promise and half prayer. For the five families, it was home, bountiful in comfort and beauty. Blessed with rain and sunshine in their season, the ranch flourished.

Journey’s End was kissed by the gods and blessed with prosperity, or so, dear reader, it seemed.

Chapter One

 

“Promise me, Sven.” Caroline leaned against the door with one hand on the frame and the other supporting her rounded belly.

“Now, Caroline.” Sven’s voice was low, soothing. “Nothing’s going to happen. You’ll be just fine. You’ve delivered four healthy babies. This time won’t be any different.” His kiss on her damp forehead was a loving brand.

“Promise me,” she demanded a second time.

He smoothed her black hair with a gentle hand. “All right. I promise.”

“Say it,” Caroline hissed the words through gritted teeth as a contraction seized her belly. Her brow furrowed.

He waited for her concentration to relax. “I promise if things go wrong, I will keep on living.”

“And?” she insisted.

“And loving.” He pulled her close for one long embrace before she disappeared into their room and the serious business of bringing forth new life. Caroline insisted on this vow before each birth, and Sven complied with reluctance. But if it relieved her mind, he’d promise to fly to the moon and back.

“Thank you.” She rewarded him with the ghost of a smile. “Go join the men. I’ll see you after.”

The door shut with a decisive click. Sven listened to the voices speaking from behind the barrier of wood. The doctor’s voice, low and rumbly. His brother’s wife, Ellie’s, quiet and lilting. He chuckled when the baby, Freya, gave a squeak. Ellie had taken her month-old infant into the room with her. The child would need to nurse during the night, and Ellie would not leave Caroline alone in her travail.

The two women were closer than most sisters. His black-haired, elfin Caroline, and Ellie, the red-haired little hellion his brother had wed. Neither one was over five feet nor one hundred pounds, but they were mighty powerful in their own way just the same.

Sven shrugged broad shoulders and sighed. He’d not be allowed into his own bedroom until they presented him with a swaddled infant in the arms of a tired, triumphant wife.

As he stepped onto the porch, four heads swiveled in his direction. He held his hands up and let them fall. “Now we wait.”

Lars tipped his head toward an empty chair and a full glass of whiskey. Sven sank into the seat and took a deep draw of the amber liquid. The ritual of waiting began. The five men joined in sympathy, passing the time, passing the bottle.

Sven’s eyes swept the half circle of houses that had been built in the order of arrival at Journey’s End. His and Caroline’s house stood in pride of place as the first building. They’d arrived first, bought the land, and founded the ranch. Their four children, Micah, Mary, Elin and Karl were between the ages of one and eight. They’d decided to name the new one after the dear friends they’d left behind in Texas, the Wayne’s. John for a boy. Marcie for a girl.

His brother and sister-in-law, Lars and Ellie, lived next door. Their oldest, Annika, was five. Two boys, Erik and Anders, followed. Baby Freya was asleep in the room with her mother and Caroline waiting for the new arrival.

The third house belonged to Ellie’s brother, Mitch, and his wife, Melody. Identical twins, Rose and Lily, were their two-year-old hellions. Sven shuddered at the thought of the mischief they would create in future years.

Melody’s twin sister, Harmony, and her husband occupied house number four. They also had two-year-old twins, Matthew and Mark. Two at a time ran in their family. Lord Almighty, one at a time was plenty enough for him.

The last house belonged to Rowdy and Susannah. Beyond that was the barn, woodshed, and his workshop. Further afield was a second barn and the large, reinforced arena where Rowdy housed and trained horses. The man was purely a miracle when it came to those four legged beasts. He could turn an abused animal sweet and a wild one tame.

“We were just thinking we’d continue bringing in the hay,” Lars stated.

“What?” Sven asked. “I guess I was gathering wool.”

“We plan to bring in more hay. We’ll get back to it tomorrow, but you should spend the day with Caroline and the new one,” Lars repeated.

“I should help with the haying,” Sven said. “It’s a powerful lot of work.”

“Won’t make a dime’s worth of difference if you take a day off,” Mitch added his voice to Lars’.

Sven gulped more whiskey. House building and haying were two of the tasks all five men worked on together. It was back-breaking work achieved under a blazing August sky, but they didn’t want to purchase hay over the winter. That was a waste of cash money. Journey’s End was prosperous and make no mistake about that, but it was due to hard work and planning. So, for a week at the end of summer, the five men put aside their usual tasks and went as a group, scythes in hand, to cut, gather, and store the feed for their livestock.

“We’ll see,” Sven replied.

The whiskey bottle continued its journey from hand to hand as the sky turned from purple to black and stars popped out like sequins sewn to a velvet dress. They discussed the cattle and the horses and laughed at memories of children, dogs and chickens. Sunrise had thrown an arm over the horizon in a blaze of gold and pink before they heard a small cry followed by a louder, angrier one.

Lars gave Sven’s arm a playful punch. “Looks like your baby’s here and none too happy about it.”

The men waited for a bit before turning expectant eyes to the door. Ellie would appear any minute now with a bundle of baby in her arms and a blazing grin on her face. She’d introduce Sven to his youngest child and invite him in to speak to his tired wife.

They waited.

They shifted from foot to foot.

They waited.

Anxiety rippled around the porch like a rattler curled on the porch and shaking his tail.

Finally and at last, the door opened, but the Ellie who stepped through did not hold the precious bundle, and her lips quivered. Her red-rimmed eyes were flooded with tears and her cheeks streaked with the tracks of the same.

“Oh, Lars,” Ellie wailed before falling into her husband’s arms, sobbing and pummeling his chest with tiny fists.

Fear rushed through Sven’s body in floods of rising heat.

“Caroline?” Her name a question and a prayer. He pushed past them and covered the distance to their bedroom in long, swift strides.

Doc Wilson, his shirt sleeves rolled to the elbow, turned from the bed. His hands were covered in blood. His pants and shirt front splattered red. Sven pushed him aside and the doctor stumbled and fell heavily into the wall. Then he saw. Saw his sweet Caroline lying waxen on the bed. Her nightgown pushed to her waist, and her legs splayed with a pile of scarlet towels thrust against her private parts.

Sven fell to his knees and pulled the still warm body into his desperate embrace.

“Caroline?” he whispered.

“Caroline?” he repeated and dragged her closer still.

A growl, a howl, a wail, a keening filled the room. Grief deep and dark. Grief bottomless and black and consuming swept over him like a sudden, squalling storm. Sven seized his wife’s hand and laced his fingers through hers. How often they had walked just that way. Sven slowing his steps by half to accommodate her shorter stride. Since childhood, her fingers snug between his had signaled peace, belonging, and love.

“Caroline,” he begged. His head fell to her breast, and he felt the cooling of her blood and the hardening of her limbs.

“She’s gone, Sven.” The doctor had pulled himself upright and approached the bed. “After the baby was born, she hemorrhaged. I couldn’t stop it. I tried.” He held his hands up in supplication. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? Sorry won’t bring my wife back,” Sven raged. “Get out.” He pointed a shaking finger at the door.

Lars and Ellie had entered the room and stood, white-faced, and surveyed the holocaust of blood. Lars caught the doctor’s eye and tipped his head toward the door. The doctor nodded and slipped from the room.

“Ellie.” Lars gave her arm a little shake. “Take care of the baby.”

An infant lay shaking with insult in the cradle she shared with Ellie’s baby, Freya. The doctor had placed her there before turning his futile efforts toward the child’s mother. Now her tiny limbs shook with anger and a thin, piercing cry passed her toothless gums. Freya stirred, but settled back to sleep when Ellie removed her noisy cradle mate.

“Now, now, little Marcie. You’re going to be fine.” Ellie swaddled the squalling infant and used part of the blanket to wipe the fluids of birth more completely from her face. The baby turned her mouth towards Ellie’s breast and sought sustenance.

“You’re hungry,” Ellie cooed. “I can help you. Freya won’t mind sharing.” She unbuttoned her blouse and pulled a plump breast free. Stroking the newborn baby’s cheek with her milky nipple, she encouraged the child to seize and suckle. When crying morphed into a satisfied hum, she relaxed into a chair with the baby to her breast.

Lars placed a hand on his brother’s shaking shoulder. “Oh, Sven, I’m sorry, so sorry. We all love… loved Caroline.” His voice quaked and cracked. He pulled a blanket over the dead woman’s naked limbs. Caroline had been a shy woman. She would be distressed at this immodesty.

Sven turned a despair ravaged face to his brother. “What will I do without her, Lars? I don’t know how…” Emotion clogged his throat.

Lars pulled a chair to the side of the bed. “Sit right here, brother, and rest a while. Ellie and I will take the babies and give you some time alone with your wife. When you’re ready, come on out, and we’ll start on the business of honoring our dead.”

Sven heard the click as the door closed, in the distance, as if through a fog or a deep sleep. He lifted himself from the floor and dropped into the chair. Leaning elbows on thighs, he studied his silent wife. They’d always been polar opposites. She was tiny with hair so black it glowed blue when the sun hit it just right. Her eyes were deep, dark, startling blue. He was big and white-blond with eyes the color of ice. Her Viking cowboy, she’d called him.

Caroline was his first, his only, love. They’d been childhood sweethearts. He picked up her hand and cradled it between his two larger ones. Now, they’d had their struggles, make no mistake about that, but they’d emerged stronger and more devoted. He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.

That damned promise. He always hated it, but Caroline insisted. It just wasn’t possible. His heart would keep beating. That treacherous organ had a mind of its own. If he could lay down beside her and will it to stop, he would. But he needed to care for their children. Caroline would expect it of him. His heart gave a painful lurch. The children – oh, how they would grieve and miss their mother. He would need to be strong for them, but how could he? How could he be strong for them when he felt like lying down and howling until he was weak through and through?

All right, he would go on living. He really hadn’t any other choice. But loving? Absolutely not. There would be no other woman for him. No love. He refused.

Sven had once been a preacher and sat with other husbands in their grief and offered comfort. What a fool he’d been. The platitudes rang through his mind now with hollow mockery. Time would heal. The Lord was waiting with open arms. Their wives had gone to a better place. Man must accept God’s will and bow to his plan.

He patted Caroline’s hand and twisted the gold band of their union around her stiff finger. Raising his eyes to her face, he memorized her dear features. She did look peaceful, at rest. There was no anxiety, or pain, or fear. Maybe he’d not been wrong when he’d counseled other husbands. Perhaps she was, right now, sheltered in the Lord’s arms, laying down all her earthly burdens and entering eternal peace.

He’d always been a man of faith. He’d cling to it now like a man going under for the third time. It was that or drown in sorrow.

Sven bowed his head. “Lord, take care of my sweet Caroline until I join her. Amen.”

Peace, or at least the resolution to move forward, began to move through his body like sap flowing up a tree when winter retreats. He became aware of life on the other side of the door, muted but present.

Sven crossed Caroline’s hands over her chest. He leaned down and placed a kiss on her forehead and closed her eyes. His lips swept gently over hers and lingered there. Her kisses had always been sweet and love-laced. She was gone. Her soul had flown and left him behind. Life still flowed through his limbs and demanded action.

Lars and Ellie waited on the porch. Both babies asleep in the shared cradle.

The baby. He remembered the baby in a flash of physical pain.

“Marcie, you have a healthy daughter,” Ellie replied to his raised eyebrow.

“A girl,” Sven said. “Caroline hoped for another girl.”

His son, Micah, stood with feet spread wide and arms crossed across his chest on the porch of the last house with his big red dog by his side. His two daughters, Mary and Elin, were enfolded in Susannah’s arms and Karl, still a baby himself, played with a pile of blocks.

“They know?” he asked.

Lars nodded. “They knew something was wrong. It seemed best.”

Mary and Elin would turn to each other, and he doubted Karl would remember his mother at all. Micah would grieve the most. He and his mother had been close, bonded.

He motioned at his oldest son. “Come on, Micah.” The boy and dog moved as one and closed the distance.

“Where are you going?” Lars asked.

“To build a coffin for my wife,” Sven replied. “Funeral’s tomorrow.”

He would keep Micah close. He wouldn’t let his young son disappear into the bog of sorrow. Being busy, having purpose, feeling included would be a salve on the wound of his loss.

Sven and Micah worked into late afternoon cutting, nailing, sanding. They pieced a large cross together which they rubbed and varnished until it shone satin smooth. Sven carved hearts and flowers into the wood before adding:

 

Caroline Nielson

May 3, 1871 – August 17, 1899

Beloved Wife, Mother, Aunt, and Friend

 

Sven hoisted the coffin onto his shoulder and carried it to their house. Micah helped him lay it gently on the long table where Caroline had served so many meals. She would lay a hand on a shoulder and give a little squeeze or jump up, always jumping up, to refill a coffee cup or help a child cut their meat or wipe up a spill. Why hadn’t he helped her more? Why hadn’t he told her to sit?

He closed his eyes to the painful thought. It wouldn’t have mattered. Caroline would have kept on being his Caroline, helpful and kind. His gut churned. He’d loved her so much. She was his center, his sun, his north star.

Well, he couldn’t, wouldn’t, disappear down a tunnel of despair. The children needed him, and Caroline would expect him to be a good father and not a hollow shell of a man.

Ellie emerged from the bedroom. “We put her in her blue dress with the little white collar. You know the one?” She waited for his nod. “Caroline always looked so pretty in that dress.” Her voice faltered to a stop, and tears fell in a flood onto her bosom. “I’m sorry, Sven. I can’t stop crying.”

Sven pulled his brother’s wife into a hug. “I know, Ellie. I know. Thank you.”

He eyed the bedroom door. Would he ever enter that room without seeing Caroline awash in a sea of red? Could he ever sleep in that bed without her head on the pillow beside him and her warm little body curled into his? It plain didn’t seem possible.

Sven approached the door with caution, but the women had been hard at work. All traces of blood were gone. The bed was neatly made, and Caroline lay on the quilt in her best blue dress, eyes closed and hands folded. He stepped in, and Micah followed hard on his heels.

“Mama looks real peaceful,” Micah aimed for manly, but his chin shook and his voice quivered.

Sven placed a comforting hand on the shoulder of his eight-year-old son and squeezed. “I’m going to move her into the other room. I aim to sit up with her tonight, and you’re welcome to join me.”

Micah gave a quick jerk with his chin in acknowledgement.

Sven slid an arm under Caroline’s knees and the other under her shoulders. He remembered other times he’d carried her. Across the threshold on their wedding day, across the room to their bed when he was in a special hurry to get her there. But she’d always been laughing. She’d always had her arms looped around his neck. When he lifted her from the bed this time, her head fell back, and he jiggled his hold until her head lay supported on his shoulder.

He carried her to the coffin and lowered her with slow and gentle care. Then he arranged her hands once more, settled the skirt of her dress neatly over her ankles, and smoothed her coal black hair. He pulled a chair close in and sat. Micah did the same.

The sound of dirt hitting the ground entered his awareness. Of course, the other men were digging Caroline’s grave. He squinted hard, but a tear or two escaped and slid down work-roughened cheeks.

Good God in heaven, was he really expected to lay her in the cold ground?

Micah laid a small hand on his thigh, and Sven held it tight. The life they’d lived, the one he’d loved was over. They would carve a new way forward, but he could not imagine how that would be done. One day at a time, he’d told those other grieving husbands. He’d have to take his own advice.

When the sky was black with night, Micah slumped in sleep. Sven moved him to a pallet by the fireplace, the boy deserved to stay in the same room with his mama. Earlier, each of the women had come, stricken and tearful, to say good-bye. The men, too, had paid their respects. His brother stayed next to him, and together they shouldered the burden of farewell.

The sun rose the following morning as it always did, unaware or unfeeling to the trials of mankind.

Lars rose and stretched his back to this side and that. “Do you want me to fetch the preacher?” he asked.

“No, I’ll lay my wife to rest,” Sven said. “Just the Journey’s End family, no one else.”

“All right.” Lars nodded. “I’m going to go check on my Ellie girl and the children. Then I’ll bring you and Micah a bite of breakfast.”

Late morning found them gathered around the gaping hole in the earth. The men placed ropes under the coffin and lowered it gently into the ground before pulling the ropes free.

Sven led them in prayer and then talked about the Caroline he loved. Her devotion to family, friends, and him. Her joy in her children. Her patience. How sometimes she’d get completely carried away with an idea or plan, and he’d have to pull the reins. Everyone gave a little chuckle, but they knew Sven rarely spanked Caroline. Why, he’d probably only really taken her to task a handful of times in their entire marriage.

Lars sang Amazing Grace. His voice, rich and resonant, echoed across their land in rolls of promise and hope. When he finished, he looked at Sven and raised a shoulder in question.

“If you’d wait to fill in the grave, I can’t bear to hear it.” Sven paused to regain his composure. “I’ll take the girls and Micah down to the river for a little while, if that’s all right.”

Karl clung to Ellie’s skirts on wobbly baby legs. She held Freya in her arms and Melody held another infant. Well, that must be Marcie. He hadn’t given much thought to the baby in his distress, but there she was. An infant needed a lot of tending to. How was he going to take care of four children and a baby? He simply did not know.

The men had chosen a nice spot for their graveyard and had begun construction of a fence to encompass it. Death had come calling at Journey’s End. He prayed it wouldn’t make a return visit any time soon, but it could.

Sven heaved a sigh. It surely could, and they’d been reminded.

Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust.

Amen.

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3 reviews for Promise Me

  1. Redrabbitt

    LIFE WAS A JOURNEY NOT A DESTINATION

    It was wonderful to have another story encompassing Journey’s End and the wonderful people who live there. But this story begins with sadness when one of the beloved wives will not survive childbirth. The family members of Journey’s End will all be affected; one man loses a wife, his children lose their mother, and their extended family feels the loss. Another woman is alone, threatened, and needs help—will fate bring happiness?

    Caroline: “Promise me.”
    Sven: “All right. I promise.”
    Caroline: “Say it.”
    Sven: “I promise if things go wrong, I will keep on living.”
    Caroline: “And?”
    Sven: “And loving.”
    Caroline: “Go join the men. I’ll see you after.”

    “Time would heal. The Lord was waiting with open arms. Their wives had gone to a better place. Man must accept God’s will and bow to his plan.”

    The story’s plot begins with an emotional, heart-breaking scene for Sven and the extended family members of Journey’s End. Across town, Maeve O’Keefe is alone in the world when her elderly parents succumb to influenza. She has to keep selling off animals from the farm to pay the note—and now it is her beloved horse, Guinevere. At least with the horse, she could speed past Buck and Amos Simms when they harassed her. After an attack, the sheriff will learn of the danger Maeve has been facing and approaches the men at Journey’s End to see if Maeve could stay under their protection—at least until he can find the Simms. She will house with Ellie and Lars—but as Marcie, Sven’s new daughter is weaned to a bottle and goat’s milk, she will move over to his house. Busybodies and wagging tongues lead to Sven proposing to Maeve to protect her reputation—but his heart isn’t in it—it is still with his late wife, Caroline. Will he ever learn to love her, or is she just an addition to the family?

    “Sven married her to save her reputation from ruin, and because she had no place to go and no one to go to. Maeve wanted this union. She would be his wife even if Caroline was his love.”

    “She was a married woman now with five children to care for and a husband in love with a ghost.”

    The story is emotional on several levels. For Sven, Caroline was his life, his love, the mother to his children, and he is lost without her. He feels guilty for having sexual feelings for Maeve and feels like he is betraying his late wife. Even with the rules and punishment—he half-heartedly spanks her, leaving her to feel lost and confused. The only peace she finds is when she walks and thinks—knowing it breaks the rules—she does it anyway—but one time is all it takes to find herself in a life and death situation and Sven and the men of Journey’s End searching for her. With her rescue comes healing—but there will also be a reckoning—will Sven show Maeve that he really cares? Can he learn that he has enough room in his heart to love her too?

    “The rules are meant to protect you. I make them to keep you safe, and you obey them.”

    “Promise me. Those words had seemed a curse, but now he saw them for the blessing they were. The promise had set him free to live and love. Caroline had been generous to the very end, setting him free with her dying wish.”

    I loved the mystery, suspense, danger, angst, and passion of the characters. While Maeve needs a home, Sven also needs a wife and mother for his children. Now, they must decide what is best for them and their future. The story does have several spankings involving several couples. It keeps intimacy within marriage. While this story does not end on a cliffhanger, it gives the reader a segue for the next book.

  2. Ronald

    Marriage first, then love and affection
    Another enjoyable story in the Journey’s End Series. It follows the pattern of the others, and takes place in the same place, with the same family. Maeve is an orphan, 20 years old, who has lost almost everything and is barely holding on, as she lives alone on the property of her late parents, and works in a restaurant in town – in 1900 Oregon. She is threatened by a bad man and his dad, and the local Sheriff takes her to the ranch of Sven, who has been recently widowed and has 5 young children. She agrees to stay there for her protection, and begins to help out with the four other families who live there – each led by one of the brothers of Sven. Rumors about her in town cause Sven to ask her to marry him; she does, and then a lot of the story is taken by the growing affection between them, and Sven’s insistence on absolute honesty and following rules – and failure in either department leads to a loving but serious spanking. Both characters are intelligent and have nice personalities, and the problems they face are understandable – and their love making is enthusiastic. The other characters in the family who are a part of the story also contribute to the story, but the story can be read as a stand-alone. I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

  3. Donna

    Donna L
    4.0 out of 5 stars SECOND CHANCE OF LOVE
    Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2021
    I found myself tinged with sadness and felt the pain along with the characters in Journey’s End after one of their own died in childbirth. Sven is now a widow with five young children to care for. His grief is overwhelming as Caroline was the love of his life. The whole family step into help, but this takes a toll on the health and wellbeing of the other women. Maeve is an orphan and struggling just to feed herself and survive the unwanted advances of a local man. Her luck was running out until the town sheriff introduced her to Sven. What starts with Maeve caring for Sven’s children in exchange for his protection takes another direction when they marry to stop the town gossips. My heart ached for this couple as they
    struggled to find a way to make their marriage work. It took Maeve’s life being in danger for Sven to realize that he loved her but was it too late.

    Expect danger, grief, sadness, angst, spankings given with love and new beginnings. This was not a long read, but it was satisfying. This was set in the era where men’s
    word was law and women’s rights did not exist, but how the men of Journey’s End cherished their women. I found the emotional journey of Sven and Maeve both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I loved how their relationship evolved into love. They healed each other.

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