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Happily Ever After

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Thank you for flying Royal Caribbean Airlines. We hope you enjoy your stay.”

Abbie jerks awake – she’d only meant to close her eyes briefly, but now the plane’s taxiing to a stop and there’s nothing between her and Jamaica save Customs.

The woman on her left at the window seat is already dressed for the beach, her ebony hair upswept in beautiful micro braids. She’s dancing a little in her seat and laughs when she catches Abbie staring.

“I haven’t been home in two years,” she says by way of explanation.

Abbie wonders if she would dance at the thought of coming home to Sleepy Hollow and catches a glimpse of the sunset in the small square window.

Probably if it looked like that, she thinks.

“Welcome home, then,” Abbie says, and shakes some feeling into her legs so she can grab her overhead luggage.

“First time?” the woman asks.

“How can you tell?” Abbie asks ruefully.

“One can always spot a tourist,” she says honestly. “But you also look a bit lost.”

Abbie huffs and tries not to let the strain show through her smile.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she admits.

“Hopefully having a good time,” the woman says, holding out her hand. “I’m June.”

Abbie shakes it gratefully, moving back onto her seat as others are eager to disembark.

“Abbie,” she says.

“Well, Abbie, I hope you let yourself relax on this trip. Something tells me you need it.”

Abbie’s laugh bursts out of her without permission.

“I look tired?” she jokes, but it feels hollow in her head; the exhaustion in her bones rattles loudly--so loudly she’s sure June can hear it.

“Yeah, but I won’t say anything. A good night’s sleep on the island’ll fix that right up.”

Abbie nods, then moves so June can leave. Alone in their row, Abbie scoots closer to the window and peers out into the advancing night. From what little she can see, even the airport is gorgeous. She should be excited, knocking people over to get to the sand and surf.

So why isn’t she?

Let’s get this over with, Mills, she thinks, and stalks off the plane.

The airport teems with people but moves fast; it doesn’t take long to grab her lone suitcase and get through customs. It’s only when she reaches the line of taxis that it hits Abbie - she’s in Jamaica. She laughs in spite of herself and grabs the closest cab.

“Emerald Cove at St. James,” she says, and catches the impressed downturn of the cabbie’s mouth before they pull off. Abbie stares out the window, transfixed, wondering how anyone can get any work done with the proximity of such gorgeous scenery.

Reluctantly, Abbie is starting to soften up at the thought of this trip, but holds on to the last bit of grump just for Jenny’s sake. Or at least, that’s what she thinks until she pulls up to the resort. It looks like the Swiss Family Robinson’s wet dream, gorgeous marble and decorative thatching. It’s so entrancing Abbie doesn’t realize the cabbie’s holding open the car door until he clears his throat.

Face burning, Abbie pays him and gives him a really good tip before she changes her mind and asks to return to the airport.

It’s just a bungalow, Jenny had said.

Just a bungalow Abbie’s ass.

Her wedges are silent on the impressively polished floor; Abbie catches a hazy glimpse at her reflection and looks up in time to not make a fool of herself by running into the concierge desk.

The woman behind the desk looks like Serena Williams in a smart suit and Abbie inwardly cringes at the baseball cap on her head.

“Good evening, my name is Geneviève. Welcome to Emerald Cove at St. James. Do you have a reservation?”

“Um, yes. I think it’s under the name Jennifer Mills?” Abbie says as she pulls out her identification.

The woman starts, as if she knows the name.

“Jennifer Mills? No, nothing under that name; perhaps another?” Geneviève asks.

Abbie frowns – who else’s… She grits her teeth.

“Can you try Abigail or Grace Mills?” she asks tightly.

Geneviève checks her system and smiles tightly.

“Yes, we have a bungalow registered under that name.” She looks Abbie up and down. “Are you her…”

Abbie blinks.

“I’m her sister,” she says flatly.

Geneviève breaks into a relieved smile.

“Oh, sister – that’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to meet you,” she stammers.

Abbie nods slowly and pulls out her credit card.

“Oh no, ma’am. The entirety of your stay here has been paid for.”

Abbie blinks, glances down at her card and back up at the woman.

“Are you sure?” she asks.

“Absolutely. Were you not aware?” Geneviève’s smile is knowing. “Perhaps someone wanted to give you a surprise?”

Abbie clears her throat and nods.

“My sister,” she murmurs.

“What a wonderful and thoughtful gift.” Geneviève flips her hair self-consciously. “Is… Jenny coming?” she asks, trying for nonchalant.

“Uh, no. Sorry. But that’s why I’m going to kill her,” Abbie promises.

Geneviève chuckles and beckons to someone Abbie can’t see. A smart looking young man appears immediately, in the same blue, green and white as Geneviève.

“See Miss Mills to Bungalow three, please,” she says.

The young man nods and turns to Abbie.

“My name is Miles; may I take your bag?”

Abbie looks down at her lone suitcase and shrugs her shoulder.

“Sure, why not,” she says.

“Right this way, ma’am,” Miles says, and offers his arm.

Abbie throws Geneviève an impressed glance as she accepts his arm and allows herself to be led out of the lobby and down a beautifully lit path that runs straight by the ocean. Overwhelmed, she silently takes in her surroundings until she realizes they’ve stopped before a gorgeous white clapboard house with a number three by the door.

“Welcome to Bungalow Three,” Miles says, and produces a gorgeous, antique looking key with a tag that has the corresponding number in a swirling script. Once inside, he begins turning on the lights and opening the French doors that overlook the beach.

“You share the beach with two other bungalows, but you’re the only one here right now.”

Abbie wanders out onto the balcony and laughs at the beauty in front of her. She can’t figure out why she didn’t want to come, now that she’s standing before the gently lapping ocean. Miles is still talking behind her and she rushes back to catch the tail end of what he’s saying.

“You can order your meals here,” he gestures at the tablet in a stand on the end table next to the couch. “You can also call the concierge for anything you need. During the day you’ll reach Martina and during the night you’ll reach Geneviève. Is there anything else I can assist you with?”

Abbie shakes her head and pulls out the last of her cash, a ten-dollar bill, and hands it over gratefully.

“Thanks, Miles, you’ve been great.”

“My pleasure,” he says. “I hope you enjoy your stay here; have a good night.”

Abbie’s left alone in her luxurious, one-bedroom bungalow and all she can do is sit on the overly plush white couch and dial her sister’s number.

It goes straight to voicemail.

Abbie bounces her foot in self-righteous anger as she listens to her sister’s voice disinterestedly request that the caller leave a message.

“You deceitful bitch,” she says cheerfully. “Of course you’re not picking up your phone because you’re a phony and devious ho and… I could strangle you,” Abbie says, blinking back tears.

“The place is a’ight,” she sniffles. “And you’re wrong for making me think I had to save up for this just to find out it’s already been paid for. I will get you back, know this.”

Abbie ends the call and throws her phone on the empty cushion beside her with a nod.

That’ll show her.

Abbie’s stomach growls and out of habit, she goes to see what’s in the fridge. Every fruit known to man seems to be crammed inside, along with a few selections of wine and a bottle of champagne.

Why not, she thinks, and opens the champagne.

Dinner consists of champagne and some of the biggest, sweetest strawberries Abbie’s ever had in her life. She turns off all the lights in the bungalow and lights a few of the candles on the balcony before settling in a luxurious lounge chair. There’s nothing but the sounds of nature and the bright starry sky above the immensity of the ocean, and little by little Abbie lets everything go and enjoys the moment.

~*~

Abbie cracks open an eye at the insistent buzzing of her phone and realizes she’s still on the balcony. She goes to sit up and realizes that the cushions on the lounge chair are better than her mattress at home. Blearily, Abbie reaches for her phone before it shakes itself off the chair arm.

“Yes?”

New phone, who this?

Abbie shakes her head.

“Jenny, you called me,” she reminds her.

Oh, yeah. Why are you calling me when you should be relaxing on the beach?”

At the word Abbie’s gaze flickers to the amazing landscape before her.

“Again, you called me,” she mutters.

Isn’t it amazing?”

“Gorgeous,” Abbie says truthfully.

I knew you’d like it. The last time I was there it was hard for me to come home.

“Was it because of Geneviève?” Abbie asks mockingly.

“…You spoke to Geneviève?”

“Sure did. She’s the one who checked me in. So… whatever went on between the two of you really has her reminiscing, baby sister.”

“I gotta go, you’re breaking up.”

“Funny, I can hear your fake ass loud and clear,” Abbie cackles, and hangs up. She takes a deep breath and doesn’t restrain her gleeful grin. She’s here on one of the most gorgeous islands in the world, by herself, with unexpected spending money.

Maybe she won’t kill her sister, after all.

Giddy, Abbie grabs her suitcase and changes into her running gear and takes a nice, leisurely run on the beach. Running on sand gives her that delicious ache in her muscles faster than at home and instead of her normal five miles she does only four instead.

Hell, it’s supposed to be her vacation.

Abbie looks down the beach and as far as she can see she’s the only one here. She lets out a laugh and a loud whoop and immediately feels embarrassed before the feeling burns away.

“Alright, maybe I deserve this,” she murmurs, and begins her run back to the bungalow.

~*~

By late afternoon Abbie’s back to wanting to kill Jenny.

When Abbie packed her bag, she’d included a flattering black one-piece bathing suit with a daring cut out over her navel. It was cute and most importantly, Abbie felt completely comfortable in it.

The mound of bright yellow and orange straps she pulls out of her suitcase is not the bathing suit Abbie packed. She digs through the rest of her outfits and finds no hint of her bathing suit.

Sucking her teeth, Abbie whips herself up a daiquiri with a little too much alcohol in it and stares at the offending garment while drinking.

It’s not like she can’t rock the thing. It’s just a bathing suit. When she went to lunch at one of the restaurants in the main area of the resort she saw people wearing less. The rum emboldens her and before Abbie can change her mind she refills her drink and puts on the bathing suit.

It’s not like anyone else is going to see.

~*~

Ichabod loosens his tie as he stares out over the bright blue water.

It’s good to be back. The bungalow is exactly how he likes it – empty and fully stocked. Absently, he keys in his desire for dinner and decides to go for a quick jog to stir his appetite. After changing into a tee shirt and a pair of running shorts he straps his mp3 player to his hip and puts his headphones in, blasting Bach’s Cello Suite No.1.

As he runs, Ichabod imagines himself floating across the beach on the notes of the cello – soaring high into the sky where the only thing he has to worry about is being a note, being heard. The rose gold of the sunset fills his view and with his mind full of music and his eyes full of light, he crests a dune and jumps down halfway, only then able to see someone at the bottom.

Ichabod windmills his arms but the sand shifts and pitches him down and forward, onto the small form. They collide with a grunt, arms and legs tangling as his momentum rolls them until he’s sprawled on top.

“Oh! I beg your pardon,” he says quickly, trying to remove his foot from the sucking sand and disengage himself from the body beneath his. Ichabod looks down and freezes.

It’s a woman, he realizes as other parts of his body do as well. He takes in a pouty mouth with full, parted lips as she gasps in shock. Large, dark brown eyes blinking rapidly at him. Her hair is splayed out around her in a halo of dark curls – Ichabod imagines this is how she looks when she wakes with her lover, soft and sated.

“I, uh…”

Ichabod yelps as the woman’s legs tighten around his abdomen to flip them both over. This time the woman is on top and Ichabod’s eyes widen when her lovely, full breasts are presented to him, unrestrained. His hands settle into the dip of her waist, just above the swell of her hips.

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” she demands breathlessly.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“I was distracted, I do apologize,” he says, glancing down and away--anywhere but at the woman’s chest.

“Are you hurt?” he asks, trying to force his body to remain calm.

The woman seems to realize the position they’re in and she yelps, immediately scrambling off of Ichabod and into the sand for her top.

“No,” she snaps, wrestling herself into material woefully inadequate for hiding her charms. “Are you?”

Ichabod forces himself to look away, glancing down at the burgeoning problem in his shorts and attempting to will it away as he turns over and jumps to his feet.

“I’m fine, thank you,” he murmurs, climbing to his feet. The music blaring in one ear makes him swear and crouch back in the sand, turning off his player.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, giving up on the last tie between her breasts. From Ichabod’s height it gives him a very promising view, which does not help his problem downstairs.

“My headphones are wireless. I think I just lost an earbud,” he says mournfully, digging around in the sand.

The woman winces, and after a second falls to her knees and begins redistributing sand to help him look. After about a minute digging, Ichabod gives up.

“I think it’s a lost cause,” he says with a shrug.

“But thank you,” he says sincerely. “My name is Ichabod Crane.”

He holds out his hand.

The woman glances down at it before cautiously slipping her hand in his.

“Abbie Mills,” she says, with a firm handshake.

Ichabod turns her hand over, marveling at how small it is compared to his own.

“Are you a pint-sized goddess?” he asks, and immediately winces.

Abbie presses her mouth together as her shoulder shakes silently.

“Thanks, but no,” she says, and tugs on her hand gently.

“Oh, apologies. Again,” he mutters, rising to his feet as she does. “That’s not what I meant to say,” he says as he squints down at the sand in embarrassment.

“Your face and neck are completely red,” Abbie says with a laugh.

“That’s kind of adorable,” she says.

“I will take it,” he says, and chances another look at her.

Everywhere he looks there’s toned muscles and warm brown skin encased in the most provocative and tiny bikini he has had the pleasure of seeing so close. Abbie shifts her weight from one foot to the other and Ichabod watches the muscles of her abs flex. He wonders if she’s ticklish.

If she will like it when he dips his tongue into her navel.

They both realize they’re kind of standing around staring at each other and Ichabod shoves his remaining earbud into his shorts.

“I’m in Bungalow One, just down the beach. I didn’t think anyone else was here.”

“I’m in Bungalow Three, and when I got in last night I was told I was the only one here,” she says. “But it shouldn’t be a problem for us to stay out of each other’s way. Nice to meet you, Ichabod Crane.”

She plucks her sunglasses from the sand and Ichabod has to swallow as she walks away, lifting her hair and shaking it free from sand.

Lust has him bounding over the sand to catch up with her.

“Miss Mills, I feel horrible for tripping over you. I could have hurt you,” he says, catching up and walking backward beside her, careful not to stand in her way.

“You’ve already apologized,” she reminds him. “Twice.”

“And I feel it isn’t enough. Will you have dinner with me?” he asks.

She looks at him briefly.

“What if I say no?” she asks.

Ichabod swallows.

“I will suffer my disappointment like a man, and leave you to your vacation.”

Abbie stops and takes a deep breath before glancing out over the ocean.

“Just dinner?” she verifies.

“Just the pleasure of your company while we consume a meal together. That is all,” he promises.

Her beautiful mouth twitches with the barest hint of amusement.

“Sorry, I’ll pass. We’re good; I know you’ll watch where you’re going next time. Goodbye, Crane.”

Ichabod’s mouth drops open as Abbie steps around him and continues up the beach.

~*~

Why are you calling me?”

Abbie sighs and briefly wonders the same thing.

“Maybe I just wanted to talk,” she mutters.

Maybe you should be trying to make friends with someone on the island. A guy, a girl. Someone to loosen you up.”

“Jenny, I am plenty loose,” Abbie says as she sits cross-legged on the bed, facing the open French doors. “I ran into someone today.”

Someone you know?”

“No. Never met him before. He literally ran into me while I was sunbathing today.”

“Is he cute?” Jenny asks.

Abbie closes her eyes; piercing blue eyes and an expressive brow. Light brown hair just the right length for his face. Nice broad shoulders she admired and a surprisingly defined chest from what she could feel with him beneath her for such a short time.

“Yeah, kinda,” she admits.

“Did he ask you out?”

“Stop being nosy,” Abbie grumbles.

“That’s code for ‘He did, but I’m uptight and turned him down because he could be a serial killer’,” Jenny deadpans.

Abbie’s jaw drops and she buries her face in her hand. That was something along the lines she was thinking when she talked herself out of it.

“Am I that predictable?”

They call you ‘Old Faithful,’ Abbie. What’s wrong with having a little fun?” Jenny asks. “If you don’t deserve it then no one does.

Abbie nods, unable to speak around the lump in her throat momentarily.

“It’s just been so much easier to turn off that part of my life since Daniel,” she whispers.

“I know, sis. But it’s been almost a year and a half and you’re holding on tight to what? Nothing, Abs. It’s not even anger.”

Abbie says nothing.

“He sure as hell can’t be mad at you for moving on.

Abbie sighs and bobs her head back and forth.

“Yeah, I know. Well, I blew it this time.”

Nothing to blow. Next time you’ll be ready. Just think of reasons to do it rather than reasons you shouldn’t.

“I’m supposed to be the big sister, not you,” Abbie gripes. “Don’t you have work to do?”

“Yep, and they just announced my flight. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Abs? Give yourself permission to be happy, okay?

Abbie ends the call and puts her phone on the nightstand and like clockwork, the last good memory she has of her and Daniel winds up like an old projector. She lays on her side and remembers the time at the lake and what he said and drifts into sleep to the comforting lie of his dark smile.

Chapter Text

Fate.

Destiny.

As a learned scholar, Ichabod should thumb his nose at such notions. Man’s destiny is his own, as long as he reaches for what he wants, such that it does not exceed his grasp.

Abbie Mills, as it were, is woefully beyond his grasp.

But he can’t shake from his mind her soft smile, and is tormented by unexpected flashes of her bouncing, full breasts above him. Ichabod can’t remember the last time he was turned down, especially after giving his name. But there was no inkling of recognition on her beautiful face, no sharpening of interest before she turned him down.

She was genuinely not interested.

Ichabod doesn’t know what to do with that.

So he does nothing, though he knows he can run over to Bungalow Three at any time and…

And do what?

He told her he wouldn’t bother her, so he won’t.

Which doesn’t explain why he’s still debating with himself as he stretches before his morning run and she runs past him.

Fate.

Destiny.

Whatever responsible, Ichabod helplessly jogs after her.

~

Abbie glances over at the sound of breathing over her shoulder and takes a moment to check out her company; it’s the lanky Brit – if she’s accurately judging his accent. A brief flare of irritation fades when she realizes they’ll be sharing the beach; this is something that was bound to happen to two joggers.

Resolutely, she turns back to her run and concentrates on getting that burn, blotting everything out – including Ichabod. Her watch beeps her five-mile warning and Abbie slows and turns, fully prepared for inane small talk but finds she’s alone on the beach again.

Huh, she thinks. He promised not to bother her and he actually keeps his word?

She jogs at a slower rate back, sweating and anticipating a nice long soak in the tub. Eventually she passes Bungalow One and its handsome occupant standing on the beach drinking a bright blue and yellow drink out of a crazy straw, and an identical one in his other hand.

Abbie slows as she nears him, unable to keep the smile from her face as she catches her breath.

“Is that for me?” She points at the other drink.

“Yes,” Ichabod says. “It’s very hot out and I thought you could use some refreshment.”

Abbie glances away.

“What’s in it?”

“A hodgepodge of fruit. No alcohol though; bad whilst running,” he says, offering her the drink.

“True,” Abbie acknowledges, glancing down at his long fingered hands as she accepts the glass. “It’s very blue,” she adds, turning the drink this way and that.

He nods.

“Indeed.”

“I’m going to trust you,” she says, lifting it gratefully.

“That sounds like some sort of warning,” he says.

“It is.” Abbie looks at him one more time before taking a sip. The only thing she can taste is mango, pineapple, coconut and something else… something very familiar.

“Cirtona berries? That’s why it’s so blue!”

Ichabod looks at her curiously.

“Yes, you’re right. Do… you like Cirtona berries?”

Abbie sighs happily.

“My favorite fruit,” she admits. “They’re so expensive where I’m from and they’re only in season like three months out of the year but they are so worth it.”

She takes another swallow from her drink and moans happily.

“I didn’t get any Cirtona berries in my big ass fruit basket,” she says.

Ichabod laughs and ducks his head.

“I brought my own,” he says. “I was feeling a bit nostalgic when I whipped this up.”

“Good nostalgia or bad?” Abbie asks.

“Good, I think,” Ichabod says. “Sometimes memories can be complicated.”

Abbie nods.

“Agreed. Well, thanks for the drink,” she says, backing away slowly. “I’ll see you around?”

Ichabod nods.

“One can only hope,” he says, lifting his drink in her direction.

Abbie turns, thankful he can’t see her face flush, and as soon as she puts her foot down she feels like she is making a big mistake. She looks down at her drink. He didn’t have to do that; make enough for her and stand outside hoping he hadn’t missed her return.

He didn’t even ask her out again.

She turns on her heel and returns to squint up at him in the bright morning sunlight.

“Is dinner still on the table?” she asks.

Ichabod opens his mouth and closes it, nodding his head.

“Still the lady’s prerogative,” he says.

Abbie glances out onto the water behind her and nods.

“Then how about tonight? Eight o’clock at the Blue Pearl? I haven’t tried that restaurant yet.”

Ichabod is still nodding.

“I will be at your door at seven fifty,” he promises.

Abbie’s smile is amused.

“You’re going to walk me to a restaurant on resort grounds?” she asks.

“Of course,” Ichabod says, and his tone makes it sound as if he hadn’t considered anything else.

“Alright. Then seven fifty. I’ll see you tonight.” Abbie turns away before she makes a fool of herself and tries to walk normally when she feels his eyes on her as she retreats.

And if she puts a little sway in her hips, Abbie’s not telling.

~*~

Ichabod doesn’t know what he does with his day until seven o’clock arrives.

He’s on the beach staring down at a glowing Abbie and then he’s under the waterfall shower head in the bathroom; nothing in between. Ichabod doesn’t care, until he realizes he has less than thirty minutes to figure out what to wear.

The Blue Pearl is upscale, but not overly so – right on the beach if you choose a table in the sand. Jacket? No jacket? He can’t remember the last time he put so much thought into his wardrobe for a date.

Settling on a pair of relaxed fit khakis, an embroidered linen shirt, and some sand-worthy loafers, Ichabod makes it out of his bungalow just in time to go purchase some flowers and make it to Abbie’s door to knock precisely on time.

The door opens and Ichabod finds his breathing arrested; Abbie stands before him, her hair down in ebon waves about her bare shoulders. Her dress is bright yellow--a stunning contrast to her bronzed brown skin--and made of linen cinched at her waist by a wide, deep purple belt of the same material.

The neckline is what conspires to make Ichabod lose all reason; it plunges down the front of Abbie’s abdomen all the way to her waist, affording him a view of impossibly smooth skin. He licks his suddenly dry lips and fights not to growl when she appears to flush; her nipples tightening against the thin fabric of her dress.

“You look amazing,” he manages to remember to say, shaking himself from his lustful stupor and presenting her with a small bouquet of calla lilies.

Abbie appears surprised.

“Lilies,” she murmurs as she accepts the gift. “Thank you. Most men go for roses.”

Ichabod nods.

“I was going to,” he admits. “But I saw these and thought of you.”

Abbie buries her nose in the soft blossoms.

“I remind you of calla lilies?” she asks.

“Yes. You see roses all the time and they have their beauty about them, don’t get me wrong. But a lily…” Ichabod reaches out and gently slides his thumb across Abbie’s cheek. “Unexpected in its grace and splendor, elevated by its uncommon existence, a lily is something truly wondrous to witness.”

He holds her gaze, needing to impress upon her the sincerity of his words.

Abbie looks away first, a small smile gracing her lips.

He can tell he’s embarrassed her slightly, so Ichabod offers his arm.

“Shall we?”

“Yes, please,” she says, relieved.

Even in her heels, she barely comes to Ichabod’s shoulder and he feels something akin to protective – he watches those who watch Abbie, and how could they not? Her skin glistens in the lights as her dress floats like a cloud amongst her gloriously toned legs, showcased by the ribbons of her sandals wrapped up her calf and tied behind her knee.

Ichabod can’t help but stand straighter – he escorts the very goddess of sunlight and vitality. He watches as men and women look and look again, transfixed as Abbie floats through their mundane lives. She hides her smile behind the lilies, her beautiful brown eyes glancing up at him when she thinks he isn’t looking.

How could Ichabod look away? His eyes are full of her, he drowns in her sweet fragrance, something vital to his soul he can’t quite identify. They’re shown to their table and Ichabod tries not to bury his face in her glorious crown of hair when he pulls her chair out for her. They settle in with the menu and Ichabod hasn’t even picked his up – perhaps he doesn’t need to eat anymore. He can subsist on what his soul receives while looking at Abbie.

Abbie glances up, an odd sort of smile on her face.

“Are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to order something from the menu?” she asks.

“Are you on it?” he asks, and delights in the way she bites her lower lip.

“I don’t see a dessert menu,” she says with a sly smile, and Ichabod is suddenly quite thankful he’s sitting down as he feels slightly dizzy.

He clears his throat and straightens his posture.

Rein it in, old boy, he thinks, and gathers his wits enough to order pasta for himself and wine for the table.

Abbie chooses seafood and then they’re left alone again.

“So where are you from, Crane?” she asks, swirling the crystal goblet of water in her hand as she leans back.

“A medium-sized island in the Mediterranean,” he says. “Most people have never heard of it.”

“I know a little something about small towns. I’m from one, myself,” she says. “Upstate New York.”

“You don’t sound like a New Yorker,” he says as he leans forward, interested in the sparkle in her eye.

“And you don’t sound Mediterranean,” she retorts.

Ichabod laughs.

“Touché,” he admits. “My mother is from Edinburgh and I went to boarding school for most of my life in London. Tried, but I can’t seem to shake the accent.”

“Good,” Abbie says. “It suits you.”

The wine arrives and is poured, and Ichabod watches Abbie blink in surprise.

“Cirtona wine? God, this bottle must cost thousands of dollars,” she says weakly.

In all honesty Ichabod hadn’t bothered to check the price when he called ahead to have it put on ice.

“I would buy a thousand bottles if it meant you would smile at me.”

“Well, that tells me a few things,” she says lowly.

“What, that I want your happiness?” he asks, hopefully.

“That you’re a little too used to buying someone’s happiness,” she says.

Ichabod blinks and searches her face, but still finds no recognition lurking in her eyes.

“Sometimes,” he admits. “But I meant what I said.”

“I believe you, because it was a little corny,” she laughs. “I appreciate the sentiment, Crane.”

Ichabod tries not to preen but fails, causing Abbie to laugh again. He’s never been called ‘corny’ before; at least not to his face.

“I’ll have you know I take that as a compliment,” he says.

Abbie hums and takes another swallow of her wine, trying to make it last.

“It is. Some people take themselves too seriously.”

Ichabod chuckles and twists his wine glass by the stem.

“I’ve been told I have the opposite problem, usually,” he says.

“I’m one of those people who usually takes themselves a little too seriously,” Abbie admits.

“I’m trying to imagine,” Ichabod says.

“Oh, but you don’t know me in real life,” she says.

“And what’s this, then?” he asks, gesturing around them. “The Matrix?”

“Cute,” she says. “It’s real, but it’s not my real life.” Abbie shrugs. “In less than a week I pack up and go back home to the real world.”

“And what’s the real world for you?” Ichabod asks, intrigued at what the beauty before him does on a daily basis.

“I am a freelance self-defense instructor and on some weeks, when necessary, I’m a yoga instructor at my friend Monique’s gym.”

Ichabod remembers how easily Abbie flipped them so she was on top in spite of her diminutive size.

“Does anyone attempt to challenge you because you’re so tiny?”

Abbie sputters good-naturedly.

“I’m not tiny! I’m a respectable height, I’ll have you know.”

“No, no,” Ichabod says. “You are tiny compared to me.”

“I can’t be compared to giants,” Abbie sniffs. “You guys just got greedy at the buffet and God didn’t catch you. Jostling people like me out of the way, I might add.”

Ichabod collapses into laughter, helpless before the image of him or Bram nudging shorter people out of the way of a buffet so they can fill their plates, all the while getting larger.

“I’m almost sure it didn’t happen like that,” he says, wiping at his eyes with a napkin.

“I can’t trust you, you’re greedy,” Abbie says, setting off a fresh round of giggles between them.

The food finally arrives and they both tuck in, momentarily silent as they find themselves starved. After a few minutes Abbie dabs at her mouth.

“So what do you do?” she asks, and Ichabod freezes.

The truth should be his first choice, but if he tells her now it will sound like he’s bragging or something, which he wants to avoid. No, he wants to keep this – whatever this is – on the same level. Things always change, afterward.

“I’m currently a student,” he says without skipping a beat. “Of history.”

“History? Really? What kind of history?” Abbie asks, taking the last swallow of wine. “Alas, all good things must end,” she says mournfully to her glass.

Ichabod frowns and reaches for the rest of the bottle.

“But there is more,” he says, and refills her glass amidst her weak protest. “Did you not want anymore?” he asks, confused.

Abbie sighs.

“No, I wanted more,” she admits. “But like I said, that bottle has to cost like, thousands of dollars. Don’t you want to save it?”

Ichabod shakes his head.

“Abbie, I’m from Cirtona; I’ve grown up with this wine all my life. To me, it’s nothing special – like you would look at a grape or an apple.”

“Oh,” Abbie says, looking relieved. “You’re Cirtonian! So you like, get a discount on the wine?”

“Sure,” Ichabod says, thankful when she picks up her glass and takes a rapturous sip. “To answer your earlier question, I just completed my thesis on the history of my country. I’m here as a reward to myself after finishing early.”

“So it’ll be Doctor Crane? Professor Crane?” Abbie tilts her head as she looks at him. “I could see you in front of a classroom. You have kind of a commanding air.”

Ichabod chuckles.

“You would know about commanding, wouldn’t you, Abbie?” he asks.

Abbie shrugs a shoulder.

“I have to let people know I mean business,” she says. “Or I get stepped on.”

Ichabod shakes his head.

“I’m trying to imagine someone wanting to step on you,” he says. “But the thought makes me angry.”

Abbie clears her throat and looks away.

“So...family?” she asks.

“Mother and father,” Ichabod says as he reclines in his seat. “No siblings, though I did bother my parents about it repeatedly over the years.”

“Hey, never give up hope,” Abbie jokes, and Ichabod’s smile wanes.

“I think I may have to,” he says. “My father’s health has been fading for years but it’s just now getting to the point where I realize I can see it in his face, and in the face of my mother. I think something’s happened but they’re not telling me.”

Abbie reaches across the table and takes his hand.

“Are you going to ask?”

Ichabod looks at Abbie’s hand in his and slides his thumb across her knuckles.

“I think I’m too afraid,” he admits. “If I don’t know, then it’s not real. Not yet anyway.”

Ichabod’s laugh is dry and flat.

“How much of a coward am I?”

Abbie squeezes his hand.

“Don’t do that,” she says gently. “Either they’ll tell you or you’ll ask when you’re ready.”

Ichabod nods.

“And you?”

“Mom and Dad are gone; died in a car crash when I was eight and my sister Jenny was six. We were in and out of foster care until I hit seventeen and petitioned to get my sister released from the system and into my care.”

Ichabod blinks.

“Wow, seventeen?”

Abbie nods.

“I petitioned to be legally emancipated from the state and since I was considered an adult, I took my sister with me.” She moves a bit of her food around her plate. “I wish I could say I thought of that all on my own, but I had help,” she says.

“August Corbin was the closest thing to another dad I had or ever wanted, and his family was my last foster family. He helped me navigate the system and say what they wanted to hear in order to get my requests approved.

“He stepped in when they wanted a real adult and put his reputation on the line for me. I’m forever grateful for what he’s done. Helped me become the woman I am today.”

“He sounds like a great man.”

“He was,” Abbie says. “Unfortunately, as much as he took care of others, he didn’t take good care of himself. You know the story; too much cholesterol, not enough exercise. He had a heart attack and died almost two years ago. He was only sixty-one.”

Ichabod can see Abbie hasn’t fully healed from the loss of her mentor, and pained, he watches her bottle up the despair and place it back down deep.

“You don’t have to hide your feelings from me, Abbie,” he murmurs.

“But crying on the first date isn’t considered particularly sexy,” Abbie laughs, but it’s empty and shallow.

Ichabod knows she feels self-conscious now and signals for their plates to be cleared.

“Why don’t we get out of here? We can have dessert on the beach.”

Abbie looks down at her half-eaten food and nods.

“I think I am in the mood for dessert,” she says.

They order dessert to go – roasted banana and sorbet in a waffle bowl with plentiful drizzles of brown sugar rum sauce – and decide to take the beach route back to their bungalows. They talk about nothing serious as they meander until Abbie yelps and shakes her foot free of sand.

“These aren’t the best sandals for the beach,” she admits ruefully as she steps carefully.

“Would you like to take them off?” Ichabod asks, gesturing to a lounge chair some feet away.

“I think I would.” Abbie teeters over as carefully as she can and sits with a sigh of relief.

“On solid ground I’m fine. Sand? It’s like I’m a toddler,” she jokes, holding her dessert out for Ichabod to hold. “You mind?”

“Actually…” Ichabod instead hands Abbie his dessert and kneels before her in the sand.

Abbie’s eyes widen as Ichabod’s long fingers trace the ribbon over her shin, making goosebumps erupt everywhere he touches. He slides higher, cradling her calf in one large hand as his other moves beneath her dress, over her knee. She bites her lip when he brushes the sensitive skin on the back of her knee and subconsciously leans back, widening her legs when he plucks apart the knot.

He unwinds the ribbon and gently pries the sandal off, lightly massaging the arch of her foot.

Ichabod grins when Abbie bites her bottom lip and squirms just a little. If this was years ago and any other woman he would have her right here, on this lounge chair.

Instead, he pours all that intent into his gaze and completes his ministrations on her other leg.

When he’s done, Ichabod’s still kneeling between Abbie’s legs with his hands on her knees, just beneath the hem of her dress.

Abbie struggles to swallow as his grasp tightens just a little.

“Uh,” she says shakily. “Our dessert is going to get cold.”

Ichabod chuckles.

“It’s ice cream.”

She’s going to die of embarrassment right here and now.

“Right,” she says, strangled, and holds out Ichabod’s dessert, resolutely not looking at his lips.

Or his hands, good God.

He helps her to her feet and even takes her shoes and tucks them under his arm as they continue their walk silently, the sexual tension between them crackling and driving them both to distraction. They move down the beach at a leisurely pace, enjoying the sweet and the silence as they walk. Eventually they leave the main public beach and cross into the private beach their bungalows share.

Ichabod smiles as Abbie leans her face against his arm.

“I find I don’t want this night to end,” he confesses, positively smitten when she glances up at him through her lashes.

“I’m glad I said yes,” Abbie says. “I haven’t had such a nice time in – I’m not going to think about how long,” she says, waving away her thoughts with a hand.

“Thank you, Crane, for being such a gentleman.”

They stop in front of the beach entrance to Abbie’s bungalow and Ichabod gives her a graceful, sweeping bow.

“It has been my utmost pleasure, Abbie Mills,” he says as he takes her hand. He presses a gentle kiss to the back and lingers, glancing up at her with a heated gaze. “May I kiss you goodnight?”

Mute, all Abbie can do is nod. Ichabod pulls her closer, flush against him, and leans down with mostly chaste intent. When their lips touch, it’s like lightning and Abbie’s mouth opens in a gasp. Ichabod surges in, licking her mouth open as he holds her against him by the waist. Forgotten, Abbie’s desert falls to the sand as she buries her hand in Ichabod’s hair and groans as her tongue slides against his.

When they part, they only manage to move away a few inches, breathing heavily and staring into each other’s eyes.

“That was…” Ichabod’s gaze falls to Abbie’s kiss swollen lips again when her tongue darts out to moisten them.

“Yeah,” Abbie breathes, brushing her nose against his. She leans forward and steals another kiss, and rises to her tiptoes even as she pulls him back down for another. Surely it had to be a fluke, but desire rips through them both and Ichabod staggers slightly, reluctantly pulling himself from Abbie’s sweet mouth.

“Do you want to come inside?” she pants, her hands fisted in his shirt.

Ichabod looks her square in the eye.

“Abbie, if I come in, I will do my best to convince you to sleep with me. If that’s not what you want, I’ll understand and we can end the night here, having had a pleasurable evening. One of the best I’ve had in a while,” he admits.

Abbie lifts her hand and traces his brow, down the side of his temple and across his cheek. Ichabod turns his head and kisses the palm of her hand, tightening his grip on her waist. She leans up and kisses him quickly before twisting out of his grasp and walking up to her bungalow.

Ichabod’s chest constricts; well, he meant it when he said he wouldn’t press her, and though he’s awfully disappoi--

He swallows as she glances over her shoulder and pulls the belt from her waist, dropping it in the sand before gliding into the patch of shadow that leads up the stairs to the deck of her bungalow. After a second, a mass of bright yellow cloth sails through the air and lands not far from the belt, and Ichabod drops his dessert to run after her.

He crests the landing and Abbie turns back to him, breathless and clad in nothing but a pair of tiny yellow panties that tie at the hip, too scant to really be anything but decoration. Ichabod swallows.

“That’s what you had under your dress?” he asks weakly, unable to keep his gaze from her pert, upturned breasts topped with mouthwateringly hard, dark nipples.

Abbie nods, toying with his emotions as she plays with one of the ties above her hip.

“You’re overdressed,” she says, and laughs as Ichabod immediately pulls his shirt over his head and drops his pants in record time, stepping out of them in only his boxer briefs.

“Now you’re overdressed,” he growls, pulling her to him, relishing the skin on skin contact as he lifts her into his arms. Immediately he fills his hands with her glorious ass and squeezes, peppering kisses along her shoulder as he grinds against her.

“Oh, shit,” Abbie swoons, completely unprepared by how Ichabod takes control.

And the man knows what he’s doing, she thinks when one of those long fingers slides further down her ass to tease her, rubbing against the edge of her panties. He feels immense against her and hard as steel when her hand snakes down to cup him through his underwear.

They wrestle for a moment, trying to touch and caress as much as they can while pressed against each other but eventually Ichabod’s clever fingers find their way into Abbie’s panties and she concedes defeat as he finds her wet and soaking.

“Fuck,” he grumbles, biting at the join of her neck as he sinks a digit in to the first knuckle.

Abbie rears up with a shout and a groan, her legs tightening around his waist as he leans them against the wall and begins thrusting his finger inside her in earnest. It feels so good as Abbie swirls her hips, drunk on his kisses and what his hand is doing to her body.

“Fuck, Crane,” she whimpers, gasping as he adds his thumb against her clit.

“That’s the plan, treasure,” he whispers in her ear before swirling his tongue in the shell.

Ichabod groans as her walls practically suck on his finger as he drags it in and out of her, darkly smug that he can make her body respond like this.

He adds a second and a third, till Abbie is riding Ichabod’s hand in earnest as he bends forward to swirl his tongue around her left nipple before taking it into his mouth and sucking hard. Abbie clamps down on his fingers and comes hard, shaking as she pulls at his hair.

“Crane,” she screeches, shoving her hips down as hard as she can.

Ichabod holds her as she trembles, withdrawing from her body gently to lick the essence of her from his fingers.

“You taste exquisite,” he rumbles, gently lowering her to the ground.

Abbie doesn’t quite trust her legs to support her after such an unexpected orgasm.

“That was…” she shivers again and feels her fingers tingling.

“The first of what’s to come,” he promises.

Abbie glances down at the prominent bulge in his boxer briefs and licks her lips.

“Do you have any condoms?”

Ichabod opens his mouth and shuts it.

“No,” he says, chagrined. “Do you?”

Abbie closes her eyes and lets her head fall back against the wall with a thud.

“No,” she laments. “And I had plans to ride you till you screamed my name,” she says as she slips into his boxer briefs and grasps him in hand, pumping him gently.

Ichabod swears, falling forward and bracing his hands on the wall as Abbie jerks him. The contrast of her small, cool hand against his hot flesh makes his toes curl and he shudders when she pulls him out of his boxes to thumb the drop of precome welling on his head.

“Abbie,” he warns, unable to keep his hips from helping her spread the moisture down his shaft, essentially fucking her hand. He pulls away, gasping for breath.

“Jesus, I can’t think,” he chuckles. “The concierge, they’ll bring us condoms.”

“Are you sure?” Abbie asks, trying to keep her hand from darting southward.

“Yes, I’m very sure.” He uses the tablet provided by the resort on the coffee table to type in a quick message, and gives a satisfied nod. “They’ll be here in five minutes,” he says triumphantly.

Abbie lifts her hair from her neck and tries not to look at Ichabod’s cock, hard as a rock and swinging in the air.

“Why don’t we get something to drink,” she says, and stalks off resolutely to the kitchen.

“Something to keep us occupied while we’re waiting.” She opens the fridge and glances inside. “What do you want to drink, Ichabod?” Abbie turns and yelps when she realizes he’s right behind her.

He stares down at her hungrily, and reaches around to close the refrigerator door.

“You don’t want anything to drink?” she squeaks.

“You are the only thing that’ll quench my thirst right now,” he says, and sinks to his knees in front of her, pressing his face into her crotch and inhaling deeply. “God, why do you smell so good? I just want to eat you,” he rumbles, and Abbie cries out when he throws one of her legs over his shoulders and scrapes his teeth against the crotch of her panties.

Desperately, Ichabod yanks the ties holding Abbie’s underwear on and pulls them away, lapping her open before sticking his tongue in as far as it can go. Braced against the fridge, Abbie puts her other leg over his shoulder as he swipes his tongue up her clit and sucks on it.

“Crane,” she keens, his hands filled with her ass as he squeezes and holds her to him. He moans and it reverberates inside of Abbie, making her pull his hair and throw a hand out against the fridge as it begins rocking. She rolls her hips down against his face, trying not to smother him but he’s doing something with his tongue that gets her hips moving on their own and that heavy feeling begins pooling in her gut.

Ichabod’s got her locked where he wants her, and he squeezes her ass again as he laps up the juices that practically drip out of Abbie. He feels possessed and hungry; never has he wanted someone so much before and even though his cock is harder than he can ever remember it being he can’t pull his mouth away from her.

He feels her trying to move and he just buries his face in her and flicks his tongue against her clit relentlessly. Immediately Abbie jerks and whines; she needs room to move and he won’t give it to her.

Dimly Abbie hears the doorbell and she pushes at Ichabod weakly.

“The doorbell,” she manages to get out between heaving pants of air.

“Tell them to go away,” he says against her thigh and Abbie stops him from diving back in.

“No,” she laughs. “The condoms are here,” she reminds him.

Ichabod looks up at her heatedly.

“You’ll have to go to the door,” he says.

Abbie hums.

“You’ll have to let me go first.”

Ichabod pouts and gives her ass another squeeze before he lets her back on the ground gently, unable to help himself from taking a lick at as a nipple moves conveniently close to him.

“Stop it,” she laughs, twisting out of his grasp and ducking into the bedroom.

Abbie emerges in a perfectly respectable robe, though she knows her face is flushed. Hopefully whoever delivers the package won’t see it on her face. She opens the door and is pleasantly surprised to see a plain, medium sized box sitting on the welcome mat. Abbie grabs it and closes the door triumphantly.

“We’ve got the –” She’s cut off by Ichabod’s mouth descending upon hers again. Abbie wraps her arms around his neck as she’s crowded against the door, and laughs when she breaks off the kiss to breathe.

“Someone’s excited,” she says, tilting her head breathlessly as he trails kisses down her neck.

“You made promises,” he rumbles. “And I know you’re an honorable woman.”

“I’m so honorable,” Abbie teases, trying to break the packaging to get to the box. “How does this open?” she laughs.

Ichabod grabs the box and squashes it in his hands, ripping it open and fishing out a condom before throwing the box over his shoulder. Abbie laughs, and reaches for it when he stops her with a kiss.

“If you touch me again, this’ll be over far faster than I’d like,” he says, and kisses her again.

Abbie can’t remember the last time she laughed this much during sex, and places small kisses all along Ichabod’s face that she can reach while he slides the condom on.

“Where do you want me?” she asks, and squeals when he picks her up again.

“You mean, where do I want you first?” Ichabod braces her against the door and stares into her eyes as he presses against her entrance, swallowing her moan as he surges forward slowly. She’s gripping his length like a vice and all he can do is hope his knees don’t give way as he makes the slow trek into her body. He doesn’t breathe until his pubic bone kisses hers, and he releases a shaky laugh.

“Are you alright?”

Abbie swears and releases a puff of breath in an attempt to move a lock of hair that has fallen on her sweaty forehead.

“I hope you know what you’re doing with all that,” she says, and half-laughs, half yelps when Ichabod slides out a few inches and pushes back in.

“Oh, my god, you feel so good,” Ichabod says, his voice bottoming out in a sinful baritone. It slithers down Abbie’s spine as she holds on for dear life when he establishes a steady and ambitious rhythm. He snakes a hand down her abdomen to thrum at her clit gently, and grins inwardly as her walls contract around him. “Do you know how hard I’ve been since I met you?”

Abbie’s eyes flutter shut as she moans weakly, shuddering at the sensations his cock made her feel.

“Crane,” she moans.

“I wanted to roll you over and sink into you right there on the beach. You have no idea how much I wanted to devour you,” Ichabod groans, rocking her into the door as he squeezes her ass. “Does it feel good, treasure?”

“Oh, fuck,” she wails. “Yes - ugh, damn it,” she pants.

“I can still taste you on my tongue, smell you on my beard. I have you now and it’s still not enough,” he admits, moving faster until he’s almost slamming into her. Abbie arches against him and shouts as her orgasm rips through her like lightning, leaving her boneless as Ichabod kisses all the skin he can reach.

“You’re so beautiful, especially when you come on my cock.”

Abbie turns into his kiss and laughs feebly.

“God, you’re still hard,” she murmurs as she flexes around the steel inside of her.

“This is what you do to me,” Ichabod says, and begins slowly pumping in and out of her.

“Then let me take care of you,” Abbie groans, raking her fingernails against Crane’s scalp. “You pick - the bed or the couch?”

Ichabod looks over his shoulder and immediately walks them both over to the couch where he falls heavily onto the plush cushions. The drop makes Abbie cry out; it feels like he swells inside of her as she begins to rock her hips, leaning forward to kiss him deeply.

“I love your hands,” Abbie says with a laugh, biting back a groan as Ichabod grabs her ass and squeeze. “They’re so big and your fingers are so long and elegant. You handed me that smoothie and the only thing in my mind for a split second was how much I wanted them inside of me.” She yelps when Ichabod widens his legs and thrusts up when she grinds down.

“Take it, take it all,” he moans, shuddering as Abbie turns serpentine above him, undulating her hips faster.

“My god, you’re so beautiful.” Ichabod looks up at her with reverence, merely able to hold on. His heart feels full as he runs his hands gently up her sides, ghosting over her nipples before palming the heft of her breast. Abbie leans back and groans.

“Fuck,” she whines, sweating as she swivels her hips. “The bed,” she pants, pushing her hair off her forehead.

Ichabod can barely understand anything beyond the wet heat around his cock.

“What?” he groans.

“Bed,” Abbie says, and stills her hips. “I need you to fuck me harder, Crane.”

Ichabod swallows as Abbie lifts herself off of his turgid length with a hiss; the absence of her wet heat on his cock makes it jump. She kneels before him and throws up a devilish grin before peeling off the condom and swallowing down more than half his dick. His head falls back and the muscles in his thighs tighten as he forces himself not to fuck Abbie’s mouth.

She swirls her tongue around his head and begins to bob, slithering her tongue on the sensitive underside, tonguing the veins protruding before swallowing again and sucking hard. Ichabod releases a strangled groan and pulls her off with an audible pop.

“You can come in my mouth,” Abbie says breathlessly, and laughs when Ichabod kisses her deeply.

“My Abbie,” he says against her mouth, pulling her up as he rises to his feet, another condom in hand.. Ichabod gathers her into his arms and he stalks resolutely to the bedroom. “When I come, I will be deep inside of you.”

Abbie swallows, ducking her head to lick at the sensitive patch of skin behind Ichabod’s ear. To his credit, he barely stumbles, throwing her onto the bed with a laugh. Impatiently he tears into the condom package and slips it on before crawling over her. Ichabod stares into her eyes as he parts her legs gently and pushes into her body. Abbie clenches around him, keening when he bottoms out inside of her.

“Are you going to fuck me like you mean it?” Abbie asks, biting her lip as she skims her fingers down his sides, enjoying the feel of whipcord muscle stretched over his long bones. He dips down and kisses her deeply, sweetly, before pulling out until just the tip remains.

Ichabod raises himself up, bracing himself on either side of Abbie’s body as he looks down at her, an ocular feast just for him.

“Indeed,” he rumbles, and shoves himself back in to the hilt.

“Fuck,” Abbie screams, his cock rubbing over just the right spot inside to make her thighs shake.

She’s so wet, the condom begins to squeak as Ichabod moves in and out of her body, determined to make her break apart. She holds on to his wrists beside her head, arching her back as her breasts bounce invitingly.

Ichabod watches them move, working his hips to make them bounce harder.

“Shit, you’re gonna make me come again,” she whines, pulling her legs up and gasping as he moves in deeper. “Crane, don’t you wanna come?” she asks, licking her lips and moaning high.

Ichabod growls, snapping his hips forward as he chases his conclusion in her tight body.

“I need you to come,” Abbie says breathlessly. “You’re so fucking big, you’re - oh fuck - splitting me apart – ugh,” she wails.

Ichabod leans down, sweat dripping from his forehead as he slows down and deepens his thrust, rubbing his pubic bone against her clit when he grinds inside of her.

“You first,” he says, and bears his weight on his knees, taking Abbie by the hips and fucking her up and down his cock.

He feels everything tightening as Abbie’s face slackens with pleasure – her hands are in her hair as her back bows and she’s coming hard, painting Ichabod’s lower abdomen and thighs with her juices when he pulls out and shoves back in. The sensation of Abbie’s walls rippling around him while she screams his name trips him into his orgasm and he ruts into her petite body with a roar, spending himself in the condom.

They lay together, still connected, breathing each other’s air as they try to come down from their high. Abbie hums as Ichabod runs his nose up the side of her neck, pressing soft, wet kisses against her sweaty skin.

“That was…” She breaks off with a laugh.

“Amazing,” he finishes, reluctantly removing himself from her body. Ichabod ties off the condom and disposes of it in the trash can beside the bed, unwilling to move too far from Abbie’s still trembling form. Ichabod’s unable to pull his gaze from her; she’s like no one he’s ever met before and even as his body is satiated, his mind turns to when they can make love again.

Abbie turns over, tucking into Ichabod’s side and running her fingers through the light brown scruff peppering his chest.

“Do you have anywhere to be?” she asks, not quite looking Ichabod in the eye.

He shakes his head, catching her fingers and kissing the pad of each digit.

“I am here as long as you’ll have me.”

Abbie tries to hide her smile but he can feel it against his chest.

“Good,” she says against his skin. “Maybe we can go running in the morning.”

Ichabod smiles and after pulling Abbie closer, settles into deep, satisfying sleep.

Chapter Text

Abbie wakes to the sound of thunder.

She sits up immediately, briefly dumbfounded that paradise has regular weather just like the real world. It must have begun raining sometime in the middle of the night; it lulled her into such a deep sleep she hadn’t even heard her alarm. Outside it’s coming down hard, but what Abbie can see of the sky says the clouds won’t be around long. She doesn’t like the idea of running on wet sand and decides to call off the run.

It’s supposed to be her vacation, anyway.

When Abbie falls back against the cool sheets strong arms encircle her waist and pull her back against a wide chest. She can’t help her grin as Ichabod nuzzles against her neck and kisses her pulse point.

“Good morning,” she says, biting her lip as his hands begin to wander.

“Good morning, treasure,” Ichabod rumbles sleepily, groaning at all the soft skin in his reach. “A very, very good morning.”

Abbie twists in his grasp and laughs, capturing his mouth for a kiss. They lie that way for minutes, drowsing and kissing each other softly, snuggling against each other. Eventually thunder rumbles again.

“It’s raining,” she says against his mouth.

Ichabod cracks open an eye and hums.

“So it is,” he says.

“We can’t go on our run,” Abbie whispers, and Ichabod rears back comically, making her laugh.

“Oh, no,” he murmurs. “What are we going to do?” he asks, trailing kisses down her cheek and paying close attention to her favorite spot just beside the nape of her neck.

Abbie sighs and scratches Ichabod’s scalp gently with her nails, enjoying how he shudders at the contact.

“It feels like you’ve already got something in mind,” she says, moving her hip against him.

“Great minds,” he says, and eases between Abbie’s legs with a groan; his cock reacts to her already wet heat as he lays against her. Ichabod thrusts shallowly, dragging himself against her, spreading her essence along his shaft, and just like that, he’s painfully hard and dying to be buried inside of her.

“Where’d we put the condoms?” he asks, licking into Abbie’s mouth and kissing her long and deep.

When he lets her up for air, Abbie chuckles.

“I have no idea,” she says. “You went all Hulk on the box and after that I was a little busy,” she says, reaching down to pump his erection.

The unexpected contact has Ichabod thrusting into her small hand, groaning at the sensation.

“You made me do it,” he pants, working his hips lazily. “Driving me crazy with your beautiful eyes –” he kisses her eyelids gently, “– your amazing mouth –” he bites at her full bottom lip, “- and your prodigious hips.”

Ichabod grasps them and pulls her against him, grinding at her core.

Abbie throws her head back and moans.

“Fuck,” she says, and makes a split second decision. “When – when was the last time you got tested?”

Ichabod stills his movements as his brain forces him to think.

“I had to get my passport renewed two weeks before this trip – I was tested then. I’m clean,” he adds.

Abbie nods.

“I got tested a month before. I’m clean, too,” she says, biting her lip when Ichabod begins to grind against her again.

Ichabod tries not to hope as he hardens even more against her.

“What are you saying?” he asks, breathlessly.

“I’m saying that maybe you don’t have to go find the condoms,” Abbie says, running her hands down his shoulders. “I trust you,” she says, sort of like she doesn’t understand it herself.

Ichabod swallows and nods.

“Thank you for trusting me; it’s not misplaced,” he promises, and leans into her touch when Abbie cups his cheek with a small smile.

“Promise?” she asks, wincing as it comes out shakier than intended.

Ichabod leans down to kiss both her cheeks before hugging her close, marveling at how small she is in his arms, and again has to fight against unnecessary protective instincts. He sighs against her shoulder, and chuckles.

“What?”

“You’ll think me a cliché,” he mutters.

Abbie lifts his head from her shoulder and shakes her head.

“No, I won’t. I already know you’re a little corny,” she teases, and yelps when Ichabod tickles her side briefly.

“I’m really glad I met you,” he says. “I’ll be forever grateful you consented to dinner with me.”

“You made the offer sound so appealing,” Abbie says, tucking his hair behind his ear but not quite looking him in the eye.

“But you didn’t have to be so kind,” Ichabod says, nuzzling his cheek against hers. “Beautiful and kind; it’s unfair.”

Abbie rolls them onto Ichabod’s back gently, kissing down his chest and enjoying the play of his muscles beneath the skin when her tongue darts out to lick and nip. She reaches up and gently scrapes her fingernails down his chest, dipping her tongue into the surprising definition of his abs – in the half-light of the storm his body reveals more muscle than she’d originally noticed.

She hums with appreciation when she gets to the tantalizing indent at his hip and groans at the scent she finds there. It’s uniquely him and concentrated – Abbie would roll around in this scent if she could, she thinks as she scrapes her teeth against his skin. His abdomen jumps at his shallow laugh but he relaxes into a groan when she grazes his straining erection.

Abbie takes it in hand, more than a little cowed that the frenzied haze of lust didn’t exaggerate anything. She glances up the plane of his body and dips her tongue into his slit, squeezing his shaft gently. Ichabod strains not to move, gasping helplessly and moaning when Abbie swallows his head and sucks like a lollipop, releasing him with an audible pop.

“You’re not getting this back,” she says throatily. “It’s mine now.”

“Oh, is it?” Ichabod asks, his head dropping back to the bed when Abbie begins to pump him gently.

“Yep,” she says cheerfully.

Ichabod rears up, catching Abbie beneath the arms and hauling her up his body. She grins and kisses him slowly, catching his bottom lip with her teeth. Abbie laughs when Ichabod palms her ass and lifts her onto his cock, both moaning as he slips inside inch by inch.

“Fuck, I do believe you’re right,” he groans, falling back when Abbie pushes against his chest.

She reaches for his hands, twining her fingers through his as she works her way down his cock, crying out at every inch as she moves her hips. Abbie holds his hands tightly, breathing through her nose and trying not to shiver at the goosebumps that have erupted down her back.

“You just have to be a giant all over, don’t you?” she asks, blowing a lock of hair out of her face.

Ichabod swallows.

“I’d apologize, but I’m not sure you’d want me to. If I were not as I am, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” He braces his feet against the bed and thrusts up, shoving in to the hilt. If Abbie hadn’t been holding onto his hands, she would’ve pitched forward.

“Oh, shit,” she pants, grinding down so he rubs over that spot inside of her. “You’ve gotta warn a girl,” she says, groaning and throwing her head back.

“What fun would that be,” Ichabod rumbles, mesmerized as Abbie slows down, staring at him fondly.

“What are you thinking?” he asks, toes curling when one of her hands drops to his face.

“We met in another lifetime,” Abbie says, tracing his brow and his cheekbones.

Ichabod turns into her touch and kisses her palm.

“We knew each other,” he says. “I’m sure of it.”

“How did we know each other?” she asks, falling forward to brace herself with one hand on his chest.

Ichabod squeezes Abbie’s hips gently.

“We were brought together by fate,” he says, pulling her down harder onto him. They’re barely moving now, rocking against each other – unable to take their eyes off the other’s face.

“Fate?” Abbie laughs and grabs her breast as she bites her bottom lip. “That sounds serious. What did fate bring us together to do?”

Ichabod runs his hands up her abdomen and cups her breasts, teasing her nipples with his fingers. Abbie’s hips move faster as she leans forward, pushing her chest into his grasp.

“To fight evil,” he manages to get out when she clamps down harder around him. “You and I were brought together to champion for good.”

Abbie drops her head back to keep Ichabod from seeing her blink the beginning of tears away.

“You’re so corny,” she says thickly.

Ichabod rolls them over, laughing at Abbie’s yelp. He raises her hands over her head with one hand and trails his other down her front, feather-light, until he brushes through her wet curls to her clit.

“Am I corny now?” he asks, thrusting inside of her deeply, at a measured pace while he applies just a little bit of pressure in time with his thrusts.

Abbie’s mouth falls open as she tries to twist away from how good it feels.

“Oh – ugh – fuck,” she grunts, spreading her legs so he can get closer. “Faster,” she whines.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“No,” he says lowly. “Because this –” he slides in slow, “- is mine. Isn’t it, treasure?”

Abbie tries to glare at him but Ichabod flexes inside of her and she can’t help the shudder as he body responds.

“I ain’t saying shit,” she struggles to say.

Ichabod chuckles.

“You don’t have to. Do you feel how wet you are?” he asks, moving inside of her deeply. “Do you feel how hard you clutch me? How badly your body wants me?”

He leans down and licks into her mouth, slamming hard into her but keeping the same pace.

“Don’t you feel how badly my body wants yours?” he pants into her mouth.

Abbie cries out weakly, unable to do more than hold on as Ichabod fucks her hard, his fingers still at her clit as his cock works to destroy her from the inside out. She looks up into his eyes and finds something that looks like love there and she slips into her orgasm, pressing her face to his neck and crying out as she ripples around Ichabod inside of her.

Ichabod is right behind her; feeling Abbie come apart around him makes him swell even more, and with great satisfaction he empties himself inside of her, thrusting mightily as he comes.

Ichabod tries not to collapse on top of her but Abbie pulls him close, still hiding her face and unwilling to let him go.

“Just –” She begins to say, but nothing else comes out.

Ichabod kisses her cheek and snuggles down, trapping her between his body and the sheets.

“Is this good?” he asks.

Abbie nods; she doesn’t know how to say that being in Ichabod’s arms like this makes her feel sheltered in ways she’s yearned for, so instead she presses a kiss to his neck and holds him closer than she’s willing to admit.

~*~

“Do all Cirtonians sound like you?”

Ichabod shakes his head, biting off a piece of succulent mango.

“No, most Cirtonians have something quite similar to what you’d consider a Spanish accent. But Mother is from Britain and I went to boarding school there. Can’t seem to shake the accent when I speak English,” he says.

“I wouldn’t worry about it - It works for you,” Abbie says, grinning and accepting a grape from Ichabod’s fingers. She takes care to close her lips around his fingers, letting her tongue dart out and tease the tips.

“Why do you insist on starting things?” he groans, and Abbie laughs.

“No clue what you’re talking about,” she says with a shrug.

“I’m sure.” Ichabod pulls her close and kisses her deeply. Abbie responds enthusiastically as she winds her arms around his neck and practically climbs into his lap.

“Abbie?” he asks, when they part to breathe.

“Hmm?”

“The rain’s stopped,” Ichabod says.

Abbie glances over his shoulder and back at him.

“Don’t care,” she says, snuggling against his chest.

Ichabod can’t help smile and lean down to kiss her bare shoulder.

“You’re not getting up, are you?”

Abbie cracks open an eye and shakes her head.

“I’m too comfortable. Besides, someone wore me out,” she says.

When Ichabod doesn’t say anything else she opens her eyes and sits up again.

“You were telling me that so you could let me know you gotta go.”

Ichabod smiles and tucks a bit of her hair behind her ear.

“I was,” he says. “I’ve got some things I have to take care of,” he says, and when Abbie looks up, he looks reluctant to leave.

“Right, yeah,” Abbie says with a laugh she doesn’t feel.

“I can’t take up all your time,” she says. “It’s fine, I’ll see you around, maybe.”

Ichabod watches with one eyebrow raised as Abbie slips from his arms and tries to scramble off the bed while refusing to look at him.

“Abbie,” he says, but she raises her hand.

“Look, I know we had fun,” she says, rummaging around in the dresser to pull out a pair of barely-there panties that have Ichabod swallowing hard. “You don’t owe me anything, especially an explanation. We’re both adults.”

“Abbie,” Ichabod says again, watching mournfully as she puts on a bra. “Abbie!”

Abbie stops, one leg angrily jabbed in a pair of shorts.

“What?” she snaps.

“I have to go make a few phone calls, but I wanted to know if you would be amenable to spending the rest of our time here together.” He steps up to her, taking her hands in his before lifting them to his mouth for a kiss. “Please,” he adds.

Abbie stares at his mouth and down at her hands in his.

“I thought you were leaving,” she says.

“Only for a moment,” he promises. “But I wouldn’t mind spending a few days in my bungalow as well.”

Ichabod grins down at her.

“Oh treasure, don’t pout,” he laughs, leaning down and kissing her embarrassment away.

“What is it with you, Crane? I can’t go very long without saying or doing something I normally wouldn’t. You put a spell on me?” Abbie squints up at him playfully.

“I should ask you the very same,” he says before leaning down to kiss her again. “Why don’t you come over for dinner? I should be done with everything I have to do.”

“What’s the dress code?” Abbie asks.

“Easily removable,” Ichabod says without hesitation and Abbie laughs.

“So nasty,” she says fondly.

Abbie’s eyes widen as Ichabod suddenly drops into a low and graceful bow before her.

“Until mine eyes have the good fortune of beholding your countenance once more, I shall wait with bated breath.” She stares after him, mute, until he turns at the last minute to wink and slip out the door.

She staggers back to the bed and stares at her feet against the white carpet, wiggling them absently. Abbie’s heart is beating a million miles a minute and she’s got butterflies in her gut.

What the hell is going on? She hasn’t felt this way in such a long time.

“What are you doing, girl?” she asks herself, falling back onto the bed to stare at the ceiling.

This isn’t like her, vacation or no. Abbie doesn’t get this close to someone she’s just met and she definitely doesn’t have mind-blowing sex with them for what constitutes almost twenty-four hours.

She should cut ties now. There’re only four days left for her here.

“I’ll go over and tell him it was fun, and that I like his penis very much, but who are we fooling? This isn’t the real world,” Abbie says.

Unbidden, Ichabod’s face comes to mind and she presses her hand against her lips, almost sure she can feel his mouth on her skin.

Dinner, Abbie thinks. Dinner and nothing more.

Best they rip the band aid off before one of them catches feelings.

Dinner (a wonderful seafood gumbo after Ichabod devours Abbie on the table) turns into breakfast the next morning, turns into Ichabod and Abbie sharing both bungalows. Neither want to be apart from the other, but neither will bring themselves to name what is growing between them.

Instead, they stay up most nights talking about life and people; small things like movies and music and big things like life, death, and God. They go snorkeling, try surfing and paddleboard, and twice Abbie tries to sunbathe topless to get the glowing tan she’d planned for, but it turns into sex on a towel on the beach and putting a lounge chair through a rigorous stress test.

All too soon, Abbie is packed and standing in front of her bungalow staring up at Ichabod in a shoulder-baring emerald dress, twisting her fingers around the pull bar of her suitcase while she tries not to cry.

“We knew this was going to happen,” she says, almost angry.

“I don’t regret a moment of it,” Ichabod says. “Not a single moment.”

He tilts her chin up and gives her a lingering kiss.

“Give me your phone number,” he murmurs against her mouth.

Abbie sniffs and pulls away.

“I don’t want to do the long distance thing, Crane. I can’t. When would we ever see each other?”

“I’d follow you,” he says simply. “Give me a few hours and I’ll come to Sleepy Hollow.”

Abbie laughs.

“You sound so serious,” she says. “But we’ve got to let this fantasy go. Can we enjoy what we had?”

Ichabod nods.

“Of course,” he says quietly. “Dearest Abbie, I will never forget you.”

Abbie squeezes his wrist briefly and nods – her eyes bright as she looks away.

“Don’t think I could forget anyone like you,” she says thickly. “Thank you,” she says.

“For?”

“For… being what I needed. For helping me remember that maybe emotions and feelings aren’t so bad,” Abbie jokes.

“Then I must thank you, as well,” Ichabod says.

“For what?”

“For showing me that I can imagine the rest of my life with one person.”

Abbie chokes off a sob as her cab pulls up to the curb. She goes to grab her suitcase when Ichabod smoothly cuts her off, grabbing it himself and placing it in the trunk of the taxi.

“Goodbye, Ichabod,” she whispers.

“Goodbye, treasure.” Ichabod gives her a tight hug, presses a kiss to the crown of her head, and opens the cab door for her.

Abbie tucks her skirt in and darts into the vehicle, resolutely closing her eyes to keep the tears from falling. After a moment, she feels the car begin to move but she doesn’t open her eyes or release the breath she’s holding until she’s sure Ichabod’s nowhere in sight.

And many hours later when Abbie closes her front door behind her, her house feels empty in a way it hadn’t before.

~*~

“Abbie?!” Jenny calls, letting herself in.

“In here!”

Jenny follows the sound of her big sister’s voice into the kitchen, where Abbie’s perched on the counter, staring into space.

“What are you doing?” Jenny asks, putting her bag down on the table and handing her a coffee.

“Ooh, thanks.” Abbie takes a sip and blanches. “This is yours,” she chokes, holding it out for a switch.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Jenny says and takes her rightful beverage. “So…” she says, after the silence settles between them.

Abbie stares at her expectantly before glancing down at her beverage.

“Is this bribery coffee?” she accuses.

“No!” Jenny rolls her eyes. “…I just came to check on you.”

“Why?” Abbie shakes her head, confused.

“Because I’m worried about you.”

“Again, why?”

“You’re moping.”

“What? I’m not moping,” Abbie protests. “I’ve been back like, three days and this is the first time you’ve seen me!”

“Joe sees you every day in Starbucks,” Jenny points out.

Abbie is going to find Joe Corbin and put him in the hospital.

“So you’re talking to Joe about me?”

Jenny rolls her eyes.

“Are you new?” She takes a swallow of her drink. “Joe says you’re unfocused and despondent.”

It’s Abbie’s turn to roll her eyes.

“Despondent. Fuck. Joe just wants to diagnose everything because he’s taking his entrance exam next month. Ignore him.”

“You just came back from what should’ve been an amazing, all expenses paid vacation. Something you desperately needed.”

Abbie stares back at her sister expectantly.

“So why do you look like you’ve lost something?” Jenny asked. “Did you get some Vacation Dick?” she squeals.

Abbie sputters and almost chokes on her coffee.

“What?”

“Did you go to Jamaica and turn into a ho? Not that I’m shaming you; some of my best friends are hos!”

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Get out of my house,” she says weakly.

“Abbie went and had herself some fun,” Jenny sings.

Abbie thinks upon blue eyes and long, strong fingers and a warm, deep voice.

“I did,” she says simply. “And now it’s over and I gotta get my head back in the game.”

“I dunno. Someone who put it on you that good might be worth calling,” Jenny says. “Don’t you think?”

“Can’t. I didn’t get his number,” Abbie says tightly, hopping down from the counter and walking around her sister.

“Then he’ll call you,” Jenny says, trailing up the stairs after Abbie.

“Can’t. Didn’t give him my number.”

Jenny pinches the bridge of her nose as she crosses into Abbie’s bedroom.

“Has it been that long, Abbie, that you don’t know how to do this whole dating thing?”

“He’s from a whole ‘nother country thousands of miles away. When would we see each other again?” Abbie asks, going over to her dresser and pulling out two impossibly skimpy bathing suits. “These are yours, I’m guessing,” she says, throwing them at Jenny’s face.

Jenny barely catches them and cackles.

“They’re your size,” she says.

“And somehow they hardly fit,” Abbie says, hands on hips. “What did you do with the bathing suits I packed? When did you even switch my stuff?”

“You had your suitcase packed and sitting by the door two days before it was time to go. I just let myself in and got rid of your boring suits and put in some that would showcase some of your best assets.” Jenny shrugs.

“Yeah, ribbons and a one piece that I thought was modest enough but my ass was hanging out.”

Jenny smothers a laugh and throws the garments back at her.

“But did they work?”

Abbie ducks her head too slow to hide her grin and Jenny whoops.

“I knew it! People can’t resist the Mills ass.”

“God, get out,” Abbie grumbles.

Jenny clutches her chest.

“Why? I got something for you!”

“I don’t want anything you got right now,” Abbie says.

“Sure about that? Not even a job?” Jenny asks.

Abbie taps her foot and crosses her arms.

“Spill.”

“I have a client who wants to take up self-defense.”

“They should sign up for a self-defense class,” Abbie says.

“Funny. They want the best and I suggested you. They’re willing to pay for private lessons.”

Abbie searches Jenny’s entirely too innocent looking face.

“Why does that sound like the set-up for a porno?”

“You’re so nasty; I know that Vacation Dick had to be amazing for you to come back like this.” Jenny wiggles her eyebrows and produces a card. “Interested?”

Abbie doesn’t want to be interested. She wants to wallow in bed and wonder what Ichabod is doing.

“Yes,” she says, and snatches the card.

“Good. He’s expecting your call.”

Abbie fingers the weighty cardstock and flips it over; there’s nothing but a name in what is probably considered a concise and manly font.

L. Morales

~*~

Abbie smiles tightly as the man looks back at her ID and her face before nodding and handing it over.

“Thank you,” she says.

“Drive around the bend, someone will be waiting to escort you.”

The security guard goes back into his booth and pushes a button that opens the electric fence and Abbie drives through, subtly impressed by all the security measures.

What kind of man needed this type of security and self-defense training?

It pays the bills, she thinks, and pulls around to see a young woman in a prim, navy dress suit. Her long brown hair is pulled into a braid that hangs over one shoulder and she’s staring down at a tablet, rapidly tapping away with a stylus.

Abbie stops the car right in front of her and gets out.

“Hi, I’m Abbie Mills? I’m the –”

“Self Defense Instructor,” the woman says, managing to enunciate the capital letters without looking up. She gives a few more taps to the tablet and looks up to give a friendly smile.

“I’m Mary Wells, Mr. Morales’ assistant. You are exactly on time. I can’t tell you how wonderful that is.”

Abbie grins and shrugs a shoulder.

“Punctuality is important?” she says for lack of anything else to say.

Mary looks relieved.

“Agreed. Come this way; Mr. Morales is waiting.”

Abbie follows the woman into the large, white stone house, her sneakers silent compared to the clack of Mary’s heels. Mr. Morales’ ethnicity is proudly woven through the art – varied styles that catch her eye until she’s led into an indoor gym that appears to be able to hold her entire house.

More art is on the wall and Abbie wanders over to appreciate it. Leaning close, she realizes it’s not a reproduction, and is impressed.

“Ignacio Ortiz.”

Abbie whirls around and finds herself face to face with a very handsome man with an easy smile.

“Mister Morales,” she says, holding her hand out to shake. “Abbie Mills.”

“Please, call me Luke,” he says as he takes Abbie’s hand, and Abbie can’t help but notice the bulge of muscle as he moves – barely remembering to smile in return.

She’s going to kill Jenny.

If she survives this.

~

After terms are negotiated, Luke excuses himself to dress in appropriate gear while Abbie attempts to center herself by easing into the eagle pose and concentrating on her breathing.

Once the calm relaxes her body muscle by muscle, she removes her jacket and places it with her things on the bench against the wall.

When Luke returns, Abbie forces herself to remain professional, but inwardly she is drooling at all the defined muscle on display. He wears a pair of loose fitting pants, a tank top and smart running sneakers.

“Thank god,” she murmurs, and Luke looks at her strangely. “I’ve had some clients dress very strangely for a session. You look like you’re ready to get down to business.”

Luke glances down and shrugs.

“I like to be prepared. I did call around – you don’t play.”

“I don’t play when it comes to self-defense,” Abbie says. “When I’m done, you should have skills to reasonably defend yourself and get to safety. I don’t train heroes – this isn’t going to make you able to rescue hostages, dodge bullets, or act out anything you saw in the Taken trilogy.”

Luke coughs a laugh.

“There’s a third Taken movie?” he asks, and Abbie drops her shoulders to laugh.

“It’s not worth it,” she says. “Now, this is strictly evaluation. I’m going to come up behind you and I want you to react. Don’t think, just react. I need to see what I’m working with.”

“And here I thought I made it easy by wearing this shirt.” Luke flexes briefly and Abbie has to shake her head to clear the thoughts from them.

“Focus, Mister Morales,” she says.

Sí, señorita,” Luke snaps smartly, and turns his back on Abbie. Silently, she creeps up behind him and kicks him in the back of the knee, just enough to bend, and throws her arm around his neck.

Abbie is suddenly thrown over his shoulder in a very practiced move. As soon as her feet hit the ground she twists and darts to the side, bearing Luke up and off his feet as she drops him to the mat, breathing heavily.

“Mister Morales, you lied to me,” she says flatly.

Luke looks up at her, slightly surprised and dazed.

“I didn’t lie,” he says, and jumps to his feet lightly. “I was being honest when I said I hadn’t had any self-defense training.”

“Then where’d you learn a move like that? If you say ‘television,’ I’m walking out of here.”

Luke chuckles.

“No, more like Special Forces.”

Abbie looks away, her jaw at an angry set.

“So when my sister suggested my services, it had nothing to do with self-defense.” She turns to him with a glare hot enough to melt paint. “I don’t sleep with men for money.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Luke says, raising his arms. “That’s not what this is. Yes, Jenny wanted us to get to know each other socially, but the self-defense classes aren’t for me. I need my staff trained and I want the best. I can’t do it because frankly, I’m not that great a teacher.”

Abbie’s arms are still crossed as she tries to determine if Luke is telling the truth.

“Who needs training?” she asks after a moment.

“Mary, definitely. My new driver, Benjamin, and my niece, Sylvie.”

Damn kids, she thinks.

“Jenny tell you kids were my weak spot?” Abbie asks.

Luke pretends to think about the answer.

“I think I’m not going to answer that question; I want to live to take you out.”

Abbie barks a laugh.

“How about we take this one step at a time,” she says. Luke nods, but looks crestfallen. "So what was this supposed to be?"

"An audition. Does it help I'm impressed?"

"Not by much," Abbie says honestly.

"Fair enough," Luke says.

“And as for dinner… I won't say it's exactly off the table,” she says.

Luke nods.

“Good. Good. Glad to hear it. Why don’t we go to my office and go over your new terms? Twice your group fee?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“No, you’re not going to bribe me. I’ve got a group contract already in my bag. You like the terms, you sign it. Nothing extra.”

Luke nods once, respect in his eyes.

“Nothing extra.”

~*~

Abbie pulls her phone to her face, blearily trying to make out the words on her screen. Halfway through trying to decipher a keysmash she falls asleep again, face pressed against her phone.

Sometime later, her phone rings, and Abbie yanks her ear from the offending sound, cursing and swiping at the screen. It’s her day off, and she’s not talking to anyone she doesn’t want to talk to. She throws the phone down by the foot of her bed and goes back to sleep.

Hours later, Abbie’s awake and cleaning her house, dancing to Beyoncé and trying not to act out her favorite videos but halfway through throwing everything out in her fridge she grabs a rolling pin to bring down the house as she provides backup vocals for Love on Top.

Abbie’s in a good mood, even as she realizes she’s going to have to go grocery shopping. The growl in her stomach makes her decide to stop for lunch before going to the store, so she gets dressed, ties her hair back and heads out.

She grabs lunch at Mabel’s, a quick turkey club on marble rye and French fries. Abbie is half absorbed in a book on her tablet when Kara comes by with her order.

“Did you enjoy your vacation?”

Abbie pulls herself from the words on the tablet and smiles up at the young woman.

“I did,” she says. “How’d you know I was on vacation?”

Kara sputters.

“Uh, I think Jenny told me. Besides, you didn’t come in for breakfast for a whole week. Either you were sick or on vacation.”

Abbie laughs.

“Well, I can’t get enough of Mabel’s stuffed French toast. Oh, can I get some more ketchup? This bottle’s almost out.”

She glances up to see Kara looking at her strangely.

Kara jumps when she realizes Abbie’s waiting.

“Right, sure,” she says, clearing her throat and rushing away.

Weird, Abbie thinks, and when the ketchup is brought she tucks into her meal. When she goes to pay, Kara is whispering to Richard, the short order cook for the lunch rush. They’re hunched over a magazine but every so often they glance over at her.

“Hey, thanks; everything was good as always,” she says, flashing her card.

Kara nudges Richard and appears to smother a smile as she tallies Abbie’s bill and swipes her card.

Abbie tries not to frown as she signs the receipt.

“Everything okay?” she asks, handing it and the pen over.

Kara clears her throat again and nods.

“Yeah, fine. I’m just.. Long day,” she says.

Abbie nods slowly, too.

“Alright. Well, don’t work too hard. That goes double for you, Richard.”

“Get outta here with your glowing ass,” Richard crows, and Kara collapses into giggles.

Abbie waves reluctantly and quickly leaves the diner. In the car she checks her texts and has three from Jenny, two of which are just exclamation points. And the third: Why I gotta find out from someone else?

“Oh, my god, what are you talking about?” she asks her phone, but throws it on the passenger seat without sending a message. Abbie doesn’t have time for Jenny right now, not after that shit she pulled with Morales.

Turning on the radio, Abbie stops on the classic jazz station and belts out “At Last” while navigating traffic, and pulls into the parking lot to finish the song before turning off the car and going inside.

Making a beeline for the fruit, she grabs some mango and pineapple, craving something tropical. As the word hits her brain Abbie immediately thinks of Ichabod, and her heart picks up a bit. It’s not the first time she’s thought of him since being back, and just like the first time her heart skips a beat.

“Get over it, Mills,” she mutters to herself.

That doesn’t stop her from shoving a small carton of Cirtona berries into her cart and moving on.

Abbie meanders through the store picking up a few more odds and ends before going to the front. Idly, she pops open the berries as she passes by the magazines, not really paying attention to anything but the pictures.

An old white lady looks up from the magazine in her hands and gives Abbie a double take. Abbie pretends not to notice as she moves around her to keep perusing, but the woman’s jaw is now dropped as she stares.

Abbie is creeped out and decides to check out; at least while she’s waiting she can skim the mags there. She loads the conveyer belt with her items and grabs a pack of gum to put with the rest of her things.

“Oh, my god, that’s you.”

Abbie looks over at the cashier, who’s glancing back and forth at Abbie and a magazine on the rack.

Suddenly, Abbie’s looking at herself stare up at Ichabod - a big, stupid smile on her face. He’s looking down at her and has probably said something sweet or called her treasure. And this would be weird--having her picture in a major gossip magazine--but it wouldn’t be so bad if Ichabod hadn’t had both of his hands full of her ass.

PLAYBOY PRINCE HAS HANDS FULL WITH NEW MYSTERY WOMAN.

She chokes on a berry.

Chapter Text

Abbie lies face down on Jenny’s couch, one eye open and staring at the empty carton of Cirtona berries on the floor next to her. She’s not thinking, she’s not feeling, she’s not doing anything.

Well, maybe she’s freaking out a little.

“I mean... how could you not know?” Jenny asks from the kitchen.

Abbie closes her eye and groans, curling up and turning into the cushions. Behind her eyelids the memory of seeing herself on a magazine cover in a slightly compromising position plays over and over again. She rushed to pay for her things even as the cashier kept asking incredibly personal questions about her and the prince.

The prince.

Abbie groans again.

“He introduced himself as Ichabod Crane,” she says. “I should’ve known it was a fake name.”

Jenny returns to the living room with a large bowl of popcorn.

“No, that’s his real name. Don’t you look at entertainment news?”

“Why, Jenny? So I can be bored to death?” Abbie asks.

“Should’ve,” Jenny sings. “He’s Prince Ichabod of Cirtona and he’s kind of known for landing major babes.”

Jenny breaks down laughing.

“I can’t believe this. How. How can you be so lucky to get a free vacation you didn’t even want to go on and get to meet a prince?”

Abbie sits up and glares at her sister.

“My life is over, Jenny,” she says sternly. “My face is all over a magazine.”

Jenny smirks.

“Is it really your face you’re worried about?”

Abbie sets her jaw angrily and shoves off the couch.

“I’m going home.”

“No, wait,” Jenny laughs, jumping up and darting in front of Abbie so she can’t leave. “I didn’t mean to laugh,” she giggles.

“So why are you still laughing?” Abbie asks.

“Because it’s still funny?” Jenny laughs and grabs Abbie when she tries to dart around her. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just… Come on; you’re perfect, Abbie. You never do anything unexpected and you’re always responsible. This is my turn to laugh a little at your expense.”

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Having to fly to Frankfurt in the middle of the night is really different from seeing my ass on a magazine.”

“No pun intended, right?” Jenny collapses into giggles, unable to speak as Abbie pokes her in the side and leaves, slamming the door behind her.

Abbie groans under her breath, stomping down each step from Jenny’s second floor apartment until she reaches the parking lot. Once in the car, Abbie pulls her tablet out from beneath the passenger seat and looks up Ichabod Crane.

No, scratch that; Prince Ichabod.

Her heart beats strangely when his pictures appear. In most of them he’s wearing a beautifully tailored suit and his hair is longer, pulled back in a low ponytail.

He seems to always be doing something with his eyebrow and Abbie remembers sitting in his lap and talking, her hands on his eyebrows so they wouldn’t move. Every time Ichabod said something that didn’t move his eyebrows, Abbie would laugh and kiss him until they forgot their little game in favor of his bed.

She shakes herself from the memory and reminds herself she’s supposed to be angry. Abbie swipes through a few more pictures and pauses on one with him at some official ceremony. He’s wearing a crimson cape with an elaborate mantle across his chest, held closed with a large diamond and ruby pin, matching the ruby crown on his head.

Abbie’s heart begins to pound; he looks amazing and suddenly the way he carries himself clicks into place. The impeccable posture. The slightly old-fashioned manners. The assured tilt to his mouth and his utter poise. She’s not gonna lie; it was a complete turn on.

But why didn’t he tell her?

Abbie jumps at the knock on her window, and glares at Jenny as she pushes the button to lower the window.

“Bitch, what do you want?” she asks without heat.

Jenny purses her lips and tries to suppress her smile.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

Abbie looks at her expectantly.

“Where’s the joke?” she asks.

“No joke,” Jenny says. “I’m really sorry; I know you’re freaking out and I took advantage.”

Abbie nods briefly and glances down at the tablet in her lap.

“He really is a prince,” she says weakly.

“Yep.” Jenny reaches in and squeezes her shoulder. “Did you look at who he dates?”

Jenny opens the door, takes Abbie’s tablet and quickly calls up a search. Immediately, Abbie’s staring at gorgeous, elegant women close to his height with long, long legs and impressive racks.

Abbie’s heart drops as the pictures seem to blur.

“I’m almost a foot shorter than those women. I guess we were both getting away from the real world,” she mutters. Why did he even look at her?

“Abs, come on. Look at it this way: you captivated him. Made him look outside his norm.” Jenny shrugs, handing the tablet back to her sister, who throws it on the passenger seat.

“I’m going home,” Abbie says tiredly. “This day seems like it lasted a whole week.”

Jenny nods, and closes Abbie’s door.

“Are you going to call him?”

“Can’t, remember? I didn’t get his information. Besides, what would I say? ‘Hey, I saw a picture of us in a minor gossip rag in the grocery store while I happened to be eating one of the chief exports of your country. How crazy is that? Also, you didn’t tell me you’re a prince and I don’t know how to feel about that!’” Abbie starts the car and shakes her head. “Sounds even crazier aloud. I just hope this blows over before it fucks up my life.”

Jenny shrugs a shoulder.

“It was just one magazine, right? It’ll blow over and everyone will be back onto the next Kardashian scandal or Beyoncé’s new secret project.”

Abbie nods.

“Here’s to hoping. Night.”

“Night,” Jenny says, and waves.

Abbie glances at her sister in her rearview, biting her bottom lip. It was just one magazine, like Jenny pointed out. No one’s going to care about her – they didn’t even have her name. No one ever cares about the woman, especially Abbie compared with those leggy supermodel specimens.

No one cares, and Abbie’s going to try not to either.

~*~

Famous fucking last words.

Abbie pulls through the gates of the Morales house, thankful the vans full of reporters can’t follow. She’s got embarrassment roiling in her gut and sees a frowning Mary standing in her customary spot, dressed and ready for the lesson. She doesn’t want to have this conversation but Abbie can’t avoid it forever. She parks her car and grabs her gym bag.

“Good afternoon, Mary,” she says, coming to stand before the woman.

Mary looks at her strangely.

“Mister Morales would like to speak with you.”

Abbie nods as her stomach bubbles even more. This is probably where he fires her, she thinks as she follows Mary through the house, but instead of turning off at the gym they continue on to the office. Abbie feels like she’s been called to the principal for doing something bad, and she’s ready to defend herself, but when Mary gestures for her to enter the office there is no anger or malice on Luke’s face.

Just concern.

“Are you okay?” he asks, coming around his desk. He takes her bag and her hand and walks her to the comfortable couch on the other side of the office.

Abbie’s taken aback, and suddenly everything she was going to say evaporates. She shakes her head.

“What?” she asks.

“It’s all over the news and quite a few magazines,” he says gently.

Abbie swallows.

“The news?” she asks quietly.

He nods.

“Are you okay?” Luke asks again, Abbie’s hand still in his.

“You’re not going to fire me?” Abbie blurts out.

“Absolutely not,” he says. “I know how it feels to have someone pry into your private life. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Well,” he drawls. “Maybe my worst enemy. But I thought I would give you a chance to explain.”

Abbie straightens and pulls her hand from Luke’s.

“I shouldn’t have to explain,” she says. “It was on my private time and it should have been my private business.”

Luke holds up his hands and winces.

“You’re right, you’re right. I just… I’m sorry. I can’t seem to get my bearings around you,” he admits.

Abbie’s frown softens; Luke really looks something like a kicked puppy and he seems contrite…

“Just say what you mean,” she says.

“I like you. A lot.” Luke runs his hands through his hair and chuckles. “I don’t normally have difficulty asking women out,” he says.

“I gathered,” Abbie says dryly.

“I think I was threatened because you waltz into my life, gorgeous and smart, and you can literally kick ass. Then I see pictures of you in the arms of a prince.”

Luke scoffs and looks away.

“I was jealous.”

Abbie stares at him, unsure of what to do or how to feel.

“Luke, I don’t normally date my clients,” she says gently.

“Should’ve said something before I hired you,” he jokes.

Abbie’s smile is small as she glances down at her hands. There are a million reasons why she shouldn’t mix business with pleasure but Luke Morales is nice, incredibly handsome, and they have a lot of things in common, despite the large class divide.

But what about Ichabod?

What about him, she thinks harshly. He’s out of the country, out of her league, and she would be out of her mind if she thought he even remembered her name a week and a half later.

“Maybe when the hubbub dies down?” Abbie offers. “I don’t want to drag you into this media circus.”

Luke smiles, moving his head back and forth as he pretends to think.

“I am very sure you’re worth it. Have dinner with me?”

Abbie laughs helplessly.

“Okay,” she says, before she can talk herself out of it.

“Really?” Luke grins. “You’re not going to regret it,” he says, rising from the couch.

Abbie rises as well and shrugs.

“We’ll see, won’t we?”

“Ouch,” he says, clutching his chest. Luke glances at his watch.

“I don’t know if you’re in the mood to hold class but Sylvie is here and she’s very excited. As is Mary.”

“Sure, that’s my job,” Abbie says. “What about Benjamin?”

“Benjamin said he wanted a male instructor because it was bruising his ego to be body slammed by a woman.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“What’d you say to him?”

“Nothing after I gave him his severance and sent him on his way. I don’t have time for small thinking people.” Luke says seriously.

Abbie’s impressed in spite of herself.

“Thank you,” she says.

Luke opens his office door as he smiles at Abbie, glancing down at her lips briefly.

“We didn’t figure out a time,” he murmurs as Abbie shoulders her bag.

“No, we didn’t. How about tomorrow night?” Abbie asks.

“How about tonight?”

Abbie blinks. Her first instinct is to say that no, she’s busy.

Busy doing what, stupid, her brain supplies. Absolutely nothing. You can DVR that Law & Order rerun you’ve seen twenty times before already.

“Okay,” she says. “8 o’clock?”

“I look forward to it,” he says.

Abbie ducks her head and walks away before she can embarrass herself.

I’m moving on, she thinks. That’s what I’m supposed to do.

Her stomach roils for an entirely different reason now.

~*~

“You haven’t told me what you think,” Luke asks behind his glass of wine.

Abbie glances around the empty restaurant and laughs.

“You emptied the place for our date?” she asks. “I brought Jenny here for her birthday two years ago and she still waxes poetic about the grilled seafood paella. I had to book the table two months in advance; how’d you manage this?”

Luke wipes at his mouth.

“I know the owner,” he says, and Abbie narrows her eyes at him.

“You mean you are the owner,” she says.

“I know myself, so it wasn’t a lie,” he laughs.

Abbie ducks her head to hide her grin. The night has been a nice change of pace for her. The restaurant’s décor is beautiful yet subtle with Mexican influences woven throughout. The music is pleasant in the lulls of conversation and Luke is an easy person to be around.

He’s open and earnest; he tells Abbie about how his family built their wealth through the small farm started by his great-great grandfather in Mexico, and from there the family encouraged every good idea a Morales had, and it grew into an empire.

Abbie is interested but finds herself leaving things out when she talks about her life, like the time she spent in the system before meeting the Corbins, something she had no problem telling Crane and at a point where she’d known him less time than Luke.

She doesn’t bother to examine that feeling, instead concentrating on her date and being in the moment. The conversation turns to movies and music and Luke regales her with a hilarious story of the second time he met Beyoncé and Jay Z. It leaves Abbie giggling and snorting in her drink.

“You did not say that,” she says after she regains her breath.

Luke shakes his head.

“I wish I could say I was exaggerating. At the end of it all I paid for their drinks and I just went and stood in the corner,” he laughs, and Abbie bursts into laughter again.

“I’m glad you said yes,” Luke says, reaching across the table to take her hand. “I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.”

Immediately Abbie pictures Ichabod across from her, his subtle yet promising smile – Abbie’s heart picks up and she squeezes Luke’s hand.

“Me, too,” she murmurs.

He grins.

“How about dessert?”

Abbie hears the double entendre in his tone and doesn’t feel like rising to the occasion.

“What’s on the menu?” she asks, purposefully looking around the table.

“They’ll make you whatever you want,” Luke says.

Abbie scoffs.

“Anything,” she says.

“Anything.”

“Golden pear and Cirtona berry tart,” she says promptly.

Luke looks a little surprised.

“I love Cirtona berries,” Abbie feels compelled to add.

“Ah,” Luke says strangely, and Abbie’s stomach plummets as she remembers the stupid media rodeo probably parked outside.

“Nevermind-” she begins, but Luke shakes his head.

“No, they can make it for you; I was just hoping you’d pick a dessert to share; I’m allergic to Cirtona berries,” he says.

“Oh,” Abbie says, immediately feeling bad for her thoughts. “It’s okay, I can order something else,” she reassures him.

“They can make a candied pear tart. It’s fine,” she says.

“And that’s something we can share,” Luke says brightly.

Abbie musters up a nod.

“It sure is,” she says.

~

Despite the absolutely gorgeous confection prepared by the pastry chef, dessert is just dessert, though Abbie can tell Luke is a little disappointed when she doesn’t “pick up” on his cue to let him feed her. Abbie just wasn’t in the mood for overly romantic overtures, regardless of how nice a time she’s having with Luke.

Afterward, they spirit away to the limo they arrived in, soft jazz playing low enough to talk over.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m expecting some news,” Luke says as he waves his phone sheepishly.

“Please, go right ahead,” Abbie says, crossing her legs and taking the moment to turn her phone back on. Sure enough, there are at least sixteen missed calls, all from unfamiliar numbers.

“Ugh, I’m going to call and get my number changed. Great. That means new business cards and everything.” She groans and throws her phone back in her bag.

“I’m sorry,” Luke says, putting his hand on her knee.

She glances down at his hand, feeling a shiver slide down her spine, the good kind. Luke’s handsome, generous, and funny. He’s got a great physique, so why is she holding back?

For what?

Abbie smiles and turns on the seat toward him.

“I had a nice time,” she murmurs, lacing her fingers through his.

Luke nods.

“Me, too. I would like to do this again. Soon,” he adds.

Abbie nods.

“I think I’d like that,” she murmurs. Luke leans in for a kiss, placing a gentle one on her cheek, right beside her mouth. Abbie feels a flare of heat and turns her head, rubbing her nose against his before letting him kiss her fully.

It’s nice, and parts of Abbie stand up and take notice, but it doesn’t excite her. Her heart and mind are too full of one man.

So let him go, her mind screams.

Abbie breaks off the kiss with a gasp; Luke’s hand is at her waist and she’s almost straddling his lap.

“We’re going too fast,” she pants, tucking her hair back behind her ear and smoothing her dress before sitting on the seat next to him.

Luke looks dazed and more than a little aroused as he clears his throat.

“Oh, right,” he says. “I’m sorry about that.”

“No, no, it’s not you,” Abbie says, shaking her head. “This is just faster than I normally move on a first date.”

Luke looks at her briefly and nods.

“I understand. What are you doing this Saturday? I would like to see you again when I get back in town.”

Abbie shrugs a shoulder.

“I should be free,” she says with a smile. The limo pulls up to her house and thankfully there aren’t any reporters still lurking.

“Thanks for the wonderful time,” Abbie says, and leans in to give Luke a chaste peck before exiting the vehicle. She nods at the new driver and makes her way to her door.

She lets herself in and peeks out the curtain; the limo pulls away a moment later. Abbie takes a deep breath like she’s been unable to breathe. What’s wrong with her? Something has to be wrong. She has a beautiful, nice man with culture, good humor and a rocking body wanting to take her out. Wanting to see her happy.

And all Abbie wants to think about are Cirtona berries, sand, and blue eyes.

“Fuck,” she whimpers aloud, and kicks off her heels. Her phone buzzes again and Abbie fishes it out of her purse to find it’s another number she doesn’t recognize.

She throws the phone across the room and goes upstairs to bed.

Alone.

~*~

Abbie opens the door and makes a face.

“Oh, I thought it was someone I wanted to see,” she says, letting Jenny in before turning to the other person on her porch.

“Hi, Joe,” she says, rising up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, he gets a kiss and I get the bitter bitch treatment,” Jenny says as she rolls her eyes.

“Probably because I brought her breakfast from Mabel’s,” Joe says, hefting a bag in Abbie’s direction.

She squeals and grabs it, stomach rumbling.

“Thanks Joe,” she says, rummaging around in the bag for plastic ware. She opens the container and sighs happily.

“Stuffed French toast,” she sings.

“Yeah, we get it - you love food. I didn’t come all the way over here to hear about your unholy love of French toast,” Jenny says, following her sister into the kitchen.

“Why are you here?” Abbie asks around the forkful of goodness in her mouth. She perches on the counter as Jenny leans against the island and Joe sits at the kitchen table, trying to finish his crossword.

“She’s here because we called and we got a message saying your number was no longer in service,” he says. “What’s a six-letter word that is another word for ‘choice’? Has an ‘o’ in it.”

“I changed my number,” Abbie says. “I’m going to have to get all new everything printed so people can get ahold of me.”

“I don’t care about you having to change your phone,” Jenny says.

“Then why are you here?”

“She wants to know about your date with Luke,” Joe says.

Jenny glares at him and he shrugs.

“If I didn’t say anything we’d be here all day while you sniped at each other. This way you can find out what you wanted to know.”

Abbie stares at her sister flatly.

“It was fine,” she says, returning to her breakfast.

“‘Fine’? That’s the best adjective you can come up with? Did he take you to dinner?”

“Yes, we went to Frutas del Mar –”

“Oh, fuck,” Jenny wails. “I don’t want to know anymore. What’d you order?”

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“You literally just said you didn’t want to know anymore.”

“I know what I said, I was there!” Jenny huffs. “What’d you order?”

“Grilled seafood paella,” Abbie says, and laughs when Jenny doubles over as if struck.

“You two are the most dramatic people I’ve ever seen. Besides my father,” Joe says.

“Shut up, Joe; you haven’t had their food. Was it crowded?” she asks Abbie.

Abbie winces.

“He had the restaurant closed for us,” she says. “Option!” she exclaims to Joe, who looks up, concerned.

“Your crossword, six letters – another word that means choice and has an ‘o’ in it.”

“Exactly what I need,” he says.

“Did you have fun? I know you had fun. Did we interrupt anything? Is there someone upstairs that may be sleeping off the best night of his life?” Jenny wiggles her eyebrows as Abbie glares.

“It was great,” Abbie admits. “He was nice and everything.”

“I can hear the but from here,” Joe says.

Abbie shrugs her shoulders.

“I don’t know,” she says. “And I didn’t sleep with him,” she tells Jenny.

“Alright, your choice. You also don’t have to decide to marry the guy after one date,” Jenny says. “Give it some time. At least you’re having fun, right? Is there chemistry?”

Abbie doesn’t know if the right word is fun, but she nods.

“There is,” she says, and all three turn to the door when the bell rings. “Great. They won’t get the hint.”

“Reporters?” Joe asks, standing up and straightening to his full six foot one-inch height. Abbie nods.

“I’ll take care of them,” he says, and stalks to the door.

He throws open the door – scowl in place – and pauses at the man dressed in an official-looking suit with dark glasses firmly in place over his eyes.

“Grace Abigail Mills?” the man asks.

“Abbie? The men in black are here for you,” Joe throws over his shoulder.

Abbie swats at his arm as she ducks under.

“I’m Grace Abigail Mills. How can I help you?” she asks, peering up at the man.

“Will you please sign for this?” He hands over a tablet and stylus and Abbie quickly scrawls her name before being handed a large manila envelope.

“Have a good day,” he says with a nod, turns on his heel and leaves.

“What’s that?” Joe asks, jostling Jenny for a spot over Abbie’s shoulder.

“Oh, my god, get off,” Abbie says, shrugging her shoulders and breaking away. “Ever heard of privacy?”

Joe looks over at Jenny, who just looks confused.

“What’s privacy?” she asks.

“I hate you both,” Abbie mutters, going back into the kitchen and taking a seat at the table.

Inside the envelope are two letters; one on regular paper, and one on what feels like linen stock. She opens the regular one first, her jaw dropping as she reads.

“What is it?” Jenny asks, and snatches the paper cleanly from her hands. The fact that Abbie doesn’t try to fight worries her, and Jenny and Joe quickly read. “Wow,” she says after a moment.

“But the Cirtonian embassy can’t force her to appear,” Joe says. “Right? I mean you’re still an American citizen.”

“It doesn’t say she’s forced, they’re just asking her. But what do they want, Abs?” Jenny asks.

“Wow. This is surreal.”

Abbie still hasn’t moved, riveted by the other letter.

She unfolds the page and is surprised to find it’s handwritten.

Greetings,

I know your life has recently been upended due to the nature of paparazzi and the relative fame of my son. I am unsure how you and Ichabod left things, but my wife and I would very much like to meet you to discuss some things. She and I will be in New York City on Saturday, and if your schedule permits, perhaps you wouldn’t mind indulging an old man an introduction.

King Hernán

Abbie stares at the letter, noting its utter lack of pretension, and sighs. Why does he want to meet her? What could he possibly have to say?

“Abbie?!”

Abbie blinks and looks up at Joe and Jenny.

“Does that letter have a number for me to call?” she asks, rising and snatching it back from her sister.

“Yeah, but what are you going to do? You gonna tell them off? Can I hear it?” Jenny asks, trailing after Abbie as she jogs up the stairs to her bedroom.

“I think I’m going,” Abbie says slowly, pausing at the landing. Jenny stops abruptly and Joe promptly runs into her back.

“Why?” Jenny asks.

“Because he asked nicely,” Abbie says cryptically, and darts into her room to close and lock the door before Jenny can barge her way in.

~*~

I could come down to meet you and make a day of it.

Abbie stares at her phone for a moment and exhales heavily.

Last night she and Luke had a second date just as nice as the first. Abbie had taken him to a local baseball game and the only hiccup came when Luke attempted to help her adjust her stance. Abbie gently informed him that she currently held the highest batting average on the team. He recovered gracefully and admitted he was only doing it to kiss her on the cheek.

It was kind of cute and made her laugh, and after their team won, Abbie told Luke she had to go to the city on Saturday for business over a late slice of pizza and a beer. What kind, she didn’t elaborate and thankfully Luke didn’t ask. Again Abbie found herself holding back for a reason she couldn’t figure out.

You know why, her brain supplies unhelpfully.

“Shut up,” she mutters under her breath, and moves her fingers over her screen to respond.

Don’t know when I’ll be done sorry.

Abbie puts her phone on the seat next to her and tries to relax. The Cirtonian embassy was nice enough to send a very comfortable car and driver, with a luxurious wet bar and television.

Abbie’s delighted to find Cirtonian wine, and pours herself a glass to calm her nerves.

The taste reminds her of Ichabod’s long fingers on the back of her neck and the look in his eyes when she rocks her hips with him so deep inside of her.

Abbie removes her heels so she can curl her feet beneath her and nurses the wine until they cross into the city.

Buildings fly by and it’s not until they stop that Abbie quickly replaces the glass and slips on her heels. She’s composed and ready by the time the driver comes around to open the door and help her out.

The wind picks up tendrils of her hair and spins them into her eye as she looks around.

“We’re on Fifth Avenue,” she says to the driver.

“We are,” he agrees.

“I thought I was going to the Cirtonian embassy,” Abbie says.

“No, ma’am. My instructions are to bring you to the royal residence.”

Abbie opens her mouth to inquire further when a tall black man steps up with a smile.

“I’ll take it from here. Thanks, Marco.”

“Sir,” Marco says, and returns to the vehicle.

“You’re the Cirtonian ambassador,” Abbie says dazedly as the man chuckles and shakes her hand.

“Guilty as charged. Frank Irving. Grace Mills, correct?” he asks.

Abbie nods, then shakes her head.

“I go by Abbie,” she clarifies. “Abbie is fine.”

“Then Abbie it is. You can call me Frank. Thanks for coming. Why don’t we take this off the sidewalk? I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

“Questions, yes,” she murmurs as she follows him inside. “I thought I was to meet the king and queen at the embassy?”

“That was the plan,” Frank says quietly as they cross a gorgeous marble floor. The click of Abbie’s heels are the loudest thing in the foyer, and she feels the eyes of security on her every move as she lengthens her stride in order not to fall behind.

“King Hernán isn’t enjoying the best of health right now and he was in town to see his specialist. The queen thought it best to meet here rather than at the embassy.”

Abbie recalls Ichabod speak of his father’s illness without specificity.

“I understand,” she says, as they come to stand in front of an elevator.

Frank presses his thumb to the biometric scanner beside the doors and silently they part to reveal what looks like a small room with two high backed chairs. There’s art on the wall and the same marble pattern on the floor. Abbie’s incredibly impressed and a little overwhelmed as she takes the seat Frank gestures to, before he takes the other.

“Penthouse,” he murmurs, crossing his legs and reclining.

“Do you know why they want to meet me?” Abbie asks.

“I don’t presume to know,” Frank says.

“I know what that means,” Abbie mutters. “That means you know, but you can’t tell me.”

Frank glances over at her in surprise and laughs.

“No, I can’t,” he confirms.

It’s on the tip of her tongue to attempt to dig for more information but the doors open on the penthouse floor and Abbie is greeted by two intimidating men in dark suits and hard gazes; almost mirror images of the man who delivered the letters a few days ago.

She follows Frank out and has to hand over her purse and jacket for a quick search as a wand is waved over her body front and back. It pings at her chest and Abbie sighs.

“Underwire,” she clarifies, and has to go into a room with a female security agent to prove it.

By the time Abbie’s done the shine’s worn off the entire experience and she sourly has to remind herself she’s meeting the rulers of another country; of course their security is a little paranoid. Abbie steps out of the room and rejoins Frank, smiling like he knows what’s going on in her mind.

“You understand,” he says as another of the security staff holds Abbie’s blazer for her to put on before handing her purse over.

“I do,” Abbie says heavily. The whole security rigmarole hasn’t done anything to calm her stomach, and so she attempts to distract herself by staring at the lavish art on the wall. She catches glimpses of a Monet she’s pretty sure isn’t a print before she’s ushered through a set of ornately carved double doors and into a room with a break taking view of Central Park through ceiling to floor height windows.

Abbie’s eyes widen at how far she’s able to see on a crisp autumn day and turns to get her first glimpse of Ichabod’s parents.

Their majesties, her mind supplies unhelpfully.

The king and queen are talking quietly amongst themselves when the king obviously says something amusing because the queen smacks his hand jokingly as she stares at him with adoration in her eyes. She glances up and immediately locks gazes with Abbie and she realizes Ichabod gets his eyes and nose from his mother.

“Your majesties,” Frank says with a bow as they come to stand beside the table set for tea, “Introducing Miss Grace Abigail Mills. Abbie, King Hernán and Queen Clarissa of Cirtona.”

Abbie nods to each in turn.

“Your majesties,” she murmurs.

King Hernán is an older, darker version of Ichabod with hazel colored eyes and grey hair on his head and shot through his beard. He wears his hair long and pulled in a low ponytail at the nape of his neck. Abbie can’t tell if he’s perpetually tan or if Ichabod’s family has diverse ancestry.

Looking at Ichabod she wouldn’t have thought to ask.

Queen Clarissa, on the other hand, looks like what British good breeding is purported to be; long white blond hair carefully coifed with a touch of silver when it glints in the light, Ichabod’s nose, brow, and eyes set in a pale, heart shaped face. Long fingers topped in an elegant French manicure gesture at the empty seat between the king and queen.

“Please sit, Miss Mills,” she says, and Frank pulls Abbie’s chair and helps her to the table.

“Thank you,” she murmurs to Frank and puts her purse on the back of her chair.

They stare at her for a moment but that doesn’t bother Abbie; for one reason or another most of her life she’s been stared at and evaluated. She’s used to it.

“Where are our manners. Have you had lunch?” Queen Clarissa asks brusquely as two plates are placed in front of them filled with sumptuous food.

Abbie shakes her head.

“I haven’t,” she says. Who could eat with a meeting like this on the books?

“Good. LeAnn, please give Miss Mills the lunch offerings?” she asks, gesturing to one of the wait staff posted near the serving table Abbie hadn’t noticed before.

“We have a pan-seared salmon in a basil and lime butter sauce, grilled steak wrapped asparagus spear bundles, and carne guisada.”

“I’ll take the salmon,” she says, not sure what carne guisada is and not wanting to fart through the meeting and cause an international incident if she were to get the asparagus. Everyone is silent while LeAnn busies herself in the corner and returns with a beautifully constructed plate of salmon, jasmine rice and Brussel sprouts.

Hunger hits Abbie with a surprising gurgle from her stomach and she wonders if she could trouble the monarch of another country for a gun to put herself out of her misery.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re here,” King Hernán begins, and Abbie doesn’t know if he’s pretending he didn’t hear her stomach protest its current state or not, but she’s painfully thankful.

Abbie shakes her head.

“I’m almost sure it has something to do with the pictures in the magazine. Excuse me, magazines,” she corrects.

King Hernán smiles as he reaches for his wine.

“Mostly, yes. How did you meet our son?”

Abbie waits for the queen to begin eating before picking up her fork.

“He ran over me while he was jogging,” she says, and cannot help but smile a little when she remembers how horrified he was, then how horrified she was when she realized she was still topless.

“How were you there at that resort?” Queen Clarissa asks, an eyebrow raised as she chews delicately.

Abbie frowns.

“I don’t understand.”

“From what we understand you’re not financially… equipped to take such a vacation,” she says.

Abbie sets her jaw as her fingers tighten around the fork in her hand.

“It was a gift to my sister and at the last minute she couldn’t go due to work,” she bites out, putting the fork down as her appetite flees. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“We’ve looked into you, Miss Mills. You have to understand the position we’re in.”

“Darling,” King Hernán begins, but Queen Clarissa pins him with a glare.

“Our country is going through a difficult time right now and the last thing we need is yet another scandal involving Ichabod,” she says. “Please understand, we want to put this behind us as quickly as possible.”

“Put what behind you?” Abbie asks, completely confused. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Ichabod since I left Jamaica. I told him that we were better off leaving what we had behind, and that was before I knew he was a prince!”

Queen Clarissa is undeterred.

“Ichabod always wants what he can’t have. What is your scam? How much will it cost for you to just go away? Make some sort of statement to the press that you’re not with our son?”

“I haven’t said anything to the press,” Abbie sputters. “I tell them to go away.”

“Lack of statement isn’t denial. Not in our world,” Queen Clarissa says.

Abbie scoffs.

“I don’t want or need your money,” she says. “It was a mistake coming here.”

Queen Clarissa pulls a manila folder from beneath her plate and hands it to Abbie.

“Open it,” she says.

Abbie glares at the woman but opens it and finds pictures of her and Luke at the baseball game. One of them in the dugout, laughing together. One with them getting out of her car and the last of Luke’s arms around her as he thinks he’s going to show her how to swing a bat.

Her heart beats faster as she looks, but she doesn’t know why.

“What is this?” she asks.

“We’ve seen your type of scam before,” Queen Clarissa says as she flicks imaginary dirt from her fingers. “You use your generous charms to hook multiple eligible bachelors and whomever you snag first, you just dump the other. He’s more in your league, don’t you think?” she asks sweetly, indicating Luke.

“What is going on here?”

~*~

Ichabod should have known. Normally when his father goes to the doctor in New York, his family informs him. This time they did not. He made Sophie bug Frank until he finally relented and told her that they had arranged to meet the woman he was with in the photo on Saturday.

Ichabod knew of no photograph; he didn’t take any while he was on vacation, and while his memory is perfect, he would have loved to have something physical that documented at least some of the dimensions of Abbie Mills.

Then Sophie showed him an obviously candid photograph of him and Abbie. Ichabod remembered that day; they were supposedly alone on the beach and Abbie had said something devastatingly sexy and while Ichabod had tried to wait until they were in her bungalow, he couldn’t help but reach down and grab her ass.

He remembers her delighted laugh as clear as the flex of muscle beneath his hand.

But why would they request to see her? Unless…

Unless they thought she was yet another money-grubbing, opportunistic social climber.

Ichabod’s anger on Abbie’s behalf lasts while he waits for the jet to be readied and even through the nine-hour flight that he doesn’t sleep through. The only thing on his mind is getting to his parents and Abbie before they made a horrible assumption.

… And the chance to see Abbie again.

Ichabod had resisted tracking her down only because Abbie had not wished it. There wasn’t even a question of whether she was playing hard to get or not – she genuinely thought it best they end their involvement in Jamaica.

Since Abbie left him, she has been on Ichabod’s mind almost all the time. Every little thing about his day has him wondering what she would think or do. Every time he has a Cirtona berry, he imagines he’s feeding her berry by berry before kissing her flavored lips.

She’ll think he’s a liar.

The thought makes his heart stop as he impatiently waits for the car to get through rush hour traffic to the embassy. He only told his parents about the wonderful woman he met while on vacation, nothing more.

Will she believe him?

Ichabod wastes an hour at the embassy before he realizes they’re at the penthouse, and then has to wade through atrocious traffic again in order to get there, all the while his hands fidget and his knee bounces erratically.

A block away, he announces he’ll walk, barely making it out of the car before security - Andre - in the front passenger seat scrambles out to follow him. Ichabod ignores him, powering to the penthouse with thunder on his face.

So many things flit through his head as he stalks through security and impatiently waits on the private elevator that opens into the living area. He checks his parents’ bedroom but finds it empty. With dread, he rushes to the parlor where they sometimes entertain other dignitaries, and through the door Ichabod can hear Abbie’s voice, but not what she’s saying.

He yanks open the door.

“What is going on here?” Ichabod demands, and falters when his eyes land on Abbie.

Ichabod thought himself prepared, but when Abbie looks at him he swears his knees could buckle.

“Treasure,” he says hoarsely, unable or unwilling to keep the endearment from his lips.

“Ichabod, what are you doing here?” Hernán asks, looking absolutely shocked. Clarissa, on the other hand, looks merely irritated.

“I’m stopping whatever this is,” Ichabod says, noticing how very uncomfortable Abbie looks sitting between his parents.

“Abbie, are you alright?” he asks warily.

“No,” she says, her voice thick with suppressed emotion.

Ichabod comes to stand beside her and offers his hand. She puts her small hand in his and he leads her from the table.

“We will be back,” he throws over his shoulder.

“Ichabod!” His mother calls, but Ichabod closes the door resolutely behind them.

“Come,” he says, her hand still in his as he leads her to another room. As soon as the door closes, Ichabod gathers Abbie into his arms and sighs; the anxious feeling he’s had since watching her leave in the taxi is finally soothed.

“I missed you,” he murmurs against her shoulder.

Abbie’s small hand is at his cheek and when he pulls back her eyes are shiny with tears.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” she says.

“I thought you didn’t want to,” he says. “If I had known you did, I would’ve moved heaven and earth to make it so.”

“Isn’t that what this is?” she asks, sniffling and blinking back tears that haven’t fallen.

“No, my parents did this of their own accord. I didn’t even know about the magazine until yesterday. Please believe me,” Ichabod says, pressing small kisses to the sides of her eyes before moving to her cheeks and finally her mouth. Abbie’s full lips part with the barest of sighs and Ichabod slides in, licking into her mouth and groaning at the familiar taste.

They break the kiss to breathe but Ichabod doesn’t retreat, gazing fondly into her eyes.

“Hello,” he says.

Abbie’s grin is like the sun coming out.

“Hello, yourself,” she murmurs.

“Did you miss me?”

Abbie scoffs and shakes her head though she doesn’t let him go.

“No,” she says. “A little,” she relents.

“A little?” Ichabod rumbles, his body responding to the way her eyes dilate as she bites her bottom lip.

“Yeah,” she says shakily, running her hands down Ichabod’s forearms. “You miss me?”

Ichabod glances down at her toned legs beneath the very modest knee-length hemline of her dress. He crouches down and slides his hands up from calf to thigh with a sigh.

“I’m starving for you,” he says, watching her face as his hands venture higher. “I can’t taste you on my tongue anymore, treasure. I don’t know if I can continue under such conditions.”

“Crane,” Abbie says unsteadily. “What are you doing?”

“Rectifying the issue,” Ichabod says nonchalantly.

“But your parents are in the other room,” she hisses, and stifles a moan when Ichabod palms her ass in both hands, pressing his face to the front of her dress with a low groan.

“We can’t, we can’t…” Abbie says, but Ichabod rejoices when her legs part just a little.

Feeling impish, Ichabod snakes his hand between her thighs, moaning at the heat the farther up he goes.

“Ichabod.”

He groans and clutches Abbie to him.

“I know,” he says.

“You’re just here, and you look so beautiful and you’re actually here. Forgive me,” he says, pressing a kiss against her abdomen over her dress and reluctantly releases her ass. “But what are you doing here?”

Abbie’s bruised spirit finally catches up with her and she finds herself tearing up.

“Your parents think I’m a horrible person,” she says, ducking her head so she can blink away the tears before they fall.

“What?”

“I understand why you didn’t tell me you were a prince, I guess. I mean, I do. I didn’t say yes to dinner because you were a prince,” Abbie babbles.

Ichabod nods fondly as he gently rubs her arms.

“I know,” he says.

“Your parents think I’m weaving some sort of temptress spell on you,” Abbie says, sniffling.

“Well, I think you are,” Ichabod says. “I’m joking, I’m joking!” he says when Abbie glares at him half-heartedly and swats at his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, treasure,” he says, ducking down to give her another kiss. It begins chaste but quickly tumbles into needful until Ichabod pulls himself away bodily. “Let me go set my parents straight,” he says, and takes her hand.

Abbie feels secure as she trots to keep up with Ichabod’s long, determined strides. They burst back into the room, and the king and queen immediately note Abbie’s hand in Ichabod’s. With a reassuring squeeze, Abbie stands beside him, no longer intimidated.

“Mother, Father, I cannot believe you’re doing this,” Ichabod says. “It reeks of bad manners and it shows you don’t trust me.”

“Our trust is being sorely tested, Ichabod. Surely you can see that.” King Hernán says tiredly.

“This… scandal,” Queen Clarissa says, gesturing at Abbie, “is not something we can afford right now.”

“Mother, she’s not a scandal. She’s a human being and will be treated as such.”

Abbie’s heart swells four sizes as she tries to keep the pride from her face.

“You said the last time we were in this mess that it would be the last time,” Queen Clarissa snaps.

The burgeoning elation plummets. “The last time?” Abbie finds herself asking.

Queen Clarissa’s smile tightens into steel.

“You honestly didn’t think you were the only one, did you?” she practically sneers.

Abbie swallows as she remembers all the big names Ichabod has been attached to just in the past three years.

“I don’t –”

“Stop clouding the issue, Mother,” Ichabod says. “This is different. I am different with her,” he says quietly. “But all that is moot because she has declined to be in a relationship with me.”

Queen Clarissa looks to Abbie.

“Have you now?”

“I told him that when I left Jamaica,” Abbie says, conscious that she’s still clinging to Ichabod’s hand.

“My son is obviously smitten with you, Miss Mills. He thinks that’s enough to endure this scandal but I do not.”

“Mother, stop. There is no scandal. I –”

“There doesn’t have to be a scandal.”

Everyone turns to King Hernán, having almost forgotten he’s in the room.

“There is a quick way to resolve this and save face.” He smiles. “Marry her.”

Abbie’s eyes widen as Ichabod immediately looks to her.

“Marry?” she squeaks.

Marriage.

Marriage?

“It would show the people you’ve truly changed and we can put this whole unpleasant mess behind us,” King Hernán suggests as Queen Clarissa looks as if she’s about to bubble over. “I… I don’t see why no-”

“No!” Queen Clarissa rises and hands Ichabod the folder with the pictures of Abbie and Luke. “She’s already moved on, Ichabod. You couldn’t have made too much of an impact if she’s willing to usher in the next so quickly.”

The color drains from Ichabod’s face as he looks at this man look at Abbie like she’s hung the moon. What hurts the most is that Abbie doesn’t seem to discourage his touch at all. He flips through the pictures and his heart clenches.

“She said she didn’t want a relationship,” he says coolly, not quite looking at Abbie.

“Why are you acting like I’ve done something wrong?” Abbie asks, taking a step toward Ichabod.

He steps back, his face pained.

“Oh,” she says thickly, holding back her tears. “I wish I had never met you, Ichabod Crane.”

“That’s Prince Ichabod Crane to you,” Queen Clarissa sneers.

Abbie sniffles angrily.

“Of course, your majesties,” she says mockingly with an exaggerated curtsy.

“Your highness,” she bites at Ichabod, staring at him with red-rimmed eyes as she drops into another curtsy.

“Abbie--” Ichabod drops his head as the love of his life stalks from the room without looking back. “Mother, what have you done?” he asks mournfully.

“My job as a mother and as queen,” Queen Clarissa says. “We have two days before we’re due to return. By then we need to have some sort of story in place to explain this or in six months our way of life and that of our family will radically change.”

Ichabod stares down at the folder in his hand and feels anger, but only at himself.

Chapter Text

“Prince Ichabod, we’ve arrived. We’re going to establish a perimeter.”

Ichabod rouses from his thoughts and glances out the window. The street they’re on is bathed in dappled sunlight and looks absolutely picturesque on this Sunday afternoon.

“Don’t get in anyone’s way,” he says. “And do not approach. I would like to speak to her first.”

He glances down at his vibrating phone and sees his mother’s picture and immediately avoids the call.

He is not in the mood.

The door to the car opens and Ichabod steps out, suddenly nervous once the air hits his skin. He didn’t call ahead and she doesn’t know he’s here. She may very well send him away but Ichabod can’t leave things as they are, with her possibly hating him.

As Ichabod walks up to the house he can hear music coming from the garage, and instead of heading to the porch he walks up past the car and in through the open garage door. Inside Ichabod stumbles onto a breathtaking view of long, lean brown legs ending in a pair of tiny khaki shorts. Abbie (he’d know that ass anywhere) is bent over a large box, a sultry jazz song wafting from the speakers.

He’s arrested by the melancholy strain of the music as Abbie straightens, lifting her arms and voice to pair with the singer’s to belt her heart out mournfully.

Is it a crime?

Is it a crime?

That I still want you

And I want you to want me, too

Ichabod yearns to tell her he wants her, too, and steps forward.

She turns and her eyes widens as she yelps.

“Ichabod,” she says.

“I didn’t know you could sing, why didn’t you tell me?” he asks, slightly awestruck. “You sound like an angel.”

“When would I have?” Abbie ducks her head at the compliment then seems to remember where they are.

“What are you doing here?” she asks softly, walking over to her phone and pausing the music. Immediately, the space between them is thrown into spectacular relief.

“I’m sorry,” he says, again acutely aware he was not invited. “My parents were out of line and I don’t agree with anything they’ve said or done.”

Abbie nods slowly.

“You came all the way out here to do that?”

“Yes,” he says. “I wanted to apologize, in person.”

“Why?” she asks.

“Because it’s important you know. And I wanted to see you again,” he admits.

“Well, now I know,” Abbie says, and Ichabod steps forward to touch her arm.

“Abbie, why are you mad at me?” he asks.

“Because I stood there and was made to feel like some sort of… of harlot,” she snaps.

Ichabod winces and straightens to his full height.

“That was not my intent,” he murmurs.

“What was your intent?” she asks.

“I was caught off-guard. I didn’t expect it to hurt so much,” Ichabod says dully. “You seem to be moving on happily and I’m still there, stuck in Jamaica and thinking of you.”

Abbie feels her anger slipping away.

“You’re still thinking of me?” she asks.

There’s a flash behind Ichabod and Abbie screeches and runs to the wall, slamming her hand down on the garage door opener. The door falls shut slowly, but not before a few more flashbulbs go off as Ichabod’s security pushes them away.

“Fucking vultures,” she says. “How’d they know you’re here?”

As realization hits Abbie closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose.

“I’m going to kill her.”

“Kill who?” Ichabod asks, resisting the urge to step closer to Abbie. The tank top she’s wearing clings to her body and leaves nothing to the imagination, save for what Ichabod would do to her given half a chance.

“My neighbor, Standra. She’s always in everyone’s business.” Abbie realizes Ichabod’s staring at her and she gets caught in the heat of his gaze, belatedly wishing she’d worn a bra as she feels her body betray her.

“Ah,” he says with a cringe. “Probably didn’t help that I came in a limousine with three guards.”

“Just three?” Abbie chuckles. “Probably not, but she would’ve figured it out even if you came in a full body suit riding a bike.”

“It was the least amount I could get away with while leaving the residence.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Sounds like you’re stuck here for a moment. Want some tea?”

“Tea would be lovely, thanks,” Ichabod says, and gives her a flourishing bow.

Abbie shakes her head but he sees the hint of a smile as she turns and leads him into the house proper and into the kitchen. He tries not to be a lech, but it’s difficult when Abbie’s natural gait calls attention to her glorious ass in the tiny shorts. Ichabod gulps almost audibly and takes an offered seat at the table.

“Forgive the mess; today’s my cleaning day,” Abbie says, glancing up and snatching the brightly colored scarf from her curls. They tumble down and over her shoulders and Ichabod’s reminded of her waking up, a slow sleepy smile for him as she’s still half-asleep but reaching for him.

“You dedicate a whole day to cleaning?” he asks, unsure of exactly why.

“I don’t have servants to do it,” Abbie chides gently. “And I’m out most of the time so really it isn’t much to do. Sometimes I decide I want to rearrange a room so I do.” She shrugs self-consciously.

“What kind of tea do you want?”

“Whatever you’re having,” he says.

Abbie hums and turns to the cabinet to pull down two mugs.

“Can I ask you a question?” She doesn’t turn around, in case seeing him would make her lose her nerve.

“Anything, treasure.”

Abbie steels herself against the feelings that rush through her at the pet name. She exhales shakily and shakes her head, filling her kettle with water and placing it on the stove.

“What did your father mean by marrying me would quell the scandal?”

Ichabod pinches the bridge of his nose.

“I wish he’d never said that,” he says.

“What’s the scandal?” Abbie recognition flickers in her mind’s eye as her hand closes over the box of Earl Grey she’d forgotten she had. When she opens it there’s only one tea bag left. She puts it in the mug for Ichabod and grabs chamomile for herself, putting the kettle on and arranging a tray with a dish of raw sugar and their mugs.

“I am,” Ichabod admits.

Abbie turns to look at him, leaning back against the counter.

“What?”

“Well, I guess that’s an overly simplistic view of it all. I know you know by now about my past,” he says uneasily.

“Yeah. Can’t say that I’m shocked, but then again I kind of am,” she says. “Like, I know you’re charming and you’ve got something about you that makes you want to look again. I just… I’ve read where you’ve left women ruined,” Abbie jokes, but it falls flat and awkward between them.

Ichabod doesn’t know what to do with his hands and the kettle screams.

“I’m pretty sure ruined is a strong word,” he says.

“Have you read the magazines?”

He shakes his head.

“No,” Ichabod admits. “But the women I’ve been out with… I don’t think I ruined anything for them save the desire to have princess before their name.”

“Is it true you dated Taylor Swift?”

“Good heavens no. That picture was snapped when she was telling me something particularly unsavory about my current date – as if that would entice me her way.” Ichabod shakes his head. “Thank you,” he murmurs when Abbie brings the tea to the table.

Ichabod pauses at the small dish of raw sugar.

“It’s turbinado sugar,” Abbie says. “Unprocessed cane sugar.”

“No, I know,” he chuckles. “It’s just my father uses the same type of sugar. Has since before I was born. Mother hates the stuff,” Ichabod murmurs as he heaps it into his tea.

Abbie watches as he proceeds to dump four spoons of sugar into his tea.

“I told you I like sweet things,” he rumbles, when he catches Abbie staring.

Abbie feels the flush deep in her body as she crosses her legs and wills her nipples to behave. Why didn’t she run upstairs for a bra?

“Uh, keep going,” she says when it becomes silent. Outside, they can barely hear the muffled commands of security keeping the reporters at bay.

Ichabod takes a long swallow of tea and sighs.

“I don’t think anyone wants to think of themselves as a playboy. I considered myself a romantic, someone in love with love,” he says. “Looking back, I realize I’m also a bit of a coward.”

“Why do you say that?”

“As I’m sure you’ve realized, my mother doesn’t approve of the women I involve myself with--”

“No kidding,” Abbie mutters.

Ichabod clears his throat.

“Yes, well, by the time she would put her foot down and demand I never see the young woman again I was… already disillusioned by our lack of compatibility. Instead of being straightforward and informing the young woman that I was no longer interested in meeting socially I let my mother’s wrath appear to tie my hands. Queen Clarissa can be formidable when she puts her mind to it.”

“Again, no kidding,” Abbie says. “So you would leave it at that?”

Ichabod nods.

“As I said, an utter coward,” he says ruefully.

Abbie mulls it over.

“Was it cowardice or did you just not care?”

“Probably more of the latter than I’d care to admit,” he hedges.

“But you’re here,” she points out.

“Yes, well.” Ichabod clears his throat. “I care what you think of me,” he says quietly.

Abbie looks at him over the top of her cup, and says nothing for a moment.

“So you’ve been seen with another woman. What does it matter? Sounds like it’s par the course.”

“It’s not anymore. I’ve had to grow up,” he said simply. “I made the decision to focus on my studies and become someone my people could be proud of. Two years of no rumors and staying out of the papers.”

“Until me,” Abbie adds, and Ichabod smiles tightly. “And again, what does it matter?”

“Politics,” Ichabod says. “There are people who have been using my father’s ill health to cast doubt on Cirtona’s future when I assume the throne. That my… flighty nature and inability to settle down is a fair measure of how I will rule.”

Abbie frowns.

“That’s a bit dramatic.”

“But it’s the dramatic that holds the public’s interest. Look at your Trump,” he points out.

“He’s not my Trump and I try not to,” she says dryly. “But I understand.”

“I have added fuel to their fire for years and my people have been convinced that a vote to change the government is in order,” Ichabod says sadly. “We would become a crowned republic and my family reduced to mere figureheads.”

“If that’s what the people want, then shouldn’t that be honored?” Abbie asks gently.

“They’re asking for my family to step down from the duty we’ve held for centuries,” Ichabod says. “They’re only doing this because they’re concerned I’m unable to rise to the occasion. I want to show them I can take care of them just as my father has and my father’s father before him.”

“And this… scandal,” Abbie murmurs. “It’s like the other side’s I told you so?”

“That sounds woefully accurate,” he says.

“When’s the vote?”

“In six months.” Ichabod runs his finger along the rim of the mug. “I know it’s going to kill my father. This and his ailment already suck at what remaining vitality he has left. I made a promise and it is increasingly apparent I can’t deliver.”

“But I’m not a famous actress or a supermodel,” she points out.

“But you’re still devastatingly beautiful,” Ichabod says. “Anyone can see that.”

Abbie closes her eyes and shakes her head minutely.

“What about the philanthropic ventures you have?” Ichabod looks up, surprised. “Yes, I’ve seen what you’ve done,” she says.

“Most people don’t bother to find anything beyond that picture of me and Jourdan Dunn where I look stoned out of my gourd,” he says.

Abbie tries not to laugh.

Were you stoned?”

“I’ll have you know I was just about to sneeze,” Ichabod says. “Now, I was fantastically drunk,” he admits, and chuckles when Abbie snorts into her tea.

Ichabod sighs loudly.

“I don’t want to disappoint my father,” he says lowly. “I also don’t want to be the sole reason why my family has been removed from relevance and placed in the dust of history.”

“Are those the only reasons you want to be prince?” Abbie asks, watching the passion on his face war with uncertainty.

“No,” he says after a moment. “I truly believe I can usher my people into the 21st century and maintain our cultural identity. Cirtona has only three million people it calls subjects. We’re fighting against our young people leaving for more exciting shores, companies who want to plunder our natural resources… I want my chance to show my people how much I love them.”

Abbie’s heart beats quicker at the conviction in Ichabod’s voice. He truly means what he says, she realizes.

“Well, what can we do to make sure you get that chance?” she asks.

Ichabod frowns.

“What do you mean?”

“What would help your image right now?” Abbie clarifies.

“Nothing, really,” he says.

“But you said your people are worried this is a return to bad habits.”

“That’s what the newspapers say,” Ichabod concedes.

“Then maybe I can help,” she says.

Ichabod stares at her in shock.

“Why would you want to help?” he asks.

“It’s partly my fault, isn’t it?” she says. “There’s two of us in that picture.”

“Yes, but it’s my history that’s causing the issue.” Ichabod stares at her in amazement. “Every time I think you can’t surprise me, you do,” he says.

“Well, I can’t let you have all the fun, can I, Prince Ichabod?” Abbie teases.

“How could you help?” Ichabod asks, ignoring the honorific while blushing.

“I could be your girlfriend.”

Abbie winces and tries to backpedal.

“What I mean is I could pose as your girlfriend, if you think it’d help.” She feels her face flush. “That sounded way too eager, didn’t it?” she asks.

“No, no, you sounded perfectly reasonable,” Ichabod reassures her. “But I don’t think that’s going to be enough. I appreciate the offer, though, really.”

“What would be enough?” she asks.

Ichabod’s laugh is short and mirthless.

“Engagement, probably,” he chortles. When Abbie doesn’t join in he stops. “What are you thinking?”

“An engagement isn’t that difficult to fake,” she murmurs.

Ichabod feels mildly dizzy.

“What are you saying?” he asks, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it.

Abbie wants to retreat behind I don’t know but she does know. She stares down at their hands’ disparate sizes against her tablecloth and finds her voice.

“I’m saying I’m willing to help you.”

“Why?” Ichabod asks.

“Because you love your people.” Abbie shrugs. Because I can’t stop thinking about you.

“And that, outside -” Ichabod rises and points to the front of her house and the craziness just in her yard, “that is normal, treasure. They don’t go away.”

“You’ll be there, won’t you?” Abbe asks.

Ichabod returns to crouch before Abbie.

“Absolutely,” he says, taking her hands in his. “This isn’t how I imagined or hoped this would go,” he confesses.

“What did you hope?”

Ichabod curls his fingers around hers.

“Getting your number,” he says. “Calling you and arranging to meet somewhere in the world.”

Abbie’s amusement is evident.

“Just somewhere in the world?”

“Anywhere is heaven as long as you’re there,” he says simply.

Abbie grips his hand tighter.

“What else?”

“We’d go out a few times. I would see how many times I could get you to scream my name in one night.” He grins as Abbie scoffs and swats him against the shoulder. “I would ask you to be exclusive, because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone else with you.”

Abbie looks away and shakes her head.

“Seems we can’t have that,” she says.

“No,” Ichabod says heavily. “But… what you’ve proposed may be the only way we can try,” he says, mulling it over.

“What do you mean?”

“If we’re going to pretend we’re engaged then we’ll be expected to date and interact, wouldn’t we?” Ichabod stands, liking the idea more and more.

Abbie catches on, nodding.

“We can give us a try and I can still help you.”

“I must ask; are you certain?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie glances at her windows, glad she’d closed the curtains earlier that day.

“I’m not going to change my mind, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she says.

Ichabod’s expression is inscrutable.

“Abbie… this goes beyond mere kindness; how shall I show how much I appreciate your sacrifice?”

Abbie rises and loads the tray with their mugs, anything in order to have something to do with her hands.

“This is a way to give us a chance to see if what we have is more than physical.” she says, avoiding his gaze as she hauls the tray into the kitchen.

“Agreed,” he says from the dining room.

“Okay, then. Besides, if you squint we could be considered friends,” she calls over her shoulder.

Ichabod follows Abbie into the kitchen, watching as she bends to put the mugs in the dishwasher.

“Friends?” he asks, smiling fondly when Abbie jumps at his proximity.

“Yeah,” she says, pushing her hair back from her face and giving him a smile. “Friends help friends, right?” She holds her hand out for a fist bump, waiting until Ichabod bumps back.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever signed an accord in such a manner,” he murmurs.

“First time for everything.”

“So… we’re friends?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie nods.

“Yes. Friends who have seen each other naked,” Abbie says, her head tipping back as Ichabod moves closer.

He stares down at Abbie, marveling at how her eyes dilate and her lips part. Ichabod wants to kiss her badly, and he reaches up to brush his thumb against the satin skin at her jaw.

“Do you want to set any ground rules?” he asks.

Abbie licks her lips.

“We take it slow. I expect nothing from you and you won’t expect anything from me.”

“Absolutely. Are kisses off the table?” he asks.

“I don’t see why they have to be,” she says, inwardly cursing as it comes out breathier than she’d intended. “Friends do that.”

“And touching?” he murmurs as his thumb caresses her cheek. “Strictly friendly touching, of course.”

“Nothing wrong with friendly touching.” Abbie’s eyes flutter shut at the touch of Ichabod’s fingertips on the join of her neck.

“Orgasms,” he rumbles.

"What?" Abbie feels herself absolutely drench her underwear. She forces herself to swallow to alleviate her suddenly dry mouth. “What about them?” she asks.

“Do friends give each other orgasms?” Ichabod asks, leaning down.

Abbie nods.

“Platonically, of course,” she says, shivering when Ichabod’s nose rubs against hers.

“Good,” Ichabod says, and finally kisses her. “When was the last time you came?” he asks.

Abbie gasps and swats his bicep.

“Yesterday,” she says.

“Too long. Did you have to give it to yourself, treasure?” he asks, and chuckles when she looks away, mildly irritated. “What did you use?”

Abbie shakes her head and turns back to him.

“My fingers,” she says, brushing her hand down his face. He captures her hand and turns to kiss each fingertip.

“Wasn’t nearly deep enough, was it?” he asks, his tongue darting out to graze the pad of her middle finger. She whimpers. “We can’t have that.”

Abbie struggles to breathe fully when Ichabod’s looking like he’s about to devour her. She ducks under his arm and makes it a foot before he grabs her and they crash to the floor.

“Oh, no, he’s got me,” Abbie giggles breathlessly, biting her lip as Ichabod drags her back.

“You didn’t think you were getting away from me, did you?” Ichabod rumbles, running his hands up and down her bare legs.

“I’m faster than I look,” Abbie says, and yelps when Ichabod spreads her legs and plants his face in her crotch. She whines, feeling the press of his nose against the seam of her shorts.

“Crane,” she says, lifting her hips as he peels her shorts off.

“These damn things have been driving me crazy since I walked into your garage. How can you have so much leg and still be so short?” Ichabod’s pupils are blown as he throws the shorts over his shoulder – they land in the sink.

He stares down at the scrap of blue lace over her mound, already darkened from her juices.

“How long have you been wet, treasure?”

Abbie bites her lip, covering her eyes and laughing shallowly.

“I’m not telling,” she says, moaning when Ichabod’s fingers rub, dragging the lace against her clit. Abbie can’t keep her hips from moving, and gasps when he tears her underwear off with a rip.

“I liked those,” she cried out.

“You should just stop wearing underwear completely,” Ichabod says, laughing at the look on her face. “I read an article where it’s been purported to have profound health benefits.”

“Health benefits?” Abbie asks.

“I can’t recall exactly, I stopped reading because I was imagining all the different ways I could learn to appreciate a life without your underwear,” Ichabod says, sliding his hand down and teasing the very tip of his finger inside of her.

“Are you going to play with me or are you going to stick it in?” Abbie asks.

“Oh, treasure, I plan to do both,” Ichabod promises. “What name was on the tip of your tongue when you brought yourself to orgasm?” he asks, marveling at the moisture dripping onto the floor.

“That’s private,” Abbie protests, biting her bottom lip and trying to maneuver closer to him but the large hand at her hip keeps her in place. “Crane!”

“Just tell me and I’ll give you what we both want,” he says reasonably.

Abbie pumps her hips, desperate for deeper contact. Her eyes flutter shut and she hides her face with her hands.

“Yours,” she chokes out, and takes a peek at Ichabod’s face when he stops.

“Truly?”

Abbie looks away, sucking her teeth.

“Just because – ugh,” she cries out.

Ichabod has his head back in her crotch, using his long tongue to lick her open. Abbie tangles her fingers in his hair as he sucks on her clit in earnest, making her roll her hips down to pull more of his tongue inside. Abbie nearly screams when Ichabod pushes a finger inside.

Just one of his digits is longer and thicker than her own, and her body appreciates something to clamp down on as he pulses it in and out in time to the feather-like touch of his tongue against her clit.

“Oh, god,” she murmurs. It feels so good she’s grabbing for something, anything to keep her anchored to the ground.

“Does it feel good, treasure?” he asks.

“Yes,” Abbie moans.

“And this is still mine, right?”

“Yes,” Abbie says breathlessly. “Please--”

Ichabod flips them over, and staring up at her, sits Abbie on his face. Abbie has to grab hold of the cabinet handle when he reinserts his finger. She tries to keep her hips from going crazy but Ichabod begins sucking on her clit again and Abbie bites her lip and grinds down on his face. Too soon, she feels the telltale tremble in her right thigh as her lower abdomen tightens with her impending orgasm.

Abbie slips her hands beneath her shirt and gently slides against her nipples, her eyes closed and chasing sensation. Ichabod adds a second finger and suddenly she’s coming hard, clamping down hard around his digits as he flicks his tongue against her clit. With a surprised cry, she grinds down harder on Ichabod’s face, trembling and moaning as she feels it through the top of her scalp.

Ichabod doesn’t let up, an evil gleam in his eye as he drinks all Abbie can give him. She shudders weakly, trying to pull away to give herself a moment to recover.

“Shit, Crane, stop,” she says breathlessly, scrambling away from him to gather her breath.

He sits up, his beard gleaming with her juices with a large bulge in his slacks.

“Do you know how many nights I’ve dreamt of doing that?” he asks, unzipping his pants. Abbie stares, riveted, as he kicks off his pants and palms himself through his boxer briefs.

“How long,” Abbie asks, still trying to catch her breath.

“Since you got in the taxi and left me in Jamaica,” he says, stroking himself through his underwear.

Abbie closes her eyes and lets her head fall back against the wall.

“That’s almost two weeks,” she says.

Ichabod’s tongue darts out to moisten his lips.

“I know,” he groans, squeezing his shaft as he stares at Abbie. “You should take pity on me.”

“If we can get upstairs, I’ll sit on it,” she says, rising to her feet and pulling off her tank.

Completely nude, Abbie turns so Ichabod can see her ass flex.

“Unless you think your hand can do a better job.”

The gleam in his eye is Abbie’s only warning; laughing, she takes off for the stairs, sure she’ll make it to the top before Ichabod’s even out of his underwear. The yelp when his hand closes around her ankle is real and Abbie turns to find Ichabod on the stairs, also completely divested of clothing.

“How’d you –”

Ichabod pulls her down a stair and gathers her in his arms, kissing her deeply. Abbie groans, tasting herself on his tongue. His hands on her ass make Abbie break off the kiss.

“We’re not in the bedroom yet,” she says, tightening in anticipation as Ichabod holds her against the wall and steps between her legs.

Saersa la, ove unerte hema,” he breathes into her mouth as he pushes into her body.

“Oh, god,” Abbie groans, wanting to know what Ichabod said but having to concentrate on making her body relax as it tries to remember how it feels to have Ichabod inside of her. She flexes her muscles around the steel inside of her and is rewarded with a surge as Ichabod thrusts up sharply.

“Fuck,” she swears, already climbing on the first damn stroke.

“I have an eidetic memory,” Ichabod pants, holding her open and thrusting steadily. “First time in my life I was thankful every day because I could remember exactly how it felt to have you on my cock. To push into you like this,” he says, slowing down. “To see your beautiful face when I hit your spot.”

Abbie twists in his arms, trying to stay quiet as his strokes deepen.

“No, treasure,” he murmurs, licking at a bit of the sweat gathering on her collarbone. “I want to hear you sing.”

“Shit,” Abbie swears, moving her hips to meet Ichabod’s thrust for thrust. “No, I wanted – I want – ugh,” she shudders, unable to get more than a word out. She’s so wet she’s dripping again; she feels it on her thighs every time he pulls out.

“You want what? You want this cock?” Ichabod asks, licking into her mouth for a searing kiss.

“Yes,” Abbie wails. “Please, faster.”

“Say my name,” he says, grinding his pubic bone against hers.

Abbie groans, tightening around him and laughing when his stroke falters.

“Make me,” she pants.

Ichabod gathers her in his arms and moves up the steps still buried inside of her.

“Where’s your bedroom?” Abbie points and Ichabod practically stumbles over the threshold as she tightens around him again and licks the sensitive shell of his ear.

“You’re going to kill me,” he groans, placing her on the bed gently.

“So you want me to make you, treasure?” Ichabod asks, reluctantly withdrawing from her wet heat.

“This feels like the opposite of making me,” Abbie taunts, squealing when he turns her over and smacks her ass gently. “No, no,” she says, pulling at the duvet in attempts to scramble away.

“What’s wrong?” he croons. “You’re not as confident when I have your ass in my hands?”

Ichabod grasps her by the waist and pulls her back as he climbs onto the bed.

Abbie swears and shakes; Ichabod knows how to break her body down and leave her a quivering mess. Long, deep strokes from the back and he can keep her coming as long as he wants.

“Okay, I’ll say your name,” Abbie says in attempts to appease his ego.

“Oh, we’re far past that now, ersesah,” he says fondly. “We will do things the hard--” Ichabod plunges in deep, “--way,” he groans.

“Now say my name.”

Abbie keens, almost limp with how good her body feels.

“I can’t,” she mutters against the duvet.

“Why not?”

“Because I forgot!”

Ichabod stops mid-stroke.

“That’s not funny, treasure,” he says.

“Who are you again? What are you doing here?” Abbie asks, trying not to laugh as she lets out an almost snort.

“You’ve wounded my delicate ego now,” Ichabod says, trying not to laugh himself. “Well, I don’t want you to have sex with someone you don’t know.”

“Ichabod…” she warns.

“No, treasure; it’s no imposition,” Ichabod says, shifting until he feels Abbie’s thigh quake.

Ugh – you’re an ass,” Abbie says when she realizes what he’s doing.

“Well that’s not my name,” he drawls, eyes closed as he keeps himself completely still.

“You can’t just stop in the middle! It’s illegal!”

“I will resume just as soon as you recall my name.”

“I hope you have a book, then,” Abbie says, trying to ignore her body and center herself.

“The view is captivating enough,” Ichabod says, filling his hands with her ass.

“Alright,” Abbie pants, knowing she’ll give in if he rests against her spot much longer. Time to put those exercises to good use, she thinks, and begins squeezing around him rhythmically as hard as she can.

“Fuck,” Ichabod exclaims weakly, almost falling forward onto Abbie. “That’s… that’s not fair.”

“Fair? Mister I have a big cock and know how to use it?” Abbie laughs shallowly. “You forgot who this dick belongs to.”

Ichabod widens Abbie’s legs and groans at how she practically drips onto his thighs.

“God, you’re so wet,” he murmurs. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”

“So whose is it?” Abbie asks, keeping the quiver out of her voice. He says nothing, so she bites her lip and bounces her ass back on him, underestimating how good it would feel to her, too.

“Whose is it, Crane?” she whines.

Ichabod’s trying not to thrust forward but he glances down to see Abbie’s perfect ass bouncing, slapping against him wetly and he gives in with a growl, falling to his hands and knees over her and thrusting mightily.

With each shove forward, Ichabod lets out something like a growl, licking at the sweat that beads on Abbie’s spine as she clings to the edge of the bed, pushing back with all she has.

Sneakily, Ichabod reaches down and finds Abbie’s clit, thrumming it gently.

Shocked, she falls into her climax, tightening around Ichabod and crying out weakly as her body gets caught up in the pleasure, flailing around. Ichabod ruts a few more times inside of her, spilling himself with a low groan he can feel through the top of his head. He collapses onto Abbie, kissing what soft skin he can reach while he gets feeling back in his limbs.

Any doubts that the sex would be less than stellar in non-tropical locales have been put to rest, Abbie thinks as Ichabod withdraws and she turns over to regard him. Instead of looking satiated and smug like he normally does after such a bombastic round of lovemaking, he looks contemplative.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, feeling her heart plummet into her stomach.

“I just can’t help but think,” he says, pulling her close and burying his nose in her hair. “I loathe to think this is the only way we may date each other, by pretending to be engaged.”

Abbie rubs his forearm across her body.

“Do you have any other ideas?” she asks.

“No.”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you.”

Ichabod sighs.

“It won’t be forever,” he says.

Abbie turns to him with a strange look.

“What?”

“I mean we wouldn’t have to stay engaged forever.”

“Well, I figured,” she murmurs. “But how long?”

“We can just treat it like we’re dating and if we decide to part ways... however long that is…”

“We part ways,” Abbie agrees.

“How much do you want?”

Abbie freezes.

“I’m sorry, what?”

Ichabod just look back at her as if he didn’t try to buy her.

“Money,” he repeats.

“I heard you the first time,” she says slowly. “But what makes you think I want your money?”

“I just thought it would be only fair,” he says. “While we’re doing this, you can’t date anyone, you’ll be followed by security, and you’ll have to deal with the paparazzi.”

“I know that,” Abbie snaps. “But at what point did you think I was saying I’ll do it for the money?” she asks lowly.

“It’s not –”

“You can have the shower when I’m done,” she says, sliding off the bed. Abbie doesn’t look back as she shuts the door behind her.

Staring at the closed door, Ichabod wants to kick himself. How can he let her do something like this? She doesn’t even understand how big a thing she’s offered to do.

It’s just… she doesn’t understand his world.

She’s going to be judged by everyone from his own parents and the people of Cirtona to any random person on the street who has now seen her picture and has made up their minds about her. As much as Ichabod wishes it weren’t so, when they split, the world will look at her more harshly than it does him, just because.

He won’t be able to save her from that.

But what Ichabod can do is help cushion the fall as best he can. Make it so that she can have any type of life she wants when she leaves. Somehow the sentiment behind his offer has been lost, leaving a hurt Abbie.

He has to apologize.

Ichabod ends up dozing, waiting for the shower to turn off and Abbie to return, but when he wakes the sky has darkened into navy and he’s covered with the blanket, but still alone.

Feeling wrong-footed, Ichabod redresses and jogs downstairs to find Abbie peering at the media fiasco that is just beyond her front lawn through the curtains.

“Is it bad?”

Abbie jumps at the sound of his voice, and swears under her breath.

“For someone so big and tall you’re entirely too silent,” she mutters, shaking her head and returning to her surveillance. “I was just contemplating if we were going to be able to slip through and go grab something to eat. It’s Sunday; I usually eat out so I didn’t have anything in the house really.”

Ichabod comes to stand behind her, and is dismayed that Abbie moves away without looking at him.

“Treasure,” he pleads, grabbing her wrist gently before she can move too far away. “Please let me apologize?”

Abbie looks up at him with no expression.

“For what?” she asks.

Ah, Ichabod thinks. This is a test.

“I’m sorry for thinking I can buy your kindness with money,” he says. “I’m sorry I made you feel that you, in all your infinite glory, are someone who can be bought. I know I hurt your feelings and I wanted to apologize as soon as you came out of the shower but…” Ichabod trails off sheepishly.

“You’re not the first man I’ve knocked out,” Abbie says with a small smile. “Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to hear it when I came out. Maybe it’s good you were asleep.”

“Maybe it was,” Ichabod echoes. In the brief silence his stomach growls loudly.

“Wow.” Abbie laughs.

“I beg your pardon,” Ichabod says, blushing bright red. “It seems I’m determined to completely embarrass myself in front of you. Retribution from the universe, it seems.”

“Or it could be your body hollering for food. Come on; if I’m going to be your wife I’m going to have to take care of you,” Abbie says, moving toward the kitchen.

Ichabod follows her curiously.

“You don’t have to cook,” he says, coming over the threshold.

“Cook?” Abbie turns with five take out menus in her hand. “Who said anything about cooking?”

Just like that, it feels like they’re back in Jamaica. Ichabod insists on paying since he’s disrupted her normal routine. They pore over the options, trying to make a decision.

“What did your parents think when you said you were coming here?” Abbie asks. “They couldn’t have been too pleased.”

Ichabod sighs and nods.

“More than likely not, whenever they found out,” he murmurs.

Abbie purses her lips, blinking at him.

“You didn’t tell them?”

“They didn’t tell me they were going to haul you in for questioning in such a boorish manner, why should I tell them I’ve gone to apologize?” Ichabod’s eyebrow almost ascends into his hairline.

Abbie opens her mouth and then shuts it.

“Good point,” she murmurs, and holds up two menus. “Okay, Chinese or Italian?”

Ichabod shrugs helplessly.

“Which one do you prefer?”

“You’re the guest,” Abbie says. “Should be your choice.”

“As my fiancée,” Ichabod says, tugging on her tee shirt until she comes closer curiously, “you have the honor of making the choice.”

Abbie glances away even as she’s maneuvered to stand between his legs. “Your fiancée,” she says lowly. “Never thought I’d be someone’s fiancée.”

“Really?” Ichabod asks, beginning to rock back and forth. “I could imagine you as my wife. Someone’s wife. I mean, besides my own,” he stammers.

Abbie hums and rests her chin on his chest as they sway in the kitchen.

“We have to make sure we get enough for your men outside. They’ve been out there for hours!”

“That’s their job,” Ichabod says with a strange expression.

“Alright there, prince,” Abbie says, patting his chest and moving out of his grasp. “We’ll need enough for eight people. Where’s my phone?”

“Eight?” Ichabod frowns. “Even including the gentlemen outside there’s only five of us.”

“Uh, no. There are six people outside. You don’t remember how many men you brought with you?”

Ichabod frowns and moves back to the window, noting the additional security personnel.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” he mutters.

“What?”

“My parents definitely know I’m here. I only brought three with me. I’m sure they sent the additional men.”

Abbie looks slightly amused.

“Is that a problem?”

“Despite evidence to the contrary, I am an adult,” he says. “I’m thinking of what your government may say to the menagerie outside.”

“They can go fuck off for all I care,” Abbie breezes, returning her focus to the dinner menus.

“Yes, well, I don’t think all your neighbors are as keen on that as you are. Here’s one now,” Ichabod says, stepping aside as the doorbell rings.

“Who in the hell?” Abbie adjusts her clothes self-consciously and opens the door with a patently false smile. “Hello, Standra,” she says flatly.

“Abbie, sweetie, so good of you to answer the door.”

Standra’s dressed in a blue sheath dress and her blonde hair done in old Hollywood style waves. Her eyes flicker over Abbie’s head, darting around. “I didn’t know if you could do something about all this on the street. Mason and I are having a dinner party and there’s nowhere for our guests to park!”

Abbie tries to keep her face expressionless.

“Sorry, but I didn’t call them,” she says a tad pointedly.

Standra titters.

“Some people just don’t know how to act around royalty, am I right?” she asks, craning her neck in an attempt to see her guest.

Abbie pulls the door closer to her and smiles.

“No idea,” she says.

Standra clears her throat primly.

“Alright, just came to you, neighbor to neighbor, hoping you could do something.”

Abbie nods once, keeping the smile frozen on her face until Standra wanders off her porch, flashing a smile for the cameras on her way back home. Abbie rolls her eyes and shuts the door.

“She’s right,” she says reluctantly.

“Right about what?”

“We are interrupting my neighbors’ lives.” Abbie leans against the door and smiles ruefully at Ichabod. “But there isn’t much we can do.”

“Return to the city with me.”

“What?” Abbie asks.

“You could return to the city with me,” Ichabod says, reaching for her hand. “They won’t get within a mile of us.”

“Right, the penthouse…” Abbie winces. “Uh… with your parents?”

Ichabod chuckles.

“No,” he says. “I think the next time you meet should be on neutral ground. I’m thinking something like a hotel.”

“That’s…” Abbie breathes a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry, but your parents are a lot to handle.” She blanches.

“How do you do it?” she asks.

“I don’t.” Ichabod shakes his head. “I have my own residence. My parents reside in the royal palace in Melida, Cirtona’s capital. Until I am king I won’t be expected to do the same. As for my parents they’ll be easier to deal with when they get to know you as I did.”

“Well, not quite like you did,” Abbie murmurs, laughing when Ichabod picks her up. She winds her legs around his torso and rests her head on his shoulder. “Do you think they’ll like me?”

“They’ll love you. I mean, they’ll come to know you’re a great person and they’ll be relieved,” he stammers, shaking his head.

Abbie’s laugh comes out short and shaky.

“I guess we don’t have any other choice. I’ve got things to do before I can leave though... tomorrow?” she asks, lifting her head from his shoulder.

“It’s your prerogative yet again, treasure,” Ichabod says, lifting her hand to his mouth to kiss gently. “But first things first; I have another very important question to ask and it requires an immediate answer.”

Abbie straightens subconsciously.

“What is it?”

“Italian or Chinese?” he asks seriously, laughing and darting out of Abbie’s reach when she tries to swat at his shoulder.

~*~

Abbie cracks open an eye, blearily trying to figure out what woke her. She turns into Ichabod’s warmth and closes her eyes again just to have the previous night rush forward in her consciousness, making her sit up with a gasp.

Someone’s calling her name.

“Oh, shit, Jenny!” she hollers, scrambling from the bed and tugging on clothes as quickly as possible.

“Your sister’s here?” Ichabod asks, sounding adorable while half asleep.

Abbie spares the back of his head a fond smile.

“Yes,” she says. “And she’s not going to take too kindly at being barred from my home.”

“Oh, that can’t be good,” Ichabod groans, waking fully to sit up and reach for clothes.

Leaving him behind, Abbie shoves her arm through her tee shirt and darts downstairs. She reaches the back door just as something slams against it. With dread in the pit of her stomach, Abbie opens the door to Jenny with her knee in the back of one of the Cirtonian agents.

Another rushes the back stairs and Jenny immediately twists to catch him in a chest bruising clothesline, causing the man to fly back with the same speed as his approach.

“Jenny,” Abbie cries out, stepping in front of two other agents with their weapons drawn. “Hold on, this is my sister,” she says, stepping over Jenny and her prey to move in front of the guns so they were pointed at her rather than Jenny.

One of the men she introduced herself to last night when bringing them dinner steps forward, lowering his weapon reluctantly.

“Your sister is going to arrested for assaulting sovereign security agents,” he says.

“Oh, please. Let me at ‘em, Abs. I’ll earn that assault charge,” Jenny hisses.

“Says the chick with her knee in someone’s back,” Abbie throws over her shoulder. “Now, gentlemen, can we lower all the weapons?” she asks.

“They better,” Ichabod says, stepping out onto the porch. He glances down at Jenny briefly before lifting his gaze to his security. “Now,” he barks.

Immediately weapons are lowered as Ichabod offers his hand to Jenny, still kneeling atop one of his guards.

“Are you quite well down there, Phillip?” he asks as he helps Jenny to her feet.

Phillip rises, brushing off his suit with a mild glare at Jenny.

“I’m fine; thank you for asking, your highness.”

“Now, I won’t hear of any charges being brought against Miss Jenny. This was obviously a misunderstanding,” Ichabod says, offering his hand for Abbie now with a raised eyebrow and a glance down to her chest.

Abbie follows his gaze and crosses her arms suddenly remembering she hadn’t bothered with a bra when she thought her sister was in trouble.

“I’m going to go get dressed,” she murmurs, taking Ichabod’s hand and darting back inside.

“Hey, Phillip,” Jenny says as the man takes his place beside the door. “Ever want to spar just give me a call.”

Phillip stands at attention but anyone can see the slight blush through his bronze skin.

Jenny closes the door behind her and looks Ichabod up and down.

“So you’re the reason my sister can’t answer her phone.”

Ichabod gives her a small smile.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean to avoid your call,” he says. “We had a great deal to discuss.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Jenny snorts. “You’re all over the news.”

She glances around.

“Fuck, where’s my bag?”

A polite knock at the back door reveals Stephen with Jenny’s bag and coffee.

“If I realize you’ve gone through this I can make an example of you, too,” she hisses, and slams the door in his face.

“Oh, jeez, Jenny, can’t you let up?” Abbie asks, returning in clothes ready to greet the day.

“Me?” Jenny asks. “You can’t even pick up the phone when this,” she gestures at Ichabod, “happens?”

“What am I supposed to say, Jenny?” Abbie asks.

“Oh, how about that you’re getting married,” Jenny says. “I’m really tired of being the last to know.”

Abbie blinks.

“I’m sorry?” Ichabod asks.

“It’s all over the news, and practically on loop on E! and TMZ’s websites. You’re a celebrity now, Abbie.” Jenny cackles and scrolls through her phone to show Abbie the headline.

ROYAL WEDDING FOR SLEEPY HOLLOW CINDERELLA.

Abbie feels slightly dizzy as she takes Jenny’s phone; hoping that somehow peering at it harder will change the headline.

“How did… why is he saying that?”

“King Dad,” Jenny says, pulling Abbie into the living room and turning on the television. She switches the channel to E!

“Fucking commercials,” she mutters. “Oh, here it is!”

King Hernán is obviously being followed as he exits a building, even his security is unable to quiet the questions the paparazzi fling his way.

“King Hernán, is Prince Ichabod back to his old ways?”

“What will you tell the people of Cirtona? Is their prince just after a pretty face?”

King Hernán turns to the cameras, livid.

My son is not a skirt chaser! Of course he’s at Miss Mills’ home; they’re getting married!

Ichabod stumbles to a chair at the same time Abbie is forced to find a seat before she’s on the floor.

“What…” he asks weakly.

“Good question,” Abbie asks, suddenly suspicious.

Ichabod catches the tail end of her tone and raises his finger.

“Abbie, I did not tell him a thing before I left,” he says.

“Wait, you guys really are getting married?” Jenny screeches.

“No!” Abbie says. “Well, I mean - Jenny, hold on, it’s kind of complicated,” Abbie says.

“Not really, you put the ring on the finger and say I do.” Jenny glances between the two of them. “How do you go from Vacation Dick to husband?”

“Jenny!”

“You’ve dubbed me ‘Vacation Dick’?” Ichabod asks with a wince.

“No, that’s her term, not mine,” Abbie reassures him.

“What do you call me?” he asks, suddenly curious.

Abbie opens her mouth and shuts it.

“I… didn’t,” she says. “I didn’t think I was going to see you again and I had to get back to regular life… oh, god,” she groans, dropping her head in her hands. “I forgot about Luke.”

Jenny is staring at the both of them, confused.

“How’d you forget about Luke? I thought it was going well?”

Abbie can feel Ichabod’s eyes boring into the side of her head.

“We can talk about that later,” she hisses at her sister.

“No, maybe we should talk about it now.” Ichabod tries to keep his voice nonchalant, but he knows he failed when Abbie glares up at him.

“It’s something I’m going to have to deal with,” she says. “He and I were…”

Ichabod’s eyes widen.

“…Intimate?” he asks, his voice going up an octave.

Jenny raises her eyebrow.

“What does it matter? She wasn’t with you at the time, so you can stop looking like a kicked puppy.”

“Jenny,” Abbie groans. “You’re not helping.”

Jenny looks confused.

“Am I supposed to be?”

Abbie takes a deep breath and raises her hands.

“Crane, can I talk to my sister alone?”

“Absolutely,” Ichabod murmurs. “I’ll ensure you’re packed.”

“Thank you,” Abbie says, trying not to turn to him when he passes her but it’s like an exorable pull toward each other when they’re in close proximity. She looks up to see Jenny eyeing her suspiciously.

“He’ll make sure you’re packed? What the actual fuck, Abbie,” she murmurs. “What’s going on? This isn’t like you; you need four plans and a back-up just to decide what to have for dinner.”

Abbie closes her eyes and sighs.

“I know,” she says. “I just-” She explains what their plan is and why.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jenny says bluntly. “Friend, my ass!” She covers her mouth in horror.

“Oh, my god,” she whispers.

“What?” Abbie’s tone automatically matches her sister’s. “What is it?”

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you? You went to Jamaica, got Vacation Dick and lost your mind and now I’m going to be an aunt. I’m too young to be an aunt, Abbie.”

“One, you’re not too young to be an aunt. Two, no, I’m not pregnant!” She glances down. “Do I look pregnant?”

“Not touching that,” Jenny says, pointedly sidesteps saying anything else about pregnancy.

“Then is it for the money?” and takes a step back at Abbie’s expression.

“I’m not the candy-assed security; I’ll turn you into a hashtag,” she says. “You know it’s not about the money.”

Jenny raises her hands in reluctant acceptance.

“Fine. Then help me understand because I’ve got nothing,” she says. “Why are you doing this? Isn’t this a lot for a guy you just met?”

“I told you why. We know there’s something between us,” Abbie says. “This way we get to explore it. Besides, he’s a friend and friends help each other,” Abbie says, wincing at how stupid it sounds aloud.

“Abbie, Vacation Dick is not your friend,” Jenny hisses.

“Don’t think I’ll ever get used to that moniker.”

Both women whirl around to see Ichabod at the doorway, standing as apologetically as one can.

“Your phone, Abbie,” he says, offering it to her.

Abbie groans and takes the device, seeing the two voicemail messages, both from Luke. She would probably have more but since she’d changed her number she hasn’t had much time or desire to give it out.

“Get used to it,” Abbie mutters.

Jenny crosses her arms and doesn’t look the least bit repentant.

“You brainwash my sister with your magical dick?” she asks.

“Jenny, god,” Abbie mumbles as she sinks onto the couch. “Could you find your mute button?”

“No, because this doesn’t make any sense! Abs… are you a pod person? Are you in some sort of trouble? Are you being blackmailed?” Jenny pleads, sinking to her knees in front of her sister.

“I beg your pardon!” Ichabod says.

Jenny raises her finger.

“I didn’t ask you anything, your majesty,” she snaps.

“It’s highness,” Ichabod mutters. “And I haven’t coerced your sister into doing anything.”

Abbie grabs Jenny’s accusing finger.

“He hasn’t,” she says softly.

Jenny stares at Abbie’s hand around her finger, then up at her sister.

“So why are you doing this?” she asks.

“Because your sister is gracious and kind enough to help me continue to help my people,” Ichabod says. “I’m sorry, treasure, but she’s your sister. She should know why.”

Jenny stares at Ichabod with a strange expression.

“What do you mean?” Her face remains inscrutable while Ichabod explains his predicament, and when he’s done Jenny turns back to Abbie, who is now more holding her hand than keeping her from admonishing Ichabod.

“Abs,” she says mournfully. “Are you sure?”

Abbie nods.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

Jenny shakes her head, still trying to understand how her sister can do something so over the top to help.

“Abbie –”

“You can’t say anything, Jenny. They’re going to know you’re my sister – if they don’t already – and you can’t let on this is anything but genuine.”

Jenny winces, nodding her head.

“But you’re a horrible liar, Abbie,” she points out. “Unless you’re lying to yourself,” she says sweetly.

“Gee, thanks. Tell me how you really feel,” Abbie says. “So you’ll keep this to yourself?”

Jenny sighs loudly.

“Anything in particular you want me to say to the press?”

Abbie brightens just a little.

“No comment works,” she teases. “But if they press just say yes, you knew about the relationship.”

“Fine,” Jenny says, rising to her feet. “I’ve gotta go; I’ll be out of town for about a week. Ghana.”

“Oh, I love Ghana this time of year,” Ichabod says. “Where will you be staying?”

Jenny throws him a vaguely impressed look.

“I’m saying with a client, so I’m not quite sure. I’ll send pictures.” She turns back to Abbie. “Deal with the Luke situation sooner rather than later. I’m sure he’s been subjected to this on loop just like everyone else in town.”

Abbie’s stomach sinks at the thought of having the much needed conversation, but she nods.

“Did you need anything?”

“Yeah. I wanted to borrow your blue dress, the one with the zipper on the side? I know where it is, I’ll go grab it.” Jenny ducks out before Abbie can protest.

“Sisters, I swear,” Abbie mutters.

“I think I would’ve liked a sibling,” Ichabod says. “It would’ve made growing up less lonely.”

“I wouldn’t trade her for the world. She could use some intense mental modification at times, but I wouldn’t want anyone else as a sister.” Abbie smiles, but it’s tight and Ichabod crosses the room to sit beside her.

“You really don’t have to do this,” he says, pulling her close. “You’re a kind person and that’s what led you to offer, but in the light of day if you realize this isn’t something you can do then I won’t hold it against you, treasure.”

Abbie wishes it was just generosity that made her blurt her crazy idea. Ichabod’s hand finds hers and she looks down at them clasped together.

“You make my hand look small,” she murmurs.

“Your hand is small,” he chuckles.

In the circle of Ichabod’s arms, Abbie feels safe. Protected. Something she’s never felt outside the hug of August Corbin. She thinks to Luke, and the few kisses they’ve shared, and the way he likes to touch her wrist and the small of her back.

It felt… attentive. She knew she had his focus and that was reassuring. But there was nothing else. Maybe with time there could be, but nothing in her soul jumps at the thought of finding out.

“My hand is a perfectly reasonable size,” Abbie says, her body moving with Ichabod’s quiet laugh. “And no, I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Found it!” Jenny waltzes into the room with the dress in hand and stops mid-stride, glancing back and forth from Abbie and Ichabod, noting their intimate position. She clears her throat.

“Um… Don’t do anything crazy until I get back, okay?” she tells her sister.

Abbie rises and rolls her eyes.

“Like I would think of doing such a thing. You’d hunt me down.”

“I’ve already proven Cirtonian security ain’t shit,” Jenny says, tossing her head playfully in Ichabod’s direction.

“Ugh, Jenny let it go,” Abbie pleads as she follows her sister back into the kitchen.

“No. I think I’ll have it printed on a tee shirt,” Jenny jokes as Abbie shoves her to the back door.

“Look at how she’s treating your fake future princess in law,” she yelps.

“Am I supposed to come to your rescue over my fiancée?” Ichabod asks.

“Damn, good point. See you’ve got him trained already. Bye!” Jenny breezes, and is out the door with a cackle.

“I’m going to go talk to Luke, if he’s still speaking to me,” Abbie says.

“There are so many things I wish to ask about your relationship,” Ichabod admits.

“Then ask,” Abbie says.

“I can’t. My ego won’t stand for it,” he says wryly.

Abbie smothers her smile.

“Oh?”

“Indeed,” Ichabod says. “But I will power through it.” He becomes very serious.

“With Master Luke… Is it love? And you can be honest – I need you to be honest. I will not stand in the way of your happiness, even if it is merely burgeoning.”

Abbie smiles and shakes her head.

“Maybe it could’ve been, somewhere down the road but…” she shrugs her shoulder.

Ichabod nods.

“So I won’t ask if you are sure again, and I can only hope that Master Luke is not more persuasive in person.”

Abbie pats his chest with a smile.

“Something you’ll learn about me very quickly. When I put my mind to something I see it through.”

Ichabod captures her hand and pulls it to his mouth for a kiss.

“Then I await your return, fiancée.”

Abbie shivers at the title, and tries to cover it with a laugh, pulling her hand from Ichabod’s.

“I’ll be back soon,” she murmurs.

“Please,” Ichabod says, pulling her close and bending for a quick kiss on her lips. “For I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” He presses another to her cheek. “All alone in this house,” he murmurs and kisses the sensitive skin just behind her ear and trailing down her neck until Abbie’s clutching his forearms and giggling.

“Who will you take for security?” Ichabod asks as he reluctantly pulls away.

Abbie blinks, skin still tingling from his smooches.

“No one?” she says.

Ichabod hesitates.

“Please, you have to take someone with you.”

“Why?”

“Abbie your status and proximity to me require it.”

“Next, you’ll tell me there are enemies of the Cirtonian crown,” Abbie jokes. Her smile falters when Ichabod doesn’t share in her mirth. “…Are there?”

“There are a lot of evil, opportunistic people out there,” Ichabod says as he tilts Abbie’s head back for a lingering kiss. “I don’t want you to be in any danger because someone has decided that you are a target, okay?”

Abbie prepares her argument but what she sees in his eyes stays her tongue.

Fear.

She clears her throat.

“Alright,” she murmurs.

And that’s how Abbie finds herself in the passenger seat of her own vehicle.

“Lady Abbie, please don’t be offended that I requested to drive,” Phillip says, his hands tense on the wheel. His entire six foot four muscular frame is squeezed in the driver’s seat, and even with the seat back as far as it will go, he still seems like he needs additional yards of leg room.

Abbie rouses from her thoughts and shakes her head.

“This is weird for me, but I guess you’re used to people being in the back seat,” she says.

“That I am. Though I understand why you like being in the front seat,” he says.

“You don’t have to call me Lady Abbie,” Abbie says. “Sounds strange.”

Phillip looks even more uncomfortable.

“But what shall I call you?” he asks.

“Abbie’s fine.”

“No, my lady, it isn’t. You’re Prince Ichabod’s future wife. Respect dictates I call you by your title.” Phillip looks as if he’s going to have a fit so Abbie reaches out and places her hand on his forearm.

“Okay,” she says. “Lady Abbie it is.”

“Thank you, Lady Abbie.”

Abbie tries not to chuckle as the relief is evident on the large man’s face. The rest of the ride to Luke’s is silent, which is perfectly fine with her; trying to think of what she’ll say to Luke has her stomach roiling and she can feel the edges of a headache beginning.

Bernie, the security guard at the gate, gives a double take at Phillip wedged into the driver’s side and looks flustered at the Cirtonian ID flashed in front of his face. Abbie leans around and smiles before Bernie opens the gates.

As usual, Mary is waiting for her, and she doesn’t look happy.

“Hi, Mary,” Abbie says, unbuckling her seatbelt and climbing down from the car before Phillip can get out and come around.

“I wish I could say I’m happy to see you, Abbie,” Mary says.

“Yeah, I know.” Abbie sighs and squints in the sunlight. “Is Luke here?”

“Yes, Mister Morales is here. He’s been in a mood ever since last night, and I’m sure you know why,” she says, glancing over and up at Phillip who comes to stand behind Abbie. “Can he wait here?”

“He cannot,” Phillip says.

Abbie winces, and smiles apologetically at Mary.

“You understand, right?”

“No,” Mary says bluntly. “Mister Morales is a prince among men and you had the good fortune of catching his eye. But I guess that’s nothing in comparison to a real prince.”

Abbie feels the barb of her words and schools her expression to one of neutrality.

“Where is he, Mary,” she asks.

“Follow me.” Mary turns on her heel and practically marches Abbie to Luke’s office. “Wait here, I need to announce you.”

Abbie ignores Mary’s not quite venomous look before she ducks into Luke’s office.

Phillip steps forward, again looking somewhat uncomfortable.

“Lady Abbie?”

She turns to him.

“Yes, Phillip?”

“I do not mean to overstep my bounds, so I hope you tell me if I do,” he says.

Abbie nods.

“I will.”

“I will tell this Mister Morales you have no wish to see him any more if it will spare you any pain,” he says. “I am very good at explaining things so people understand.”

Abbie looks at Phillip’s biceps, larger than her thighs, and laughs shallowly.

“I can believe that,” she says. “But unfortunately this is something I should do myself.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

Both Phillip and Abbie turn to see Luke at the door, an enigmatic expression upon his face.

“Wait here, please,” Abbie murmurs, unable to shake the feeling of being sent to the principal’s office again as she moves past Luke.

“Abbie, thanks for coming to see me,” he says as Mary ducks out the office, leaving them alone.

“Thank you for seeing me,” Abbie says. She winces. “We sound like strangers.”

“Maybe we didn’t know each other as well as I thought,” he says, leaning against the front of his desk.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Abbie says. “We were getting to know each other better.”

“Look at it from my perspective,” Luke says. “When I asked you if it was something, you reassured me it was nothing.”

“And I was telling the truth, at the time,” she clarifies. “Unfortunately, things changed.”

“Including your feelings for me?” he asks.

Abbie sighs and glances at the couch against the wall before falling heavily onto it.

“What do you want me to say, Luke?”

“The truth is nice and always in season.”

“Everything I thought I was going to say kind of sounds stupid now,” Abbie admits.

“I saw the news.”

Abbie glances down at her hands.

“I thought you might.”

“Marriage, huh?”

Abbie clears her throat.

“We’re just engaged right now,” she says.

“But marriage down the road?”

“Who can see the future?” Abbie evades.

“What we had –” Luke clears his throat. “Was any of it real?”

Abbie closes her eyes.

“Luke…”

“It’s a simple question.”

“You know, people really need to stop saying that because it’s not,” she snaps. “The truth was that our four dates were very nice and I had fun but I didn’t feel that connection, that – that spark.”

Abbie rises to her feet.

“I didn’t feel that jump in your belly when you can’t imagine being apart for more than a couple of hours. But I didn’t want to judge you by something that can be so fickle.

“So I went out with you again and I still felt… mild pleasantness. I enjoyed your company. I found you physically attractive. I thought perhaps with more contact I’d feel something more.”

Luke stares at her.

“Wow,” he says. “But this… this Prince Ichabod. He does it for you?”

Abbie glares at him.

“Yes.”

Luke nods to himself and shakes his head.

“I fell hard for you.”

“Luke…”

“But that doesn’t really matter, does it?” he asks sadly.

“No, it really doesn’t,” Abbie says gently. “There’s someone out there for you. Probably closer than you realize,” she says, thinking back on Mary’s animosity. “Just because we didn’t work out doesn’t mean you won’t find love.”

“I’m not a child, Abbie,” Luke snaps. “You’re not the end all, be all of the world.”

Abbie blinks at his tone.

“Goodbye, Luke.”

He nods curtly.

“Abbie.”

Abbie leaves the office feeling a lot lighter than when she went in, and sees Mary at her desk, trying not to look like she was waiting for her to exit.

“Mary, it’s been nice knowing you,” Abbie says, walking over to the woman.

Mary searches Abbie’s face for something and sighs, rising to offer her hand.

“Likewise. I’m sorry. I know I was more than a little rude earlier but… I’m very protective of Mister Morales,” she says.

“I noticed,” Abbie says.

“He doesn’t,” Mary says with a flat laugh.

Abbie leans forward conspiratorially.

“And he never will unless you say something.”

Mary blushes, sputters, and grimaces.

“I can’t. He’s my employer.”

“And that can be tricky, I know. But with your resume you can always get another job. The least you can do for yourself is tell him how you feel.”

“He doesn’t see me,” Mary says sadly.

Abbie glances back at Luke’s office door.

“I think you may be surprised. Besides, you’ll never know until you try.”

Mary nods, and impulsively pulls Abbie into a hug.

“Thank you for teaching me how to body slam someone twice my size,” she says. “Out of everything I know how to do I think it’s what I’m now most proud of.”

Abbie blinks back tears as she nods. This is why she teaches self-defense; to empower people.

“Take care of yourself, Mary.” She shrugs and cocks her head in Luke’s direction. “Him, too.”

Mary smiles affectionately at the closed door.

“Always.”

~*~

Ichabod looks down at Abbie fondly, deeply slumbering against his chest. He’s glad she’s able to escape the melancholia that has plagued her since she returned with Phillip. He attempted to find out what was wrong but she didn’t wish to talk about it and he didn’t want to push. Just outside Sleepy Hollow city limits Abbie climbed into his lap, tucked her head beneath his chin, and fell asleep.

Now that the lights of New York City are playing across his face Ichabod’s reluctant to wake her, and decides not to. The car pulls into the private entrance of the Plaza, and gently Ichabod eases himself out of the car without waking Abbie.

Phillip and Stephen join them in the elevator and halfway to the penthouse she wakes and looks around.

“Oh, my god, are you carrying me?” she asks, her voice adorably croaky.

Ichabod presses a kiss to her temple.

“I am.”

“Put me down, I can walk,” Abbie protests quietly, attempting to squirm out of his grasp, but Ichabod stills her.

“Please, allow me, treasure,” he says.

Something in his voice makes Abbie nod, and she rests her head on Ichabod’s broad shoulder and tries to remember the last time she was carried anywhere.

“You don’t have to do this,” she murmurs against his neck.

“I know,” Ichabod says.

“So why are you?”

“Because I can,” Ichabod says as he waits for Phillip to open the door to the penthouse suite.

“Spoiling me rotten,” Abbie admonishes as she’s carried over the threshold. “Can I walk now?”

Ichabod sighs mightily.

“If you must,” he says, setting her down gently.

Abbie smiles up at him softly before turning to take in their surroundings.

“Crane, don’t you think this is a little lavish for the two of us?” she asks, moving further into the suite, past the study and into the living room. She catches a glimpse of the stairs and sighs.

“There’s an upstairs,” Abbie calls to him.

Ichabod joins her in the living room.

“Unless the staircase is a lie,” he teases as he follows her up the steps.

Abbie darts down the hall and throws open the double doors to the master suite.

“The bedroom covers the entire second story,” she says, awed.

Ichabod can’t help but smile as he comes to stand behind her.

“Does it meet with your approval?”

Abbie glances up at him, incredulous.

“Even if it didn’t, what else is there from here?” she asks. “Do you see that view?” She gasps and grabs his hand, pulling him with her through the French double doors and out into the night air.

They’re so high, it’s like they’re suspended over the city, with the park stretched out before them.

“It’s like a sky on the ground,” Abbie murmurs. “I guess to make up for the fact that you can’t really see the stars around here.”

Ichabod looks up curiously; it had never occurred to him to check.

“Perhaps you’re right, but it’s not nearly as beautiful as you.”

Abbie reaches over and pinches his forearm.

“Jenny and I used to talk about getting here. Being so successful we could stay in hotels with views like this.” She sighs.

“Now you’re here,” Ichabod says, but Abbie’s smile falters.

“I didn’t earn it,” she murmurs, turning away. “Uh, what time is it? When are we going to your parents?” Abbie shakes her head in attempts to clear it. “I hate falling asleep in cars. I feel out of whack afterward every time.”

“Good to know. I told them we’d stop in tomorrow,” he says. “What? It was obvious you needed to rest.”

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose and looks up at Ichabod.

“Great. I’m going to look frail in front of your parents,” she says.

“Oh, treasure. This has been an emotional day for you and it’s not unreasonable for it to have taken its toll.”

Abbie nods, and takes Ichabod’s hand when he reaches for hers.

“Are you hungry?” she asks as he pulls her against his chest, one of her hands over his heart.

“I could eat,” Ichabod says as he sways them both gently. “How about you?”

Abbie fights to keep the smile from her face as she moves with him.

“Starving, actually. But this time you’re making the decision on what we’re having.”

“Only fair. Do you want to go out or stay in?” Ichabod begins to move them around in a slow waltz. “As always it’s the lady’s prerogative.”

Abbie leans against his chest and hums.

“Do you mind if we stay in?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Good. Let’s stay in then. Make sure you order enough for the guys,” she says. “I’ll be back; I’m going to call Jenny and make sure she made her flight.” Abbie goes to withdraw but Ichabod keeps her close.

“Are you alright?” he asks. Abbie nods and Ichabod kisses her gently before letting her go.

Ichabod finds he doesn’t quite know what to do; it’s obvious something is bothering Abbie but she doesn’t want to talk about it, yet he does. He doesn’t like to see her conflicted or in pain and she appears to be a bit of both.

He contemplates going after her, coaxing her into opening up but ultimately decides not to; one of the things he admires about Abbie is she’s honest about her emotions and how they relate to other people. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then it’s something she feels she has to work out on her own.

Ichabod just doesn’t know how to tell her she doesn’t have to do it alone anymore.

He sees to the dinner arrangements and half an hour later, Ichabod is in the formal dining room surrounded by Abbie and his security detail. While dining on buttery strip steaks and garlic asparagus he and Abbie indulge in a full bodied red wine while the men stick to carbonated beverages and juice.

Ichabod looks around the room in a bit of a wonder; he’s known these four men almost fifteen years and this is the first time he’s broken bread with them. Abbie apparently fascinates them and she practically holds court; trading stories of epic takedowns and self-defense maneuvers she’s learned over the years and asking about their personal lives and hobbies.

“I also like to donate my time to teach kids self-defense after school,” Abbie reveals.

“Is there a big demand for that?” Stephen asks.

“Not as much as there should be. I teach whoever is interested. Usually the smaller kids who have trouble standing up to bullies. Bullies don’t like when you have the confidence to stand up to them.”

“Agreed,” Andre says.

“I don’t like bullies. Childhood is hard enough without having to worry about bullying. Especially since you normally have no control over what you’re bullied about.” Abbie sips her wine.

Stephen nods, chewing and mulling over her words.

“I was always teased about reading in front of the class. I used to have a very pronounced stutter and it was always worse when I was nervous. I would dread having to stand in front of the class and essentially be laughed at. A few of my classmates thought they would take the abuse outside the classroom.

“Let’s just say that stopped when I hit my growth spurt,” he says, and everyone laughs with him.

Over the course of dinner, Ichabod watches as his security team begin to look at him with new eyes. He’s used to duty, faint disdain or even disappointment. What he sees in their eyes now is something new.

Respect.

He spends the rest of the meal watching Abbie dote on four men more than twice her size.

~*~

Abbie stares at herself in the mirror.

She’s done everything she needed to do, and now she’s run out of things to do to stall. It’s late and she’s tired, but Abbie can’t bring herself to come out of the bathroom for some reason. It’s just Ichabod on the other side of the door.

It’s not like they haven’t slept together before, so why can’t she just walk into the bedroom and climb into bed?

Because you’re worried you’re doing this for all the wrong reasons, her brain supplies.

“Shut up,” she mutters.

Abbie?

She glances over at the door.

“I’m fine,” she calls.

Are you sure?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie shakes her head in the negative.

“Yes.” She takes a deep breath and looks around. The bathroom has more expensive fixtures than all the appliances in her kitchen. What kind of crazy world did she say she would step into?

Can she really do this?

Why does it feel more real now than before?

How fast can she get back to Sleepy Hollow?

What if--

The door to the bathroom opens slowly, and Ichabod sticks his head in.

“Good evening,” he says.

All Abbie can do is stare at him.

“Are you alright?”

“I said I’m fine.” It comes out a bit more snappish than Abbie intends.

Ichabod steps into the room, taking in her bright red head scarf and oversized tee-shirt.

“You look as if you’re panicking.”

Nearly there, her brain jeers.

“Not quite,” Abbie admits as Ichabod comes closer.

He takes her hand in his and tugs her closer.

“You know, if you want to go home, just say the word. I’ll have Phillip return you to Sleepy Hollow at a moment’s notice.”

Abbie looks up at him.

“But your father already –”

“I don’t care,” Ichabod interjects. “I need you to know you are able to stop this. We don’t have to move forward.”

She takes a deep breath and nods.

“I know,” she says. “I’m just… I think I’m overwhelmed.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asks, gently leading her out of the bathroom.

Abbie digs her toes into the lush carpet and is reminded of Jamaica; immediately her heart stops jumping and she relaxes.

“Music,” she murmurs. “Sometimes I like to sleep to music.”

Ichabod bows and kisses her hand.

“What kind of music?” he asks, picking up the tablet from the bedside table and calling up the sound system.

“Surprise me.”

Ichabod nods, tapping on the surface of the tablet before nodding in satisfaction.

“There,” he says, and strains of languid jazz fill the air and some of the tension in Abbie’s forehead eases.

“Thank you,” she says.

“Will you come to bed now?” he asks, offering his hand.

Abbie’s smile is inscrutable as she accepts his hand. Ichabod climbs into bed and pulls Abbie onto his lap.

“Remember Jamaica, treasure?”

Abbie nods, self-consciously adjusting the scarf on her head.

“I do.”

“It’s just you and I.”

Abbie sighs and leans her forehead against his.

“If only.”

“No if only,” Ichabod says. “It’s just you and I, okay?”

Abbie sighs again, louder this time.

Ichabod chuckles, running his hands up and down her back. He gets a tiny quirk of the lips as a reaction, so he pulls her closer and presses a kiss to the skin right beneath Abbie’s ear. She sighs, ever so small and the noise goes straight to his cock.

“Whoa, there,” she murmurs. “Someone decided to join the party. Oh,” she groans, when Ichabod’s hand slide up her sleep shirt to cup her ass.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Ichabod murmurs before he licks at the skin at the join of her neck. “You’re not wearing any underwear?”

“I am,” Abbie protests, leaning her head so he could have greater access. “It’s a thong.”

Greedily, Ichabod moves his hands to her waist and makes a noise when he encounters the lacy sides. Abbie smiles fondly as she reaches down and grabs the hem of her shirt to pull it over her head.

“I will never get over how beautiful you are,” Ichabod says, awe written across his face. “And your beauty is surpassed only by your intellect, generosity and kindness.”

Abbie pushes her face against his to avoid his gaze.

“You gotta stop complimenting me all the time. It’s going to go to my head.”

“Good,” he murmurs, rocking up against her core and enjoying the way her breathing picks up. Ichabod does it again – slowly, as he palms her breasts and gently brushes her nipples with the pads of his thumbs. The barely-there contact has Abbie gasping. She whines lowly, pressing her chest into his grasp and grinding down.

“So beautiful,” he murmurs. “I wonder if you could come like this.”

Abbie braces her hands on the headboard over Ichabod’s shoulders and lets her head drop back, concentrating on the sensation pooling in her groin.

Ugh, Crane,” she keens, raking her fingers through his hair. “Fuck,” she sighs.

“That’s it, treasure. Come for me please?” Ichabod asks, swallowing a groan when Abbie looks at him, her face slackened with pleasure as the crotch of her panties, now soaked through, begin to thin the material stretched over his engorged cock. The rub of the cotton from his boxer briefs makes him throb.

Abbie moves her hips faster, biting her bottom lip before Ichabod leans forward and pulls it from between her teeth to kiss her deeply. She cries out into his mouth, the stimulation to her clit finally enough to send her over the edge. Abbie slumps against him, shivering and trying to press as much skin against Ichabod’s as possible.

“Do you feel better?” he asks, running his hands up and down her back comfortingly.

“I do,” Abbie admits. She shifts and feels the hardness between her legs. “But how about you?”

“Do you know you’re exquisite when you come?” Ichabod asks seriously. “Seeing you be pleasured, experiencing pleasure… It’s one of the most erotic things I’ve ever seen.”

Abbie looks away and shakes her head.

“You and these compliments,” she mutters. Abbie yelps when Ichabod rolls them both over so she’s on her back and he’s looming over her.

“You’ll have to get used to them,” Ichabod says. “I mean them. Every single one.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Yeah, I know,” she says, looking away again. “Take off my panties.”

Ichabod blinks.

“I’m sorry?”

“You heard me. Take off my panties,” she says.

Ichabod swallows, and rises up so he can peel the soaked article of clothing down Abbie’s legs. He brings the lace to his nose and inhales, his cock twitching at the scent. He resists the urge to suck the essence from the material, and instead decides to go for the source.

Gently, he parts her legs, placing kisses at her ankle, knee, and all down her thigh until he reaches the curls already shiny with her juices.

“God, Abbie,” he groans, and licks into her. Abbie rears up, still sensitive from her first orgasm.

“Crane,” she screeches. “Fuck.” Her body betrays her and she falls back onto the bed, already winding up that cliff face again. How can he get her to respond so quickly?

“How- fuck - ” Abbie can’t get the words out as Ichabod moans against her.

He’s attentive enough to keep direct stimulation away from her clit but his tongue is doing things inside of her that have her hips moving as she attempts to fuck his face. Ichabod pushes two fingers in and Abbie feels herself clamp down on them, desperate for something to clutch as she abandons all pretense and fucks his fingers.

Ichabod’s other hand is a steadying presence on her lower abdomen and it moves up to brush against her nipple. Abbie groans as she feels herself get wetter, as the sounds of Ichabod’s fingers get louder. That feeling pooling in her groin makes her not care, and Abbie stumbles into her second orgasm of the night swearing and holding Ichabod’s fingers inside of her like a vice.

Ichabod bites the silk of her inner thigh gently, reaching down with one hand to peel his underwear down just far enough to free himself. The hand still slick with Abbie’s juices strokes his cock, coating it as he groans.

“Treasure,” he pleads.

Abbie chuckles.

“If you don’t get in me,” she says breathlessly.

Immediately, Ichabod scrambles up and gathering Abbie close, pushes inside of her slowly.

Abbie swears, even more sensitive than before and he’s trying to split her apart.

“Fuck,” she pants. “Go slow.”

“Trying,” he hisses through closed teeth, ever mindful of how small she is. But it’s so hard not to just bury himself balls deep in her body. Slowly Ichabod pushes forward, kissing whatever skin he can reach.

Abbie wills her body to relax and bites back a groan when Ichabod withdraws and moves back in. The sensation makes her scrape her nails down his back and she yelps when his hips snap forward, burying himself in a little more.

“Let me –” Abbie rolls them onto Ichabod’s back and she sinks down with a roll of expletives falling from her lips. It feels like she can feel him in her chest, she thinks as she blows a lock of fallen hair from off her forehead.

When had she lost her headscarf?

“Oh god,” she mutters. “Why are you so big?”

Ichabod grasps Abbie’s hips and surges up.

“Can’t say,” he says, strained. “But it’s not my dick, it’s yours remember?”

Abbie looks down at him fondly as she begins to move her hips. Immediately she can feel his thighs flex beneath her.

“Ass,” she says, fondly.

“No, this is an ass,” he says, and punctuates it with a slap to her rear.

Abbie half-laughs, half-yelps and decides to get him back by tightening around him.

“Damn right,” she says as she puts a swivel in her hips.

Ichabod’s grip on her hips tightens.

“Abbie, please,” he groans. He needs to move but he doesn’t want to hurt her.

“What do you want, Crane?” She bends down to lick the shell of his ear and grins at the resulting shiver. “What do you want to do to me?”

Ichabod pulls her into a kiss and rolls them back over onto her back.

“Can I?” he asks, grinding into her.

“You better,” she says, and swears when he pulls out to shove right back in.

It feels so good Ichabod swears his vision whites out. From there his body chases completion through Abbie’s delectable form with long, deep strokes, marveling at how hot and wet she is around him.

“You feel so good, treasure,” he says, lifting her legs onto his shoulders. Ichabod sinks deeper, making both him and Abbie cry out before he resumes his energetic pace. Ichabod knows when he hits that place inside of her because his thighs are suddenly drenched and Abbie’s meeting him thrust for thrust.

“One day, my love, I will figure out how many times I can make you come,” he swears, grabbing Abbie’s scrabbling hands in his. Fingers entwined, Ichabod starts grunting on every thrust, feeling his balls tighten.

“Ichabod Crane – you – you – ugh, fuck,” Abbie pants. “You are not… fuuuuck,” she cries out.

Ichabod can’t help but feel smug even as he swells within her.

“Come, treasure,” he says darkly. “Come for me.”

Abbie tosses her head even as her body begins to tighten. She makes the mistake of looking up at Ichabod stare down at her – he looks as if he wants to consume her and he rubs over that spot inside of her that makes her come and her third orgasm of the night is the strongest.

Ichabod falls forward onto the headboard, roaring as he thrusts hard, coming deeply with five or six rutting strokes as Abbie’s body practically milks his cock.

“Fuck,” he swears, giving another, weaker thrust that has his eyes closing and his toes curling.

“I think that might be a new record for me,” Abbie says shakily as Ichabod drops down to kiss her. There’s no urgency now, just two people enjoying each other and themselves.

“One I hope to shatter and soon,” he says against her mouth.

“Ambitious,” she murmurs as they untangle limbs and settle in next to each other. “I need to shower again,” Abbie groans.

“I’d say I’m sorry but I find I’m not,” Ichabod says, grinning harder when she tries to swat at him.

“Maybe I can join you? I’ll have housekeeping change the sheets because you drenched them.”

“You promise you’re only going to wash?” she asks.

“As much as I would love to be wicked, I will refrain,” he says, dropping a kiss to her bare shoulder.

“And wait a minute! I drenched the sheets?” Abbie asks. “Whose fault was that?”

Ichabod reaches for the tablet beside the bed.

“I can’t talk right now, I’m busy.” He ducks the flying pillow with another smug grin. “Do you feel better, treasure?” Ichabod asks seriously.

Abbie hums in the affirmative and sits up to stretch.

“I think I’ll be able to sleep after my shower.”

“Good.”

“But first…” Abbie begins moving the duvet and sheets around. “Where’s my headscarf?”

Chapter Text

Abbie’s second foray into the Cirtonian royal residence is markedly different from her first.

This time, she breezes past security with her hand in Ichabod’s, sandwiched between him and Phillip on her left side. Instead of the intimidatingly large grand sitting room, Ichabod leads her further into the residence and up a winding staircase to a brightly lit and comfortably appointed parlor.

“There they are!”

King Hernán beams, rising from his chair to come stand before Abbie and Ichabod.

“You’ve done well, my boy!”

Abbie glances over at Ichabod, wondering who this pod person could be.

“Father, I think you’re overwhelming Abbie,” Ichabod says, squeezing her hand for reassurance.

“Apologies,” Hernán murmurs, and immediately Abbie feels a strange echo; he sounded just like Ichabod in manner and delivery.

“You’ll have to forgive an old man for being excited. Come, sit,” he says, taking Abbie’s hand out of Ichabod’s and placing it in the crook of his elbow. “So I’m informed you prefer Abbie instead of Grace or Abigail?”

Abbie catches a brief surprised glance from Ichabod and nods at the king.

“I’ve been called Abbie as long as I can remember,” she says.

“Then we’ll call you Abbie.” Hernán beams.

Ichabod is staring at his father strangely.

“How did –”

“I know you were going to propose? Because I saw how you came to lovely Abbie’s defense during our tasteless interrogation. I must apologize for such a tactic; it may seem harsh and unfeeling but there is much at stake, not just our feelings.”

Abbie nods mutely, and finds herself on the couch between Hernán and Ichabod.

“But most importantly,” Hernan says as he pats Abbie’s hands with his own, dwarfing them, “You can’t seem to look away from her,” he says softly. “ You marvel at her presence.”

Abbie ducks her head, keenly aware that Ichabod is looking at her, and unsure of what to say.

Ichabod clears his throat and places a comforting arm behind Abbie.

“I guess I finally realized how I felt, and found the courage to tell her so.”

Hernán beams.

“He gets that courage from my side of the family.”

“Speaking of family, where’s Mother?” Ichabod asks, twisting to look around. “I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Sulking,” Hernán confides.

“Don’t think I can’t hear you,” Clarissa says imperiously as she walks into the room, stopping beside Hernán’s chair. He reaches up and takes her hand, pressing a quick kiss to the inside of her wrist.

“There you are, my dear. You’re just in time to hear how our son managed to sweet talk Abbie into sharing his life,” Hernán says gleefully.

Clarissa’s face looks as if she’s just finished licking a lemon.

“Ichabod, I wish to speak to you,” she says.

“Clarissa, my dear, sit down,” Hernán says firmly. “I want to hear this story.”

Clarissa sets her jaw before inhaling and putting some semblance of a smile on her face.

“Of course, my love,” she murmurs as she takes a seat on the arm of Hernán’s chair. “Please, regale us.”

Abbie, eyes wide, glances over at Ichabod.

They hadn’t prepared the story.

“It’s not really fancy or elaborate,” Abbie begins, trying to scramble for something to say.

Ichabod clears his throat.

“She didn’t want to see me,” he starts, and immediately Abbie remembers what she felt when she turned around and he was there.

“In my defense, I was cleaning out my garage,” Abbie says. “But I invited him in.”

“And I will be forever grateful that she allowed me to apologize.” Ichabod takes her hand and smiles fondly at her.

“I wondered if he came all the way to Sleepy Hollow for an apology,” Abbie says. “Seemed like such a long way to come for a few words.”

Abbie looks into Ichabod’s eyes and has to duck her head.

“I know it sounds corny,” she mutters, gasping shakily when Ichabod gently lifts her chin.

“That’s my department,” he jokes softly, his smile widening when Abbie chuckles.

“See, you’re rubbing off on me,” she says. “But when I look into Ichabod’s eyes I feel… protected. Something I’ve never really had in my life.”

“I’m sure the title of princess helps.” Clarissa removes a piece of imaginary lint from her dove gray slacks.

“It actually didn’t,” Abbie says.

“Clarissa,” Hernán murmurs. “We’re not going to begin this exciting new chapter of our lives in such a manner. I, for one, didn’t think I’d live to see this day.”

“Father, please don’t say that,” Ichabod says as Clarissa shakes her head and grabs her husband’s hand.

“Please don’t say that,” she repeats.

Hernán grins and gives a cavalier shrug.

“I only speak the truth,” he says. “My son, my beautiful, beautiful son, why is your fiancée’s ring finger bare?”

Ichabod and Abbie glance down at her hand and back up at each other.

“We… didn’t think about a ring,” he says truthfully.

“That just won’t do. Come,” Hernán barks, pressing a kiss to Clarissa’s arm before rising to his feet. “We’ve got things to do and you ladies have something to talk about. A million things, I’m sure,” he says, tugging a reluctant Ichabod to his feet.

Abbie puts on a brave smile but feels nothing but trepidation when she turns back to see Clarissa in Hernán’s vacated chair.

“Grace Abigail Mills,” Clarissa says slowly.

“I told your husband I prefer Abbie,” she says.

“Yes, well.” Clarissa crosses her legs and steeples her fingers beneath her chin, sizing Abbie up silently. “I must admit, I underestimated you. I don’t do that often.”

Abbie tilts her head.

“Excuse me?”

“I thought we were done with you. My Ichabod.” Clarissa shakes her head. “He’s so smart in some ways and just an absolute fool in others. He takes after his loving, sentimental father. Makes for a great human being but an even better mark, am I right?”

Abbie’s jaw almost drops.

“You think this is a scam?” The question sits too close to the truth and she feels like she’s baking in the high necked dress she elected to wear.

“I know it is. I don’t have proof, but I trust my judgment. It’s gotten me this far.”

“To queen?” Abbie asks, an eyebrow raised.

“Cute.” Clarissa’s smile turns sly. “Three million.”

Abbie’s mouth dries.

“What?” she manages to get out.

“Three million dollars for you to get up and walk out right now. That’s got to be more than you could expect to make in your entire life, yes? I have that amount in cash in a suitcase in a car ready to take you back to Sleepy Hollow. No need to stick around and collect crumbs. There’s very little cash in the day to day life of a royal.”

Who puts three million dollars in a suitcase?

Abbie stands and pulls herself to her full, though unimpressive, height.

“Your majesty, I have tried to be gracious and I have tried to be patient. You can’t bribe me because I’m not here for the money. I’m not like the other women Ichabod has paraded in front of you. I don’t care about your money.”

Everyone cares about our money,” Clarissa says acidly, rising to her feet as well and walking out of the room without another word.

~*~

Ichabod picks up a pear-shaped pink diamond and tried to picture it on Abbie’s finger. The cut and clarity are stunning, but he isn’t too sure about the color.

“I don’t think I’m going to find something I like here,” he says, eyes roving over the rows of rings.

“You’ll have to find something. Your fiancée’s finger shouldn’t be bare for the press conference,” King Hernán says, also looking through the rings.

“Press conference? Surely that’s a bit much,” Ichabod says.

Hernán sighs.

“My son, people like us have to confront our pasts and right our wrongs in public, so we can continue to inspire our people.” He looks at his son and claps him on the back. “She’s beautiful, Ichabod. Inside and out, I can see that. Our people will be proud to call her princess.”

Ichabod feels like he’s betraying Abbie even as he rejoices inside.

What harm is there to believe the lie for just a little while, within the four walls of this room?

“You think, Father?” he asks, breaking into a grin he can barely contain. “My heart feels like it’s going to soar out of my mouth if I say another word about her.”

Hernán chuckles.

“Reminds me of myself when I met your mother. I couldn’t say anything to her; I just followed her around, utterly in awe of how poised and assured she was. When she looks at me, I think I can do anything.”

Ichabod nods, overcome with emotion.

“I think I can understand that,” he says.

“To think, you’ve found your love and I am here to see it.” Hernán pulls Ichabod in for a laughing hug. “Oh, my boy, you make sure you cherish her as long as you live. You honor Abbie and I am sure you will honor our people.”

~*~

“Better be glad she’s not playing for money,” LeAnn says, peering at Phillip’s cards.

“I’m not that bright, but I’m not stupid,” Sam chimes in.

Seeing Sam outside of the small room where she’d checked the validity of Abbie’s bra makes Abbie feel a lot better about the entire situation. Or it may be the fact that she’s winning her fourth hand of UNO with Phillip, LeAnn the cook, and Sam.

“I play for something more important and twice as expensive.” Abbie pauses for effect. “Pride and bragging rights. At home, when I pull out this deck, people run.”

“Can’t imagine why,” LeAnn says dryly, shuffling the cards in her hand hoping for a better combination.

“I didn’t know one could play UNO for money,” Phillip murmurs as he hesitates over the deck. “I could really use some luck right now.”

“Right now? Or when you offered to smoke me so well I could be served for dinner?” Abbie blinks innocently as she fingers her wild draw-four card.

“I don’t trust that smile. It means you’ve got me where you want me and I don’t think I can take another beating,” Phillip says dramatically. “But just to be sure.” He throws down a red reverse.

“Thank you,” Sam exclaims loudly, taking another turn and putting down a red skip with a grin. “I’m going to make you eat those last three draw-twos.”

“It’s nothing personal,” Abbie protests. “Well, a little,” she admits. “I like to win.” She turns her grin to LeAnn. “Wanna help a sister out with a reverse?”

LeAnn looks mournfully at her hand.

“I wish I could,” she says honestly, putting down a red five as apologetically as she could.

“What’s going on here?” Ichabod asks, intrigued as he moves further into the room.

“Your highness,” Sam says, gracefully folding her hand and rising to bob a curtsey before she makes a beeline from the room. LeAnn is half a step behind as they both flee the room.

Phillip clears his throat and discreetly puts his hand down.

“Well, we were playing UNO,” Abbie says, throwing her cards down.

“I’m going to check the perimeter,” Phillip says, inclining his head at Ichabod. “Your highness,” he says, and turns smartly on his heels.

Abbie watches him leave with a strange expression.

“What was that?” she asks.

Ichabod shrugs a shoulder.

“I’m so used to it I don’t even get offended anymore. I think they expect admonishment, but in all honesty I usually just want to join in. After a while, you stop asking to come along or join in because you can see it makes people uncomfortable.”

Abbie reaches for his face when he crouches beside her chair.

“Sounds lonely,” she says.

“In a lot of ways it was. Thankfully, I had a few noble friends who weren’t fazed by the title.”

Ichabod turns to capture Abbie’s hand in his as he presses a kiss to the palm.

“I have something for you.”

Abbie’s laugh is shallow. After the afternoon she’s had, she’s a little wary of gifts from Cirtonian royals. When Ichabod pulls out a small velvet box her heart begins to beat erratically and she can’t help but sit up straighter in the chair.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Well, you need a ring if you’re going to be my fiancée, as my father explained rather pointedly,” Ichabod says, and opens the box.

“Oh, right.” Abbie stares down at a positively huge bright canary diamond with tiny white diamonds on the band beneath the oval gem.

“You’re not allergic to platinum, are you?” he asks, suddenly concerned.

“No.” she shakes her head. “Oh my god, this is ridiculous.”

“You don’t like it?” Ichabod asks, pulling it away with a frown.

“No, no,” Abbie clarifies. “It’s… it’s beautiful,” she says.

“Good.”

“It’s also huge, Crane. I mean.” She shakes her head. “That thing dwarfs my hand.”

“Because you have such dainty hands,” Ichabod says, taking her hand again. “I know this is wildly out of order but I want to do this right.” He looks up at her and smiles.

Abbie can barely keep her breathing under control.

“Ichabod, it’s not real,” she manages to get out, and her heart drops when the light dims in his eyes.

“You’re right,” he says, clearing his throat. “I don’t--”

Abbie stays his rise to his feet.

“What would you say if it were?” she whispers. “I’m just curious.”

Ichabod settles on his knee again and takes her hand. After a moment he begins.

“I would say that it had to be something as powerful as fate to have me literally fall head over heels for you. That every time I think I understand how beautiful you are, how kind you are, how large your heart is – I learn I have barely broken the surface.

“Every conversation we have makes me eager to wake up and have another with you, just to find out what you think. That I can barely catch a glimpse of you and it feels like my entire body yearns for yours. That I only truly know rest when you lie beside me.”

Abbie’s eyes are filled with tears as Ichabod slides the ring on her finger.

“That’s what I would say,” he says. “And you?”

Abbie stares down at their hands and the monstrosity of a ring.

“I would say I never met anyone who made me feel like you; like the unknown isn’t something to dread, but to meet head on with excitement. I tell you things I don’t tell anyone else for reasons I still don’t know.

“That when I see you anything less than happy I want to be the one to remove that look from your eyes. That I really cherish every bit of time we get to spend alone away from the world. I would tell you I’m worried I’m beginning not to want to share you, not even with your people.”

Abbie sniffles and pulls him closer, laughing when Ichabod plucks her from the chair and into his arms to kiss her properly. When they part Abbie looks down at him, rubbing her nose against his gently.

“Hello,” she whispers.

“Hello, treasure,” he rumbles back. “Before our return to the hotel I’m afraid there is more we must discuss.”

Abbie hums good-naturedly.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as getting a ring,” she says. “As long as it’s not public speaking, it can’t be too bad.”

Ichabod’s laugh is weak as he holds Abbie closer.

“About that...”

~*~

Jenny fumbles for the light beside the bed and grabs her phone from where it dropped between the bed and the nightstand, cursing all the while. Still cursing, she checks her texts and blinks blearily at the screen until she can make out the words.

I’m on E! again

That wakes Jenny up completely and she scrambles for the remote and the channel guide trying to find it. When she doesn’t, she resorts to her tablet and goes directly to the website, pausing when she sees Abbie’s face in a thumbnail.

“What have you done,” she murmurs, steeling herself before she plays the clip.

It’s not long; about two minutes and twelve seconds. The audio is too low without her headphones to get much of anything, but Jenny can’t stop staring at her sister’s face, especially when she’s looking at Ichabod. She looks…

She looks like she’s in love, and that scares Jenny more than this farce ever did because love doesn’t come easy to Abbie. It never has.

But when she’s looking at that man it’s as plain to see as the sun in the sky. Ichabod looks down at her with an obvious mix of pride and awe and Jenny wonders how long it’ll last before the next leggy blonde walks past. She’s met plenty of men like Ichabod; rich and famous and used to getting what they want.

They always claim they need something new, but when it doesn’t bend the way they like they go back to what does. When Ichabod inevitably decides Abbie’s too much for him, Jenny’s going to be the one left to pick up the pieces and as much as she teases Abbie, Jenny can see Abbie wouldn’t have it in her to let another person in for the rest of her life.

“Fuck,” Jenny says to the room at large, causing the man sleeping beside her to rouse slightly.

“Jennifer,” he rumbles, and Jenny can’t help but shiver at his delicious accent.

“Go back to sleep, Annan,” she says. “Cause you’re gonna need your strength to distract me.”

~*~

It’s almost fifteen hours later when Abbie and Ichabod are able to slip away back to their hotel, and the ride to the penthouse is mostly silent, much to Ichabod’s consternation. He doesn’t know what happened, but something has caused Abbie to retreat into herself.

She turned it on beautifully for the cameras, a mix of adorable and captivating. She had the reporters eating out of her hand and it was all Ichabod could do to not stare at her in wonder. But when they were finally released and bundled into their car, Abbie had almost visibly deflated. Ichabod asked if there was something wrong, but she claimed tiredness and nothing more.

The door to the elevator opens and Phillip steps out, checking the area before he and Abbie are allowed out of the elevator.

“Are you hungry, treasure?” he asks as Abbie rubs at her neck with a wince.

“No. I think I’m just going to grab a shower and head to bed. Long day and all,” she murmurs, and without another look back, disappears down the hall.

Ichabod stares after her, now doubly concerned.

“Phillip? Did something happen to Abbie whilst I was away?” he asks.

Phillip pauses and looks back at Ichabod with a carefully constructed mask of neutrality.

“I am afraid I don’t understand, your highness,” he says.

“After my mother and Abbie spoke.”

“Your highness,” Phillip says, hesitatingly.

“I don’t care what you tell me as long as it’s the truth,” Ichabod says.

“Her Majesty Queen Clarissa offered Lady Abbie three million dollars in cash to leave the residence and never contact you again.”

Ichabod swallows the pit forming in his throat.

“When was this?”

“Almost immediately after you and King Hernán left the room, your highness. After Lady Abbie turned her down quite emphatically, may I add, Queen Clarissa left and did not return.”

“I’m sorry?” Ichabod blinks rapidly. “My mother just… left Abbie alone?”

Phillip nods.

“I’m sorry, your highness,” he murmurs.

“Why? It’s not your mother who has pitted herself against the love of your life,” Ichabod

mutters. “I was gone for hours; did she just sit there?”

Phillip holds back his grin at the casual way Prince Ichabod referred to Lady Abbie.

“Lady Abbie would have, if I had not offered to give her a tour of the residence. Along with two of the other staff, we played cards on the balcony to lift Lady Abbie’s spirits.”

“I thank you, Phillip,” Ichabod says seriously.

“It’s nothing, your highness,” Phillip says, but closes his mouth when Ichabod raises his hand.

“Please,” he says. “I understand you didn’t have to do anything for my Abbie. You could have left her to sit in that room and deal with her hurt alone. But you did not, and I am very grateful.”

Phillip looks at Ichabod and nods slowly.

“I can honestly say, your highness, that it was my pleasure.”

Ichabod inclines his head and moves away before stopping and returning.

“I’m going to order something light for dinner; did you or any of the other men want anything?”

Phillip blinks through his surprise.

“We will take whatever you decide, your highness,” he says. “Thank you.”

Ichabod nods again and goes to follow Abbie.

~

Abbie emerges from the restorative steam of the bathroom to find Ichabod perched on the bed, obviously waiting for her.

“Did I keep you up?” she asks, checking the knot on her headscarf.

Ichabod swallows at her nighttime attire: a pair of low-riding boy shorts and a tank top. Drops of water are beaded just between her breasts at the top and Ichabod imagines himself sucking the excess moisture from her skin.

Rallying his thoughts, Ichabod smiles and holds his hand out for her.

“Absolutely,” he says, once he has her in his arms. “But I will always wait for you.” He inhales deeply against the join of her neck and hums. “What is that amazing scent you’re wearing?”

“Vanilla and brown sugar body wash.”

“You smell delectable, treasure,” he says, rubbing his hands up and down her back.

Abbie nuzzles against his cheek and sighs.

“Are you still sad?”

“The shower helped,” she says.

“That doesn’t quite answer the question, does it?” he asks gently.

Abbie steps out of the circle of Ichabod’s arms with a shrug.

“Have you had dinner?”

“I wouldn’t eat without you,” Ichabod says.

“I said I wasn’t hungry,” Abbie reminds him. “Oh, I need to find out what the guys want for din--”

“I’ve already seen to them,” Ichabod says, moving close to take her hand again.

“You did?” The smile on her face is genuine and Ichabod feels like preening in the face of her good grace.

“I did!”

Abbie leans up to cup his face with both hands proudly.

“What’d you order?”

“Steak sandwiches and salads in edible shells.”

She pulls him down for a soft kiss.

“Did they like it?”

“They ate everything so quickly and silently you wouldn’t have thought I ordered anything at all!”

Abbie laughs and kisses him again, but Ichabod breaks it off when he hears her stomach rumble gently.

“Treasure, are you hungry?”

“I wasn’t before,” Abbie admits. “But for some reason my appetite came back. But it’s late, I can eat tomorrow.”

“I think not. Room service is twenty-four hours a day. I should know, I’ve ordered eggs benedict at one in the morning before,” Ichabod breezes, already going for the tablet where he’d thrown in on the bed. “What would you like to eat?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Surprise me,” she says.

“Another test,” Ichabod groans good-naturedly. He makes a few selections with a smile and puts the tablet on the nightstand. “In forty-five minutes we’ll have your stomach back to a non-growling entity.”

“The villagers will be happy to know,” Abbie says dryly.

“I forgot to ask; how’d your talk with mother go?” Ichabod hopes she’ll tell him the truth. If Abbie’s wellbeing weren’t more important, he’d go right back to the residence and tell his mother what he thinks of her ill manners and her frankly insulting bribe.

Her stomach drops again and all she wants is sleep.

“It was fine,” Abbie says convincingly. “Maybe I’ll just go to sleep instead,” she says, but Ichabod grabs her again. The way he’s looking at her it’s like he knows what happened, and her heart beats faster.

“You know you can tell me anything, right?” he asks, trailing his fingers along the edge of her headscarf gently. Abbie shivers and he pulls her closer. Instinctively, her arms go around his neck and she presses her face against his chest. “Anything at all, my love.”

“People always say that, but it’s different when it’s your parents. I don’t even have parents and I know that,” she mutters.

“But this relationship isn’t between us and my parents. Remember when I said that it’s just us?” Ichabod asks, gently tipping Abbie’s face up so he can see her. “I meant it.”

Abbie closes her eyes as she nods, and sighs into the feather-light kiss he bestows.

“So will you tell me what happened?”

Abbie opens her eyes.

“Let’s just say our relationship won’t be built in a day,” she says.

Ichabod wants to press but he doesn’t; what would be the point? He’ll just be sure to have a very serious conversation with his mother.

“Alright,” he says gently.

There is a subtle knock at the door; Phillip is there to announce the food has arrived.

“Is Lady Abbie okay?” he whispers to Ichabod when he comes to the door.

Ichabod nods.

“She will be. Thank you again, Phillip.”

“It’s my pleasure, your highness.” Phillip casts a worried glance over Ichabod’s shoulder but says nothing as he returns to his post.

“My love, the food has arrived. I thought something special might brighten your mood,” he says, pushing the cart toward the private dining table in the corner of the room.

Abbie sighs heavily but does come to stand beside Ichabod to see the reveal. He removes the cover with a flourish and laughs in delight at what he ordered: Cirtona berry pound cake and mango sorbet as a side.

“Dessert,” she cries out.

“Best thing to lift a mood, to have something sweet,” Ichabod says.

Abbie shakes her head and leans forward to inhale the wonderful scent of the pound cake.

“This is going to go straight to my ass, I know it,” she murmurs.

Ichabod glances down at her delightful posterior.

“One can only hope,” he says honestly, earning him a laugh and a slap against his chest. “Now, allow me, my fair lady.” Ichabod takes her hand and practically dances her to her chair.

Abbie can’t help but laugh as he bows deeply and returns to the tray, cutting a generous slice of cake and scooping a heaping serving of mango sorbet directly onto the cake, just as she likes it.

“You remembered,” she says delightedly as he places the dish before her.

“The joys of an eidetic memory.”

Ichabod produces another small bowl and places it before Abbie; candied cirtona berries.

Abbie tries not to squeal, but some inhuman sound escapes her throat as she reaches for the bowl.

“Candied cirtona berries… Crane, you don’t understand. I’ve had these once. Once,” she says, and pops one into her mouth. “Oh god, they’re better than I remember,” she moans, slumping in her chair with pleasure.

Ichabod serves himself a matching plate and places it in front of his empty chair before kneeling before Abbie.

“I don’t know how I feel now that I know I’m not the only thing that can cause you to make that sound,” he says, pretending to sulk.

Abbie leans forward and laughs into a berry-flavored kiss.

“Mm,” she murmurs. “My two favorite things,” she says.

“If I could bottle your kisses, no one would touch a cirtona berry,” Ichabod says, chasing her mouth for another. Abbie acquiesces but before giving him another kiss, slips another berry into her mouth.

After a moment the berry is gone and Abbie and Ichabod are left to merely making out as they enjoy the lingering flavor in each other’s mouths.

“Crane?” Abbie murmurs against his lips.

Ichabod has to remember how to speak before he can answer.

“Yes, my love?”

“The sorbet is going to melt,” she whispers.

“Is that a bad thing?”

Abbie’s stomach chooses that moment to grumble and Ichabod pulls away reluctantly.

“Yes, it is,” he says. Unable to resist, he leans forward for another kiss, trailing them down her neck to a spot that makes her clutch him closer.

He wants to continue, but he knows Abbie needs something in her stomach. Ichabod takes a deep breath and pulls away, attempting to discreetly adjust himself before rising to his feet.

“Yes, let’s eat.”

“But what if I want dessert after my dessert?” she asks, biting her lower lip and eyeing the bulge in his pants.

“Treasure, don’t you start something you can’t finish,” Ichabod says weakly, sinking into his chair before he pulls Abbie from hers and ravishes her on the bed. He pours the wine so he has something constructive to do with his hands.

Abbie grins at him devilishly, accepting the glass and brushing her fingers against his but in the end they both dig into their late night snack. Ichabod tells her about his first press conference at fourteen, how his voice broke in the middle of the interview, and the time he gave a press conference while completely drunk and how to this day he can’t bring himself to watch it.

Abbie’s mood is no longer bleak by the time her spoon scrapes the bottom of the bowl, her stomach filled with sweets and her heart fit to burst with laughter as Ichabod attempts to serenade her with rap hooks from the previous decade. When he attempts to do the dougie she jumps up to stop him, tears streaming down her face.

“We all have gifts,” she says between giggles. “And I’m sorry, I really am, but popular dances aren’t yours.”

Ichabod pretends to be hurt.

“But I’ve been told I’m an excellent dancer,” he protests.

“Did those people want something from you?” Abbie asks, biting her bottom lip to keep from laughing as she wipes her tears away.

Ichabod squares his shoulders and straightens to his full height with a prim expression, causing Abbie to fall into another fit of giggles.

“You have the answer to everything, don’t you?” he asks, scooping her up into his arms.

Abbie squeals and cups the side of his face.

“Oh, baby,” she coos. “I don’t love you for your dance skills.”

“You wound me,” Ichabod says, moving toward the bed.

“We can’t have that. Maybe you’ll let me finish what I was trying to start?” she asks, rubbing her nose against the shell of his ear.

Ichabod turns and captures her mouth in a passionate kiss before easing her down onto the bed.

“Let me take a shower first, then I will return to ravage you.”

“Rawr,” she growls, collapsing into another round of giggles.

“Are you still thinking about my dancing?” Ichabod demands. Abbie dives under the duvet, still laughing. “Such insolence,” he mourns. “You shall be made to pay upon my return.”

“Look forward to it,” Abbie says, muffled.

Ichabod is thankful he’s found a good use for his awkward ability to make a fool of himself. If he can put a smile on Abbie’s face every day, then he’ll sacrifice his pride without hesitation. He showers as quickly as he can, eagerly anticipating the soft skin and breathy sighs of the woman waiting for him.

When he comes out of the bathroom Abbie is propped up on her arm, deeply asleep.

So this is love, Ichabod thinks as he moves silently into the room. Years ago with some other woman he would’ve pouted and had her relocated to another hotel suite, disappointed yet understanding.

Now? He climbs into the bed slowly as to not wake her, rearranging her arm so she doesn’t regret her position when she wakes. Abbie murmurs something to him and reaches up to drop her hand against his cheek before laying still again. Ichabod kisses Abbie’s forehead and adjusts the edge of her headscarf before spooning up behind her and falling asleep.

~*~

“Lady Abbie?”

Abbie whirls around with a yelp, sputtering as she spills a bit of juice on the front of her robe.

“Oh, Phillip,” she breathes. “You scared me half to death.”

“I’m sorry, Lady Abbie. I heard a noise and it’s my duty to investigate.”

Phillip bows apologetically and moves to the cabinet to produce a roll of paper towels.

“Thank you,” Abbie says as she accepts a few.. “You guys are so silent I forget you’re there half the time,” she confesses.

“Then we’re doing our job,” Phillip says proudly. “Are you in need of anything, Lady Abbie?”

She shakes her head.

“I just wanted something to drink. I’m going to head back to bed before the alarm goes off.”

“Have a good rest of your night, Lady Abbie,” Phillip says as he bows again, leaving Abbie in the darkness once more.

She finishes her juice, lamenting that it probably costs almost ten bucks a bottle, and pads back into the bedroom. The sky looks like it’ll be threatening dawn before too long, but what weariness Abbie harbored disappears when she looks over at Ichabod.

He’s so big, she thinks as she takes off her robe. He’s long enough to sprawl up and down the bed, one arm over his eyes and the other where she’s supposed to lie.

Her space.

The thought makes Abbie’s heart beat strangely as she strips off her panties and cami before climbing into bed next to him. He doesn’t move, probably a testament to how tired he is. She thinks back on their day; the disastrous meeting with his parents and the press conference that was equally mortifying and oddly… freeing.

Abbie knows it’s too soon to call it love but in her head she struggles to find another name for what she feels when she looks at Ichabod. What she feels when she’s in his arms. What she feels when he smiles at her, just so – like they’re the only people on the entire planet.

Even tonight; Abbie knows why she was sad. Clarissa’s never going to accept her and Abbie had always imagined her relationship with her future mother-in-law as something akin to mother and daughter, seeing as her own mother is gone. After that crass attempt at a bribe, Abbie’s anger had sunk into sadness and this glorious, oversized man noticed and did his absolute best to cheer her up, even going as far as doing the running man without a hint of irony.

Even now, the memory presses at the corners of her mouth and she spoons up against him and places a kiss to his shoulder. Ichabod murmurs unintelligibly and pulls Abbie close to bury his face in the crook of her shoulder.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispers.

“You didn’t wake me,” he murmurs, tucking her beneath him. Abbie parts her thighs and he falls between them, forcing out a shuddering sigh when he grinds against her sensitive core.

“You certainly feel awake to me,” she says, and gasps when Ichabod bites her lightly on the neck.

“How could I go back to sleep with such an enchanting creature in my arms?” he asks, voice deep with sleep. It makes her shiver in his grasp and Ichabod chuckles as he places an open-mouthed kiss to the sensitive skin just below her ear. Abbie squirms and rocks against the hard cock being held against her.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep waiting for you,” she says, and he tilts her face to give her a proper kiss. By the time they pull away, they’re both panting and Ichabod has his hand at Abbie’s breasts, brushing his fingers across her turgid peaks as his dick slides through the moisture gathering in her curls.

“You were exhausted, treasure. I will never blame you for that,” he says, groaning at the way she squirms against him.

The skin on skin contact makes Abbie shiver and Ichabod’s proximity has her tightening deliciously. She wants him to push inside of her but she can feel the yawn he tries to hide against her arm.

“Go back to sleep,” she murmurs, biting her lip as she tries not to move her hips.

“Abbie,” he rumbles, pressing his face against her chest and snuggling down.

“Go back to sleep, baby,” she says.

“But I want you,” he mumbles sleepily, fully hard and rocking against her.

Abbie keens low as he slips inside just a little.

“Then have me,” she says, and gasps as Ichabod sinks further in slowly, not stopping until he feels like he’s pushing up against her womb. She cries out when Ichabod begins to move, slow, deep thrusts that have her pressing her face into his neck and panting.

There’s no hurry and no conversation save the physical one between their bodies as Ichabod flexes his hips. The glide becomes more pronounced as Abbie shudders and becomes wetter as his cock drags against her walls before pushing in to rub against her spot. So soon the sensation begins to build in her groin and she’s lifting her hips to meet his thrusts.

“Oh, god, you feel so good,” Ichabod moans, opening his eyes and raising up onto his hands on either side of Abbie’s shoulders so he can thrust more deeply, making her keen on every thrust. “Tell me what you need, treasure.”

Abbie swears.

“Your dick,” she pants.

“Say it again,” Ichabod demands.

“I need your cock, Ichabod,” Abbie cries out, clutching his ass in her hands as he moves within her. “I need it so bad. Fuck, you feel so big inside of me,” she grunts.

“You do that to me, treasure. Turn me into this rutting beast,” Ichabod says shakily. “I see you and all I want to do is sink into you and hear you call my name. You walk by with the sway of your hips and I catch your perfume and I just want to sit you on my cock and watch you ride.”

“I’m so close – ugh, fuck –” Abbie laughs weakly as she snakes a hand down to her clit, but Ichabod grabs her hand and widens her legs so he sinks even deeper.

“I’m going to make you come on my cock alone,” Ichabod says, settling firmly inside of her and adjusting his hips until Abbie rears off the bed as she screeches. “There we go,” he says.

He holds the position, flexing his hips minutely to rub directly against Abbie’s spot. Her breath catches as her body begins to tighten around him, and when he reaches down to tilt her hips she swears and drenches his thighs.

“Fuck, do you know how wet you are?” he asks, groaning at the sensation.

“Crane, move,” Abbie pleads, twisting under her body’s need for friction. “Please, fuck me.”

Ichabod breathes through his nose, trying to maintain the resolve he needs to make Abbie’s body sing. He grinds against her and presses close, grinning darkly when her head begins to thrash back and forth on the pillow as she rakes her fingernails down his back.

“Please,” she yells. “Oh, god – fuck – fuck!”

Abbie’s walls begin to flutter around him and her right leg begins to shake and that’s when Ichabod begins to thrust hard and deep. It takes only two strokes for her to come, crying out in relief as she clutches him to her. Ichabod continues to fuck her through her orgasm, not giving her a chance to come down as he pushes her body higher.

Abbie’s grunting, lost in sensation and pleasure as Ichabod worships her body like he’s devoted his life to it, fucking her into a second climax on the heels of her first. Her whole world dwindles down to the sensation of Ichabod moving in and out of her body with an audible squelch.

“Don’t you want to come again, my love?” he asks, sharing her breath as he groans into her open mouth. “Isn’t this pussy mine? Doesn’t it belong to me? Tell me whose is it.

“It’s yours – fuck – it’s yours,” Abbie wails, and shockingly she comes again, feeling the tingle from the top of her head as her toes curl. “Ichabod!”

Ichabod hisses, swelling inside of her before coming with a grunt. He collapses on top of Abbie, spilling himself in her small body as he thrusts mightily a few more times.

“Oh, my beautiful, beautiful treasure,” he croons, rubbing his hands up and down Abbie’s sides as she still shudders intermittently. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Abbie laughs shallowly and shakes her head.

“No, you didn’t. That’s as opposite of hurt as you can possibly get.” She wraps her arms and legs around him and kisses him languidly. “I feel like my body is vibrating,” she admits.

“I wish I could sleep like this,” Ichabod says before reluctantly withdrawing from Abbie’s body.

“Yeah, you say that, but you’re not in the wet spot,” Abbie snaps good-naturedly.

~*~

Abbie rechecks her suitcase and drops to the floor in attempts to locate a missing pump. Finding it beneath the dresser, she wonders how it even landed there. She smiles as she remembers Ichabod surprising her from behind and lifting her right out of her shoes to place her on the bed.

“Why are you smiling?” Ichabod asks, watching her as he leans against the door.

Abbie throws him a prim look.

“Mind your business,” she says without any real heat. Looking around the room, she sighs. “I’ve stalled long enough.”

“I could tip your suitcase over and hide all your clothes,” Ichabod offers.

“Sweet offer, really, but eventually I have to get back to real life.”

Ichabod shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

“You keep saying that. What is my life, Abbie?”

“A fairytale.” She pauses before zipping up the suitcase. “I’ve got events coming up that I can’t miss.”

“Can’t miss?”

“Don’t want to miss,” she clarifies. “I’m a business owner and I have to show up for jobs I’ve already been paid for.”

Ichabod wants to tell her she doesn’t have to worry about money, but he catches Abbie’s expression and the desire not to fight stays his tongue.

“I’ve got a session in parliament starting,” he says. “I won’t be able to get away for a while.”

“What’s ‘a while’?” Abbie asks.

“Month and a half, maybe more if we’re unable to settle some key issues.” Ichabod watches the frown appear briefly like thunder in Abbie’s expression.

“We’re not really engaged,” she murmurs, glancing down at her ring.

“No,” he says, unsure of where she’s going with this.

“So this is fine. It should be fine.” Abbie laughs shallowly but there’s no mirth in the sound coming from her throat.

Ichabod finally crosses into the room and takes Abbie by the waist gently, pulling her with him so she can sit on his lap while he sits beside her suitcase on the bed.

“Treasure,” he murmurs. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m being overly emotional,” Abbie says, resting her cheek against his.

“Won’t you miss me? I’ll miss you,” Ichabod says firmly.

“I may have grown accustomed to your face,” Abbie admits reluctantly. “And nothing wakes you up quite like a dick on your ass.” She laughs at the abruptly scandalized look on Ichabod’s face and attempts to twist out of his grasp when he begins to tickle her sides.

They fall onto the bed, Ichabod bracketing her in with his larger form.

“I shan’t let you go,” he says imperiously.

“You must,” Abbie says, and smiles into the kiss he drops onto her lips. It’s long and sweet and Abbie can’t help but cup his face and press her forehead against his. “A month and a half,” she murmurs. “It’ll go like lightning.”

Ichabod buries his nose in Abbie’s neck and doesn’t agree.

“Have you chosen your security?” he asks, his question muffled against her skin.

“What?”

He sighs and lifts his head again.

“Who will you take for your security detail? I think Phillip would like another chance to show your sister what Cirtonian security can offer.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I’m going home to my regular life, Crane. I can’t have security trailing after me, settling into my guest bedroom and things like that. Besides, it’s Sleepy Hollow,” she reminds him. “We’re just a small town. By now the excitement about me should have died down, and I don’t want to be called pretentious because I’ve suddenly acquired a six-foot shadow.”

“And while I can appreciate your egregious use of the word regular, since when do you care what people say about you?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie glares at him half-heartedly and sucks her teeth.

“Why’d I find one who listens?” she mutters.

“I live to annoy you at odd intervals,” he deadpans.

“I don’t need security,” Abbie says as she attempts to suppress her giggle. “Okay? I can take care of myself, remember? It’s literally my job.”

Ichabod sighs heavily, leaning into her touch when Abbie reaches up to massage at the furrow between his eyes.

“I’m just concerned.”

“And I appreciate your concern but I will be fine, okay?”

Ichabod still frowns.

~*~

“Abbie!”

Abbie turns at the sound of her name, paused in the middle of taking her trashcan to the curb.

“Afternoon, Standra,” she says amicably. “How you doing?”

Standra crosses the street quickly, dressed in a denim top tied at the waist, khakis and white keds.

“I’m – I’m alright. When did you get back?” She shakes her head and smiles. “I mean, how are you?”

“I’m good, thanks. I’ve been back for a couple of days.”

“I saw you on TV. That’s some rock,” she says conspiratorially. “Can I see it?”

Abbie tucks her hand into her pocket self-consciously.

“I don’t wear it all the time,” she says. “It’s too big and gets in the way of my job.”

“I’m sure! I saw it. You’re some lucky woman.”

Abbie cocks her head. She can tell Standra wanted to say something other than woman.

“Yeah, well thanks.” She begins to turn back to her house when Standra speaks again.

“So do you think you can get some security for the neighborhood?”

Abbie turns back.

“I’m sorry?”

Standra crosses her arms.

“Skylar has been approached by reporters at school, trying to get any information on you. I shouldn’t have to tell you how that scared Mason and me.”

Abbie frowns.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know they were still harassing anyone. I haven’t had anyone knock on my door since I’ve returned.”

“They probably know they won’t get anything out of you, but they’re going to still try asking anyone who sees you on a daily basis.” Standra picks a bit of imaginary lint from the front of her shirt. “This is getting to be more than an imposition, Abbie.”

She nods.

“I understand. I’ll see what I can do to stop it.”

“Well you do that. Thanks for the talk, neighbor,” Standra says, throwing a wave over her shoulder as she returns to her home.

Abbie keeps the smile frozen on her face until she turns back to her house. What more could the reporters want? She answered almost all the questions she could during the stupid press conference. Abbie’s a boring person, she’s led a boring life.

She can’t even really be that angry at Standra; if it had been her child in the same situation Abbie doesn’t know if she would’ve been as gracious. That’s probably the only thing keeping her from telling the woman off.

When Abbie gets back into the house she hears her phone buzzing on the kitchen counter, but doesn’t get to it in time to catch the call. She glances at the number and her eyebrows rise – it’s the line Mary uses when she calls.

Curiosity piqued, Abbie listens to the voicemail. It’s someone she doesn’t recognize asking if she would be interested in resuming her self-defense lessons. With how irregular her client list has been lately she could really use the money – she would like to avoid having to touch her savings unless absolutely necessary.

Abbie returns the call and speaks to someone who definitely isn’t Mary about setting up a meeting tomorrow afternoon. She wants to ask what happened to Mary, but chickens out at the last minute. She wishes she had a way to contact the woman directly, especially since there’s a chance Mary took her advice and it went downhill.

Before guilt can eat her from the inside out Abbie gets a text from Jenny.

Dinner @ mabels bring ya ass.

Yes, Abbie will distract herself with meatloaf, too much gravy and her sister.

Just an hour later, Abbie’s pulling into Mabel’s parking lot, running five minutes behind schedule. She locks her car and looks around – she feels like she’s being watched. The parking lot is full of cars but not people. Abbie trusts her instincts, but she can’t discern from which direction she’s being watched.

Paparazzi? But wouldn’t they approach?

Abbie squashes the feeling down and rushes into the restaurant. She sees Joe sitting next to Jenny in their favorite booth, waving at her. Mabel’s is crowded as usual for dinner hours, and Abbie weaves through people and tables to meet them at the back corner. She leans over the table to give Joe a kiss on the cheek before sticking her tongue out at Jenny.

“Is this an intervention?” she jokes.

Jenny adjusts her cutlery and smiles her widest, fakest smile.

“Oh god,” Abbie groans. “Why is she giving me the rich person smile?”

Joe glances at Jenny and shakes his head.

“We wanted to know how you were doing,” he says. “And touch bases.”

“We saw the press conference. Whose idea was that?” Jenny asks, getting straight to the point. “Don’t worry,” she says when Abbie glances at Joe. “You know he already knows everything.”

“Did you tell him?” Abbie asks. “Or did he guess?”

“He guessed!”

“She told me,” Joe and Jenny say simultaneously.

“You’re such an ass,” Abbie groans. “It was King Hernán’s idea.”

“We’re worried,” Jenny says, jerking her head over at Joe.

“Really? What are you two worried about?” Abbie glances around and catches Kara’s eye as she refills someone’s coffee at the counter. “Did you guys already order?”

“Don’t try to change the subject,” Jenny says. “And no, we were waiting on you.”

“Good.” Abbie snares a laminated menu from behind the napkin holder and looks it over like it’s changed any in the past ten years. She feels two sets of eyes boring holes into her head and she sighs, looking up. “What?”

“I know this is just a ruse,” Jenny says lowly. “But don’t you think you’re getting in a bit deep? I mean, a press conference?”

“It is a little serious, Abbie,” Joe agrees.

“It’s not like we’ve gotten married,” Abbie says. “Lots of people who break engagements make formal announcements. We’re hardly the first people to do so,” she says.

“Yeah, that’s true, but they’re not you. And we’re not worried about that, per se,” Jenny says.

“We’re kind of worried that you’re falling in love with him.” Joe just rips the band aid off, leaving Abbie’s heart beating fast.

“What?” Abbie says laughingly, but even to her own ears it sounds false.

Kara approaches the table with their usual drinks and Abbie swaps her Coke for Jenny’s peach iced tea and downs most of it.

“Hey guys, what can I get you tonight?” Kara glances over her shoulder before squealing lowly. “Abbie, I saw you on my TV,” she hisses. “You looked good.”

Abbie drops her head into her hands and groans.

“Thanks, Kara.”

“Let me see your ring? I want to know if it’s as massive as it looks on TV.”

“Kara!” Jenny barks, scandalized.

“Oh, please, like you weren’t going to ask to see it,” Abbie says.

“That’s different, I’m your sister,” Jenny says.

“Doesn’t matter. I’m not wearing it.”

“Why not?” Kara and Jenny snap simultaneously.

“Because it’s huge and it makes me self-conscious,” Abbie mutters. “Besides, I can’t do my job with it on so just to keep it safe I keep it at home.”

“Maybe you should--”

Abbie cuts Jenny off.

“Maybe we should order,” she says pointedly.

“Yeah, Abbie’s getting hangry,” Joe murmurs with a grin.

They order their usual and Kara’s off to place their order and attend to the booth near the door that has tipped over their pitcher of root beer. Abbie, Jenny and Joe merely sit for a few moments until Abbie breaks the silence with the news she’s been called back to resume her self-defense classes at the Morales compound.

“Really?” Jenny asks, a surprised wrinkle in her nose.

“I know.” Abbie shrugs a shoulder. “I guess he doesn’t really care because I’m not teaching him personally.”

Jenny shrugs and makes a face.

“I don’t know if I could do it; why go back to the scene of the crime?”

“If that’s how you really feel, you wouldn’t be able to go to half the places in Sleepy Hollow,” Joe reminds her.

“How does it feel?” Abbie laughs at her sister’s sour expression. “Hey, my savings could use it. Besides, I did kind of miss Sylvie,” she admits.

“When are you going to have some kids of your own?” Joe asks.

“In ten minutes, right here at the table. When are you?” Abbie fires back.

“Yikes, I stepped on a minefield in flip flops,” he jokes. “Help me?” Joe turns to Jenny.

“I’ll remember you fondly for the idiot you were,” she says. “So you’re just going to stay here while he’s in Cirtona?” Jenny asks.

“Yeah.” Abbie switches the tea for her soda again and takes a sip. “Why?”

“Are you going to visit him?” Joe asks.

Abbie pauses.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

“Is he coming to visit you?” Jenny asks.

“When he gets a break in parliament.”

“When’s that?” Joe asks.

“In a month and a half, if everything goes according to plan.”

“Which it always does in politics,” Jenny mutters.

Abbie’s shoulders drop.

“What do you want us to do?” she asks. “He has a job to do and so do I. Neither of us can just drop what we’re doing for this.”

Joe twists his Sprite back and forth, shaking the bubbles free from the sides of the cup.

“A month and a half isn’t so bad as far as long term relationships go.”

“Thank you,” Abbie says primly.

“I guess,” Jenny says.

“Like you don’t have a string of booty calls you’ve turned out all around the world,” Abbie says.

“Are you calling me a ho?” Jenny gasps, clutching imaginary pearls.

“An international one at that,” Joe chimes in.

“Why am I here?” Abbie asks the air. “What possessed me to say yes to this interrogation?”

“That reminds me –”

“Interrogation reminded you of something?” Abbie interrupts Jenny.

“Yeah. I’ve been approached a few times by some reporters and paparazzi. Joe, too.” Joe nods when Abbie looks over at him. “Do you think there are any strings you can get pulled to have them back off? You know my work is… delicate, and I don’t need my face in the papers all the time.”

Abbie’s heart drops.

“They’re bothering you guys?” she asks.

“Well, the EMT uniform lets me tell them to back the fuck up so I’m fine. I’m in an ambulance twelve hours a day - I’m going to get boring real soon. It’s Jenny we’re worried about,” Joe says.

“Say the word and I’ll drop a pap; they’ll back off then. I just didn’t want to cause any problems for you and Prince Charming,” Jenny says.

“Oh good, he’s been upgraded from Vacation Dick,” Abbie muses. “I’ll have to tell him.”

“Don’t bother; he’ll always be Vacation Dick in my heart.”

“Can you ask for the check before the food arrives?” Abbie asks Joe.

~*~

Abbie is staring into her rearview mirror so hard she doesn’t hear the security guard at the gate until he calls her name a second time.

“I’m sorry,” she says, shaking her head as she accepts her ID.

“Is there something wrong, ma’am?” the man asks.

Abbie glances into her rearview, wondering whether she saw the same dark sedan twice before or just three different cars and she’s being paranoid.

“No,” she says after a moment. “I’m good, thanks.”

He nods and opens the gate and Abbie pulls through to see an unfamiliar young woman with a tablet, standing in Mary’s spot. Fighting a vague sense of déjà vu, she gets out of her car and introduces herself.

“Good afternoon, I’m Abbie Mills.”

The young woman holds out her hand with a smile.

“Zoe Corinth, nice to meet you. I’m Mr. Morales’ assistant. Come this way please.”

Abbie follows, dying to ask what happened to Mary. She holds her tongue and decides to ask Luke himself when she sees him, but instead of being led to his office, Zoe continues past down a hall Abbie hasn’t been down and to another large office.

The door is open and Abbie steps in to see Mary on the phone. She motions to Abbie silently.

“Yes, thank you. I’ll have the deposit to you tomorrow,” she says, and ends the call. “Abbie, there you are!” Mary jumps up and comes around the desk to give her a big hug.

“Mary! What are you doing here?!” Abbie asks, hugging her back just as hard.

“This is my new office,” Mary says, tossing her hair to show off her ring finger, on which rests a very large diamond engagement ring.

Abbie’s jaw drops and she screams.

“Who’s the lucky guy?” she asks.

Mary laughs.

“Who else?” She ducks her head. “Luke.”

“Luke,” Abbie croons. “Far cry from “Mister Morales’. Wow… it’s not too fast?” She’s well aware of the irony in asking, but the concern tumbles out anyway.

“I fell in love with Mary ages ago.”

Both women whirl around at the sound of Luke’s voice. He’s standing in the doorway, with eyes only for Mary.

“I just didn’t know how to say so because of our existing professional relationship.”

“It took me some days after our talk, but when I finally said something I kind of snapped and quit,” Mary admitted, holding her hand out for Luke’s. He crosses the room and places a kiss on her knuckles.

“I knew then I couldn’t imagine my life without her and I asked her to marry me,” he says with a wince.

“Imagine my surprise,” Mary says.

“Imagine mine,” Luke adds. “But thankfully she said yes. It just took us seven years to get here.” He turns to Abbie. “She tells me I have you to thank for her courage.”

Abbie shakes her head, unable to stop smiling long enough to speak.

“I’m so happy for you guys,” she blurts.

“Thank you,” Luke says, and Abbie doesn’t detect anything but serene happiness in his smile and a weight she hadn’t realized she was holding evaporates.

“Wow, so when’s the happy event?” Abbie feels her phone buzz in her back pocket. She pulls it out and glances at the display.

Ur house is on fire.

Abbie rolls her eyes and stows her phone.

“Sometime soon?” she asks. Her phone rings this time and Abbie closes her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Jenny doesn’t know when to quit. She’s going to flip when she finds out!”

Luke laughs.

“Put her on speaker so we can hear when you tell her.”

Abbie snorts and does just that.

“Hey Jenn--”

Abbie your house is on fire!” Jenny screams.

Abbie blinks.

“What?”

~

Abbie stares up at her still-smoking house numbly, bracketed on both sides by Jenny and Joe. They’re both kind of holding her up as they lean against her car across the street. There are two fire trucks and three police cars – flashing lights and people milling around.

“Are you okay?” Jenny asks.

“How many times are you going to ask me that?” Abbie leans her head against the car window behind her.

“Until you give us a straight answer,” Joe says.

“Can my house stop burning first before I give you an answer?”

Jenny reaches for Abbie’s hand and squeezes it as a man breaks off from the group of firemen and approaches them.

“Hello, I’m Carson Dumbrowski, Sleepy Hollow’s Fire Chief.” He shakes everyone’s hand.

“Abbie Mills. Chief Dumbrowski, do you come out to everyone’s fire?” Abbie asks knowingly.

“You caught me. Trust me, when someone of your… fame has a fire reported, we pay extra attention,” he says.

“Do we know what happened?” she asks, stepping around the comment.

“Fortunately, yes. It was arson. An attempt to cover up a robbery,” Chief Dumbrowski says.

“You know all of that already?” Joe asks, impressed.

“Well yes, your neighbor, who confessed to the theft, called it in.” He points at one of the squad cars and Abbie pulls away from Jenny, anger swirling in her gut. She reaches the car door and finds herself presented with Standra with a bit of soot on her cheek.

“Can I talk to her?” Abbie ask. “You don’t have to open the door, just roll the window down,” she tells the officer leaning against the car. Someone over her shoulder must’ve given the go-ahead because he reaches in and complies.

“What the fuck, Standra?” she asks.

Standra sniffs and looks away.

“What do you want me to say, Abbie?” she asks.

“How about why you hate me so much that you broke into my house and tried to burn it down?” Abbie snaps.

“You had to go and be Sleepy Hollow’s Cinderella,” she spits.

“You hate me because I met a prince?” Abbie laughs incredulously, aware of Jenny practically vibrating behind her. “That’s why you decide to burn my house down?”

“I didn’t intend to burn your house down. Just to throw off how I got in. It was bigger than I anticipated and… I worried about the houses next door.” Standra tosses her hair and blinks back tears.

“I don’t even have anything worth stealing! You’re better off than I am!” Abbie retorts.

“That bitch did it for your engagement ring,” Jenny says over her shoulder. “Oh, you better be glad there are cops here because I would take you out of those handcuffs and beat the shit out of you,” she says as she pushes Abbie aside. “I might even pay your bail so I can get first crack at that ass.”

Abbie fights the urge to vomit. She remembers telling Standra she doesn’t wear the ring and that it was in the house. She also wracks her brain trying to remember getting her key back from when the woman watered her plants when she went out of town for a few weeks last year.

“I’m so stupid,” she mutters, wandering away from her sister, unable to take anymore.

“Abbie, Abbie! Can you tell me what’s going through your mind right now?”

Abbie turns and finds a microphone shoved into her face.

“What?” she says.

“Your house,” the reporter says. “How much is damaged?”

Abbie realizes she doesn’t even know the answer to that question.

“No comment, please,” she says, turning to what feels like a wall of flashing lights. They tear apart her night vision, leaving her practically blind as she stumbles away. Abbie can’t breathe or think right now and she doesn’t know where to run - colliding right into what feels like a human wall.

Strong arms keep her on her feet.

“Lady Abbie,” Phillip says quietly. “Allow me to help you to the car.”

Blinking back tears, Abbie nods, ducking behind the black umbrella he holds to shield her from the glare. She bundled into the back of a car, relieved to find the windows are completely tinted.

Away from prying eyes, she finally feels able to take a deep breath as she struggles not to let the tears fall as the car pulls off.

“Lady Abbie?” Phillip calls over the intercom.

“Yes?” she asks, her voice hoarse with unshed tears.

“Please rest. We will be at the cabin in thirty minutes. The seat reclines completely if you wish.”

Abbie notices the buttons on the arm and pushes the recline button until she’s staring up at the night sky, watching the moon as it stares back at her.

“My sister,” she exclaims as she sits up. “I can’t leave my sister and Joe there for the paparazzi!”

“Samantha is there taking care of everything, including your sister and Joseph. If they agree, they will meet us at the cabin. Is that acceptable?”

“Uh… yes. Thank you,” she says.

Abbie feels dizzy as the adrenaline finally begins to recede. Though she intends to stay awake, her body has other plans. She leans back in her seat and between one breath and the next she’s asleep.

Chapter Text

After ten minutes of dozing, Abbie opens her eyes and stares at the landscape as it flies by the window. The forest is a haze of comforting green that’ll soon turn into the rich reds, yellows and golds that herald the coming of fall. She raises her seat and resolutely thinks of nothing until they cross an ornate gate with “Aspen Grove” emblazoned across the top.

Aspen Grove is a subdivision of log cabin mansions for the rich and not-so-famous when they want front row seats to watch the leaves change. Every autumn and winter they flood Sleepy Hollow to boost the local income and annoy the townies.

Abbie perks up, looking around at the picturesque lamps that denoted the turn offs for different homes, the dense forest aiding the illusion of absolute privacy. They turn down one lane and travel over the quietest pavement until the drive widens and Abbie gasps.

The mansion is large and well-lit, a mix of stone and logs that is more than three times the size of her home. Abbie blinks, wondering if she’s really awake as they pull into the three-car garage. Abbie is out before Phillip can get around to her door.

“This garage is big enough to fit most of my house inside,” she says, taking a slow turn to take in the place.

“Glad it meets with your approval,” Phillip says, ushering her toward the door. They enter through a large mud room and curiosity has Abbie wandering into what appears to be a well-appointed sitting room. The décor is all medium wood and leather but it’s tastefully done by sticking to mostly modern, uncluttered lines.

State of the art touches are everywhere Abbie can see; the console mounted on the wall displays the date, time and temp in and outside the home as well as a menu poised at the ready for further perusal.

Abbie wanders further into the house, her jaw dropping open at the luxuriously appointed kitchen with dazzling stainless steel appliances and a cappuccino machine that looks more expensive than her car payment. She groans happily and barely restrains hugging it.

“Hello, gorgeous,” she murmurs, running her fingers along the controls.

“Would you like something?” Phillip asks.

Abbie shakes her head.

“That’s not your job,” she says. “I’ll figure out how to use it later. I mean, if we’re staying here. Are we?”

“Yes, Lady Abbie.” Phillip looks confused. “I think we should get in contact with Prince Ichabod.”

“Oh, right.” Abbie reels - so much has happened she hadn’t even thought about telling Ichabod. “What’s going on with my sister and Joe?”

“Samantha is taking care of them and ensuring they remain unmolested by the press. Can I show you to your room?” Phillip asks.

Abbie nods as Phillip checks his phone as it chimes briefly.

“That’s Samantha. She’s coming with your sister. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” she says, and follows Phillip up a circular staircase to the second floor. It’s as nicely decorated as the first floor in a vaguely impersonal way. Abbie trails behind, staring at the artwork and wondering if it came with the house, almost running into Phillip when he stops before the master bedroom.

“This is my room?” she asks.

Phillip nods and opens the door for her.

The master suite is as over the top as the rest of the house, Abbie realizes as she steps over the threshold. The wood panel continues into over half the suite before being taken over by stone.

Going up a set of two steps Abbie is greeted with the largest bed she’s seen in a while, settled on its own dais and positioned so that no matter where you stood you could be seen by the person in the bed.

Across the suite is a wall of glass, a floor to ceiling window revealing the still amazing-looking dark forest just outside her door.

There’s a balcony off to the left, on the wall next to the super huge window, both bracketing a lush looking seating area with two chairs and a table for refreshments. Curious, Abbie opens a door on the other side of the suite away from the balcony and window and gasps. The bathroom is nothing short of amazing, with the walls hewn out of beautiful brown stone and a massive porcelain tub resting atop a beautifully lit area with three steps leading to it.

Over the tub is a television and another console to access the household menu. Various expensive-looking bottles of bath oils and bubble baths are on a stone shelf next to a pile of fluffy looking towels.

“I’m going to live in this tub,” Abbie declares to the air.

“I’m glad you find it satisfactory,” Phillip says from the door.

“Why are you giving me the master suite? Am I kicking you or Samantha out of your bed?” Abbie asks.

Phillip looks at her strangely.

“Lady Abbie, I –” He clears his throat. “I think you should speak to Prince Ichabod; he will clear up any residual confusion.”

Abbie merely blinks at him.

“That means you can’t tell me something you want to tell me because boss reasons,” she says flatly.

“I’m so gratified we have more than one language in common,” he says smartly, and leaves Abbie alone in the bathroom.

Abbie exits into the main suite just in time to catch Jenny crowding a much larger Phillip into the door.

“Jenny,” she hisses. “Leave the man alone.”

“Am I bothering you, Phillip?” Jenny practically purrs.

Phillip glances down at Abbie, then at Jenny.

“I was just asking if she could show me that move that knocked me on my ass. Whenever she’s free.”

Jenny’s smile brightens.

“You really want to learn it?”

“I would be honored,” he says seriously.

“Abbie taught me,” Jenny says. “But I perfected it.”

Phillip glances back at Abbie with a small smile.

“Of course. Lady Abbie, would you show me?”

Abbie shakes her head, trying not to laugh.

“I think Jenny puts her own unique spin on the move. She should show you.”

Jenny rises to her tiptoes.

“Clothing optional,” she says, giving him a very deliberate once over.

“Oh god, Jenny; if I had a spray bottle I’d use it. Thanks, Phillip.” Abbie rolls her eyes and yanks her sister into the bedroom and away from Phillip; through the modest brown of his skin anyone can see the tinge of red on his cheeks and neck as Jenny laughs throatily.

“Lady Abbie, Miss Jenny,” Phillip coughs out with a bow and shuts the bedroom door behind him.

“You’re going to embarrass the shit out of him one day,” Abbie laughs.

“If only. He’s so…” Jenny gestures ineffectually. “And not just him; have you seen Samantha?”

Abbie’s head moves from side to side.

“Yeah, she’s seen my bra and I’ve beaten her in UNO.”

“I want to show her my bra,” Jenny pouts. “She’s so hot. Is it like a prerequisite that you have to be ripped and gorgeous to be considered for Cirtonian security?”

“Afraid that would leave you out the running,” Abbie says sweetly before ducking her sister’s grabbing hands.

“You’ll pay for that,” Jenny says. “When you least expect it.”

“Where’s Joe?”

“He had to go home; shift was coming up.”

Abbie nods slowly.

“Isn’t this place amazing?” she asks.

Jenny comes to stand beside her sister and whistles lowly.

“Yeah, it is.” She glances at her sister. “Don’t you want to know about your house?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Not really, no,” she says honestly.

Jenny nods and throws her arm around Abbie.

“It’s not a total loss,” she says. “Chief Dumbrowski says there’s lot of superficial damage but very little structural damage. That’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Abbie says tonelessly. “But now I’ve got to deal with cleaning and insurance and deductibles and red tape.” She groans and presses her head against the cool glass of the window.

“Or you could just shoot me and I can claim I can’t do it because I’m dead.”

“I think I wouldn’t get more than two feet from your body before Phillip would be required to put me down,” Jenny muses. “But you have help, Abs. I know it sucks but I’ll do what I can when I can and you can stay with me.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Come here,” she says, and pulls her sister to the bathroom. Jenny’s mouth drops open as she takes a hesitant step forward.

“I am going to live in this tub,” she groans.

“I know, right?” Abbie asks. “I just need to get a straight answer as to why we were brought here and why they gave me the master suite. How long did they plan on renting this place? It’s got to be expensive. I don’t want them spending money just for me.”

Jenny looks at Abbie strangely before she bites her lips to keep her mouth closed, turning to leave the bathroom.

“What?” Abbie asks, trailing after her. “What’s that mean?”

Jenny shakes her head slowly.

“I think it’s kind of cute,” she says. “And really, if it had been anyone else I know I’m pretty sure the money would’ve corrupted them already.”

Abbie frowns at her sister.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh no, no,” Jenny huffs. “I’m not going anywhere near anything.” She crosses her arms and turns around the suite with wonder on her face.

“Who knew one of us would end up in a place like this? Considering, right?” Jenny throws a knowing glance at Abbie.

“Yeah. It looks different from this side,” Abbie admits, gravitating back to the massive window. “I don’t even remember where it happened any more. Is that strange?”

Jenny shakes her head.

“I think it’s progress.” Her phone chimes and she pulls it from her back pocket. “I’m being summoned,” she murmurs, tapping out a reply. “Are you okay here?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“What’d Prince Charming say about everything?”

Abbie studies the cuff of her sleeve intently.

“Haven’t told him yet.”

Jenny snickers.

“You think Phillip is going to keep your secret from his boss? Not only does the man pay his bills but he’s the ruler of his country and you’re his boo. He’s not going to drop the ball like that.”

“It’s ass o’clock in Cirtona right now. There’s nothing Ichabod can do for me halfway around the world so there’s no point in waking him up right now. I can talk to him tomorrow, when it’s sane for both of us.”

Jenny shakes her head.

“Just so we’re clear, I don’t care what time zone we’re in; if you’re in trouble or something happened I want to know immediately.”

“Don’t you have work to do?” Abbie glares at her sister.

Jenny nods.

“Can I see your phone real quick? My bank app is acting stupid and I want to know if it’s the app or if it’s the bank.”

Abbie hands her phone over without a thought and wanders out onto the balcony, the scent of late summer rushing through the trees.

“Thanks Abs! Gonna put your phone on the bed! Night!”

That should’ve been Abbie’s first clue. She comes back into the suite to find her sister gone and her phone ringing. Moving closer she sees Ichabod’s haughty expression fill her screen; she’d snapped the picture after she’d won a chess game against him in the Plaza, and the wager had been making the other say something silly.

Fondness blooms in her chest at the memory; Abbie doesn’t remember what Ichabod did but they ended up fucking against the wall as he praised her relentless offensive gambits and how wet she felt around his cock.

Abbie flushes and answers the call.

“Crane? What are you doing up?”

Wondering why I have to find out that your house was on fire and your ring was stolen from Phillip and Jenny instead of you.”

“I’m going to kill her and Phillip,” she mutters. “And can we talk about why Phillip and Samantha are here following me?”

“Because while you declined protection, it occurred to me that even though you don’t think you’ll need it, by virtue of your association with me that it isn’t something that can be avoided.”

Abbie closes her eyes and counts to ten silently.

“Crane–”

“No, Abigail. I will not fight with you on this because I will not relent. What if the culprit had decided to attempt for the ring whilst you wore it? What if they felt the ring was more important than your life? Treasure, if something were to happen to you, do you think I could continue knowing I should have sent security to keep you safe?”

Abbie wants to be angry at the way her decision was overridden, but she can’t be because she can hear the plea in Ichabod’s voice.

“It’s almost eleven forty here; what time is it there?”

Almost six forty. You could’ve called two hours ago and I would’ve been awake.”

“What’s keeping you awake?” Abbie asks, climbing up onto the bed and settling against the mound of pillows to get comfortable.

My job. Missing you,” he admits. “Now I get to add worry on top of everything.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Crane. Things happen and most don’t have a prince coming to the rescue.”

Do you know the extent of the damage?”

“A little. Jenny says it’s mostly superficial with a little structural. I start finding out what needs to be done tomorrow.”

And you’ll take Phillip and Samantha with you.”

“They’ve already caught the person, Ichabod. One of my neighbors. I’m not in any danger anymore.”

That’s not the point. You’re not in any additional danger as far as you know. Can you trust me, and just do ask I ask? This is for your safety.”

Abbie stills, wondering why she’s fighting. She’s always taken care of herself, but in her heart hasn’t she always wanted someone else to look out for her, too?

“Okay,” she mumbles.

That makes me feel very relieved, Abbie. All you have to do is ask and I will be on a plane coming right to you.”

“You can’t play hooky from work,” she admonishes. “You’ll have to stick it out. I’m fine, okay? I’m fine. You should get back to work,” Abbie says quietly.

Goodnight, treasure.

“Night.”

Abbie ends the call and settles into the pillows, slowly blinking into drowsing when she realizes she didn’t get any sort of clarification about this house from Ichabod before they ended the call. She considers calling back as she rises to strip out of her clothes and slide between the cool sheets, but between turning off the lights and quietly exclaiming at the softness of the mattress and setting her alarm, Abbie is deeply asleep.

~*~

Breakfast is a full continental deal Abbie’s only seen in hotels of some size, scaled down for four to five people. Seems that Phillip eats like a man his size, and Samantha out-eats them both.

With joyful rigor.

When they patiently wait for her to explain what her day will entail, Abbie feels like a part of her is dying for some absurd reason. She’s not the type of person with a security staff at her beck and call. Abbie pushes through because she promised Ichabod and though she won’t admit it, Samantha’s reassuring smile from the driver’s side back seat makes her feel steadier.

The street is blissfully devoid of scrabbling press and paparazzi when they pull up to her house. From her vantage point it looks like nothing happened and last night was just a bad dream.

“Maybe it was a dream,” Abbie murmurs aloud.

“Ma’am?” Samantha asks.

Abbie shakes her head.

“Nothing. Stalling,” she corrects.

“Well, stall a little longer; I will make a short circuit about the property and return when it’s been cleared.” Samantha nods at Phillip in the rearview mirror before darting out of the car. Abbie watches the woman check the bushes and the trash can before ducking around the side to clear the backyard.

“How long has Samantha worked for the Cirtonian government?” Abbie asks.

“She was courted two years after I was,” Phillip says. “About seven years now.”

“She’s not native Cirtonian, is she?” Abbie winces at how bad it sounds aloud. “I mean, what I’m asking is –” She stops sheepishly as Phillip chuckles lowly.

“Samantha’s from Illinois; hired right out of college – Northwestern, I believe. The Cirtonian Secret Service recruit from all over, or at least we attempt to do so before their native government snaps them up.”

“But you’re originally from Cirtona?” Abbie asks.

“Ten generations call Cirtona home.” Phillip hesitates with a smile on his face. “You’re worried Cirtona is some island where the ambiguously brown people bow down to white people.”

Abbie cackles shamefully.

“It kind of just hit me,” she admits.

“Cirtona’s geographical location keeps us genetically diverse. Our history has a bit of everyone coming in to take over for a while before being absorbed into the population. The Moors, the Greek, the Spanish.”

“…the English?”

He sputters.

“You refer to her Majesty Queen Clarissa and his highness, Prince Ichabod.” Phillip’s shoulders shake slightly with suppressed laughter.

“What did people think when he returned home with his English wife?” Abbie asks eagerly. “ ‘Oh lord, why’d he marry that white woman?’”

Phillip’s laugh is loud and booming as Samantha returns to the car, looking back and forth between him and Abbie curiously.

“We’re good,” she says. “What’s so funny?”

Phillip wipes the tears from his eyes and shakes his head.

“Lady Abbie was just inquiring about Cirtonian history and demographics,” he says with a loud exhale.

Abbie looks back at her house and sighs.

“If I sit here and look at my house from this angle it looks like nothing ever happened,” she says. “What does it look like from the back?”

Samantha frowns, contorting her face in effort to soften the blow of her opinion.

“I think you should make the judgment yourself,” she says after a moment.

“Oh, that great.” Abbie nods and slides out of the car before she can talk herself out of it. The air outside smells faintly like waterlogged burning and it grows stronger as she opens the fence to the back yard. The grass is still wet from last night, and Abbie mourns her once pristine backyard as she steels herself and comes around to look at the house.

Part of her kitchen wall is gone, covered in clear plastic tarp. Immediately, Abbie sees the structural damage; the missing wall goes up to the second floor and has eaten away part of the floor of her bedroom. She walks up the steps, in a dream world it feels, and steps through the tarp into her house.

The oven is a loss; a charred and twisted heap of metal beyond salvage. The dishwasher is partially melted… the counters are scorched. The whole kitchen is going to need to be redone after the wall is replaced. There are smoke stains and scorch marks on the walls and around the missing drywall.

It seems almost disrespectful to see through the guts of her house, like someone walking in on Abbie when she’s partially dressed.

“Lady Abbie, are you alright?”

She starts and finds Phillip staring at her with concern. It’s enough to make her want to cry.

“I’m fine,” Abbie says, clearing her throat and blinking back her tears. “It’s just all this bullshit for what? A ring?”

He nods grimly, staring at the exposed joists and supports.

“It’s surprising what people will convince themselves of when they feel they have no other choice.”

Abbie turns on her heel, practically choking on her anger.

“She had choices. Standra has always had choices,” she says darkly, moving into the hall. The air smells like stale smoke and Abbie lets the tears fall now that Phillip isn’t watching. She enters her room and opens the window before she grabs her suitcase from beneath her bed.

Abbie angrily throws her clothes into the suitcase, not even bothering to fold – it doesn’t feel like home anymore and Abbie’s violated beyond the theft of a ring she didn’t really want. She’s been robbed her security and the first major purchase she was able to save for all her own. Now she can’t even stay here until the repairs are finished.

Samantha steps into the room cautiously.

“Lady Abbie?”

Abbie sniffles and shakes her head.

“I’m fine,” she chokes out. “Just crying over stuff. Things.” She sniffs again. “It’s not like I was in any danger. It’s not like the whole house is unsalvageable. I’m lucky, right?”

“If I were you I’d be pissed,” Samantha says. “Actually, I’m pissed for you,” she admits.

Abbie chuckles before she brings the shirt in her hand to her nose and sniffs.

“Ugh, it smells like smoke. Everything smells like smoke,” she laments, going back to the closet to grab some shoes. “But insurance will cover everything. Well, most of everything,” she says.

“That’s a good thing, right?” Samantha asks.

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t even looked at the paperwork. I still have to go by the police station to get my ring back.”

“At least that should be a relatively quick process,” Samantha says.

Famous last words.

Abbie tries to keep her ass from falling asleep on the hard wooden chair in the waiting area of the sheriff’s department. The small police precinct is relatively quiet, so she’s able to catch when people glance over to stare. Part of her shrinks away because it’s hard not to flash back to the last time she had to sit here and wait to see the sheriff.

“Abbie Mills?”

She looks up to muster a genuine smile.

“Detective Reyes, how are you?”

Reyes reaches out to pat Abbie’s shoulder comfortingly.

“I’m good. I had hoped the next time we’d see each other would be under better circumstances.”

Leena Reyes is one of the few people in local law enforcement that never seemed to give Abbie a hard time after she had won her emancipation, and even helped her with a heads up or two when social services wanted to drop by and inspect her to ensure Jenny was in good hands.

Abbie never forgot, and last year when Leena mentioned in passing the desire to improve her hand to hand and to get in better shape overall, she leapt to help. Now Reyes’ youngest child is heading off to college and she thinks she’s ready to dedicate the time it would take to be sheriff. Abbie feels something akin to a proud mother and definitely plans to vote for her, because anyone is better than their current sheriff.

Abbie nods and shrugs a shoulder.

“Story of my life, right?”

“Reyes, don’t you have something to do?”

Both women share a knowing look before Reyes presents Sheriff Lewis Pullman with a tight smile.

“On it, sheriff,” she says. “Good to see you, Mills,” she throws over her shoulder as she moves past the employee only barrier.

Abbie attempts to steel her nerves as she turns to Sheriff Pullman just in time to catch him leering at her chest.

“Sheriff Pullman,” she says sternly.

“Guess it was only a matter of time before I had to have you back here,” he drawls. “Why don’t you step in my office,” he says, holding open the barrier and jerking his head toward the bullpen.

Abbie forces her face into a neutral expression as she slides by the man in the scant space he’s offered and tries to remember she’s not in trouble this time. Stepping over the threshold into Sheriff Pullman’s office is like stepping through a time warp; nothing’s changed since she was here last, even the slightly musty smell in the air.

“Have a seat,” he says, placing his hand on her hip as he squeezes behind her. Abbie jumps and glares at him as he chuckles. “Why so jumpy, Mills?”

She glares at him as she takes one of two seats in front of his desk.

“Don’t touch me again, Sheriff.”

Pullman’s face hardens as he settles into his seat.

“Never did know how to take a lick of kindness.” He pulls over a folder and pretends to read it. “You’re here because of theft and arson,” he says.

“No. I’m here because someone broke into my home, stole something from me and then set fire to my house,” Abbie corrects.

Pullman glances up at her and blinks.

“Pretty sure that’s what I said.”

Abbie swallows and suddenly regrets making Phillip and Samantha stay in the car.

“Aren’t there some forms I need to sign?” she asks.

“We’ll get to that. What I wanna know is what you’re doing with a ring that costs almost seventy grand.”

Abbie feels faint as she clutches the armrests of her chair tightly.

“I’m sorry, how much?” she asks, unwilling to believe she heard correctly.

Pullman chuckles.

“You’re trying to tell me you didn’t know how much it cost?”

“I wasn’t there when he bought it,” Abbie says dazedly. “I mean… I know it’s big but I didn’t think it was that expensive.”

“And you decided to be irresponsible and leave it at home,” he says.

Abbie rouses at the accusation in his tone.

“What are you talking about?”

Pullman puts the folder down and leans back in his chair.

“Seems to me like the perfect insurance scam. You get this ring and everyone in the known world knows you have it. You leave it at home with no security system in place and you and your accomplice sell the jewelry and make a nice sum.”

“You think I asked Standra to break into my home?” Abbie sputters. “How would that make any sense? Have you seen my house? All my clothes smell like smoke,” she says. “My kitchen wall is gone and if it wasn’t for tarp I’d see straight out to my backyard. I’m going to be dealing with the insurance company and a deductible on top of my mortgage payment!”

“Yes. Business has been a bit light hasn’t it?” Pullman asks.

Abbie’s mouth snaps shut.

“A little,” she concedes. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just seems that you and Standra have the same type of issues. Her and Mason are having money trouble. You’re having money troub-”

“Am I being investigated?” Abbie asks, laughing out of pure disbelief.

“Standard protocol, Mills,” he says. “Especially when the case involves someone with your background. Muddies the water a bit and we want to make sure everyone is understood.”

Abbie tries to remain calm.

“I’m the victim here, Sheriff Pullman,” she says evenly.

“Report says Standra had a key. Care to explain that?”

Abbie blinks.

“Standra had a key because she watered my plants for me last year when I was away on business. I thought I had gotten the key back but I guess I hadn’t.” She jumps at the quiet knock at his door.

“Come in,” Pullman barks, and his face splits into a wide smile as Mason Oats, Standra’s husband, opens the door apologetically.

“Sorry I’m late, Sheriff. I was caught up in an interview.” The men shake hands while Abbie stares on warily. “Abbie, how are you doing?”

“I’m not sure,” she answers honestly as Mason takes the seat next to her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for justice,” Mason says, turning to her. “Look, it would go a long way for me if you dropped the charges against Standra.”

Abbie glances over at the sheriff and back at her neighbor.

“I’m sorry, what?” she asks, flatly.

“This is tearing our family apart, Abbie.” Mason pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs.

Abbie doesn’t think he looks stressed, he looks like he’s come off of a professional photo shoot from the even tan down to his crisp gray slacks and loafers. She finds herself staring at the sharp crease as it curves over his knee.

“Tearing your family apart,” she echoes.

“This is Standra’s first time ever doing something so outrageous. Surely with someone with your history you could see where giving my wife another chance would be the right thing to do,” Mason says smoothly.

Abbie feels like she’s swimming through peanut butter, her limbs feel so heavy. The roaring in her ears drowns out the sound of her own heartbeat as she fights to understand what’s going on.

“But she confessed,” she says.

“Under duress. She was afraid of you, Abbie. Afraid of your response. Our son was there; she would’ve said anything if it meant sparing Skylar. Surely you know that Standra’s better than this. She just lost her way and I just hope you’ve got it in your heart to do pay forward what has been done for you.”

Abbie swallows.

“Done… for me?” she asks.

Mason nods eagerly.

“Sheriff Pullman tells me that August Corbin took you in right after that unfortunate situation with you and your sister in the woods. You made a bad choice then but there was someone around who helped you by reaching out with kindness. Can’t you do the same?”

Abbie stands up, her heart pounding so loudly she’s surprised the men can’t hear it.

“That was a different situation,” she says. “We didn’t do anything and we were children.”

Sheriff Pullman chuckles.

“No, that’s not what Jenny said, now was it, Abbie? Look, we’re not here to rehash the past. We’re here to see you do the right thing. Everyone’s looking at this situation and I don’t want our town to get any worse press. You have the power to nip this all in the bud. Just drop the charges.”

“What about my house?” Abbie asks lowly. “How can I just forget about that?”

“You’ve got homeowners insurance, right, Abbie?” Mason asks. “They help with things like this.”

“But I will still have to pay the deductible. And what about my ring?”

Pullman smiles.

“That ring going to your insurance?” he asks sweetly.

“What? No,” Abbie snaps.

“Then it’s currently being held for evidence.” Pullman adjusts his slouch and regards her coolly. “Look, I’m sure you understand. By the book until this whole situation goes away.”

Abbie feels sick to her stomach at the thought of this… cretin of a man touching something Ichabod gave her.

“I want my ring,” she says.

“And all we’re looking for is justice,” Mason pleads.

“Seems like two reasonable parties can work this out,” Pullman says. “Drop the charges, Mills. Nothing good will come from trying this in the court of public opinion. They don’t know you like we do,” he says.

“That sounds like a threat,” Abbie says. “What is goi--” She blinks when she remembers that Standra is Pullman’s step-daughter, and suddenly this whole ambush makes too much sense, especially with re-election around the corner.

“You don’t want a scandal,” she mutters.

“Scandal is a big word. Scandals are for people who don’t have secrets and don’t mind people poring through their lives. I say this because I care, Abbie. Do you know what they call you in the papers?” Pullman asks.

“‘Sleepy Hollow’s Cinderella.’ Cinderella wasn’t vindictive or petty. She rose above it and enjoyed her blessings. She had mercy on her family and I would like to think we’re all family here in Sleepy Hollow.” Mason’s smile is bright and rehearsed.

Abbie suddenly feels very tired. She can’t push to make them pay her insurance because then it will look like she’s being paid off for dropping the charges. If she doesn’t drop the charges, then Abbie knows that these two men will make sure every sordid detail of her childhood is paraded out in front of everyone and there are a few things she hasn’t told Ichabod yet.

“I want my ring and I want to leave,” she manages to get out.

“I’ll drop the charges. Where do I sign?” Abbie fights against the bile rising in her throat because she’s not going to give these men the satisfaction of seeing her flinch. Not when she was a child and definitely not now.

“Oh, now don’t act like we forced you,” Pullman says cheerfully as he slides the necessary forms across his desk. “This was just a meeting to help you understand the nuances of the situation. Right, Mason?”

“Absolutely, Sheriff,” he chirps, glancing down at his watch. “I’ve gotta run. You know I’ve got a few people biting on my current offer? Seems to be a silver lining for everyone, right, Abbie?”

Abbie finishes scribbling her name on the page.

“Where can I pick up my property?” she asks.

“Right out front. The clerk’ll help you,” Pullman says, teeth gleaming as he watches her leave the room. “We always appreciate the cooperation of the citizens of Sleepy Hollow,” he calls after her.

Abbie refuses to break down in the precinct; pulling it together from somewhere she holds her head up and signs for the ring. She’s aware of the property clerk staring at her and the ring. She slips it into her purse, feeling self-conscious.

There are paparazzi in front of the building; Abbie catches a glimpse of the flashing bulbs before they see her and she presses herself against the wall to see what they’re photographing. It’s Mason, Standra and Skylar, looking as if they’ve just come off a yacht, Standra wearily clinging to her husband. No doubt relaying her horrifying ordeal of county lock up for less than twenty-four hours.

Abbie wants to throw up in her mouth.

“Lady Abbie.”

Abbie whirls around at the sound of her name to find Samantha waiting expectantly.

“Where did you come from?” Abbie asks.

“Back entrance.” Samantha jerks her thumb over her shoulder and eases Abbie away from the entrance. “I know you wished us to remain in the car, but when we saw the press convene we thought it best to ensure your route back to the car unmolested.”

Abbie would hug Samantha if she could do it without crying.

“Thank you,” she says, following the security agent down a nondescript hall. “I didn’t know they had a back entrance,” she admits.

Samantha glances behind them, making sure no one is following.

“Were you able to conclude your business?”

Abbie touches the ring through her purse and nods.

“Yeah,” she says dully.

“Anything else you wished to do today, Lady Abbie?”

Abbie blinks in the bright sunshine as they step out of the back entrance; it’s facing trees and the only person waiting for them is Phillip, his imposing bulk standing at attention next to the car.

“We can go back and get my car,” she says. “You don’t have to take me everywhere.”

“In fact we do,” Phillip says cheerfully, opening the passenger door for Abbie. “What would you like to do next?”

Abbie stares into the darkened sedan and sighs. What does she want to do next?

Turn back time.

Scream and demand her rights like she knows she should’ve before.

Stop letting Sheriff Pullman make her feel like a powerless child.

“Right now I just want to get out of here,” she says, and ducks into the car without looking back.

~*~

Why I always gotta find out secondhand?

Abbie stares at the text from Jenny and puts her phone down before she gives into the desire to throw it across the room. The hold music from the insurance company isn’t helping the pulsing headache pounding behind her eyes, but she’s been on hold for the past two days it feels like and if she doesn’t get this claim in before her deadline she’s going to have serious problems.

On top of the ones she has now.

Yesterday Sleepy Hollow was blessed with a torrential summer shower, revealing a previously overlooked vulnerability in her roof. Her attic, ensuite bathroom, and kitchen flooded since they’re all stacked on top of each other. She’d already submitted her claim and amending said claim was turning out to be almost impossible. Abbie has been transferred to four different departments and hung up on three times, all the while on her insurance’s website trying to reach chat support, which is supposed to be faster.

Surprise, it’s not.

For the fourth time Abbie hears the call disconnect and she puts the phone down on the table, glancing hopefully at her laptop. The chat box is still spinning, thanking her for her time and that the next available agent will be ready to assist her shortly.

Going on an hour and six minutes.

Abbie jumps at the sound of the bedroom door being kicked open and Jenny steps through, eyes blazing.

“Why do you have a phone if you’re not going to use it?” she snaps, closing the door behind her.

“Jenny, I don’t have time for you. I’m busy, okay?”

Jenny raises her eyebrow and gestures at Abbie’s laptop.

“Yes, I see all the busy,” she says.

“Good,” Abbie says, slamming her laptop closed none too softly. “I’m going to cut ties with civilization,” she says, getting out of the chair and stretching.

“Live on the land?” Jenny asks with a smirk.

“Yep,” Abbie says, without a trace of irony.

“Don’t distract me. Why did I have to find out you’re pardoning Standra from a fucking interview?” Jenny asks. “I don’t ask for much, but I did ask for first crack at that ass when she got out. Fuck, Abbie, she could’ve burned your house down!”

“I wish she had,” Abbie snaps, her voice wobbling as she turns on her sister. “My roof leaks now,” she says. “So I have to add that to the claim so they can investigate if the leak came from the damage done by the fire or if it was pre-existing and if I don’t get it added within three business days I have to submit a separate claim and that means another deductible.”

Jenny winces, stepping forward to pull Abbie into a hug.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. “But why are you letting Standra go?”

Abbie sniffles and wipes at her eyes.

“It’s stupid,” she says, pulling away. “It’s just Pullman--”

“Pullman,” Jenny spits. “I hope he gets anal polyps. I hate that man so much. He’s been hitting on me every time I see him since I was thirteen.”

Abbie rubs her temple and tries to fight back the pain.

“He made it very clear it was either Standra or my ring.” She laughs mirthlessly. “Stupid thing is I can’t stand to wear it anymore because when I see it I just see Standra’s face but I would be damned if I left it there for it to disappear.”

Jenny narrows her eyes.

“He threatened you? With what? You didn’t do anything,” she says.

Abbie shrugs a shoulder.

“It’s stupid,” she says.

“Can’t be stupid if he can use it against you. What is it, Abbie?”

Abbie sighs and finally looks at her sister.

“He said he would make sure this would be tried in the court of public opinion and that I had someone who was kind to me before, in this same situation and I should do the same.”

“Same…situation…” Jenny looks vaguely ill. “He’s talking about the woods.” Abbie nods once. “But it’s not the same!”

“I know.”

“Oh, Abs, I’m so sorry,” she says heavily.

“It’s in the past,” Abbie says. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Not to me.”

One summer when Jenny was eleven and Abbie was thirteen they were on vacation with the first decent foster family that had taken them both in. It was the first time they’d been outside of Sleepy Hollow and one day the sisters had taken to the woods to explore.

Somehow they’d ended up at one of the isolated cabins that dot the countryside, one that happened to be occupied. The elderly resident looked kind and offered them some lemonade, which both girls quickly agreed to. He even offered to bring the refreshment outside so they wouldn’t have to come in.

Eventually Abbie and Jenny began to feel very sleepy and took his offer to come inside and sit down, that it was probably the heat. Abbie knew something was wrong but at less than ninety pounds the drugs hit her like a truck, and Jenny like a train.

They didn’t even make it into the cabin before going down.

Fortunately, the man didn’t have the strength to move the girls at dead weight, even as slight as Abbie and Jenny were. By the time he’d laid Jenny on the couch and Abbie on his bed, Abbie had begun to regain control of her limbs. When he returned with that look in his eye that Abbie knew even at that age, she surprised him and hit him across the head with the lamp beside the bed.

On numb and shaking legs, she managed to carry Jenny out of the cabin and they waited in the woods for whatever he’d given them to wear off. When Jenny was able to move they tried to find help, and eventually were found by a state trooper.

Then their ordeal began anew.

Hauled back into town and instead of being treated like victims they were assumed suspects. The man had woken not long after Abbie and Jenny’s escape and called the police, claiming the girls tried to rob him and even hit him over the head when he wouldn’t let them into his home.

Six hours Abbie and Jenny were interrogated.

Six hours without food, water or a break of any kind. Jenny finally broke and confessed to everything they had supposedly done just so she wouldn’t be removed from the first good foster home she’d been in since their parents died. The man dropped the charges, but Abbie was forced to go back to the group home. The family didn’t want an unrepentant thief around their children.

It took a long time for Jenny and Abbie to heal their relationship and didn’t truly put it behind them until after Abbie had won custody of her sister. Abbie’s not necessarily ashamed of what happened – honestly she doesn’t think about it and hadn’t gone into any of the forest surrounding Sleepy Hollow since – but she hasn’t told Ichabod about it and she for damn sure doesn’t want the press to get ahold of it without her side of the story.

Abbie touches her face and shakes her head.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she laughs. “It’s all so stupid. All of it. For a ring? A stupid ring I don’t even like.”

Jenny pulls Abbie away from the table and places her gently on the bed before ducking into the bathroom and returning with a warm, wet washcloth.

“When was the last time you slept or ate anything?” she asks quietly.

Abbie lifts her face and lets Jenny wipe away her tears.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “My insurance company makes me lose my appetite.” She sighs. “I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about my house. I know it wasn’t the best or the biggest but it was mine and I worked really hard to get it.”

“I know,” Jenny says, noticing the lines of exhaustion on Abbie’s face. “We’re going to take a nap, okay?”

“I don’t want to take a nap. I’ve got to try to get through again – Jenny,” Abbie tries to wrestle with her sister but Jenny just rolls over onto Abbie, determined to get her horizontal. They tussle, but just for a moment because Jenny pokes Abbie in the side and flips her over onto the bed.

“Oh god, my head is spinning,” Abbie groans. “Fine, you win.”

“Of course I do.” Jenny wraps her arms around Abbie and puts her ear against her chest to hear her heartbeat. “Remember when we used to lay like this? Right after Mom and Dad died?”

Abbie fights a yawn and nods as she turns into Jenny’s warmth.

“You wouldn’t sleep in your own bed when we got to the group home, no matter how many times they would force you back. Finally, they left you alone.”

“Damn right,” Jenny murmurs. “I’m here now, okay? Go to sleep.”

Abbie’s chuckle trails off.

“That’s my line,” she murmurs, and between one breath and the next is deeply asleep.

Jenny tries not to clutch Abbie hard, wary of waking her. She knows Abbie holds a lot of their past on her shoulders but usually Jenny doesn’t want to think about it, so she doesn’t.

Goodness knows they have enough problems to warrant a lifetime of therapy but neither Mills sister is going to admit it. When she’s sure Abbie’s not going to wake up, Jenny slips from the bed and locates Phillip, reading in the downstairs lounge.

“Is Lady Abbie okay?” he asks, immediately turning off the tablet.

Jenny shakes her head.

“No, she’s not. Do you have a direct line to Prince Charming?”

Phillip’s mouth twitches slightly.

“If you mean his royal highness, Prince Ichabod, then yes I do.”

“Good. I want to talk to him.”

~*~

The clack of heels is the only warning Sargent Dammers gets before the bell on his desk is struck gently by long, brown elegant fingers tipped with lavender colored nails. They belong to a tall black woman, clad in a skirt suit that matches her nails perfectly. Her smile is perfunctory as she glances around the room as it goes silent.

Even more striking than the woman’s appearance is the four men that flank her. Each are heavily muscled in identical black suits and ties, dark sunglasses hiding their eyes. Dammers stares at them warily, willing to bet his life they’re armed to the teeth.

“Sargent Dammers,” the woman says, her eyes dropping down to his name plate and back to his face. “Good morning. Is Sheriff Pullman in?”

Dammers’ brain finally winds up and he regains his voice.

“Yes, ma’am. He just got in. Do you have an appointment?” he asks, cursing his voice wobbles like he’s back in freshman year.

The woman glances around what she can see of the bullpen.

“Where is his office?” she asks, and Dammers points toward the back before he can think.

“Thank you, sergeant,” she says, and she and her entourage breeze through the employee only barrier as if it doesn’t exist.

The only sound in the bullpen is a ringing phone that isn’t being answered as the group march authoritatively toward Pullman’s office.

Reyes stares at them as she sidles up to Dammers.

“Paul, what’s going on?”

He shakes his head.

“No clue, but I think I might take lunch early today,” he mutters. “They’re going to interrupt Pullman before he’s had his Danish. Nice knowing them.”

Reyes chuckles and tries to smother it as she shakes her head.

“I don’t think they’ll have a problem with that,” she says.

~

Lewis glares down at his Danish and swears a blue streak. Who is interrupting his breakfast?

“Come in,” he snaps, taking a big bite out of spite. When a gorgeous black woman breezes into his office he sits up a little straighter and swallows down some coffee so he can clear his mouth.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing,” he says.

“Sheriff Lewis Pullman. Reinforcing stereotypes this early in the morning? I don’t think I’ve had enough coffee. My name is Cynthia Irving and I’m an attorney. May I sit?” she asks, gesturing to one of the empty chairs.

“Sure, why not. Want to reinforce the stereotype we’re polite around here, don’t we?” Lewis asks, already seeing this meeting going south. “So what can I do for you, Miss Irving?”

“It’s Mrs., but you can call me Counselor,” she corrects smoothly. “I’m here on behalf of my client in a dispute of grand larceny and an egregious breach of justice that occurred here yesterday against one Grace Abigail Mills.”

Lewis rolls his eyes.

“Your client just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone,” he says. “It’s already been handled. That’s how we do things here. We handle our own business. You wasted your time, counselor, coming all the way here from where, the city?” Lewis takes his time raking his gaze over her body.

“Yeah, you look like you’re from the city.”

“My client in this matter, Sheriff Pullman, is the Cirtonian Crown. The ring belongs to them, and by you withholding its return so that the charges may be dropped against one Standra Oats, you’re in violation of quite a few state, federal and international laws.” Cynthia smiles. “I’m sure you thought through intimidation you would get this matter settled. We understand the instinct to assist family. Standra Oats is your step-daughter, is she not?”

Lewis clears his throat.

“That’s not why I appealed to Abbie’s sense of justice,” he says.

Cynthia tilts her head.

“Justice? An interesting choice of words, Sheriff. You convinced Miss Mills that the ring would not be returned to her possession if she in fact did not drop the charges against Standra Oats. Correct?”

Lewis reaches for his coffee in effort to dislodge the mass in his throat.

“I can’t speak to what Abbie thought I meant when I asked her, quite nicely I might add, if she could just think of Standra and her family. This is a very trying ordeal for them.”

“Yet they’re in their home, Sheriff. Miss Mills has been forced to seek shelter elsewhere. Now who is really inconvenienced at this time?” Cynthia smiles. “This is how it’s going to go, Sheriff. Miss Mills may have dropped the charges against Mrs. Oats, but the Cirtonian Crown has not. We will be pressing charges against her and this office for all crimes committed. It’s the barest of professional courtesy that I’m here now to inform you. That, and you’ll need to return Mrs. Oats up to detention. You’ll find the paperwork is all in order.”

Glaring hatefully, Lewis practically snatches the folder from her and throws it on his desk.

“You don’t know everything about your precious Grace Abigail Mills,” he sneers. “I don’t think you want the Cirtonian Crown throwing its weight behind someone like her.”

“I’m sure you talking about the incident that occurred when Miss Mills was thirteen?” Cynthia’s smile turns predatory. “I’m glad you brought that up. There’s enough evidence of misconduct against minors and reckless endangerment to ensure you’re not the only person who loses their job, but rest assured I’ll settle for just you.

“Did you think we wouldn’t know anything and everything about Miss Mills before arriving? The fact you’ve turned such a traumatic event into something Miss Mills should be ashamed of speaks volumes about how you run your office.

“Or how you ran your office,” Cynthia glances around with a sniff. “It’s election season, Sheriff, as I’m sure you know. Don’t get too comfortable.”

“You have no jurisdiction here,” Lewis sputters, rising to his feet. “I don’t need no uppity bitch coming in here and trying to tell me what to do, dredging up ancient history so you can embarrass the country folks, right?” he barks.

The door opens and two men step in, looming large behind Cynthia.

“Madam Ambassador, is there a problem?” one asks, staring right at Lewis.

Cynthia looks at him for a beat and smiles.

“No, I don’t think so,” she says. “Thank you for your time, Sheriff. My office will be in touch.”

Lewis stares hatefully at her as they leave his office.

“Guess I’ll see you in court,” he calls after them, before the door shuts firmly.

Shit. Lewis has the sneaking suspicion he may be out of his league.

~*~

Abbie blinks at the woman, trying to hold in her laughter.

“You said all of that to him?” she asks.

Cynthia nods.

“And I mean every word. He’s a disgusting man and I’m shocked but not surprised he’s had his job for so long.”

“It’s like a boy’s club,” Abbie admits. “They all vote in their friends and they give those friends jobs. It’s who you know because everyone knows each other’s dirt.”

“Well, they won’t be bothering you for long,” Cynthia promises. “I’ve also had the paperwork on your claim amendment fast-tracked.”

“How? I missed the deadline,” Abbie says.

Cynthia grins.

“Phone records. How can you be held to a deadline you couldn’t possibly meet? Insurance companies tend to want to stay out of court. It’s bad for their bottom line.”

Abbie sputters happily, relief cascading down her spine as her muscles unknot.

“Thank you so much,” she murmurs into her hands as she rubs her face. “This is the first thing going my way.”

Cynthia fishes her phone out of her lavender bag.

“Ah yes, something about a presentation was cancelled?”

Abbie nods.

“Apparently I’m a distraction with too much press baggage. I had a sudden influx of people interested in meeting to talk about getting some lessons on the books but it turns out they were just press trying to trick me into an interview.”

“I’m sorry,” Cynthia says. “But at least you’re free for the next thing on my list.”

Abbie looks wary.

“Which is?” she asks.

Jenny practically runs into the living room, slightly breathless.

“Oh good, I didn’t miss you guys. I don’t want to drive to the city by myself.”

Abbie narrows her eyes at her sister.

“Jenny, I’d like you to meet-”

“Lady Cynthia Irving, Ambassador Irving’s wife. Hi, Cynthia,” Jenny says, shaking the woman’s hand firmly. “I gotta say you’re rocking the purple.”

Cynthia glances down at her suit and grins.

“Thanks. It’s my favorite color. Also it’s good to put a face to the voice on the phone.”

“Wait, you two have talked?” Abbie asks.

Jenny turns on the charm as she gives her sister a one-armed hug.

“We did. I’m here for moral support. And by moral support, I mean I’m going to make you do this.”

Abbie wrestles out of Jenny’s grasp.

“What do you mean, ‘this, and why would you have to drive to the city by yourself? Jenny Mills, what did you do?”

Jenny looks innocent.

“Nothing, just what you wouldn’t do,” she mutters.

“Prince Ichabod has tasked me with ensuring you’re well taken care of,” Cynthia says. “That includes ensuring that your legal and insurance issues are ironed out smoothly. You’d be surprised what kind of wrinkles can be dealt with when you have the proper iron.”

Jenny beams at Cynthia.

“I want to be like you when I grow up.”

Cynthia chuckles as she responds to something on her phone.

“Alright ladies, are we ready to go shopping?” she asks as she rises to her feet.

“Shopping for what?” Abbie asks, only fighting briefly against Jenny pulling her up from the chair.

“Clothes,” Jenny says. “Your stuff smells like smoke.”

“Even the stuff I already sent to the dry cleaners?” Abbie asks, horrified. “I thought it was just me,” she whispers as she’s being led down the hall to the garage. “I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe right now.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Cynthia breezes. “Just sit back, relax and let us take care of you.”

Abbie glares at Phillip and Samantha as they join the journey to the garage, but neither of them have the decency to look abashed.

“I’m surrounded by traitors,” she mutters weakly.

“Damn skippy,” Jenny says cheerfully.

And that’s how Abbie is manhandled into a car surrounded by security and driven to New York City. Her and Jenny have a sister’s day like they’ve always dreamed; full body massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. They even have their hair done. A few glasses of wine in, and Abbie even stops asking how much everything costs, until they arrive at a boutique so upscale there is no signage and you have to ring a doorbell for admittance.

“Oh, hell no,” Abbie mutters as the elevator doors open. The warehouse exterior hides a luxurious interior with gorgeous white couches and chairs with personal entertainment centers.

“This place is so expensive there are no clothes,” she hisses at Jenny.

“Lady Ambassador, so happy you’re back!” An impeccably dressed older black woman steps out of what appears to be thin air to embrace Cynthia with a smile. “What do we have here? Is this our new project?” she asks enthusiastically as she turns to Abbie. “My name is Diane. You’re Abbie, right?”

Abbie glances at Cynthia as she offers Diane her hand.

“Yes, I am. Nice to meet you.”

“And you must be Jenny,” Diane says as she offers Jenny her hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Jenny says. “You buy clothing here, right?”

Diane chuckles.

“Yes. You’re wondering where the clothes are.”

“Sorta,” Abbie admits.

“At Rowan’s Designs we approach clothing at a little differently. You’ll see our catalogue of what we offer and after you’ve made your selections you’ll be able to see them on a model. When you’ve chosen what you like we’ll discuss any alterations and everything will be tailored specifically for your body. While you wait we have an array of entertainment if the rest of your party would like to pass the time,” Diane says, glancing at the wall of security behind the three women.

“Sadly, they’re on duty. You know how it is, Diane,” Cynthia says smoothly as she steers Abbie toward one of the couches. “We’re here for everything, and I mean everything. We need a new wardrobe so a bit of every day, a bit of formal and a bit of royal. Were you able to get the lingerie as well?” she asks, accepting the flute of champagne and handing it to a bewildered Abbie.

“I’ll leave you to it, Cynthia. Let me know when you’re ready,” Diane says with a small smile as Cynthia gleefully pulls over one of the tablets and cues up some choices.

“Don’t you worry, Abbie,” she reassures her. “Just sit back and we’ll get you sorted.”

Abbie blinks at the screen and tugs Jenny closer by her tee shirt.

“The clothes don’t have prices on them,” she hisses.

“Good,” Jenny retorts. “Then don’t worry about the price.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“My own sister,” she says mournfully. “You and Crane are on the shit list right now.”

“Cynthia, if you’re on the shit list do you get to get a few dresses, too?” Jenny asks loudly.

Cynthia pauses.

“I think it’s required,” she jokes.

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose and downs most of her champagne in one swallow.

“I’m not nearly drunk enough for this,” she murmurs.

~*~

Are you going to talk or am I going to talk?”

Abbie swirls her wine around the glass, marveling at the fact that she has a whole bottle of Cirtonian wine at her disposal.

“I don’t know what to say,” she finally admits. Abbie’s curled up in one of six plush, recliners in the media room, Ichabod’s face and part of the darkened room behind him projected on a seventy-inch screen.

Abbie resists humming Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I’ll start. Did you enjoy your day?”

Abbie narrows her eyes as she takes a big swallow.

“I did,” she says truthfully. “I had a massage from a woman whose hands had to be blessed by every deity coming and going. She found tension and knots that I had just given up on. I feel like a noodle. A good noodle,” she amends.

I’m glad.”

Abbie shifts in her chair, suddenly embarrassed.

“You didn’t have to do this,” she says quietly.

What, treasure?”

“This,” she says again. “All of this. The shopping, the place to stay while my house is being fixed. Not to mention Cynthia. She’s such an amazing woman and so badass I thought Jenny would hump her leg at a couple different points today.”

Ichabod laughs and looks at her fondly.

Abbie, I did it because you were in pain and had no help. I had to find out how badly things were going from Jenny.”

Abbie’s grin hardens.

“So it was Jenny,” she mutters.

It wasn’t just Jenny. Phillip assured me she wasn’t exaggerating when she told me what had transpired between you, that foul woman’s husband and your sheriff.”

“Traitors, both of them,” she mumbles, taking another swallow of her wine.

But why didn’t you tell me?” he asks. “I was under the impression we could talk to each other about anything.”

“Failure at life isn’t something easy to talk about,” Abbie points out.

And how does someone stealing from you and partially burning your house down constitute as failure?” Ichabod looks genuinely perplexed and Abbie can’t hide the giggle from escaping.

“I miss you,” she blurts, feeling it so suddenly and so deep she puts her hand over her heart.

I miss you, too. But don’t change the subject. My Abbie, you know you can come to me whenever you need assistance. I am honored to do what I can for you when I can. You do believe me; don’t you, treasure?” he asks.

Abbie stares down at her glass and takes a deep breath.

“It’s so hard,” she whispers. “So hard. For the longest time it was just me. Things needed to get done it was me. Bail myself out, bail Jenny out. Put out fires. No pun intended,” she says halfheartedly as she gestures ineffectually.

“You get kind of hard,” Abbie says. “You can’t bend or you’ll break and if you break there’s no one else to pick up the pieces.”

So you crack, instead?” Ichabod asks, and there’s such tenderness and affection in his voice Abbie has to close her eyes to keep the tears from falling.

A moment passes silently, Abbie staring off to the side and Ichabod staring at her.

“I was going to call,” she says lowly. “I told myself I would call you after I got things straightened out because I wanted to call you right away and that scared me.”

Why?” Ichabod asks.

“Because that meant I needed you,” Abbie says simply. “Then nothing went the way it was supposed to go. I spent days on hold trying to deal with the insurance company and all the while there was this voice in the back of my head telling me that if I couldn’t deal with this little issue then what was I doing with you?”

Ichabod shakes his head.

Treasure, the leaps of logic you take when it comes to yourself… They are truly terrifying. Everyone needs help.

Abbie shakes her head.

“Intellectually, I understand that. It’s the reality of the situation that I can’t deal with.”

Then we’ll fix that,” Ichabod promises. “Tell me more about the day you had. Jenny sent me a picture of you in a rather fetching yellow dress that reminded me of Jamaica.”

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose and laughs.

“I’m going to kill her. How did she get your number? Why is she texting you more than me?”

These are all very good questions that I should be asking.”

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“I did end up getting the dress,” she admits. “And they got me drunk so I couldn’t fight. First at the spa and then at the boutique. Hell, I’m still kind of buzzed now.”

Ichabod glances down.

Is that robe new?” he asks.

She beams up at him.

“It is,” she drawls. “So’s what’s underneath it.”

He swallows.

Show me.”

Abbie gasps.

“Crane, I’m downstairs,” she admonishes.

No one is going to disturb you. All I want is a look. A glimpse, is all.”

Abbie finishes off her wine and lets the heady rush and Ichabod’s warm gaze influence her.

“Fine,” she says. “But I’m locking the door.”

Good. Turn up the lights so I may see you properly.”

“Why you need lights for a glimpse?” Abbie asks, but turns up the dimmer on the wall before returning to the screen. She catches a glimpse of the camera and blows a kiss before she undoes the knot at her waist.

“I’ve never had a real silk robe before,” she says, rubbing it against her shoulders. “It feels like heaven on my skin.”

Ichabod nods.

As it should; your skin should be revered.

“I think you might be biased.” Abbie finally drops the robe revealing what’s beneath; a thin, close-fitting camisole and tiny, matching shorts beneath. They’re soft and smoky blue with a soft shine, complimenting her warm brown skin. She glances up at Ichabod’s soft inhale as he greedily takes in her body, having moved closer to his monitor.

“Oh god, how could I have forgotten?” Ichabod groaned. “It’s been too long.

The combination of Ichabod’s lustful gaze and the yearning in his voice floods Abbie’s system much like the wine she’d already consumed, and emboldened, she turns so he can see the way the shorts cling to her ass.

“You like what you see?” she asks, throwing a knowing look over her shoulder.

“If I were there I’d show you how much I love it,” he swears, his tongue darting out to moisten his lips as she goes for her robe. “No, leave it off.”

Abbie shivers at the command in Ichabod’s request, her nipples tightening as she squeezes her thighs against the throb she feels inside.

“Okay,” she says breathlessly, falling back into the chair on shaky legs. “Are you going to tell me about your day?”

Ichabod’s eyes are nearly black as they fill the monitor, roving over every inch of her body.

Recline your chair,” he says hoarsely.

Abbie pushes the button on the armrest, biting her lip as her position shifts.

“Like this?” she asks, almost horizontal before him. She swallows at the look on his face, openly lustful and hungry.

Utter perfection. Tell me, treasure. Is your top as soft as it looks?” he asks lowly.

Abbie shivers at the way his voice bottoms out in a sinful baritone and she feels herself tighten all over.

“It is,” she says, her hands trailing down the sides of her neck and down, across her breasts. Abbie tries to stifle her cries as she slides over her hardened nipples, straining through her top.

The wine and Ichabod’s gaze feel so good she tweaks her nipples purposefully, intending on just giving him a little tease but she feels the sensation go directly to her clit, arching her back and groaning as she squeezes her thighs together.

“Are you wet, Abbie?” Ichabod asks, breathless.

Abbie whimpers, sliding her thighs together.

“Yes,” she says.

When was the last time you came?”

Abbie’s eyes fly open – when had she closed them?

“Crane,” she screeches. “Not so loud!”

The room is soundproofed,” he says. “Answer the question.”

Abbie remembers vividly.

“When we left the hotel,” she admits.

Ichabod tsks.

That is unacceptable,” he groans, slouching further into his seat. ”So you haven’t come since I had you against the wall.

“Oh, god,” Abbie whimpers, catching her hand at the waistband of her shorts. “Crane, stop.”

No, keep going,” he says, his gaze riveted to her hand on her abdomen. “Do you want to touch yourself, treasure?

“I want you to touch me,” Abbie says, but moves her hand inside her shorts anyway.

“And I would do so much more than that,” he promises. “I would have you for dinner and dessert and wouldn’t stop until you were screaming my name.”

Abbie hisses as she glides against her clit; it’s hot and swollen and she throws her legs open for better access.

“Ichabod,” she whines, closing her eyes and working her hand harder.

What are you thinking about?” Ichabod asks, staring raptly at the way Abbie’s hand moves.

“How good it felt when you pushed me against the wall and that sound you make when you get just over half your cock inside of me,” she groans.

Fuck,” he says weakly. “Is it always the same sound?”

Abbie nods, laughing a little even as she pushes two fingers inside.

“It’s like this mix between a frustrated groan and this decadent moan- fuck,” she pants. “It makes me so wet because you push my legs open wider and then…” Abbie uses her thumb against her clit, unable to reach as deeply as she wants with her own fingers.

“That’s when I fuck you hard and deep until I’m right up against your spot. I know when you’re close because one of your hands always strays down your stomach to go for your clit but I want you to come and come hard on my cock alone.

Abbie’s grabbing the back of the chair over her head, working her hips against her hand in her shorts as she imagines Ichabod there, his cock inside of her instead of her fingers, his hard length rubbing against her walls.

“Oh, fuck,” she cries out, moving her thumb faster against her clit. “Say something, anything,” Abbie groans.

If I were there, I’d have you sit on it so I can watch your face as you slide down my cock. God, you’d be so wet you’d be dripping, saying my name as you work your hips on your way down. You’d feel so good, treasure, rocking back and forth. I’d reach down to grab your ass to help you move. You like that, don’t you?”

Abbie nods, and with another push and a low grunt she comes so hard everything whites out for a moment as the pleasure crests and washes over her. Trembling, she comes back to herself in time to gasp at the look on Ichabod’s face.

“I’m sending the plane for you.”

Chapter Text

In the end, it takes two hours for Abbie to convince Ichabod he can’t send the plane right away. There are still a few things that have to be dealt with before she can just leave the country.

But four days later Abbie finds herself on a private plane heading to Cirtona and wondering how this is her life.

“You look guilty.”

Abbie blinks and glances over at Cynthia, who is immersed in whatever’s on her tablet. Ever since take off she’s been making phone calls and handling business and Abbie’s tried to give her privacy.

“I feel kind of guilty,” she admits.

Cynthia looks up, confused. “Why?”

Abbie squirms and gestures about the plane. It’s beautifully appointed and the furnishings are luxurious and there’s only her and Cynthia in the upstairs portion – Samantha, Phillip and Cynthia’s security escort are downstairs.

“Are the taxpayers paying for this?”

Cynthia bites her lip and chuckles.

“No,” she says. “Cirtonian economics doesn’t quite work like American economics. We pay no income or property tax, only sales.”

“How do they manage that?”

“The Cirtonian berry, actually. It’s owned and regulated by the royal family, who created the fruit hundreds of years ago. They use a portion of the profits to fund the country as well as donate extensively to charities around the world.”

Abbie feels marginally better as she glances out the window.

“That sounds really smart,” she says.

“It’s worked well so far,” Cynthia murmurs.

Abbie glances back at Cynthia to find her still looking.

“What? Something on my face?”

Cynthia shakes her head.“It’s just… It’s not my place to say.”

Abbie leans over eagerly.

“Then say it,” she says.

“You’re very different from most of the women Prince Ichabod has dated,” Cynthia admits.

“Yeah, I’m shorter by a foot, right?” Abbie asks.

“No,” Cynthia laughs. “I’m saying you’re the first person to ask if this plane was being paid for from taxpayers’ money. No one else cared. I think it’s a sign of your character.”

Abbie feels herself flush.

“Thanks, I think,” she says, wondering about the women Ichabod had in the past. Her stomach flutters and she wonders if she’s being caught up in all the fancy things that Ichabod can do and his lifestyle and not really getting to know the real him.

But can you separate someone from their lifestyle? Don’t they come hand in hand?

Does that make Abbie a gold digger?

“We’ve got about five more hours before we land; maybe you can get some sleep? That’ll ease the jet lag for when we land,” Cynthia says as she returns to her work.

“Are you going to sleep?”

Cynthia shakes her head.

“I’m used to the trip,” she says. “Besides, when we land it’ll be morning and I’ll need to see my daughter off to school and then I have four back to back meetings. The Cirtonian Crown never sleeps.”

“I guess not,” Abbie says, watching Cynthia work. Theoretically she knows it takes a lot to run a country, but she’s never seen the work up close before. She watches Cynthia as she scribbles on her tablet and talks lowly on her cell phone. Soon her nerves and the calming tone of Cynthia’s phone calls lull her to sleep.

Abbie dreams of running through the woods and someone calling her name.

~*~

Abbie jerks awake; her phone is vibrating in her hand and she realizes she’s drooling a little.

She glances at Cynthia – still working – as she surreptitiously wipes her cheek and checks her phone.

IM GONNA KILL HER

Abbie squints at the screen and blearily makes out Jenny’s name.

“Oh god, what now,” she whines.

“Glad you’re awake,” Phillip says as he moves up the aisle. “We’re entering Cirtonian airspace as we speak. Touchdown is in twenty minutes.”

Abbie forgets her sister’s text as she lifts the screen on the window and squints in the early morning sun. There’s water as far as she can see, but when the clouds part she catches a glimpse of Cirtona and her heart begins to pound.

Ichabod’s down there, and that’s his country, she thinks.

This is weird, she also thinks. Maybe it’s not too late to turn back around.

But it is; the seatbelts fastened signs light up on the armrest instead of overhead and as they descend, Abbie’s nerves rise until they rest in her throat and keep her from swallowing correctly. She adjusts her dress, a yellow one she’d decided on as an in-joke between her and Ichabod, and suddenly wonders if it’s fancy enough. Maybe she should’ve worn heels instead of flats.

She glances down at her bare finger and remembers her ring. Reluctantly, Abbie removes it from her pocket and slips it on. When she looks up she sees Cynthia looking at her and Abbie doesn’t know what to say, let alone how to articulate how she feels.

“Didn’t want it to fall off,” she settles on saying instead.

“Makes sense.” Cynthia nods briefly. “It’s just after six-thirty in the morning.”

“When does Ichabod normally wake up? Am I going to a hotel? These are all questions I should’ve asked before we left,” Abbie mutters, straightening her dress again. “Will I have a chance to change before I see him?”

“What’s wrong with what you’re wearing?” Cynthia demands. “You look amazing.”

Abbie takes a deep breath and nods.

“It’s a gorgeous dress,” she agrees. “Maybe it’s not fancy enough?”

“It’s fine,” the older woman reassures her. “That’s nerves talking.” Cynthia grabs her bag and smiles as the engines fall silent.

Phillip comes up the stairs.

“We’re home,” he proclaims.

Abbie hangs back, letting Cynthia descend the stairs first. She puts her hand on the rail and tries to calm her breathing, but she feels nervous and anxious and there are a million and one things she should be doing instead of coming to see her boyfriend in a vaguely tropical locale.

Get your ass out there, Mills, she thinks, and forces herself to take the steps one at a time.

Phillip is looking at her strangely when she gets to the bottom, but she musters up a smile to let him know she’s okay. But she’s not. It’s been a month and two days since she’s been in the same room as Ichabod.

Maybe he doesn’t feel the same anymore. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.

Maybe she won’t feel the same anymore.

“Lady Abbie?”

Abbie blinks; she hadn’t even realized she’d stopped moving. Embarrassed, she ducks her head and forces herself out of the relative safety of the cabin and into the morning sunshine.

Immediately she throws her hand over her eyes, momentarily blinded as she moves down the stairs. Her feet don’t hit the ground because on the bottom rung strong arms lift her bodily from the stairs and spin her around.

That now familiar scent fills her nose and various parts of her clench in anticipation.

“Crane,” she yelps giddily, holding on as best she can as he continues to spin her around, the skirt of her dress flaring out like a circle of sunshine.

“You’re here,” he murmurs against her cheek as he slows and sets her down on the tarmac. “You’re really here.”

Dizzy, Abbie looks up at him with her heart fit to bursting, and wonders how she could’ve been worried about anything.

“I really am,” she affirms.

Ichabod leans down and kisses her softly, pouring his yearning and desire for her into it. It takes all his restraint not to lift her against him and instead he occupies his hands by clutching her tiny ones.

“My darling,” he murmurs when they part for air. “How have you become more beautiful in my absence?”

Abbie stares hungrily at his lips and Ichabod feels pride bloom in his chest as her grip on his hands tightens.

“What? I mean, no. Stop it,” she says, and flushes from her inability to speak. “Only you can steal my words with a kiss.”

“Then be prepared to be mute,” he says seriously.

Abbie bursts into laughter and pats his face fondly.

“That’s such a bad line,” she says.

“And I have plenty of them,” Ichabod says.

Abbie beams.

“I wanna hear them all.” Suddenly she becomes aware of someone – quite a few someones, actually – calling her name. She turns and immediately flashbulbs go off. Behind the fence are at least twenty or thirty photographers, screaming for both Abbie and Ichabod and shouting unintelligible questions.

“When did they get here?” she asks.

Ichabod chuckles.

“They got here before I did,” he says.

Abbie shakes her head.

“I didn’t even see them,” she murmurs under her breath. “Do we have to go over there?”

“We should say something, but nothing lengthy. I don’t want anyone thinking you’re being snuck in through the back door,” Ichabod says as he tucks her hand into his elbow. “Shall we?”

“I look like I just got off a plane,” Abbie whines lowly. “Can’t we at least let me change my clothes?”

“Abbie, I promise you that you look as if you’ve descended from the heavens themselves. If this is you disheveled I am the luckiest man in the world,” Ichabod says honestly. “We’ll just answer a few questions and be on our way, okay?”

Abbie! Abbie!

Abbie musters up a half-hearted grin as they near the press, Phillip and Samantha already in place, flanking them.

Abbie! Is this your first time to Cirtona?”

Abbie gives up trying to see who asked the question.

“It is,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the sights and meeting the people. What I was able to see from the plane looks absolutely beautiful.”

Abbie! How long you here for?”

Abbie blinks, realizing she hadn’t made many plans.

“I-”

“We’re playing it by ear,” Ichabod interrupts smoothly.

Does this have anything to do with Abbie’s house burning down? Are you homeless, Abbie?”

Abbie’s heart hammers in her chest as those words rattle around her head.

“I’m not homeless,” she says defensively. “The repairs are going to start soon.”

Are you and Standra still friends?”

“Standra and I were never friends. We were friendly neighbors. Friends don’t rob you and try to burn your house down,” Abbie snaps.

“Alright, no more questions,” Phillip says, ushering Abbie and Ichabod away from the fence and into a dark sedan.

Abbie is trying to keep her composure, but one glance at Ichabod makes her face crumple momentarily.

“Oh, treasure,” he sighs, pulling her into his lap and hugging her close. “Are you alright?”

Abbie clings, ashamed she takes so much comfort from his touch. Embarrassed, she presses her face against his neck and tries not to cry. After a moment Abbie nods, taking a deep breath and wiping at her eyes.

“First thing I do after getting to Cirtona is cry on your shoulder. Literally,” she huffs, attempting to smooth out his shirt.

Ichabod beams at her, rubbing her back gently.

“I’m here for you, including when you need a torso to cry on,” he jokes.

“Long as it’s your torso,” Abbie mutters.

“Oh good,” Ichabod says, pretending to be relieved. “I didn’t want to think I was interchangeable.”

Abbie laughs in spite of her mood and rests her forehead against Ichabod’s for a moment.

“Where are we going? What time is it? Are you going to be late for work?” she asks, trailing off when she sees Ichabod’s expression. “What’d I say?”

“It’s normally the prince’s prerogative if he wants to attend parliament,” Phillip says from the driver’s seat.

Abbie glares at Ichabod.

“Is that code for you decided to take the day off?”

Ichabod sputters.

“What was I supposed to do? Have them drop you off at home and leave you to your own devices? What kind of host would that make me?” he asks.

“A host who has to work. This wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened to me. I’m a big girl and I could’ve distracted myself until you were done with your day.”

Ichabod shrugs and holds Abbie closer.

“Too late, I’m afraid. They know not to expect me for the entire day. I wanted to be present the first time you set foot on Cirtona.”

Abbie ducks her head and adjusts Ichabod’s collar so she has something to do with her hands.

“Well, I appreciate it,” she murmurs. “But I don’t want to disrupt your life.”

“I want you to,” Ichabod jokes, grabbing her hands in his. “So put it out of your mind that I am doing anything more than I want, okay?”

Abbie doesn’t quite look at up at him before nodding.

“Good,” he murmurs.

“We’ve arrived, your highness.”

Abbie looks around as the sedan comes to a stop. All she can see are wide open meadows edged by a forest off in the distance.

“Where are we?”

“We’re being dropped off. Thank you, Phillip and Samantha. Enjoy your time off.”

“You’re welcome, your highness, and thank you.”

“I guess I’ll see you guys later,” Abbie says as the back door is opened and a similarly-clad but as-yet-unnamed security agent presents himself with a short bow.

“Your keys, your highness,” he says, and as Abbie is helped out of the car she can see another car on the shoulder of the lonely road. It’s a gorgeous silvery-blue convertible with the top down, the black leather interior gleaming in the morning light.

It looks like the epitome of Euro-trash.

“What do you think of my baby?” Ichabod asks as he comes up behind Abbie. “She was the first car I bought when I learned to drive.”

Abbie plasters on a smile and nods. Yeah, she can see this being the wet dream of a teenager.

“It looks very... fast,” she says honestly.

Ichabod pauses and ducks his head self-consciously.

“You know, I knew I’d get a different reaction from you,” he says. “Most women fawn all over it.”

Abbie clears her throat.

“Oh, Prince Ichabod,” she says, pitching her voice higher. “This car is amaaaazing,” she croons, draping herself over the hood seductively. “Take me here, right now.”

When she moves up onto her elbows Ichabod is standing at her knees, the look in his eye making her breathless.

“Is that what you want?” he asks lowly, easing her knees open so he can step between them.

“You’re not fucking me on your car,” Abbie laughs, yelping when he pulls her closer.

He leans down far enough to breathe against her mouth.

“Sure about that, treasure?” Ichabod asks lowly before kissing her long and deep. Abbie isn’t sure when she forgot she was on the hood of a damn car in the middle of what amounts to a field but when he pulls away she can’t help but follow his mouth greedily.

Abbie blinks and looks around.

“Where’d everyone go?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, and I don’t think I care,” Ichabod said, running his hands up beneath her dress.

“Crane, you’re not going to fuck me on your car,” Abbie laughs, attempting to twist out of his grasp but Ichabod has his fingers hooked into her underwear and she yelps, trying to keep her legs closed around Ichabod’s waist. “Crane!”

“Just a taste, treasure,” he says, and that’s her only warning before he ducks under her skirt.

“Crane!”

Abbie’s screech collapses into a moan as Ichabod’s talented touch connects with her folds, easily parting her as he licks then sucks at her clit. Her body awakens like it knows his touch and her nerves feel like they are on fire, nipples tightening as she bites her hand to keep quiet. Ichabod slips one finger inside and immediately Abbie’s eyes widen; she throws her hand out for leverage, slapping it against the windshield as she begins to work her hips.

Ichabod gorges himself on all Abbie can give him, coaxing out a fresh wave of juices with every adjustment and thrust of his finger. He longs to add another - he wants to use his cock, but something so good is best savored where one can take their time.

And he plans to keep Abbie in his bed for the foreseeable future.

With great reluctance and willpower Ichabod removes his finger, and with one last kitten lick at her clit, places a kiss on Abbie’s inner thigh and blinks in the bright morning sun, licking her essence off of his finger with gusto. He has to adjust himself in his pants when he sees Abbie’s expression, aroused and angry and a bit desperate.

“Say the word,” he purrs as he pulls her panties down her legs and off, into his pocket.

“There’s no one around for miles,” Ichabod says, gesturing out at the wide open greenery. “Say the word and I will have you on my cock, screaming my name.”

Abbie groans, pressing her thighs together as the sensation of being filled roars to the front of her mind. She’s so tempted to do it. All she has to do is spread her legs-

“Take me to your home,” she says after a moment. “We can get up to all sorts of things there.”

Ichabod groans, pouting when Abbie laughs at his expression.

“Oh, don’t look like that,” Abbie croons, peppering kisses along his brow before he tilts her head to kiss her properly. Without warning he lifts her into his arms, laughing at how she screeches and clutches at him.

“You like doing that,” she accuses, watching his innocent expression as he walks them around to the passenger side.

“Doing what, my love?” Ichabod asks.

“Surprising me.”

“Sweeping you off your feet?” Ichabod corrects as he places her down gently and drops into a bow as he places a lavish kiss to the back of her hand. “Absolutely.” He opens the door with a flourish, charmed at Abbie’s genuinely delighted laugh.

“Thank you, kind sir,” Abbie says, tugging on his beard gently before slipping onto the warm leather seat. She can’t hide her smile as Ichabod quickly makes it back to the driver side and starts the car.

“Fair warning, I like to drive fast,” he says as he slips on a pair of sunglasses.

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, I’ll see what you got.”

Ichabod glances over at her with a smirk, and throws his car into gear.

~

The car thunders down a curved driveway, the squeal of tires echoing in Abbie’s ears as she scrambles out of the car breathlessly.

“You drive like a maniac,” she says, pointing her finger into his chest when he comes around to the passenger side.

“I didn’t tell you?” Ichabod asks, grasping her finger and placing a kiss to the end. “I used to race cars.”

“No, I think I would’ve remembered. I should arrest your ass,” she says, trying to pull her finger back.

“That would require you to have a badge, and handcuffs,” he says, eyes darkening as he crowds her against the car. “I can’t do anything about the former, but the latter can be easily obtained.”

“Nasty,” Abbie says breathlessly, ducking beneath his arm and glancing around the courtyard. “This isn’t a house, this is a villa,” she says.

Ichabod glances at it and shrugs a shoulder.

“I’ve owned it for over ten years; to me, it’s just home.”

The façade manages to be both breathtakingly elegant and inviting, all white clay and stone. The windows Abbie can see are large and curved at the top and the glass is rippled just enough to keep prying eyes from being able to discern anything detailed.

She feels underdressed even though Ichabod is only wearing slacks and a button up shirt.

“You live by yourself?”

Ichabod nods and hands his keys over to a smartly-dressed servant and takes Abbie’s hand. Immediately her nerves calm and she tries not to cling to his arm as they make their way to the entrance.

“As soon as I was able I bought this house to get away from people,” he admits, pushing open the glass double doors.

The cool air inside caresses Abbie’s face as they cross the threshold, her flats making no sound on the marble floor of the foyer. It’s silent inside save the low hum of electrical devices hard at work behind the scenes.

The ceilings are vaulted and the walls are made of light brown stone, probably marble as well. Abbie laughs as Ichabod tugs her impatiently further into the house.

“The kitchen and dining room are down that way,” he says, gesturing down a hall. “On the other side are the media room, parlor, and library.”

“Crane,” Abbie laughs as she’s bodily yanked up a flight of circular steps. The second floor is just as beautiful as the first – from what she’s able to see, that is.

“On this side of the house we have the master suite, my office, and the private sitting room. On the other side, down this hall,” Ichabod gestures down a long corridor, “are guest suites.”

Abbie smiles knowingly as she’s pulled toward the master suite.

“Do you entertain a lot?” she asks, digging her heels in a little.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“Not nearly as much as I used to. At one point I was having a party every week.” He winces. “Looking back I realize I was desperate for approval. Just wish I could’ve seen it then.”

“We never see it when we’re going through it,” Abbie reassures him. “Hindsight is twenty-twenty, like they say.”

Ichabod looks down at her fondly and throws open the door.

“Here’s where-”

“If you say ‘this is where the magic happens’ I’m going to walk back to the airport,” Abbie promises as she steps into what’s obviously Ichabod’s bedroom. It’s large and sprawling, the bed massive - fit for someone his height and more, besides.

On the other side of the room there are glass double doors that lead to a balcony, and Abbie pushes them open, amazed at the scene below. Rolling green hills jut up against a seaside metropolis in the distance and beyond that is the sea as far as the horizon.

“This looks like a fairy tale,” she says weakly, almost overwhelmed by the beauty.

“And yet it pales when I compare it to you.”

Abbie blinks surprising tears from her eyes before she wipes them away and looks over at Ichabod.

“You’re so corny,” she whispers.

Ichabod laughs and gathers her into his arms, kissing what few tears fall to her cheeks until Abbie laughs against his lips.

“Don’t cry, my love,” he murmurs. “Do you need anything?”

Abbie shakes her head, running her hands down the sides of his face.

“Just you,” she says quietly. “Crane?”

“Hmm?” he asks, chasing her lips.

“Where are my panties?” she whispers.

Ichabod laughs and picks her up, feigning innocence.

“Where they belong, trust me.”

“If they were where they were supposed to be, they’d be on my ass,” Abbie points out as she’s carried back into the bedroom.

“No, see, you’ve been wearing underwear all wrong all these years,” Ichabod says seriously as he deposits her gently on the bed.

Abbie grins as he looms over her, comforted by the way his body brackets hers. In the circle of his arms she can pretend nothing outside exists.

“Have I, now,” she murmurs. “And what’s the correct way?”

“None at all,” he says seriously as Abbie bursts out laughing.

“So just swinging free, huh?” she asks between giggles.

“To restrain a backside as glorious as yours is not only ridiculous but criminal. So I say, say nay to underwear,” Ichabod says without cracking a smile.

“I’m not walking around with no underwear on.”

“But-”

“At least not all the time,” Abbie says, and yelps when Ichabod’s hands slide up her dress. “What are you doing?”

“If you don’t know then perhaps I have been remiss in my ministrations,” he murmurs, caressing the satin of her thighs. “How do you have such amazing skin?”

Abbie stares up at him, overly amused at Ichabod’s besotted expression.

“Lotion, motherfucker,” she teases, and screams when caresses become tickles.

“Such a mouth on you,” Ichabod grunts as he struggles to keep a wriggling Abbie in his grasp.

“And what a mouth it is.” He drops a kiss on her now bared shoulder, her dress having slipped down to reveal a tantalizing curve of skin. “And what hips you have…” Ichabod resumes his caresses.

“I’ve missed you,” he says.

“Did you?” Abbie asks, beaming. “What did you miss?”

“I missed your humor and unexpected potty-mouth.”

Abbie pretends to be shocked.

“Potty-mouth? I declare!” she giggles.

Ichabod grins.

“I missed your smile when I do something you deem is corny,” he says.

“Have you been dancing again?” Abbie asks, and laughs again when Ichabod noses her onto her back, flat on the bed.

“I have to practice, don’t I?” He smiles as she cackles harder, her small fingers carding through his hair. “Know what else I missed, treasure?”

Abbie hums as Ichabod drops quick kisses to her mouth, trailing down her cheek to the join of her neck and shoulder.

“What?” she practically purrs.

Ichabod nudges her legs open even more and teases her clit with the pad of his fingers. Abbie rears up at the stimulation, crying out and tugging on his hair.

“This,” he groans as she begins to soak his fingers. “How responsive your body is and how wet you are for me already.” Ichabod slides his fingers up and down her folds, teasing, before thrusting one finger in to the hilt.

Abbie swears, already on the precipice.

“Fucking – you just – those damn fingers,” she pants out as her body betrays her and she begins moving her hips.

“Does the lady want more?” Ichabod asks, staring down at her as he works between her legs.

Abbie keens when he adds another digit, pushing in right up against her spot and rubbing against it.

Fuck- right there, please,” Abbie pleads, clutching Ichabod close as her body tightens deliciously around his fingers.

“Can you come for me, treasure?” Ichabod asks, pupils blown as he watches her come apart on his hand. He pushes on that spot inside, the one that makes her go wild, and immediately she begins screaming his name, thrashing her head back and forth and soaking his hand to the wrist. Ichabod groans at the sodden sound his fingers make as they push back inside of her.

Abbie screams her release into his mouth, coming so hard reality begins to fray at the edges, narrowing down to Ichabod’s fingers inside of her and his breath against her mouth. When she comes down, Abbie’s a boneless mess, wallowing in post-orgasmic high and watching with hooded eyes as Ichabod licks his fingers clean.

“You look like you’re not done,” she says, her voice slightly hoarse.

“Not by a long shot,” he promises.

Abbie sighs happily and glances down at her dress.

“This is going to take more than an iron,” she gripes, with no real heat behind it.

“You should take it off.” Ichabod reluctantly moves from over her and tugs off his own shirt.

“I should take it off,” she agrees. Abbie rises to her knees and rakes her fingernails gently down his chest, smiling as he shudders.

“You’re like a present,” she says. “Unwrap you and you’ve got this gorgeous chest on this lanky body.”

“Like how you’ve got so much leg to be so short?” Ichabod laughs, fumbling with removing his belt and kissing her at the same time.

“One more short joke and I’m out of here,” Abbie says, reaching behind to the zipper at her back. “Would you?” She turns and presents it to Ichabod.

“You’re like a present,” Ichabod says, tossing her words back at her lovingly as he slowly lowers the zipper, exposing more and more skin. “Unwrapping you is the best part.”

“Then you don’t want to have sex?” Abbie asks innocently, and half-laughs, half-yelps when Ichabod gently bites her on the back. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand caveman,” she laughs.

“Understand this, then, treasure.” Ichabod stands to drop his pants and climbs back onto the bed.

“This,” he says as he grabs her ass, “is mine.”

Abbie squirms.

“Is it?” she asks breathlessly, pulling the dress up and over her head.

“It is.” Ichabod stares down at Abbie’s form, enjoying the contrast of her bright yellow bra against the warm brown of her sky.

“These are mine, too,” he says, dropping a wet kiss to her breasts where they overflow the lacy cups. With his clever fingers Ichabod undoes the clasp between her breasts, immediately seeking one of her nipples.

“Shit,” Abbie swears, squirming more in his grasp as he sucks, the sensation going directly to her clit. Her legs drop open to have him move closer, and with shaking hands she manages to pull his underwear down enough to free him.

Ichabod presses his forehead against Abbie’s collarbone and shudders, groaning as her small hand encloses around him and pumps. He tries his hardest not to fuck her hand but his hips aren’t listening and suddenly every second Ichabod isn’t inside of Abbie is one second too many.

Reluctantly Ichabod removes Abbie’s hand and places a kiss on the knuckles as he positions himself and sinks in slowly.

Finally, his body exalts as he is engulfed by the most amazingly warm wetness. Ichabod’s face drops to Abbie’s shoulder as he tries to control his breathing so he doesn’t pass out.

He smiles against her neck, pressing soft kisses wherever he can reach when her arms attempt to span his shoulders, rubbing his back and reminding him to breathe. Ichabod widens his legs and pushes in deeper, almost mindless with the need to go faster. But his hand at Abbie’s waist reminds him how small she is, her hand against his cheek reminds him how precious she is so he forces himself to go slow, reveling in the sounds he can coax from her mouth.

“Fuck, Crane! So big,” she pants. “Are you-”

Ichabod shakes his head and continues to push forward.

“Almost,” he says, withdrawing a bit and sliding back in slow. Abbie’s back arches, pressing her chest against his and he grins darkly as it gets a little easier. Ichabod drops his head to her chest and sucks one nipple into his mouth, groaning at the rush of wetness painting his thighs as he continues to stroke slowly in and out until he’s buried to the hilt and Abbie’s fingernails are digging into his shoulders.

“Treasure,” he groans, lifting his head and searching her expression. “Are you alright?”

Abbie swallows and keens when he adjusts his hips.

“I forgot,” she half-babbles, lifting her legs higher and crying out when Ichabod bottoms out.

“I will endeavor to remind you,” Ichabod promises, and withdraws almost all the way before thrusting back in. He tries to keep it slow, to keep his movements graceful, to allow Abbie to adjust but she feels too good to slow down, and his hands are at her waist shoving her down onto his cock even as he thrusts up into her.

He rises to his knees, using his leverage to extend his stroke and rub against all Abbie’s sensitive spots inside on his way in and out. There is no finesse, no artful artifice. Ichabod’s desire is too heavy for grace and Abbie’s need is too great for patience. They are reduced to grunting and groaning in time with Ichabod’s thrusts, the squelch his cock makes when Ichabod thrusts into her slowly turning him mad.

“Oh god, treasure. You feel so good,” Ichabod says. “You’ll never leave my bed, I swear it.”

Abbie laughs.

Fuck, right there. Right there! God, give it to me,” she groans. “Fuck, your cock is so big. Shit, I can’t – I can’t-”

“Yes, you can,” he grounds out, punctuating his words with his thrusts. “Take it all, you need my cock, don’t you, Abbie? Tell me how much you need it.”

Abbie bites her lip as she feels herself getting wetter.

“You wanna hear how I need your cock?” she groans. “How I dream about it filling me? How you walk into a room and I get wet because I expect you to fuck me and fuck me hard? How I’m almost always wet when you’re around? Oh fuck,” she shudders. “I gotta come. Make me come, Crane, please.”

“Come for me, Abbie,” Ichabod demands, catching her hand as it strays down her stomach.

He pulls her up onto his lap and uses gravity to help him bounce her on his cock. The sensation of Abbie’s fingers scratching his scalp and her thighs on his hips, the look of slack-jawed pleasure on her beautiful face as she begins rippling around his dick makes Ichabod fall forward, swallowing hard and trying to think of anything but the beautiful woman on the bed beneath him.

“Oh god, why’d you stop?” Abbie pants, pushing her hair from her face and laughing at how hard Ichabod is concentrating. “Ichabod,” she whines with a huff.

“My love, if I don’t grab hold of myself now, this will be over far sooner than we’d like,” Ichabod grits out. “Just… don’t move.”

Abbie nods, biting on her lips to keep from moving, but Ichabod’s crammed in to the hilt and he’s on her spot and pressure is rising. Keening, she grabs his ass and rolls them over so she’s on top.

“I’d say I’m sorry,” she pants as she begins working her hips, “but I’m not. Not really,” she groans, throwing her head back as she moves desperately.

Ichabod stares up in awe as Abbie rides him hard. It feels so good his toes are curling and all he can do is hold onto her hips as she tightens around him. It’s too much of a good thing and Ichabod flips them back so he can rut into her with hard, strong strokes as he comes. The force is just enough to make Abbie come right after, raking her fingernails down Ichabod’s sweat covered back.

“Oh my god,” Abbie breathes, laughing slightly at the delicious twinge in her hips. “That was amazing.”

“It was over far faster than I had planned,” Ichabod mutters petulantly as he withdraws and falls to the bed beside Abbie. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

Abbie stretches, half attempting to hide her yawn.

“No. I didn’t sleep last night and the sleep I had on the plane was not really sleep so much as closing my eyes and looking at pictures in my brain.” She yawns again. “You relaxed me enough to want to sleep.”

“So sleep, treasure,” Ichabod murmurs. “I’ll go grab a washcloth. Don’t move.”

“Don’t think I can,” Abbie mutters, and falls into slumber accidentally.

~*~

Sheriff Pullman stares at the paperwork in front of him, dread creeping up his esophagus as the words blur until they’re unintelligible. Lewis considers himself a good, upstanding individual. He tries to like his constituents equally and he considers himself fairly easygoing when it comes to matters of the law.

No need to ruin lives because of mistakes.

But some people, some people just couldn’t leave well enough alone and stay in their place.

Lewis swishes the ice around in his tumbler and glares balefully at the legal papers requesting all evidence in the case of The People vs. Grace and Jennifer Mills.

What’s the point in bringing up the past? Why couldn’t these damn n- people leave well enough alone? Lewis presses the glass against his temple, the cool surface lessening the pressure behind his eyes just enough to give him a chance to think.

He pulls the file from his personal filing cabinet and flips it open; nothing’s changed in over a decade. Pictures of Abbie and Jenny before they filled out with scared, dusty faces. He turns them over and gets to the toxicology report. Lewis works the form out of the bundle and puts it through his shredder, making sure that everything looks pristine.

“Dammers!” he yells as he puts the file in a legal envelope and seals the edge.

Sargent Dammers knocks once and enters.

“Yes, Sheriff?”

“Mail this out to that lawyer woman,” Lewis says bitterly. “Maybe now she can get off my fucking case.”

Dammers takes the envelope and turns it in his hands nervously.

“Sheriff, I know this was before my time and everything but I don’t think you would’ve done anything unlawful.”

Lewis nods.

“Some people don’t see it that way, son.”

“Yeah, but that’s not fair. They’re only getting one side of the story. You should be able to tell yours,” Dammers says. “I’ll get this out.”

Lewis nods absently, staring at the closed door as Dammers’ words ring true.

Why can’t he tell his side of the story? Yeah, records have been expunged and whatnot but if information were to be leaked by some unknown source he could answer questions without having broken any laws.

Get his side of the story out before they ruin him with this ridiculous witch hunt. Lewis has been around the block long enough to know that any trial is really conducted in the public eye.

So why don’t we let them see everything, Lewis considers, and knocks the rest of his drink back.

~*~

I gave you hours. Hours to call me.”

Abbie pinches the bridge of her nose and props herself up on the balcony railing, mindful she’s not wearing anything underneath and not wanting to inadvertently flash someone.

“Jenny, I meant to call but Ichabod’s just been giving me a tour of his house in between things he has to do.”

Either his house is huge or you’ve been fucking in every room,” Jenny says. “I don’t want to know which.”

“Good, because I wasn’t going to tell you anyway. We had lunch and talked and jet lag hit me out of nowhere again so I took a nap. God, my internal clock is all fucked up. What time is it there?” Abbie asks.

One in the afternoon.”

“Shit,” Abbie mumbles. “So what’s going on?” Abbie turns and stares at the twinkling lights of the city not that far away. In the darkness, the lights may as well be stars and just as far away; no sound reaches the balcony on the hill.

Tell me about Cirtona first,” Jenny says.

“Well I haven’t seen much – shut up, Jenny. But what I’ve seen is really beautiful. Like, this is a place we’d come to for vacation and it’s just every day regular for him.”

What’s his house look like?”

“You have to see it, Jenny. It’s huge,” Abbie says. “Straight out of a magazine and full of crazy expensive stuff.”

Par the course when you’re royalty, I’m guess.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I kind of keep forgetting that,” she says. “When we’re alone he’s just… Ichabod.” She shrugs a shoulder though she knows Jenny can’t see it. “It’s when we get in public that I have to remember. Well,” she corrects, “now that I’m in his house it’s a little easier to remember.”

I’m sure.”

“His bed is huge though,” Abbie says, trying to stifle a giggle at Jenny’s bark of laughter. “You know how tall he is, so it’s big enough for him to have a lot of room.”

So you can roll around in a circle in the middle of the bed and never fall off.

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“Who is this? I’m sorry, I don’t want to buy any.”

Abbie!” Jenny laughs. “Look, I’m not just calling to see if Vacation Dick’s house is Nouveau Douche.”

“Good to know,” Abbie murmurs as she slips into one of the chairs and pulls her feet up. “Spill it.”

You know that Standra’s been giving interviews, right?

Abbie feels a pulsing behind her right eye as she sighs loudly.

“Yeah, I know,” she says. “I saw her outside the front of the police station. I don’t care what she does, really.”

Well, you should. Conventionally attractive cis white woman thing she has going for her is garnering her some sympathy. How? I don’t know. I should’ve beat her ass when I had the chance.”

“What’s done is done, Jenny. Let it go.”

“She’s on Dateline.

“Wait, what?” Abbie asks, her voice pitching high. “The primetime news show? That Dateline?”

Yup. I also heard she was paid close to a hundred grand for her interview and she’s got others lined up. Abbie, she’s actually going to make money off of this. What kind of world do we live in?”

Abbie leans back in the chair and groans. Why do people like Standra get to prosper?

“There’s nothing we can do short of beating her ass and that’s out of the question. Jenny?” Abbie says warningly. “It’s out of the question.”

They wouldn’t see me coming, I promise.”

“No,” Abbie says firmly. “They’d figure out who did it eventually. Standra would talk.”

Not if I put her in a coma.

Abbie sighs warily. “Jenny…”

Fine. But that’s not the only news.”

“Oh, good. More.”

I’ve been approached a few times to give an interview, too.”

Abbie sits up, intrigued.

“Really?” she laughs. “What do they want to interview your ugly mug for?”

Dunno, but I’m willing to talk for sixty grand.”

Abbie blinked. “What?”

You heard me. Sixty grand.

“You could pay off your student loans and get out of that crappy apartment,” Abbie says.

I could pay off my student loans and my apartment isn’t crappy. I’m hardly here so it serves a purpose,” Jenny says. “I didn’t want to say yes without talking it over with you first. What do you think? I mean, I’m not trying to capitalize on-”

Abbie scoffs.

“Jenny, please. If they want to throw money at you to talk about me, fine. I’m not giving an interview so someone in the family may as well capitalize on it. Tell Joe if he wants to give an interview he can, too. It’ll help with medical school. Fuck, go nuts,” Abbie says.

“It’s hard to tell if you’re serious or not.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I don’t care, Jenny. I’m serious. Take the money. Call Standra out if you want to, I don’t care.”

You’re being weird.

“Your face is weird,” Abbie retorts automatically. “Look, I’m fine, okay? I’m half a world away and nothing they can say can touch me right now. By the time my house is done everyone will forget about me and we can go on with our lives.”

That sounds fake, but okay.”

“No more internet for you. Bye.”

Okay, fine. Quick question.

“Yeah?”

Are you happy? I mean, for real, smile when no one’s looking happy?”

Abbie thought back to when she woke from her impromptu nap and she had a smile on her face. She couldn’t remember the last time she woke with an actual, honest-to-goodness smile on her face.

“I am,” she says quietly. “I actually am.”

Then enjoy the fuck out of yourself, you hear me? Whatever that means for you.

“Night, Jenny,” Abbie says fondly, and ends the call.

The evening air is cool and fresh and Abbie settles into the chair, staring into the distance and thinking of nothing, just soaking it in. Everything is moving so fast and yet she can’t bring herself to put the brakes on, though she knows she should. She’s falling in love with this man and while they both said they wanted to see where this goes… there’s no guarantee he feels the same so quickly.

Or that he ever will.

“I’m setting myself up for disappointment,” she mutters.

“What?”

Abbie starts and turns to see Ichabod at the balcony’s double doors.

“Hey, did I disturb you?” she asks.

Ichabod shakes his head, dressed in a tee shirt and a pair of boxers. “I finished my work and jumped in the shower. It’s almost ten o’clock.”

Abbie grabs her phone, staring at the time in amazement.

“Already? I hadn’t realized I was out here that long. When do you normally go to bed?” Abbie asks, making room for him in the chair next to her. She shrieks when he picks her up and sets her down on his lap instead.

“Normally one, two o’clock in the morning but…”

“But?” Abbie asks.

Ichabod holds her closer, putting his chin on her shoulder.

“When we were in Jamaica I used to dream of having you here,” he says before he presses a kiss to the back of her shoulder.

Abbie leans back to look at his face.

“Really?”

“Truly,” he says. “I wondered what it would be like to have a part of paradise at home.”

“You live in paradise,” Abbie laughs. “I’m just me.”

“Well, just you has made me turn in before midnight for the first time in at least a decade,” he teases. “You’ll think me corny if I say what I truly feel.”

“Oh, Crane,” Abbie says, twisting to cup his face in both hands. “I already think you’re corny,” she murmurs, and yelps when he pokes her side.

“I was just downstairs thinking that you’re upstairs and for the life of me I couldn’t bring myself to work for another minute. I want to know what it’s like to lie beside you and sleep.”

“We’ve already done that,” Abbie points out.

“But not in my bed. Indulge me, treasure. It’s part of my Abbie list.”

Abbie blinks.

“Your… Abbie list? What’s that?”

Ichabod blushes.

“It’s a list of things I want to do with or for you,” he says. Abbie ducks her head and presses her cheek against his. “See, I knew you’d think me corny. Cornier than normal,” he amends.

Abbie swallows and holds onto him tighter.

“Abbie? Abbie, are you crying?”

“No,” she says, muffled. “Your shoulder is just wet.”

Ichabod laughs and pulls her away so he can duck under her arms to see her face.

“Oh, my love, don’t cry,” he croons, kissing her tear-stained cheeks. “I must be some horrible oaf to keep causing your tears.”

“They’re happy tears. Amazed tears,” Abbie sniffles. “I never thought there was anyone out there for me,” she says.

Ichabod nods slowly, pushing Abbie’s hair over her shoulder and pressing a kiss to it.

“Nor I for me,” he says. “But here we are, in spite of everything.”

Abbie smiles.

“In spite of everything,” she echoes, leaning in for a long, lingering kiss. “I don’t want to keep you up,” she says against his mouth.

“You aren’t tired?” he asks.

“No. I should’ve powered through my jet lag to sleep now rather than had that nap.” Abbie pries herself out of his grasp and goes back to the balcony.

“Can’t really see anything when it’s this dark but it looks like infinity out there.” She leans against the balcony and sighs happily. “I guess it makes you think about stuff. Life and all that.”

“Heavy thoughts when you should be relaxing. That was the whole reason you agreed to come visit, you needed to get away,” Ichabod reminds her, watching with interest as she shifts position, making her ass flex against the thin silk covering it.

“I did?” Abbie asks, smiling as she feels him stand behind her.

“You did. You said you needed some sexual healing.” Ichabod leans forward, glancing down the robe she’s wearing and delightedly finding nothing but skin.

“I don’t recall saying that,” Abbie murmurs, glancing down as Ichabod loosens the knot at her waist and bares her nakedness to the night. “Are you trying to give someone a show?”

“No one for miles, love,” Ichabod rumbles, pressing himself against her glorious ass.

“Oh treasure, I never get tired of seeing your glorious form.” He cups her breasts gently, thumbing her nipples. Abbie gasps, grinding her ass against Ichabod’s crotch as she throws her arms around his neck.

“Crane,” she groans, squeezing her thighs together as she feels him, hard and solidly wedged against her ass. Abbie swallows as her eyes flutter shut, her body slowly tightening in his grasp.

“Spread your legs, love,” Ichabod pants, one hand snaking down Abbie’s toned abdomen to the curls at her apex. Abbie falls forward, widening her stance as she leans against the balcony, nestled tightly against his crotch. Ichabod slides against her clit, spreading the copious moisture already gathering before moving further in, crowding close so he can sink a digit into her wet heat.

“Fuck,” Abbie swears, her voice high with desire as her hips move. “Ichabod, just – another,” she says.

Ichabod’s head drops to her shoulder as he adds another finger, groaning at how her body clenches around his invading digits. He shoves two in as far as they can go and shudders when she begins to fuck his hand, rocking her hips and rubbing herself against him.

“You feel like a steel pipe,” Abbie groans, clutching the balcony rail hard as she rides Ichabod’s hand. In this position she can’t get the leverage and friction she wants, no matter how hard she works her hips.

“God, Abbie,” Ichabod pants, and drops to his knees behind her. He rips the robe from her body and grabs her ass in both hands before pushing her forward and spreading her cheeks to lick a stripe from hole to hole.

Abbie shouts and almost loses her footing as she pushes back against his face as Ichabod does his best to break her apart with his tongue. She rises to the tips of her toes as he pushes against her, moaning as he eats enthusiastically. Abbie drops her head down and sees he’s freed himself from his boxers, thick and flushed angrily red as he fists himself rigorously.

“Ichabod,” she pants. “Let me sit on it.”

Reluctantly he pulls himself from Abbie’s body, his face slick with her juices.

“Are you sure?” She nods and Ichabod releases her just to scoop her up into his arms.

“You can’t just pick a person up like they’re a doll,” Abbie complains, but there’s no heat in her voice or the big smile on her face.

“You’re not a doll; you’re far more precious to me than any mere thing,” he promises, stepping back into the bedroom and laying her on the bed gently.

Abbie rolls her eyes but doesn’t hide her smile as she pulls him down to her, kissing the rest of her from his mouth and lips. She rolls them over and grins as she rubs herself along Ichabod’s length, trapped between their bodies.

“Mercy,” Ichabod begs, his face contorted in almost pain.

Abbie rises up enough to feel him at her entrance and slowly sinks down his length, swearing as it stretches her again.

“Fuck, you think it’d be easier,” she says as she rocks back and forth shallowly, still working him inside of her.

“This will be how I die,” Ichabod groans. “Your body squeezing mine. How can heaven compare when - fuck!” he hollers, Abbie having dropped the remaining few inches all at once.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Ichabod asks when he can speak again.

Abbie’s staring at the ceiling, her throat working as she breathes heavily through her nose. Every nerve feels like it’s on fire and it’s all she can do to remember how to breathe.

Ichabod clutches her hips and forces himself not to move.

“Treasure?” he asks, wincing as he forces his feet to uncurl lest they cramp. “Abbie, are you okay?”

Abbie nods, exhaling audibly.

“I slipped,” she says, and giggles breathlessly as she begins working her hips.

Immediately Ichabod’s head is thrown back as the sensation of Abbie’s body gripping his makes his spine tingle. She reaches down for his hands and he offers them immediately, letting her lean forward as she swivels her hips slowly.

Ichabod lets her set the pace as he becomes lost in her beauty, Abbie’s eyes close in pleasure as she worries her full lower lip between her teeth. Her glorious breasts, full and pert bouncing in time with the swirl of her hips. Ichabod tightens his grasp on her hands, feeling his heart fill and fill until it seems to overflow.

Abbie opens her eyes and looks down, and Ichabod is robbed of thought; the look in her eye, all at once fond, playful, and vulnerable. He feels as if he’s being given something few have seen and even fewer have experienced – her unguarded heart. He wants to tell her he loves her.

Ichabod opens his mouth and nothing comes out. Nothing but a groan as Abbie moves faster, her eyes closed again as she chases her conclusion. Ichabod rolls them over so he’s on top and immediately kisses her deeply, trying to tell her everything he’s afraid to say aloud. She holds him close, her small hands on either side of his face as she pets his beard.

When he pulls away Abbie looks slightly concerned.

“Honey, are you okay?” she asks, stroking his face gently.

Ichabod can only nod around the lump in his throat before he rises to his hands and knees and thrusts deeply. Abbie gasps and rears up, painting his thighs with moisture as he sets a long yet slow stroke. He means to take her apart gently, to love her like he intends to replenish not take.

When Abbie’s hand begins its trek south he widens his legs and tilts her hips so he rubs against her spot in and out, slow and steady until she’s choking on his name and crying out for god. Ichabod doesn’t stop moving until Abbie grabs his ass and squeezes.

“If you keep fucking me like this I’m going to come again,” she groans. “Come for me, Crane. Fill me up.”

Ichabod’s mind flashes to children, and a little girl who looks just like Abbie and he comes hard, wanting that future as he thrusts deeply, as if he can make it so right here and now. When he is able to move again Ichabod can’t help but stare at her in adoration, naked and unselfconscious.

“Abbie?” he asks as he withdraws from her warmth to settle beside her on the bed.

Abbie turns with him, cupping his face and moving his hair from his forehead.

“Yes?”

“I… I just wanted to know if you thought you could sleep now.” And so courage flees in the face of history.

Abbie chuckles and bites back a surprised yawn.

“I think I can,” she says, snuggling down. “Should register your dick as a sedative.”

Ichabod’s laughter follows her into her dream.

~*~

It’s close to six-thirty Cirtona time and she’s wide awake again.

No sense in trying to sleep later, Abbie thinks, and slips out of bed without disturbing Ichabod. Hardly surprising considering the size - somehow during the middle of the night they’d drifted away to sprawl out. One of the perks of having such a large bed. And the mattress felt like a cloud; she didn’t have any of the ache she usually had after sleeping on a strange bed.

Abbie glances down at Ichabod fondly before taking a slow turn, unsure of the last time she was in a bedroom with so many doors. One leads to the balcony, the other the sumptuous bathroom with a tub big enough for Ichabod to soak luxuriantly, and the other to Ichabod’s closet. She comes to stand in front of the last door in question and touches the handle. This door is apparently her closet, or so Ichabod says.

So far Abbie hasn’t had the time or the inclination to look inside; Ichabod’s a welcome distraction and the strangeness of travelling without worrying about luggage is still novel enough that she revels in it. But now in the light of day, she’ll need new clothes. Quietly, so she doesn’t wake Ichabod, she opens the door and fishes around against the wall for a light switch. There’s nothing on the wall but soft, rich lighting immediately glows from runner lights along the wall and Abbie’s jaw drops.

It’s a hallway.

Lined.

With.

Shoes.

Shoes of all kinds and colors, and Abbie checks before she lets a bout of dizziness drive her against a wall.

They’re in her size.

Abbie stumbles further down the hall, the lights obviously set for motion detection because the room brightens and she realizes it’s a fully-appointed walk-in closet with a sitting area.

There are comfortable chairs in her closet.

Abbie sinks into the closest one with a laugh, forcing herself to remember to breathe as she clutches a pearl-colored pump in her hand to her chest.

The walls are packed, floor-to-ceiling with compartments and racks and shelves, laden with clothes she couldn’t remember purchasing. Dominating the middle of the room is a marble-topped island with cabinets and drawers. Curiosity overwhelms her shock, and Abbie rises to open one of the drawers, and finds that it’s for holding jewelry. It’s currently empty and Abbie doesn’t know why but she’s immensely relieved at that fact before she lets her head fall forward to rest against the cool marble top for a moment.

This is too much, she thinks, lifting her head and glancing around.

She goes to a wall with dresses hung by color and length, marveling at all the choices. Abbie recognizes some pieces from the boutique she had been dragged to days earlier but most of these clothes she’s seeing for the first time, and they all appear to be something Abbie would wear…

Abbie turns and realizes there’s more to the room; off to the side there’s a set of dove grey curtains and she parts them to find not a window, but a smaller room with mirrored walls, and a carpeted dais as the lone focal point.

A staging room, her brain supplies out of the depths. How many times had she lamented the lone mirror bolted on to the back of her bedroom door?

Abbie just backs out of the area and continues around the bend, opening random drawers and compartments. Enough jeans to fill a store display… all manner of underwear and lingerie… socks and hosiery… tees and blouses…

There are more doors, she realizes. One leads to a cheery-looking office. Maybe it’s for her? But what would she do with an office? Abbie opens the next door and immediately closes it; it smells like a dry cleaners. The last door seems to have led her full circle; she’s standing in the back of Ichabod’s amazing bathroom.

“You are not in Sleepy Hollow anymore,” she murmurs to herself as she stares up at the vaulted ceiling. Abbie backtracks her way through the closet and back in to the bedroom, barely remembering to put the shoe back on the display before closing the door behind her. She’s spent twenty minutes exploring her closet, she realizes as she checks the time on her phone.

Twenty minutes and had only scratched the surface.

Abbie stalks over to the bed and climbs up, finding Ichabod still deeply asleep.

“Crane,” she barks, needing to know now what’s going through that big head of his.

“Mmm?” he asks, barely moving.

“I saw my closet,” Abbie says.

“Oh, good,” Ichabod murmurs. “…Surprise.”

Abbie gapes at him.

Surprise? That’s used for when you’ve cleaned the kitchen without having to be asked, or cooked a special dinner. Not for when you’ve been given access to a store’s worth of clothing all neatly-arranged and tailored to your style.

Abbie swallows the lump in her throat and grabs the pillow she’s been laying on and smacks Ichabod in the face with it. Blearily he opens his eyes, squinting incredulously at Abbie.

“Pray, what was that for?” he asks carefully.

Abbie shrugs her shoulders.

“I have no idea,” she says honestly. “Are you awake now?”

“Pretty safe to say I am,” Ichabod says, turning and sitting up with a yawn. “Oh heavens, it’s not even seven in the morning. Why are you up? Jet lag again? Don’t you want to go back to sleep?”

Abbie tries to move away but Ichabod’s long arms snake out and grab her, pulling her down and against him shrieking.

“You can’t fuck me every time I have trouble sleeping,” she points out.

“There’s no room in this bed for your defeatist tone,” he murmurs against her temple, movements slowing as he molds himself around her. “If you don’t like it, we can get it redesigned,” Ichabod mutters.

“The bed?”

“No, treasure.” He shifts and is silent for a moment. “The closet.”

“Is there a reason you didn’t tell me it was bigger than most of my house?” she demands.

“Didn’t think about it,” Ichabod says, his words spinning into an almost snore.

“Crane?”

“Mm.”

Abbie tries to angle her face so she can see his, but it’s impossible.

“Do you think you have to buy me?” she whispers.

Ichabod grunts and holds her closer.

“Priceless,” he murmurs, and is deeply asleep again.

~*~

Seven-thirty finds Abbie in the kitchen, having found it on her second try. It’s huge, and easily dwarfs hers in Sleepy Hollow, filled with stainless steel appliances and an actual walk-in cooler. On the island there’s a cutting board with a knife laying across it, ready to be used.

The door to the cooler opens and Abbie yelps, wide eyed as a dark-haired, brown skinned woman steps out with a bowl of fresh vegetables.

“Oh,” she exclaims. “Lady Abbie, good morning.”

Abbie finds her voice.

“Good morning. I didn’t think… I – ” She shakes her head. “I didn’t think anyone else was here.”

“It was my day off yesterday when you arrived. Welcome to Cirtona, my lady. I’m Nilda, and I am the head of house staff for Prince Ichabod.” Nilda puts her bowl down beside the cutting board and wipes her hand on the cloth lying on her shoulder. “Nice to actually meet you in the flesh.”

Abbie flushes.

“Ichabod talks about me?” she asks, hating the way it sounds aloud.

Nilda smiles and laughs a little.

“Yes, he does. You’ve made him quite happy because now you’ve edged out his previous favorite topic of conversation, Cirtonian History. Never thought I’d see the day,” she says fondly as she reaches for a red bell pepper.

Abbie watches her demolish the vegetable in under a minute, leaving a neatly diced pile.

“What does Ichabod normally have for breakfast?”

“It varies. He hates to choose so I set up a menu to go by so I don’t have to bother him. Leave it to his highness and he’d leave without so much as a breakfast bar. He’s already too skinny,” Nilda says. “Today it’s overloaded breakfast quiche, mini-sized. Prince Ichabod finds miniature foods amusing at times.”

Abbie blinks, unsure of what to do with that information.

“I see,” is all she has to say.

“Would you like to order breakfast?” Nilda asks. “We’ve got every fruit under the sun available and I’ve already been briefed on your allergies to okra and rosemary.”

“Oh.” Abbie shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “That’s… I’ll just take what Ichabod is having.”

“Alright,” Nilda says cheerfully. “Breakfast is normally served at eight unless Prince Ichabod has requested a different time. Would you like any refreshment while you wait? Coffee, tea or juice?”

“Coffee sounds great. Where are the cups?” Abbie asks, thawing from her immobilization now that she has something to do.

Nilda pulls out a silver tray from a drawer.

“Please, have a seat in the breakfast nook; I will bring it to you.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Abbie says awkwardly, “I can get it myself.”

“Please, Lady Abbie; it’s my job.” Nilda’s smile turns just a little frosty until Abbie nods and leaves the room.

Thankfully the breakfast nook is the next room over, a smaller room than the formal dining room but still opulently-decorated. The television mounted on the wall has four different news feeds going simultaneously, four reporters silently delivering the news.

Abbie sits down in a chair and feels absolutely foolish. There’s nothing wrong with her hands and feet; why is she waiting on someone to wait on her?

“This is crazy,” she whispers to herself.

“Lady Abbie, would you like anything else with your coffee?”

It’s not Nilda bringing the tray but another woman who seems to be around Abbie’s age, Greek-looking with her long, dark hair dyed red. “I’m Yolanda, the server.”

“Uh… Hello, Yolanda.” Abbie watches mutely as the woman efficiently unpacks the tray. A fine china cup, cream, sugar, and a carafe of amazing smelling coffee, all within reach.

And she’s the only person at the table.

“Thank you, Yolanda,” Abbie says. “Do you want me to return the tray when I’m finished?”

Yolanda laughs, then catches Abbie’s expression and clears her throat.

“No, ma’am, Lady Abbie.” She moves to the sidebar and returns with a small remote. “Press this button and I’ll return for the tray.”

Abbie accepts the remote and nods.

“Are you sure?”

“Am I sure of what, ma’am?” Yolanda asks.

“That you don’t want me to return the tray myself. I don’t mind, I really don’t.”

Yolanda shakes her head.

“Just push the button and I’ll return. How would you like your coffee, my lady?”

Abbie blinks.

“Oh, I can serve myself,” she says when she realizes Yolanda is waiting for her order.

Yolanda nods once and replaces the carafe on its ornate stand.

“Do you require anything else at this time?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“No, I’m good, thanks.”

“Excellent. It was nice to meet you, Lady Abbie.” Yolanda grins again and leaves in a puff of cheerful competence.

Abbie stares after her before looking down at the spread that’s way too elaborate for just her. For lack of anything better to do she pours herself some coffee and finds the cream is infused with Cirtona berries. She ends up having two cups before Ichabod comes through the door, looking vaguely put upon.

When he sees her his face brightens.

“Here you are,” he says, tying the belt of his robe tighter as he comes around the table to kneel beside Abbie. “I woke and you weren’t there. I was half-concerned I’d only dreamt you.”

“What convinced you to come looking for me?” Abbie asks, giggling when he nuzzles against her neck.

“Your scent is all over my bed. I didn’t know whether to roll in it or come find its source.” Ichabod kisses the spot behind Abbie’s ear and chuckles when she shivers in his arms. “It seems I made the right choice.”

“Crane, I’m not fucking your corny ass on the breakfast table,” Abbie warns, slapping his roving hands away before he starts something she’s interested in him finishing. “Aren’t you hungry?” she asks.

“Famished, love,” Ichabod says lowly.

Abbie closes her eyes and shakes her head, already inwardly cursing the way her body responds to his proximity.

“No, sir,” she says firmly. “You take all of that,” she says weakly, gesturing to Ichabod’s body, "over there." Abbie points at the seat across the table.

“You don’t want me, treasure?” he asks, doing a good job of sounding wounded.

“Over there,” Abbie says again, refusing to open her eyes.

Ichabod laughs and kisses the tip of her finger before rising and taking a seat across from her.

“Is that better?” he asks, grinning cheekily when Abbie cracks open an eye to check.

“You better behave,” she whispers. “Your staff is awake.”

“Since breakfast is at eight, I should hope so,” he chuckles.

“Crane.”

“Yes?” Ichabod shrugs a shoulder at her expression. “They know when to disturb me and when not,” he says.

Abbie gapes at him for a moment.

“So it’s routine for you to have sex on the breakfast table?” she asks.

Ichabod considers for a moment.

“I think this is a trap, so I’m not going to answer,” he says carefully, and Abbie laughs.

“I can’t fault the logic,” she admits.

“How long have you been awake?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie shrugs.

“Since around seven-thirty I think. I didn’t want to wake you so I went exploring. Got lost a few times,” she says with a laugh. “I was going to make breakfast but I was beaten to the punch.”

Ichabod nods fondly.

“Nilda. She’s been my personal chef since I was ten. I haven’t met anyone who can cook as well as she.”

Abbie wants to mention he would like her cooking, too, but holds her tongue.

“Treasure, you watch the news feed on mute?” Ichabod asks, gesturing to the display on the wall.

“No, I didn’t know how to turn it up or turn the channel so I just followed along as best I could,” she says.

“Why didn’t you call Yolanda for assistance?” Ichabod points at the remote at Abbie’s elbow. “Did she show you how to use the remote?”

“She did but I didn’t want to bother her for something stupid like the television.”

Ichabod looks genuinely confused.

“But treasure, it’s her job to assist you,” he says.

Before Abbie can think of a rational retort the double doors open and Yolanda returns, pushing a covered serving cart.

“Good morning, your highness,” she says with a curtsey before revealing her offerings.

“Good morning, Yolanda. How is Diana?” Ichabod asks, unfurling the napkin in front of him and placing it on his lap.

“She’s doing much better. I had to struggle to keep her in bed this morning but she was still running a fever. I told her in sickness and in health didn’t mean she gets to die on me for a cold,” Yolanda jokes as she places a plate with three mini quiches, a bowl of mango chunks and a smaller bowl of granola in front of Ichabod.

Ichabod chuckles.

“At least it’ll be over soon.”

“Agreed, your highness.” Yolanda beams and turns to Abbie. “Lady Abbie, what would you like for breakfast? I was told you would choose from today’s menu.”

Abbie glances at the choices on the cart. Besides what Ichabod had there was a tempting pile of cinnamon sugar doughnuts, a mound of bacon, and a bowl of fresh cirtona berries.

“I’ll have some bacon and the cirtona berries,” she says.

“All.. the berries?” Yolanda asks.

“Yes,” Abbie says.

Ichabod spares Abbie a fond glance before he turns to the television.

“Volume, fifteen percent, feed one.”

Abbie glances over as the television bursts into dim conversation, the four way split screen is now one and she can hear the pretty young woman on screen, but she’s speaking French.

Voice activated, she thinks. Who knew.

“You have to try a quiche, treasure. You haven’t lived until you’ve had one of Nilda’s everything quiche.” Ichabod smiles reassuringly as he slices into one.

Abbie has to admit it does smell good and looks gorgeous from where she’s sitting, but she’s also pretty sure she’s living and will continue to live without a breakfast quiche.

“Okay, I’ll try one,” she hears herself agree, and beneath the table Abbie pinches the skin of her wrist, to verify she is not dreaming. She winces and musters up a smile for Yolanda as she places the dish in satellite of her previous choices.

No, Abbie thinks. Not dreaming.

Chapter Text

Jenny twists back and forth in her desk chair, smiling happily at her laptop. “Aren’t you the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen? Aren’t you just?”

Joe glances up from his book where he’s slouched on her couch and rolls his eyes.

“Don’t coo at your bank account,” he mutters to Jenny, returning back to his reading. “It looks strange and sounds weirder.”

“I haven’t seen so many zeroes in my account before. So sue me if I want to savor it,” Jenny says, grinning maniacally at the display.

“Yeah, I guess.”

She pauses and turns to him.

“Wow,” Jenny drawls.

“What?”

“I detect a tone.”

Joe shakes his head. “No tone.”

“No tone?” Jenny asks.

Joe hesitates, and closes his book.

“Small tone,” he admits.

“So what are you judging me about now?” she asks, but her smile is hard around the edges.

“Jenny, don’t do that,” Joe asks, dropping his head and shoulders with a groan.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not doing anything,” Jenny says frostily, turning back to her laptop. “You’re the one deciding I’m doing something worth judging.”

Joe rolls his eyes.

“Doesn’t it feel weird?” he asks. “Like exploitation?”

“You think I wouldn’t ask Abbie first?” Jenny counters.

“I didn’t say that.”

“So what’s your problem?”

Joe winces at the headache beginning to form behind his eyes.

“I haven’t gotten enough sleep for this fight,” he says.

“No fight, like there’s no tone,” Jenny says, and pouts when Joe stands and begins gathering his books. “Why are you leaving?”

“Because I can tell you I don’t want to fight and you will keep pushing me until I do. Then we both say things we don’t want to say but we can’t admit we mean, and then we don’t talk for weeks. Right now everything is strange enough without having Abbie around. I don’t know if I could do it without you, too.”

Jenny’s glare softens as she picks at the material on the back of her chair. She sighs heavily and grabs his hand as he passes.

“Don’t go,” she says quietly.

“Are you going to make me fight? I need to study and I don’t have the energy to do that and fight you,” Joe says.

“No fighting,” Jenny confirms.

“No fighting like I didn’t have a tone?”

Jenny’s jaw works as she shakes her head, tugging Joe back toward her sofa.

“I did ask Abbie,” she says. “She told me she didn’t care.”

“And you believed her?” Joe asks as he sits heavily on the couch and begins unpacking his bag.

“Yes! No,” Jenny admits. “But she told me I could do it and I’m going to shut Standra down once and for all. Do you know what they did to Abbie before she left?” Jenny runs down the events at the Sleepy Hollow Police station and by the time she’s done Joe looks vaguely ill.

“We need to get out of his hick town,” Joe mutters as he rubs his face.

“Well, I’m going to turn lemons into lemonade and fuck Standra up with my own interview. You should do it, too; I’ll be damned if she gets to play victim in this whole situation.” Jenny shakes her head.

“I couldn’t,” Joe says. “Could I?” He shakes his head. “No, that would be wrong.”

“No, what would be wrong is if Standra continues to be the only one out there giving interviews. You know Abbie’s not going to do it for herself. And I’d defend her for free; it just so happens I was able to hold out for seventy-two grand instead.”

Joe blinks.

“Seventy-two grand,” he deadpans.

“You could take some time off work and commit to school, right?” Jenny asks sweetly.

Joe laughs incredulously, but then shakes his head.

“They won’t want to talk to me. I’m not blood related to Abbie.”

“No, but you lived with her for three years and you’re our brother. Besides, I already asked and they would love to interview you.” Jenny turns back to her desk and pulls out a card from beneath her laptop. “Call this person and they’ll set it up. Payment, time for the interview, and everything.”

Joe stands and reaches for the card, turning it over in his hands.

“This feels a little like pimping Abbie,” he says.

“We’re not pimping Abbie, we’re defending her. We’re pimping the system.” Jenny’s grin is a few shades feral. “Big difference.”

Joe can only hope that’s true.

~*~

Three days in Cirtona and all Abbie feels like she’s done is sleep, fuck, and stare at her new clothes.

This is getting a bit ridiculous.

She’s actually sleeping in. Past eight o’clock. She hasn’t gone on a run in almost a week. Really, this is bordering on criminal.

And yet.

Part of Abbie is marveling that she doesn’t spin into nothingness because she doesn’t have a class booked or a presentation planned. That things are happening in Sleepy Hollow without her standing over them, watching like a hawk.

Instead she’s in halfway around the world, in her own personal, walk-in closet with a glass of wine, waiting on her stylist.

A fucking stylist.

Abbie takes another deep swallow to calm her nerves as she thumbs through the clothes.

Her clothes, she corrects. But she doesn’t need a stylist; she’s dressed herself just fine for the past twenty-nine years. Why can’t she now?

“Lady Abbie?”

Abbie whirls and almost drops her glass at the sound of her name; it’s Yolanda and she didn’t come through the entrance leading from the bedroom, like Abbie thought she would, but from further into the closet, around the bend.

“Sorry, you scared me,” Abbie says, ensuring she has a good grasp on her glass. Cirtona berry wine and white carpet wouldn’t go well together.

“Apologies. Mister Devon Jones is here for his interview; waiting for you in the office.”

Abbie follows Yolanda as she processes her words.

“Interview? Ichabod said he was hired.”

“He was merely selected, my lady. If you do not like him, Nilda has other prospects you can review,” Yolanda says, opening the office door for her.

Inside is a tall, broad-shouldered blond man dressed as if he’d stepped off a business casual fashion runway. When he turns, the blue in his button down shirt highlights and compliments the blue of his eyes, and his smile is wide and easygoing.

Abbie didn’t know what to expect, but it surely wasn’t him.

“Abbie Mills,” she says with more confidence than she feels, holding her hand out to shake.

“Devon Jones, Lady Abbie. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His grip is firm, but not overpowering, and he shakes twice before letting her hand go. Abbie can’t help but give him points for not lingering.

“You, too,” she says. “Can we get you anything to drink?” Abbie glances down at her wine glass and feels a bit self-conscious; it’s not even three in the afternoon and she’s drinking. “Whatever you’d like.”

“Lemonade would be wonderful, if it’s not too much trouble,” Devon says.

Abbie glances at Yolanda and Yolanda nods.

“Not a problem. I’ll be back. If you need anything else, Lady Abbie, just ring.”

Abbie lifts the remote out of her pocket and nods, slipping it back so she can pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Look, Mister Jones –”

“Please, call me Devon,” he says.

Abbie sighs.

“Call me Abbie.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lady Abbie.” His smile is wry. “You understand.”

No. “Sure,” she says. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” Abbie admits. “I’ve never had a stylist and I honestly don’t think I need one. I’ve dressed myself just fine for my entire life.”

Devon leans against the empty desk with a small smile.

“I’ve heard that a lot over the years,” he says. “I’m not here to change your personal style, I’m here to help you make the fashion statements you want to make. As your stylist, I would ensure you adhere to dress codes--written and unwritten--and make sure you look good while doing it.”

“So you’re an advisor.”

Devon nods.

“Exactly. I help refine your personal style to give you the boost of confidence you’ll need to meet the press on any given day. The last thing you want to worry about is if your pants aren’t tailored correctly or if a certain pattern washes out your color on film.”

“I didn’t even consider that,” Abbie admits.

“Permit me to show you, Lady Abbie. May I?” Devon gestures to the closet beyond the office.

“Okay.” Abbie admits she’s curious as she follows, watching as he gets his bearings fairly quickly.

“So your first major event will be the goodwill tour,” Devon murmurs as he comes to stand before rows of blouses hanging neatly along one wall.

“Goodwill tour?” Abbie asks.

Devon pauses.

“It’s all over the news,” he says, turning to her. “You… didn’t know?”

Abbie swallows the rest of her wine and is saved from responding when Yolanda returns with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. Abbie gratefully accepts a glass and trades it for her empty one.

“What exactly is a goodwill tour?”

“You’ll be expected to take a circuit around the island and meet the people,” Devon says, following Yolanda to the table in the sitting area and placing his glass down on the offered coaster. “Everyone’s really excited,” he says.

“Why?”

“Because people want to meet you,” Devon says. “They want to know what kind of princess they’ll have.” He returns to the clothes, contemplating.

Abbie’s suddenly wishes she had something stronger than lemonade.

“They may be jumping the gun,” she mutters into her glass. “I’m just me,” she says.

Devon and Yolanda glance at each other before the latter leaves, silently amused.

“Lady Abbie, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but they don’t know who you are,” he says gently. “Would you like me to continue?”

Abbie nods mutely.

“You’ll be meeting important business people and seeing important historical sites and seeing the people of Cirtona and how they live. I’m thinking something graceful yet accessible. A smart and casual skirt and blouse or an elegant dress with some playful features, to keep it from looking too formal.

“Thing is that you’ll look great no matter what we put you in. I have an ex who could be your twin so I know what works for your body type.”

Abbie smirks. “And what does your ex think of your job?”

Devon chuckles, pulling out a pale yellow blouse that ties on the side.

“Considering she’s currently my business partner she’s quite happy,” he says. “But not nearly as ecstatic as my husband. He’s been hinting around at redoing our kitchen and now he’ll get to.”

He pauses and blushes.

“If I haven’t overstepped my bounds and completely ruined my chances,” he mutters.

Abbie doesn’t bother to hide her grin as she steps closer to finger the soft blouse in Devon’s hand.

“What would you pair with this?” she asks.

“A bright, yellow-based print if you’re going to wear flats and a white skirt with a bit of a flounce if you wanted heels,” Devon says promptly. “And we’d keep the makeup simple. Brown eye and pink lip if you decide on the skirt and heels; smoky eye and nude lip if you went with the printed pants.”

Abbie is impressed, and is even more so when Devon quickly prepares three outfits with pants and skirts down to shoes and accessories.

“This all looks really good,” she admits. “I wouldn’t have thought of some of these combinations but seeing them together, they’re beautiful.”

“But most importantly, does it feel like you?” Devon asks.

Abbie nods slowly.

“Yellow is one of my favorite colors,” she says.

“I saw your arrival to Cirtona, Lady Abbie,” he admits. “You looked amazing in your dress and your skin tone is perfect for bright colors.”

“It’s so funny; I like bright colors but I always wear dark colors. Well, I used to,” she amends.

“And if I have the job, I will find a hairstylist and makeup artist perfectly suited to your needs,” he says.

Abbie nods.

“Make sure they do black hair, please.”

Devon tilts his head.

“Does that mean I have the job?” he asks.

Abbie nods, exhaling loudly.

“I love everything you picked out,” she says. “And agree with the things you’re theorizing. I don’t do much makeup,” she admits. “But I’m willing to try as long as I don’t look like my face is painted on.”

“I will find someone who is the epitome of subtlety,” Devon promises. “When would you like me to start?”

“How about tomorrow? I need to find out if I’m expected at any other events that I don’t know about,” she jokes, pulling out her phone.

“I’m available whenever you need; give me a call and I can arrive within twenty minutes. No matter what the time,” Devon says, handing Abbie a card with his information on it.

“You make it sound like you’re on call,” Abbie jokes, keying in Devon’s information. When he doesn’t laugh she looks up and finds him quite serious.

“Lady Abbie, if you call I will come,” he reiterates. “It doesn’t matter the time. It’s important that we project a certain persona for the public and I take my job very seriously. If you find you’re going out unexpectedly and would like assistance dressing I will have everything in place to ensure you step out in front of the press without a hair out of place.”

Abbie takes a deep breath and nods slowly.

“Okay,” she says. “What next?”

“I want to arrange a time when we can talk about any upcoming events you’ll need to be dressed for and any designers you like. What I see is a good start, but we’re going to need to build a one-of-a-kind collection. I expect people will leap at the chance to dress you.”

Abbie makes an incredulous face.

“Really?”

“Absolutely. But right now I would like to take a few hours getting familiar with your closet and setting up my office.”

“Great. I guess I’ll leave you to it,” Abbie says. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Devon chuckles.

“Yes, Lady Abbie.”

Abbie sighs inwardly. Deep down she knows Devon won’t bother her if he needs something.

~*~

Ichabod opens the door to the bathroom and grins as rose fills his nose. The lights are dim and there is slow jazz playing, the kind where it sounds like every note is liquid and blends into the next. He steps in and closes the door behind him, leaving the chaotic world behind him and inhales the calming aroma.

“Abbie?” he calls out, moving further into the room, plucking at his shirt as the steam begins to warm him further.

“In here, but I’m guessing you already knew that,” she says. “Music, ten percent.”

Immediately the music reduces to a mere suggestion in the background and Ichabod walks up the steps of the large stone tub. Abbie’s inside, her hair tied up in a colorful cloth as she soaks amongst the remnants of bubbles.

“Does your tub have to be so big? I made the mistake of filling it up the first time.”

“Oh, treasure. What happened?”

“I floated and went under!”

Ichabod laughs collapses into a cough when Abbie’s expression turns sour.

“I’m sorry. I had this tub built especially for me,” he says. “When I fill it, I don’t float.”

“Because you’re a giant,” she pouts.

Ichabod perches on a dry portion of marble and feels like he can finally relax.

“I thought of you all day,” he admits, openly admiring what skin is bared to his gaze.

Abbie gives him a coy smile.

“You did?”

“I did,” he confirms. “Especially when I had to sit through an economic presentation from hell. All I could think was how much better everything would be if you were there.”

“Distracting you,” she corrects.

“Saving me from boredom,” Ichabod counters. “What did you do today?” he asks as he stands to remove his shirt, his cock already hard and straining his pants.

Abbie swallows hard at the sight and shakes her head to clear it.

“I met some interesting people today,” she says.

“Oh?” Ichabod asks, dropping his pants and boxer briefs to the floor and stepping out of them. “Did you meet more of the staff?”

“I apparently met my stylist. Well, I did agree to hire him, so he is my stylist,” Abbie corrects. She watches as he hisses as his skin hits the water.

“Too hot for you?” she asks innocently.

Ichabod doesn’t catch her tone and winces through settling into the water.

“Are you trying to boil yourself, treasure?”

“Not too hot for me,” she says sweetly. Ichabod grins and moves toward her but is stopped by a tiny sudsy foot to the collarbone.

“So,” Abbie drawls, “when were you going to tell me my tour around Cirtona wasn’t going to be just me and you?”

Ichabod deflates, sheepishly resting on his haunches.

“Everyone wants to meet you,” he says. “I knew it would make you a little uncomfortable if you knew that people would be excited to see you so I just thought I’d save it for the trip. That way you wouldn’t dread it.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Flimsy logic at best. Crane, it’s on the news and I had to hear about it from my stylist. Speaking of which, do you think I need a stylist?” she asks, her foot still on his chest, holding Ichabod when he attempts to move closer again.

“It’s nothing personal, treasure! I have a stylist, too,” he protests.

Abbie’s anger is sputtering out.

“I know it’s not personal,” she admits. “Devon was kind enough to explain it so I didn’t feel like some sort of tasteless monster.”

“Abbie, never,” Ichabod says. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the goodwill tour or the stylist. Actually, I thought you were going to meet the prospects tomorrow. I must’ve gotten it mixed up.”

Abbie doesn’t fight when he leans down to kiss the arch of her foot, sliding between her legs.

“Can we go out tonight?” she asks. “I feel like all I’ve seen of Cirtona is your bedroom ceiling.”

Ichabod winces again.

“Ah,” he says. “Yes, we can go out,” he says firmly.

Abbie’s not convinced, and puts her foot right where it was before.

“Sounds like there’s a but,” she says.

“My parents have wanted us to have dinner with them ever since you arrived but I’ve put it off,” Ichabod admits.

“And?”

“And I told them we’d come tonight.”

Abbie glares at him.

“I’m not up to dinner with your parents tonight, Ichabod,” she says. “It takes more than a few hours to wrap my mind around the idea. You’ve had three days.”

Abbie watches as Ichabod’s eyes are drawn to her breasts as she sits up higher against the side.

“We don’t have to go out,” she purrs, sliding her foot down from his chest so her legs splay wide.

“But you’re right; I’ve been keeping you fairly captive and it isn’t fair,” Ichabod says weakly as he watches Abbie cup some water in her hands and pour it gently on her chest. The coolness of the air and the warmth of the water contract her nipples and his tongue darts out to wet his lips.

“Let’s agree to agree and disagree,” she says. “I don’t want to go to your parents’ for dinner.”

Ichabod groans as her hand disappears beneath the water, and from his vantage point, he can see it at the apex of her thighs.

“Treasure, I’ve promised,” he pleads, swallowing hard when Abbie stifles a groan.

“Of course,” Abbie moans, thrumming against her clit as she watches Ichabod’s eyes turn nearly black. “I’ve been wound up all day, Crane,” she says breathily, pinching one of her nipples with her free hand.

Ichabod nods.

“I know just what to do,” he vows, riveted as she inhales, groaning highly. “You just slid your fingers inside, didn’t you,” he asks his fingers twitching madly at his sides.

Abbie nods.

“I can’t reach far enough,” she pants, working her hand deeper and groaning. “I need – Crane, fuck!” She throws her head back as she seeks relief before pulling her hand away in annoyance.

“I need your hand, and your fingers,” Abbie pants, grabbing his hand and hauling Ichabod forward.

He’s more than willing to acquiesce; Ichabod wishes he could see what he’s doing, but when the pads of his fingers reach the almost scalding heat between her legs he doesn’t have to. Easily he parts her folds and sinks in as far as he can go, greedily watching her back arch as he pumps his fingers in and out, making sure to spread his fingers and drag them along her inner walls.

“Oh, fuck,” Abbie swears, bearing down and riding Ichabod’s hand. “Ichabod, please,” she whines.

“Please let me use my cock,” Ichabod says. “I can make you feel so good, treasure.”

“No,” she shakes her head. “You’ve – oh fuck –” Abbie cries out as Ichabod lifts her from the bath seat and switches their places, settling her in his lap. Immediately, she’s keening, feeling him at her entrance.

“All you’ve got to do is let me in,” he rumbles, licking the bead of sweat that drops between her breasts. Ichabod palms Abbie’s ass and squeezes, groaning decadently as he sinks inside of her. He moans loudly, trying desperately not to come.

“God, Crane, give it to me,” Abbie pants, lifting up so she can shove her way back down on his dick.

“It’s yours,” Ichabod shudders, holding onto Abbie’s ass for dear life as she rocks and swivels her hips. The water begins to churn with the force of her movement. “Take it, treasure. Take it all.”

Abbie slaps the marble wall, swearing as she slows her movements; Ichabod feels immense inside of her and hard as steel and she wants to savor the climax pooling in her groin. She presses her face against his, moaning Ichabod’s name mindlessly. They’re barely moving now but everything feels more electric and intimate and Abbie squeezes his shoulders, gasping as she comes hard and unexpectedly, immediately turning boneless in his arms.

“Oh, my god,” she pants. “That was exactly what I needed.”

Abbie pretends not to notice as Ichabod looks at her mournfully.

“When are we due at your parents’?”

Ichabod swallows, his hands flexing around Abbie’s hips as he strains not to fuck her senseless.

“Um, in an hour and a half,” he says, his neck slowly turning red.

“Oh, I gotta get ready,” Abbie says, squeezing his length as tightly as she can as she climbs off Ichabod’s lap.

Ichabod gapes, actually whimpering when she’s able to literally slip out of his grasp.

“Abbie… what – I didn’t finish,” he says, practically unable to stand, he’s so hard.

“Gotta get ready,” Abbie calls over her shoulder, and doesn’t bother to cover up as she blows him a kiss over her shoulder.

“Abbie!”

~*~

“I think it might just be big enough.”

The first comment from Ichabod since they’d pulled out of the garage catches Abbie’s ear and she turns to him, confused.

“What?”

“I think it’s big enough,” Ichabod reiterates.

Abbie glances around the back of the car before looking at him.

“Big enough for what?”

“I’ve been practicing the nae nae,” Ichabod says seriously, and Abbie glares at him, trying valiantly to keep from laughing.

“You have not,” she mutters, turning back to the window.

“That’s what I had to take care of when I left today. I nae nae’d all day just to show you,” Ichabod says, barely managing to keep his voice steady when he sees Abbie’s shoulders shake.

“Treasure, may I nae nae for you?”

Abbie explodes into giggles.

“Oh, my god, please no,” she crows, yelping when he pulls her onto his lap. “Crane, stop, you’re going to wrinkle my pants,” Abbie hisses, pulling away and adjusting the material meticulously.

“I want to look nice for your parents.”

“Is that why you changed clothes four times before settling on this outfit? You look quite fetching by the way,” Ichabod adds.

“Thank you,” Abbie says primly. “You don’t think it’s too casual?” She finally settled on a pair of cropped pedal pushers made of pearl-colored raw silk, with matching strappy heeled sandals and a vibrant blue sleeveless crop top that hovers just above her waist, keeping it demure yet flirty.

“I told you I think you look beautiful. Besides, you don’t have to dress up; it’s just dinner with my parents,” Ichabod reminds her gently.

Abbie scoffs.

“Yeah, who just so happen to be King and Queen. Besides, you’re their baby; you could come dressed in shorts and a tank top and I’m sure they wouldn’t bat an eye.”

Ichabod chuckles as he winces.

“Sounds like my teen years,” he admits and Abbie laughs. “So does this mean you’re talking to me again, treasure?”

Abbie sighs heavily.

“No more surprise visits to your parents? I need to prepare myself mentally,” she says. “And don’t worry how I’ll take things, just tell me, okay? I don’t like it when people make decisions for me.”

Ichabod nods and drops a kiss to her shoulder.

“Agreed,” he says quietly, pulling her close against him.

The ride into Cirtona’s capital, Mélida City, takes less time than Abbie imagined; it’s almost the same amount of time between New York City and Sleepy Hollow. The bright lights of the city brighten the interior of the car and Abbie finds herself staring out the window, taking in the sights as best she can from a moving vehicle.

Scenic twists and turns bring them to the coast, and Abbie feels her heart beat faster at the first glimpse of the Cirtonian palace. Ichabod tells her the building has stood for almost six hundred years and is named Cirt Ideraema, from the middle Cirtonian meaning keeper of the heart of the people.

Abbie can’t help but smile at the pride in Ichabod’s voice when he describes which ruler added the columns, or how the architecture is a mishmash of various cultures that has been blended together until it’s uniquely Cirtonian.

“If you don’t stop me, treasure, I’ll babble on and on about Cirtonian history,” Ichabod says as he helps Abbie out of the car.

“You sound passionate. It’s clear talking about history makes you happy,” Abbie says as she tucks her hand in Ichabod’s elbow and they wait for the elevator. She has a flash of the first time she met the King and Queen and shivers slightly, hoping it’ll go better than that.

“I can hear the gears of your mind turning, treasure,” Ichabod murmurs as he ushers her into the open elevator. “Don’t worry about anything tonight. Just try to enjoy yourself.”

“I feel like I’m auditioning,” Abbie admits.

“But you’ve already won the part,” Ichabod says, and leans down for a kiss. Abbie smiles against his mouth and lets him deepen the kiss, parting only when they hear a polite clearing of a throat.

The elevator has arrived at its destination, and an amused King Hernán stands before them with a knowing smirk on his face.

“Ah, to be young and in love,” he says expansively. “I remember those days. Now I’m merely in love.”

Hernán beams at Abbie.

“My darling, soon-to-be daughter, Abbie. How have you found our humble island so far?” he asks, taking her hand and tucking it into his elbow.

“I haven’t seen much,” Abbie admits. “But what I have seen is just amazing. Straight out of a fairy tale.”

Hernán laughs and throws a glance over his shoulder.

“Ichabod, go find your mother and make sure she finds the dining room in time for dinner. I’m going to show Abbie around the palace.”

Ichabod rolls his eyes good-naturedly as he steps around Abbie and drops a kiss to her cheek before leaving her alone with his father.

“You don’t have to show me around, your majesty,” Abbie says as she’s led out of the foyer like room and down a hall.

“It’s my pleasure. I don’t get to do this often. Ichabod likes to play tour conductor because he can ramble in-depth about every wing addition and stone choice while I merely gush about the art and tell you of my family and those whose shadows we stand in.”

He pauses, slightly disconcerted.

“Abbie, would you consider calling me Hernán?”

Abbie blinks and tries not look surprised.

“I guess King can get a little awkward,” she says with a laugh.

“That, and it’s a title meant to put some distance between the one who has it and the one who uses it. We will be family and I want you to consider me such before the formalities,” he says.

Abbie shakes her head, a nervous smile appearing and disappearing like a silverfish.

“You sound so sure,” she whispers.

Hernán nods.

“I see how happy you make my son. Happier than I’ve ever seen him. I have all the assurance I need. And some time down the road, perhaps you will call me Father, too.”

Abbie can only nod, too overcome with emotion to speak.

“Come,” he says knowingly as he pats her hand. “I’ve got someone to show you.”

Abbie can’t help but laugh as Hernán leads her down one opulent hall and up another until they appear to be in a hall of portraits.

“Every single king and queen in my family has had their portrait painted and hung in this hall,” he says with pride.

“Almost a thousand years of history in these pictures. The gaze of my people, of Ichabod’s people. They watch and judge us. We don’t take our job lightly, Abbie. We are Cirtona and Cirtona is us. We are our people and we have a duty to ensure our survival and prosperity.”

Abbie gazes around the hall.

“It’s amazing you can trace your family back so far,” she says, her hand slipping out from Hernán’s grasp so she can take a circuit around the portraits. Men and women stare down at Abbie from their places in history and she can feel an echo of what the world must have been like when they were alive.

Abbie turns down a corner and is suddenly presented with a woman as brown as she, with a large gold crown and a scepter, draped in brightly-colored cloth.

“Queen Mélida, the Moor Queen,” Hernán says.

“Cirtona has been conquered by the Moors?” Abbie asks, enthralled.

Hernán nods.

“If we’re to take history at its word, Portugal commanded Queen Mélida to stop conquering land, and since Portugal was in control of Cirtona at the time… she took it, and no more.”

Abbie laughs.

“Wow.”

“She built the country’s first system of libraries, open to all citizens, and rebuilt our oldest university. She was apparently well known for her love of knowledge and belief that a country was stronger when its citizens were learners.”

“Sounds like a woman I would’ve liked to know,” she says. “So why did you show me her, specifically?”

Hernán smiles.

“It seems I have been caught. I just wanted you to understand that perhaps Cirtona, and by extension her people, are more complex than you may have originally considered.”

Abbie closes her mouth, eyes widened in embarrassment and amusement.

“Fair enough,” she says after a moment.

“Your majesty?”

Both Abbie and Hernán turn at the questioning tone of a security agent who drops into a deep bow.

“Her majesty Queen Clarissa and his royal highness Prince Ichabod await your presence in the dining room.”

Abbie’s stomach gurgles loudly and she drops her hands to her abdomen in embarrassment. Hernán laughs fondly and takes one of her hands to put it back at his elbow.

“Come, we can’t keep my future daughter hungry, now can we?”

~

“So glad we’re finally able to have dinner together, and it only took three days,” Clarissa says icily before she takes a dainty bite of her steak.

Abbie glances over at Ichabod with surprise. This is the first time Queen Clarissa has said anything beyond requesting another glass of wine.

“Yes, mother. I’m sorry. Our schedules have been very strange of late,” Ichabod says by way of explanation.

“Well, we haven’t seen you in the news stumbling from a nightclub at the crack of dawn, so there’s that,” Clarissa says.

“It’s been my fault,” Abbie says smoothly, disliking the flush of red on Ichabod’s neck. “Jet lag has been hard to shake.”

“It took three days to get acclimated?” Clarissa’s sterling eyebrow rises with incredulity.

Abbie hesitates and Hernán swoops in.

“Yes, Clarissa; that’s what the kids call it now. Getting acclimated,” he says. “You must remember we did plenty of that when you first arrived in Cirtona.”

Clarissa tries to glare at her husband but he’s having none of it, reaching across to take her hand to drop a kiss to her knuckles.

“Hernán,” she says warningly, but even Abbie can see the way her eyes sparkle over the top of her hastily-lifted wine glass.

“I’m sorry, what?” Ichabod asks, eyes wide with horror.

“You think you’re the only stallion of the family?” Hernán asks, and Abbie spits her wine back into her glass.

“Oh, god,” she wheezes, not daring to look at anyone. “This isn’t real.”

“Pray tell, sweetheart; how did you think you were created? Immaculate conception?” Clarissa asks.

“Oh...oh, no. We’re not doing this,” Ichabod says, swallowing the rest of his wine and refilling his glass. “I’m entirely too sober for this.”

“As long as you haven’t been bored, dear,” Hernán says seriously, and Abbie wonders if it’s against royal etiquette to just slide out of her chair and sit beneath the table in embarrassment.

“Your father and I were considering the Goodwill Tour, and he and I think it would be a smart bit of nostalgia to have you take the same tour he and I did back before we were married. The press would love the idea and it sounds so romantic on paper,” Clarissa continues. “Moving forward in your parents’ footsteps, as it were.”

“The press?” Abbie asks. “Do they have to be there?”

“You may as well get used to it,” Clarissa says before Ichabod can respond. “We live our lives in front of our people and the press. Comes with the position.”

“You’ll learn to forget they’re there,” Ichabod promises. “They sort of fade into the background.”

“Unless you’re caught doing something you shouldn’t,” Hernán murmurs. “But in this case we have something to show that is not only beautiful, but the start of a very happy time in the country. Royal weddings bring tourists, and tourists bring money and jobs and –”

“ - The people are happy,” Clarissa and Ichabod finish in unison.

“Father likes us to remember we should do what we need to ensure our people are happy,” Ichabod says.

“It may seem silly, but happiness keeps crime low, birth rates high and talented, forward-thinking people on our island,” Hernán says. “A little spectacle is worth it.”

“Which brings me to the engagement party,” Clarissa says. “Abbie, have your assistant reach out to mine with your attendance list.”

“Assistant?” Abbie asks. “I don’t have an assistant. What would I need an assistant for?”

Clarissa’s mouth hardens into a thin line.

“Ichabod, perhaps if you could find the time to do more than… acclimate your fiancée we wouldn’t run into these interesting questions.”

Abbie’s face is burning as she stares down at her plate and only dimly can she hear Ichabod respond sharply. But it’s all receding into white noise and suddenly she can’t breathe.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, throwing her napkin down on the table and rising to her feet quickly, grabbing her purse before she leaves.

She doesn’t know where she’s going but that doesn’t stop her. Tears, unbidden, fill her eyes and make it difficult to see but Abbie’s tugging on doors until one opens, leading out onto a manicured lawn. Once the air hits her face she’s taking deep breaths that aren’t doing anything but making her dizzy.

Abbie’s knees buckle, but before she hits the ground, strong arms envelop her and she rises instead.

“Breathe, treasure,” Ichabod murmurs lowly. “My darling, please breathe.”

Abbie does again and finally the action gives her body the oxygen it needs. She holds on to Ichabod tightly until the tremors peter out, suspended in midair like she weighs nothing.

Drained, Abbie stares at her foot and sighs.

“I should’ve painted my toes,” she murmurs.

Ichabod chuckles.

“Your toes are glorious whether clad in polish or bare,” he reassures her.

“You’ve gotta wonder that I’m crazy,” she says, as if he hadn’t said a thing. “I would think I’m crazy, so it’s okay if you think so.”

“I think this is a lot for you,” Ichabod says carefully. “And I’m sorry I haven’t been here as I should to help you get used to the idea of how my life tends to be; what the public expects from my family, and by extension, you. I find that every time I turn around, there is something I am used to that is not considered normal.”

“You really don’t see the press anymore?” she asks.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“Not even when they use flash photography. It’s a defense mechanism of sorts, treasure. If I thought I was being watched every minute of every day I would go mad,” he says. “So to my mind, they are not there.”

“Same for servants?”

Ichabod readjusts Abbie in his arms as he considers.

“Servants are different; I do not need them until I do,” he says.

“It doesn’t feel weird?” Abbie asks.

“To accept help when I need it?” Ichabod shakes his head yet again. “It breaks my heart that it is so foreign a sensation to you to receive it.”

Abbie smooths his collar down without looking him in the eye.

“We need to talk,” she says heavily.

“Is there a more terrifying phrase in the English language?” he jokes, but sets her on her feet gently, refusing to drop his arms from her waist.

“Don’t you think this is moving faster than we realized?” Abbie whispers. “My house is still being fixed and now we’re being expected to have an engagement party where I’m sure they’ll expect to know when we plan to get married. We haven’t discussed how long I’ll be here or even if I’ll be living here while –”

“While what?” Ichabod asks. “Abbie, I cannot live in the United States and rule my country. Surely you know that.”

“I know,” she says reluctantly. “Everything’s happening very fast. I thought we were doing this to buy some time.”

Ichabod nods, inadvertently tightening his grip on her.

“I thought we were too, treasure.” He sighs heavily, looking away. “Do you want to leave?”

Abbie shakes her head, crowding closer; just the thought makes her heart beat faster.

“But maybe I should,” she says, muffled against Ichabod’s torso. “To give us more time?”

Ichabod nods, though he feels like screaming he would never let her go.

“If you think it best,” he says around the lump in his throat.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “Do you?”

“No.” Ichabod sighs heavily and bends to press a kiss to Abbie’s curls, his heart clenching at the thought of her leaving. “Do you want to return to the table?”

“Why, so I can die of embarrassment? God, I don’t even want to know what your parents think of me,” she groans.

“Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re alright. And you are, aren’t you, treasure?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie nods.

“Can we go?” she says, looking painfully embarrassed and unable to look up at him.

“We can,” Ichabod says. “Would you like to come with me while I say our goodbyes?” Abbie shakes her head. “Then I will be back quickly.”

He crouches and captures her lips in a quick yet chaste kiss but lingers longer when Abbie cups his face and sighs against his lips.

After a moment, Abbie releases him and watches with a bittersweet smile as he jogs back into the palace. Once he’s out of earshot she takes a deep breath and releases it, her nerves still a little rattled.

“Abbie?”

Maybe that’s why Clarissa is able to sneak up on her to easily.

Abbie forces her body out of its cringe before turning, keeping a carefully blank look on her face.

“Queen Clarissa,” she says.

Clarissa looks vaguely uncomfortable as she steps up to Abbie, and says the exact opposite of what Abbie expects her to say.

“This is mostly my fault; are you alright?”

Abbie blinks and wonders if she’s experiencing an auditory hallucination.

“I didn’t mean to make a scene in there,” she says warily.

Clarissa shakes her head.

“That was hardly a scene,” she says. “Come with me, before my son realizes I’m not at the table.” She takes Abbie’s hand and leads her through another set of doors and down an unfamiliar hall.

Abbie doesn’t know what to do, but curiosity keeps her on her feet and walking at the slightly longer stride of Clarissa.

“I can be a bit to take,” she says, apropos of nothing.

Abbie merely blinks.

“The fact that you’re silent further informs how absolutely horrid I’ve been,” Clarissa continues. “Do you know, even before I came to visit Hernán here in Cirtona, his mother hated me? Saw a picture and said I looked like a ‘vapid white woman with a desire for brown children.’” She chuckles bitterly. “If she had lived long enough to see Ichabod she’d realize how wrong that was.”

Clarissa glances at Abbie’s shocked expression.

“I didn’t want to like you,” she admits. “I was completely against it, considering how… Just – ” She sighs as they stop before a set of double doors.

“This is one of my favorite places in the palace. Hernán likes to call me his little magpie,” Clarissa says fondly as she opens the door with a flourish.

Abbie’s jaw drops as she steps over the threshold of what had to be a jewelry store’s worth of jewels displayed in every which way.

“This is the royal jewelry collection. Here is every set worn by every member of the immediate royal family. Filed away to eventually be worn again by someone else further down the line.”

“You brought me here to… look at jewelry?” Abbie asks, in awe in spite of herself.

“No. Yes. It’s more like a peace offering,” Clarissa says.

Abbie finally looks at Clarissa head on.

“You hate me,” she says evenly.

“At one point I did, yes.”

Abbie crosses her arms. Now’s the time to be the bigger person, she thinks.

“You tried to pay me to leave.”

Clarissa closes her eyes briefly but nods.

“I did.”

“Now you want peace?” Abbie looks skeptical.

“Hernán said something so vile it propelled me out of my seat to come search for you. He said that he never thought I would sound so much like his mother.” Abbie’s eyebrow rises as Clarissa’s fingers flutter up to touch her necklace.

“My mother-in-law couldn’t stand the way I dressed, the way I spoke Cirtonian, and nothing I did for her son was as good as she could arrange for a servant to do. Laughed at and talked about my wedding...until her death, that woman belittled me and made my life difficult.

“I left Hernán twice before I could tell him what she would say and do when he wasn’t around. He swore he would make it right but a part of me…” Clarissa gestures at her eyes. “I could see he didn’t completely believe me. Then it was announced I was pregnant and I thought, finally, this would get the old hag off my back. I’m doing my job, and I’m giving him an heir,” she says bitterly.

“Was she better then?” Abbie asks softly.

Clarissa shakes her head, caught up in painful memories of her own. “I lost the baby and Queen Regina arranged for Hernán’s previous girlfriend to visit him at the palace.”

Abbie feels her heart drop into her stomach.

“That’s… wow.”

“I remember thinking, when I offered you that money, that if you took it, then I would have protected my people and protected my son. When I was stiff and cold to you, if you couldn’t take it, then how could you take the press saying things about you? Foreign and domestic diplomats will have something to say about every little piece of you and you have to appear strong and graceful in the face of it all. If you couldn’t stand up to me, then how would you be able to do that?

“But you stayed and my Ichabod is happy and I think somewhere, in my desire to protect my family and my country from a possible threat, I rationalized that I needed to be monstrous. Find that breaking point so that I could break you and prove you weren’t worthy, but instead I was just…”

Abbie’s expression is more wince than smile.

“A real bitch,” she says, and Clarissa barks out a laugh.

“Oh, dear. I haven’t been called that to my face in some years,” she admits. “But it’s nothing more than I deserve,” Clarissa says. “When you ran from the table, I realized I was her. I’m sorry I put you through so much unnecessary emotional anguish, especially considering your woes at home.”

Abbie has to force herself to speak through the shock.

“Thank you, for the apology,” she says slowly. “I don’t know if I can accept it yet,” she adds, “but... I would like to, one day.”

Clarissa nods.

“Of course. I still would like to give you a token of my… newfound clarity and what I hope will soon be affection,” she says, moving down the aisle and stopping before a row of drawers. She opens one and produces a gorgeous jeweled peacock, made of tiny emerald and sapphire stones arranged like feathers.

“It’s beautiful,” Abbie says, marveling how it sparkles, but not too much so, in the light.

“Incidentally, it’s called the Queen’s Favor,” Clarissa says dryly. “I wore it to Queen Regina’s funeral.”

Abbie’s laugh sputters out before she can rein it in.

“My sister Jenny would definitely approve,” she says.

“Pyrrhic victory, I suppose. She missed meeting Ichabod by two years.” Clarissa looks down at the pendant before rousing from her thoughts and producing a velvet box to place it in. “It would do me a great pleasure for you to have this now.”

“Queen Clarissa-”

Clarissa shakes her head.

“No, it’s tradition. And I was hoping that eventually, when you feel comfortable, you could see your way to calling me Clarissa?” she asks.

Abbie nods.

“I think I could see that soon,” she says, and accepts the small black box.

“Mother? Are you in here?” Ichabod thunders around the corner, face drawn in righteous indignation. “Now see here, Mother; I must ask you to stand down. You’ve done enough this evening, wouldn’t you say?” he asks, raising his finger threateningly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Crane!”

Both Abbie and Clarissa are looking at him as if he’s lost his mind, and Ichabod’s finger slowly comes down.

“What’s going on here?”

“A civilized conversation, not whatever ambush you imagined this to be,” Clarissa says with a frown. “And what have I told you about that bloody finger?”

“Oh, this is a normal occurrence? Crane, I thought you knew to treat your mother with respect,” Abbie says, linking arms with Clarissa and glaring at Ichabod.

“Do you have to run off right away, dear?” Clarissa asks as she leads Abbie from the room. “I have some pictures of Ichabod that will keep him from that high horse he’s so fond of.”

Abbie pulls out her phone and sees a message from Jenny.

Wish me luck!

Abbie frowns and shakes her head.

“I have nothing planned for the rest of the evening,” she says, slipping the phone back into her purse.

Ichabod pivots in horror after the women, dreading Abbie’s absolutely delighted-sounding laugh.

He decides to return to his father, who is eating two desserts now that his wife isn’t around to stop him.

“Father,” he says carefully as he sinks into his chair. “I want Mother and Abbie to get along, right?”

Hernán enjoys his crème brulée with obvious gusto.

“As they say, happy wife equals happy life.”

Ichabod considers his father’s words and concedes that if the love of his life and his mother can bond over horrible photos and videos of him from the eighties, then perhaps his ego can take the blow.

But a few hours later Ichabod is wondering if he has enough grace to cover his apprehension as a very tipsy Abbie giggles almost uncontrollably as they pull away from the palace.

“You and Mother had a good talk I take it?”

Abbie stifles her laughter long enough to nod happily.

“I didn’t know your mother curses like a sailor,” she says.

Ichabod tilts his head uncomfortably as he chuckles.

“Only after too much wine,” he says.

Abbie nods.

“We had too much wine,” she shares conspiratorially.

“Is that so?” A small smile tugs at his lips as he watches Abbie push her glorious curls back from her face before giving him a slow smile.

“It is. First it was just a glass then the more I drank, the less I was nervous, and I think it was the same for her, too.” Abbie pauses to consider. “Then she broke out the photo albums.”

At Ichabod’s expression she collapses into a fresh round of giggles.

“You really, really loved the Power Rangers.”

“Who didn’t?” Ichabod asks. “Perfectly normal childhood interest,” he says.

“But not every kid color-coordinated every outfit so he could be different rangers on different days,” Abbie drawls.

Ichabod’s eyes widen in horror.

“Who told you about that?” he asks.

“Your mother!” Abbie cackles. “She told me how she had to convince you not to wear the uniform and instead dress like they did when they were regular kids.” She has tears in her eyes as she slumps to the side under the weight of her mirth.

“I’m positively thrilled you and my mother bonded over my awkward youth,” Ichabod says drily, straightening to his full height as he stares ahead primly.

“Oh, no,” Abbie coos, giggling as she removes her seat belt and clambers into his lap. “Don’t make that face,” she laughs.

“What face?” Ichabod sniffs. “This is the only face I have.”

Abbie laughs and plants small kisses across his brow and down his cheek.

“And such a handsome face it is,” she purrs against his mouth. She sighs happily when he kisses her and before long Abbie snorts again, breaking away to cup his face and laugh.

“I don’t think it’s that funny,” Ichabod mutters, staring up at Abbie as his hands settle around her waist. “Are you going to kiss me?”

“That depends,” Abbie says, undulating against him. “Do you think you’ll ever bleach your hair blond again?”

Ichabod groans as Abbie shrieks with laughter again, tumbling out of his lap.

“No,” he vows. “Never again.”

Abbie wipes at the tears that slip between her lids.

“With that haircut you looked like Nick from The Backstreet Boys,” she crows from the cabin floor.

“That was rather the point,” he says stiffly.

“Oh, god, please stop,” Abbie begs. “I can’t laugh anymore or I’ll explode,” she wheezes.

“Good. I don’t think my ego could withstand it.” Ichabod narrows his eyes as he watches Abbie sprawled on the floor, hair in wild curls haloed around her head. With such a smile on her face Ichabod could truly believe she was an angel sent from god.

Abbie sighs happily and glances over at Ichabod, her grin turning mischievous.

“Crane,” she sings, rising to her knees and crawling over to his legs.

Ichabod swallows as her hands touch his knee, and other parts of him begin to take notice, too.

“Yes, treasure?”

“I’m hungry,” she purrs, coming closer so she’s between his legs.

“We can have something delivered to the house; it’s Nilda’s night off,” he says, widening his legs as Abbie rubs her hands on his upper thighs.

“I’m thinking I want to eat something other than food.” Abbie grins up at him and nimbly opens his belt buckle and unzips his pants.

Ichabod gathers his senses and hauls her up so they are face to face.

“I seem to recall earlier in the evening when I was teased beyond reason. Will this be – oh fuck,” he groans as Abbie reaches into his pants and squeezes his already hard cock.

Abbie slides back down to her knees, rubbing him surely through his underwear while she coaxes his hips up. She licks her lips as she tugs his pants and underwear down, freeing him completely. His cock bobs as he sits heavily onto the seat and Abbie grabs it with both hands, stroking him firmly.

Staring up at Ichabod, Abbie leans forward and licks a stripe up the sensitive underside of his head, enjoying the sounds she can wring from his throat.

“Oh, god, just like that, treasure,” he groans, petting her hair carefully. He swears as she begins to bob up and down on his cock, taking more and more of him into her mouth, sucking hard as she licks around his head before plunging back down. For minutes the only sound in the cabin of the limo is Ichabod's dick sliding in and out between Abbie's glorious lips.

All Ichabod can do is grip the seats in a death grip to avoid fucking Abbie’s face, and when she looks up at him and moans ecstatically around his cock his hips no longer listen as they begin to move.

“Treasure…” he strangles out, feeling the telltale tightening in his groin. “I’m going to come…” he warns.

Abbie releases him from her mouth with an audible pop.

“That’s the point, Crane,” she says breathily, her mouth red and swollen from her exertion. “Don’t you want to give it to me?” she asks, raking her fingernails down his thighs as she nuzzles against his rock hard cock.

“I want it,” she says, and promptly swallows him down.

Ichabod feels his soul ascend as Abbie tries to suck it out his dick like a straw, taking everything he has to give her and swallowing enthusiastically. Eventually he has to gently pry her off his dick so he can recover, breathing heavily and dealing with a squirming Abbie in his lap.

“Treasure,” he says hoarsely, “…you…” Words fail him as he watches Abbie beam, wantonly wiping at the edge of her mouth with her thumb.

“I could do that all day,” she says happily, cuddling close.

“Promises, promises,” he says, resting his head against the crown of her hair. Ichabod inhales slowly and his heart is fit to burst.

Would it be weird to tell her how he feels? Is it too soon?

“Abbie?” he asks, realizing she hasn’t said anything for a moment.

“Hmm?”

Ichabod hesitates.

“May I tell you something?”

Abbie sighs and lifts her head to smile up at him.

“It’s nothing serious, is it? I don’t think I can take a serious talk right now. I think I’m more than just tipsy,” she says, searching his face. “What’d you want to tell me?”

Ichabod clears his throat.

“Just that when I was in eighth year a few of the lads and I got together and started a boyband.”

Abbie blinks at him before bursting out laughing.

“You didn’t,” she wheezes before collapsing into full-blown laughter. “What?”

“We were good,” he insists. “We had offers from top agencies wanting to produce and represent us.”

Abbie shrieks with laughter at Ichabod’s vaguely disdainful expression.

“Did you have a name?”

Ichabod sniffs.

“I’m not telling.”

“Oh, god. Please tell me. Please,” Abbie asks, kicking her legs and giggling. “Tell me!”

He closes his eyes and sighs.

“It was Nobility, but spelled Nobili-T. My friends at the time were from noble houses and I was the lead because I was the only royal. We wore oversized shirts with our family crests on them. Now that I’ve said that, I refuse to look at you,” he says.

Abbie clears her throat, practically vibrating with suppressed laughter.

“What happened?” she asks, her voice almost normal.

“Infighting,” Ichabod says. “A few decided they didn’t want me to be lead singer and we never signed a contract.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Abbie says. “Was it your dream?”

Ichabod sputters as he opens his eyes to look at Abbie.

“It was when I was thirteen,” he says. “I’m actually quite thankful it never went beyond a few demos and meetings.”

“So I’m like the first Nobili-T groupie?” Abbie grins as Ichabod rolls his eyes.

“First, last,” he says.

“Good,” she says, leaning up to kiss him softly. “Because I don’t plan on sharing you,” she murmurs.

“Same, treasure,” he says with a sigh, tightening his grasp. “Absolutely on the same page.”

~*~

“A story straight out of a fairy tale, wouldn’t you say?” Soledad O’Brien asks.

Jenny shrugs a shoulder.

“I guess,” she concedes. “It might be a lot of people’s idea of a dream come true, but Abbie never was one to sit around and wish for a prince to come. Just not her.”

“What would she sit around and wish for?”

Jenny considers.

“That was never Abbie’s style. If Abbie wanted something, she’d figure out what she needed to do in order to get it. Nothing, really. I mean, she wants things, but she always goes out and gets them herself. We were never handed anything.”

Soledad nods.

“And even though she’s living what most people would consider a dream, it’s been a bit of a nightmare for her lately, hasn’t it?”

“It has, and she doesn’t deserve it. Abbie’s never done anything to anyone, then Standra Oats comes along and thinks she’s entitled to something Abbie has and has the nerve to set her house on fire.”

“Sounds like you’re angry,” Soledad says.

“Standra admitted she sets my sister’s house on fire to hide her crime, am I supposed to be happy?” Jenny asks.

Soledad chuckles. “No, I don’t think so.”

“So why are people acting like me being upset is something strange?”

“Sounds like you have a few ideas about that.”

Jenny smiles tightly.

“Standra’s young, white, and pretty, and that gets a lot of sympathy around these parts, and by ‘these parts’ I mean Earth.”

“So Standra’s remorse-”

“What remorse?” Jenny interrupts. “What remorse? She hasn’t tried to reach out to Abbie and apologize for stealing and burning down her home. My sister saved up for years to get that down payment together. No one helped her. She didn’t get a discount. It was hard enough for her to even get into that neighborhood.”

“Why?” Soledad asks.

Jenny curses inwardly.

“People think they know you because of your childhood,” she says. “They make all sorts of generalizations about your character just because you grew up in the foster system.”

Soledad glances down at her notes.

“So it has nothing to do with the incident in the woods when you were eleven and Abbie was thirteen?”

“What?” Jenny hears herself answer from a long way away.

“A police report from fourteen years ago states that you and Abbie were held for questioning about an attempted robbery?”

Jenny swallows hard around the lump in her throat.

“It wasn’t a robbery,” she whispers.

“The file states you said it was.”

Jenny’s shaking her head.

“We were in that room for a long time,” she bites out. “My head was hurting and they wouldn’t even let us have any water – we had been drugged!”

“You’re telling me the sheriff of Sleepy Hollow at the time, Lewis Pullman, kept you and your sister as suspects when in fact you were minors and victims?”

“Yes.” Jenny’s fingers are knotted around each other and she’s really starting to regret accepting this money.

Abbie’s going to kill her.

“And that’s why you admitted you did try to steal something?” Soledad asks.

“I would’ve said the moon was made of cheese if it meant getting out of that room,” Jenny says. “We had proof, but they wouldn’t listen.”

“What kind of proof?”

“Toxicology!” Jenny says almost desperately. “We were tested.”

“The toxicology report reads that your blood was free of chemicals.”

She shakes her head.

“Then you don’t have the right report,” Jenny snaps. “And how did you get that, anyway?”

“It’s public record; the Pullman Family is suing your sister for defamation of character and are seeking damages.”

“What?” Jenny croaks.

Soledad tilts her head.

“You didn’t know?”

Jenny just stares at Soledad, waiting for her to say it’s a tasteless joke, but the two women stare at each other in silence and all Jenny can think is that she can’t proclaim her intent to murder on national television.

She’s not Standra; she won’t get off.

Chapter Text

On the third ring Jenny is ready to hang up, but Abbie’s voice fills her ears and Jenny lets out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“Abbie,” she says – and pauses. “Why do you sound like shit?”

Gee, thanks,” Abbie rasps. “It’s really crazy over here, Jenny. Remember when I told you I was going to get a tour of Cirtona? I thought it would just be Crane, me, and a top-down convertible as we drove around the island.”

“Sounds a little too much like a movie starring Audrey Hepburn,” Jenny says, glad to talk about anything but why she called.

That should’ve been my first clue. It’s this whole Goodwill tour, Jenny! I’m going to have to give a speech and everything! I’ve got to meet people’s hands and shake babies!”

“Unless you want an international incident I don’t suggest you shake any babies,” Jenny laughs at Abbie’s bad joke. “Are you going to be okay?”

No,” Abbie half-whines.

“I wanna see your face,” Jenny says, and enables Facetime. Her heart clenches at Abbie’s slightly ashen face and puffy eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”

Crane says there’s a bug going around; half of Parliament is out with some stomach bug. Oh god, Jenny, Queen Clarissa does so much public speaking she has a speechwriter. Her personal speechwriter came by to drop off a speech for me to use on the tour.

“Abbie, you’ll do fine. I know you don’t like public speaking, but you were always really good at it,” Jenny reassures her.

Abbie peers closer at the phone.

Are you alright?” she asks.

“Oh, I can’t be okay because I’m trying to make sure you’re okay?” Jenny fires back. The news she wants to share rattles around in her stomach like sneakers in a dryer.

A little, yeah. Oh, how did the interview go?

Jenny swallows.

“Don’t change the subject; you said half of parliament was out with some bug?”

Yeah, stomach flu or whatever. I’m kind of worried Crane may have brought it home. I’m not feeling too good and after the speechwriter left I really didn’t feel well.

“What happened?” Jenny demands.

Just nerves,” Abbie reassures her.

Jenny stares at her sister’s face until she crumbles.

Fine, I threw up. I’m just… I don’t know if I’m made for this,” she admits.

“Made for what? Lavish clothes and jewels and an adoring public?” Jenny scoffs, unease building in her stomach again. “You deserve so much more than that.”

What? Since when are you for this?” Abbie asks.

Since I saw the two of you together, Jenny thinks.

“Things change,” she says.

Abbie looks unimpressed.

This is just dating. Crazy fast, whirlwind dating. I don’t know if this is going to be a forever type thing.”

“Do you want it to be?” she asks.

Abbie looks away.

I dunno,” she mutters.

Jenny knows she’s seen her sister around him, and seen him looking at her.

“Yeah, right,” she snorts.

Abbie covers her face and laughs.

I know, I know. So again, how’d the interview go?

Jenny hesitates, smoothing her face and keeping her expression light.

“Just a regular old interview,” she lies. “Got to meet Soledad O’Brien, so there’s that.”

Ooh. Is she as pretty as she looks on TV?” Abbie asks.

Not really, Jenny thinks.

“I love how you're avoiding my questions, and she’s got a crooked nose,” she grouses, but Abbie laughs and Jenny will take that as a win. “It sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate right now.”

Abbie nods.

But I’m not too busy to talk to my favorite sister.”

How much longer is that going to be the case? Jenny can’t help but wonder.

“I’m your only sister, ho,” she jokes weakly. “Look, don’t worry yourself into getting sick, Abbie.”

If I get sick it’s this stupid bug, not my perfectly normal worrying,” Abbie says. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks again.

Jenny rolls her eyes.

“Yes,” she says exasperatedly. “Last time you get to ask.”

Such an ungrateful brat,” Abbie mutters.

Jenny lets herself laugh and wonders how long she can reasonably expect to keep this from her sister.

“Yeah, I know,” she says. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

And you’re going mushy on me,” Abbie laughs.

I do miss you,” she adds. “For some reason.”

“Don’t hurry back,” Jenny says seriously. “However long this lasts--for whatever reasons you feel--just make sure you enjoy it all, okay?”

Abbie looks at her strangely.

God, you’re not smoking with Joe again, are you? The last time you were like this I found both of you in a cloud of your own making, going on about how you’re both going to change the world.

Jenny laughs, but it sounds bitter to her own ears.

“The world’s never going to change,” she says. “I think I’m learning that now. Go have fun, Abbie, I’ll talk to you later.”

Abbie peers at her and Jenny holds her breath, but the call ends without another word.

~*~

 

“We could postpone,” Ichabod says, watching Abbie wipe her mouth before checking her waterproof lipstick in the mirror.

“I’m just saying; it’s not fair you bring the bug home but you don’t get sick,” she says after a moment, when her stomach decides to unclench. “Besides, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a little stomach thing, and since everyone has it I’m not a danger to anyone, right?”

Ichabod shifts his weight against the doorjamb and nods reluctantly.

“You just look…” He senses the danger. “So beautiful,” Ichabod goes with instead. “I don’t want to share you with anyone.”

Abbie shakes her head and turns slowly so whatever is left in her stomach doesn’t come back up.

“Is this a sign?” she asks quietly.

“A sign of what?” Immediately Ichabod is at her side, her hand ensconced in his.

“We agreed we’d give ourselves room for this not to work,” she says, unable to look up at him.

Ichabod tries to swallow the lump in his throat.

“We did,” he says. “Do you feel that way now?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Do you?” she asks, looking at the bathroom counter.

“No,” Ichabod says. “Perhaps we should cancel this. Get you back into bed so you can rest.”

Abbie smirks.

“Haven’t gotten any rest in that bed since I arrived,” she says, poking him in the chest playfully.

“But this time I assure you that you shall remain unmolested,” Ichabod says seriously as Abbie adjusts the brocade panel of his shirt so it lays better.

“This tour...it would help, right?”

Ichabod smiles. He doesn’t want to inundate her with all the numbers and public polls, the meetings with Sophie and his advisors.

“I don’t want that to factor into the decision, treasure,” he says. “If you want, we will postpone.”

“So that’s a yes,” Abbie drawls, finally looking up at him. “My stomach is feeling a little better. I’ll bring some ginger ale with me and we’ll get this over with. Let’s meet the hell out of some people.”

Ichabod barks a surprised laugh before pressing a kiss to Abbie’s knuckles.

“Treasure,” he says, shifting her hand in his. “Where’s your ring?”

Abbie pulls her hand from his uncomfortably.

“In a jewelry drawer,” she says, throwing her napkin away and goes back to the closet entrance at the back of the bathroom.

“You don’t wear it.”

It doesn’t sound like an accusation, but it pricks Abbie’s ears like one.

“I don’t want it to get lost,” she says, taking a deep breath and shaking off her lethargy.

“You don’t like it,” Ichabod says. “Why didn’t you just say so, my love? I would have given you a pick of a dozen rings. A hundred rings, until we found one of your choosing.”

Abbie goes to the top jewelry drawer in the marble island and stares down at the large, yellow rock.

“At first I thought I wouldn’t care,” she admits. “This wasn’t supposed to be a real engagement ring. This was just something other people could see and it would be a symbol.”

“Then what happened?” Ichabod asks, coming to stand beside her, looking down at the ring as well.

“Honestly?” Abbie half-laughs.

“Of course.”

“You’re going to think it’s stupid,” she warns.

Ichabod sighs and pulls Abbie flush against him.

“Treasure, nothing you ever tell me about how you feel is stupid,” he says.

Abbie tightens her grip around his waist.

“Standra touched it and now all I can see is my house burning up.”

“Oh, Abbie.” Ichabod figured it was something of the sort, but he shouldn’t have waited for her to say something before acting on his instinct. He crouches to press a kiss on her head wrap before nuzzling against her cheek.

“That’s not stupid,” he says.

“It’s not?” Abbie asks. “But it’s so expensive and I-”

“And what’s the point of it if you don’t like it?” Ichabod asks as he pulls away.

Abbie searches his face with mild surprise.

“You’re not upset,” she says.

Ichabod frowns.

“Why would I be?”

“This isn’t some family heirloom?”

“Heavens, no,” he says. “I had always intended on getting you a different engagement ring, one more suited to your personality and style. It was just impressed upon us that we needed some sort of spectacle for the press to dither upon. Then I thought I’d give it to you when you arrived in Cirtona, but I was distracted,” Ichabod laughs as Abbie pretends to be scandalized.

Abbie’s finger toys with the edge of the drawer, feeling the fuzz of the velvet inside.

“I don’t have to wear it?”

“Absolutely not. I’ll be right back.”

Abbie smiles fondly as she watches Ichabod long-leg it out of her closet.

“My man,” she murmurs, and closes the drawer with a satisfying sense of closure.

“Perhaps you’ll find this more your speed,” Ichabod says as he presents a small black box with a flourish.

Abbie tempers her grin in the face of Ichabod’s almost overwhelming enthusiasm, and opens the box. Inside lies a delicate ring, its bubble like blue gem so light and airy that it could have been constructed in the sky. Against the first ring it looks downright demure in size, surrounded by tiny diamonds set into filigree silver metal.

“Wow,” she finds herself saying. “This is beautiful. What is it?”

“Blue chalcedony and diamonds set in platinum,” Ichabod says. “Do you truly like it?”he asks, and Abbie nods mutely. “Good.”

Ichabod takes the box from Abbie and removes the ring to gently slide it onto her finger.

“This, and a few other pieces, are what remain of a necklace that belonged to Themis, formerly of Greece. She caught King Alphonso the Second’s eye whilst traveling and though he had left to secure an armada, he returned with a wife as well,” he says.

Abbie stares at the ring on her finger and can’t help but grin.

“It’s so beautiful,” she says again, then the impromptu history lesson catches up with her. “How old is this ring?” she demands.

Ichabod chuckles.

“All I’ll say is that this is a family heirloom. She was known for her poise and grace, and she was as smart as she was beautiful. I’ll have to take you to the museum in St. Pola, where a few statues of her remain. Fascinating woman; King Alphonso was a serial womanizer, and she poisoned him so he couldn’t further shame her but would yet live. Healers came from far and wide promising the return of his virility, but when they couldn’t deliver he would have them killed.”

“Yikes,” Abbie says.

“Indeed. She was fiercely loyal, and she demanded the same in return,” Ichabod says.

“Good,” Abbie declares, poking him in the chest. “I better have your loyalty,” she jokes.

“You do,” Ichabod says promptly.

The smile slides off Abbie’s face and she shakes her head to clear the haze; her weak laugh sounding uncomfortable to her own ears.

“It’s a beautiful ring,” she says for lack of anything else to say.

“You’ve already said that,” Ichabod says.

“Yeah, I guess I did.” Abbie stares at it on her finger and remembers the time. “Get out so I can get dressed,” she says.

“I can watch you dress and not do anything, treasure,” Ichabod reassures her.

Abbie shakes her head and pokes him in the side.

“Go. I’ll be out in a moment.”

Ichabod pouts, but leans down for a kiss before departing, still having to put the last of his garment on.

Abbie dresses quickly in a silk, short-sleeved wrap-around shirt of pale yellow that ties at her waist, and a flouncy and fun sapphire blue skirt, borne straight out of the Aegean Sea, falls to the tops of her knees. Carefully she adds the Queen’s Favor onto her shirt before stepping into strappy heels that match the color of her skirt.

Immediately Abbie can’t help but grin. She’s gained a few inches in height, and it’s with confidence that she enters her staging room to look at herself from all angles.

“Who are you?” she asks her reflection, the turn of her head shifting the dark curls that had been lovingly set the night before by a talented and scarily speedy young woman by the name of Lulu Adeyemi.

Some of her hair is pulled back and arranged into a complicated looking roll above the free fall of hair, and nestled in is a hair pin that looks like baby’s breath, but is constructed out of hundreds of tiny diamonds and seed pearls. It glints when Abbie tilts her head and she takes just a moment to admire her reflection before forcing herself off the stage.

Today, she’s going to meet the Cirtonian people.

A bit of nausea bubbles up and Abbie swallows awkwardly.

Lord, don’t let me throw up on anyone, she thinks, and sends a silent thank you to Lulu because her makeup is flawless.

Ichabod emerges from his closet just as Abbie does hers, and though she’s seen him dressed for parliament in impeccable suits, she’s never seen him dressed as he is now.

Regalia. Her mind provides the word for the formal wear that leaves black tie far in the dust. Ichabod’s jacket is perfectly tailored; it accentuates his surprisingly broad shoulders while the Nehru collar calls attention to the length of his neck. The jacket is black brocade, and as he shifts, the light reveals a quick glint of crimson in the weave.

“Something on my jacket?” he has the nerve to ask, while Abbie’s trying not to jump his bones right away.

“No,” she finds the voice to say. “You look really good.” Abbie bites her lip as he moves toward her. “Aren’t you hot?”

He chuckles.

“I don’t know, treasure; you tell me,” Ichabod says in that sinful baritone.

Abbie swears and ducks away from his grasp.

“Nope,” she mutters, fanning herself. “If you touch me we’re not leaving this room.”

Ichabod grins and raises his hands.

“My parents would pitch a fit, nevermind the press,” he says. “I guess we should get started; We need to be in Córmora by six a.m. tomorrow.”

Abbie nods and wonders if the rumble in her stomach is overenthusiastic butterflies or a warning she may need to hug some porcelain.

“What if I mess up my speech,” she asks.

“We’re going to throw you into the ocean,” Ichabod says seriously, then chuckles at Abbie’s wide-eyed horror. “My love, do you know how many speeches I’ve messed up? Hell, how many speeches I’ve done while not entirely sober?”

Abbie ponders.

“Maybe alcohol will take my mind off things,” she says, and yelps when Ichabod gathers her into his arms and lifts her bodily from the floor. “Crane, put me down,” she demands as she laughs.

“You’re going to do fine,” he promises her. “Now I will not let you worry yourself into another round of vomiting. Are we clear?”

Abbie smooths his sleeve so she doesn’t have to look Ichabod in the eye.

“Yes, your highness,” she murmurs, and cackles when he blows a raspberry against her neck.

“Crane,” she screeches. “Don’t get my makeup on you,” she warns. “We’re not exactly the same shade.”

Ichabod gasps, pretending to stagger under the news.

“We’re not?” he asks. “Since when?”

Abbie sighs and shakes her head.

“Good thing you’ve got a pretty face,” she jokes, and yelps and runs when Ichabod give chase. She’s surprisingly nimble in her heels, he finds, and has to do more than just pretend to catch up with her. Abbie gets to the stairs first and practically flies down as Ichabod bounds after her, determined to get in a little more than a kiss before they spend the entire day before the press.

Abbie reaches the bottom and runs right into a wall of a human who keeps her from falling over unexpectedly.

“Phillip,” she cries happily, reaching up to give him a hug. “It seems like forever since I’ve seen you,” she says.

Phillip chuckles.

“Merely a few days, Lady Abbie. I’m glad to find you’re well.” His gaze shifts to over her shoulders and he straightens to bow deeply. “Your highness,” he says as Ichabod reaches the landing.

“Phillip, good to see you again. Did you enjoy your time off?” Ichabod asks, his hopes dashed.

“I did, your highness, thank you. I actually wished to ask a personal favor. My daughter has wanted to meet Lady Abbie ever since she saw her on the news, and I wondered if you would allow her the honor,” Phillip asks, looking back and forth between Abbie and Ichabod uncertainly.

“Wait, you have a daughter?” Abbie asks.

Phillip nods his head and proudly produces pictures from his wallet of a beautifully brown little girl with three big puffs of ink black, kinky hair reaching for the sky. Abbie’s eyes almost fill with tears the child is so adorable.

“She looks so much like you, but prettier,” she says, and both Ichabod and Phillip laugh.

“Thank you, Lady Abbie,” Phillip deadpans.

“You’re still very handsome, Phillip, I didn’t mean it like that,” Abbie laughs.

“Hey now, not more handsome than me, is he?” Ichabod asks, and she rolls her eyes.

“I’m never going to win,” she says dryly. “What’s her name? Is she going to be at one of the stops on the tour?”

Phillip flushes.

“Actually she’s here, in the car with my mother at the security gate. I-”

Abbie gasps.

“The security gate? Go get them,” she admonishes. “I would love to meet the both of them.”

“Yes, ma’am, my lady,” Phillip says, glancing over at Ichabod to make sure it was okay; he doesn’t move until Ichabod gives a subtle nod.

“It appears you’re getting into the swing of meeting the Cirtonian people just fine,” Ichabod says before he leans down and presses a chaste kiss to Abbie’s mouth.

“A child and her grandmother aren’t intimidating,” Abbie murmurs, and lifts her face for another kiss. Ichabod pulls her closer to deepen the kiss but she pushes him away and runs to check her makeup in the mirror on the wall.

“Don’t ruin it, no one’s seen it yet,” she fusses and Ichabod adjusts himself with a petulant wince.

I saw it,” Ichabod says, and closes his eyes at his own tone.

“Well, when we get to wherever we’re staying tonight I will take off what’s left and you can have your way with me, if this damn bug hasn’t gone any further,” Abbie promises as she looks at him amusedly through the mirror.

“I’m going to hold you to that promise,” Ichabod says.

“Your Highness? Lady Abbie? May we approach?”

Both turn at Phillip’s voice, and Abbie almost squeaks at the sight of his family. The woman with greying hair at her temples has to be his mother, while the tiny little girl in his arms must be his daughter.

“Please,” Ichabod says, waving them over.

“Your highness, this is my mother, Celestina Nazal and my daughter, Marielena, but we call her Mari.”

“Mrs. Nazal, it’s wonderful to meet you,” Ichabod says as the woman sinks in a short curtsy to him and Abbie both. “Your son is a credit to the Cirtonian Royal Guard.”

“Thank you, your highness. I do know my Felipe enjoys his work and he has nothing but good things to say about you,” Celestina says with the same impish grin Abbie’s seen on her son’s face.

“I’m sure his stories about me are not all pleasant, but thank you for helping me maintain the façade,” Ichabod jokes.

“And he has nothing but good things to say about you, also, Lady Abbie. It’s truly an honor to meet you,” Celestina says, taking the hand Abbie offers.

“I don’t know if it’s an honor to meet me, but I’m pleased to meet you,” she says awkwardly before glancing over at Marielena, who has her face pressed into her father’s neck.

“Mari?” Abbie asks. “Such a pretty name for such a beautiful little girl,” she says, admiring the large puffy braids ending in brightly colored balls that match her blue and white dress.

Mari lifts her head at Abbie’s voice, and turns to look at her with wide eyes.

“Princess Abbie,” she whispers.

Abbie covers her mouth in pained awe as Ichabod blushes furiously beside her.

“No, no, sweetheart; it’s Lady Abbie, she’s not a princess yet,” Phillip says as he places Mari on her feet gently.

Mari shakes her head, the clack of her barrettes sounding bright.

“Yes, she is, Daddy. She’s a princess!”

Ichabod crouches down with a smile.

“How’d you know she’s a princess?” he asks.

Mari reaches out a finger to touch one of the small rubies on Ichabod’s collar.

“Because when she came you picked her up and her dress spun around like this.” She immediately twirls so her dress flares out, wobbling before Ichabod reaches out to steady her. “That means you love her,” she beams.

“I do believe your logic is flawless, Lady Mari,” Ichabod says seriously and Mari collapses into giggles before looking over at Abbie shyly.

“Hi,” Abbie says quietly, eyes wide as the little girl finally approaches her.

Mari’s eyes are as wide as Abbie’s as she circles her, reaching out to touch the hem of her skirt.

“You look like me,” she whispers.

“You look like me, too,” Abbie says, blinking back tears.

“And you’re pretty.”

“You’re pretty, too!” Abbie crouches before Mari and takes the child’s hands in hers. “You know you’re beautiful, too, right?”

Mari shrugs a shoulder, unconcerned, as she reaches out to touch Abbie’s tie at her waist.

“You dress like a princess,” she declares, and everyone chuckles.

“Thank you,” Abbie says, sniffling and trying not to cry. It hadn’t really hit her before now, with this darling little girl with her shining brown eyes and puffy hair and adorable cheeks… Abbie realizes how much she wants one or two of her own. “Thank you for coming to meet me.”

Mari looks exasperated.

I’m supposed to say that, that’s what Daddy said,” she says, and Phillip groans good-naturedly.

“Well, how about we both say it?” Abbie asks.

“Okay.”

“Do you want a hug?”

Mari gasps and glances over at her dad and grandmother.

“Can I, Daddy?” she practically shrieks.

“Yes, Mari, darling,” Celestina says fondly.

Mari squeals and throws her arms around Abbie, squeezing tightly and petting her hair like one would a puppy.

“Thank you, Princess Abbie,” she whispers, and runs back to Phillip, suddenly overcome with shyness again.

“Your highness, Lady Abbie, we depart in twenty minutes if we wish to remain on schedule. I’m going to walk my ladies out and will report to post.” Phillip lifts Mari into his arms and chuckles as she curls around to hide her face.

“Thank you again, this meant a lot to her, and to me,” he says quietly.

Ichabod helps Abbie back to her feet but she’s silent as she nods, eyes bright with emotion. He swipes a thumb across her cheek, causing a tear to well up and fall.

“Oh, treasure, why are you crying?”

“I’m not,” Abbie says thickly. “it’s just she’s so beautiful,” she says.

Ichabod watches the family leave, and Mari lifts her head to look at him over her father’s shoulder. He can easily imagine carrying his own child as such, with his hand in Abbie’s as she walks alongside. Ichabod lifts her hand to his mouth to place a kiss to her knuckles.

“Come, my love,” he murmurs. “Cirtona awaits.”

Abbie places her hand in Ichabod’s fondly and allows herself to be led to the elevator that would take them to the garage.

“Are you driving?” she asks.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“For security reasons,” he says, but Abbie laughs as she reads between the lines.

“They know you speed,” she says, and he rolls his eyes sourly.

“I don’t speed. I merely push the envelope of what is permitted. And only sometimes. And besides, we don’t want to be trapped in that small a space for two whole days.” He pauses and glances down at her as the elevator doors open.

“Well, that’s not entirely true, is it?”

“Nasty,” Abbie says, keeping her expression less than impressed. “So what, a van?” she asks as they step inside. Ichabod merely grins as the elevator moves.

The door opens into the garage and she blinks up at the spectacle before her.

“No, not a van,” Ichabod chuckles.

“Rich people are so extra,” Abbie murmurs, and tightens her grasp on Ichabod’s hand.

~*~

Just when she thinks she’s got a handle on the type of luxury Ichabod enjoys in his everyday life, he comes at her with something insane and over the top.

Sure, Abbie’s heard of luxury RVs for those crazy people with too much money on their hands and a desire to go camping, but she never thought she’d be watching the Cirtonian countryside whiz past on the second floor of what amounts to a moving, two-story luxury apartment.

The ride is so smooth Abbie can close her eyes and wonder if she’s even moving, and the tinted windows ensure she can gape all she wants without anyone the wiser.

“Are you comfortable, treasure?” Ichabod asks as he settles into the leather seat next to her.

“These seats feel like butter,” she says mournfully.

Ichabod glances down at the leather and chuckles.

“Is that a problem?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Yes,” she says. “No,” she amends a moment later. “I’m not used to this,” she says quietly.

“I should hope you’re not used to butter on your seats,” he teases, but sobers when Abbie looks a bit lost. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make light.”

“It’s not your fault; you’ve grown up with this. This is normal for you,” Abbie says.

Ichabod moves closer and Abbie leans into his touch.

“It’s hard to imagine my life without these trappings. They’re all I know. I don’t mean to overwhelm you and I don’t mean to parade them about without feeling.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I know you don’t.” She smiles up at Ichabod and smacks his cheek lightly. “Don’t look like that,” she says.

“Like what? It’s my only face, last time I checked,” he says, capturing her hand and kissing the palm.

“Like a kicked puppy,” Abbie clarifies. “With those big, blue eyes, and the pout,” she says, pulling him down for a quick kiss.

“Hey, now.” Abbie pulls away and shakes her head. “I didn’t mean to start anything.”

“You kissed me!” Ichabod pouts and releases her reluctantly.

“We’re not going to have sex in a bus full of people. What if someone comes upstairs?” Abbie whispers, scandalized.

Ichabod just looks at her.

“I’ll tell them not to,” he says, as if it’s obvious.

“Then they’ll know,” Abbie hisses, and he still doesn’t see what the problem could be.

“Well, yes,” Ichabod says reasonably. “More than likely.”

“Oh, god, I’m going to see how everyone’s doing,” Abbie hisses, moving out of the way of Ichabod’s grasp as she makes it to the stairs. She shakes her head as she turns down the winding, full-sized staircase. She doesn’t even have to crouch, and there’s enough room for even Phillip to walk beside her if he wished.

The first floor of the luxury RV is a bit livelier than upstairs; Phillip is reading a book and Stephen watching a movie at one table, Lulu and Devon are gesticulating wildly over some sketchbooks at another table across the aisle, and Sam is hovering around Nilda, who seems to be making breakfast from the smell of things.

Abbie bites back a bout of nausea as she progresses down the aisle, nodding at everyone and motioning for them not to rise as she slips into the booth next to Phillip.

“Hey, I wanted to tell you how adorable your daughter was again. She almost stole my heart!”

Phillip beams as he puts his tablet down.

“That’s my girl. She’s the light of my life. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“Are you married?” Abbie asks.

Phillip shakes his head.

“I’m a widower,” he says. “My wife, Camilla, passed when Mari was born.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Abbie says, horrified. “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s fine.”

“The pain doesn’t really go away; it just becomes this dull roar in the background of my life. I can talk about it now because I can focus on the great times we had together. I can focus on Mari. My mother helps out when I’m called away and Mari spends summers and a couple of weeks through the year in Angola, where Camilla’s parents live.

“They help me make sure she won’t forget her mother, though she’s never met her.”

Abbie blinks repeatedly to keep the tears from spilling.

“She helped calm my nerves a bit,” she admits.

“Lady Abbie, I don’t think you know how many people want to meet you,” Phillip says seriously.

Stephen glances over from his movie and smiles.

“You’ll find out soon enough, when we reach Mélida City and you see the reception.”

Abbie blanches.

“Reception?”

~*~

More and more, Ichabod finds himself examining his life from the outside; how the spectacle has to appear to someone who hasn’t lived their lives in the spotlight of an entire country, and on some levels, the world.

There is a part of him that wishes to shield Abbie from the looks and harsh words inevitably printed and said about your person by people who have never met or spoken to you. But there is a larger part of Ichabod that sees a side of Abbie blossom in front of the camera and it’s dazzling.

When they arrive in the capital, she returns to his side, subdued and obviously nervous as she notices the traffic through the tinted windows.

“What’s keeping traffic?” she murmurs, her hand in his.

Ichabod smiles.

“We are,” he says, and chuckles when Abbie appears dismayed.

“That’s not going to win us any points,” she says, and glances up at Ichabod when he doesn’t respond. “What are you smiling at?” she asks, with no real irritation in her voice.

“You,” Ichabod says, his gaze dropping down to where he has her hand safely encased between his. “Abbie?”

“Yes?” Abbie squints and leans toward the window. “Oh god, they’ve got signs,” she says. “What does that say? I mean, I can see my name but everything else I can’t understand. Are they telling me to go home? Complaining about the traffic?”

Ichabod follows her pointing and squints.

“It’s Cirtonian, and it says ‘welcome home, Princess Abbie.’”

“Oh,” she says, blinking back tears. “That’s really sweet. Okay, fine, I’ll give you that one,” she mutters, sniffing.

“I know this makeup is waterproof but part of me doesn’t trust it,” she laughs.

“Oh, trust me. I’ve had a drink thrown in my face right before I had to give a public address; no one knew,” he reassures her.

“When was this, and why did you have a drink thrown in your face?” Abbie asks, trying to smother her smile.

“Abbie,” Ichabod says again, gently. “I wanted to say something before we went out in front of everyone.”

“If it’s not a pep talk, can it wait until after? I’ve got the speech in my head and I don’t want to lose it.”

Ichabod stares down at her, heart fit to burst, and nods.

“Absolutely, treasure,” he says.

He can do this later, when she’s not worried about speaking in front of hundreds of people, Ichabod thinks. When he helps Abbie to her feet, she wobbles slightly.

“Are you alright?” he asks, alarmed.

Abbie takes a deep breath and nods.

“I got your stupid stomach bug, remember? Nilda served breakfast and what didn’t come up after I was done is trying to now.”

“I’m sorry I was the unwitting carrier, but can said bug actually be mine if I don’t suffer from it?” Ichabod teases, and is relieved to see a sour smile bloom on her face.

“When I have some logic to spare I will counter that argument, just don’t know how yet,” she murmurs as she takes his hand. “Shall we?”

“I do believe we shall.”

Ichabod helps Abbie out of the RV and into the bright Cirtonian sun and tries to fight his ego as everyone stares at Abbie, enraptured. She’s on his arm and just like in Jamaica, it makes him stand taller.

They wave, practically in sync, and Ichabod feels a curious sense of double-pride. Proud of his country and his people, and proud that they seem to wholeheartedly approve of the tiny goddess on his arm. Abbie doesn’t even appear nervous as she did in the vehicle, all wide smiles as she happily waves.

They step inside the Mélida City Justice Hall and she visibly sags with a laugh.

“That wasn’t too bad, right?”

“Treasure, I think you’re worrying yourself sick,” he says, noticing her flushed complexion. “You charm everyone you meet and you have done wonderfully every time you’ve been in front of the camera.”

“Does it get easier?” she murmurs, the click of her heels the loudest thing in the hall as they are ushered upstairs to the ceremonial balcony where other public addresses have been given by the Cirtonian government.

“I think I’ve been more annoyed than anything having to speak before the press. When it comes to my people I don’t really mind. I like updating them about what’s going on with the country,” he admits.

“So I should think of it as just… updating the locals,” Abbie murmurs.

“Exactly. Trust me, you’ll do fine. Remember, I’m right beside you.”

Abbie nods and glances up at him with a lopsided grin.

“Yeah, you are right beside me, aren’t you?” she beams.

“Forever,” he lets slip, but Abbie doesn't appear to hear him, and Ichabod watches with pride as she visibly calms just before the doors that lead out onto the balcony.

~*~

It’s not as bad as Abbie thought it would be, considering the nausea that seems to kick up any time she smells something funny. And at least she isn’t the only person sick; she can see a few people in the crowd who look like they pulled themselves from bed to see her speak, so the least Abbie can do is make it worth their while.

After the speech, Abbie and Ichabod are able to sit in the shade, and, coupled with the sea breeze she enjoys cirtona berry lemonade and watches a group of teenagers perform an ancient Cirtonian dance called ersaesha ahalla, or dance of heart. It was performed at marriage festivals hundreds of years ago to show the athleticism of eligible men and women.

Abbie can see the influence of many of the cultures that had invaded the small island, and is relieved she can’t tell if one particular cultural heritage is looked upon as better.

What are you doing, Mills, she asks herself. You’re acting like this is permanent. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

“I won’t,” she mutters.

“You say something, treasure?” Ichabod asks, immediately attentive, and Abbie doesn’t fight the urge to touch his face, barely cognizant of the flashbulbs going off.

Everything wells up in her gut and she wants to say how she feels, even if it means learning Ichabod doesn’t feel the same way, but someone coughs and the spell is broken and Abbie realizes she’s in front of hundreds of eyes.

She doesn’t want to do this now.

“No,” Abbie says after a moment, and her heart flutters as Ichabod takes her hand and presses a kiss to her palm before letting it go.

Afterward, they’re greeting the dancers and their parents and Abbie doesn’t stop hugging and posing for pictures or answering questions until six hours later, when they’re waving their departure to the crowd before being ushered back into the justice hall.

Abbie leans heavily on Ichabod, trying to mask how exhausted she is, when he immediately lifts her into his arms.

“Crane, put me down,” she tries to shriek lowly.

“No,” he says. “You looked like you were about to fall over, love. I know you don’t have far to go to the ground, but one still worries.”

Abbie rests her head on his shoulder, lacking the energy to physically fight.

“A short joke? Just wait until I get over this virus thing. I’ll put you flat on your back,” she mutters, blinking slowly.

“Promises, promises,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss into her hair. Ichabod carries Abbie all the way to the RV and up the stairs to the second floor without her making a sound. Placing her on the bed gently he realizes she’s fast asleep, and grows a little concerned.

Perhaps they should’ve postponed the tour until Abbie was feeling better; most of parliament was down with the same virus and seems to last at most eight or nine days. Ichabod touches Abbie’s forehead and is relieved she’s not feverish, thankful for small miracles.

“I will take care of you, treasure,” he says, and after locating the remote to close the blinds on all sides, settles onto the bed and curls around Abbie, falling asleep shortly after.

As the couple slumbers, the caravan continues further into the island, less than a hundred kilometers away to the city of Córmora.

~*~

When Ichabod told her of Córmora, Abbie wondered if his descriptions were filtered through national pride, but finally standing in the city, she realizes he wasn’t exaggerating the city’s beauty. They disembark on the outskirts of town, and to Abbie’s relief, a reasonable car is waiting.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she murmurs.

Ichabod chuckles.

“Is your stomach feeling better?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, it does actually,” Abbie realizes. “So what’s first, the market or the museum?” she asks on the way to the car.

“I want to save my favorite place for last,” Ichabod admits. “There is a lot of our history on display there, and we’ve got some amazing exhibits on loan from other museums. My great-great grandfather, King Rodrigo, made it his mission to bring the museum back to its former glory.”

Abbie wants to ask more, but the car begins its trek into the city proper and she’s too busy peering out the window at the architecture, amazed at the patterns pressed into the stone.

“So does every building have the mosaics on them?” she asks.

“No. Most of the newer ones don’t, but then there are whole neighborhoods bathed in color and patterns from mosaics pressed from the basement to the roof.”

“It’s all so beautiful,” Abbie breathes. “No wonder you’re so proud.”

“Honestly, as much as I love my country and my people… I’m more excited to share them with you than anything.”

The car starts and immediately Abbie’s peering out the window, marveling at the curved architecture.

Córmora isn’t as large as Mélida City, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in eye-popping color. Abbie’s eyes try to follow every swooping pattern and graceful blend of color but then another building will catch her eye and new patterns emerge.

It’s not long before the car is stopping behind an erected stage just like in Mélida, but at least Abbie doesn’t have to give a speech. The Mayor of Córmora, Raquel Simonson, inclines her head as she wheels up the other side of the stage and enthusiastically shakes Abbie’s hand, welcoming them both to her fair city.

“Tell me you’re going to see a few of the sights while you’re here,” Raquel says eagerly.

“The Córmora Museum of Art is definitely on our list,” Abbie says. “And I think we were going to the souk as well?” she glances at Ichabod in question.

“I hope you like to shop--the souk is renowned for taking all your money,” Raquel jokes.

“What do they sell?”

“A little of everything,” Ichabod says. “Lots of artists display their work, and farmers show off their produce. Everyone who can make or create comes through there eventually.”

“I’m already excited,” Abbie admits. “Córmora is so beautiful and I know I’ll enjoy myself here.”

“That you will. If you don’t mind, your highness, I do have a city planning meeting that was hastily rescheduled. Everything has been arranged for your security and I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“Thank you, Raquel. Pleasure to see you again.” Ichabod smiles and nods his head once at Raquel before she wheels away.

“Your highness, Lady Abbie? There are some people who would like to meet you,” Phillip says as he leads them off the stage and back onto the street. There is a group of school children that look to be around eight or nine years old, dressed in bright yellow and blue uniforms.

“Oh,” Abbie squeaks. “Doesn’t everyone look adorable?” she asks.

“They wanted to meet Lady Abbie. Their parents are just over there.” Phillip gestures to the group of men and women trying to take pictures of Ichabod and Abbie surreptitiously and largely failing.

Abbie laughs and comes to crouch in front of the children.

“Good afternoon, I’m Abbie. It’s a pleasure to meet you all. Can you tell me your names?”

The children stare at her shyly until one young man steps up and thrusts his chest out proudly.

“I’m Omar, Lady Abbie!”

Abbie beams brightly.

“Hi, Omar! How are you?”

“I’m Mélida!”

“I’m Cameron!”

“I’m Josephine!”

“I’m Zahniel!”

“Oh, well nice to meet everyone,” Abbie says, rising to her feet and mournfully realizing she’s not that much taller than the children. “Why aren’t you in school?”

“We wanted to meet you,” Cameron says lowly. “My mom says you’re a princess!”

“Are you a princess, Lady Abbie?” Zahniel asks eagerly.

“She sure is, children,” Ichabod says, stepping up behind Abbie, who seems to be at a loss for words.

“Good afternoon, Prince Ichabod,” they all chime in unison, and Abbie has to clap her hands over her mouth to keep from shrieking.

“Good afternoon, children. Are you doing well in school?” he asks, mock seriously.

“Yes!” they all holler.

Ichabod winks at Abbie before putting his serious face on.

“Do you listen to your parents?”

“Yes!”

“No,” someone yells from the group of parents, and everyone in earshot laughs.

“You have to listen to your parents, kids,” Abbie says from around a lump in her throat. “It doesn’t always feel that way, but they want you to be happy and healthy, okay?”

“Lady Abbie?” Mélida asks, sidling up to her.

Abbie crouches so they’re eye-level.

“Yes, my darling?”

“Can I come with you to the souk?” she asks, reaching out to touch the Queen’s Favor at Abbie’s collarbone.

“Oh, I don’t know – it depends on your parents,” she says without thinking, only realizing her mistake when all the children scamper off back to their parents.

“Oh shit, what did I do?” she hisses at Ichabod, and claps her hand over her mouth.

Ichabod opens his mouth to respond when two of the kids come tearing back, breathlessly telling them they can come. The rest of the children join them as well, eagerly ready to go.

“Oh no,” Abbie whispers, glancing around. “We can’t fit everyone in the car.”

“Your highness, would you care for a suggestion?” Phillip asks, eyeing the two little girls with their hands in both Ichabod’s pockets.

“Please,” Abbie says.

“The souk is just a ten-minute walk – this way the children can still accompany you and we don’t have to work out the logistics of transportation. That is, if it’s alright with you, your highness,” Phillip says again.

“Sounds perfect,” Abbie says, and Ichabod relents.

“Seems I’ve been outvoted.”

“Handsome and smart,” she murmurs, leaning her face up for a kiss. Ichabod obliges and the children shriek and scream in disgust.

“Alright, alright,” Abbie laughs. “Where’s the souk?”

~*~

It’s the fourth booth they’ve visited and Abbie is already running out of ways to politely decline the merchandise being offered to her. And these aren’t just trinkets from a jar, or mass-produced baubles – these are items and foodstuffs the creators have obviously put a lot of work into.

Ichabod sees Abbie’s distress and pulls her over, reluctantly parting her from the gaggle of kids pressed around her.

“Treasure,” he murmurs. “What’s wrong?”

“I didn’t bring my purse,” she hisses, her eyes a little bright.

“I don’t understand. Did you leave something important in your purse?”

“I didn’t bring any money!” Abbie says, looking more embarrassed than anything. “I’m not used to being without my purse.”

“Is that all?” he asks.

“What do you mean ‘is that all?’” she hisses. “Yes, Ichabod. These people work hard for their stuff and I don’t want to take it, not when I can pay for it.”

“But they’re excited you’re here and want to give you things,” he says gently.

Abbie looks up at him and sighs.

“I didn’t look at it that way,” she admits. “But I still can’t. Can I borrow fifty bucks?”

Ichabod stares down at her in confusion.

“Treasure, get whatever you want,” he says. “I’ll ensure the bill is settled.”

“That means payment, right? Not letting them give me everything for free?” Abbie pokes him in the chest and he laughs at how serious she looks.

“Absolutely, my love. Go and do not worry.”

Abbie exhales heavily.

“This is so strange. Make sure you stop me when I hit my limit,” she mutters before going back and joining the children.

Ichabod absolutely does not tell her she has a limit, and after the group leaves this particular booth with all the children holding ice cream cones as large as their heads, he quietly pays the proprietor twice the price on his menu, and leaves a large tip besides.

He feels a bit high on adrenaline and other people’s happiness, watching the love of his life be dragged from booth to booth by children eager and excited to show her everything their city has to offer.

Their security detail doesn’t even escape Abbie’s generosity, as they stand around eating olive and sausage balls on sticks. A short person tugs on his hand and Ichabod looks down to see little Mélida staring up at him.

“Prince Ichabod?”

“Yes, Mélida, do you need something?” he asks as they saunter along behind the larger group in front of them.

“You love Lady Abbie?” she asks, ice cream drying around her lips.

Ichabod nods immediately.

“I really do,” he says. “Why do you ask?”

“You look at her like Papa looks at Mama when she’s not looking at him. Which isn’t a lot because she’s always looking at him,” she says.

Ichabod glances up to see Abbie smiling at him fondly, and his heart picks up.

“Understandable,” he says, suddenly wishing they were back on the RV. Ichabod looks back down at Mélida.

“You’re about to drop your sausage on a stick, love,” he says as it bends precariously out of her hands.

Mélida screeches and grabs her food as Omar rushes back toward them.

“You want some candy? Lady Abbie is getting everyone a lollipop!” he hollers, and Mélida scampers after him, diving between her friends as they press their faces against the display window showcasing various delectable candies.

Abbie gives the woman working the booth the final order and slips out to come stand next to Ichabod.

“You haven’t told me I’ve reached my limit yet,” she murmurs.

“I agreed I would when you did,” he says, noticing her adjusting her weight from one foot to the next. “Are your feet hurting?”

Abbie grimaces.

“I should’ve worn my wedges. I can walk for miles in wedges but I didn’t think I would be walking this much,” she admits.

“Cobblestone isn’t exactly the most forgiving material, either,” Ichabod says. “Thankfully, I considered your footwear after Phillip’s suggestion we walk.”

“Ichabod Crane, you are not going to carry me, are you?” she asks, backing away with her eyes narrowed.

“I would if I thought you’d let me,” Ichabod says honestly. “But alas, I have something more practical in mind.”

He gestures to Stephen, who steps forward and hands him a satchel.

“Come, treasure,” he says, taking Abbie’s hand and pulling her off to the side to sit at one of the unoccupied tables. Ichabod crouches before her and begins undoing the tiny buckle on her outer ankle.

“What are you doing?” she asks, staring at his nimble fingers work.

“I thought it would be obvious,” he says, grinning lecherously at her.

“Seducing me in public?” Abbie inwardly curses that her voice comes out more breathlessly than she required.

“That’s just an added bonus,” Ichabod says, but doesn’t hesitate to gently rub the inside of her ankle down to her instep, giving it a quick massage before slipping on a sensible ballet flat in black.

“Look, it matches my outfit,” Abbie says.

Ichabod looks mournful.

“You doubted me?”

Abbie leans forward and cups his cheek gently.

“Devon has great taste,” she says, and bursts out laughing at Ichabod’s face. “But it’s you who had the thought, so love you more than him.”

“Well, thank god for small mercies,” Ichabod says, leaning into her touch.

“As much as I love having you down there, I think people are watching,” Abbie says with a sigh. They both turn to see various people snapping pictures of what was just a moment ago private.

“Ah,” Ichabod says. “The public awaits.” He’s mostly business when he replaces Abbie’s other shoe with the flat and regains some of his mirth when he helps her to her feet and she’s lost a couple inches of advantage.

“Not one word, Ichabod Crane,” Abbie says, poking him in the chest as he looks down at her.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he says, and watches her walk away with his heart fit to burst. She said she loved him, but… was it said merely in jest?

“Treasure, I have something I want to tell you,” he whispers to her retreating form. “But perhaps another time.”

“Your highness, do you require anything?”

Ichabod snaps out of his thoughts to see Stephen staring at him expectantly.

“No, thank you, Stephen,” Ichabod says, handing him the bag with Abbie’s shoes.

It isn’t long before Abbie and Ichabod have to return the children back to their parents. Abbie gives each and every one of them a kiss and a hug before they go, all of them talking up a storm about Lady Abbie and how nice and pretty she is, to which Ichabod wholeheartedly agrees.

They are met with the car and as soon as the door closes behind them, Abbie groans and immediately wilts.

“I can’t remember the last time I felt so tired,” she groans.

“You overexerted yourself, didn’t you? Are you feverish?” Ichabod presses his cheek against hers and hums. “No, no fever.”

“That has to be the most unusually handsome thermometer I’ve ever been subjected to,” Abbie purrs, climbing into his lap and settling against him.

“We don’t have to see the museum if you’re not up to it,” he says quietly, worried at how spent she feels in his arms.

“I can hear the disappointment in your voice,” Abbie says, her voice muffled by the fabric of Ichabod’s shirt.

“Your health and wellbeing is more important to me than anything,” he says seriously.

Abbie sighs and snuggles closer.

“What do we have to do after the museum?”

“Nothing. We will be back on the road heading to Sarna, about four hours away.”

“Are we staying on the whale bus?”

Ichabod chuckles, jostling Abbie with his mirth.

“Whale bus?”

“I didn’t stutter,” Abbie says, groaning softly as the car finally begins to move.

“No, we will have lodging in Sarna – our family has a residence there.”

“Then I can survive the museum,” she says, sleepily. “Just give me five minutes.”

Ichabod cradles her gently and holds her the entire drive to the museum.

~*~

The Córmora Museum of Modern Art is as breathtakingly beautiful inside as it is outside; the curving architecture of Córmora carves out a spiral of art going both up five stories and three below ground. Ichabod explains that strategically concealed mirrors direct the natural sunlight from the top of the building all the way down the central shaft to the bottom, where it shines down on an almost unbelievably large formation of crystals. The last three floors are continuously bathed in rainbow-colored light until the sun goes down.

They ride all the way to the top while Ichabod describes the nationwide contest for a permanent fixture to use as a focal point for the building.

“A year ten class from Nacid created the concept after it was discovered the museum would be built on top of a previously unknown cave of crystal.”

Abbie eagerly darts out of the elevator, pulling Ichabod along as she rushes to the edge and looks down. She gasps. From this vantage point it doesn’t look like crystal, but a sea of rainbows at the bottom of a well, gently pulsating and shifting.

“This is amazing,” she says. “Kids, I tell you,” she says admiringly.

Proudly, Ichabod tucks Abbie’s hand into his elbow and leads her down, remarking that the builders had to ensure accessibility so the slope is extremely small, having the added bonus of requiring more floors to complete the spiral down.

Abbie glances around, realizing she hasn’t seen another person since they stepped foot in the museum.

“Where is everyone?” she asks, looking behind them and realizing not even Stephen or Phillip have joined them.

“We’ve got the place to ourselves,” Ichabod says. “I thought we could both use a little rest away from the crowds.”

Abbie, startled, glances up at Ichabod squeezes his hand.

“Thank you,” she says. “I was going to turn it on and greet whomever I needed to,” she says.

“I know, but I also know you’re not well. I don’t want you to overexert yourself. You fell asleep immediately in the car and it took me three tries to wake you.”

“Three?” Abbie winces. “I’m sorry.”

“Treasure, don’t be,” Ichabod says. “I don’t say that to shame you, I say it to show my concern. You’d tell me if you feel so badly you’d like to cancel the rest of the tour, right? Cirtona isn’t going anywhere and hopefully neither are you. I mean, for the time being,” he hastily adds.

“Everyone seems like they’ve put so much work into meeting us, I don’t want to disappoint them,” Abbie says.

“I’ve said before, and will say again that you could never.” Ichabod takes her hands and lifts them to press a kiss to her knuckles.

Abbie laughs as he pulls her closer to give her a gentle kiss.

“You know what I’ve always wanted to do?” she whispers against his lips.

“What?”

“Run in a museum.”

Ichabod pulls back quizzically.

“My treasure, so daring,” he jokes.

“Well, you’re always told not to run and there’s so much room and we’re alone and it’s just been a childhood dream of mine to run in a museum.” Abbie flushes with embarrassment when Ichabod laughs.

“I’m not laughing at you, treasure, promise,” he says as he beams down at her.

“You are. I know it’s dumb,” Abbie says petulantly.

“No, it’s just I’ve had the desire to do something of the sort before. More like shout in the library. I understand.”

Abbie beams.

“Exactly,” she says, with a pat on his chest.

“So you should do it,” he says.

“What?” she squeaks.

“Run,” Ichabod urges. “There’s no one about and they’ve turned off the cameras.”

Abbie glances around, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“I can’t,” she says, glancing around gleefully.

“It’s just me, treasure,” he reassures her.

Abbie ducks her head before pulling him down for a kiss.

“Tag,” she breathes into his mouth, and takes off.

Ichabod stares down at the now-empty space in front of him in surprise before taking off after her. His legs and stride might be longer, but Abbie is definitely using her brief head start to evade his clutches, her melodic laugh spurring him to find additional speed.

They turn a corner into an exhibit of old Cirtonian stained glass and a sea of blues and greens shine down on Abbie, making her look like some water nymph or mermaid – unreal and not of this world. Ichabod’s heart constricts and he speeds up just enough to grasp her by the elbow.

Abbie shrieks as she’s lifted bodily from the floor, laughing too hard to breathe as Ichabod holds her against him.

“You caught me,” she pants, leaning against him. “Put me down.”

“Never,” Ichabod says, but lowers her to her feet anyway. He must have had some sort of expression on his face because Abbie reaches up and touches his cheek gently.

“What’s wrong, Ichabod?”

He doesn’t know how to tell her; everything he feels is bundled into an inconvenient ball in his throat and he can barely breathe around it. He lets Abbie lead him to a bench and after throwing him a mischievous look, stands on the bench so they can be the same height.

“There, that’s better,” she says as she draws him closer.

“I love you.”

Abbie freezes and pulls back to see Ichabod’s face.

“What?” she asks shakily.

Ichabod holds her tighter.

“I know we should wait and this is probably too soon, but I love you, Grace Abigail Mills,” he proclaims to his audience of one.

Abbie wobbles slightly, prompting Ichabod to lift her so she can sit on his lap.

“Are you alright?” he asks.

She manages to find her voice.

“How long?”

Ichabod wants to play coy but now that the truth is out he can’t keep his mouth shut.

“Since Jamaica,” he admits.

“Oh, god,” Abbie murmurs, sniffling.

“Treasure, are you crying? My declaration doesn’t require reciprocity at the moment, so please don’t feel compelled to-” Ichabod’s words are cut off by Abbie’s lips. When they part he can still taste her tears as she sniffles. “I didn’t want you to cry,” he says lowly.

Abbie laughs through her tears and shakes her head.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she says. “Are you sure you love me?” she asks. “You can take it back, I’ll understand.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Ichabod says, straightening to his full height. “But I meant it when I said I don’t require you love me back right now,” he says.

Abbie nods, leaning her head against his chest.

“But what if I do?” she asks, squeezing her eyes shut and yelping when Ichabod dips her back so he can see her face.

“Abbie, please look at me,” he says hoarsely, scarcely able to breathe until she opens her eyes and he sees the truth there. “You love me, too?”

Abbie sniffs and wipes her eyes.

“So much it scares me,” she says quietly. “I thought I was in love once but I’ve never felt this way before. It makes me feel like I can… Like I can do anything just as long as we’re together.”

“I look at you and I think if I have you in my corner, if you understand my logic, then I cannot be wrong and I cannot fail. You make me feel invincible and every day I marvel that you chose me when I truly believe you could have any man you want. Abbie, I’m far from the best man but I will endeavor to be the best man for you,” Ichabod vows.

“Oh, Ichabod. I know you will,” Abbie says. “I just don’t know what I have to offer you,” she says, sliding from his lap.

“I mean, you have a whole country you want to share with me and I can’t even cook your breakfast because you’ve already got a staff. I didn’t expect to wait on my husband hand and foot or anything like that, but I kind of expected to cook dinner every once in a while. Surprise you half-naked with dinner, things like that.”

“Abbie, are you asking what I get out of our relationship?” he asks, watching her pace back and forth.

She sighs heavily and nods.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m asking. Because from where I sit all you’re getting is the short end of a short stick.”

Ichabod watches Abbie chew her bottom lip while he gathers his thoughts.

“Abbie,” he says, capturing her hand when she wanders close again. “Please listen to me.”

“Crane –”

“You’re going to listen to me, Abbie,” Ichabod says firmly, sitting her on the bench beside him. “You want to know what I get out of our relationship and I will tell you as best I can. Do you know how beautiful you are?”

Abbie scoffs and ducks her head.

“So it’s physical? Yeah, fair enough.”

“Do not put yourself down like that, treasure. That is beneath you.”

“Is it?” Abbie asks.

Okay. Time to break out the big guns, so to speak.

Ichabod crouches before Abbie again, forcing her to look him in the face.

“My darling love, I have servants and yes men who tell me what I want to hear and get me things that I desire but I have no one who does what you do.”

“What, bother you about getting food for your security?” Abbie asks, her voice painfully small as she tries to look away.

“Yes,” he admits. “And in doing so, you’ve taught me the valuable lesson of showing appreciation to the men and women who pledge their lives to protect mine. I think before you came along they merely tolerated me. I mean, the position does pay well and comes with a very nice benefits package,” he adds. “But that’s not the point. They look at me differently now, like they protect someone they can be proud of, rather than someone they’re merely obligated to. That is because of you.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Maybe a little,” she admits.

“I can tell you anything and I know you will keep my confidence. That I can be my true self, however corny, or serious, or unsure, I know you will not think less of me. I don’t have to consider if I’m showing a weakness I’ll come to regret when I confide in you. I am able to be my true self, Abbie. Do you know how rare that is for me?”

“I think I’m starting to understand,” Abbie says.

“Even my friends, whom I see very sporadically now that I have pretty much done away with my playboy ways, only saw a very specific, unpolished version of me. Abbie… I don’t have a version with you. I am wholly myself and you accept me, bad dancing and all.”

Abbie chuckles at the last.

“And the dancing is bad,” she murmurs.

“Don’t you start. I’ve been working on a medley that would put History of Dance to shame,” Ichabod says, smiling when Abbie ducks her head. “I know your life has made it very difficult to understand how precious you are, and further, how precious you are to me.”

“Crane –”

“Abbie, I cannot go back and make you feel loved, but rest assured I will endeavor to spend the rest of my life gleefully showing every courtesy and bestowing any and every gift upon you that I am able so you can’t help but be sure you know love now.”

Abbie touches his cheek wonderingly.

“You might be Prince of Cirtona, but Ichabod Crane, you’re my prince,” she whispers, sniffling to keep the tears from falling. “I can’t stop crying,” she says. “So when we get married, we’re going to get married for real?”

“It was always real to me,” Ichabod admits.

Abbie nods slowly.

“I think somewhere deep down I felt the same way.” She glances down at their hands, clasped together. “So you really want to get married?”

“More than anything,” Ichabod says.

Abbie’s smile turns shy.

“You want me to be your wife?”

“More than anything.” Ichabod rubs his nose against Abbie’s. “Do you consent to have me as your husband?”

Abbie pulls him closer and sighs as a weight is lifted from her soul.

“You’ll do,” she says, and laughs when Ichabod scoops her up into his arms.

“Ichabod Crane, never put me down,” Abbie says, tucking her head into his neck.

“What?” Ichabod stops twirling them around in surprise. “Am I to understand you’ve been secretly pleased when I pick you up?”

“I’m not saying shit,” Abbie says, her voice muffled by his neck. “Not going to give you a bigger head.”

“My love, I have the biggest head in the world because I have your love.” Ichabod pauses to consider his words as Abbie shakes with laughter. “I will revise that phrasing at a later date.”

~*~

Ichabod thought the feeling in his chest would pass after revealing his true feelings to Abbie, but upon finding they are reciprocated the sensation has grown past his chest into his stomach, legs, arms – to the top of his head and bottoms of his feet to the tips of his fingers.

Everything has suddenly changed, and he can’t take his eyes from the person responsible. Ichabod stays close to Abbie, physically unwilling to be more than a few steps away as he tries to control the need to touch her.

Ichabod’s at a loss and Abbie, his dearest treasure, his wife-to-be, seems to sense his struggle and smiles up at him often, and he finds reassurance in the curve of her lips and the promise in her eyes.

The promise of a life together.

Returning to the mobile accommodations is a blur, as is dinner – Ichabod’s body is so full, food is unnecessary and unwelcome. All he can see is Abbie, and she is enough. Ichabod lets her excuse them both and her tiny hand leads him back upstairs where they are finally alone.

“Are you okay?” Abbie asks, slipping out of her shoes with a sigh.

Ichabod nods from where he’s perched on the bed, watching her putter around, removing her jewelry and letting her hair down.

“Are you?” he asks.

“I think I had something at dinner that isn’t agreeing with me anymore,” she mutters, looking vaguely nauseous. “I’m going to take a quick shower, okay?”

Ichabod nods and considers reading or catching up on email to while away the time until it’s his turn, but Abbie begins to sing and suddenly he craves her touch again. Stripping off his clothes, he moves into the bathroom silently and watches her a moment as she leans against the glass, letting the water cascade delectably down her body while avoiding the shower cap on her head.

Abbie turns when Ichabod opens the shower door and steps inside, her smile wide and knowing.

“I was hoping you’d join me,” she says, sighing deeply when he pulls her into his arms.

“Good thing I’m here, then,” he murmurs, tipping her face up for a gentle kiss. There’s no urgency in their movement as they just enjoy each other under the spray. Eventually Abbie breaks the kiss to lather a loofa.

“We should do what we came to do in here,” she says as she soaps his chest.

“Who’s to say this isn’t what I came for?” Ichabod asks fondly, watching Abbie concentrate on lathering his body with sure and even strokes.

“You’ve been staring at me all night,” she mutters, with no real heat.

“Did it bother you?”

“I soaked through my panties,” Abbie says, not quite looking up at him. “You know what you do to me,” she says quietly.

“Doesn’t mean I don’t like hearing you tell me,” he says, taking a quick inhale when Abbie drops to her knees. She glances up at him with a small wicked smile as she soaps his calves and thighs, keeping her face hovering just over his groin.

“Hearing me say I wanted to crawl over the table to you and sit on your cock?” Abbie asks innocently, biting her lip when said member twitches by her face. “Well, someone’s excited.”

“Treasure, you can’t kill me before the wedding,” he pleads.

“That’s no fun,” Abbie says, and licks a stripe up Ichabod’s dick before swallowing him down. Eagerly moaning around his cock, Abbie begins to bob her head, taking more and more of his turgid length as she sucks powerfully.

Ichabod is helpless as he leans against the marble, using all his strength not to move his hips and fuck Abbie’s mouth.

“Oh god, Abbie,” he pleads – for her to speed up or slow down he’s unsure, but the way she looks up at him with her gorgeous lips wrapped around his dick makes it pulse so hard he can feel it in his fingertips.

“Treasure,” he warns, and Abbie has the cheek to give him a wink as she grabs his ass and sucks hard.

He comes powerfully, helpless to stop the jerk of his hips as he tries to fit as much of himself into Abbie’s glorious mouth as he can, groaning low and loudly.

“Oh, my god,” he pants as he falls from her lips with an audible pop, feeling the tingle from his head to his toes as he hauls her up for a kiss, turned on by the taste of himself on her tongue.

“I shall never tire of that,” he says, and Abbie laughs.

“You better not. Who else would I practice on?” she asks.

“If you share this with anyone else I can’t be held responsible for what my jealousy will cause me to do,” Ichabod murmurs, running his nose against the moisture gathering on her neck. “I don’t like to share.”

“Neither do I, so we’re even,” Abbie says, holding him close. “Now let me go, so I can finish.”

Ichabod retrieves the loofa where it had fallen under the shower spray.

“Allow me,” he says, and gently bathes Abbie as she did him, using more of his hands than the loofa to gently caress her gorgeous brown skin. The more Ichabod rubs, the more it gleams under the water, until he’s merely kneading certain body parts greedily.

Abbie has to brace both hands against the glass door, tossing her head back and forth as Ichabod continues to gently rub against her hard nipples, tugging on them just enough to get her back to arch and her ass to press firmly against him. She was wet before she got into the shower, but she’s positively sodden by the time one of his hands travels down her stomach to delve between the curls at her apex.

Abbie cries out against the intrusion even as she widens her legs so he can move in deeper.

“Ichabod,” she pants, biting her lower lip as he begins to pump slowly. He glides against her clit with every stroke, reveling in the noises he coaxes from her.

“Don’t you want to come for me, treasure?” he asks, grazing his teeth along the shell of her ear.

“Yes,” she whines, collapsing against him as she moves her hips. Ichabod holds her up, savoring the way Abbie scrabbles against his arm as she fucks his hand.

“Oh, god,” she groans, and comes hard enough for her knees to buckle.

Ichabod gently withdraws his hand to lick her essence from his fingers before turning off the shower. Without warning he picks her up and carries her into the room.

“Crane, I can walk if you give me a moment,” she says breathlessly as he places her on the floor.

Ichabod says nothing, smiling lovingly as he returns with two oversized towels. Gently he dries Abbie’s skin as she dries his, both laughing and trying to make each other’s job difficult.

“Will you hold still,” he laughs, attempting to get the water that clings to the small of her back.

“Come down here so I can get your hair,” Abbie retorts, leaning up on her tiptoes so she can throw the towel around his head and use it for leverage. “Lanky ass.”

Eventually Ichabod acquiesces and kneels before Abbie so she can thoroughly dry his hair and shoulders.

“There, now you look civilized,” she says. When he doesn’t answer, she glances down and rolls her eyes.

“God, you’re acting like you’ve never seen my boobs before,” she says.

“Ah, but they’re so magnificent they render me as speechless as the first time I saw them, when you assaulted me on the beach.” Ichabod leans forward to capture a nipple in his mouth when he’s stopped by Abbie’s hand on his forehead.

“Excuse me, assaulted?” she asks.

“Yes, when your blinding beauty caused me to fall down a sand dune. Really, Abbie, I could’ve been injured.”

Abbie tries not to laugh but can’t help it, especially when Ichabod’s shoulders begin to shake with mirth.

You? Your six foot everything ass toppled over me! Besides, what had you been listening to that had you so wrapped up?”

Ichabod opens his mouth to respond and stops.

“You know, I don’t rightly recall at the moment.”

“Dork,” Abbie proclaims before pressing a kiss to his forehead.

“If I’m such a dork, can I offer to lotion your body for you whilst you relax on the bed?”

Abbie pretends to consider.

“I guess,” she says. “Just make sure you don’t get distracted. You tend to leave whole yards untouched and then I have to look like a calico.”

Ichabod laughs as he pushes Abbie gently toward the bed.

“I don’t get distracted,” he says, getting a tub of her favorite shea butter from the dresser, one that smells like honey and vanilla. He screws open the top and inhales, cock hardening at the thought of spreading this ambrosia on Abbie’s skin.

“Uh huh, I can see you from here,” Abbie says, sprawled on the bed. “You’re not going to behave.”

“Do you want me to?” he asks, stalking over to bed, his erection rising heavily between his thighs as Abbie rolls onto her stomach, revealing her glorious backside to him.

“I guess you’ll have to find out, won’t you,” she says, crossing her arms beneath her face and settling in.

Ichabod crouches on the edge of the bed and gently massages the shea butter into the soles of Abbie’s feet, smiling softly at the decadent groan he manages to pull from her tired muscles. Meticulously, he kneads the muscles into pliancy with generous handfuls of the shea butter until every inch he’s touched shines beneath the light.

He takes his time to drag his body against Abbie’s using the pretense of reaching her neck and shoulders, biting back a groan when his cock nestles against her ass like it belongs there. He gives a gentle thrust and feels Abbie’s muscles tense beneath his fingertips.

“I’m ready to do the front, treasure,” he says, trying to control his need for her.

“If I turn over, are you going to behave?” Abbie asks, her voice muffled against the duvet.

“I always behave,” Ichabod says indignantly, just barely managing not to groan when she lifts her ass. His cock falls between her cheeks and he almost collapses on top of her.

“But I cannot promise what I’ll do if you continue to poke the beast,” he manages to get out.

“And here I thought the beast was poking me,” Abbie murmurs as she releases Ichabod and turns onto her back with her eyes closed. “I’m trusting you,” she warns, and he feels only marginally bad at the thoughts his mind immediately conjures when presented with the front of her form.

Ichabod swallows and sets to work, gently rubbing the weariness away as the shea butter melts into oil. He begins with her feet and legs, grinning when Abbie begins to bite her bottom lip and her knees ease apart just a little.

He keeps his touch careful, paying attention to her inner thighs and letting his fingers trail as close as he dares to her folds, already glistening with evidence of her want. With herculean strength he continues up her hips and torso, easing himself between her legs.

Ichabod watches as her thighs part and her folds open, beckoning him closer. He stares at her pussy hungrily as he continues to massage, heedless of the fact that he’s been pretty much just groping Abbie’s breasts for the past few seconds.

Fuck, Crane,” Abbie moans as she widens her legs even more.

“I’m sorry,” he says, but he’s not sorry at all as he takes his cock and drags it up and down her entrance, spreading the copious moisture there. Ichabod’s spellbound as Abbie whines and pulls at his arm.

“You’re sorry?” she asks breathlessly. “Are you going to stay sorry or are you going to fuck me?” Abbie’s groan lifts into a perfect harmonic, causing goosebumps to erupt down Ichabod’s spine as he begins to push forward.

Ichabod’s head drops to Abbie’s chest as he sheaths himself fully inside of her, his body ecstatic upon its return to such a cherished place. He kisses every inch of skin he can find while trying not to come immediately.

“Crane, if you don’t move,” Abbie whines, tightening around him.

“That’s not helping, treasure,” he yelps, attempting to re-center himself again.

“Am I supposed to be helping?” Abbie asks, blowing a tendril of hair from her forehead. “I was supposed to be getting lotioned up if I recall correctly.”

“I applied the lotion! It’s not my fault your body is a wonderland!”

Abbie’s eyes widen and she attempts to twist out of his grasp but is laughing too hard.

“No, I can’t have sex with someone who quotes John Mayer,” she giggles, gasping as Ichabod withdraws and flips her onto her stomach. “Crane…” she warns.

“Your body is a wonderland, and I know exactly what to do about you and your cheek,” Ichabod punctuates with a gentle smack to her ass before filling his hands with her glorious backside and entering her from behind.

“Oh, god,” Ichabod groans. “I’ll never get used to such a sensation,” he says.

“Better not,” Abbie pants. “Now move,” she pleads.

“I’m going to start singing Your Body Is a Wonderland if you don’t let me adjust,” he warns weakly.

Abbie struggles to her hands and knees and throws her ass back on Ichabod.

“Let’s see if you can remember the words,” she says, fucking herself on his cock as she squeezes as tightly as she can around his length.

Swearing, Ichabod begins to fuck her in earnest, widening her knees and driving forward hard enough to watch her ass shake from the recoil. It’s a mesmerizing sight, but does nothing to stave off his impending orgasm.

“Treasure…” he pleads.

“Oh fuck,” Abbie cries out, stilling for a moment as her body trembles.

“Oh no, no,” Ichabod grits out, pulling her back by the waist. “You cannot wait whilst I gather myself but I am to feel you contract around me and not move?”

“Ichabod, I’m sorry,” Abbie half-laughs, half-moans. “Please,” she babbles.

“Please, what? Please make you come so hard you forget your own name? With pleasure,” Ichabod says darkly, slowing his stroke as to drag his cock against her walls. Abbie shudders and his thighs are soaked with her juices, letting him know she’s closer than he realizes.

Ichabod rolls them until he’s on his back and Abbie’s straddling him facing away, enthralled as her body accepts all of him as she continues to flutter around him.

“Shit,” Abbie swears, her voice going high, falling forward to brace herself on his knees as her head begins to thrash.

“You can’t stop yourself from coming, my love,” Ichabod grunts, highly entertained as Abbie attempts to do just that with his hands on her ass. But with every movement – no matter how small – Ichabod is rubbing against her spot and her body won’t be denied as it practically drools around his cock.

Abbie means to tell Ichabod she can and she will--it’s her body, damn it, but she shifts her hips and her brain takes a backseat to chasing the sensation and she is bouncing on his cock, coming harder than she can remember in quite some time.

Ichabod groans in relief, feeling his soul leave as he thrusts into Abbie’s small body, both of them falling over to their sides as they try to catch their breath.

“Man, I needed that,” Abbie murmurs, on the edge of sleep already, groaning as Ichabod withdraws and cuddles closer. As much as she wants to move, her body absolutely does not, even as she feels Ichabod’s smile against the back of her shoulder.

“Don’t you dare,” she warns sleepily.

“Your body is a wonder- ow! Treasure!”

Chapter Text

“I almost threw up on her shoes,” Abbie wails with a laugh, giggling with Jenny on the speakerphone next to her head, safely on a dry ledge while she enjoys the jets of a hot tub on her tired body. “It wasn’t my fault the whole place smelled like the bad side of an expired can. I couldn’t even eat the crab legs.”

What? You couldn’t down some crab legs? Must be a hell of a bug.”

Abbie hums her agreement as she closes her eyes and floats just above the seat.

There’s a video of you with a bunch of kids, singing by the river.”

“Oh god,” Abbie says with a sigh. “You’re joking.”

Jenny cackles.

Nope! It’s on YouTube and everything. I swear, since you’ve been in Cirtona, I’ve seen you more than when you’re here!”

Abbie wrinkles her nose and picks up her phone to enable FaceTime.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called more often,” she says, her heart picking up at the sight of her sister’s face.

“That’s not what I meant. You call plenty. It’s just weird seeing you do stuff half a world away on a TV channel normally devoted to the Kardashians.

“Oh god.”

Again, not necessarily a bad thing.” Jenny’s smile turns wistful. “Hey, Abbie?”

“Yeah?”

Jenny moves the phone closer to her face.

Wow, you look exhausted.”

“Gee, thanks,” Abbie deadpans. “Yesterday was crazy; we had a parade through the city, which is really small. Like, Sleepy Hollow-sized. But it’s so beautiful, Jenny. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

She wobbles as she tries to hold the phone up so Jenny can see the current breathtaking view.

But what is it? Nevermind--where are you? Are you in a pool?”

Abbie yelps when she almost drops her phone.

“Yeah, sort of,” she says, splashing to the other side of the tub. “Sarna sits across a river, I forgot the name of the river – shit,” she hisses.

Ooh, Imma tell – is there gonna be a test?”

“Better not,” Abbie mutters. “But Ichabod’s family owns this house that’s kind of built into a hill overlooking the town. I feel like everything around here is a couple hundred years old. It’s freaky.”

Doesn’t tell me why you’re in a pool.”

“Because it’s hot and I can’t sleep,” Abbie whines. “And it’s not so much a pool than a tub. It has jets, but I turned them off because I wanted to seem like I actually wanted to hear what you had to say.”

Nice.”

“I thought so,” Abbie says primly.

“It’s early in the morning here and the sun rose about an hour ago. Fog is still hanging around the streets and trees and it looks like it could be smack in the middle of New England. Well,” she amends. “Except the architecture is all wrong and even though people say ‘river’ my brain keeps thinking ‘ocean’ so…”

You’re babbling.”

Abbie takes in a deep breath and looks anywhere but at the phone.

“I guess I am.”

What’s wrong? Do I need to come beat Prince Charming’s ass? I’ve got some frequent flyer miles, I’ll do it.”

Abbie wants to slip beneath the water under the weight of her happiness.

“No, you can’t kick my fiancé’s ass,” she says fondly.

Jenny peers at her again through the phone.

Oh god,” she mutters. “You two finally decided to tell each other how you felt?”

Abbie huffs.

“You didn’t know,” she says.

I knew,” Jenny corrects. “I knew it was going to be a bad idea if you didn’t put on your big girl pants and tell him how you felt. ‘Friendship,’ my ass.”

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“You don’t know anything,” she says.

I know everything. Who said it first?

Abbie bites her bottom lip, trying to keep from smiling.

“He did,” she admits.

Jenny nods approvingly.

Nice,” she says. “Spare me the mushy details though.”

“I’m not telling you anything!”

Good! So you’re going to move to Cirtona?” Jenny asks.

Abbie nods slowly.

“I guess I am,” she says. “It’s so weird. I used to think of Sleepy Hollow as home, but since I’ve come here… I can’t think of home as separate from Crane anymore.”

Oh god, she’s sprung,” Jenny wails into the air. “Wow, you’re really going to be Princess of Cirtona.

Abbie’s stomach drops as she swallows.

“I’m trying not to think about that,” she says. “One day at a time, you know.”

They already call you Princess Abbie.”

“Not helping, Jenny.”

“Treasure? What has you up so early?”

Abbie jerks in the water to see Ichabod at the open double doors, adorably sleepy with his hair falling into his eyes. Her heart clenches as he comes closer, obvious concern in his eyes.

“Hey,” she says quietly. “I’m talking to Jenny.”

“Good morning, Jennifer,” Ichabod says, more yawning than speaking the salutation.

Hey, Prince Charming. Seems you’ve managed to the impossible,” Jenny says, looking vaguely impressed.

Ichabod leans close to the phone, squinting.

“And what’s that?”

You managed not to fuck up,” she says sweetly.

“Jenny,” Abbie groans as Ichabod chuckles.

“I daresay that is a stamp of approval,” Ichabod says. “Thank you, Jennifer.”

Call me Jennifer one more time and Abbie has to tell me something embarrassing about you,” Jenny warns.

Ichabod leans forward eagerly.

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t hear you well, Jennifer.”

Abbie!

Abbie winces.

“Crane knows all the lyrics to Ludacris’ Fantasy,” she says, sighing when Jenny drops the phone, laughing.

“The joke is on you, Jennifer, because I’m quite proud of that fact,” Ichabod says smugly. “We’ll call you later, Jennifer. Have a good night.”

Oh god, wait-” Jenny wheezes, but Ichabod ends the call.

“I’m going to hear about that later,” Abbie says, watching appreciatively as Ichabod strips out of his pajama pants and sinks into the temperate water beside her.

“I’ll send her a gift basket,” Ichabod dismisses, pulling her close so he can rest his head on her shoulder. “What has you awake so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Abbie says. “I don’t know why because that bed feels like heaven.” Abbie hums as she’s lifted onto Ichabod’s lap.

“Something on your mind, love?” Ichabod asks as he tugs on the ties on Abbie’s hips.

“Yep. Wondering what you’re doing down there.” Abbie wiggles as he removes the bikini bottom and places it on the tiled edge of the tub.

“I’m not doing anything, treasure,” he says, rubbing his hands up and down her hips gently.

Abbie winds her arms around Ichabod’s neck and sighs, refusing to squirm.

“Someone could come out here,” she murmurs as she rests her cheek against his.

“They could,” he agrees. “But if they do, it means they work for me, and they’ll announce themselves first.”

“You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you,” Abbie says, her eyes fluttering shut as he begins to knead her ass with his long fingers. She holds him closer, shivering in his grasp.

“I do admit I take a certain satisfaction in responding to you,” he rumbles, unabashedly letting her feel him rise between them.

“So I feel,” Abbie purrs, dragging herself against Ichabod’s hardened shaft. The sensation feels better than she expected so she does it again, grinding herself against him and feeling herself get wet.

“God, how do you do this to me,” she moans, both his hands on her ass. “I’ve never needed anyone as much as I need you.”

“You think you’re alone in this maelstrom?” In the coming morning light Ichabod’s eyes are almost fully dilated as he stares up at her. “You’ve transformed me into this creature dedicated to your every whim. I do what I must to see you safe, to see you smile, to feel your happiness – needing those moments to survive until we do this again.”

He lifts her and hisses at her slick, slow slide down his cock as Abbie’s body engulfs him.

Abbie wills herself to relax, breathing deeply through her nose until he’s pressing against that spot inside of her that makes her back bow.

“Fuck,” she breathes, rocking slowly as he grips her hips tightly and pulls her against him.

They’re hardly moving, breathing each other’s air as they move together with barely restrained passion. Abbie closes her eyes as Ichabod runs his hands over her skin reverently, sliding her bikini top aside so he can thumb the pebbled peaks of her nipples. The sensation jolts straight to her clit and her back bows.

“Shit,” she whines.

Ichabod moans as Abbie tightens around him so he does it again, gleefully watching her shiver as she pants and pushes her breasts into his hands. He obliges, massaging them gently while taking one nipple into his mouth and giving it a kitten lick before sucking on it.

“Yes, fuck,” Abbie sighs, moving her hips faster as she braces her hands on Ichabod’s shoulders.

He releases her nipple to watch her ride, enraptured as he watches her cry out at the sensations she’s feeling.

“Does it feel good, treasure?” he asks, gently tugging on her nipples.

“Oh god,” Abbie cries out, working the water into a frenzy with her movements.

“Yes,” she whines. “So good – oh fuck!”

Ichabod turns them around so he’s kneeling on the seat beneath the water, Abbie’s ass in his hands as he begins to stroke deeply, filling her over and over again. He’s trying to be gentle but Abbie rakes her fingernails down his chest.

“Please, please,” Abbie pants, unaware of the words falling from her lips as she holds on and lets that heavy feeling pool in her groin.

“Oh god, Crane,” she cries, and comes so hard she almost blacks out.

Ichabod comes right after, falling into his own orgasm upon viewing Abbie practically rapture away.

“My dearest,” he pants, holding her tremulous body to him as he withdraws gently. “I pray you never have cause to leave my side.”

Abbie reaches up to touch his face gently.

“My man,” she murmurs drowsily. “Ichabod?” she asks.

“Yes, my love?”

“Carry me to bed?” she asks, yawning again. “I think I can sleep again.”

Ichabod kisses Abbie’s temple and chuckles.

~*~

Ichabod and Abbie’s goodwill tour coincides with Sarna’s Seafood Festival, and on their last night in the quaint town it’s the second night of the festival and the town square is filled with tables of food showcasing the best from the waters of the Pedernales river. Everywhere there are paper lanterns and people milling about with plates and the vacant expression of those who have eaten too much but don’t intend to stop any time soon.

Abbie is able to ignore the roil of her stomach for the most part; she doesn’t feel like she wants to throw up but she stays away from the crab legs, as beautiful as they look. Happily, she’s able to get a bowl of Cirtona berries, and she carries that around to munch on as she coos appropriately for the cameras as she’s shown specialty dishes and merchandise from the yearly event.

By the end of the day, the press is satisfied with its tapings and Abbie and Ichabod are more or less left alone to appreciate the small village without cameras shoved in their faces. The sun is beginning to set and the sky is a beautiful mix of rose gold and impending navy blue.

“It’s so beautiful here,” Abbie says, walking hand in hand with Ichabod as they cross the river on the curved bridge.

“Are you sure you don’t wish to go back to the house? You look as if you want to throw up again,” Ichabod murmurs.

“Gee, thanks. And no,” she sighs. “I don’t want to look like a punk.”

Ichabod sputters a laugh.

“How would you look like a punk?”

“Nevermind,” Abbie says, popping another berry into her mouth. “You know, Cirtona never ceases to surprise me. This village has been around for almost two hundred years, doing the same thing they’ve always done. Just reminds me if something isn’t broke you shouldn’t fix it.”

“Well said.”

Ichabod and Abbie turn to find Lord Ignacio Zuna walking toward them with two flutes of wine. They accept reluctantly – the man proved himself to be a pompous jackass the day before by wheedling Abbie about her life growing up in the system in the United States, veering very close to stating her childhood should exclude her from being Ichabod’s wife.

They were on camera then, and Abbie had to smile and suck it up; she knows there are people who share his sentiment. If she’s going to actually be Ichabod’s wife that’s not all she’ll be. She’ll be princess of Cirtona.

Whatever the hell that means.

“Lord Zuna,” Abbie says with a nod before swallowing down most of the drink. She can’t help but smile with delight when it turns out to be Cirtona berry wine.

“Thank you,” she says honestly.

“Yes, that paella was a touch salty,” Ichabod says with an incline of his head.

“My pleasure, your highness. My lady,” Zuna says with a short bow. “My Prince, it would make my wife and her friends the happiest women on the planet if you were to taste their calamari croquettes just up the lane. They saw you walk by and thought you had decided not to partake.”

Abbie tries to keep her face impassive but the thought of calamari is making her stomach roll over.

“Please, we don’t want Lady Zuna to think you’re snubbing her calamari,” Abbie says.

“You want calamari?” Ichabod asks, slightly suspicious.

Abbie presses her hand to her mouth and breathes deeply for a moment.

“I don’t think this stomach bug is going to let me have any, and I’m not a big fan on the best of days. Besides, they don’t care about my opinion, they want the opinion of Prince Ichabod,” she teases.

“I’ll keep Lady Abbie company while you partake,” Lord Zuna offers, and Abbie’s stomach turns over for a different reason.

“Treasure, are you sure?” Ichabod asks, taking her elbow gently.

Abbie glances to the side and sees Phillip standing at attention while a few children circle him, asking questions and sticking their hands in his pockets. He moves quickly and growls and they scatter, laughing loudly.

“I’ll be fine,” she reassures him. “I’m not stepping foot near that woman again, her or her calamari.”

Ichabod smothers his smile as he leans down and kisses her cheek.

“I’ll return momentarily,” he says, and Abbie can’t help but smile as she watches him walk away.

May as well get this over with, Abbie thinks and turns to find Lord Zuna smiling expectantly.

“Lady Abbie--may I call you Abbie?” he asks, lacing his arm through hers and leading her down the lane.

“I guess,” Abbie says, trying very hard not to yank her arm out of his grasp. “Something tells me your wife wasn’t going to be exactly crushed that Ichabod didn’t try her food.”

“No, my wife was severely disappointed when you and the prince meandered by without a look in her direction. I didn’t have to lie about that,” Zuna says amicably. “It’s just an added bonus that I wished to speak to you, and to do so alone.”

“Why? You made it kind of clear yesterday you think I’m beneath you and definitely beneath Ichabod,” Abbie says.

“I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, Abbie,” he says, and it grates on her nerves that his tone sounds like some concerned uncle. “I was just worried; your union isn’t just between you and the prince – it involves the entire country of Cirtona and its citizens.”

Abbie’s jaw works as she swallows.

“Yes, I know,” she says quietly, and finishes her wine. “You can get to the point, Lord Zuna.”

“It’s apparent you have the prince’s ear.”

And the other shoe drops, she thinks sourly.

“King Hernán – long may he reign - won’t be around forever. The nobles would rest easier knowing that Prince Ichabod is ready to usher Cirtona and its people into the modern age. That he will be more open to business practices that would open our market on a global scale. This is – this is all a little complicated,” he says as he searches her expression. “I will simplify. Prince Ichabod may come to rely on your counsel one day on certain matters.”

“Rely on my counsel,” Abbie repeats hollowly.

“Or you could offer a sage bit of advice at certain intervals, however you’re inclined. It would put my mind, and many others, at ease to know that the push for modernity is not only amongst the people, but in the heart of the palace as well.”

“Let’s get one thing straight right away,” Abbie says, removing her arm from his. “My role after I’m married is no concern of yours. What I will advise Ichabod on or not is again, none of your business.”

“Perhaps it’s not. Maybe this will all be moot after the vote,” he says nastily.

Abbie swallows.

“What?”

“You may charm the people, and some of the newer nobles, but families like mine – who can remember the time before the Moors and invasions of the Greek… we’re not impressed by Prince Ichabod’s apparent change of heart and his American woman.

“Most of our simple citizens thinks he’s changed. That he’ll be a good king now that he has found the love of a good woman. There are those like myself who are merely waiting for him to grow bored with you, and lose the faith of the country. Then, we will run it as we wish,” Zuna says coldly.

“The fact you’ve approached me at all means you’re not as sure of the vote as you’re pretending to be. Ichabod wants to do what’s right for his people – whatever that means at any given time. And Ichabod isn’t going to get bored with me, so I’m not an enemy you want to have,” Abbie says quietly.

“Have a good night, Lord Zuna,” she says, and turns on her heel to get away from him as quickly as possible.

How dare he, Abbie fumes, darting between people blindly as she tries to calm herself and her stomach. What, because she’s American she’s supposed to be dumb? Fuck, she’s American – she would know better than them that a free market never regulates itself and the utopia Cirtona seems to be would quickly wash away.

Nope, not under her watch, Abbie thinks, tossing her glass and the rest of her berries into a trash can. She pulls her phone out of her pocket and tries Jenny.

Jenny would get a kick out of Ignacio Zuna. She’ll offer to come kick him in the nuts if that would make Abbie feel better.

But most of all, Abbie just really misses her sister all of a sudden.

You know who this is. Leave a message and I might call. I might.”

“Shit,” Abbie swears under her breath, and glances up just as she’s about to run into someone.

“Oh, sorry, my bad,” she says absently as she looks around. The din of the festival is almost quiet, and the pale blue light is nothing like the warm streetlights in Sleepy Hollow, making her face up to an uncomfortable truth – she’s far from home and nothing is familiar here.

A bright flash of light out of the corner of Abbie’s eyes make her throw up her hands, and she turns into a few more flashes.

Great, the press.

“Hey, can you take it easy there? I can’t see,” she says, blinking and hoping her night vision will return.

“Abbie Mills, just a few more pictures?” the man asks, snapping off a few more as he comes closer.

Abbie shields her eyes and tries to remain calm.

“Sure, just--can it wait until we get back to the festival? I think I’m lost.”

“This has gotta be a wild ride for you,” the man says, circling her with his camera raised.

“Um, yeah, it is,” she says.

“Look, I’ve been following your tour of Cirtona and it’s been great, really. But I can’t seem to get close enough to get any good pictures. Cirtonian freedom of press is shit,” he says, snapping off another picture.

Abbie backs up warily.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“American to American, can you help me out? I mean, we’ve gotta look out for each other,” he says.

“I told you I’ll take a few pictures for you when we get back to the festival.”

“Why not now?”

Abbie glances around. They’re on a side street and while it’s pretty, there isn’t anything particularly compelling about it.

“No,” she says. “Either you can help me get back to the festival and we do it there or not at all.”

“Man, Cirtona is fucked if you’re going to be their princess,” he says, and gets some shots of her angry and shocked expression. “Maybe that’s what we’ll run – no matter how good they have it, black women can’t stop being angry.”

Maybe it’s her previous conversation with Ignacio Zuna, or the fact that she’s been uncomfortably nauseous for the better part of the trip while having to smile and be gracious in front of cameras just like these – but something snaps and Abbie reaches for the camera and wrenches it out of the man’s hand.

She throws it on the ground and uses her wedge for maximum damage as she stomps it against the cobblestone.

“There, now you have no pictures. American to American,” she says, and resolutely turns to find the festival herself.

“You little bitch!”

That’s all the warning Abbie has before the man is behind her, grabbing her around the waist and chest and hauling her up off the ground. She uses momentum to get her feet firmly planted and flips the man over her shoulder where he lands hard on the cobblestones.

“Lady Abbie!”

A blur moves past her and suddenly Phillip is there, restraining the man as he groans on the ground, dazed and hurt.

“I’m fine,” she says lowly. “Let me finish what I started.”

Phillip hauls the man up so he’s sitting on the edge of the sidewalk and comes to stand in front of her, looking her over.

“Lady Abbie, you’re swaying,” he says gently as he eases her over to a set of steps to sit on.

“Head rush,” Abbie mutters as the adrenaline recedes.

“He’s a paparazzo,” she says. “Fuck, this isn’t going to look good in the press.”

“Lady Abbie, he is not with the press,” Phillip says, his hands covering hers protectively. “The press only has a certain amount of hours it is allowed to interact with you. Prince Ichabod was very adamant that you not be overwhelmed. We ensured the press left Sarna an hour ago.”

“He did?” Abbie asks. “You did?”

“Yes, my lady. So this is just a man with a camera. This would not have ended well.”

Abbie tries to peek over the mountain that is Phillip, even while kneeling in front of her, but she can only see the top of the man’s head.

“Lady Abbie, please forgive me. I lost sight of you in the crowd and I… I could’ve been too late. I will submit my resignation immediately.”

Abbie’s grip on his hands tighten.

“What?” she asks. “No, why would you do that?”

“I failed,” he says. “If you had been harmed –”

“No harm, no foul,” Abbie interrupts. “I’m fine, or I will be when the room stops spinning.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple.”

Abbie looks up as Phillip practically scrambles away from her to drop to one knee in front of Ichabod.

“Your highness,” he says.

Ichabod doesn’t spare Phillip a glance as he crouches before Abbie.

“My darling, are you alright?” he asks, without a trace of the animosity he’d just had in his tone. Ichabod turns her hands over gently, checking for injuries and turning her head gently so he can see her entire face.

Abbie nods quickly.

“I’m fine,” she says, leaning into his touch when he doesn’t appear to believe her. “I knocked him flat on his ass before he could do anything, Ichabod.”

“As thankful as I am for that, treasure, I am livid he was able to put his hands on you at all,” he says, his mouth a hard, angry line. Abbie has never seen him so heated before.

“I take sole responsibility, your highness,” Phillip says, still on bended knee. “I am prepared to submit my resignation.”

Ichabod turns and rises.

“As you should,” he says.

“Wait, please,” Abbie says. “It’s not his fault, okay?”

She watches as Stephen and two other men she’s never met before haul the man to his feet and take him away.

“I just walked away from Zuna and I was angry and not watching where I was going. Besides, I’m easy to lose in a crowd, okay?” She stands in front of Ichabod imploringly. “Don’t take it out on Phillip.”

Ichabod takes a deep breath.

“Rise, Phillip,” he demands. “Your future princess has convinced me not to accept your resignation.”

Phillip stands, glancing back and forth between Abbie and Ichabod in wary surprise.

“Thank you, your highness.”

“Don’t thank me, thank Lady Abbie,” Ichabod snaps.

Abbie shakes her head minutely, acutely embarrassed.

“You don’t have to,” she murmurs.

“I think we’ve had enough of the festival,” Ichabod says pointedly, offering his hand to Abbie but still not quite looking at her.

She sighs, but accepts it and lets herself be led to a car on the next street. They ride back to the house in silence, Ichabod looking out the window while his hands give away the frenzy in his head as they twitch on his lap. Abbie reaches for his hands but he pulls away.

“Please,” he says tightly.

She keeps her hands to herself until they arrive back at the residence. Silently, Abbie follows Ichabod to the bedroom and watches him sit on the bed heavily, putting his head in his hands.

“I shouldn’t have left you,” he says.

“Something could’ve happened. Something did happen,” he amends.

“Look, if that guy had gotten the drop on me I would’ve deserved what I got,” Abbie laughs.

“You – you cannot joke about that,” Ichabod roars, making Abbie stumble back a few steps. “You can’t… Don’t you understand, treasure? You are my world, and if something were to happen to you because you were merely lost in a crowd, because I decided to kowtow to an idiot blowhard and his idiotic wife’s hurt feelings…”

“Hold on a second, Crane! Do you forget what I do for a living? What I teach others for a living?” she asks, pointing him in the chest and making him back up. “I can handle myself. I have done so in the past and I will do so again in the future. I am not some damsel in distress that needs protection all the time.”

“Abbie, I know what you did before, but this is now. It isn’t your job to protect your person any more. We have people who are responsible for that,” Ichabod says.

Abbie rolls her eyes, and in a deft move knocks Ichabod back and flips him onto the bed, straddling his chest.

“Crane,” she says calmly. “What just happened?”

He sputters, staring up at her.

“Am I on the bed?” he asks.

“You are.”

Ichabod looks around before shaking his head.

“I’m not quite sure what happened,” he admits.

“I surprised you, used your own momentum against you to position you exactly where I wanted. Do you know why I’m sitting on your chest?”

“Should I be aroused?” he asks, and Abbie laughs in spite of her mood.

“No,” she says. “I’m sitting on your chest so I can use my knees to keep your arms down and away from me with minimal effort, leaving my hands free to go on the offensive if I haven’t convinced you that fucking with me is a bad idea.”

Ichabod swallows.

“Understood,” he says quietly.

“Are you sure? Because I don’t want to have this conversation again,” Abbie says as she climbs off of his chest.

Ichabod grabs her and rolls her so she’s again facing him.

“I’m sorry,” he says thickly, holding her tightly. “Abbie, if anything were to happen to you, I don’t know what I’d do.”

“That’s fine, because I don’t know what I would do if anything were to happen to you,” she says. “But you’re not going to take that out on other people, okay? It’s stressful enough to be security for someone. I haven’t exactly been cooperating by making sure they know where I’m going and things like that.”

Ichabod sighs loudly.

“Is that going to change, treasure?”

After a moment Abbie nods.

“Good. I’m going to go take a shower,” he says, pressing a quick kiss to her curls.

Abbie clings, grinning mischievously.

“How about I turn that I into a we?” she asks, and laughs when Ichabod eagerly lifts her from the bed.

~*~

Phillip double checks the locks of the front door to the royal residence and nods at Alphonse stationed at the door.

“All clear?” he asks.

“All clear, sir,” Alphonse reports.

“I’m going to start the perimeter sweep,” Phillip says, sees the light on in the kitchen. Just as he suspects, Stephen is at the table with a large cup of coffee and administration. “I’m going to check the perimeter,” he says shortly.

“Phillip, you wanna talk about it?” Stephen asks, glancing up from his paperwork.

“Nothing to talk about,” Phillip says. “I dropped the ball and it could’ve ended badly. Lady Abbie could’ve been hurt or worse and I still can’t help but think how close I came to losing my job.”

Stephen sighs.

“Remember when we were in Sleepy Hollow, and Lady Abbie’s sister – who was trained by Abbie, mind you – went through three of our guys before putting you flat on your stomach?”

Phillip can’t help the grin at the thought of Jennifer Mills, and the light in her eyes as she took down men twice her size.

“Yeah, I remember.”

“So I don’t think Lady Abbie is as defenseless as you think.”

Phillip nods once.

“I’ll be back.” He leaves out of the back entrance that leads to the grounds, following the path around the house and through a small, picturesque garden that faces the twinkling lights of the village across the river.

He completes half a circuit near the lounge area before noticing a small form curled up on one of the chairs.

“Lady Abbie?” he calls as he moves closer.

Abbie jerks out of her semi-doze and winces.

“Oh, hi, Phillip. Did I wake you?”

Phillip frowns.

“Did you wake me?” he asks, confused. “Lady Abbie, you’re in the garden of the Sarna royal residence. Are you okay?”

Abbie blinks and looks around, shaking her head.

“I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“May I ask why you’re out here?”

Abbie glances up at him and sighs.

“Please stop looming. Tall people are always looming,” she grumbles. “Sit down, please,” she says, gesturing to the empty chair beside her.

“I was too nauseous to sleep earlier.”

“You’ve been up in the middle of the night almost every night since leaving Mélida City.”

Abbie’s smile is wan.

“You’ve been watching me?” she asks.

“It’s my job, Lady Abbie. Something for which I have to thank you for,” he says.

“Please don’t,” she says quietly. “I made your job unnecessarily difficult by running off without telling you. I was just so angry and so ready to be done with that man I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry I put you in such a position.”

Phillip stares down at his hands and sighs, shakily.

“I was ready to resign,” he admits. “I was terrified of the thought that something could’ve happened to you. Prince Ichabod would never have forgiven me. I would never have forgiven me.”

Abbie scrambles up from her chair, throwing her arms around Phillip.

“I’m sorry,” she cries, holding on to little more than his head as she pets his hair. “I don’t want you to think about that, okay? I’m not going to run off without letting you know first.”

Phillip sits awkwardly and lets himself get cried on.

“Lady Abbie?” he ventures when she’s stopped crying so strongly.

“Oh god, I’m falling apart all over you, I’m sorry,” Abbie says, sniffling and sitting back down in her chair in embarrassment. “At least the black of your suit hides the tears.”

Phillip glances at his shoulders and shakes his head with a small smile.

“That wasn’t what I wanted to ask you about just now.” He hesitates. “May I ask you a personal question?”

Abbie wipes her face and takes a deep breath.

“Shoot.”

“Forgive me for noticing, but you’ve been nauseous pretty regularly in the middle of the night.”

Abbie considers, and nods slowly.

“That’s not so much a question as an observation, but yeah. So has everyone who has the stomach bug.”

“And you haven’t had a fever?”

“…no.”

“And I notice you’ve been exhausted often, and I’ve seen you cry more these past few days than I have the entire time we were in Sleepy Hollow,” he says, willing Abbie to understand where he’s leading the conversation.

It takes a second, but Abbie’s brain makes the connections and she laughs at the absurdity of it all.

“No,” she shakes her head. “Not possible.”

Phillip doesn’t tell her he’s heard a few of their more… enthusiastic sessions.

“Your symptoms merely remind me of when my Camilla was early in her pregnancy. She didn’t throw up much, but she was always nauseous.”

“I’m not pregnant,” Abbie says firmly. “I’ve taken precautions.”

“I understand, Lady Abbie, but my own Marielena was conceived while my wife thought she had taken adequate measures against such an eventuality,” Phillip says.

“It’s just a bug.”

Phillip rises from his seat.

“It wouldn’t hurt for you to be sure. You should see a doctor as soon as you’re able.”

“I’m not sick in the mornings! Who’s ever heard of night sickness,” she says.

“Lady Abbie, just a thought, but while it’s night here, it’s morning in Sleepy Hollow.” Phillip inclines his head respectfully. “I have to finish my perimeter sweep before Stephen takes over. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Abbie shakes her head mutely.

“Good night, Lady Abbie.”

“Good night, Phillip.”

~*~

“No parade?”

“No parade.”

“No meet and greet?”

“No meet and greet.”

Abbie frowns.

“I don’t understand.”

“Citria just wants to throw you a party,” Ichabod says as they wind through the narrow streets of said town.

“It seems the same size as Sleepy Hollow,” Abbie observes. “Even at night it’s very beautiful.”

If she’s being completely honest, Abbie’s looked forward to this stop since she learned what Citria was known for – Cirtona berries.

Lately it seems the berries are one of the few things she can keep down with no complaint from her stomach.

And she is not going to think about why, not right now.

“I’m sorry, what were you saying?” Abbie asks when she realizes Ichabod has asked a question.

“You seem distracted, treasure,” he says. “Ever since we left Sarna you’ve been a little distant. Are you all right?”

Abbie briefly panics, then realizes he must think she’s still suffering ill effects from having to body slam a grown man to the ground.

“I’m fine,” she reassures him. “I’m not thinking about Sarna.”

“Then what has captivated your attention so, my love?” he asks.

“Stuff,” she says lamely. “…And things.”

“I’ve seen The Walking Dead,” Ichabod reminds her and Abbie can’t help but laugh.

“This past week has been a lot to absorb,” she says truthfully. “Not only am I getting to know Cirtona, but I’m seeing a side to you I’ve never seen before.”

“…Do you like what you see?” he asks, a little uncertain.

Abbie smiles and nods.

“Are you asking about Cirtona or are you fishing for compliments?” she teases, and laughs when Ichabod ducks his head. “Let’s just say I love it so much I’m gonna put a ring on it,” she says.

“And I shan’t be a single lady any longer,” Ichabod says in a horrible falsetto that has Abbie giggling until she’s groaning.

Abbie snuggles into Ichabod’s side, barely able to keep her eyes open despite having slept most of the way to the village from Sarna.

“Tell me about Citria,” she murmurs, smiling softly at the gentle touch of his hand against her temple.

“Well, Citria is where the Cirtona berry is grown,” Ichabod says, his voice dropping into the lilt of a lecturer with ease. “On a royal’s twentieth birthday they’re given their own acre of land, inherited from another royal who has passed, so that the land remains in the family’s hands.

“It’s a temperamental yet robust crop. It needs a lot of attention but as you know it’s the backbone of our country’s economy. The Cirtona berry was created by Queen Soli around 42 BC. She was said to be a master botanist, and took two distinct berries--both native to Cirtona – and combined them to create the Cirtona berry.

“It’s also said she-” Ichabod pauses as a soft snore tumbles from Abbie’s lips, and he readjusts her so she’s no longer slouching against him. He checks her for signs of fever and again finds none; it’s a little disconcerting how unpredictable and persistent this bug appears to be. Most people would be showing signs of getting over it by now, but Abbie has been trying to hide mid afternoon headaches and sporadic and unexpected needs to vomit for days.

Ichabod’s heart begins to pound as he adds up the little clues. But… Wouldn’t Abbie tell him?

And isn’t she on contraceptives?

Ichabod never inquired as to what method she employed, but Abbie assured him she was on contraception. Yes, he knows no contraception is one hundred percent effective, but… but…

Maybe he should arrange for a doctor to come to Citria, or perhaps he could arrange for one to meet them in Al-Adid or Nacid.

What if she’s pregnant?

Ichabod feels a little dazed at the prospect but a spark of joy alights in his soul and all he wants to do is whoop and dance. He glances down at Abbie in wonder, almost desperate to wake her and ask, but then he stops.

What if she’s not?

Does she want children right now?

Ichabod had hoped that within a few years of marriage Abbie would be willing to grant him a child or two – the expansion of the royal family is always a national interest – but he would never dream of rushing her.

Is this too soon?

“I can hear you thinking,” Abbie murmurs, eyes still closed as sleepy fingers reach up to tug gently on his beard.

“I’m sorry, treasure,” he says hoarsely. “Did I truly disturb you?”

“No,” Abbie says. “I’m awake?”

Ichabod chuckles.

“Is that a question or an answer?”

“I’ll get back to you.” She sighs and snuggles ever closer. “No, I’m awake.”

“Are you now?” he asks, unable to keep the fond smile from his face.

“…yep.”

Will it always be like this? Ichabod wonders. Will his soul always crave her closeness, her touch? Will he always need the music of her laugh and the art of her smile?

Will his body forever burn for her?

He can only hope.

Ichabod looks up as the car begins to slow and the tree-lined drive begins to look familiar.

“My love,” he says quietly. “We’re here.”

Abbie opens her eyes, tiredly leaning over Ichabod so she can see the house and hums appreciatively.

“It’s pretty,” she murmurs. “And it’s normal-sized.”

“Pardon me, but all my houses are normal-sized,” Ichabod says as the door to the car is opened. Abbie protests when he helps her out and lifts her into his arms with ease.

“Put me down, I can walk,” Abbie protests, though wrapping her arms around Ichabod’s neck doesn’t seem to jive with her words.

“I know, but perhaps I wanted the joy of carrying you over the threshold,” he says.

Abbie lifts her face to look at him, unable to take her eyes from his profile.

“You’re going to spoil me,” she murmurs.

“That’s the plan,” he says, and happily carries her up the walk and over the threshold.

Inside the air smells like a fresh breeze and something else, something that makes Abbie take another sniff.

“What is that smell?” she asks happily.

“That would be the vineyard,” Ichabod says.

“The vineyard is right outside?” Abbie’s eyes are wide and Ichabod can’t help but preen a little in the light of her wonder.

“On a good night, the wind can make the whole valley smell like Cirtona berries.” Ichabod takes her hand and leads her through the house and out to a balcony that overlooks a lap pool and, further down, tiers and tiers of bushes that disappear into the darkness.

“Those are Cirtona berries?” she asks, Abbie’s grip on his hand tightening in glee. “In their native habitat?”

Ichabod laughs again.

“Yes,” he says.

“I could die happy here,” Abbie says, and looks up at a suddenly dismal-looking Ichabod.

“Please don’t say that, treasure,” he says, suddenly overcome with emotions too varied to name.

Abbie looks at him strangely but nods, pulling him down for a hug.

“Okay,” she says soothingly.

“Forgive me,” Ichabod says into her shoulder. “I think I’m a little tired,” he admits.

“Then let’s go to bed, okay?” Abbie says with an encouraging smile, still sensing Ichabod’s abrupt bout of melancholy.

“Best idea I have heard all day.”

~*~

“It’s amazing here, Jenny; I can’t wait to have you visit. There’s so much I want to show you,” Abbie says as she sighs happily in the midnight breeze, popping a few fresh cirtona berries from a large bowl on the table beside her. “I wish the phone had a better camera – berry bushes as far as I can see.”

I can’t wait either. I could really use a vacation about now,” Jenny admits.

“What’s going on?”

Jenny waves her hand dismissively.

“Nothing I can’t handle. We can talk about it later. What are you doing in Citria besides gorging yourself on fruit?”

“I’m not going to gorge myself,” Abbie says irritably, right before she deliberately puts a few more in her mouth. “Besides, my stomach wouldn’t let me,” she says around the fruit.

“Abbie, your stomach is still bothering you? Don’t you think that’s a little-”

Abbie shakes her head.

“No,” she says, interrupting Jenny. “I know where you’re going and it’s not possible,” she says flatly. “I made sure of that before leaving Sleepy Hollow.”

Jenny blinks.

I didn’t know you got your tubes tied,” she says.

“What? I didn’t – Oh, you think you’re so smart,” Abbie says to her sister’s smug face. “If I were there I’d smack you.”

Seriously though, Abbie, I’m worried. You’re throwing up all the time and it’s been more than a week. You would be over a stomach virus by now. At least you wouldn’t still be throwing up.”

“Didn’t know you were a doctor,” Abbie says sullenly, half-heartedly squeezing a berry between her first finger and thumb.

Abbie-

“When we get back home I’m going to get checked out, okay?” she snaps. “Just… until then it’s a damn stomach virus, and when you’re proven wrong you’ll have to do something embarrassing and get Joe to tape you so I can show Crane.”

Big talk coming from a pregnant la-”

Abbie ends the call and practically slams her phone down on the table.

“Abbie?”

She jerks and swears at the long shadow at the balcony door.

“You should wear a bell,” Abbie says irritably as she turns back around in the chair. “How long were you standing there?”

“I think I caught the tail end of my name. Were you talking about me?” Ichabod asks, padding out into the night air.

Abbie glances up at him and finds her irritation melting away at the adorably sleepy look on his face and spectacular bedhead giving him at least another three unfair inches in height.

“Not everything’s about you,” she says, moving her feet so Ichabod can have a seat.

“What?” he asks, clutching imaginary pearls at his neck. “Whatever shall I write in my diary?”

Abbie giggles and makes a disapproving noise when Ichabod goes for the bowl of berries on the table.

“I can’t even have one?” he asks, incredulous.

Abbie laughs again at the hurt on his face.

“You can have a few,” she concedes. “I am just basking in the absence of nausea.”

Ichabod frowns, placing his hand over one of her delicate ankles on the lounge chair beside him.

“Still feeling nauseous, then,” he says.

Abbie watches his hand.

“Sometimes,” she says, watching his hand rise higher until it pushes her robe up so it can settle on her knee.

“Do you want to go to the doctor? You should be getting better,” Ichabod murmurs, marveling at how soft her skin is on the inside of her knee.

“It’s just taking longer, that’s all. I’m probably coming in contact with people who have just gotten it or are in the middle of being sick themselves. When we’re home it’ll clear right up.”

Abbie widens her legs in anticipation, grinning darkly as Ichabod’s hand skims up her thigh and encounters nothing but moistened curls.

“Fuck,” he murmurs, delving two fingers just inside her folds and groaning at the wetness. “You’re not wearing underwear.”

Abbie bites her lower lip and loosens the tie at her waist, letting the silk garment fall open.

“I’m not wearing anything,” she says, and moans as Ichabod moves closer, pushing his fingers in deeper.

“Naughty, naughty Abbie,” he breathes before kissing her deeply, his fingers still buried inside of her.

Ichabod begins to stroke them in and out, chuckling when Abbie has to break the kiss to moan enthusiastically.

“Do you feel how wet you are?” he asks, pushing Abbie and the lounge chair back enough so he can settle between her legs.

He’s already able to use two fingers to fuck her deeply, greedily watching as Abbie’s body undulates under the pleasure as her hips rise to meet his thrusts. Ichabod leans forward, breathing in her tremulous exhales before licking into her mouth, his kiss soft and feather light.

“Please,” Abbie begs, rolling her hips down so she can get better friction. Immediately Ichabod stills, his mouth against the side of her neck and his fingers pressing against her spot deep inside.

She whines, clutching the arms of the lounge chair as she fights to keep her mouth closed.

“I thought you said something,” he rumbles, closing his eyes against the sensation of Abbie gripping his digits tightly.

“You better move, or do something,” she pants, “Or I’m going to finish on my own.”

“Such vile threats from such a pretty mouth,” Ichabod says. “I can’t be held accountable for this delay, treasure. The choices that lie before me are varied and intoxicating. You cannot blame me for balking at choosing from an embarrassment of riches.”

Abbie tries not to move as her body continues to clamp down around Ichabod’s fingers inside of her. She breathes through her nose and throws her head back, anything to distract her body.

“Um,” she pants. “Why don’t you ask me what I want?” she grits out.

Ichabod smiles.

“Excellent idea. What do you want me to do, Abbie?” he asks, pumping his fingers again slowly.

“Should I gorge myself on you until you’re exhausted from pleasure?” Ichabod removes his hand and sucks his fingers enthusiastically. “And gorge myself I would,” he promises.

“Or would you like to ride my face or my cock?” Ichabod pretends to consider as he leans down for a kiss.

Abbie can’t help but throw her arms around his neck and pull him close, greedy for his kisses.

“Are those all my options?” she asks against his lips.

“I could also turn you around and beat it up from the back. Is that what you want, treasure, for me to beat it up?”

Abbie’s eyes widen before she bursts into laughter, sagging against a confused Ichabod.

“Oh my god,” she wheezes. “Please stop.”

“I’ll have you know I’m renowned for my way with words,” Ichabod says, feeling slightly put upon by Abbie’s continued laughter.

“I love you, but please stop.” She begs, trying to catch her breath.

Ichabod pauses, staring down at her.

“Say it again,” he says quietly.

“Please stop?”

“No.”

She smiles knowingly.

“I love you,” Abbie says.

Ichabod nods, suddenly overcome.

“Say it again?”

Abbie beams and pulls him closer.

“I love you,” she coos, pressing quick kisses along his jaw and up his cheek. “I love you, so very much.” She twists out of his grasp and pushes Ichabod onto his back on the lounge chair so she can pull off his underwear, eyes lighting up as his cock springs free, red and swollen.

“And I love this,” Abbie hisses as she crawls up between his legs and takes his dick in both her hands. Ichabod only gets a wink in warning before she’s swallowing most of his length in her hot mouth, bobbing her head and sucking powerfully, gently stroking what can’t fit in her mouth.

Abbie does her best to suck the skin off of Ichabod’s dick, enjoying the sounds she’s able to get him to make as she fondles his balls in one hand while keeping up her stroking in time with her suction. All too soon Ichabod’ begging someone, anyone for mercy and bodily lifting her from his crotch.

“I wasn’t done,” she says, grinning darkly when all Ichabod can do is try to catch his breath.

“God, one day I will let you finish that again, but the thought of not being inside of you when I do come is unbearable,” he says, positioning her over his cock.

Abbie throws her robe off completely as she sinks down, taking his turgid flesh inside.

“Yes,” she groans, savoring the delicious stretch as she works her hips to get more of him inside.

Ichabod leans forward, eagerly taking one of her nipples into his mouth.

“Ouch, fuck,” Abbie hisses, pushing Ichabod’s head away from her chest. “That hurts,” she whimpers, not quite looking at him.

Ichabod looks stricken.

“Treasure, are you okay? I didn’t think I had-”

“It’s not you...they’re feeling tender.”

Ichabod’s heart feels both heavy and light at the same time.

“…Abbie,” he says, attempting to broach the elephant in the room.

“Just be gentle,” she says, still unable to look him in the eye.

“Abbie,” Ichabod tries again softly but she says nothing. He presses his cheek against her chest and sighs, rubbing his hands up and down her back soothingly. Eventually the tension begins to lift from her body as he nuzzles against her so Ichabod gently places a kitten lick on Abbie’s left nipple and feels her body shudder against his.

“Fuck,” she groans, and sounds nothing like she’s in pain. He does it again and again until she’s squirming on his lap again, moving her hips.

“You like that?” Ichabod asks, reaching up with his other hand to lightly rub his thumb across her right nipple. The noise Abbie makes goes straight to his cock; he leans back to cup her breasts gently in each hand, rubbing softly against the hard peaks.

Abbie begins to work her hips faster as she practically shoves her chest into Ichabod’s hands.

“Yes,” she pants, leaning back to get more leverage. “Please,” she whines, needing more.

More what, she doesn’t know – Abbie just knows she needs more of it.

“I know what you need,” Ichabod says, lifting her off of his cock so he can put Abbie on her hands and knees on the lounge chair.

“Yes,” Abbie babbles, her head dropping forward as Ichabod enters her again with one long stroke.

“Oh god, fuck me, Crane,” she begs, tears coming to her eyes as her body practically sings under his touch. She grabs the top of the chair and holds on tight, throwing her ass back at him and laughing when his rhythm falters.

“You ain’t ready for that?” she asks.

“No one is ready for that,” Ichabod says, palming her ass appreciatively with both hands. He slaps it lightly and groans at how her perfect globes jostle each other over his dick.

“Do you know how amazing you look on my cock?” he asks, leaning forward and licking up Abbie’s spine.

Abbie laughs shudderingly.

“If I look half as good as I feel on your cock then I look damn good,” she pants, crying out when Ichabod picks up the pace but keeps his stroke long and deep. “Crane, faster,” she begs.

“No,” he says in that sinful baritone that goes straight to her clit. Ichabod strokes hard and long in and out of her body, never wavering as he pulls Abbie apart bit by bit.

“No?” Abbie asks, incredulously, rising up so she can reach up and tug on his hair. She lifts her face to look at him but Ichabod uses the opportunity to kiss her silly, stealing the words and breath out of her mouth.

“No, treasure,” Ichabod groans when he comes up for air. “Stay with me, right here in this moment,” he pleads, one hand settling against her abdomen.

Abbie immediately stills, her heart thudding in her chest.

Does he know?

How could he know?

“Ichabod,” she whispers, but he smiles so softly at her that the words catch in her throat.

Abbie closes her eyes as she drops her head forward to hide her tears and even in the midst of the emotional turmoil she’s feeling her body responds to his touch and she cries out – a long, shuddering shout that collapses into Ichabod’s name as she comes hard.

Ichabod feels Abbie tighten deliciously around him and he’s helpless to fend off release. Silently he spends himself inside of her, clutching her as closely as he dares. He buries his nose in her hair and gathers his breath, reluctantly withdrawing from her before he collapses on his side, pulling her with him.

She still isn’t quite looking at him and deep down Ichabod thinks he knows – too many small things are adding up.

“Abbie?” he asks, but pauses when he sees a tear well up in the corner of her eye before she sighs heavily and wipes it away.

“Let’s go inside,” she says, still not looking at him as she slips from his arms and grabs her robe from where it ended up on the ground.

Ichabod watches silently, unsure of what to do.

He could be wrong.

He might be right.

But for whatever reason she doesn’t want to talk about it right now, so he should respect that, right?

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay out here a little longer?” he offers.

Abbie sniffles and shakes her head, reaching across Ichabod to grab her bowl of berries.

“Can we find something to watch until we fall asleep?”

Ichabod finds himself nodding and taking Abbie’s hand as he follows her back into the bedroom. They clean up and join each other in bed again; Abbie still with her bowl of berries. She waits until he settles to snuggle up against him and lay her head on his chest. It takes all his self-control to merely turn on the television – he wants to know why she’s crying and to let her know she can tell him anything, anything at all.

Instead he flips through their choices until settling on a Great British Bake-Off marathon and while only half watching triumphs and mishaps, Ichabod counts the berries Abbie eats before succumbing to slumber.

~*~

If Abbie had ever really contemplated her chances on getting into heaven, and what heaven would be like…

It would be a Cirtona berry vineyard in Citria. After her morning headache fades, she even gets to enjoy it.

Everywhere she turns, there is something to smell and taste and none of it seems to want to come up right away. In the fields of Ichabod’s personal vineyard Abbie gets to taste Cirtona berries straight from the bush, marveling at how the workers can pull the berry whole from the bush without breaking or bruising it.

Abbie tries a few times and immediately stains her fingers bright blue, the press snapping pictures as she laughs at herself good-naturedly. Afterward, the press is diverted to the next location, leaving Stephen and Phillip enough of a distance away that they have the illusion of privacy and seclusion as Ichabod shows Abbie around his vat room, where thousands of gallons of cirtona berry juice hibernates while turning into wine.

Ichabod walks them slowly between the casks, noticing that Abbie wilted as soon as they were alone. He talks about the workers who live on and tend the land, and how they have done so for generations, taking the quality of the wine and the berries very personally.

“Everyone I met could only sing your praises,” Abbie says as she glances up at him. “How much did you pay them?”

“Who told?” Ichabod says in faux anger and Abbie shakes her head swats his arm. “We know how important this crop is to Cirtona and we make sure the workers are well compensated for their time, innovation and passion. Not just monetarily. One of the first laws I enacted when I joined parliament was to ensure there is adequate medical care on site in case of traumatic emergencies.”

Ichabod stops before a cask and reaches out to touch the immense container. It’s so large Abbie could easily imagine swimming inside. A pool full of Cirtona berry wine. She’d die, but she’d die happy.

Rousing herself from her daydream, Abbie realizes Ichabod is no longer speaking. She watches him stare pensively at the container.

“Crane? What’s wrong?”

Ichabod blinks and seems to come to himself before patting Abbie’s hand in the crook of his elbow.

“Do you remember meeting my foreman, Lionel?”

Abbie nods.

“Tall man, and even skinnier than you?” she teases.

Ichabod’s smile is faint.

“Yes. His father, Cristóbal, used to run the vineyard. He and I shook hands the day the land was signed over to me on my twentieth birthday.”

“What happened?”

“A cask accidentally broke its stand and wedged his arm against the floor. By the time they were able to lift it he needed medical attention immediately in order to save his arm.”

Abbie winces, trying to imagine the large drum pinning her to the ground.

“Was it full?”

“If it had been full it would have crushed him,” Ichabod says simply.

“Damn! What happened then?”

“There wasn’t a doctor on site and he had to travel all the way to Citria to get stabilized. By then it was too late – they had to amputate the arm. If we had a doctor on site at the time they could’ve stabilized his injury and he could have walked away with the use of both of his arms.” Ichabod shakes his head. “I vowed never again. I knew that was probably only the latest in a line of accidents or injuries that I didn’t know about and I couldn’t, in good conscience, stand by and do nothing.”

“So you went before parliament to make sure there were effective medical services for the vineyards,” Abbie says proudly. “My man.”

Ichabod blushes and he ducks his head.

“It wasn’t anything,” he says, “but I was surprised by how many people honestly thought I was overreacting.”

Abbie’s not surprised.

“I guess it pays to be the prince,” she teases.

“That it does.” Ichabod continues them on their way.

“Cynthia told me the cirtona berry funds the country?” Abbie asks. “What does that mean really?”

“We use the distribution of the fruit and its byproducts to fund the social projects and infrastructure of Cirtona. We have strict regulations in place about how and when and how much of a product can be sold at any given time to maintain the market value.”

Abbie considers.

“So… cirtona berries belong to the people?” she asks.

“The Cirtona berry and all authorized products and by-products belong to the royal family,” Ichabod corrects.

“But Cirtonian citizens farm it?”

“Yes.”

“Is that fair?” Abbie wonders aloud.

“We pay them, Abbie,” Ichabod reminds her. “This is a job, and what they do goes toward ensuring the continuance of any and all social programs Cirtonian citizens and residents are able to enjoy. Besides,” he says, “It was an ancestor of mine who created the fruit and mastered the growing conditions. I would have to say it’s very fair.”

Abbie senses she’s stumbled across an old argument and decides to turn down another path.

“So what do you do with the proceeds of your vineyard?”

“I put it in the bank, mostly. Donate to charity and the like. Watch your step, treasure.”

Finally, having made it through the softly lit aisles beside rows upon rows of oaken barrels, the abrupt brightness of the early afternoon sun has Abbie’s headache threatening to return in full force. She tightens her grip on Ichabod’s arm and attempts to shield her eyes as they go down the narrow steps to one of the beaten paths that winds between the fields and the service buildings of the vineyard.

She takes a deep breath against the bubble of nausea and when she glances at Ichabod he’s looking at her intently.

“Yes?” she asks.

He appears to reconsider.

“Another time,” he murmurs.

Abbie glances around, Phillip is far enough ahead on the path and Stephen is far enough behind to give the illusion of privacy.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” she asks.

“I, too, get the impression there is something you wish to discuss,” he says, stopping so he can pull her hands into his. “Am I wrong?”

“Yes,” Abbie says, pulling her hands out of his as if that would stop this conversation from happening.

Ichabod looks unconvinced.

“Abbie-”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “If I wanted to talk to you about something, I would, but I don’t because there’s nothing to talk about,” Abbie says.

Ichabod searches her face before he nods once.

“Alright,” he says softly. “We’re having lunch with Lionel and his family and then tonight we’ve been invited to a harvest party.”

“Harvest party?” Abbie asks, still a little prickly.

“It’s going to get very busy in the coming weeks. Additional workers usually arrive about this time and there’s a big party before the work begins. It’s going to take about a month to harvest everything in the fields and to rotate what will be sent to Citria for processing and what will remain for the wine. It’s the busiest time of the year,” Ichabod says.

Abbie’s stomach growls audibly and breaks the tension as both she and Ichabod share a laugh.

“I think I could eat,” she says, slightly embarrassed.

Ichabod takes her hand and presses a kiss to her knuckles.

“Then let’s make sure you get some food.”

Around the bend, Stephen is waiting beside a cart, and they climb aboard to ride across two fields to the foreman’s house. It’s a spacious looking two-story home on one of the main roads that lead through the fields for trucks and equipment to pass.

Nice, she thinks. This is probably a bit bigger than my house in Sleepy Hollow.

Her house.

When was the last time she thought about her house or Sleepy Hollow for longer than a passing second?

Her house and its state of disrepair could not have been further from her mind since she landed in Cirtona and Ichabod’s arms. Hell, even thinking about Sleepy Hollow doesn’t feel the same – like it’s all a part of someone else’s life, almost but not quite real. The sensation is a little disconcerting, and it must show on her face because Ichabod appears concerned as he helps her down from the cart.

“Treasure, are you alright?”

Abbie just looks at the man in front of her with her heart impossibly full – too full to get any words out.

So much has changed. More could possibly be changing faster and more permanently than either of them had anticipated at this juncture of their lives.

She still doesn’t know if this is a bad thing or not.

“Abbie?”

“I’m fine,” she says, realizing they’re standing kind of awkwardly in front of the house with what appears to be Lionel and his wife hovering uncertainly on the porch.

“Mister Alcafor, good afternoon,” Abbie says, turning up the charm and hoping her smile doesn’t look as fake as it feels. “I didn’t know when we met this morning that you would be our host for lunch,” she says, coming up the steps to shake Lionel’s hand.

Lionel Alcafor is a man that seems to be made entirely of lanky arms and legs. Abbie thought Ichabod’s ass was skinny, but this man seems almost unreal with his shaggy brown hair and brown eyes. The sun has simmered the man to a nice and even golden tan making for an overall attractive package.

“I would’ve thought Prince Ichabod would’ve told you,” he says, bowing to Ichabod after he shakes Abbie’s hand.

“It’s a tradition. Every year when I come to visit I have lunch with Lionel and his lovely wife, Iris, while Lionel tells me how my vineyard is doing.”

Iris steps forward, bright brown eyes sparkling as she pushes her hair from her face before curtseying herself.

“He also comes for the cobbler,” she confides, taking Abbie’s offered hand enthusiastically. She’s as round as her husband is thin, with long black hair tied in a messy bun at the base of her neck.

Bakers Do It At Precise Temperatures, Abbie reads on the woman’s apron.

“Cobbler?” She perks up at the sound. “What kind of cobbler?”

“Cirtona berry,” Iris says proudly.

“Iris has won the Citria Berry Festival Baking Contest six years running,” Ichabod boasts as if she’s his wife, too.

“There’s not much Iris can’t do with a Cirtona berry,” Lionel agrees, while Iris flushes under the praise.

“You’re saying that so you can get more than one slice, your highness,” she jokes.

“Yes...did it work?” Ichabod asks, and everyone laughs.

“Why don’t we go inside? Lunch is almost ready and we can get out of the heat,” Iris says, beckoning everyone inside. “Lionel, would you mind getting your son? Last time I saw him I think he was on his way to check on Samuel,” she says.

“Again?” Lionel sighs. “Our son, Diego, hasn’t had the best time adjusting to a new child in the house. We let him check on the baby to give him a feel of how it is to be a big brother.”

Abbie glances around at the signs of children. Small jackets are hanging on the coat rack and two pairs of very muddy shoes are in a bin next to the door.

“How many children do you have?” she asks.

“Four. Esteban and Abel are at school, and we have Samuel – that’s our newest little one, and Diego.” Lionel grabs a picture frame from the mantel over the fireplace and produces it proudly.

It’s a picture of Lionel holding three stair-step replicas of himself while Iris stands beside them, heavily pregnant but looking absolutely happy. There’s so much love in the picture it’s almost pouring out of the frame and Abbie gets a lump in her throat.

“Wow, all boys?" she asks.

"All boys," he says happily. "I hope to one day have enough for a soccer team.”

"Very nice,” she says, and clears her throat when it comes out a little rougher than she’d meant.

“Excuse me, your highness. Lady Abbie,” Iris says as she ducks back into the living room, nodding at Ichabod and Abbie before half-glaring at her husband. “Please show our guests to the sun room and find Diego,” she hisses the last of the instructions. “It’s way too quiet and I’m afraid he’ll wake the baby.”

Lionel nods sheepishly as he returns the picture.

“Apologies, your highness,” he says, and Ichabod waves him off with a smile.

“I think this is the quietest I’ve seen your house,” Ichabod jokes as they follow Lionel down the hall and to a beautifully decorated screened room with a view of the rolling hillside. Large white fans spin lazily, turning the air just enough to keep it pleasant. The table is elegantly staged for four and Abbie wonders how Iris had the time or the energy to do all this with two small children at home.

“I’ll be right back, Prince Ichabod. I have a couple of forms I wanted you to see while we’re waiting on lunch, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Ichabod says, and turns to Abbie when they’re alone, just smiling.

“What?” Abbie asks, suddenly self-conscious.

“I’m just glad you’re here. With me,” Ichabod says.

Abbie rolls her eyes.

“You’re so corny,” she teases, but the words bring her calm.

“Well, at least you know what you’re getting into,” he says, taking a step toward her.

Abbie immediately steps back, lifting a warning finger.

“Don’t you dare,” she warns. “We’re in someone else’s house!”

“And we’re alone,” Ichabod reasons. “Can’t I kiss my fiancée?”

Abbie opens her mouth to retort but the title smacks the words out of her mouth and she closes it, struggling not to smile.

“You…” she says, wagging her finger at him as he advances.

“What? Me?” Ichabod asks smugly, gathering her in his arms and dipping her dramatically.

Abbie can’t help but giggle as he presses sloppy kisses to her neck, and in attempts to squirm out of his grasp her head falls back and she realizes a small person is staring at her from around the door.

“Crane,” she hisses, poking him in the side so he’ll let her up. She adjusts her hair and jerks her head toward the door, where who has to be little Diego is watching them curiously.

“Hello,” she says softly. “Are you Diego?”

The child just stares up past her and Abbie looks over her shoulder to find Ichabod giving the wholesome, hello, I’m not threatening smile very tall adults adopt around very tiny children.

Abbie purses her lips and tugs on Ichabod’s arm.

“Down,” she murmurs, and smiles when Diego wanders closer and begins babbling quickly, with a very serious expression.

“Do you know what he’s saying?” Ichabod asks out the corner of his mouth when Diego turns to him and asks what sounds like a very intense question.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Ichabod says, and Diego nods with satisfaction as he wanders closer to Abbie, gesticulating wildly and babbling away.

“Yes, sir. We’ll get that done right away, sir,” she says, nodding or shaking her head at the appropriate intervals when Diego pauses for breath, melting under his bright, brown-eyed gaze. She has no clue what he’s saying but he believes it wholeheartedly.

“Diego,” Lionel hisses quietly from the hall, and the toddler shrieks and runs, laughing and hiding beside his high chair against the wall. Lionel emerges with a small bundle at his shoulder and an exasperated expression.

“Apologies, your highness,” he says lowly. “Diego seems to think it’s time for Samuel to join the land of the waking, but Samuel doesn’t agree.”

The bundle in his arms moves with a faintly irritated whine.

“Is that little Samuel?” Ichabod asks, his eyes wide as he rises to his feet.

“It is,” Lionel says proudly, adjusting his son in his arms so he can pull the blanket away. Samuel’s face is screwed up tightly, like he can’t decide if he’s going to cry or go back to sleep, but after a moment he relaxes and opens one eye, then the other, staring right up into his father’s face before giving a face-splitting, toothless grin and gurgling.

“There he is,” Lionel coos. “Aren’t you my little man,” he asks, offering a finger.

Samuel latches onto it tightly and kind of stares at it, waving it back and forth slowly.

“The last time you were here, Iris was in the middle of her pregnancy.”

Ichabod nods.

“I remember. She could barely bend at the waist!”

Lionel chuckles.

“Well he was three days overdue and born with a full head of hair,” Lionel says proudly.

Ichabod glances up at Lionel’s hairline pointedly.

“Here’s hoping he gets to keep it,” he jokes before collapsing into giggles with Lionel.

“Would you like to hold him?” he asks, motioning for Abbie to come closer.

Abbie takes a deep breath and accepts the child gently, already blinking back tears at Samuel’s sweet baby smell.

“Hi, there,” she murmurs, adjusting the hat on his head so it doesn’t threaten to fall across his eyes. “Hi, little one.”

Samuel turns at the sound of her voice and sort of grins in her direction when his eyes focuses on Abbie’s smile.

“I would like to hold him,” Ichabod says, leaning over her shoulder.

“As you should. Practice, right?” Lionel says as Abbie, strangely blank-faced, hands him over to Ichabod.

Ichabod marvels at how tiny Samuel is and tentatively offers his finger for the baby to hold. Samuel grabs it as soon as it’s close enough and Ichabod chuckles when he attempts to pull it closer to his mouth.

“Strong grip,” he says. “You must be so proud.”

“Oh, he is,” Iris says as she comes into the room with a pitcher and a tray of drinks. “You would think he spat him out on his own, instead of having to watch me go through nineteen hours of labor.” She looks at Ichabod holding her son and smiles fondly. “You look good with a baby in your arms,” she says.

Abbie finds herself unable to disagree. Ichabod glances up and looks right at her and she looks away, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

“Iris, is there anything I can do to help?” she asks, in desperate need to get away from babies and talking about babies and seeing Ichabod’s stupid, beautiful face light up in a way she’s never seen before.

“Lady Abbie, I couldn’t -”

“Please,” she says, desperate to leave the room before she starts crying. “I insist.”

Iris glances at Ichabod briefly before she relents with a smile.

“I could use some additional hands, since my helper has his hands full with his children. So unprofessional,” she jokes as Lionel darts across the room before Diego can run again. The toddler shrieks, babbling happily as Lionel tips him over and juggles him around before turning him back right side up and putting him down. Diego wobbles happily before clinging to his father’s leg as he breathes heavily.

“I see what you mean,” Abbie says, the need to cry subsiding. “Diego, what are you supposed to be doing?”

Diego looks up at his name, but takes a step and falls over with a case of the dizzy giggles.

Iris bends down and kisses him quickly before shooting her husband a fond glare.

“Sweetheart, can you set up the high chair? We’ll be eating soon.”

“Aye, captain.” Lionel snaps off an exaggerated salute.

Iris rolls her eyes before ushering Abbie out of the room and down the hall to her kitchen.

“This is my workshop and domain,” Iris says with a happy smile, revealing a brightly-lit, state-of-the-art kitchen. There was a large double oven on the wall, and a massive eight-burner stove with various pots and pans bubbling with food.

“Wow,” Abbie says. “You could feed an army with a kitchen like this.”

Iris nods.

“I do,” she jokes as she crosses the room and grabs a few platters. “I hope you’re hungry,” she says as Abbie steps further into the room.

Something immediately assaults Abbie’s sense of smell, making her stomach roil unhappily.

“Oh, god,” she says, covering her mouth with the back of her hand and swallowing repeatedly. Not now, she thinks. Please not now.

“Lady Abbie, are you alright?”

Abbie takes another deep breath and nods slowly.

“I’m fine,” she says. “I’m just getting over the stomach flu,” she says.

“Ah, yes, I heard about that on the news,” Iris says. “But still? You should be over it by now.”

Abbie tries to breathe through her nose but it isn’t helping.

“Guess I’m not,” she says tightly.

Iris looks at her for a moment and nods.

“I have something that might help a little.” She stops before a cabinet and pulls out a jar of bright blue berries.

“Oh,” Abbie laughs. “How’d you know they’re about the only things I can keep down?” she asks as Iris opens the jar and tips a few into her hand. They don’t look quite the way she’s used to Cirtona berries looking; they have a bright sheen to them and seem to be dusted with something.

“What is that,” she asks, taking one between her thumb and first finger and giving it an experimental lick. “Ginger? Sweet ginger,” she crows, and pops the rest of the handful into her mouth at once. “It tastes like candy,” she says.

“I roll the berries in a simple syrup and douse them in crystallized ginger. It was the only thing I could eat some days when I was pregnant with Esteban.”

Abbie freezes with her hand halfway in the jar.

“Uh,” she says weakly, feeling the tears well up. “What?” she asks, unable to articulate anything else.

“Morning sickness. Well, they call it morning sickness but it’s any time the baby decides, am I right?” Iris nods.

“I’m not – I mean, I don’t think I – I mean I haven’t – ” Abbie inhales and exhales through her nose.

“Great,” she warbles, sniffing and trying to wipe her eyes. “I don’t know why I’m crying right now.”

Iris winces sympathetically.

“I don’t miss the hormones. Some days I felt like I was going to lose my mind. But anyway, congratulations,” she says, her enthusiasm waning in the face of Abbie’s miserable expression. “Is this not happy news?” she asks.

Abbie sighs heavily.

“It’s not news at all,” she says dully. “I haven’t had it confirmed yet.”

“But is Prince Ichabod happy? Of course he is, what am I – oh my chicken!” Iris darts across the kitchen to lift a large cast iron lid from a pan and as soon as the fried chicken smell hits Abbie’s nose she’s rushing out the only door she can find to heave her guts out in a cheery bed of yellow, white, and orange begonias.

“Oh, dear,” Abbie hears Iris say, but she can’t respond while her body seems intent on squeezing all her organs out of her body through her mouth. She doesn’t know how long she’s been ruining the flowers before she’s able to straighten, and immediately her head pounds so badly her knees buckle.

Strong arms cradle her gently.

“I’ve got you, treasure,” Ichabod says, and Abbie isn’t afraid of the coming darkness as she slips under.

~*~

Abbie opens one eye and when she doesn’t feel like beating her own brains out with a rusty pipe she opens the other and groans in relief; her headache is gone. She sits up and looks around. It appears she’s been placed in a nondescript guest bedroom, from the look of the décor.

The door to the room opens and Ichabod enters, looking very relieved.

“How are you feeling?” he asks, closing the door quietly behind him.

Abbie takes a quick assessment and shrugs a shoulder.

“I’m fine, now,” she says. “I think I’m almost over this virus,” she says, unable to quite look at him.

“Abbie,” Ichabod says, crossing the room so he can sit next to her on the bed. “I don’t think this is a stomach virus,” he says gently.

Abbie sniffles, tears falling again as she wipes at them angrily.

“Yeah, me either,” she says.

“I don’t want you to cry, treasure,” Ichabod says, putting his arm around her and kissing the crown of her head.

“But that seems to be all I can do lately,” Abbie wails. “That and feel nauseous and have horrible headaches that never seem to go away,” she snaps.

“How long have you suspected?” he asks, heart pounding now that he’s actually facing the reality of the situation.

“Sarna.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Ichabod asks, fear creeping up his spine. Did she not want to keep the baby?

“Because I couldn’t be, Crane,” Abbie snaps as she throws his arm off of her so she can pace. “I’m on birth control; an IUD. And yes, I know that birth control can fail but I didn’t want it to fail and it’s still just a stomach virus and everything will be okay.”

“What do you mean, everything will be okay? Why wouldn’t it be okay?” he asks.

“Because I ruined everything,” she says quietly. “Your people are going to think you’re just marrying me because you knocked me up and all the hard work you’ve done on this tour will be for nothing,” she says, finally giving voice to one of her deepest fears.

“Abbie, my love, please.” Ichabod catches her as she passes him again, taking her hand in his. He looks down at them and wonders how someone with hands so small could have such a big heart.

“You didn’t have to worry about all of that alone,” he says. “When I asked you to marry me, I agreed that your burdens would be my burdens, and your problems my problems.”

Abbie sniffles.

“Sometimes that’s easier said than done,” she says. “A baby complicates things.”

“Yes, and we’ll uncomplicate them,” Ichabod promises.

Abbie shakes her head.

“You don’t – it doesn’t work like that,” she says. “You’re so used to whatever you say goes. That’s not reality.”

“It is here in Cirtona, where we are,” Ichabod reminds her.

Abbie stares down at their hands.

“Do you want me to go back to Sleepy Hollow?”

Ichabod tries to keep his voice steady.

“Is that something you want, treasure?”

Abbie says nothing and the fear ratchets up again.

“Abbie, do you want to keep the baby?”

She scoffs and looks at him like he’s insane.

“Ichabod Crane, I’m having this baby,” she says. “I don’t care if you want to send me away or whatever, but-”

“What?” Ichabod interrupts. “When did I say I wanted to send you away?”

“I never said I didn’t want to have this baby,” Abbie counters, and Ichabod deflates, dropping his head into his hands.

“I think we should begin again,” he says. “I want you to tell me how you feel and what you want, regardless of what it is.”

“Why do I have to go first?” she demands.

“Abbie, please,” Ichabod says tiredly.

“I want to be with you, wherever you are. I want our baby to be there, too. If there’s a baby,” she adds lowly.

“That’s everything I want, too,” Ichabod says, pulling Abbie into his lap and hugging her as tightly as he dares. “That is literally all I want,” he says, pressing his face against her chest.

She feels a bit of wetness against her shirt and suddenly things click into place.

“Ichabod,” Abbie murmurs, running her hand through his hair. “You thought that I didn’t want our child?”

Ichabod only tightens his grip, unable to voice the fear that had been stewing in his stomach for days.

“We’re both idiots,” Abbie says, pulling his face back so she can look at him. “You’re going to marry an idiot,” she says. “I think it’s only fair I warn you.”

“Well, treasure, you already know I’m an idiot so I think I will adapt,” he says, eyes bright with unshed tears. “When will we confirm?”

“I was going to go to the doctor when we returned home.”

Ichabod blinks.

“But that’s almost a week from now,” he says.

“Yes, it is,” Abbie says.

“We can arrange for a doctor to meet us in Al-Adid.”

“With all the press swarming around?” Abbie hesitates. “I don’t want everyone to know right away – if there’s anything to know.”

“There’s something to know,” Ichabod reassures her.

“You don’t know that,” she says.

Ichabod looks at her skeptically.

“The explosive vomit session in Iris’ garden says otherwise.”

Abbie smacks his shoulder.

“We can ensure you’re seen at the royal residence. You don’t have to go to the doctor’s office...the doctor will come to you,” Ichabod says.

“Do you think that’s really necessary?” Abbie asks.

“I just want to make sure everything is okay with both of you,” he says.

“Crane…” Abbie glances away as her resolve begins to crumble.

“Would you at least consider it?” he asks.

“Yes, I’ll consider it,” Abbie says, rolling her eyes. Her stomach rumbles unexpectedly and Ichabod tries not to smile at her sheepish grimace. “I ruined lunch, didn’t I?” she asks.

“Never. You were only out for ten minutes and besides, Lionel and Iris understand and are quite excited, honestly.” He watches her expression turn pensive. “Other than hungry how are you feeling?” Ichabod asks.

“Tired,” Abbie admits. “Ichabod?”

“Yes, my love?”

She plays with the edge of his collar nervously.

“I don’t… I mean, can we hold off on any celebration until we find out for sure?”

Reluctantly Ichabod nods.

“If that’s what you want,” he says.

“I think it is.”

“Then conversely, you have to wait for confirmation in order to stress about this,” Ichabod says as he rests his hand against Abbie’s abdomen.

Abbie puts her hand over his and sighs.

“You’re not the boss of me.”

Ichabod laughs and pulls her in for a kiss.

Chapter Text

The conversation in the room is low enough that no one voice can be discerned above the general din, lending an air of privacy though they’re seated in the middle of The Fork & Knife, one of the swankiest restaurants in Sleepy Hollow.

Joe blinks and refocuses on the words in front of him, seeing no numbers beside the brief description of the dishes.

“Jenny, there are no prices,” Joe says, glancing at the menu before turning the page. “I don’t see a single price.”

“Relax, I’m buying,” Jenny says, musing over the shrimp risotto or the peppercorn-crusted steak and shrimp in burgundy cream sauce. Her stomach is growling and she’s glad she skipped lunch because she’s going to gorge herself. Jenny glances up to see Joe messing with his collar.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m allergic to fanciness, I guess,” he says, unbuttoning his top button and looking relieved. “They better have really good beer.”

“They have an international tap room,” Jenny says, and Joe looks at her with wide eyes.

“Okay, Mills, spill it: What’s the occasion?” he asks. “You tell me to show up at your place dressed to the nines and you take us to the most expensive restaurant in Sleepy Hollow. What gives?”

Jenny stares down at the menu.

“Can’t I want to treat my friend? My almost-brother?” she asks, not looking up at him.

“Sure, but that usually involves throwing a McFlurry at my head and telling me I’m welcome,” Joe says.

“I do not throw it at your head.”

“Jennifer Mills, do you remember when you hit the wall the time before last and it exploded in my living room?” Joe raises an eyebrow. “I had to replace my sofa. It was suede.”

“That’s what it was?” Jenny asks. “Couldn’t tell what material it was, really. Besides, I did you a favor and got you a discount on the replacement so I think you’re required to let it go now.”

“And don’t think I don’t notice you not answering my question.” Joe puts the menu down. “This reeks of guilt.”

Jenny huffs and puts her menu down as well.

“I don’t think I’m drunk enough for this conversation,” she says, motioning for the waitress who comes immediately and with a smile.

“Good evening, I’m Larissa and I’ll be your server for the evening. Can I start you with something to drink and an appetizer? Our specials tonight are Applewood smoked bacon and gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms and lobster salad over a beetroot reduction.”

Joe and Jenny merely look at each other for a moment.

“Uh, I’ll have your best Belgian beer on tap, please,” Joe says. “And we’ll take the mushrooms for appetizers.”

Jenny rolls her eyes.

“I’ll have your best pinot noir,” she tells Larissa, who jots everything down diligently.

“Wonderful choices. I’ll return with your drinks.”

Jenny waits for Larissa to leave before she pretends to glare at Joe.

“So you’re just gonna order for me?” she asks.

“No. I just know you don’t like beets,” he says. “So what’s going on? How’s Abbie doing?”

“She’s fine,” Jenny says defensively.

“Wow.” Joe shakes his head. “Okay, so whatever is bothering you, it’s about Abbie.”

Fuck, Jenny thinks. “Nothing’s bothering me.”

“What did Abbie say about the lawsuit?” Joe asks.

Before Jenny can respond, Larissa returns with their drink and leaves with their dinner choices.

“So how is studying for your entrance exam going?” Jenny asks, taking a sniff of her wine before sipping.

“Slow, but great. Okay, so back to Abbie and the lawsuit,” Joe says pointedly. “What did she say?”

“Nothing,” Jenny says.

“Because you didn’t tell her,” he says.

“Because I didn’t tell her.”

Joe sighs and takes a long drink of his beer, barely able to savor the hoppy taste.

“Jenny, you don’t normally shy away from a fight,” he says. “You do whatever it takes whenever it takes, uncomfortable or not.”

“Yeah, but this isn’t about me, this is about Abbie,” she says. “I think she’s really happy in Cirtona and she’s going to get married and live her life there and I don’t want to pull her back into this shit.”

“But it isn’t you doing this. You have no control over Sherriff Pullman--hell, I wish someone did--but you didn’t tell that son of a bitch to sue Abbie, did you?”

Jenny glares at him but shakes her head.

“Good. See?”

Jenny shrugs one shoulder.

“So they are going to go all the way?” Joe asks. “For real?”

“For real,” she says.

Joe whistles lowly.

“From pretend dating to real marriage? Sounds like some sort of fairy tale.”

“If anyone deserves a fairy tale, it’s Abbie,” Jenny says. “Besides, I’m not sure it was ever pretend. Being in the room with the two of them was weird; it was like everything slowly faded away until it was just them.”

“Rude,” Joe jokes, but Jenny shakes her head.

“I don’t even think they know they do it. It’s like they see each other and are drawn together. Like animal magnetism but in real life. Should’ve been my first clue.”

“Clue to what?”

“That Prince Charming was different.” Jenny swirls her wine and stares at the dark liquid beneath the dim lights. “I’m also one hundred and six percent sure she’s pregnant.”

Joe blinks repeatedly.

“You’re joking,” Joe says weakly as he puts his glass back on the table. “Pregnant, like with a baby?” he hisses as he glances around the room.

Out of habit Jenny does the same, but no one’s paying attention to their table, let alone their half-whispered conversation.

“I don’t know, future doctor,” she retorts. “What else could she be pregnant with?”

Joe sits back in his seat, dazed.

“Wow,” he says. “And you say she’s happy?”

Jenny nods, smiling a little to herself.

“As much as she can be while she’s taking laps in denial river.”

“Abbie likes plans. Getting pregnant right now wasn’t in the plan,” Joe says. “She’s probably freaked out.”

“But you and I both know she wants a family. She’s head over heels for Prince Charming and we don’t have to worry that he won’t take care of her. Life is never perfect but I think being married to a real life prince may be as close as you can get,” Jenny huffs. “I just really need for her to be happy, then I can stop worrying.”

Joe chuckles.

“You Mills women are peas in a pod, no matter how much you scream otherwise. You deserve happiness, too, Jenny. Whatever that means for you.”

Jenny shrugs a shoulder.

“Still trying to figure that out,” she admits. “I like my job. I like finding things that don’t necessarily want to be found. I like getting paid for finding them. I really like travelling.”

Joe nods expectantly.

“So you’re good?”

Jenny thinks of Phillip’s wide shoulders and shy smile, even after she body-slammed him to the ground.

“I dunno,” she says.

“You’ll find it--you find everything else,” he says with a fond smile.

“Why didn’t we work out, Joe?” Jenny asks abruptly.

Now you wanna know?” he asks.

“Was it that bad?”

Joe considers, and shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “It wasn’t bad at all. I think we misunderstood our closeness, is all.”

Jenny tilts her head.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, like we always got along well, and we’ve never had a problem telling each other what we needed to hear. And let’s face it, we’re both kinda hot,” Joe says, gesturing back and forth with a grin. “We knew we were more than friends.”

“Yeah,” Jenny nods. “But not significant others. Siblings.”

“Exactly. Siblings who take each other out every once in a while because sometimes you want to go out and you want to be yourself,” Joe says with a nod.

“Start singing the Cheers theme song and I’ll flip this table over,” Jenny warms, laughing.

“No promises,” Joe says, and Larissa returns with their meals.

It’s a pleasant experience, though Jenny thinks her swordfish was frozen, not fresh like advertised, and Joe is not that impressed with the rib-eye and asparagus tips.

“Proves you can’t pay for quality,” Joe says as they walk to Jenny’s car.

“Yeah, but what else am I going to spend that money on, besides stupid stuff?” Jenny asks as she loops her arm through Joe’s companionably.

“Well, you don’t have a car note,” Joe muses. “And you refuse to move out of that hole in the wall-”

“Do you mean my lovely home?” Jenny laughs at his expression.

“I said what I said,” he said.

“Jennifer? Jennifer Mills?”

Jenny cringes with a dark expression on her face.

“I thought the press left with Abbie,” she mutters, still not turning around.

“I hadn’t seen one in a while. Not since Abbie became Sleepy Hollow’s Princess,” he says, turning her around gently. “I’ll defend your honor,” he jokes, but before Jenny can retort, a pleasant-looking white woman with long brown hair trots across the parking lot without a hint of a camera or bright light.

“I thought that was you,” she says as she comes closer.

“Do I… know you?” Jenny asks, feeling a vague and unhelpful sense of familiarity.

“Yeah! Or at least you used to! Stacey! Stacey Ellerbee?” she says, when her first name doesn’t ring any bells.

“Wow! From Stan’s Souvenirs, Tackle and Bait?” Jenny asks. “Oh, my god, it’s been years,” she says, giving the woman a half-hearted hug.

“Thank god, am I right?” Stacey says.

“You look good! What are you doing with your life? We need to get together some time and shoot the shit!”

Stacey beams.

“Well, long story short: I got married, I have a beautiful one-year-old son named Max, and I became a process server,” she says, pulling a folded sheaf of paper from her bag.

Joe frowns with suspicion.

“A process server?”

Stacey hands over the papers.

“You’ve just been served,” she says. “I guess that catch-up lunch is off the table.”

“Are you kidding me right now?” Jenny’s pissed Joe’s standing between her and Stacey, because he is primed and ready to intercept her jump. “I ought to stomp your ass into the ground, Ellerbee,” she hisses, wrenching herself out of Joe’s grasp and stomping to her car angrily.

“Don’t take it personal, Mills. It’s just a job. Sorry.” Stacey shrugs apologetically as she backs away.

Jenny watches her get into a standard-looking blue car and narrows her eyes as it leaves the parking lot.

“Don’t memorize the license plate,” Joe says with a sigh.

“That’s not what I’m doing.”

“Don’t plot the many ways you can make a new mom and wife disappear without a trace,” Joe says and Jenny hesitates briefly.

“Fuck,” she whispers, throwing the papers on the ground and stomping to her car.

“Hey, you’re going to need these,” Joe says as he grabs the document from landing in the remnant of a puddle left over from showers earlier that day.

“Not really,” Jenny retorts, shoving through her purse for her keys. “How did she even know I was here,” she growls, practically punching her bag as if that would make it cough up her keys.

“Jen, I’ve got your keys,” Joe says absently as he opens the document and tries to read in the barely there light of the parking lot.

“Fuck that,” Jenny says, holding her hand out.

Joe looks up and slowly edges the document toward her.

“No, not that, my keys. I’m too fired up to sit in the passenger seat.”

Joe shakes his head and goes back to reading.

“Why, so you can speed and get pulled over so you can pick a fight with whoever pulls us over from the sheriff’s department?” He takes Jenny’s silence as affirmation. “Right. So I’ll drive.”

Jenny takes a deep breath and runs her hand through her hair. The anger is gone and all she feels is squeezed, like a tube of toothpaste.

“What does it say,” she says dully.

“Pullman is naming you in the lawsuit, too,” Joe says. “Defamation of character. Something in here about how you’ve levied false accusations that have caused injury in his life that apparently add up to a monetary amount.”

“He’s so full of shit,” Jenny swears, letting her head hit the window behind her.

“Yeah,” Joe agrees. “So when are you going to tell Abbie?”

“Why would I tell Abbie right now?” Jenny demands. “She’s got a lot on her plate and besides, now that I’ve been named in the suit, too, I can go ahead and hire a lawyer to contest this.”

Joe blinks.

“Abbie has access to a lawyer. You even said you liked her. Felicia, right?”

“Cynthia.” Jenny sighs. “This is all my fault,” she murmurs.

“What?” Joe shakes his head. “You didn’t tell Pullman to do this,” he says.

“No, I’m not talking about this. This is just another thing in a long line of shit that happened because I couldn’t be brave enough to tell the truth,” Jenny says. “I couldn’t do what I needed to do then, but I can do it now.”

“Jenny…”

She pushes off the car and glares at Joe.

“Are you going to drive or should I take my keys back?”

From the set of her jaw and shoulders Joe knows he’s not going to get through her thick stubborn streak right now. It’ll only make her dig her feet in.

“Get in,” he says.

Tomorrow is another day.

~*~

He’d forgotten how beautiful the view is from the balcony of the royal residence just outside of the bustling city of Al-Adid. Being braced on three sides by modest mountains, it tended to be a rainy city, the sky moody and contemplative like the students and intellectual elite who flocked here.

Ichabod takes a deep breath, the unique scent of the city filling his lungs and immediately hurtling him down memory lane. Days of rushing to class and homework, hours of studying in the university library.

Feels like yesterday.

He smiles as he finds his alma mater in the distance, the clock tower a unique obelisk in the skyline. How many times had he woken in the library in just enough time to run to his next class?

Ichabod can smile about it now that the life of a university student is behind him. Many a day he’d sworn when he became king the first thing he’d do was knock down the clock tower. Now, he looks forward to hearing it chime in twenty minutes.

Who would have thought?

“Your Highness, you asked to see me?”

Ichabod turns away from the balcony and nods.

“I did, Phillip. I wanted to talk to you about a few things.”

Phillip rises from his bow and his expression betrays him for just a moment - a flash of dread comes and goes like smoke.

“I understand, your highness,” he says.

Ichabod is surprised.

“What do you understand?”

“Upon further contemplation, you’ve decided to accept my resignation,” he says.

Ichabod blinks and tries not to cringe.

“My god, man. I must apologize for half of what I said that night in Sarna,” he says. “It was graceless and cruel.”

Phillip blinks, obviously uncomfortable and unsure.

“Your highness,” he says hesitantly. “I confess I’m now unsure what’s happening.”

“I’m apologizing--am I doing that bad a job?” Ichabod asks, gesturing to the table on the other side of the balcony. “Would you sit with me?”

Phillip nods, hesitance still lacing his features. His eyebrows rise almost to his hairline when Ichabod offers to pour him some tea.

“No, thank you,” he says weakly.

“What I have to discuss is currently very sensitive and need to know, and it is of the utmost importance to me.”

Ichabod pauses to glance at the closed double doors that lead to the master bedroom where Abbie is currently napping, having fallen onto the bed in an inelegant heap with her clothes still on.

Ichabod’s already bracing himself for her crankiness upon waking.

“This has to do with Lady Abbie?” Phillip ventures.

“Indeed,” Ichabod says. “There is a very good chance that she is with child. You understand how important a Cirtonian heir is to Cirtona, and how important Abbie and our child is to me.”

“Absolutely, your highness,” Phillip says. “Your security team will ensure nothing happens to her, I swear it.”

Ichabod hesitates.

“I know,” he says. “I understand I can trust you with my life as I have for years.” He turns to look at the closed doors again. “Abbie… She doesn’t think she needs protection.”

Phillip’s smile is knowing.

“Yes, your highness. She’s expressed that sentiment to me on a few occasions, especially in Sleepy Hollow.”

“I was scared,” Ichabod says.

“In Sarna,” he clarifies. “Shaken to my core.”

He looks down at his twitching hands and clasps them in his lap forcefully.

“I need –” Ichabod’s voice breaks and he clears his throat. “I need you to let Stephen run security.”

“I understand,” Phillip says, trying to hide the disappointment in his eyes as he inclines his head.

“No, I don’t think you do. I’m asking if you’ll be Abbie’s shadow. I need someone I trust without hesitation. There is no one I trust more than you, Phillip.”

“Your highness, I…” Phillip swallows and nods. “It is an honor. I will watch after Lady Abbie with my dying breath.”

Ichabod smiles, fully relieved.

“I sincerely hope it never comes to that,” he says. “She trusts you and I’ve noticed you share a certain affection for her as well.”

“Your highness, I promise there is nothing untoward between-”

Ichabod laughs.

“Phillip, calm down. I know that. Besides, I saw how you looked at Jenny,” he says, and Phillip flushes. “I know Abbie is safe with you.”

“Your highness, I will not let you down,” Phillip vows.

“Thank you. Please inform Stephen of the change in plans.”

Phillip rises from his chair and bows.

“Yes, your highness. Am I dismissed?”

“Yes, thank you.” Ichabod watches the man depart with a purposeful stride across the balcony before ducking into the house through the library. For a moment he remains outside, watching the sky change to deeper peaches and pinks before the pull to be by Abbie’s side makes Ichabod rise and steal into the bedroom on quiet feet.

Abbie’s still in the position he left her, sprawling across the bed and snoring softly. With loving fondness Ichabod lifts her gently to remove her blazer and eases her out of her blouse. He’s able to take off her heels tug off her brightly colored print pants without even disturbing her, leaving Abbie clad in enticing-looking ivory lingerie.

Not now, Ichabod tells his libido as he removes his own clothes quickly before spooning up behind Abbie, pulling her against his chest and breathing in the scent of her hair. Abbie murmurs something, patting his hand and twining her legs between his before falling silent again. Ichabod eases his hand down to rest against Abbie’s stomach and does something he hasn’t done in quite a while.

He prays.

~*~

“This is so weird,” Abbie says.

“What is,” Ichabod says from where he’s perched on the bed, watching her pace.

“I’ve never had a doctor come to visit me before,” she says.

“It will become old hat,” Ichabod reassures her. “But it’s nothing to be nervous about.”

“How long does it take to run a test?” Abbie asks, still not listening to Ichabod. “It’s been half an hour!”

“Ten minutes,” Ichabod corrects gently.

“How can you be so calm,” she snaps. “You sit there like… like…” Abbie gestures helplessly.

“Like I’m waiting for news, treasure?” Ichabod asks gently, grabbing her hand and tugging her toward him. Abbie resists for a moment but he tugs harder, overbalancing her and making her reluctantly stumble into his arms.

“It’s going to be okay, Abbie,” he says, rubbing her back.

“You don’t know that,” Abbie says, her voice partially muffled by his shoulder.

“I do,” Ichabod insists, pulling away so he can see Abbie’s face. “What are you so afraid of?”

Abbie stares at him, unwilling or unable to give voice to what scares her now.

“I don’t know,” she says quietly, looking away.

“Whatever it is, I’m here and I’m not going anywhere,” Ichabod says. “You do trust me, don’t you?”

Abbie sighs, rolling her eyes and trying not to smile.

“Maybe,” she says. “A little.”

“Only a little?” Ichabod pretends to be outraged. “That must be remedied immediately!”

Abbie bursts into tears and all Ichabod can do is hold her, wondering what he’s done.

“Treasure, it was only jest,” he says, kissing her temple and whatever part of her cheek he can reach.

“I know,” Abbie wails, holding onto him tightly. “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

There’s a brief knock at the door and they separate as the doctor returns with a smile on her face, making Abbie smile slightly in response.

Doctor Aleena Yusuf, OB/GYN, is a tall, a no-nonsense woman with kind, warm brown eyes and long black hair with wide streaks of grey she wears in a thick braid down her back.

Abbie wouldn’t call her pretty per se; her unlined face and high cheekbones make her reach for words like handsome or austere, albeit with a kind and calming demeanor.

Abbie can use calm right now.

Doctor Yusuf glances up from her clipboard and blinks.

“Why the tears, Lady Abbie?” she asks. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she says, sniffing and wiping at her eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.”

Doctor Yusuf smiles.

“Your pregnancy may have a little to do with your rollercoaster hormones.”

Ichabod swallows audibly.

“So…” He clears his throat. “That is to say you’ve confirmed?”

“Yes, your highness. We even ran the test twice to be sure.”

“Well, you took enough blood,” Abbie says weakly, touching the band aid at the crook of her elbow.

“Abbie,” Ichabod says, “did you hear?”

Abbie nods slowly.

“Yeah, I heard,” she says distantly. “We’re going to be parents,” she whispers.

“And… are we alright with that?” Ichabod asks hesitantly.

“I’m scared,” she admits.

“And that’s fine,” he reassures her. “I am, too.”

“And I’m not alone,” she affirms.

“Never,” Ichabod swears.

“Then as long as they don’t have your forehead, I can’t wait to meet them.” Abbie laughs when Ichabod whoops and picks her up, twirling her around the room.

“Put me down,” she laughs weakly.

“Oh, that wouldn’t have hurt the baby, would it?” Ichabod asks, immediately bringing Abbie back to earth as gently as possible.

Doctor Yusuf chuckles.

“No, your highness. Though Lady Abbie may throw up on you.”

“So how long?” Abbie asks.

“Around three weeks. I’m glad you were exhibiting symptoms that made you check; we’re going to need to remove the IUD immediately so there are no complications with the pregnancy. I can do it right now if you have the time, and by that, I mean you really should make the time to take care of this,” Doctor Yusuf says seriously.

Abbie swats at Ichabod’s shoulder.

“You knocked me up as soon as I got here,” she hisses, hiding her face and groaning at his suddenly smug expression. “I can’t stand you,” she whispers.

“Virility runs in my family,” he says, making even Doctor Yusuf smile softly as she jots things down on her clipboard.

“There are a few other things I wanted to discuss with you,” she says.

Abbie nods.

“Prenatal vitamins and things like that?”

“Yes, those as well, but my first concern is your blood pressure reading. It was a bit high, higher than I want to see. I also see from your paperwork you don’t normally have high blood pressure and you’re currently unsure about your family’s history, is that correct?”

Abbie nods again.

“A lot of my parents’ things were lost when we were in foster care,” she says, feeling a strange yet keen sense of embarrassment.

“Okay, then I’ll want you to get tested again during your downtime. If it’s low then, we can chalk it up to your nerves. If it’s still high, then we’ll need to do some additional tests and go from there.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Ichabod says, nodding along with Abbie.

“The other thing I wanted to discuss is your anemia,” Doctor Yusuf says.

Abbie blinks, slightly surprised.

“I’m anemic?”

“You are. Not dangerously so, but I am going to give you an iron-fortified prenatal vitamin – that, along with a few adjustments to your diet, and you should be fine,” Doctor Yusuf reassures her.

“Well, that’s good,” Ichabod says, rubbing Abbie’s arms enthusiastically. “We can definitely handle some vitamins and more vegetables.”

Abbie shoots the doctor a look, who immediately ducks her head so her smile is hidden.

“Let’s go ahead and have you get on the bed, Lady Abbie, and get that IUD removed.”

Ichabod moves to help her onto the bed and Abbie stills his hand.

“Crane,” she says calmly. “I can get on the bed on my own.”

Ichabod looks genuinely confused for a moment before releasing Abbie’s hands, realizing he’s making it more difficult than if he just sat and watched.

“Right,” he says, his face flushing as he rises and moves away so the ladies can have enough room.

This is definitely more comfortable than that damn plastic bed with the tissue paper runner, she thinks as she gets into position. I hope I haven’t been choking you, little one, Abbie thinks to her stomach.

Little one.

The phrase bounces around her brain until it sounds like gibberish. There are so many people she should tell. Jenny, definitely, before anyone else. Joe – though they’ll probably be in the same room if he’s not at work and Jenny’s not traveling. Clarissa and Hernán should probably know, too.

Maybe –

“Alright, Lady Abbie, it’s removed,” Doctor Yusuf says, patting her knee with her latex-gloved hand.

“Already?” Abbie sits up halfway, as if suspecting it’s a trick.

Doctor Yusuf nods, peeling off the gloves.

“I also see how it failed. The IUD shifted quite a bit from its intended position.”

Ichabod clears his throat nervously.

“Is that caused by sexual activity?” he asks.

“You are not to blame, your highness, ” she says. “Is this your first time using this method of birth control?” she asks Abbie.

“Yes. I’ve been on the pill since I was sixteen.”

“First time IUDs can shift a lot, especially in the beginning months of implementation. Your gynecologist should have warned you that you would need to get frequent checkups in the first year to ensure it didn’t move, and to adjust it if it had.”

“Not a damn warning,” Abbie grits, thinking about how she was between gynecologists at home and decided to just go to the women’s clinic on Ashford since she had travel plans.

Serves her right.

“I’ll be back with the prescriptions and a list of dietary restrictions you’ll need to give to your chef. Again, your highness, Lady Abbie,” Doctor Yusuf inclines her head at each respectively, “congratulations.”

Abbie watches the IUD go into a medical waste bag, trying to match reality to what she had dreamed her life would be.

Oh god. If life had gone the way she'd dreamt, she would be married to Danny. He wouldn't want her to work and never liked she taught self-defense. He always thought it was his job to protect her. They would be in a big city as he ran the FBI office while she silently popped out two or three children spaced a respectable two years apart so he could have the perfect family portrait on his desk while Abbie convinces herself this is what happiness is supposed to feel like.

Look at me now, Abbie thinks. Knocked up with a wedding around the corner to a Mediterranean prince who has to be the sexiest man she’s ever met, while simultaneously being the biggest dork she’s ever known.

She looks at him fondly to find Ichabod furiously typing a message out on his phone. Dread pools in the pit of her stomach.

“What are you doing,” Abbie asks, her eyes narrowing.

Ichabod glances up and freezes.

“Um, composing a tweet,” he says.

“A tweet about what?”

Ichabod looks around, but there’s no one to save him.

“I thought I would break the news to the country? …No?” he asks when Abbie looks furious as she clambers off the bed.

“Crane, you do realize we’re not married yet,” Abbie says with more patience than she actually feels.

“That doesn’t really matter here,” Ichabod says. “There was a period of time in Cirtona where we couldn’t wed unless you were pregnant, to ensure an heir.”

“How enlightened,” Abbie bites out.

“Let me put this another way,” she says, “if you tweet to the entire world that I’m pregnant before I get to tell my sister and before you get to tell your parents, then there will be hell to pay.” She smiles sharply. “Okay, sweetie?”

Ichabod exits out of the half composed tweet and closes the app.

“Absolutely,” he says. “You have to forgive me, treasure. I was merely excited.”

Abbie tries, but ultimately fails to stand up to the puppy dog eyes of Prince Ichabod of Cirtona.

“You…” she trails off, completely without words to describe him at the moment. “You better be glad I love you,” Abbie says, reluctantly allowing herself to be pulled into his arms.

Ichabod smiles and presses a chaste kiss to her mouth.

“I am forever glad and grateful that you love me, Abbie,” he says. “Your love saves me in more ways than one. If I’d sent that tweet, my father would attempt to disown me. Not you or the baby, of course. Just me,” he says. “And if my mother found out through twitter – what was I thinking?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“Glad to see you come to your senses,” she jokes.

“Upon our return we’ll stop by the palace and inform them of the news in person,” Ichabod says with a nod.

Abbie hesitates, picking at a nonexistent bit of string on Ichabod’s shirt.

“About that,” she says lowly.

Ichabod looks at her strangely.

“What is it?”

“I don’t… want anyone to know just yet,” Abbie says.

“I thought you wanted to wait until we knew for sure and now we do,” Ichabod says.

“I know, and I thought that’s what I wanted then, but now I want something else. Is that a crime?” Abbie asks.

Ichabod sighs.

“No,” he says reluctantly. “How long did you wish to wait?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have any magic time frame or something. Just… can we keep this between the two of us?” Abbie asks.

Ichabod contemplates her words.

“Abbie, are you sure you’re okay with this pregnancy? If this isn’t a good time for you, we can talk alternatives.”

“You’d let me get an abortion if I said I was too freaked out to go through with this?” she asks quietly.

“Since it’s not my body having to bring a human being to term, I don’t believe let is the correct term,” he says. “Did I pass the test?” Ichabod teases, and Abbie bursts into sheepish laughter.

“I haven’t changed my mind,” she reassures him. “I just want us to be able to enjoy this news, just the two of us, for a little bit.”

“How can I deny you, treasure?” Ichabod says with a sigh, but there’s a smile behind it.

“They,” he says, putting his hand gently on her abdomen, “will be our little secret. For now,” he adds.

~*~

Jenny stares up at the commercially zoned house and tries not to wrinkle her nose. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all. This was the last law firm on her hastily-researched list--honestly, it’s her last option within county limits. If this didn’t work out, she’d have to cast her net wider, and that meant more time and more than likely more money.

Taking a deep breath, she opens the stained glass door of Rodriguez and Rosen, Attorneys at Law. Immediately over the threshold Jenny’s first impression is that she accidentally stepped into someone’s comfortable living room.

There is a dark green couch against the wall. It’s kind of worn but looks clean and well cared for, with three bright yellow pillows arranged to look inviting. There are healthy plants in every corner of the room and in the far corner is the reception desk, currently empty.

Jenny wanders further in, closing the door behind her quietly. There’s one door and it’s closed. She has to keep herself from pressing her ear against it to snoop. Instead, she turns her gaze to the wall filled with framed pictures full of smiling people. The same man and woman are in each one: by appearance, a woman about Jenny’s age and a man who looks like he would be Joe’s dad’s age if he were alive.

Smiling people--that’s a good sign, right?

Jenny rubs her surprisingly sweaty hands against her denim clad thighs and moves closer to the desk, noticing a small improvised sign made out of a scrawled on sticky note.

Back in 10! it says in a cheery, looping font and she begins to wonder, despite the sign outside, if she’s really in a law office.

She decides to take a seat and no sooner has Jenny pulled out her phone to check her messages than the lone door opens and a blond young man in a neat blue button down and khaki slacks steps out. He doesn’t notice Jenny until he removes the sign from where it dangles from his computer monitor and crumples it into a ball. He turns to throw it in the trashcan on the other side of the room and yelps when he catches Jenny watching with amusement.

“Oh god, how long have you been there?” he asks, his hand reaching up to adjust a nonexistent tie.

Jenny chuckles.

“Only a few minutes, Larry Bird,” she teases, and tries not to laugh when he flushes a dark red.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I don’t think we have any appointments today so you must be a walk-in.” He goes back to his desk and grabs a clipboard and a pen.

“Fill out this form, please, and you’ll be seen shortly. My name is Leo if you need anything. Can I get you something to drink?”

“I can go for a bottle of water,” Jenny says.

Leo’s shoulders slump just a bit.

“No, but we do have a Britta pitcher and it’s been chilling in the refrigerator all morning,” he offers.

“That’s okay, thanks,” she says, and begins looking over the form. It’s mostly standard issue; personal information and a few details about the case or problem. Nothing too deep. She’s halfway done when Jenny realizes she’s being stared at. She glances up to find Leo gazing at her dreamily.

“Yes?” she asks with a smile, and Leo jumps and shakes himself out of his stupor.

“Sorry,” he says. “You’re just really pretty. Prettier than most people who come through here. Not that I’ve been here long, I’m taking a year off before going off to college. NYU,” he says proudly. “Mom said I couldn’t lounge around the house so Uncle Jeff found a place for me.”

Jenny nods slowly at the onslaught of unrequested information, realizing that Leo’s younger than she originally clocked him.

“Well, that’s nice,” she says, remembering herself at that age and forcing herself to remain kind.

“And thank you for the compliment,” she says. “Though you seem to work with a very beautiful woman, too.” Jenny jerks her thumb to the pictures on the wall when Leo looks confused.

“Oh, god, you mean Aunt Jane?” Leo shudders.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know she was your aunt,” Jenny says.

Leo shrugs a shoulder.

“She’s not really my aunt, but she may as well be since I’ve known her since I was born.”

“That’s why you call me Aunt Jane.” Jenny and Leo turn as the woman in the photographs steps forward toward Jenny.

“Hello, I’m Jane Rodriguez.”

Jenny rises and shakes her hand, appreciating the firm grip.

“I’m Jennifer Mills, but please call me Jenny.”

Upon closer inspection, she thinks Jane is Abbie’s age, with warm brown skin and almost impossibly thick brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail at the back of her round face. She’s wearing a black blazer and pinstripe skirt that flatters her plus-sized figure and her pumps gleam in the light.

She looks like she gets shit done, Jenny thinks.

“Nice to meet you Jenny. Please, call me Jane. Are you finished with the form?” she asks, gesturing to the clipboard in Jenny’s hands.

“No, not yet. I was distracted,” she says, and Jane shoots Leo a baleful glare.

“I’m sorry about that,” she says. “Why don’t you come on back and we’ll discuss what we’re able to do for you. And you,” Jane says, turning to Leo. “Don’t you have some records to digitize? Your uncle says you haven’t finished 1983.”

Leo’s shoulders slump.

“Right,” he mutters. “Uh, it was nice to meet you, Jenny.”

Jenny shoots Jane a knowing look.

“Nice to meet you, too, Leo,” she says, and follows Jane through the door which turns out to lead directly into a hallway.

“Thank you for being kind,” Jane says as she leads Jenny down the hall. “Leo has a hard time talking to people and Jeff thought it would be great to get him into a position where he could get over that fear. Money helps,” she adds with a smile.

“Doesn’t it always?” Jenny asks, intrigued by the woman before her.

“So I’ve heard. Please, we’ll talk in here.” Jane gestures to brightly lit conference room with a good view of the street and the surrounding shops. “Did Leo offer you any refreshments?”

Jenny takes a seat that lets her see the door and the windows while simultaneously keeping her back to a wall.

“He did, I declined.”

“Then let’s get down to business. Is your case civil or criminal?” Jane pulls out her tablet and a stylus, smiling expectantly at Jenny.

“Civil. I’m being sued for libel, apparently,” Jenny says, pulling her summons out and sliding it across the table to Jane.

“Really?” Jane looks incredulous as she takes the papers and reads over them quickly, her eyebrow rising and lowering as she reads the suit.

“You’re co-defendant,” she says. “Your sister is also named in the – Wait. Grace Abigail Mills? Sleepy Hollow’s Cinderella?”

Jenny winces at the moniker but nods.

“One and the same.”

Jane looks around and back at the suit.

“I’m sorry, and this is going to sound really rude, but why are you here?”

“I’m being sued!” Jenny says.

“No, I mean… With the notoriety this case will probably garner, there are three prominent and powerful law firms in Sleepy Hollow who would probably sacrifice an associate to get their hands on this case.” Jane stares off into space as she thinks. “Not to mention that any law firm worth its salt would fly you into Manhattan just to make sure you let them handle your case.”

Jenny shrugs a shoulder.

“Yeah, I met with Thornton, Langston and Associates earlier today. Their whole office creeped me out. How minimalist can you be before you have to say you have no furniture?” Jane laughs, surprised delight on her face.

“I didn’t like them,” Jenny goes on, “and they didn’t listen to me. They sat there making up press release schedules and getting wardrobe consultants on the phone and not once did they ask me what I wanted or even told me how they would deal with my case.”

“Yikes,” Jane murmurs. “That’s.. well, yeah, that’s Thornton and Langston,” she says ruefully.

“The Law Offices of Bankston and Associates,” Jenny says, mimicking the often heard late night commercial, “they wanted a one hundred thousand dollar retainer before they would even hear my issue.”

Jane blinks.

“Ah,” she says.

“Look, I’ve got some money but I’m not made of money,” Jenny says.

“Understood. What about your sister?”

“As of right now I’m better off than her, financially speaking. I don’t want her to have to ask her fiancé for money for legal fees because I screwed up.”

Jane cocks her head.

“Actually, I was asking if your sister had her own representation.”

“Oh.” Jenny sighs. “No. She doesn’t have representation.”

“Will she be getting her own or will be representing the entire Mills family?”

Jenny shifts in her chair and clears her throat.

“I haven’t actually told her about the suit yet.”

Jane blinks and leans forward as if she’s unsure she heard Jenny correctly.

“How is that possible?”

“Well, she’s out of the country.” Jenny shrugs.

“That’s right,” Jane crows. “I saw her on television the other day. She’s doing a tour of Cirtona?” Jenny nods. “She’s really beautiful. Looks just like she was made to be a princess. It seems like everywhere she goes she has flocks of children following her.”

Jenny laughs fondly, smiling through an unexpected pang of missing her sister desperately.

“Abbie has always gotten along well with kids. She doesn’t treat them like idiots and she doesn’t treat them like adults. They feel like they can be themselves around her.”

Jane nods, leveling Jenny with an assessing gaze.

“So she isn’t able to be served or hasn’t been so far. Do you talk to your sister while she’s in Cirtona?”

“Of course,” Jenny says. “A couple of times a week.”

Jane jots down a few notes.

“Is there a reason why you haven’t informed her of the suit?”

“Abbie has a lot on her plate right now and all this will do is distract her from living her life and being happy right now. I really need for her to be happy,” Jenny says firmly.

Jane nods and smiles.

“I understand,” she says softly.

“I don’t think you do. We have a history with Sheriff Pullman and he’s hated us for a long time. Abbie especially.”

“Why?”

Jenny leans back in the chair and closes her eyes briefly. In the scant time it takes to blink, she’s back in that interrogation room, adults screaming at her and Abbie and calling them liars and thieves. Even after all those years it only takes a second to be back there.

“It’s a long story,” she warns, sitting up and looking around warily. Jenny’s feeling exposed and on display though it’s only her and Jane in the room. “Um, is this going to be billed? Are you going to take my case?”

“Why don’t you tell me your story and then I can better decide,” Jane offers. “And no, this is not going to be billed.”

“Oh.”

“Have you had lunch?” she asks, and Jenny looks at her as if she’s sprouted another head.

“No. Actually, I skipped breakfast, too,” she realizes. “But I don’t really think I could eat.”

“Shame. My abuela made some red pork pozole with red onions and queso fresco.”

Jenny groans.

“Authentic Mexican food?” she asks weakly. “Next you’ll tell me she slow-cooked the pork.”

“Overnight,” Jane confirms with a sly grin. “Abuela don’t play.”

Jenny suddenly feels like she’s in the right place, and smiles.

“You’ve convinced me,” she says. “I can’t turn down good, home-cooked food.”

“Great. Then afterward we’ll go over the particulars necessary to take your case.”

Jenny pauses.

“So you are going to take it? I haven’t told you the whole story yet.”

Jane shakes her head and shrugs.

“And I’ll hear it. But I usually go with my gut instinct--so does my partner. We’ll take this case without turning your life into a media circus.”

“Thank you,” Jenny says, feeling more hopeful than she has in some time. She’s going to get this taken care of without bothering Abbie, even if it means burning through all the money she got from the stupid interview.

This time, Jenny’s going to take care of Abbie.

~*~

All college campuses must smell the same, Abbie theorizes, taking a deep breath as she listens to Ichabod wax nostalgic about the classes he took in Abreu Hall, home of History and Social Sciences. Classes are in the process of dismissal and the halls are full. Their tour slows to an almost standstill because the students all stop and greet Ichabod with a bow or curtsey before rushing off to their next class.

Some linger to talk and meet with Abbie and their Prince, having been excited about the royal visit since it had been announced weeks ago. Abbie can’t help but smile as students tell her and Ichabod about their classes and how they’re faring in their studies. Ichabod soaks up the information and offers encouragement, admiration or anecdotes about various teachers who were around when he was in school.

As much as she loves Ichabod in private, behind closed doors with an aura of loose-limbed relaxation, Abbie loves watching Ichabod interact with the public. In front of the press he’s engaging and magnetic; when he talks you want to listen. When he’s passionate, you become excited and when he focuses his attention on you it’s almost palpable.

Now, without the press about and surrounded by excited students, he’s relaxed and personable; the slightly goofy edge of his personality shines through as he signals to security they’re okay with one hand and laughing unselfconsciously while listening to quick stories about the students’ life on campus and teachers they may have had in common with Ichabod.

“Doctor Joaquin?”

Abbie rises out of her reverie to see Ichabod almost bend backward with laughter.

“Of course I had him. I thought I hated him when I was a sophomore and I knew I hated him when I returned for post-grad.”

“I have him for World History 102,” a pretty young blonde exclaims. “He’s so…” she trails off with the crowd around her laughs lightly.

“He’s still long-winded?” Ichabod asks conspiratorially. “It’s okay, you can tell me. I won’t tell you said,” he reassures her, blissfully ignorant of the way she’s staring up at him like he’s hung the moon and stars.

Who can blame her?

“Doctor Joaquin is the man you defended your thesis to?” Abbie asks.

“One of them,” Ichabod says, taking her hand absently and tugging her a little closer.

Abbie tries not to grin as she takes a step closer. Okay, maybe not as blissfully ignorant as he appears.

“And that’s who you want me to meet?”

“I do,” Ichabod confirms.

“Come,” he says to her gently. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never been late for Doctor Joaquin’s office hours. Anyone who knows him knows why,” Ichabod says to the crowd. Abbie feels slightly out of the loop as a few people react with comical horror and some run away, clutching their bags to their chests.

“I feel like I’m missing something,” she murmurs, waving at everyone as security ushers them along.

“Waste Doctor Joaquin’s time and he would make you wear this ratty, hideous green wig that he claimed to have found when he went on vacation in Singapore. It has pigtails and bangs that cut across your forehead,” Ichabod says with a shudder as they continue down the hall.

Abbie laughs.

“That sounds horrible,” she says.

“It isn’t flattering, no matter what you look like,” he says sourly as they start up the steps. Ichabod slows his gait to allow Abbie’s smaller stride and high heels to keep up. “How are you feeling, treasure?” he asks lowly, nodding and smiling to a few students who pause to bow as they pass.

“I’m fine,” Abbie mutters. “I thought you weren’t going to ask me anymore.”

“I wasn’t, but you look-”

“I look what, Ichabod?” Abbie asks pointedly as they crest the landing.

“Radiant,” Ichabod says, lifting her hand to his mouth to press a kiss to her knuckles. “Absolutely radiant.”

“I knew you were a smart man,” Abbie says, and playfully yanks her hand out of his grasp. Ichabod starts as if he’s going to chase her and she can’t stop the reaction of yelping and running a few steps before she realizes both Stephen and Ichabod are laughing, though Stephen is attempting to hide it.

Phillip, on the other hand, rolls his eyes and Abbie feels a sense of kinship.

“See, that’s why Phillip’s my favorite,” she says primly, turning on her heels and marching down the hall.

“But Abbie,” Ichabod says weakly, still trying to talk through his laughter. “I’m sorry,” he calls after her.

“Oh, you will be,” she mutters, glancing at the signs as she turns down the hall. Abbie doesn’t know where she’s going but she’s not going to give Ichabod the satisfaction of asking. She glances back to find Phillip right behind her.

“Sorry,” she says. “I didn’t mean to run off again.”

Phillip nods.

“You’re not hard to catch up with when I know you’re moving,” he teases gently just as Ichabod and Stephen make it around the corner.

“How are you going to lead the way when you’ve never been here?” Ichabod asks, catching up with Abbie. He steps into her personal space and stares down at her, glancing down at her lips before looking into her eyes.

Immediately Abbie can feel herself reacting and she curses how quickly her man is able to turn her on and shut her up.

“I hate you,” she says halfheartedly, taking a step back. But Ichabod moves forward and gently grasps her around the waist to keep her from running into the opposite wall.

“Say it isn’t so, treasure,” he croons. “My soul could not bear such an eventuality.”

“Your highness!”

Abbie looks around Ichabod’s arm and her eyes widen. Coming toward them has to be one of the most beautiful men she’s ever seen. He’s tall, approximately the same height as Ichabod, but instead of sandy, light brown hair the man has long, ink-black hair hanging straight down past his broad shoulders. His skin is an alluring dark bronze and as he moves you can see the various muscles bulge and work to make his gait long and graceful. His eyes are so dark that they’re black and the smile gracing his full lips could only be described as sensual.

“Abbie, close your mouth,” Ichabod mutters as he straightens.

Doctor Joaquin stops a few feet before Ichabod and drops into a bow.

“Prince Ichabod, so glad to see you again.”

Abbie blinks as she wonders how much more strain a simple blue button down shirt can take before it’s ripped to shreds. When Doctor Joaquin inclines his head his hair falls forward like a curtain of night before he rises to his feet and gracefully runs his fingers through, making it settle around the magnificence that are his cheekbones and face.

“I had to show my fiancée around my alma mater,” Ichabod says, pulling Abbie’s hand into his. “Abbie, you’re staring,” he mutters out the corner of his mouth.

“Lady Abbie, I’m honored. Your name has been on everyone’s lips lately. I see the footage of you does nothing to capture your beauty.” Doctor Joaquin offers her a bow as well and – honestly, Abbie didn’t mean it, but a breathless giggle slips out.

“You don’t have to bow to me,” she says awkwardly, holding out a hand. Instead of shaking it Doctor Joaquin turns it and presses his gorgeous lips against the back. Abbie’s eyes widen again as he rises to his feet, and Ichabod has to clear his throat to remind her she’s still holding another man’s hand.

“Such beauty deserves admiration and respect,” Doctor Joaquin says, and Abbie finds herself barely listening but nodding all the same.

Ichabod looks between his former professor and his fiancée sourly.

“If you could be so kind as to turn it down a notch,” he says, with only a trace of irritation.

“Turn it down?” Doctor Joaquin asks Ichabod innocently. “I am Doctor Armando Joaquin, at your service,” he tells Abbie.

“You were never at my service,” Ichabod says, slapping lightly at where their hands are still joined.

Abbie laughs again, but this time at Ichabod.

“Pleasure to meet you, Doctor Joaquin.”

“Please, call me Armando.”

Abbie’s smile lights up her entire face.

“Armando,” she agrees. “I have to say, you’re nothing like Ichabod described.”

“Oh?” Armando looks at Ichabod interestedly. “What did you say, your highness?”

“I didn’t actually describe you physically,” Ichabod says smugly. “I cannot help if my fiancée is intelligent enough to infer appearance from anecdotal tales of boorish behavior.”

Abbie’s eyes widen and she closes her eyes briefly in embarrassment.

“I don’t know which one is worse,” she mutters. “That he’s right and I did create an image from what he said you used to do to him and other students or that he’s bragging about it.”

Armando shrugs a shoulder.

“It’s a logical fallacy we all succumb to at multiple times in our lives. How did you imagine me, Lady Abbie?”

“She didn’t,” Ichabod says flatly.

Abbie coughs to cover her laugh.

“Crane,” she murmurs.

“Are you still married, Doctor Joaquin?” he asks coolly.

Armando smiles knowingly at Ichabod.

“Thank you so much for remembering my wife, your highness,” he says smoothly. “My wife and I recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary.”

“Congratulations!” Abbie exclaims. “Twenty years? Any advice?” she asks.

“Oh, I think you’re in good hands with the prince,” Armando says to her with a wink. “All you can do is love each other for who you are, and not for who you think you can make them into.”

Abbie nods slowly.

“Sage advice. No wonder you were Ichabod’s advisor.”

“The compliments are unnecessary, but very much appreciated.” Armando claps his hands. “If you have a moment, I have arranged for tea in my office. Many a day Ichabod and I would spend hours going back and forth, arguing and agreeing about history and the future of the country.”

“Is there food?” Abbie asks, suddenly famished. "I mean," she starts again, slightly embarrassed. "Will there be food?"

“Lady Abbie.” Phillip steps up immediately. “What would you like? Anything you desire will be here in less than ten minutes.”

Abbie is taken aback. Anything she wants?

“Spaghetti,” she says immediately. “With mushrooms and Italian sausage. Spicy,” she adds.

Phillip nods.

“Yes, Lady Abbie," he says, and turns on his heel.

“Um,” she calls after him, aware that everyone is staring at her. “I want a pickle, too,” she says slowly.

“A… pickle, too?” Philip asks.

“A dill pickle,” Abbie clarifies. “Can you ask them to slice it? I don’t want to smell like pickles for the rest of the day because I got it all over my shirt. Please,” she adds.

“Yes, Lady Abbie,” Phillip says, and slowly turns, still watching Abbie’s indecisive expression. “Is there anything else, my lady?”

“No,” Abbie says, shaking her head. “Yes,” she corrects mournfully. “Make it two pickles.”

“Absolutely, my lady,” Phillip says, not moving an inch this time.

Abbie huffs and waves him off with an embarrassed laugh.

“I’m done, I swear,” she says, laughing self-consciously. “I promise.” She turns away and finds Doctor Joaquin standing before her, arm extended.

“Allow me, my lady,” Armando says as she takes his arm. “Prince Ichabod, you remember where my office is,” he says over his shoulder as he escorts Abbie down the hall.

Ichabod looks over at Stephen, to see if he sees what’s going on, but Stephen is suddenly quite keen on examining middle distance.

“You’re no help,” Ichabod glowers.

“No sir, your highness,” Stephen says smartly, staring at nothing until Ichabod rolls his eyes good-naturedly and begins down the hall to follow Abbie and Armando.

~*~

Abbie picks up a picture frame with Armando and a woman a couple of shades darker than Abbie with an almost impossibly big afro, sitting next to him on a brightly lit beach. He’s staring at her like she’s his whole world and Abbie can’t help but smile.

“Ah, the better looking Doctor Joaquin,” Ichabod says over her shoulder.

“You’ve met her?” she asks him.

“Oh, yes, he’s met Mercedes,” Armando says, almost sourly, as he brings the tea tray to the table in front of the sole window in the room.

“How is Mercy?” Ichabod asks cheekily, and Abbie narrows her eyes at how he’s almost radiating innocence in response to Armando’s mounting irritation.

“She’s fine,” he snaps, and both men chuckle. “She’ll be back to work in a few months. We’ve just had our first child.”

“That’s wonderful! Congratulations!” Ichabod says, clapping his hand on Armando’s shoulder.

“Thank you, your highness,” he says. “Prince Ichabod met Mercedes the first time he took advantage of my office hours, all those years ago. You were in your second year of university and most students of your year have difficulty knocking on my door loudly enough for me to hear it.”

Ichabod laughs and begins to cough when Armando glares at him briefly.

“He not only knocks, but walks right in, eager to introduce himself like I don’t know the crown prince of my own country.”

Abbie smothers her own smile as Ichabod’s ears grow red.

“That’s not why I was introducing myself,” he says defensively. “I just wanted to say hello. I wanted to be polite.”

“You wanted to know if I would be one of the teachers who would rather curry your favor than grade your papers, your highness,” Armando retorts.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ichabod breezes. “Are you going to serve the tea or shall I?” he asks primly.

“I think he should finish the story,” Abbie says eagerly.

“Why? It’s boring,” Ichabod says.

“He sweeps in,” Armando resumes with a flourish, “and proceeds to announce himself like the royalty of old –”

“I did not,” Ichabod interrupts.

“What did he do next,” Abbie asks eagerly.

“He sees Mercedes and before I can say anything he steps up to her and takes her hand.”

Armando proceeds to do so to Abbie and brings her hand close to his mouth, staring deep into her eyes.

“And says, you are one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen,” he croons in imitation of Ichabod. “I am Prince Ichabod, and it is a pleasure to meet you.”

Abbie’s eyes widen as Armando presses a quick kiss to her knuckles and she can’t help but giggle at the intensity of his gaze.

“Oh,” she says quietly. Abbie’s been on the receiving end of Ichabod’s flirtatious intent and Armando Joaquin could have had him beat, royalty or no.

“Bloody hell,” Ichabod grouses. “Fine, you’ve made your point.”

“Was there a point?” Armando asks innocently, looking at Ichabod pointedly.

Abbie clears her throat and removes her hand from Armando’s, trying not to fan herself.

“What was the point, besides riling me up?” she mutters.

“Doctor Joaquin has claimed for years that I flirted with his wife,” Ichabod says. “I told him I was just being polite.”

“I really hope you’re not that polite anymore,” Abbie says, and Ichabod’s grin falters.

“Of course not, treasure,” he reassures her. “And that’s the end of the story,” he says to Armando.

“Oh?” he asks innocently. “Then you and I recall very different details,” Armando says with a shark grin.

“Fine, fine,” Ichabod concedes. “I’ll admit that I did flirt with your wife and I am very, very sorry I did.” He looks pleadingly at Armando.

Abbie looks at Ichabod accusingly.

“What did you do?” she demands.

“Nothing!”

“Armando?” Abbie turns to him expectantly.

The men hold a second long, wordless exchange.

“I’m sorry, Lady Abbie. Student-professor confidentiality,” he says.

Abbie hesitates, narrowing her eyes at both men.

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” she says.

Before Armando can respond there’s a polite knock at the door.

“Oh, thank god,” Ichabod mutters as Armando answers the door.

“Lady Abbie, your food has arrived,” he says as he steps aside for Nilda pushing a service tray. “Madam Nilda, your beauty has been preserved for all time, just as I suspected the last time I saw you.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Nilda says as she shoots him a sly grin.

Abbie’s stomach rumbles loudly. She’s almost faint at the roar of hunger in her body.

“Oh, good,” she says as Nilda pushes it to the other side of the room and lifts the cover.

Immediately Abbie agrees wholeheartedly with everything and anything on that tray. Nilda quickly produces a serving bowl heaping with spaghetti with Italian sausage and mushrooms enough for three. Abbie can smell the spiciness from where she’s standing.

“Nilda, thank you--so much,” she says sincerely.

Nilda looks down at the spread she whipped up in no time at all with the plate of sliced pickles arranged in a floret pattern in her hand, flushing at the compliment. Not only did it not take long to get together, but the presentation is practically nonexistent.

“Thank you, Lady Abbie,” she says strangely before producing another platter filled with small, red and blue fruit covered tarts. “I also brought freshly made tarts.”

“They look so patriotic,” Abbie says excitedly. “I mean, American patriotic,” she clarifies. “Are those Cirtona berries?”

Nilda nods proudly.

“Mascarpone, cherries and Cirtona berries.”

Armando sighs happily.

“Nilda, I have been meaning to reach out for the recipe. I gave Mercedes one and she’s been on my case for more ever since.” He turns to Abbie. “Have you had one of Nilda’s mascarpone tarts?”

“Haven’t had the pleasure. Yet,” she adds with resolve. “I don’t think I’ve ever had mascarpone.”

“Then you don’t know heaven.”

“Beware of this one, he’s a flatterer,” Nilda tells Abbie as she shakes her head. “Did you need anything else, Prince Ichabod? Lady Abbie?” she asks them.

Abbie rubs her hands together gleefully as she sits down at the table, ignoring the two men.

“Nope,” she says happily.

“We’re fine, thank you, Nilda,” Ichabod says as he watches Abbie worriedly as she dishes up the food with an eagerness born of hunger.

Nilda nods and moves closer to the table.

“Lady Abbie,” she says quietly. “I thought you may have need of this at some point.”

Abbie glances up as the older woman puts a small bottle of ginger ale beside her plate.

“Um,” she says, quickly hiding it by putting it on the floor next to her chair. “Thank you.”

Nilda nods conspiratorially before she grabs the serving table and pushes it out the room.

“Now this is tea,” Armando says as he and Ichabod join Abbie at the table.

“I don’t know how many nights Armando and I would spend in a rapt discussion until dawn,” Ichabod says as he takes his seat.

“Too many, according to Mercedes,” Armando says as he pours them each a cup of tea. “When we would debate –”

“Or argue,” Ichabod interjects slyly.

“Or argue,” Armando concedes, “Nilda would bring sustenance. My favorite thing she would bring were her mascarpone tarts.”

“I used to wonder if you would deliberately goad me into arguments so I would stay and Nilda would deliver dinner,” Ichabod says, pausing to kiss Abbie’s hand in thanks when she places his plate full of spaghetti in front of him.

“No offense, your highness –and you’ll learn this once you’re married if you haven’t already– but no argument for argument’s sake is worth leaving your delectable wife at home in bed without you.”

Ichabod glances over at Abbie, who smiles and rolls her eyes.

“Indeed,” he agrees. “But back to your good news! Congratulations, Armando,” Ichabod says, digging in as Abbie hums happily around her own mouthful.

“Yes, after all this time being a kind-of surrogate father to students I have one of my own.” Armando grins proudly. “I’ll have to show you pictures.”

“Wow, your first child at twenty years of marriage?” Abbie accidentally says aloud. Mercedes looks like she’s Abbie’s age, if a day.

“Not exactly twenty years of marriage,” Armando concedes. “I chased Mercedes around the world, courting her and pleading for her heart for ten years. Then she consented and we’ve been wed for another ten. We’ve always celebrated the year we met rather than the year we signed a piece of paper.”

“That’s so romantic,” Abbie sighs in between bites. “You decided it was time to try for kids?”

“Actually no,” Armando admits. “I had always wanted kids and Mercedes wanted a large family. We tried and… and failed a few times. The last time we had a miscarriage we almost didn’t make it as a couple,” he says quietly.

“I’m so sorry,” Ichabod says. “Was that when you and Doctor Joaquin took that month long sabbatical?”

Armando nods.

“We kind of left the world behind and had some frank discussions about how we felt and what we wanted. Neither of us were really interested in medical intervention so we agreed to just be happy with what we had. But we still wanted to be parents.”

“So you looked at alternatives,” Ichabod asks.

Armando nods.

“One day Mercedes came home with information on how to become foster parents. I hadn’t even gotten the courage to tell her I wanted to consider adoption and here my beautiful wife was, beating me to the finish line.”

“I’m always glad to hear when people, especially people of color, talk about adoption, and I get excited when fostering is part of the conversation. In America we have so many children who could use a loving and safe environment,” Abbie says.

“Oh yes, you’re a foster child yourself, correct?” Armando asks.

“I am,” Abbie says, surprised. “How did you know?”

Ichabod coughs delicately.

“The press calls you Cinderella for that reason.”

“I thought they called me Cinderella because my bank account was a little light,” Abbie says petulantly.

“An orphan who becomes a princess,” Armando says.

“Oh.” Abbie stares down at her plate for a moment. “Nevermind me, what happened next?”

“We became the proud foster parents of three children: ten, eleven and twelve, all siblings.” At this, Armando does rise from the table and returns with a picture of three smiling children crowding around Mercedes as she reads a book on the beach.

“Oh, they all look adorable,” Abbie coos. “What are their names?”

“He’s Mateo, she’s Nadia and the eldest is Renata,” Armando says, pointing to each in turn.

“They look happy,” Ichabod says admiringly. “Have you thought of adopting them?”

Armando nods but his smile turns a little sad.

“We’ve asked them if they wished to become a permanent part of our family. We’ve asked them every year they’ve been in our home.”

Ichabod blinks in surprise.

“They’ve declined?” he asks incredulously. “Every year?”

“So far, yes.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ichabod says.

“Makes perfect sense,” Abbie says quietly. “I’m sure you’re a wonderful foster father and you and Mercedes give them a great home,” she reassures Armando. “But – let me ask you: how old are they now?”

“Mateo’s fourteen, Nadia’s fifteen, and Renata is sixteen.”

“All teenagers now,” Abbie says, nodding to herself. “Renata holds down the law and keeps them in place, even now, am I right?”

Armando looks at Ichabod wonderingly.

“Yes,” he says to Abbie. “Mercedes and I have to do very little disciplining because Renata usually has done it before we even know there was an issue or conflict.”

“Because Renata wants to make sure that her siblings remain ‘good’ enough so you won’t want to return them,” Abbie says with air quotes.

Armando looks appalled.

“What? We’ve never-”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re a good house and they will do anything to stay there, even if it means making themselves as small as possible so you’re not inconvenienced by anything.”

“I… We didn’t know this,” Armando says quietly.

“What should he do?” Ichabod asks.

“They’re already on edge because of the new baby,” she says.

“But we explained repeatedly that Oscar will not change anything,” Armando says.

“The baby will change things,” Abbie says simply. “That’s just logic. A baby needs more parenting than a teenager. Babies are new and exciting and they aren’t. They’ll feel like they can’t compete. Deep down they were waiting for something like this and now that it’s here they’re counting down the days.”

Armando stares into middle distance looking concerned and lost.

“How could we know they didn’t believe us?”

Abbie shrugs a shoulder.

“Has anyone stopped eating as much as they used to? Stopped doing something or asking for something? Have they started hoarding food? Do they have their own luggage?”

Armando nods.

“We got them all a set of luggage because we travel every year.”

“Check to see if they’ve packed,” she says quietly. “How often do you come home and it’s silent now, except for Mercedes and the baby?”

Armando blinks.

“I just thought they were out or had their heads wrapped up in their technology,” he says.

“The age of adulthood is eighteen on Cirtona, right?” Abbie asks Ichabod, who nods. “So Renata is already thinking about how she will take care of her siblings on her own.”

“She wouldn’t even look at me when I asked her if she wanted to go to university here in Al-Adid or if she wanted to go abroad. I thought maybe she just didn’t want to talk about it at the moment, but before Mercedes became pregnant we used to talk about France or New York.” Armando rubs his face soberly. “What can we do? Is it too late?”

“It’s not too late,” Abbie reassures him. “But it’s not going to be easy. You’ll need to include them in everything you and Mercedes do with Oscar. Make them understand you and Mercedes see them as Oscar’s siblings. He’s not a replacement for them.”

“Never,” Armando says, shaking his head emphatically.

“And you’re going to have to be patient. Even if they stop asking for things you know are their favorite, keep getting it for them. Make it no big deal. Tell them you were thinking about them. Were you guys able to travel this year?” Abbie asks.

Armando shook his head.

“Unfortunately, Mercedes went into labor early. We were supposed to go on a cruise around the Indian Ocean.”

“Take them on another trip yourself, and let them know you had looked forward to spending time with them away as much as they had. Continue to make plans with them for the future. They need to know - they need proof you want them to continue to be a part of your life.”

Armando looks at her admiringly.

“Prince Ichabod, you are an incredibly blessed man to have such a woman decide to stand beside you.”

Ichabod nods, staring at Abbie with new eyes.

“Every day I’m reminded,” he says quietly.

Abbie flushes.

“Are we going to stare at me or are we going to eat?” she asks, looking down at her plate.

Ichabod laughs.

“Alright, treasure. I’ll eat. For now.” He raises his eyebrow suggestively.

Abbie kicks his ankle halfheartedly beneath the table. She dives into her food to avoid memories but she really is starving – she clears her plate and snatches the rest of the spaghetti before either man is half done with his first plate.

While Ichabod and Armando talk about his years as a student before he took five years off to do who-knows-what, Abbie has the brilliant idea of dumping the pickle slices directly into the pasta, mixing it up and humming happily as it rapidly disappears.

Armando looks on with amusement as he and Ichabod are just finishing their pasta while Abbie sets her once again empty plate aside and takes a tart onto a dessert plate, sniffing it briefly before taking a bite.

“They’re good, no?” he asks.

Abbie’s eyes widen.

“They’re amazing,” she says around her mouthful.

“I’ll have to make sure to bring one back to Mercedes.” Armando clears his throat and sits back in his seat with a small smile. “So, when are you due?”

Abbie pauses with a tart in each hand and one in her mouth. She coughs, chewing rapidly so she can swallow and speak.

“What?” she asks, still frozen.

“Pregnant? That’s ridiculous,” Ichabod scoffs, turning on his best grin.

“That didn’t get you extensions on your papers and it won’t work now,” Armando says.

“Thought as much. How did you figure it out?” Ichabod asks, as Abbie finishes one of the tarts sullenly.

“I just watched her devour two plates of pasta with pickles,” Armando says wryly. “And she’s on her fourth tart.”

Abbie pauses again, caught with two more tarts in her hands. She swallows again and puts the pastries on the plate.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” she admits. “All I was thinking was I wanted spaghetti and pickles.”

“So, the due date?”

Abbie twists a tart on the plate.

“Sometime in July,” she says.

“Congratulations,” Armando cheers, his smile and enthusiasm faltering when neither Abbie nor Ichabod join in. “Is this not a momentous occasion?” he asks them.

“We’re happy, we are,” she insists. “I just want to keep it under wraps for a while.”

“We agreed it would be best,” Ichabod says oddly, not quite looking at Abbie or Armando.

“Something just between you and Prince Ichabod for now?” Armando asks, empathy in his expression.

“Exactly!” Abbie says. “When it gets out it’ll be public record and everyone will be asking about every little thing and I’m not ready to share it with anyone but Ichabod just now.”

“I can understand. Mercedes and my situation wasn’t quite like yours but we had announced to family a few times we were expecting just to have to go through the indescribable task of later informing them that it was no longer the case. We waited until six months – Mercedes didn’t have more than the tiniest of baby bumps until halfway through her sixth month, then she just ballooned out.” Armando pantomimes a huge stomach in front of him.

“By then we figured it was safe to tell our friends and family. We couldn’t even blame them for not getting their hopes up again,” he says.

“I know this is the twenty-first century and everything but I’m worried that when people find out I’m pregnant they may look at Ichabod differently,” Abbie admits, finally able to voice a concern she didn’t want to face.

Ichabod looks at her wonderingly.

“Is that why you don’t want to tell anyone?” he asks, completely astonished.

Abbie ducks her head.

“Were you not listening? It’s not the only reason,” she mutters. “But it’s a major one.” She pinches the bridge of her nose and turns to him.

“You’ve done a lot of work trying to reform your image from a flighty socialite and I don’t want to be the reason people don’t take you seriously.”

Ichabod stares at Abbie, a strange look in his eye.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he says, and Abbie wants to protest to get it over and done with – even though they’re not in private – but he looks serious so Abbie shuts her mouth and sits back in her chair.

It’s a tense moment of silence--Ichabod staring at his plate, Abbie eating another tart, and Armando hiding his discomfort by drinking his tea.

Armando clears his throat.

“So, your highness, are you still a competitive pugilist?”

Abbie’s jaw drops as she sits up again, eyes wide with surprise and glee.

“Wait a second--you box?”

Ichabod clears his throat primly.

“Why do you have to sound so surprised?” he asks. “I had interests and a life before I met you,” he teases.

“Well, alright,” she says, eyes sparkling.

“It was a meager and pale imitation of now, of course,” he says, and she shakes her head.

“Of course.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t tell you,” Armando says. “He cost me a pretty penny on more than one occasion.”

Abbie’s jaw drops again as Ichabod flushes.

“You would bet on your own matches?” she asks.

“No, no, I don’t mean to misrepresent his highness’ integrity. No, the beginning of our student/professor relationship was quite contentious.”

“Nice word for we could barely stand each other,” Ichabod mutters. “I joined the boxing club because I am marginally better at that than fencing.”

“Marginally,” Armando huffs. “This man can knock out men twice his bulk. It was shocking, this sliver of a man delivering jab after jab in lightning bouts. I wagered against him a few times until I learned my lesson. In my irritation I could not discern skill from luck.”

“It wasn’t nearly as exciting as Armando portrays it,” Ichabod reassures her. “At first no one wanted to hit me because I was the prince. Then they didn’t believe I could hit because I was the prince.”

“So you proved them wrong,” Abbie says.

“Repeatedly, with relish,” Armando adds dryly. “So from Lady Abbie’s shock, I’m to understand you don’t participate in the sport any longer, your highness?”

Ichabod shakes his head.

“One of the hobbies I had to let go of when I stepped into a greater role at Parliament. I just didn’t have enough time to knock people around, though I have never had a desire to do so more,” he says.

“You’ll have to show me your moves,” Abbie says a little breathlessly, and Ichabod’s expression immediately begins to smolder.

“On that, you have my word,” he says lowly, and Abbie has to dig her fingers into her armrest to keep her body from leaping up and landing in Ichabod’s lap.

Thankfully the phone on Armando’s desk rings, breaking them out of their mutual dirty thoughts and back to the real world. Abbie takes a long drink from her ginger ale hoping it will cool her off while Armando talks quietly to the person on the other line. When he hangs up the phone he sighs heavily and rubs at his temples.

“I’m sorry, we have to cut our visit short. The dean needs a chair to sit in on an honor hearing and apparently I’m next on the roster,” he says apologetically.

“An honor hearing is when a student or teacher is accused of breaking one of the honor codes. It’s like a discipline tribunal. I used to sit on the student committee,” Ichabod explains.

“Is there anything you didn’t do while in college?” Abbie asks.

Ichabod considers and shakes his head.

“Not really,” he says. “I was highly encouraged to try a variety of extracurriculars. Also, I was really looking to have the stereotypical university experience; the one you see in all the American movies.”

Abbie snorts.

“Say no more,” she says.

Ichabod chuckles and rises to his feet.

“Thank you, Armando, for the pleasant stroll down memory lane,” he says, inclining his head when Armando bows before him.

“Always a pleasure,” he says, turning to clasp Abbie’s hands in his. “I am so glad I got to meet you,” Armando says seriously. “Everything you’ve said has hit home. I will talk with Mercedes tonight and we’re going to redouble our efforts so that Nadia, Renata and Mateo understand we don’t want them to go anywhere.”

Abbie nods.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she reminds him. “They’re going to test your patience, your boundaries, and your rules. Don’t be afraid to punish them if they do something they shouldn’t – nothing smells more like suspect bullshit when your parental figure suddenly stops punishing you. It means they don’t care what you do anymore and that is a big red flag for kids like us.”

Armando nods and grabs a folder from his desk.

“I’ll leave the door open for Nilda to retrieve her dishes,” he says, “but if I don’t leave now, Dean Alameda will call again.”

“Of course. Have a good day, Armando, and don’t forget to tell Mercedes I said hello,” Ichabod says, taking Abbie’s hand and leading her out the office. Armando is half a step behind them but he turns in the opposite direction, walking briskly toward his destination.

“Where are we going next?” Abbie asks, looking back at Armando until they turn the corner.

“The place where I spent the most time on campus,” Ichabod says, secretively.

“I don’t want to see your old girlfriend’s dorm room.” Abbie grins at his flat expression. “What, you didn’t have a college girlfriend?”

“That would have defeated the purpose of my entire plan,” Ichabod says, affronted.

“And that plan was what, to fuck as many women as possible in between classes?”

Ichabod mulls it over, nodding slowly.

“And sometimes during class if it was boring enough to skip.”

Abbie laughs.

“Nasty,” she says fondly. “So where are we going for real?” They take the stairs back down and suddenly they’re surrounded by students again who stop and bow as they pass.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that,” she admits as another student drops into a curtsey, not rising until they’ve passed.

“You’ll grow to stop seeing it,” Ichabod promises, inclining his head at the line of people who stop to genuflect as they move past. He holds the door open for Abbie and smiles at her reaction as she steps outside.

“It looks like a miniature castle,” Abbie says in awe as they walk across the quad.

“Great pains have been taken to keep the façade well maintained. Inside, as library science advanced, so did the cooling system and humidity controls. It’s state of the art.” Ichabod waves when a group of young women start screaming his name, jumping up and down and waving.

Abbie can’t help but smirk up at him when they squeal. Then, to her surprise they begin jumping up and down and calling her name.

“Oh, my gosh,” she mutters under her breath as they continue on. They seem to be just as excited at her response as they were at Ichabod’s. “How did you get any work done?” she asks as they continue down the concrete path.

Ichabod blinks and looks down at her.

“What do you mean?”

Abbie gestures to the groups of students and faculty moving across the grassy knoll. Every moment someone is looking up and recognizing them and waving back. She realizes she still has her hand up and waves back awkwardly.

“Everywhere you go people are calling your name, wanting your attention. How do you block it out?” she asks.

Ichabod shakes his head.

“I told you, after a while it’s all just noise.”

“And no one thinks you’re rude if you don’t wave back? Because you’ve been waving back all day,” Abbie points out. “And taking pictures, and signing autographs,” she says wonderingly. “Like you’re a rock star.”

“I have,” he agrees, and does it again with a grin when she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “As I said before, treasure, I’m used to this type of attention. I was brought up expecting it and taught how to respond. I’m the crown prince of Cirtona, and I know as a heathen American who has no royalty, this doesn’t really mean anything to you –”

“Heathen!” Abbie exclaims through her giggles.

“Oh, don’t worry, I have made my peace with it,” he reassures her.

“Gee, thanks.”

“We are important to our people and if they wish to wave or get my attention respectfully then I don’t think it beneath me to acknowledge them,” Ichabod says. “And I also happen to have the time right now. I’m not rushing off the class or on my way to an important state function.”

“Was it this bad when you were actually a student?” Abbie asks.

“Worse,” he admits. “When it became known that I liked to…” Ichabod glances at Abbie’s raised eyebrow. “That I liked to entertain,” he continues smoothly, “I received a lot of ardent and distracting attention from all genders.”

Abbie briefly imagines young women with perky tits leaning forward and asking Ichabod if he needs any help getting to class. She feels a flash of irrational irritation at these phantom women and their alluring boobs.

“That is very much in the past,” Ichabod reassures her as they stop at the steps before the library. “Besides, I learned quickly when you have your nose in a book or headphones on people are much more understanding when they’re ignored.

“That and I generally moved faster than this,” he admits as he glances down at Abbie’s sky high heels. “How are your feet not bothering you?”

She removes her hand from his.

“Magic,” Abbie says, putting a little extra sway in her walk as she climbs the steps before the library, grinning as she feels his eyes on her ass. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons she loves wearing high heels; she gets height and a sexy stride.

Ichabod wasn’t exaggerating when he stated the interior of the library is state of the art – the doors look heavy but they swing forward slowly without her having to touch them. Inside it’s remarkably cooler and darker and the subtle headache behind Abbie’s eyes lessens enough for her to notice.

There aren’t many people inside, and as they move further in Abbie can see why: there are multiple rooms and elevators marked as closed for construction. It smells faintly like dust, plaster and burnt batteries, and it tugs at her own memories of nights poring through books at the library before a test.

“So this is where Prince Ichabod spent most of his time,” she whispers, throwing a glance at him over her shoulder as she meanders past rows of long, mahogany tables. Studying students are scattered amongst the tables, not even looking up when she and Ichabod pass.

“Not so much undergrad, but most assuredly when I returned to pursue my doctorate.” Ichabod takes her hand and leads her out of the main room and down to the elevator bay. “My security detail would often have to find me in the history wing, asleep with my face in a book.”

Abbie catches Ichabod’s subtle gesture to Stephen and Phillip behind them as the elevator doors open, and the men remain behind when they step on board.

“What was that?” she asks as he presses a button.

“We don’t need them for this leg of the tour,” he says.

“Oh?”

“There is no threat up here,” Ichabod says lowly, stepping into her personal space.

Abbie’s heart picks up at the heat in his gaze and she takes a step back to find herself against the elevator wall.

“Ichabod,” she warns, a little more breathlessly than she’d anticipated. She bites her lip and Ichabod immediately tracks the movement, hungrily. The doors open and Abbie slides out of the elevator, knowing she just narrowly avoided trouble.

But trouble stalks after her onto the history floor, Ichabod’s normally bright eyes reduced to a ring around his dilated pupils.

“Sometimes I think you choose your wardrobe by what will reduce me to utter debasement,” he murmurs, taking in Abbie’s black, high-waist pencil skirt and white button down blouse.

“There you go, assuming I always dress for you,” she says, turning her nose up primly.

It’s a demure enough outfit, or at least it would be if the skirt wasn’t so sinfully tight, hugging her ass in a distractingly flattering manner. At Ichabod’s height, he can see the swell of cleavage at her neckline, and it drives him to involuntary arousal. All day he’s been forced to wrestle with his raging libido no matter which direction Abbie faces.

Not to mention every lusty gaze leering at her as they moved through the halls, rightfully entranced by the sway of her hips, the fall of her hair down one shoulder and her bright and yet mysterious smile when asked to take pictures with students and faculty.

Ichabod has felt like a caged animal, unable to act as he wants until they enter the library, familiar domain and void of curious onlookers and press.

“What’s up here?” Abbie asks, looking at him out the side of her eye knowingly.

“Rooms filled with dusty old books,” he says.

“And?”

Ichabod’s grin turns sly.

“And no one around.”

Abbie is suddenly aware the only things she can hear are the click of her heels and the pounding of her heart in her ears.

“How convenient.”

Ichabod’s agreement is more like a rumble as he practically stalks her down the aisles.

“So, you studied up here all the time?” she asks, running her hand along the spines of the books on the shelves.

“It was quieter here but not as quiet as my house. I couldn’t have an apartment on campus so I spent as much time as I could here.” Ichabod remembers many nights blinking at the words on the page and the next moment waking up hours later.

“Nothing to do with the hot librarian then, huh?” Abbie points at a picture on the wall of a beautiful older woman with an enigmatic smile.

Memories flood Ichabod’s mind involuntarily before he can answer Abbie, and she cackles and points her finger at him.

“Knew it,” she says smugly.

“I never slept with Rose,” he protests.

“Rose, huh?” Abbie asks.

“I mean Doctor Oswald,” Ichabod retorts. “Not that I didn’t try.” He looks at the picture fondly.

“She was in her mid-forties when I was a freshman and she was so… womanly,” he says significantly.

She snorts softly.

“Like, legs for miles, wide, swinging hips, and cleavage enough to get lost in?”

“Absolutely. She had this gorgeous Surrey accent, even when she spoke Cirtonian.”

“Sounds like you had it bad.”

“I did,” he agrees. “She and I were both working late one night and I just flat out said that I was willing to worship at the altar that is her body – yeah, I know,” he says at Abbie’s groan. “She didn’t just turn me down, but said that I wasn’t ready for the type of knowledge she would drop on me, and more than likely her top three favorite sex positions would snap, and I quote, my royal ass in half.”

“Oh, my god, I want to meet her,” Abbie says, looking back at her picture admiringly. “She schooled you like there was going to be a test. So, what did we learn?”

Ichabod sighs heavily.

“I was, and often am, way out of my league,” he says.

Abbie just looks at him fondly.

“I also learned I had a bit of a thing for intelligent women,” Ichabod says pointedly, reaching out to grab Abbie around the waist gently.

“Oh, nice save and you didn’t even need it,” she says, leaning up to offer a kiss. When Ichabod leans down she slips out of his arms laughingly.

“So easy,” she says fondly. “Show me your favorite place to study.”

Ichabod grabs Abbie’s hand before she can get too far and leads her in the opposite direction. The open floor narrows to a hall, and there are a series of rooms that look identical to each other before there is an unexpected and small darkened hallway.

“It’s a tight squeeze,” he warns as he turns to the side and shuffles down carefully.

“For you, a giant, maybe,” Abbie retorts, but when her hips cause her skirt to scrape on either side she reluctantly turns to the side and scuttles like Ichabod until they come to the other end, coming out onto a cozy looking area with large, plush looking chair and an amazing view of the kaleidoscope-like stained glass ceiling.

“Oh my gosh,” she mutters. “This is beautiful…”

Ichabod takes in the smells and smiles at the memories conjured.

“I don’t think anyone really knows this area is here. I’ve never seen anyone coming out or going in and no one has walked in on me while I was here.”

“Not even your security?” Abbie asks.

“I may have used this place to hide from them. I was childish and only thought of them as ruining my fun. It’s kind of difficult to encourage shenanigans when there are burly men in dark suits standing motionless, watching you.”

“Uh huh,” she says. “Wonder what kind of shenanigans you were trying to get up to.”

“At any rate,” Ichabod says, pointedly ignoring her query, “My best guess is during one of the countless internal refits this area was sealed off and the space reallocated, but I don’t think it was done correctly so instead of removing this little nook completely they took what they needed to make other spaces and just… left this.”

“This little bubble far away from the rest of the world,” Abbie says with a sigh. “I can see why you like it. Not so far away that you feel isolated, but just enough so you know you’re alone.”

“Exactly.” Ichabod watches as Abbie walks the length of the area, barely five feet from end to end, enthralled by the sway of her hips. She catches him staring and he grins.

Abbie slowly slinks up to him, rolling her hips sensually.

“And what are you grinning at?”

“I’ve never shown this place to another soul before, but I couldn’t wait to show you. It was very important to me that you like it,” he says, cringing. “Though when I say it aloud I cannot fathom why, exactly.”

“We like sharing things with each other,” she says quietly. “And for better or worse, we care what each other thinks. There are places I want to take you in Sleepy Hollow, too. Places that are close to my heart.” Abbie looks at him strangely as his grin changes from somewhat relieved into something else. “Now what are you smiling at?”

“What you’re wearing just suddenly reminded me a lot of what Rose – Doctor Oswald – used to wear,” Ichabod says, gladly accepting Abbie into his arms when she moves even closer.

“Oh, really?” Abbie asks, tilting her head so her hair falls away from her shoulder to reveal the column of her neck. “She wore low cut shirts like this?” Abbie asks, drawing her fingers down the front of her shirt to ensure her sumptuous cleavage was on full display.

Ichabod licks his lips.

“She did,” he confirms.

“And did she like her skirts tailored like mine?” Abbie asks, taking Ichabod’s hands and putting them on her hips.

Ichabod groans as he moves to palm Abbie’s ass through her skirt, pulling her against him.

“Yes,” he says, unsure of if he’s answering her question or merely thankful for a bit of friction. “But she did not have half the posterior God granted you, treasure,” he rumbles before leaning down further to capture Abbie’s mouth in a kiss.

It was only supposed to be a short, passion-filled kiss, but Ichabod ends up licking the taste of Cirtona berries from Abbie’s sweet mouth, chasing that undefinable taste beneath it that is all her. All it takes to break his resolve is the smallest of groans at the back of Abbie’s throat when he squeezes her ass. Ichabod knows he wants her right here and now.

He releases her and turns them around so Abbie’s leaning against the wall, still dazed from his kisses and looking good enough to eat as she struggles to regain her breath. Ichabod’s eyes are drawn to her heaving bosom and he’s wondering if his mind is playing tricks on him because it looks like she’s overflowing those cups a little more than usual.

Ichabod decides to investigate, burying his face in her cleavage as he unbuttons her shirt, licking and nipping at every bit of skin he can get his mouth against. Abbie helps him tug her shirt out of the waistband of her skirt and Ichabod may or may not have ripped the last two buttons off in efforts to vanquish the offensive garment. To his delight, the white bra’s clasp is in the front behind an innocuous-looking bow.

Abbie hisses; the jostle of her breasts falling free from the confines of her bra is unexpected though unsurprising.

“They’re still tender,” she whispers, sighing softly when Ichabod nuzzles against them soothingly. He looks up at her wickedly before taking a nipple into his mouth and sucking gently while flicking his tongue against it. Abbie has to slap her hand against her mouth to keep from screaming.

Ichabod holds her against the wall as he continues his assault on her left breast, kneading the right with nimble fingers, mindful of the pressure exerted. Abbie doesn’t know what to do with her body, she simultaneously tries to move away from the amazing sensation that borders on too much stimulation and desperately tries to shove as much of herself into his hands and mouth so he can make her feel even better. In the end she decides to put her fingers to some good use.

Intrigued, Ichabod releases Abbie’s nipple to watch her skirt rise higher and higher until it reaches mid-thigh. He stops her there and pushes his hand beneath, marveling at the heat he already feels.

“How soaked are your panties, treasure?” he asks as he continues up.

Abbie throws her head against the wall and laughs shallowly.

“They’re not,” she says, and looks down at him, biting her lower lip.

Ichabod is about to accuse her of being a liar when he encounters no cotton, no silk, no lace--just damp curls.

“You’re not wearing any underwear,” he says wonderingly.

Abbie grins.

“I didn’t want panty lines. Have you seen how tight this skirt is?” Her laugh falls into a moan as Ichabod eases a finger inside of her to the hilt. “Oh, god,” she groans, bending her knees and widening her stance.

Ichabod’s leaning against her, almost dizzy at how easily Abbie’s body accepted the invading digit. He adds a second and shudders at the wet sound he hears as he pushes them inside of her, the moisture already coating his entire hand. Abbie falls forward, bracing her hands on his shoulders as she begins to move her hips, fucking his hand.

Enraptured, Ichabod adds a third finger and Abbie begins to move frantically against him, nectar dripping down her thighs in rivulets and Ichabod can’t stand to see it go to waste. Regretfully he withdraws his fingers and takes just a second to suck them dry before settling on his knees and throwing Abbie’s legs over his shoulders and diving into the source.

He gorges himself like he’ll never get another chance to taste her and drink her juices. Ichabod palms himself through his slacks and moans enthusiastically on Abbie’s clit. She’s rolling her hips down onto his face, biting her finger to keep from screaming, but Ichabod adds two fingers in tandem with his tongue and Abbie comes with a shocked expression on her face as she clamps down on his fingers still inside of her.

“Treasure,” he says hoarsely, his face and beard still smeared with her moisture. “Are you – can I –”

“Please,” Abbie all but growls, reaching down to help him unbutton his belt.

Ichabod drops his pants and underwear in record time and almost falls over when Abbie reaches out to stroke his erection.

“God, Abbie,” he pants. “I must have some warning!”

“Where’s the fun in that,” she purrs, laughing as he bats her hands away. But the laughter dies when Ichabod hoists Abbie up and against the wall. They breathe into each other’s mouths as the anticipation ratchets up the sensation. She slides down and it’s just a second that she feels the heat of his member against her nether lips before they part and Ichabod slides inside.

It feels like it takes forever but it’s only seconds before he pulls out and moves back in, this time bottoming out inside of her. Abbie never thinks she’ll get used to or tire of this feeling. This sensation of being completely full. Ichabod flexes inside of her and she gasps, opening her eyes.

When had she closed them?

“Where’d you go,” he asks, stroking her face gently.

Abbie leans into his touch.

“My man,” she sighs. “I’m right here.” Grinning softly, she pulls on his collar so he leans down to kiss her. They do just that until Ichabod flexes inside of her again and they’re both swept away at the sensations.

Ichabod tries to remind himself to be gentle, but he’s got both hands filled with Abbie’s ass as he begins to fuck her deeply, bracing her against the wall for maximum stroke. When he shoves back in Abbie tightens her legs around his hips, almost whining with the need to keep him inside. He kisses her temple, her cheek, and down her neck as he adjusts his hips and grins darkly when Abbie gasps and rears up against him almost angrily.

He dedicates himself to hitting that spot rhythmically, marveling at how almost frictionless it is inside of her as she coats his thighs with her arousal.

“My beloved, do you feel how your body is made for me,” he asks before licking the shell of her ear.

Abbie holds onto his shoulders and wants to cry at how good her body feels in his arms.

“Fuck,” she whines lowly, cognizant that someone, somewhere, can hear them and will know what they’re doing. “Ichabod,” she pants.

“There’s my little songbird,” he asks, trying to force himself not to come as he keeps his strokes carefully measured, watching as Abbie falls apart bit by bit. “Don’t you want to sing for me?”

Her eyes flash but her mouth remains bitten closed.

“I am not going to – oh, fuck,” she exhales, closing her eyes and throwing her head against the wall as her body tightens. “I’m not the loudest between us,” Abbie manages to hiss.

Ichabod hides his face in the fall of Abbie’s hair and laughs at himself a little.

“Touché,” he murmurs, picking up the pace. “But it’s you everyone wants to hear. It is your glorious voice I wish to hear as I drive you to pleasurable highs. As I…”

There are no more words, nothing but the sounds of barely restrained groans and the wet noise of Ichabod’s cock moving in and out of Abbie. His knees buckle just a little and he stumbles over toward the chair, disrupting a fine layer of dust as Abbie leans back and grabs onto the arms of the chair and begins moving her hips furiously.

Immediately Ichabod groans at the sight; Abbie’s head is thrown back in lustful abandon as she undulates on his dick, her full breasts bouncing invitingly on her chest. He reaches up to knead them, trying to remain gentle but it’s difficult to maintain fine motor skills - he’s painfully hard and it’s almost too much - all he wants to do is come hard inside of Abbie as she’s moving over his cock, shuddering at the squelch his cock makes as it disappears inside of her.

“Fuck,” she moans, trying to bite her lips to keep the sounds from coming out. It’s not working as she moves her hips and all Ichabod’s doing is rubbing on that spot inside of her.

“God, you’re so big,” she moans, cupping her hands over his on her breasts. He takes this as a demand to be a little rougher and immediately Ichabod begins thumbing the pebble hardness of her nipples.

“Tell me you like it,” Ichabod says darkly, brushing lightly against Abbie’s nipples and making her shiver every time. “Tell me you need it.”

“I need your cock,” she babbles in a half-whisper half-shout as she tosses her head, chasing that heavy feeling pooling in her groin.

“My god, take it you glorious creature,” Ichabod groans desperately as he widens his legs and thrusts up as she’s coming down. “Make me come.”

Abbie gasps. Ichabod feels immense inside of her and when she looks down, he is staring up at her, lost and amazed before his eyes close. He groans long and low and the feeling of him coming inside of her throws her over the edge of her own climax, making her tighten and squeeze around him, milking him for everything he’s got.

She burns through that sated feeling in a second and her body screams for more.

“Ichabod,” she pleads, needing his hands all over her body as her hips begin to move and she delightfully realizes he’s still hard. “Oh god, please just-”

He rears up and bears them down to the floor without slipping from her body. Ichabod’s expression is almost bestial as he braces himself on either side of her head and ruts into her with long, hard strokes. He’s grunting in time with his thrusts, at the sound of flesh hitting flesh as he drives into her like a man possessed.

Under his heated gaze, Abbie takes her breasts into her own hands, tweaking her nipples deliciously as her body careens toward its third orgasm. The driven expression on Ichabod’s face is making her body tingle and he lifts her ass from the ground without missing a beat and practically presses on her spot like it’s a doorbell.

Abbie comes again so hard her vision blurs before she closes her eyes and surrenders to pure sensation. Delicious lightning rockets through her veins as her back bows, clutching Ichabod to her as his thrusts turn erratic and slow as he comes again. He holds himself tightly against her as if to make sure not a drop escapes.

She doesn’t want him to move so she holds him tighter, burying her face against his neck, utterly embarrassed at how she just acted.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Abbie says after gathering her breath. “I don’t know what in the hell just happened.”

Ichabod kisses any bit of skin he can reach, his arms trembling slightly as he withdraws for her body.

“I don’t know either, but I am damn sure interested in seeing if it can happen again,” he says, looking and sounded completely winded.

Abbie tries to laugh but finds she doesn’t have the energy for it.

“Are you alright, treasure?” Ichabod asks, concern flitting across his features as he leans over to check her face.

“I’m fine,” she murmurs. “Just extremely tired because someone wore me out,” Abbie says primly, rolling to her knees shakily.

Ichabod stands and quickly does up his pants before leaning down and helping Abbie to her feet. She groans and begins the task of wrestling herself back into her bra. She glances up to see him grinning and narrows his eyes.

“What,” she says.

“You may have to go up a size,” Ichabod says cheerfully.

“Not yet,” she protests.

Ichabod scoffs and just looks at her.

“Treasure –”

“Yes, I know,” she snaps. “You don’t have to be so smug about it.” Abbie finally manages to re-engage the clasp but then it’s a moment of creative tucking to not spill out the top completely. She grasps the ends of her shirt and her mouth drops open as she lifts one side to inspect.

“Crane, you ripped my buttons,” she says, but the slight giggle at the end ruins her thunderous expression.

“One cannot be blamed for the ardor you invoke at a mere glance or touch,” Ichabod says hastily as he drops to one knee and tugs her skirt over her glorious legs. “Besides, you wore this to torment me into such an action, did you not?”

“You’d be surprised,” Abbie says as she works to tuck her ruined shirt into her skirt, where it wouldn’t be seen. “I didn’t wear this for you.”

“Oh, for the many admirers you’ve found in the university?” he asks.

“No,” she says quietly. “Because soon I won’t be able to wear this stuff because I’ll be a whale.”

Ichabod frowns and cradles Abbie’s hips gently.

“You won’t be a whale; you’ll be carrying my child. Our child,” he corrects.

“I’ll still be huge,” she points out.

“And that is fine with me,” he promises.

“What if it isn’t fine with me?” Abbie asks.

“Then after the baby you’ll get back down to size,” Ichabod says, as if it’s as easy as snapping your fingers together.

Abbie pats his face just hard enough to suggest a slap.

“What if I never get back down to my current weight? What if I have a billion stretchmarks on my dimpled stomach and ass and cocoa butter doesn’t do anything so I just keep rubbing and praying? What if I have a pouch like a lumpy, low-slung fanny pack instead of abs?”

She’s not looking at him as the words tumble from her lips.

“Well--”

“And what if my tits just hit my knees like deflated balloons? Sad, deflated balloons,” she adds.

Ichabod opens his mouth but Abbie continues.

“Not a toned muscle anywhere on my body, Ichabod,” she wails lowly.

“Are you serious?” he asks.

“No,” she admits.

“Yes,” she also admits. “I’m just worried that one day you’ll wake up and… you won’t want to touch me anymore.”

Ichabod waits for Abbie to continue for a couple of beats, and when she doesn’t he finally speaks his mind.

“Treasure, I’m not going to call your fears irrational. This is a big change not only for our lives but for your body, too. It’s no longer just yours and those changes can be a bit disturbing, I’m guessing.”

Abbie nods.

“As I see it, I need to make one thing extremely clear,” Ichabod says, gently lifting her face by the chin. “I love you, Grace Abigail Mills. Your soul and heart and mind are what excite, motivate, renew, and calm me. Your physical perfection is merely icing on the cake.”

“But you like cake,” Abbie says.

“I do,” he concedes. “But your physical perfection isn’t all that has made me pledge my life to you. That makes me love you and makes me eager to meet the boy or girl that you’re housing inside until they’re ready for the world. Your body is doing much, so I need you to go easy on the slander.”

Abbie’s mouth quirks in a suggestion of a smile.

“I’ve gotta get back to running and yoga,” she says.

“I’ll do it with you,” Ichabod offers.

“Even yoga?”

He hesitates.

“Maybe not yoga. I don’t have the patience for it,” he admits. “But running? Absolutely. And when you get too big for running we’ll walk together.”

Abbie nods, beginning to feel better with a plan in place.

“Okay, deal.”

“We have an accord?” he asks fondly, still before her on his knees.

“That we do, your highness,” Abbie says as she holds out her hand.

“Oh, no,” Ichabod says as he rises to his feet. “An accord such as ours cannot be confirmed by a mere handshake.”

Abbie looks at him strangely.

“What do you have in mind?” She laughs when he pulls her close and dips her low.

“A mere touch of your mouth against mine,” Ichabod says softly and with profound tenderness, pours every bit of love he feels for Abbie into his kiss. When he returns Abbie to her feet her eyes are wide as they stare back into his, and Ichabod watches as they fill with tears before one falls, then another.

“Oh, treasure,” he murmurs before he kisses them away. “I don’t want you to cry,” he says.

Abbie pats his chest and nods, closing her eyes when his cheek rests against her temple. She reaches up and pets his beard, breathing deep his scent and finding her calm.

“I love you,” she says quietly.

“I know,” he says, and Abbie stops petting and smacks him playfully.

“You didn’t know,” she says, but she can’t keep the smile from her face.

Chapter Text

The night is filled with a silver glow bright enough to see by, bathing everything in a soft, unreal glow. There’s hardly a cloud in the sky and the moon hangs like a perfect orb, ready to be plucked.

Abbie presses her forehead against the large, tinted window on the second floor of their tour bus and watches random cars as they pass on the Cirtonian highway.

Are the people in them going home or on their way to work? Are they happy with their lives?

What, if anything, do they think of her?

Abbie’s never been much to think about what other people thought of her--too many years of being told the worst about yourself and how it’s directly responsible for your lot in life forces you to develop a thick skin or else you break. Now, it’s important she care what these people think; if she’s to marry Ichabod they’ll be her people, too.

Another car zooms past and in Abbie’s morose musing she notices it’s a Mercedes-Benz, its color indistinguishable beneath the washed-out silver of the moon. She watches it pull alongside the bus, matching speed. She can see children asleep on the back seat, old enough to not require a car seat but young enough to curl bonelessly in on themselves as they sleep deeply.

There’s a young man in the passenger seat and he’s looking at his phone, the light shining back on his face enough that Abbie can see him smile and laugh. Is he talking to someone on the phone or sharing a story or joke with the person driving? Are they on their way home or off to some great adventure?

“I woke and you were gone again.”

Abbie breaks her intense scrutiny of the car to glance over at a slightly disheveled Ichabod.

“Did I wake you?” she asks as he ambles over and sits next to her on the couch.

“Yes,” he says. “I rolled over and became worried when you weren’t there. I was concerned the evening’s earlier unpleasantness had returned.”

Abbie smiles softly and shakes her head.

Unpleasantness is a nice way of describing how she and the toilet had had a nice time getting to know each other until Abbie had nothing else to give. Abbie had been so exhausted she had been trembling and Ichabod had to ease her from the floor and carry her to bed.

“So far, so good,” she says.

“Treasure,” he is all he says, merely looking at her.

“Fine, I’m a little nauseous, but there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do about that for a while,” Abbie reminds him.

“You’re always awake in the middle of the night,” Ichabod says as he moves closer so he can wrap his arms around her and kiss her temple.

“It’s like, I’m sleeping and everything’s fine but this switch gets flipped in my brain and I have to get up and I don’t feel the least bit tired, no matter how late I’ve gone to bed,” Abbie says.

“Yes, I’ve noticed.”

“I noticed you noticed,” she says wryly.

“How long has this insomnia plagued you? I remember you sleeping through the night in Jamaica.”

Abbie chuckles.

“Probably since you knocked me up,” she says, faux angrily as she pokes him in the chest. “So it’s all your fault.”

Ichabod’s grin is big and smug.

“Say it again,” he says.

“It’s all your fault,” she giggles.

“No, the other thing,” he says lowly.

Abbie’s smile turns fond.

“That you knocked me up?” she asks. “That we’re going to be parents?”

Ichabod’s suddenly overcome with emotion; he can’t speak around the lump in his throat. Instead, he gently rests his hand against Abbie’s lower abdomen.

She looks down at his hand and puts hers on top.

“Yep, they’re in there somewhere. A handful of cells determined to make everything I eat come right back up.”

Ichabod finally swallows hard enough to speak.

“I wish to ask you a question,” he says quietly.

Abbie glances up at him, a tease on the tip of her tongue but she sees his expression is quite serious.

“…okay,” she says after a moment. “What?”

“I don’t ever want you to feel as though you have to do something you don’t want to do, or something you’re not ready for,” he says.

The beginning of a frown tugs on Abbie’s lips before her eyes widen in understanding and she rolls her eyes.

“I know I told you I’m kind of interested in exploring anal, but I don’t know what that means or in what capacity. I mean--”

“Dear god in heaven--am I that much of a letch that you believe I would approach you as such about anal sex?”

Abbie almost wants to tease him and say absolutely, but he looks so pained she takes pity on him.

“No,” she says, reassuringly.

Ichabod pulls his hands away from Abbie’s stomach and lets them lie on his lap, where they spasm, belying his trepidation. Irritably, he grasps his fingers tightly to keep them from moving.

Abbie shakes her head and puts her hands in his.

“God, your paws are huge,” she murmurs, prying his death grip from the digits and admiring as she touches each one. She puts her hand in his and shakes her head.

“Just gargantuan.” Abbie curls Ichabod’s hand over hers and looks up at him.

“Are you done?” Ichabod asks, but there’s a ghost of a smile on his face.

Abbie shrugs.

“Depends. Are you going to ask me your question or not?”

Ichabod takes a deep breath.

“Would you rather we had a child… later, rather than now?” He holds his breath as Abbie cocks her head and stares back at him.

“Well, yeah,” she says with a shallow laugh. “I mean, we’re in the middle of this whole tour around Cirtona and I would rather be able to enjoy it and try all the food and wine I could handle and not feel like I’m being wrung out like a used washcloth all day. And it’s not fun to be simultaneously starving and not wanting to eat. Don’t get me started on the headaches, because the press and their bright ass flash bulbs don’t help, either.”

“And I know I look bloated in most of those pictures. I don’t even want to see them.” Abbie pauses and takes a deep breath, peering at Ichabod. “Why are you looking like that?”

“Like what?” Ichabod asks, trying to keep the horror from his voice.

“Like you’re the one who’s about to be sick,” she says.

“I… I--” He swallows again and vows to keep his emotions out of the situation. “I was afraid you were carrying through with this pregnancy because of how I felt.”

Abbie frowns in confusion.

“Huh?” she asks. “Wait, what?”

“If you wish to terminate--”

“Shut up,” Abbie whispers. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”

She moves away from him so she can stand up.

“Why would you even ask me that?” Abbie demands.

“I just wonder,” Ichabod says.

“Because I’m not shoving it in everyone’s faces?” she asks. “I already told you why I wanted to keep it between us. I thought you understood.”

“I wanted to,” Ichabod says. “I tried but I just don’t care what anyone else thinks,” he adds, turning to watch her pace.

“When we started all of this in Sleepy Hollow you told me your people and the faith they have in your ability to lead was what is most important to you,” she snaps.

Ichabod sputters.

“Everything I said remains true,” he protests.

“So I’m doing this for you,” Abbie shouts.

“But--”

Abbie pushes ahead.

“Don’t you think I know how they’re going to look at me if they find out I’m pregnant?” She laughs bitterly.

“Right now we’re two people in love with no reason besides love to be together. If we tell everyone I’m pregnant they’re going to stop thinking we’re cute or some shit and start thinking this is the entire reason for our relationship. I go from Cinderella to gold digger. I ‘trapped’ you,” she says with air quotes.

“Trapped?” Ichabod sighs loudly. “Treasure, come now. Don’t you think you’re overthinking this?”

Abbie scoffs and throws her hands up.

“This might surprise you, but I’ve been a black woman longer than you, Crane,” she says.

“While I am aware of that, I’ll have you know that throughout history many royal families would require a pregnancy before a wedding could occur. The order in which we find ourselves doing things is nothing new, nor anything I feel ashamed about.”

Abbie just looks at him.

“The press isn’t going to care about that little history lesson, let me tell you,” she says. “All they’re going to be interested in is catching me at an unflattering angle so they can figure out how far along I am and speculate how I planned everything from the beginning.

“They will embarrass you and they will for damn sure embarrass the shit out of me, and that’s after they drag my name through the mud. I just really, really want to avoid that and any backlash you will get because your people lose faith. Everyone’s going to say ‘how can he run a country when he can’t even defend himself from a gold-digger?’”

“I understand why you would assume that, but Cirtona isn’t America, Abbie,” he says.

Abbie glares at him.

“I know that,” she snaps.

“My grandmother, Queen Regina, was pregnant with my father when she married Gabriel Cornas. Do you know what happened when it was revealed?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie blinks and tries to keep her lip from trembling.

“I don’t really care but you’re going to tell me anyway,” she mutters.

Ichabod rises to his feet.

“I am, actually,” he says primly. “They were congratulated on being a fertile match. An heir-less royal family is not conducive to the happiness and security of a kingdom’s people. They want to know that the leadership they’ve come to expect and rely on will continue. That the life they have carved for themselves will remain as such.”

“Crane,” Abbie says, dropping her arms from their defensive position, tightly crossed over her chest, to let them fall to her sides. “That was then. This is now.”

“But this is still Cirtona--besides, shouldn’t I know my people?” he asks her. “Wouldn’t I know their thoughts on such a matter better than you?”

Abbie chews the inside of her cheek.

“I will concede you the smallest of points,” she says.

“Such graciousness,” Ichabod murmurs, stepping into Abbie’s personal space as he disregards the glare on her face. “When we began this journey, my people were absolutely in the forefront of my mind. Accepting your help was borne of my need to prove my extremely loud naysayers wrong and to reassure my people. You came along at a time in my life when I thought I would marry solely for an heir and love--”

Ichabod takes Abbie’s hands in his.

“Love was just to be something other people could afford. My parents never lied to me. If Cirtona needed my heart to remain sovereign and safe then it was my duty to give it, and to do so willingly.”

“And I’m trying to keep you from wasting all your hard work,” Abbie mutters, attempting to pull her hands from his. When he refuses to let go she stops fighting and returns to glaring.

“Then I meet you, and you’re clever and kind and beautiful. You don’t make me feel like anyone or anything but myself. When you revealed you had no interest in a long-distance relationship I was devastated, but more than anything, I was grateful for the short time we had together. I told myself I would take that feeling you inspired within me and parse it out for the rest of my life and I would be content.”

Tears begin forming in the corner of Abbie’s eyes and she sniffles angrily.

“Let go of my hands,” she says quietly.

Ichabod continues to ignore her halfhearted tugs.

“And against all odds, the bane of my existence, the press, helps me find my way back to you,” Ichabod says, smiling down at her gently. “And you’re just as beautiful and kind and clever as when we parted in Jamaica. You listen to my story and offer your assistance, even after all my rather glaring omissions.”

“You’re making it sound bigger than it was,” Abbie says, sniffling again. “I didn’t want to let you go, either.”

“Yet still you agreed to upend your entire world,” he says. “And as soon as your feet touched Cirtonian soil my life has not been the same. Every day you make me confront truths about myself I didn’t realize or want to face. Abbie, I could not truly live in a loveless situation.

“I would breathe, and I would rule, but I would not truly live. Having known love meant I could never go back. I refuse to go back,” Ichabod says firmly.

“What about your people?” Abbie asks.

“I wish to do everything I can for them as their prince and eventual King,” he says without hesitation.

Abbie’s smile is rueful as she nods.

“And what do you think is going to happen if everything I said comes true?” she asks.

Ichabod shrugs slowly.

“Then we deal with it as it comes. Treasure, you must know there is no contest, not anymore. If I can only have you or my people, I am compelled to choose you, even if that means banishment from everything I know and love – stripped of my lands and titles.

“For you and our child I would wholeheartedly and without reservation reinvent myself as Ichabod Crane, commoner. We will go wherever you want, even back to Sleepy Hollow. I would be a history professor with a focus on Mediterranean history and you could open your own self-defense school.”

Abbie shakes her head, stepping close enough to rest her forehead against Ichabod’s chest.

“We could move back into my house,” she says quietly. “More than enough room for us and a kid. Maybe two,” she adds.

“And we would just be husband and wife,” he vows.

Abbie nods, still resting against his chest.

“You say that,” she says. “I just don’t know if you’re ready or even able to give up all of this…” She gestures vaguely at their surroundings.

“I don’t think I can convince you of my readiness to do just that,” Ichabod says.

“Nope,” Abbie says cheerfully.

“I just want to be unapologetically happy that the woman I love, the woman who agreed to share the rest of her life with me, is carrying my child.” He shakes his head.

“Do you know how honored I am?” he asks, using his finger to gently lift Abbie’s chin so he can see her eyes. “Anyone who spends time in your presence knows that I am blessed beyond measure.”

Abbie starts bawling, fisting her hands in Ichabod’s shirt as she ducks her head and tries to pull him closer.

“I hate you,” she says between sobs, practically climbing up his lanky form.

Ichabod picks her up and carefully walks back toward the bedroom where he deposits her gently and immediately spoons up behind her.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he says, when her tears subside and she’s breathing almost normally.

Abbie sighs heavily, reveling in the security she feels when she’s in Ichabod’s arms.

“I wished for a love like this,” she admits. “A love that makes me feel like I’m flying and falling and like I can do anything or be anything.”

She traces a pattern on his forearm where it’s lying across her abdomen.

“I grew up and realized that kind of love is rare, and that I didn’t exactly fit the profile.”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“This might shock you, but I have a problem with letting people close.”

“What? Impossible,” Ichabod scoffs, grabbing Abbie’s hand and kissing the back when she attempts to reach back and swat him.

“I know, I know. I couldn’t let anyone in,” she says. “I wanted to, a few times. I tried to let them get close--anything to fix this loneliness I could never shake. One guy got tired of waiting around. Who could blame him? Another proved my instincts right and I cut it off before I could get hurt.

“With the last guy, I really, really tried. Being a foster kid you learn quick how to figure out what people want from you. How they want you to behave. You do it because you want them to stick around. I was diligent about giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. I jumped through every little hoop and passed single every test with a smile on my face. Cancelled plans? No biggie. Forgot my birthday? Hey, everyone has a busy schedule.

“Need me on your arm at your boss’ party? I memorized his colleagues’ names and remembered not to talk too much, and made sure the anecdotes I was required to share highlighted his leadership qualities and his family values. And for the longest time I didn’t even mind putting all this work into being who he wanted because when I did…” Abbie trails off.

“It was what I thought love was. He made me feel amazing. Complimented me. Gave me gifts. I figured cutting off parts of myself to fit into this box he had for me was a perfectly reasonable sacrifice for love and security.”

Abbie tears up again.

“Then one summer day--the last day at this beach house we’d rented for the weekend--he tells me he got the promotion to Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle office.”

“America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation?” Ichabod asks, surprised.

“Yep,” Abbie confirms. “He wanted to be Director one day. Anyway, I was so excited for him. I had already decided I could move my job wherever he went. The White Plains office was just temporary. By the time he moved up the ladder again I figured we’d get married and have a family. I thought he was telling me this because he was about to propose.”

Ichabod’s arms tighten around Abbie as if she’s not there telling him the story.

“What happened?” he asks when she falls silent.

“Uh…” Abbie laughs shortly. “He tells me where he’s going everything he does will be scrutinized on the next level. That he’s come too far to sabotage himself. I agreed and asked what he needed from me, the same question I was always asking him.

“He said our time together was the best he’d ever had. Had, as in past tense. That he would always treasure our experience and that I helped him grow and be a better man, having known the love of a good woman. It was just he had too much riding on every aspect of his life. That he was being vetted for something great and any misstep could derail all he’s worked for and all his family expected him to do.”

“Oh, treasure,” Ichabod says, his heart hurting at the pain in her voice.

Abbie sniffs.

“He said he needed me to be as understanding and gracious as I’ve always been, and that there would be someone out there for me who didn’t have as much riding on their choice of spouse as he did. That he would always treasure the time we had together and he hoped it meant as much to me as it did to him.”

“What?” Ichabod asks, incredulous at the man’s audacity.

“Then he left,” Abbie says hollowly.

“He left you there alone?”

“Left the rental car at least,” she says ruefully. “He had a car coming to take him to the airport because he was leaving straight for Seattle. He was due to report tomorrow morning. I remember watching him leave. He was already packed, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out when he’d had the time.”

“I’m so sorry, darling,” Ichabod says with a deep sigh.

“I didn’t even try and stop him. I couldn’t say anything – was literally unable to remember how to open my mouth to speak because I was so convinced it wasn’t happening. I thought I had done everything right and this was my worst nightmare.”

Abbie falls silent and Ichabod begins to wonder if she’s fallen asleep.

“I went home to my empty apartment. Cried for a while. Raged,” Abbie added. “Then I realized I wanted to live for myself. I had been saving money for my wedding – I used it as a down payment on my house. Decided to become a business owner and didn’t look back. I figured if that was love then I didn’t want it,” she says. “Maybe it wasn’t for me.”

“Not true,” Ichabod says vehemently. “He didn’t deserve you.”

“You don’t know,” Abbie says slowly.

Ichabod waits as a full minute drifts by.

“What don’t I know, treasure?”

When the only response he gets is a soft snore, he shakes his head and presses a kiss to Abbie’s temple.

As he holds Abbie close, Ichabod cannot fathom what kind of person he would’ve been twisted into if he’d had to endure half of what Abbie has experienced in her short life. Though he knows that if their lives had been any different they might not have met each other, if capable, Ichabod would turn back the hands of time and make sure Abbie had all the happiness she could stand.

He muses on the reason for his abandonment of the party scene, his return to university to get his doctorate… all of it can be laid at the feet of one woman who agreed to marry him just to abruptly leave him weeks before the wedding with only a letter filled with flimsy explanations. He’d had no one to help him process the fact that one day he’d looked forward to spending the rest of his life with someone, and the next they were gone.

Just like his darling Abbie.

He wants to tell her about that experience, but he doesn’t know if now is the right time. Ichabod doesn’t want it to appear that he’s trading pain for pain; he just wants to be there for her when she needs him. Desiring to see her face, Ichabod rises onto his elbow and smiles. Abbie is completely knocked out but she’s still clutching his arm tightly.

Ichabod returns to his reclining position, counting each of Abbie’s soft exhales. Somewhere after the twentieth he follows her into slumber.

~*~

Without a doubt, Nacid is on the list of top five most beautiful places Abbie has ever physically seen. The architecture prevalent in the city is like most of what she’s seen so far, more rounded edges than corners, wide streets paved in gleaming stone tile rather than pavement, with everything working with the environment rather than against it.

But what sets Nacid apart is the vividness of the colors. Everywhere she looks are the brightest of whites, the clearest blues and the coolest greens. The sun is shining and there’s a slight yet constant breeze coming from the water. Everything looks gorgeous from her vantage point, which just so happens to be the biggest private boat she’s ever seen.

Well, not boat--yacht.

If there was ever a seagoing vessel that screamed the name yacht, it would be this one. And Abbie can’t even enjoy it, not with the way her stomach is turning over and over. She’s not sure if it’s baby related or if it’s the fact she’s going to willingly repeat history. Or at least she had planned to before she woke to an empty bed.

A tug on her hair brings Abbie out of her reverie and she winces.

“Lulu,” she groans at the Nigerian beauty standing behind her.

“What’s the matter?”

“My hair, it’s attached,” Abbie grumbles.

Lulu pauses and shakes her head before continuing.

“You’re usually not so tender-headed,” Lulu says as she parts a lock of Abbie’s hair and pins it up and away.

I’m not tender-headed, you’re fucking yanking on my hair, Abbie thinks darkly.

“Have you figured out what we’re doing yet?” Abbie asks, practically biting her lip to keep from saying something she’ll regret. “I mean, the gala is in like, ten hours.”

“Not really. Devon hasn’t decided on the dress yet so I’m still toying with the idea of up or down,” Lulu murmurs, lifting a section of Abbie’s hair and applying a thick moisturizer to it. “Why, you have some place to be?” she teases.

“Of course not,” Abbie snaps. “I’m here to be poked and prodded all day.”

Lulu blinks at the back of Abbie’s head wonderingly.

“But it’s your first formal ball though, right?”

Every time someone mentions anything related to the Gala later that evening, Abbie’s head pounds.

“Joy,” she mutters, staring out onto the water. No, in fact she doesn’t know if she’ll still be invited, thank you for the reminder.

Lulu waits for Abbie to continue but she doesn’t.

“This your first time seeing Aysal Vayole?” she tries again.

Abbie pulls herself from her thoughts and tries to concentrate on what Lulu has said.

“What?” she asks, still not understanding.

Aysal Vayole,” she repeats. “It means ‘Bay of Heaven.’”

“Oh.” Abbie knows she should be listening and asking more questions but she can’t bring herself to care or concentrate. “Sounds pretty.”

“It is. I’ve been to Nacid a few times on vacation, but nothing beats this view.”

Abbie merely grunts in response; when they came aboard last night it hadn’t looked nearly as large. All the lights were dim, and the outline of the boat--yacht--kind of blurred into the darkness over the water. Sleepily, she’d followed Ichabod to their bedroom and as soon as her head hit the pillow she’d been out, not even waking up for her usual bout of insomnia.

Instead of greeting the day with the bright enthusiasm borne of a good night sleep, Abbie woke with a heart full of dread to find Ichabod’s side of the bed empty and slightly cool. She had to be informed by Phillip that he’d had an early morning meeting with some of the local nobles and the mayor of Nacid.

He hadn’t even bothered to ask if she wanted to go.

Intellectually, Abie knows it’s just paranoia, but there was a small part of her brain that wondered if Ichabod’s already trying to distance himself from her now that she’s decided she’s going to tell him about her past.

Maybe she shouldn’t say anything. If he hasn’t found out about it, then maybe he never will. If she brings it up and it isn’t a problem until she reveals it, doesn’t that make it all her fault like some hateful ass self-fulfilling prophecy?

Abbie didn’t even have much time to wallow in her frustration and fear because her body immediately demanded to become intimately acquainted with the master bedroom’s toilet. When she was finally deemed worthy to cease worship at the porcelain altar Abbie found she couldn’t take the smell of anything breakfast related that day and was forced to stay on the deck and ask for a bowl of Cirtona berries and some water.

Fucking berries and water.

It was all downhill from there.

“Abbie?”

“Huh?” She lifts her head and finds Devon staring at her strangely.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she says heavily.

“I’ve been calling your name,” he says, putting a few garment bags on the back of the nearest chair.

“Sorry, was thinking about stuff,” she says, glancing at the bags with interest. “Dresses?”

“I’ve got a few choices here,” Devon says. “The theme for the NSI Gala is usually blues and greens, like water,” he says. “So I stuck to that color scheme.”

“Great. Not enough to be surrounded by the stuff,” she mutters.

Devon glances briefly at Lulu.

“Would you rather we went with another color?”

Abbie briefly toys with the idea of showing up dressed in red, but quickly torpedoes the idea.

“No,” she says sullenly. “Let’s get this over with.”

Lulu shoots Devon a loaded look but keeps her mouth shut as she busies herself rearranging the makeup on the table.

“Absolutely,” Devon says in a mollifying tone. “Everything is floor-length, formal, and tailored to be marvelously flattering.”

Abbie’s head is beginning to pound again and she rubs her neck in efforts to alleviate the tension as Devon produces four dresses, all in the same color scheme but completely different from each other. The first dress is a deep and unrelenting navy color with a sparkling collar that looks like it would reflect light from the other side of Cirtona.

The second dress looks like a sea creature hacked something up from a bad case of food poisoning and an artist decided that should be a color, and slapped it on an evening gown with a shirred bodice.

Who decided shirred bodices were in? Did she need accordion tits on top of everything else?

The third one…

Abbie sighs heavily, unable to find anything wrong with it. It’s three complimentary shades of blue and looks as if it’s made from the lightest of fabrics. Her irritation seems to recede a bit as Devon twirls while holding the dress up in front of him.

The hem catches the air and flutters like a dream and Abbie briefly imagines the person who would wear that type of dress in an old Hollywood movie.

Once on screen, this elegant and sophisticated ingénue in this gorgeous dress, immediately you know she’ll drape herself glamorously against her fella when the orchestra begins and the two of them will dance on a cloud as the rest of the attendees stare in rapt adoration.

“Abbie?”

“What?” she asks, focusing on Devon’s concerned face. “What?” she asks again when he hesitates.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Just as fine as the first time you asked,” she says pointedly.

“Well…” Devon falters again. “You seem distracted,” he says honestly.

Well that’s hardly fair, Abbie thinks. Sure, she has a lot on her mind and in the real world her problems don’t just go away so she can focus on stupid things like dresses and balls and whether people will be offended by a red dress because of a stupid theme.

“I’m fine,” she says, forcing herself to sound nonchalant.

“Do you like it?”

“I do,” she admits.

Devon tries to ignore Lulu’s raised eyebrow and focuses on Abbie. Something’s obviously bothering her and he has no idea what.

“Great! Let’s try it on with some jewelry and hair combinations?” he offers, knowing she loves getting dressed up and choosing from different accessories.

But this time he’s surprised to watch as Abbie just appears resigned to her fate as she rises from Lulu’s chair and takes the dress from him before stalking into the bedroom. He waits for the door to close behind her before sidling up next to Lulu.

“What did I do?” he whispers.

“Not a damn thing,” she reassures him. “She’s been in a mood all day apparently.”

Devon frowns, glancing at the still-closed door. That didn’t sound like Abbie.

“Really?” he asks.

Lulu just looks at him significantly.

“Stephen told me she practically bit Nilda’s head off when she came down for breakfast.”

“Really?” Devon asks again, still unable to picture that type of behavior from Abbie.

“I wasn’t there, but that is the news,” she says with a shrug. “I do know she practically bit my head off before and I hadn’t done anything.”

“You don’t ever do anything,” Devon says with a grin.

“And you know it,” Lulu fires back. “But I gotta wonder…” She trails off, looking strange.

“What?” he demands.

“Nothing. I’m not a gossip,” Lulu says.

“Lulu Adeyemi, I’ve known you for almost thirteen years. I think we’re beyond lying to each other,” Devon says pointedly.

Lulu sucks her teeth.

“White men are the devil,” she tells him, rolling her eyes as she tries to hide her smile.

“Yeah, okay. What is it?”

She shrugs.

“I’m just wondering if she’s pregnant.”

Devon looks incredulous.

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Doubt it.”

“Why?” It’s Lulu’s turn to look incredulous. “Prince Ichabod literally cannot keep his hands off her. And how many times have you seen them adjusting their clothing while he looks mighty pleased?” She scoffs.

“They were fucking,” she hisses.

He sighs heavily.

“Still doesn’t mean she’s pregnant.”

“Fine,” Lulu says. “I dreamt of fish.”

“Not this again,” he groans. “I thought you had some real evidence.”

“Groan all you want, white boy, but wasn’t I right about Petra? Naomi? Mary?”

“So you had a fish dream.” Devon just looks at her. “Are you hungry?”

“Don’t play. And you know I’m not a Pisces,” Lulu says.

“I am,” Devon reminds her.

“I don’t think you’re pregnant, Devon,” she deadpans.

“Well, thank goodness for small miracles. I’d have a lot to explain to Paulo,” he says with a huff.

“And you better believe it’s not me,” Lulu says. “That could only mean one thing.”

“Well you’re wrong,” Devon says, glancing down at his watch. Abbie has been in there a little long to be trying on one dress. He pushes Lulu against the hip for good measure before he goes to the bedroom door and knocks briefly.

“Abbie, everything okay in there?”

In the room, Abbie stops struggling with the zipper, torn between laughter and tears.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” she says to the empty room. “Completely and absolutely ridiculous.”

“Pardon?” Devon asks from the other side of the door.

Abbie glances over at it and sighs.

“Nothing!” she hollers.

“Do you need any help?”

“Can I just have a moment, please? Just a moment?” she asks. “I know how to put on a dress!”

“Of course, Lady Abbie. My sincerest apologies.”

Abbie closes her eyes and drops her head.

Great, she thinks as she resumes negotiating with the zipper. One more thing she’s going to have to deal with today. Praying to anyone listening, she attempts to make her chest concave and tugs on the zipper firmly when she hears a delicate rip.

“Oh no,” Abbie whispers, freezing immediately. She doesn’t want to move, but she has to know how bad the damage was. Keeping her upper body stiff, she moves over toward the mirror and dares to lift her arm.

The zipper is zipped up but completely disengaged from the material on one side, leaving the material of the bodice responsible for holding her boobs in place.

It is obviously not up to the task.

Abbie stares at herself in the mirror and all she can do is shake her head. Isn’t it too soon for this? It’s gotta be, right?

She can’t hide in this room forever; eventually she’s going to have to go out there and tell Devon it won’t fit because she was turning into a Tit Monster and Tit Monsters only bring ruin to pretty, delicate dresses that float like a dream.

Abbie turns away from the mirror and throws open the doors, startling Lulu and Devon on the other side of the room. They part immediately, obviously talking about her from the vaguely guilty expressions on their faces.

“It doesn’t fit,” she says calmly.

“But you look gorgeous,” Devon says, clearly not understanding as he comes closer. Abbie doesn’t move, she lets him circle and gasp when he sees the mess she’s made. “What… what happened?”

“I don’t understand that no means no,” Abbie says drily.

Devon looks at her strangely before shrugging his shoulders.

“Things happen, that’s why I come prepared,” he says. “Not to worry, Lady Abbie, I can have this fixed in no time.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she says dully.

“It’s just a broken zipper – I can replace it in no time.”

“But it’s not just a broken zipper,” Abbie insists. “It doesn’t fit,” she says quietly.

Devon examines the ruined zipper again and realizes she’s right.

“My sincerest apologies, Lady Abbie. I must have miscalculated somewhere when I did the alterations.”

Before Abbie can tell him he’s not the cause, there’s a knock at the door of the master suite and Nilda enters, pushing a covered serving tray.

“Good afternoon, Lady Abbie,” she says with an incline of her head. “Lunch is served.”

“Oh, thank goodness, I am starving,” Devon murmurs, and Lulu nods in agreement while Abbie feels anything but hungry, especially when Nilda unveils a platter of stuffed crab stacked in an improbable pyramid. The presentation is impeccable and once upon a time Abbie would have gleefully joined Lulu with a plate of her own, eager to get as much crab as possible while in polite company.

This afternoon? The smell hits her stomach like a freight train and immediately sours.

Abbie swallows hard and wills herself not to be sick.

“I don’t want anything,” she grits out, unwilling to open her mouth too much. Her head starts pounding again and it becomes more difficult to keep what remains in her stomach from coming up. She tries breathing through her nose but the smell of garlic, lemon and crab invades her nose and tries her gag reflex.

Abbie refuses to throw up right now.

“I’m not saving you any,” Lulu warns Devon from across the room.

Chuckling, Devon flips her off before returning his attention to Abbie.

“After lunch would you like to try one of the other dresses?” he asks.

Abbie just nods quickly.

“Go eat,” she says, trying her damnedest not to breathe too deeply.

“Then I said, ‘but if you take one you must take the jelly, too,’” Ichabod says to Stephen, who laughs as if his job depends upon it. As they walk in Ichabod’s eyes light up when he sees the stuffed crabs on the tray.

“I do believe my stomach is attempting to eat its way out of my body. I am starving,” he exclaims.

“We haven’t officially arrived in Nacid without stuffed crabs, your highness,” Nilda says with a knowing grin as she fills Ichabod’s plate with crab, laughing when he motions for her to add a few more.

Immediately Ichabod dives into one, practically sucking it clean in under ten seconds.

“Oh, it’s been a while since I’ve had one of these beauties. Nilda, you’ve outdone yourself yet again.”

“Thank you, your highness,” she says as she bobs a curtsey along with Lulu and Devon, who genuflect as well.

“Devon, Lulu,” Ichabod greets around a mouthful of food. “I won’t stand in your way,” he says, stepping around them and seeing Abbie.

“Treasure,” he exclaims, and crosses the room in one and a half strides with his long legs. “How are you?”

He glances down and gestures at her dress with a sly grin.

“Practically spilling out of that, aren’t we?”

Abbie has one second before crab breath hits her full in the face and her body refuses to obey any longer. Practically flinging Ichabod aside, she rushes out of the sitting room and through the bedroom into the bathroom, where everything she hasn’t already sacrificed to the porcelain god comes up with a vengeance.

Thankfully it doesn’t last long--probably because there isn’t much of anything in her stomach. With shaking hands, Abbie flushes the toilet and tries not to succumb to the dry heaves her stomach seems interested in doing.

Abbie doesn’t know how long she’s crouched over the toilet before she’s able to straighten and swish some mouthwash around her mouth. When she spits into the sink she catches a glimpse of her face. It looks ashen, sunken, and puffy all at the same time.

How is that even possible?

After splashing some cold water on her face, Abbie takes a deep breath and emerges from the bathroom, wondering what she can possibly say to Lulu and Devon that won’t give away her secret.

Maybe she can just hide in the bedroom until it’s time to leave Nacid. That must be an option.

“Get it over with, Mills,” she mutters to herself and opens the door to the sitting room.

Immediately four people are staring at her with concern; Nilda has left, along with the crab.

In fact, no one’s holding crab at all.

“What’s going on?” Abbie asks. “I thought everyone was eating lunch.”

Lulu and Devon glance at each other before looking to Stephen, who schools his face into a blank mask before staring straight ahead at nothing.

“We thought it might be best, with your rather… explosive reaction, to remove the food from the area,” Ichabod says carefully. “Are you alright, treasure?”

“I’m fine,” she snaps. “Why is everyone staring at me?”

Abbie glares as Lulu and Devon hastily find something else to look at while Stephen continues to pretend nothing is going on.

“Abbie, love, your face is a little flushed. Would you like some water?” Ichabod asks carefully, coming closer and reaching for her.

Abbie jerks her arm out of his grasp.

“I don’t appreciate being talked to like a child,” she says.

Ichabod looks taken aback.

“Abbie-”

“And you know what else I don’t appreciate? Waking up and not only finding you gone but having to find out where you are from someone else.”

Ichabod is genuinely confused now.

“You mean this morning?” he asks.

“What else could I have possibly meant?” she asks, before looking down at the dress she’s still wearing. “And this… it’s not fitting,” she says to Devon.

“Again, apologies, Lady Abbie,” Devon says nervously. “We have others to choose from.”

“None of them are going to fit,” Abbie tries again, unable to figure out what to say next.

“Surely you don’t think it’s your fault, Devon,” Ichabod says to him before turning to Abbie. “Haven’t you told him yet?”

Abbie sets her jaw and breathes slowly through her nose.

“It’s too soon,” she mutters, staring at Ichabod pointedly.

He looks just as pointedly to where she’s spilling out of the bodice.

“Apparently not,” he deadpans. “And it’s not as if everyone hasn’t just figured it out,” Ichabod points out.

Devon looks between a seething Abbie and an unwisely unperturbed Ichabod.

“Congratulations your highness, Lady Abbie,” he offers, Lulu chiming in behind him.

“Thank you,” Ichabod says, beaming at Devon. “Wasn’t going to be much longer before you figured it out, right?” He chuckles while Devon continues to smile weakly.

“We’ll need a whole new wardrobe, of course,” Ichabod tells the stylist.

Abbie feels as if she’s been removed from the entire situation and conversation. This is happening too fast and it has to stop.

“Crane.”

“Nothing too constricting, of course. I want Abbie comfortable now more than ever,” Ichabod continues enthusiastically as Devon’s gaze slides over to Abbie.

“Ichabod.”

“We should also start planning outfits around flat shoes, don’t you think?” Ichabod asks Devon. “I don’t claim to know fashion, but there have to be some stylish options out there for pregnant women.”

“I am right here,” Abbie bellows, much louder than she intends. Ichabod stops in the middle of a word, eyes wide in surprise.

“Since I’m going to be wearing the clothes shouldn’t I have some sort of say? Did that change without me noticing somehow? Or maybe it’s like how you just left me this morning: you forgot to let me know.”

Ichabod looks at Abbie evenly.

“Lulu, Devon, Stephen. Thank you,” he says and immediately the three begin filing out.

“Where’s everyone going?” Abbie demands. “Huh? Why do they have to leave?” Abbie asks.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be privy to what will be said next,” Ichabod says lowly.

“Appropriate?” Abbie pretends to contemplate the concept. “Why not? You thought it appropriate to tell them my business,” Abbie snaps back.

Ichabod just looks at her and crosses the room to the bedroom.

“So we’re not going to talk about this?” she asks, following after him. Abbie’s face feels hot and she grabs onto the door as a bout of lightheadedness hits her.

Ichabod is moving the comforter around the bed, still silent.

“What are you doing?” Abbie finally asks.

“Looking for this.”

Ichabod straightens and in his hand, is a folded piece of paper, crinkled from its time wrapped in the comforter.

“What is that?” Abbie demands.

“The note I left you when I was called into the emergency meeting. I did not know I would be called in, or you would have been the second to know about it,” he says coolly.

Abbie stalks over and snatches the note from Ichabod’s hand.

Dearest Treasure,

I am being summoned to an unexpected meeting with a few prominent figures of Nacid. I attempted to wake you so you could join me--alas, your repeated assurances that you were, in fact, awake were not delivered with your eyes open, nor were you able to lift your head from the pillow, though it appeared you thought you had. Rest, my love, and know you are in my thoughts as I endeavor to return to your side as quickly as I am able.

Ichabod

Abbie doesn’t say anything for a moment, trying to keep herself from crying and simultaneously tearing up the beautiful note.

“That wasn’t there when I woke up,” she says petulantly. “And you think you’re in the clear because you wrote a note?”

Ichabod glances around in confusion.

“Isn’t that what you’re angry about? Because you thought I didn’t let you know I had business to attend to while you were asleep?”

“That was only part of it,” she says.

“Then please, enlighten me as to what has crawled up your ass,” Ichabod finally snaps. “I have had reports of your temper all day!”

Ice settles into Abbie’s veins and her rage immediately frosts.

“Reports,” she repeats flatly.

“You were incredibly rude to Nilda, you spent most of the morning snapping at Phillip when he attempted to escort you on a walk along the pier, and then this afternoon I find you completely prepared to take out your obsessive desire to keep your pregnancy a secret on poor Devon, who would’ve thought he just measured you incorrectly.”

“So that’s what it looks like to you, an obsessive need,” Abbie says.

“How else can it be portrayed?” Ichabod asks, stepping closer to her. “You said you wanted this baby.”

“Oh, this again,” Abbie groans, turning to leave the bedroom.

In two strides Ichabod not only catches up but maneuvers in front of her.

“I’m not finished,” he says.

Abbie looks up at him.

“Royal or no, I will kick your ass,” she says.

“I’m only going to ask this one more time but I need the truth,” Ichabod says.

Abbie feels a rushing in her ears as her heart begins to beat fast in her chest. Her expression must’ve warned Ichabod because he reaches out and scoops her into his arms before her knees buckle.

“Abbie, treasure,” he cries, placing her gently on the couch with her feet up. “Are you alright?”

Abbie struggles to control her breathing, clasping Ichabod’s hand tightly as the spinning of the room slows enough for her to respond.

“I don’t know what happened,” she admits, looking at Ichabod fearfully.

“I’m going to call Doctor Yusuf,” Ichabod says, pulling his cell phone out of his back pocket.

“You can’t ask me if I want our child again,” Abbie says abruptly.

Ichabod looks at Abbie seriously, and disconnects the call.

“Treasure-”

“You don’t get to ask me if I want our child again,” she interrupts firmly.

“What would you have me think?” he asks.

“I would hope you could trust what I tell you,” Abbie says.

Ichabod struggles to control his expression.

“We haven’t even told my parents yet,” he says.

“We agreed we’d do that in person,” Abbie points out.

“Even that you reluctantly offered and only because it would buy you time you feel you need,” Ichabod says. “Have you even told your own sister?”

Abbie removes her hand from Ichabod’s.

“I’ll tell her. I just want to do it in person.”

“Marvelous. When shall I send the plane?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie knows what he’s trying to do.

“I haven’t asked her to come yet,” she admits.

Ichabod only nods.

“Right. I can’t even ask if you’re alright in public without you taking offense. You worry so much someone may discover you’re pregnant that one could liken your fear to paranoia.”

“Great, now we both think I’m paranoid,” she mutters.

Ichabod gives her a half-glare.

“Treasure, you were going to let Devon think he was incompetent just to keep your secret for a few weeks longer. Surely you see what is wrong about that.”

“I wasn’t going to yell at him,” Abbie says defensively.

“What were you going to say?” he asks.

Abbie attempts to move off the couch but her head swims. She settles for sitting upright instead.

“I don’t know, I hadn’t thought that far.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as odd?” Ichabod scoffs. “The fact you have to think of some lie in the first place?”

“I wouldn’t have to if you hadn’t just barged in, telling everyone,” she says.

“Do you not remember fleeing the room in the face of stuffed crab?” Ichabod retorts. “I ensured it was gone upon your return.”

“Do you want a thank you?” Abbie mutters.

Ichabod shakes his head, shifting so he can sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch. A few minutes pass in tense silence.

“Something is wrong,” he says lowly, clasping his hands together to keep them from twitching. “Something is wrong, and I don’t know exactly what it is or how to fix it.”

“It’s me,” Abbie admits. “It’s all me.”

“What are you talking about?” he asks.

“I thought I could wrap my mind around it and I said to myself, ‘I should be happy. Why wouldn’t I be happy?’ But I’m not happy, I’m scared.”

Ichabod frowns, turning to kneel in front of her.

“Why are you scared?” he asks, taking Abbie’s hands in his. “What do I have to do to help you get past this fear that’s suffocating us?”

“I’m scared because I lied. If we’re going to get past this, I gotta tell you the truth,” she says thickly.

Dread begins to pool in Ichabod’s gut and he wants to pull his hands away, but he doesn’t.

“What was the lie?” he asks, his heart thudding fast in his chest.

Abbie gives him a rueful smile.

“Remember last night when I was telling you about Danny?”

Ichabod nods.

“Is that the lie?” he asks, feeling a bit lightheaded himself. “That you still love this Danny person?”

Abbie’s eyes widen and she shakes her head immediately.

“No, Crane,” she promises. “I don’t have any feelings for Danny, and I worked very hard to get to that place,” she says.

“So why are you talking about Danny?” he asks.

“When I told you my story last night I know I said he just left abruptly and his decision to leave came out of nowhere,” she says.

“Yes,” Ichabod says a bit impatiently.

“But it didn’t,” she admits. Ichabod squeezes her hand gently after it doesn’t appear she’ll continue. “He’d planned the beach weekend for months and everyone kept telling me to be ready because he was finally going to propose.

“I was excited because I thought I wanted to marry him. He was a good man and had a great job. Handsome,” Abbie adds offhand.

“But if I was going to share my life with him I had to be able to share every part of me, no matter how hard it was.”

Ichabod hopes his nod appears encouraging.

“Being with you allows me to be the entirety of me, without reservation,” he says. “Do you not feel the same way?”

Abbie’s smile is both sad and fond as she looks at him.

“Way more than I did with even Danny,” she reassures him.

“So what is-”

“I’m trying to explain,” she says softly.

“Apologies,” Ichabod says immediately, trying to give her the courage he doesn’t feel himself.

Abbie takes a deep, stabilizing breath and releases it slowly, willing herself to calm down. It only works halfway; her heart is still so loud it surprises Abbie Ichabod can’t hear it.

“Uh… I kept putting it off until we had spent the first two days at the beach house in a tense sort of standoff. I wanted to talk before he proposed so every time I thought now’s the time, here it comes! I would mess it up or something, anything to give me more time.”

“How’d that work for you?” Ichabod asks with a chuckle.

Abbie’s smile emerges almost despite itself.

“Pretty good,” she admits. “Then, it was the last day and I had run out of time. This was it; this was the day he was going to propose. So I suck it up, put on my big girl pants, and I tell him about something that happened to me before we met. Way before we met.”

Ichabod’s throat and grip on Abbie’s hands tighten.

“Happened,” he repeats and Abbie can only nod. “Do you want to tell me?” She shakes her head, sniffling, unable to look at him.

“You don’t have to, then,” Ichabod rushes to reassure her. “I don’t need to know until you can tell me, whenever that will be. And I don’t care if you never do,” he vows.

Abbie closes her eyes.

“But I do,” she whispers. “Because...I wanted to tell Danny because I needed him to know why I did certain things and why I can be so stubborn. Why I appreciated him being there for me every time. But then... I told him and he left. He thanked me for telling him and said he was going to go on a walk.

“I should’ve known,” she says, shaking her head. “In the middle of everything, his face…” she gestures to her own, “it changed. I knew something was wrong. The only reason I could be sure he was going to come back was because we weren’t at home. When he came back, he went up to take a shower and when he came down…” Abbie shrugs a shoulder. “He must’ve packed when he went upstairs,” she mutters.

“Treasure, I can’t imagine anything you could tell me that would make me respond in the manner this Danny character did,” Ichabod says.

“I was thirteen,” Abbie begins, squeezing Ichabod’s hands tightly because with just those three words she’s back there, in the woods with Jenny, feeling her limbs grow heavy until it’s too much to even hold the glass of lemonade in her hands.

She struggles through telling him all she remembers before falling unconscious and after waking up, the hell she was put through in the interrogation room of the Sheriff’s station, and how she was forced to plead guilty to avoid jail time even though she kept trying to tell everyone what really happened.

How the family court judge had agreed with their then current foster family; if Abbie wouldn’t allocute then she didn’t deserve to return to their home. How the public defender and the guardian ad litem assigned to her didn’t say more than twenty words to her during the trial that lasted only two days.

With growing horror, Ichabod listens as Abbie continues, telling him how she was forced to see a therapist who didn’t believe her either, and how they liked to threaten her with being sent to Tarrytown if she didn’t stop lying.

“What’s Tarrytown?” Ichabod interjects.

“A mental health hospital near Sleepy Hollow. Doctor Arnolds--he was the shrink--he liked to tell me that I was lucky that Sheriff Pullman and the judge and the poor man I lied about were so nice because I was a liar and I deserved more than just probation.

“That if I could just face the truth about myself, I could start to heal, and my lies were what kept me from seeing Jenny and why I had to go back to the group home. Why everyone treated me like a thief.”

Ichabod’s eyes fill with tears.

“How long were you kept from her?”

“Two whole years,” she says thickly.

“Treasure,” Ichabod murmurs when Abbie takes a breath.

“I met Corbin, though, in the meantime,” she says through the sniffles. “August Corbin. I told you about him. He believed me and he wanted to help me fight back. When I was finally able to get a copy of my case file there wasn’t anything in there that could help me.”

Ichabod frowns.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing in there that hadn’t been gone over before. I’d wondered why the lawyers never talked about how long we were stuck in the interrogation room, but it was in the court notes that the sheriff’s department claimed their camcorder was broken.”

“What of the results of your drug test?”

Abbie snorts softly.

“It was there,” she says. “It showed we had hydrocodone in our system but it was never even talked about during the trial. Someone either decided not to share it or made everyone ignore it.”

“Let me guess, the esteemed sheriff?” Ichabod asks.

“I thought so. I was so sure...but I should’ve listened to Corbin,” Abbie says lowly. “I’d decided I was going to confront him about it before we tried through legal means. I wanted to look him in the face and make him feel scared. I was three days past my sixteenth birthday and I thought my self-righteous anger would scare somebody. Still didn’t realize how the world worked.”

“What happened?”

Abbie shrugs a shoulder.

“He said he didn’t know what I was talking about and I should make sure I had evidence before I said anything like that. I mean, he didn’t even blink; he knew I couldn’t touch him. He just stood there next to his car, keys in one hand and Danish in the other. Even after all these years, I can still smell that fucking cheese Danish. Pullman standing there, smiling like he’d won. And I mean, he had. What could I do against him? It didn’t matter I had the results, who cared? So I tried to leave, but he wanted to make sure I understood what he was trying to teach me.”

Ichabod swallows.

“Did he touch you, treasure?”

Abbie shakes her head.

“No, he didn’t lay a finger on me. He just calmly mentioned how he was told about a certain petition for emancipation coming up before the family court and asked if it was mine. I couldn’t even say anything. I was just frozen while he kept just standing there, smiling like we were having a pleasant conversation.

“He said that if it was mine, that it would be a shame if someone had to come and speak against granting it.”

“He threatened you,” Ichabod says.

“He said I should look to the future and be the best person I could be, and that he saved me from going down a road that a lot of my kind found themselves on. And then he just left me in the parking lot--shaking. I was so angry.”

“Did you tell Corbin?” Ichabod asks.

“I couldn’t,” Abbie admits. “He’d told me not to say anything to Pullman and to go through legal channels only. I fucked that up on my own. So I just told him I didn’t want to deal with the past, that I just wanted to focus on the future. Pullman came to the petition but he didn’t speak. I was so sure he was going to ruin everything I almost threw up. But he just congratulated me after and left.”

Ichabod closes his eyes briefly.

“So no way to prove your innocence or seek recourse.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“And… when you told this Danny all you told me, he still left you?” he asks incredulously.

“I didn’t tell him about the missing tape or the mystery around our bloodwork,” Abbie admits. “I honestly didn’t think it mattered because I told the truth then and I was telling him the truth now. I thought… he would understand me better. That’s the whole reason I wanted to tell him before he proposed, so he knew what he was getting into.

“I didn’t think he’d… I mean, I thought we would talk about -” She clears her throat and shifts in her seat. “When he came back from his walk or whatever he told me he had someone check into it. The record is supposed to be sealed, but Danny always had connections. Really good ones, too, because he was able to look at a digital copy on his phone in no time while he was on his walk,” she glowers.

“He didn’t trust you,” Ichabod says.

“He said it wasn’t about trust, but perception, and that he couldn’t afford the problems this would bring. Not if he was going to make director by forty-five.”

Abbie looks down to where their hands are still tightly clasped.

“And I know that’s the truth; perception is more important than facts and I don’t want to be the reason you’re no longer a prince.”

“Abbie-”

“Knowing you and loving you made me feel so good,” she continues quietly. “I never felt like this before, even with Danny, and I thought he loved me enough to deserve to have that final bit of me, that part that controls so much of my life and my thoughts and reactions but that I have no idea what to do with.”

“Abbie,” Ichabod tries again, tears welling in his eyes once more.

“I realized I needed to care about Cirtona and its people like you do, and that meant putting them first. You’re what they need, Ichabod. And if they won’t accept you with me and my past weighing you down, then I need to step aside to do what’s right.

“So that’s it. That’s everything,” she sighs heavily, like a great weight is off her shoulders. “I won’t even be mad if you want me to pack right now,” she says.

“Abbie, stop!” Ichabod cries out.

“You are not going anywhere,” he says, laying his head on her lap. “I refuse to let you go.”

Abbie closes her eyes and cradles Ichabod’s head against her.

“Ichabod, were you even listening?”

“Abbie, treasure… I already knew about your juvenile record,” he says.

Abbie just blinks at him.

“What?” she asks.

“I already knew.”

“…When?” she asks.

“When I came to apologize for my mother’s behavior in America, when I followed you to Sleepy Hollow,” he says.

Abbie’s heartbeat picks up again and she can feel the pounding in the tips of her fingers.

“What?” is all she can say again.

“Our vetting process is far superior to most on the planet,” Ichabod says offhand. “We were able to get access to all your sealed records.”

“But your mother didn’t say…” Abbie is still staring at him as if he’s not real.

“No, because she felt that mentioning that to disparage you would be beyond the pale,” he says.

“And what do you think?” Abbie asks.

“I’m still here, aren’t I?” he asks, trying to catch her eyes. Abbie’s face crumples as she nods. “And I continue to love you as best I can and as much as you’ll let me,” he says softly.

“I know you try,” Abbie says, beginning to cry again. “I’m trying, too.”

“I know, treasure,” Ichabod says, gathering her up and kissing her temple gently. “Danny was a fool to not believe you, or to make you feel he didn’t believe you. And though I am not well-versed in American legal systems, upon first reading I felt the file heavily skewed against you and Jennifer. But it didn’t matter, knowing you as I do I knew you were telling the truth, and that was all that mattered,” Ichabod says firmly.

“So no, my love,” he says before Abbie can refute. “I will not be sending you nor my unborn child away. No, I will not discuss a sealed record about your past with anyone who has the gall to bring it up, and under no uncertain terms will I allow you to be harassed or questioned about it.”

Abbie searches his face and finds nothing but truth.

“You have so much more to lose,” she says, as if he’s unaware.

“I am aware, but I have my priorities straight. I will not lose you or my child,” Ichabod vows.

Abbie looks dazed.

“So you still want to marry me?”

“I do,” he confirms. “And I intend to do so.”

“And your parents know, too?”

“They do. I know they would wish to know the context you were able to give me, as well.”

Abbie’s fingers tighten where they’re clutching Ichabod’s shirt.

“I didn’t think past this point,” she admits. “I didn’t let myself hope.”

Ichabod holds her closer and rubs her back gently.

“It’s alright. I have the rest of your life to love and protect you,” he says.

“I should apologize to everyone. I’m sure they’re wondering if I’ve been replaced by some snarling demon.”

“Probably,” Ichabod teases as he stands up, lifting Abbie from the couch as well. “But first you need some rest. I haven’t forgotten how you almost fell before and how fast your heart was racing. That can’t be good for you or the baby.”

“Our baby,” Abbie corrects with a shy grin, at first refusing to look at Ichabod.

Ichabod stops, feeling his heart swell in his chest as he looks down at Abbie.

“Our little one,” he says.

Abbie chances a glance up at him and flushes as she catches his adoring gaze.

“You’re so corny,” she mutters, but she can’t hide her smile.

“Guilty.”

It takes a second before he remembers where he was going. Ichabod eases Abbie to her feet in the bedroom and helps her remove the ill-fitting gown, wisely saying nothing as he hands her one of her favorite sleep shirts. Abbie shakes her head and instead pulls out one of his shirts from the dresser and puts it on, leaving her in that and a pair of tiny blue panties.

Normally Ichabod would take that as a challenge, but he can see the circles around Abbie’s eyes and the slight tremble in her hands as she pulls back the comforter; their much-needed conversation has stripped her energy reserves to dangerous levels. He helps her settle in and Abbie’s out like a light at only one in the afternoon before Ichabod can even ask if there was anything else she needed.

When it’s obvious he’s not going to receive a response, he moves quietly out of the room and dials Doctor Yusuf’s number. Thankfully she’s free and Ichabod is connected to her mobile line to give the doctor a rundown of Abbie’s stress responses, the fast heart rate and extreme exhaustion while skipping over the very personal cause.

I understand your concern, your highness. I would rather run tests before I worry you about possibilities. I will arrange to come to Nacid as quickly as possible.”

Ichabod shakes his head, though he knows the doctor cannot see it.

“That’s not fast enough,” he says. “You will use my plane and I will see you shortly.”

Yes, your highness,” Doctor Yusuf says, and Ichabod ends the call. He looks back at the bedroom, thinking of his beloved struggling under that weight alone.

All things considered, perhaps it was time he reached out to his future sister-in-law.

~*~

Jenny knocks the phone off the nightstand before she realizes it’s the source of the music and not the cat singing “Beautiful Stranger”. Cursing, she feels around for the phone until she brushes against it and with her eyes still closed, answers it on speaker.

“God, what?” she snaps, her irritation due in large part to the uncomfortable position her neck had been in prior to be involuntarily wakened.

Apologies,” an accented voice says, and it takes less than a second for her to realize who it is.

Jenny grabs the phone and turns off the speaker so she can bring it to her face.

“Charming?” she asks, twisting to see if her bed-guest is awake before climbing out from beneath her cocoon of blankets.

Ah, I truly have been upgraded,” Ichabod says with a chuckle.

Jenny stretches and shrugs a shoulder though he can’t see it.

“I can’t exactly keep calling you ‘Vacation Dick,’ now, can I?” she murmurs as she pads into her kitchen.

Thank goodness for small miracles. I’m so glad you’ve seen fit to rename me,” he retorts dryly.

“Oh, that’s not it. I can’t call you Vacation Dick because it’s no longer accurate,” Jenny reassures him as she pulls out a bottle of orange juice from the fridge, kicking the door shut with her foot. “Trust me, I’ll figure something else out.”

Of that I have no doubt,” Ichabod says. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m calling.”

Jenny looks at the glasses in the draining board and opts to stick with the bottle instead.

“Instead of Abbie?” she asks, and takes a large swallow. “Yeah, I am. Where is she?”

Asleep,” he says.

Jenny frowns.

“Isn’t it like, in the middle of the day for you guys?”

It is,” Ichabod confirms. “She’s had a rather difficult day and is exhausted, really.

“Is something wrong with Abbie?” Jenny’s heart thuds painfully in her chest as she puts the bottle of juice on the counter.

I swear to you she is being looked after,” Ichabod says quickly, but that does nothing to calm Jenny.

“So there is something wrong,” she clarifies, and her eyes narrow when she hears Ichabod hesitate. “Spill it, Charming, or I will hop a plane to kick royal ass.”

Americans,” he sighs. “Always reaching for violence. Jennifer, your sister will be alright. Don’t you think I would do everything in my power to ensure that?

“One thing Abbie and I learned early is you never have as much power as you think,” Jenny says darkly. “So what’s going on. I know you didn’t call me to tell me Abbie’s taking a nap.”

I called because I am at a loss and as far as I know, you and August Corbin’s son, Joseph, are the only people who know Abbie better than I.”

Jenny rolls her eyes and moves into the living room.

“What, how could that possibly be?” she mutters as she falls onto the couch, putting her feet up on the coffee table. “If you want dirt you’ve come to the wrong place. Unless it’s super embarrassing. Then you’ll have to film her reaction when you tell her.”

Glad to know where your allegiance lies,” he chuckles.

“Sisterhood,” Jenny confirms. She hears a noise from her bedroom and pauses, listening. There are no more sounds, so Jenny settles back against the couch. “Tell me what you want to know, Charming, and I’ll determine if you’ve reached that level of nosy.”

Fair enough,” he says. Ichabod clears his throat. “Abbie revealed to me the disastrous end of her last serious relationship.”

Jenny grabs the pillow nearest her and squeezes hard.

“Fucking Daniel Reynolds,” she spits. “If I see him again I’m going to yank his testicles out through his asshole and light them like a fuse.”

Indeed,” Ichabod says coolly. “I will happily supply the petrol.”

“Good,” Jenny says as she stares at her knees. She could use some lotion sooner rather than later. “But I don’t get it. Abbie’s not big on talking about her exes, and especially not Danny. Why would she tell you about him?”

She also explained what happened to the two of you that day in the forest,” he says, almost apologetically.

Though it’s warm in Jenny’s apartment, she shivers as if she’s standing outside in the late autumn night. Anger, embarrassment, and shame burn through her and she wants to hang up the phone and throw it across the room. No matter how much time goes by, the same feelings come rushing back and for a second, Jenny can smell the slight mustiness of the interrogation room.

“Oh?” she asks, her voice barely shaking. “Did she tell you it was my fault? That she didn’t even want to go on a stupid nature hike?”

What--”

Jenny closes her eyes.

“Did she tell you my big mouth got us separated and that I blamed her? I blamed her for so long because she didn’t just say what they wanted her to say so we could be together? God, I was such a fucking idiot,” she says, her head dropping forward.

Jennifer, your sister does not blame you,” Ichabod says carefully.

“She’s still covering for me,” Jenny says, wiping a stray and unwanted tear from beneath her chin. When had she started crying? “She doesn’t have to do that anymore. I’m grown and I can face my mistakes.”

That is not what this conversation is about, though if I recall the details, you were only a child yourself, correct?” Ichabod asks.

“You don’t get to be a kid in the foster system,” Jenny says. She sniffs and wipes her face. “Not that this isn’t a bunch of fun, but why are we talking about this?”

Because your sister was convinced that when she shared this information with me that I would wish to part ways with her.”

“Well, yeah. Abbie had to plead guilty. She told that asshole Daniel and he left her.”

Due to the danger he felt your past posed to his career.”

Jenny sighs heavily.

“Like half those assholes don’t have shadier pasts. It didn’t matter. The record is supposed to be sealed, but everyone knows if you have connections or throw enough money at something it magically becomes available. He said it was because of his job but it was more than that. He thought he could change Abbie. Make her be happy when she wasn’t, instead of figuring out why she was sad.

“He didn’t like she would sniff her drink whenever he would bring her one. Didn’t matter she did it to everyone. He took it as a personal offense. I remember walking in on them fighting about it. Well, more like Danny telling Abbie she doesn’t trust him and Abbie trying to convince him she does.”

Good god, is that what she’s doing?” Ichabod asks. “It’s so quick I was never really sure I saw it at all.”

“Reflex,” Jenny says.

Jennifer, I need your help,” he says. “I vow to never abandon your sister or you. You both are my family now.”

Jenny pulls the phone away to stare at it wonderingly.

“You two aren’t married yet,” she reminds him.

I do not care--as of now, you are family.”

“And who goes around vowing things anymore?” she asks. “You’re not real,” Jenny accuses him jokingly.

I assure you I am very serious and quite real,” Ichabod says. “And I was very serious about needing your help.”

“With what?” Jenny asks warily.

I… am unsure if I know how to love your sister the way she needs. The way that will uplift and support her best. So she knows I will not be persuaded to leave her side.”

Jenny stares at the phone again for a moment as she curls her legs beneath her.

“You’re really serious,” she says.

I do not find your sister’s heart to be a joking matter,” he says. “I know you feel our relationship has progressed too fast.”

“Kinda,” Jenny admits. “But have you seen pictures of the two of you? It’s absolutely disgusting,” she mutters as she beats back a small smile.

“Hell, the fact Abbie actually admitted to doing more than just liking you was a clue.”

I’m starting to get the picture.”

“Are you?” Jenny asks. “Because I thought Danny did, too. He talked a good game until it got difficult. Until Abbie did something he couldn’t fit into a box. It’s hard for her to be happy, like just free happy. She thinks other people should be happy. She thinks everyone else should be happy,” she clarifies. “But when it comes to her…

“Everyone she’s ever loved has left her at one point or another. Our parents. Corbin. Danny. Even me,” Jenny says. “Somewhere down the road she began to take it personally, like maybe she doesn’t deserve happiness and love. Even though she told you everything she’s still waiting on the other shoe to drop, trust me.”

Ichabod sighs.

How can I put her mind at ease?” he asks. “How can I actively show her how much I love her?

“You’re doing a good job of it so far,” Jenny admits. “I’ve never heard her so happy before in my life. So keep doing that. And make sure you don’t only give her expensive gifts. Give her goofy things and cheap things and free things. Your time is most important to her. That’s what’s going to convince her that she’s loved for real.”

I will endeavor to keep that in mind.”

“And be patient,” Jenny says. “Abbie’s so stubborn. I think it’s the Mills blood. Eventually she’ll relax because she’ll begin to believe you aren’t going anywhere. Just don’t take it personally when she questions you from time to time. She needs reassurance. Like a cat.

“And I don’t want you to take this as Abbie not having self-esteem. She does,” Jenny emphasizes. “It’s just really difficult to trust your instincts when you never learned what good love looks like or feels like until it’s too late, then it gets ripped from you time and time again.”

Jenny knows she’s shared more than what Abbie would want, but if her sister is going to heal she’s going to have to work on some things.

I understand,” Ichabod says.

“Why are you asking though,” Jenny asks, trying not to fall back into the habit of chewing on her bottom lip when nervous. “No one just asks about this stuff when nothing’s wrong. What’s going on with Abbie?”

I think the two of you should talk,” Ichabod says in attempts to sidestep the question entirely.

“Uh huh,” Jenny says after a moment. “Royalty or not, if you hurt Abbie don’t think I won’t hop a plane to come fuck you up,” she says.

Understood loud and clear,” Ichabod says, with only a ghost of amusement. “Thank you for sparing your time, Jennifer. I think I know where I need to go from here.”

Jenny sighs, weariness creeping into her bones now that she knows Abbie’s okay – for the most part.

“I hope you do. Bye, Prince Charming.”

Have a good evening, Jennifer.”

Jenny ends the call and puts the phone on the coffee table before leaning back on her couch and groaning at the fact she still has to walk to bed. Out of the corner of her half-closed eye, she sees movement and Jenny lifts her head to watch her guest in her bedroom doorway, pulling on pants.

“So that was Prince Ichabod of Cirtona,” Jane says as she zips up her jeans and looks around. “Have you seen my shirt?” she asks, bare from the waist up.

“Why are you putting on clothes?” Jenny asks as she reaches down the couch to pull a peach colored tee from where it was forgotten, wedged between the cushions. She dangles the article of clothing just outside of Jane’s reach and wiggles her eyebrows when certain parts of Jane’s anatomy move.

“Because I can’t drive my car naked,” Jane huffs, cackling when she’s able to snatch her shirt back.

“Nothing to do with my phone call?”

Jane slips her shirt over her head and glares at Jenny.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asks, tugging the hem to just above her navel.

“You were asleep when I got up.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Oh, so I didn’t knock you out after that last orgasm?” Jenny leans back on the couch again, eyebrow raised in challenge.

Jane sucks her teeth at Jenny’s smugness.

“Scream a girl’s name a few times and she gets arrogant,” she mutters. “You may have gotten me to close my eyes for a few minutes, but I was thinking things over.”

Jenny rises from the couch to stand in front of Jane.

“Like what,” she asks, moving in close so she’s able to brush her fingers against the skin of Jane’s stomach above her jeans.

“Like how if I’m going to take your case this can’t happen again. This breaks all sorts of rules,” Jane says.

“I’m all about rule breaking,” Jenny purrs and Jane ducks under her arm when she leans in for a kiss.

“But I’m not,” Jane says as Jenny whirls on her. “Not when it comes to my practice. I still want to have something worth passing on to my child, niece or nephew when it’s time to retire. All I have is my reputation.”

Jenny’s shoulders drop.

“Are you serious or do you want me to persuade you?”

Jane raises a finger in warning.

“Don’t you dare,” she says. “I can’t have your hands on me right now.”

“What did I do?” Jenny asks, raising her hands and taking a step back.

“I haven’t even known you that long and somehow you always make me want to say yes.”

Jenny’s smile turns lascivious and Jane immediately shakes her head and stalks over to her coat and scarf where it hangs on the peg next to the door.

“Oh, hell no,” she laughs, trying to bundle up as quickly as possible.

Jenny laughs when Jane yelps, staring back at her warily. She wants to mess with her but instead helps her button her coat and tuck her scarf into her collar.

“It’s getting icy out there,” she murmurs, watching Jane put on her gloves.

“I know.” Jane can’t help but smile back as she leans against the door. “This was fun,” she says. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

“You don’t have to. I can find another attorney,” Jenny says.

“How was that working for you when you found us?” Jane asks, and when Jenny looks away, she snorts. “Yeah, I figured. We’re going to get started on your case first thing Monday, and I’ll call you with an update, okay?”

Jenny crosses her arms and nods.

“Look forward to the call.”

Jane pauses with her hand on the doorknob, staring at it for a moment before she turns to back to Jenny.

“You know how you asked if your conversation made me decide to leave or not?”

“Yeah,” Jenny says warily.

“Well, it did,” Jane admits. “But it wasn’t because you were talking to Prince Ichabod or whatever,” she reassures her.

“It was because I could hear you talk about your sister and it just… It reminded me I would do anything I could to make sure my sister was happy, and it made me excited to be a part of something with such pure intentions. It inspired me.”

Jenny looks away, a strange smile twisting her lips.

“It’s nothing,” she says, but stops when Jane’s gloved hand is at her wrist.

“It’s more than nothing, Jenny,” she says before leaning in and kissing her softly. “We had fun, right?”

Jenny smiles.

“We did.”

“Good.” With a gust of cold and unwelcome air, Jane is gone, leaving Jenny alone in her apartment again.

Jenny sighs heavily and turns her heat up a few degrees before padding back into her bedroom and jump sprawling into her bed.

Had she wanted to see Jane again outside of work? Absolutely. Is she broken up about this? Not so much. Sad to say, Jenny hasn’t met anyone who is so good at cuddling she doesn’t immediately appreciate having the whole bed to herself.

Not everyone’s made for cuddling, she thinks as she burrows under her covers, stealing the last bit of warmth Jane left and going right back to sleep.

~*~

Phillip stands at attention when Ichabod emerges from the bedroom, closing the doors behind him.

“How long before we can expect Doctor Yusuf?” Ichabod asks.

“Another two hours and she will be here,” he says promptly. “I coordinated all the logistics myself.”

“Good man, I knew I could count on you,” Ichabod says. “That gives me enough time to take care of something before we’re forced to wake Abbie.”

And that’s how Phillip ends up temporarily shutting down a modestly-sized seaside florist as Prince Ichabod peruses. He keeps his expression stern to discourage the few people curiously gathered along the large glass storefront and keeps an ear peeled for Prince Ichabod as he contemplates.

The owner of the store is a young woman about the Prince’s age. Phillip doesn’t know if the wayward piece of baby’s breath in her cleavage is purely accidental or not, but it doesn’t matter because eventually the owner gets the hint – the Prince is only interested in horticultural offerings.

After another heavy sigh, Ichabod straightens and shakes his head.

“Let me see your most expensive arrangement,” he says. Phillip clears his throat and maintains eye contact with what appears to be a nine-year-old as he licks the glass in challenge.

It’s official: kids are gross.

Phillip narrows his eyes and subtly moves so the holster of his gun is revealed. The kid’s eyes widen and he bolts, hollering. When Phillip turns back, Prince Ichabod is looking right at him.

“Your highness?” he asks.

“You cleared your throat when I asked for the most expensive arrangement,” he accuses, leaving the owner hovering uncomfortably.

“Did I?” Phillip murmurs. “Purely coincidence, your highness.”

Prince Ichabod’s eyes narrow.

“Don’t even,” he says with a laugh. “You don’t approve?”

“It’s not my job to approve or disapprove of your choices, your highness,” Phillip says, keeping his face carefully blank.

“Let’s say it was,” Prince Ichabod says seriously. “Let’s even say you were in my shoes.”

Both men briefly glance down at Ichabod’s suede loafers.

“What would you do?”

Phillip looks at the prince for a moment.

“I would not look for the most expensive flower, your highness, but one you know means something to her. Even better if it means something to you both.”

“But--” Prince Ichabod closes his mouth, dumbstruck. “I know exactly what to get,” he says, turning back to the owner with a big smile.

“And I will need two dozen.”

~*~

Abbie climbs off the swing at the urging of the puppies nipping at her heels. Laughing, she tries not to trip as she follows them up a grassy knoll. She feels something gently brush against her forehead and nose.

“What is that?” she asks.

“Isn’t it nice? It’s the midday breeze!” says one of the puppies.

“What’s that smell?” Abbie asks another.

A golden retriever pup tilts his head and gives her a grin.

“Treasure?” it asks, in a deep and very familiar voice.

Abbie blinks.

“Crane?”

The puppy wags his tail happily.

“Abbie, my love, please wake.”

As Abbie crouches in front of Puppy Ichabod she feels that curious sensation against her forehead and nose and there’s a rush of a familiar scent.

Puppy Ichabod continues to grin at her.

“Must be some dream,” he says as Abbie lifts off from the ground, floating higher and higher into the sky.

“…really weird is what it is,” Abbie says, and opens her eyes to find most of her view filled with the heavy white blossom of a calla lily. She moves it out of the way to see Ichabod’s face fully.

“You’re not a puppy,” she says, though that doesn’t stop her from reaching out and petting his beard.

Ichabod chuckles and captures her hand to press a kiss against her palm.

“Not since the last time I checked,” he teases, producing a lone calla lily. “This is for you,” he says.

Abbie accepts, taking a deep sniff of the fragrant flower.

“I haven’t held one of these since I left Jamaica,” she says, and her eyes begin to fill with tears.

“Oh, no, why are you crying,” Ichabod asks, flabbergasted.

“Because I remember this morning and I feel like that was a completely different person. I was just such a… such a cranky motherfucker,” she says. “I was so scared and tense and I honestly could not imagine being here at this point where you know everything about me and I’m still here. That you knew before I told you and you’re still here,” she murmurs.

“You think I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to keep you by my side?” Ichabod asks before he leans forward to kiss away Abbie’s tears. “Treasure, you are most emphatically stuck with me.”

Abbie laughs into the kiss when she turns her head and her mouth finds his.

“I think I’ll be okay with that,” she murmurs after they part. “But what about everyone else? I still haven’t apologized yet. Everyone must hate me right now.”

“They don’t know what’s going on,” Ichabod reminds her. “Except Nilda, Devon, Lulu and the security team. But they don’t know you know they know.”

Abbie stares at her flower and shakes her head.

 

“You’ve had to think I was insane,” she says. “Because if that made sense to me I know I was out of my mind.”

Ichabod pulls back just enough so he can help Abbie sit up, propped by a few pillows against the headboard.

“So what are you saying?”

Abbie sighs.

“I’m saying that maybe we can tell a few people.”

“Such as?”

“Like the staff,” she says.

Ichabod frowns.

“But not my parents?”

“I think we should tell your parents in person, don’t you think?” Abbie reminds him.

Ichabod sighs dramatically and smiles so Abbie knows he’s not serious.

“Again with the wisdom,” he says.

“Someone has to,” she teases. “We’ll tell the staff so when I hulk out they know not to take it personally. But I’ll try not to hulk out.”

Ichabod smothers the amusement he feels when he imagines his tiny Abbie with bulging muscles and green skin but still just over five feet tall.

“You don’t have to –” He clears his throat at her disapproving glare. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate the sentiment,” he says instead.

“But that’s not why I woke you. How are you feeling?”

Abbie nods.

“Much better. My heart’s not racing anymore and when I sat up I wasn’t dizzy. I’m fine. Starving, but much better.” She narrows her eyes at Ichabod who looks entirely too innocent. “What did you do?”

“Nothing!” he says hastily.

Abbie glances over to the bedroom doors. There’s some quiet conversation just beyond comprehension on the other side but she can recognize at least two voices, and she looks back at Ichabod with an eyebrow raised.

Ichabod blushes.

“Doctor Yusuf is here,” he says.

“You say that like she was visiting someone in Nacid and decided to come check on me,” Abbie says.

“Isn’t that nice of her?” Ichabod asks.

“If it’s true, yeah,” she retorts. “And when I ask her what is she going to say?”

Ichabod clears his throat, looking sheepish.

“I may or may not have brought Doctor Yusuf here to examine you,” he says. “And I may have pressed the issue due to time.”

“So you barked and she jumped?” Abbie asks.

“‘Barked’ is such a harsh way to phrase it,” Ichabod says. “But she did come because I asked.”

“Why’d you ask her to come?”

Ichabod frowns incredulously.

“Treasure, you almost collapsed,” he says. “And you said your heart was beating very fast.”

“I was under stress.”

“Even more of a reason for the examination.”

Abbie just shakes her head.

“I doubt I’m the only pregnant person in the world to get a little dizzy or to have my heart race,” she says.

“While that may be true, none of them have been the love of my life and the mother of my child,” Ichabod reminds her.

“I was serious when I said I would do anything to make sure you’re happy and healthy. Both of you,” he says as he places his hand over her abdomen.

“There’s a baby in there,” Abbie murmurs, putting her hand over his.

Ichabod’s smile is fond.

“So we’ve been told.”

“Doesn’t look like it yet, though I suppose I should be grateful.”

Honestly, he can’t wait until Abbie’s unmistakably showing, round and heavy with child, but Ichabod wisely keeps his mouth shut.

“But it’s a real baby,” she continues.

“Yes,” Ichabod agrees with only a trace of hesitation. “So, will you let Doctor Yusuf examine you?”

Abbie looks at him like he’s insane.

“She’s already come this far. Of course I’ll let her examine me,” she says, already kicking the comforter off so she can climb out of bed. “What kind of person would I be to waste her time and your money like that?” she asks as she rushes to the bathroom.

“I’ll be out in just a second.”

Ichabod allows the housekeeping staff into the bedroom to quickly make the bed and open the large windows to allow the cool breeze inside. When Abbie emerges from the bathroom, she’s surprised to see the room as clean as a hotel and to feel the pleasant breeze on her skin.

“I hate to admit it, but this is a lot better than the regular doctor’s office,” she says as she perches on the bed.

“Good,” Ichabod says, and nods for Phillip to allow Doctor Yusuf inside.

“Your highness,” she says, bowing deeply to Ichabod before turning to Abbie. “Lady Abbie, good afternoon. How are you feeling?”

Abbie’s face is twisted in a sheepish wince.

“I think Ichabod is overreacting,” she says. “I’m sorry if he pulled you away from anything.”

Doctor Yusuf puts her bag on the bed and shakes her head.

“While I do have a private practice, I’m primarily at the beck and call of the royal family. With the symptoms Prince Ichabod described, I concurred it was best I examine you now rather than wait to see if they become worse. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize you or the future heir of Cirtona.”

Abbie looks over Doctor Yusuf’s shoulder, eyes wide as she connects with Ichabod’s gaze. The future heir of Cirtona sounds like it has much more gravity than just a baby.

“I guess when you put it that way it’s kind of important,” she murmurs.

Doctor Yusuf produces her stethoscope and smiles.

“Now this shouldn’t take long,” she says.

And it doesn’t.

Abbie silently allows herself to be tested for blood pressure and swelling of her extremities. Dr. Yusuf also checked her weight, which Abbie resolutely did not look at. She doesn’t even have the baby to blame it on, really. Even before being reduced to eating anything and everything whose smell didn’t make her nauseous or whose taste didn’t make her gag, Abbie was determined to take Cirtona by the mouth quite thoroughly.

She glances at Ichabod when he helps her off the scale and she resists rolling her eyes. She sees the worry collecting in the tightness of his smile and decides to go easy on him. She doesn’t let go of his hand as he leads her back to the bed to sit down. Abbie tugs him gently so he sits beside her. He clasps his oversized hands over hers and tries not to look overly concerned.

Abbie does roll her eyes at that and nudges him in the shoulder with her own.

“So, Doc,” she says cheerfully. “How much of an apology does Ichabod owe you for racing you here for nothing?”

Doctor Yusuf concludes entering her notes on her tablet and smiles ruefully.

“I’m glad he called,” she says, and Abbie glances down at the sudden tightening of Ichabod’s grip on her hands.

“What is the matter, Doctor? How serious is it?” Ichabod asks, straightening his already perfect posture.

“Your highness, Lady Abbie… do you recall when I first examined you, I mentioned I noticed your blood pressure was elevated? Not by a dangerous amount, but it was something I wanted to keep an eye on in case it turned out to be chronic,” Doctor Yusuf says.

Abbie nods.

“I remember. It’s high again?”

“Yes, and while it’s higher than it was at our last appointment, it’s still not quite in the danger zone. I will stay in Nacid, with your permission of course,” Doctor Yusuf says, inclining her head toward Ichabod, “to get a better picture of your blood pressure throughout the day. Then we can proceed with a plan if we find it remains higher than preferred.”

“What should we do to keep it down?” Ichabod asks.

“We can start by knocking off the death grip,” Abbie mutters, pulling her hands from his and placing them on top. “It’s not that big a deal, right?”

“Right now, no,” Doctor Yusuf confirms. “But as I said, we don’t want to allow it to get too far. So we need to make sure you keep your stress levels as low as possible and to rest often. If you feel dizzy I want you to sit and put your feet up for a while. We also need to be on the lookout for abnormal swelling.”

Abbie nods slowly.

“Sounds reasonable,” she says to Ichabod reassuringly.

“We’ll need to monitor your salt intake as well,” Doctor Yusuf says apologetically. “Because if we do see elevated pressure, we’ll need to find the source very quickly.”

Abbie sighs heavily.

“Is it too late to have Ichabod carry his own child?” she grumps.

“I would if I could, treasure,” Ichabod says earnestly as Doctor Yusuf hides her smile.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll believe it when I see it,” Abbie says.

“Perhaps we should cancel the gala appearance so you can rest,” Ichabod suggests. “What do you think, Doctor?”

Doctor Yusuf pauses.

“I won’t turn down any rest period we can provide Lady Abbie,” she hedges.

Ichabod nods, hearing between the lines.

“That does it. We’ll remain here to rest.”

“Oh, hold on, who is ‘we’?” Abbie asks. “Unless I missed it, you didn’t get diagnosed with possible high blood pressure.”

Ichabod opens his mouth and closes it abruptly.

“It would be poor form to leave you behind,” he protests.

“Netflix and I will keep each other company so you don’t have to worry.”

“What if I don’t wish to go without you?” Ichabod counters. “And since Doctor Yusuf says you cannot, I –”

“Your highness, I didn’t say she couldn’t go,” the good doctor interrupts carefully. “I merely said I wouldn’t turn down any rest period for Lady Abbie. It’s still ultimately her decision.”

Ichabod gives the doctor an exaggerated stink-eye before turning back to Abbie.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want,” Ichabod tells her.

Abbie looks at him knowingly.

“I know,” she says. “But part of me was looking forward to it,” she admits.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Abbie laughs. “You talked about this big boat and the veterans from the Cirtona Navy-”

“Those who are left,” Ichabod mutters.

“I kind of wanted to meet them,” she says.

“They did have a presentation put together in your honor. That was one of the reasons I was pulled away this morning,” he says.

“Then I can’t disappoint them,” Abbie says, hitting Ichabod on the arm with the back of her hand.

“Treasure, I don’t care if you disappoint me, when it comes to your health we will always do what’s best for you,” Ichabod says, catching her hand and pulling it up to press a kiss against her palm.

“I wanna go,” she murmurs, trying to smother her smile as she cups his face gently.

“So proclaimed,” Ichabod says with a sigh. “And so close…” he mutters.

“Uh huh,” Abbie says with a grin as Ichabod suddenly leans in to give her a quick kiss.

“Phillip,” Ichabod calls.

“Your highness.” Abbie blinks as he enters on silent feet into the room.

“Phillip, please have Doctor Yusuf shown to her room,” Ichabod says.

Doctor Yusuf closes her bag and nods.

“Thank you, your highness. Lady Abbie.” She bows at both and leaves the room before Phillip, who closes the door behind him, leaving Ichabod and Abbie alone.

She glances back at Ichabod, who is looking at her intently.

“What?” she asks.

“I just hope you’re really alright,” he says.

“Doctor Yusuf looked me over. You were right there,” she points out.

Ichabod nods.

“Yes, I know, treasure. But I also know you’re not going to say anything when you’re experiencing discomfort or pain.”

Abbie huffs and rolls her eyes.

“I’m not hiding anything. I promise,” she says.

“I just want you to be healthy and happy. Both of you,” Ichabod says, placing his hand over Abbie’s stomach.

“I’m trying,” Abbie says lightly. “it’s hard to break the conditioning. Before, I didn’t go to the doctor unless something major was wrong. Like, something I couldn’t ignore any more. Anything less I sucked it up and kept going.

“Even after I grew up and got my own insurance things were still expensive. I’m just used to ignoring it and moving on.”

“So tell me the truth,” Ichabod says, easing Abbie onto her back so he can lie on his side beside her, on the bed. “What do you think when I call Doctor Yusuf to come examine you?”

“Overreacting.”

Ichabod’s jaw drops.

“What? That’s what you think?”

“That and you’re spoiling me,” Abbie responds promptly. “For some reason.”

“Spoiling you?” Ichabod looks truly bewildered.

Abbie snorts at his expression and rolls him so she’s half-sprawled across his torso.

“Yes, spoiling me. Like I’m above going to a doctor’s office.”

Ichabod chuckles.

“Treasure, that’s not it. Logistically speaking, it’s easier to have one doctor come to you rather than have a full security team cordon off the block and ensure the office is emptied. And that is after the staff has their backgrounds cleared. And after a thorough search is done of the premises before we arrive.

“It’s time and money, but above all of that, there’s the hassle shouldered by the population of whatever city we happen to be in. Rather than disrupt so many lives we pay quite well to disrupt one life.” He laughs at Abbie’s expression. “Treasure, why that look on your face?”

“Because,” she pouts. “I’m trying to find fault with your logic and I can’t,” she whines.

“Because I’m always right,” Ichabod says seriously. “Don’t forget.”

Abbie sputters and begins peppering his face with kisses.

“You’re so corny,” she mutters, gasping when Ichabod grabs her ass in both hands and hauls her against him. She’s straddling him now, a leg on either side as she settles against the growing bulge in his pants.

“Maybe I should change that to horny.”

“Always, when you’re around,” Ichabod admits, groaning as she adjusts herself against him. “Why are you provoking the beast?”

“Is this really provoking?” Abbie asks, placing her hands on his chest and grinding down on him.

Ichabod screws his eyes shut tightly and holds on to Abbie’s ass as she undulates purposefully against him.

“Treasure,” he croaks. “Have mercy.”

“Mercy?” It comes out a little more breathless than she intends. Abbie bites her lip and pulls off Ichabod’s shirt she’s wearing. Immediately Ichabod’s hands are on her breasts and the sensation moves like lightning to her clit.

Ichabod rises from the bed to kiss Abbie deeply, rolling them so he can settle between her legs and reach all the wonderfully soft skin available to him. He kisses down her neck and lingers on a spot that makes Abbie shudder, palming the fullness of her breasts in both hands.

He replaces his mouth with one hand, taking her hard nipple into his mouth and sucking gently. Ichabod tries not to grin when he hears Abbie swear softly, raking her fingers through his hair as she writhes beneath him. He gets his hand down between her legs, pushing her panties aside and groaning at the wet heat he finds.

“How are you so wet already,” he pants, pushing two fingers inside her gently.

“Oh, my god,” Abbie whines as she begins moving her hips, desperate to fuck his hand. “More,” she pants, and almost forgets to breathe as Ichabod quickly adds a third finger and begins thumbing against her clit.

How is it she’s already so close, Abbie marvels as her body tightens and she holds onto Ichabod’s shoulders as best she can. She groans when he slows down, dragging her back from the edge and making her pant.

“Are you going to put it in?” she babbles, reaching down to unbuckle Ichabod’s belt.

“You want it, treasure?” he asks, shuddering as her knuckles drag against his swollen manhood.

“I need it,” Abbie begs, working to use her feet to push Ichabod’s pants and underwear down his hips. She groans in frustration when she can’t get them down far enough to free him.

“Fuck,” she mutters.

“Treasure, if I remove my hand I can assist,” Ichabod says, closing his eyes and thinking of other things as Abbie continues to rub against his cock unintentionally. “And if I remove my hand I can replace it with something a tad more… substantial,” he promises.

“Fine,” Abbie huffs, groaning at the loss of his fingers inside of her. She doesn’t have long to mourn because Ichabod immediately shoves his pants and underwear down to his legs and lines himself up at her entrance. Abbie looks up to see Ichabod’s knowing grin.

“Don’t you dare, Ichabod Crane,” she warns. “Now is not the – oh fuck,” she hollers when Ichabod slides inside.

Abbie can do nothing but hold on until he bottoms out, filling her completely.

“It feels like we haven’t done this in years, centuries,” she murmurs, reveling in the stretch of muscles around the length of him inside of her.

“Two days,” Ichabod mutters, trying not to come prematurely.

“Longer than two days,” Abbie babbles. “It has to be, oh my god,” she pants, widening her legs so she can pull Ichabod closer.

“Treasure, dear,” Ichabod says, his voice still strained, “I need you not to move just yet.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I’m not moving,” she says, biting her bottom lip in efforts not to lie.

“Abbie,” Ichabod warns weakly as she continues to clench around him.

“I’m sorry,” Abbie says, hooking her feet together behind Ichabod’s ass and prodding him forward. They both gasp at the movement, then Ichabod is a machine setting a spine-tingling pace. He rises onto his hands and knees, leveraging his hips to keep his stroke fast and deep.

Is this my body? Abbie wonders as she begins to shudder almost uncontrollably. She hasn’t even thought about touching her clit and already she’s about to come, and hard.

“Come for me, my love,” Ichabod rumbles as he slows his stroke again, dragging himself against her inner walls as they cling to his member. He tries to concentrate on anything other than the wet sound of his cock entering Abbie over and over. Ichabod leans down and licks into her open mouth, swallowing her moans as they spiral higher and higher.

“Fuck,” Abbie pants weakly against his mouth and finally Ichabod pushes against that spot inside of her one time too many and her back arches and she’s coming hard on his cock, shaking nonstop as she lifts her hips to meet his thrusts.

Ichabod slows, smugly noting Abbie’s inability to lift her head and the way her arms and legs still tremble.

“Did that feel good, treasure?” he asks, chuckling when she tries to glare at him and fails.

“My man,” Abbie whispers. “That is what old school love songs are written about.”

Ichabod feels his heart swell as he stares down at her.

“Well, you do make me feel like a natural woman,” he says, and Abbie bursts out laughing.

“I hate you so much,” she giggles, gasping when he flexes inside of her. Abbie’s eyes widen. “Oh!”

“Indeed,” he says, thrusting shallowly inside of her.

The smile drops from Abbie’s face as she feels her body begin to react once more, and burning need makes her hiss and rake her fingernails down Ichabod’s back. She feels something rip and suddenly Ichabod’s holding a ruined pair of Abbie’s underwear in his hands.

“You gotta stop tearing my underwear, Icha--fuck,” Abbie bites off weakly as he resumes moving in and out of her.

Ichabod’s toes curl as he stares down at where his cock disappears inside of Abbie, emerging shining and covered in her juices. It does something to his brain; makes him rut harder and faster as she tightens around him. He looks up at her with nearly feral eyes.

“This is mine,” he growls.

“Yes, fuck,” Abbie screams, thrashing her head back and forth. Ichabod grins darkly and withdraws. Before Abbie can complain, Ichabod rolls her over, fills his hands with her glorious ass, and shoves in to the hilt. She swears and beats her hand against the headboard, practically choking on the pleasure licking up her spine.

Ichabod sits back on his haunches, pulling Abbie back onto his cock as he feels himself swell even more inside of her.

“Say it again, treasure,” he groans.

“It’s yours,” Abbie pants, rising so she can hold onto the headboard and throw her ass back on him. Ichabod pulls her to him, seating himself fully inside of her and raking his teeth against the side of her neck. “You just look at me and I get wet, imagining your huge dick inside of me.”

Ichabod gives a shuddering groan and begins thrusting again, hard enough to make delectable parts of Abbie shake.

Abbie releases a noise largely unintelligible.

“God, any time you talk I just want to push you down into a chair and have you fuck my brains out. Sometimes I can’t even concentrate because I need your hands on my body so bad.”

He reaches around and slides his hands up her abdomen, marveling at how much smaller she is than him as he continues up to cup her breasts.

“Fuck, yes,” she groans. “Squeeze them!”

As much as he loves – no, needs and adores – Abbie’s body, Ichabod cannot deny that one of the many things he will relish on their journey to becoming parents is watching Abbie’s breasts grow. He can barely keep his hands and mouth off them now, he hopes Abbie will forgive his voraciousness toward them as they change.

He thumbs the turgid peaks of her nipples, enjoying pushing Abbie’s body to greater heights of pleasure as he seeks his release inside of her. Ichabod still cannot believe this small goddess has agreed to be his wife. That they will have the rest of their lives to make love like this, that he will feel her clench around his cock as she comes, shaking and calling his name.

Ichabod moves faster as he feels Abbie begin to flutter around him. He pushes her back down onto the bed and leans forward against the headboard himself, grunting as he slams into her tiny body, reduced to a rutting beast and yet again unable to do anything about it.

“Goddamn it, why is your cock so big?” Abbie cries out, shoving herself back onto it like she’s possessed. “Just - Oh god, I’m coming,” she gasps. “Fuck, I’m coming again!”

Watching Abbie come on his dick is sensory overload. Ichabod continues to thrust as fast as he can, wanting to draw her pleasure out long as he can. He’s now reached the point where he’s painfully hard and it’s getting difficult to think straight. Ichabod slows his strokes, sweating profusely as his hips continue to move.

Abbie tries to catch her breath and when she moves, she realizes Ichabod is still hard inside of her.

“Oh god, baby what do you need?” she asks, reaching back to touch him.

Ichabod shudders as he feels her flex around him.

“I don’t know,” he admits, groaning when Abbie pulls away, rolling over to look at him.

Abbie’s eyes widen when she’s able to get a good look at his swollen cock rising out of a thatch of light brown, almost blond curls. It’s a dark, angry red--almost purple--and so hard the foreskin looks nonexistent.

“Every time I see it, I still wonder how you manage to make it fit,” she jokes, rising to her knees and pushing Ichabod onto the bed so he’s lying against the headboard.

“Abbie,” he pleads, but for what Ichabod is unsure, merely able to hold her close as she moves to straddle him.

“I’m here. I got you,” she murmurs, leaning in to kiss him as she reaches between their bodies to guide him in. Abbie wishes she had thought to grab some lube, and throws a prayer up that she’s wet enough for this as she sinks down onto his cock slowly.

Ichabod holds on to Abbie’s hips, trying desperately not to shove her down the last few inches, but having her body slowly accept him is driving him mad.

“Treasure,” he croaks, thighs shaking with the strain.

Abbie bites her lips and starts bouncing on his cock, shivering when sparks of pleasure begin churning in her groin.

“Touch me,” she gasps, working her hips faster in efforts to fully seat herself on his dick.

Immediately Ichabod pulls Abbie forward, taking a nipple into his mouth and sucking hard. He groans as he feels Abbie practically drool around his cock, taking more of him inside.

“Yes,” Abbie groans, gasping when she’s finally got him all the way in. “Your cock is ridiculous,” she mutters, smiling at him fondly.

“And I’m going to make you feel so good,” she croons, rocking her hips again.

“Treasure you already do,” he pants. “I just –”

“I never told you how hot it was when you fucked me in the university library,” Abbie says. “The whole day I had been horny as hell,” she pants, moving her hips faster.

“You?” Ichabod groans as he clutches her hips. “You had that damn skirt practically painted on. I just wanted to rub myself against your ass.”

“A couple times you did,” Abbie groans, pressing her face against the side of his forehead at the memory.

“But I wanted you to,” she admits. “I wanted you to bend me over the table in Armando’s office and fuck me while he was watching.”

Ichabod swears as Abbie begins to bounce harder on his cock.

“I wanted to rip that skirt off and throw you on the table and have you for lunch instead.”

“God, yes,” Abbie says, squeezing her own breasts and tugging at her nipples as she imagines Armando sitting across from them, staring lustily as Ichabod throws her legs over his shoulders and sucks on her clit. “Fuck, yes,” she groans.

“I wanted to take you from behind so he could see your gorgeous face, your beautiful mouth open and singing your pleasure. Shit,” he groans as his toes begin to curl. “I saw him staring at you.”

“He was not,” Abbie pants.

“I saw him, treasure,” Ichabod reassures her. “I watched him as his gaze slid across your ass when you walked around his office. How he stared down your shirt whenever you leaned over. He wanted you,” he hisses.

“But I only want you,” Abbie vows, throwing her head back when Ichabod cups her breasts again.

“It’s your cock I need,” she groans, working herself up and down furiously. “Goddamn it you’re going to make me come again.”

“Take it,” Ichabod growls, pulling his legs beneath him and rising to his knees without falling out of Abbie. He bears her down to the bed and exults at how open her body is to him and how wet she is. His cock is making a squelching sound that makes his eyes roll up in his head, but he forces himself to look down at his beloved.

“Only I can make you come like this,” he hisses, thrusting so hard Abbie must hold on to his forearms to keep from sliding away.

“Yes,” she whimpers.

“Fuck, Ichabod, yes,” she screams. “God, only you,” she cries out as she comes again, harder than even the first time.

Ichabod’s climax feels like it starts from his toes all the way to the top of his head as he spills himself repeatedly into Abbie’s body, feeling her inner walls milk his dick for all it’s got. His hips stutter until the lust-filled fog lifts from his brain and he can think again.

“Treasure, are you okay?” he asks. Abbie is sprawled beneath him, eyes closed and breathing deeply.

“Abbie, my love?” Ichabod withdraws as gently as he can and moves her head gently. “Abbie?”

She stirs briefly, nuzzling into his touch before slowly blinking her eyes open.

“What happened,” she murmurs.

Ichabod doesn’t know whether to feel smug or worried.

“I believe you blacked out,” he says carefully.

Abbie groans and tries to hide her smile.

“I won’t be able to tell you shit now,” she mutters, closing her eyes again. “I’m so tired,” she says.

“Rest,” Ichabod says, pushing her hair back from her forehead and placing a kiss there. “I’m sorry to have worn you out,” he whispers against her temple.

With her eyes still closed, Abbie reaches up and pets the side of his face before turning and gathering up some of the comforter as a makeshift pillow, settling in with a sigh. He watches her sleep for a moment before reluctantly sliding out of the bed and jumping into the shower.

When he emerges, Abbie is still asleep so he turns off the lights and kisses her bare shoulder before leaving the room.

“Your highness,” Phillip says, immediately stepping forward.

“Yes?” Ichabod’s practically whistling as he moves to the bar on the other side of the room. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” he asks, adding two large ice cubes to a tumbler.

“Yes, your highness,” Phillip says without a hint of irony. “Your parents are here.”

Ichabod stops, his hand on the brandy decanter.

“My parents? When did they get here?” he asks.

“…Half an hour ago,” Phillip says, looking apologetic.

Ichabod swears.

“We told them you were… indisposed.”

Ichabod winces, swearing again as he decides to skip the brandy and go straight for the vodka.

“How lovely. Where are they?”

“On the main deck. They wished to see you as soon as you were… available.”

Ichabod sighs and swallows down a good bit of the vodka, needing the burn as it travels down his throat. Almost thirty-six and still at the drop of a hat, his parents can make him feel like a child.

Chapter Text

Ichabod holds onto his drink as he jogs down the outer stairs to the observation deck. Sure enough, his mother and father are seated in one lounge chair, murmuring to each other as they look out over the ocean.

“Mother, father,” he says evenly, announcing himself as he emerges on deck.

“Ichabod, darling,” Clarissa extracts herself from Hernán’s hold and offers her cheek, on which Ichabod obediently drops a kiss.

“My son,” Hernán says in greeting, lifting his beverage but not rising from his seat. “I forget how beautiful Nacid is this time of year,” he says, sighing with delight as he sips his drink.

Ichabod hides his incredulity by taking a big swallow of his own drink.

“So, you’ve come for a visit,” he asks, leaning against the rail and facing his parents.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” Clarissa says with a laugh as she pulls on a pair of oversized mirrored sunglasses. Briefly, Ichabod sees himself stare back at himself.

“I’m not,” he protests. “I’m just surprised you’re here… without any sort of call in advance,” he mutters into his glass.

“I should have to call before I arrive?” Hernán asks. “You are my son, should I make an appointment?”

“I’m not rising to the occasion, father,” Ichabod breezes.

“Pity,” the king mumbles.

“I only mention having adequate warning so I may be as hospitable as you’ve both groomed me to be,” Ichabod says with a grin.

Clarissa shakes her head and glances over at her husband.

“He gets that from you,” she retorts.

Hernán chuckles low.

“Good.”

“We’re here for the Naval Gala, dear,” Clarissa says.

Ichabod is openly skeptical.

“You hate the gala,” he says.

“Dear, I don’t hate the gala,” Clarissa corrects with a raised finger. “I just find it incredibly boring.”

“You don’t like being bored,” Ichabod counters.

Clarissa opens her mouth to retort, but finds all she can do is shrug and nod.

“I do not,” she admits.

“And that brings us back to the question: what’s changed?” Ichabod asks again.

“We wanted to be there when Abbie made her first appearance at the gala,” Hernán says.

Ichabod blinks.

“Really?”

“Why wouldn’t we, dear?” Clarissa asks. “We’re quite excited to introduce her to society at large and, well, when we agreed upon the dates for the tour we didn’t really pay attention to the gala, though I’m sure that factored in your decision.”

“Two birds one stone,” Ichabod admits. “So, we’re to go together?” he asks.

Hernán nods.

“As a family,” he proclaims.

“For the first time in almost twenty years,” Ichabod clarifies.

Clarissa’s eyebrow rises over the top of her glasses.

“No more mention of years, Ichabod,” Clarissa says. “Speaking of which, where is Abbie?”

“Recovering from her acclimation, I expect,” Hernán breezes and Ichabod wonders if one can pass away from sheer embarrassment.

“So, where will you be staying?” he asks, overly brightly. “Would you like me to arrange for Moon Bay to be opened and aired?”

Hernán looks to his wife mournfully.

“He gets that from you,” he says.

Clarissa shrieks with laughter, reaching over to swat Hernán in the shoulder.

While smiling fondly at his parents, a movement catches his eye and Ichabod glances over as Abbie crests the landing and steps onto the deck and into the sunlight. She is a vision of sublime loveliness, a shy smile gracing her lips as the wind plays with the loose curls of her hair. Ichabod finds himself struck dumb as she walks toward him, clad in just a green beaded crop top and a gauzy, blue maxi skirt.

“Treasure,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “You’re awake.”

Abbie accepts his hand and glares at him playfully.

“No thanks to you,” she murmurs before turning to his parents.

“Your Majesties,” she says, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hands. “I didn’t know you were coming! Are you hungry? Can we get you anything?”

“Abbie!” Clarissa beams as she rises from her seat to give the young woman a big hug. “My, don’t you look radiant. Doesn’t she, Hernán?”

“She does,” Hernán says, rising from his chair to embrace Abbie next, giving her a big hug. “How are you, my dear? The sea air seems to agree with you.”

Abbie flushes, scratching the back of her head as she scrambles for something to say.

“Thank you,” she says. “I’m going to have to thank the owner of the boat for this fantastic view.”

Hernán shoots Ichabod a wondering glance before smiling back down at her.

“How have you found our humble country so far, dear?” he asks, tucking Abbie’s hand in his arm and leading her away from Ichabod, though they don’t go far.

“I’m really enjoying myself,” she says. “Cirtona is very beautiful and the people are as vibrant and diverse as their culture.”

“Are you sure you’re not already a princess?” Hernán asks. “I couldn’t have asked for a better answer.”

Abbie flushes.

“I think your son is rubbing off on me,” she says, throwing a fond look over her shoulder.

“And how is he treating you?”

Abbie goes to answer with a joke but sees the king is very serious and immediately sobers.

“I… I’ve never known a love like his before,” she says simply.

“And you are happy?”

Abbie glances away, momentarily embarrassed.

“Yes,” she says.

Hernán gently grasps her chin and turns her back to him.

“My darling daughter, I want you to be honest with me, no matter what,” he says. “Are you not happy?”

Abbie nods and looks away, embarrassed.

“I am,” she reassures him. “It’s just…”

“Just what, little flower?” he asks, taking both of her hands in his.

“I’m so happy I’m scared,” she admits, laughing at her own strangeness.

“You have never been this happy before,” Hernán says knowingly.

“I haven’t.” Abbie’s mouth twists into a self-deprecating grimace.

“The thrill of finding something you never had is always paired with the sharp fear of losing it,” Hernán says.

“It’s not the money,” Abbie says with a sigh. “It’s not all the fancy things. I’m not afraid of losing this stuff because I’ve never had it. It’s him, just him. If I had to walk away from all this today, I wouldn’t care as long as he was coming with me.”

“I marvel how my rascal of a son managed to persuade a person with such a beautiful spirit to bind their life to his.”

They both look over at Ichabod, who is on the other side of the deck with his arm around his mother, staring out over the water and talking quietly.

“You should give him more credit,” Abbie says.

“I am forced to do so,” Hernán says. “I’ve watched him grow from a stubborn youngster eager to shirk his duties in favor of loud music and short skirts to a man whose shoulders are stable enough to carry his people.”

Abbie smiles at Ichabod’s profile and feels proud of him as well.

“He’ll rule well,” she says and as the words leave her mouth, Abbie realizes how certain she is.

“I’m sure you’ll both do quite well.” Hernán smiles when Abbie turns on him, eyes wide. “Oh, you thought you wouldn’t rule?” he asks.

Abbie sputters for a moment, unable to hide out in the open.

“I… uh...” She chuckles, turning away and looking out onto the water herself. “I honestly didn’t think about it.”

“What did you think would happen when he became king?” Hernán asks. “That you would remain princess?”

“I didn’t think I’d get this far,” Abbie says candidly.

Hernán looks at her a moment and nods.

“You’re a humble soul, little flower. With your level head, you will be just fine.”

Abbie stares at her hands on the rail.

“Little flower?” she asks, squinting up at him.

“Because you are as tiny of stature as you are big of heart and large of spirit, and as beautiful and radiant as an uncut blossom.” Hernán’s smile widens.

“Forgive an old man his sentiment,” he says, putting his hand over hers. “I have no desire to overstep my bounds in my joy and eagerness.”

“I like it.” Abbie wills herself not to cry as she shakes her head.

“I... I had a Dad and he died,” she says quietly. “And years later, I found another good man who treated me like a daughter. I lost him, too.” Abbie shakes her head, laughing nervously.

“I don’t know what I’m trying to say or why I said that,” she admits.

“I understand,” Hernán says. “And if--or when--you become so inclined, I would be honored to have that type of relationship with you.”

Abbie sniffles as a tear escapes and hits the back of her hand.

“Okay,” she says, hating how small her voice sounds. “That sounds good.”

“Hernán, dear, we still have the Gala and I’m not nearly ready,” Clarissa says, coming to stand next to her husband.

“Why are you leaving?” Abbie asks, quickly wiping her eyes before turning to face the queen. “You’re not staying here, too?”

Clarissa’s eyes widen innocently.

“We’ve been encouraged to seek lodging elsewhere my dear,” she says.

Abbie turns to Ichabod incredulously.

“Oh, really?” she asks. “Can’t we have guests while we stay here?”

Ichabod shoots his parents a quelling look in response to Clarissa’s confusion and Hernán’s knowing look.

“They haven’t been to the royal residence in years,” he says. “And a bit of distance keeps the heart fond.”

“Truer words were never spoken,” Hernán says, sweeping arm over his wife’s head to pull her close.

“We wouldn’t want to interfere with Abbie’s acclimation, now, would we?” he asks with a shit-eating grin.

Ichabod pinches the bridge of his nose as Abbie’s jaw drops in shock and embarrassment.

“Oh dear, you’ve worn out our possible welcome in record time – even for you,” Clarissa chides her husband. “No matter--we’ve already seen to Moon Bay and it’s prepared to receive us,” she admits to Abbie.

The relief is naked on Ichabod’s face.

“Then we’ll see you at the Gala,” he says.

“No, I thought it would be nice to arrive together, as a family,” she says, reaching out to squeeze Abbie’s hand encouragingly. “And I have something I want to give Abbie before we go inside.”

“Really?” Abbie asks, trying to figure out what it could possibly be if it’s something she’ll more than likely use inside of the Gala itself. “What is it?”

“A surprise,” Clarissa says. “Until later, my darlings.”

Abbie watches in amusement as the king and queen of Cirtona playfully squabble with each other as they walk to the stairs on the other side of the deck.

“Your parents can be kind of cute,” she says as she turns to Ichabod. “When they’re not embarrassing the shit out of us.”

Ichabod sighs and finishes the last of his drink.

“They’re only here because of you,” he says.

Abbie’s eyes widen.

“You told them?” she asks.

“No,” he sighs.

“Good,” Abbie says. “Because I want to be there when we tell them. Like after the Gala.”

The unease evaporates from the edges of Ichabod’s resting expression.

“Treasure, are you sure?” he asks hopefully.

Abbie tries to suppress her smile when she glances up at the sheer exuberance of Ichabod’s grin.

“Yes, corny man,” she says, looking away as if she’s annoyed. Abbie yelps as Ichabod whoops, throwing his glass overboard and picking her up to spin her around.

“Ichabod, put me down,” she shrieks, tucking her face against his neck and screaming.

“As soon as we return, we’ll tell them,” she says as he returns her bare feet to the deck. “I’ll sneak out sometime while everyone is dancing to call Jenny and Joe and let them know.”

“Sneak out?” Ichabod shakes his head. “Treasure, there will be no sneaking anywhere. Almost the entire time we’re there we will be engaged, doing something. Why don’t we tell them at the same time? Have Jennifer and Joseph come together after midnight and upon our return, we can break the news to everyone at the same time.”

Abbie shakes her head.

“I can’t just ask them to hop on a plane, Ichabod.”

“Why not?”

“Why not,” she repeats, mimicking his accent. “So many reasons,” she groans.

“I only mean this is the most important announcement we’ll ever make,” Ichabod clarifies as he pulls her against him roughly, causing Abbie to giggle. “Why wouldn’t that warrant an impromptu trip?”

“Jobs, plans, any number of real and valid reasons,” Abbie says. “No one has to hop on a plane just because we’re having a baby. Besides,” she says when Ichabod opens his mouth to rebut, “that’s what skype is for.”

“I guess I will settle for this paltry alternative if I must,” Ichabod says imperiously, his lips twitching when Abbie collapses into giggles again.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asks, staring up at him fondly.

“I’ve got plans,” Ichabod says seriously, leaning close to press his forehead against hers.

Abbie hugs him close and presses a kiss on the side of his nose with a laugh.

“I know what those plans are, Ichabod Crane, and half of them require me naked, don’t they?”

“Half? I thought you knew me, treasure,” he rumbles as she squirms in his grasp. “At least seven tenths.”

Abbie twists and pulls him down for a deep kiss.

“Nasty,” she whispers against his lips with a laugh, moving out of his grasp. “Now I have to go find Devon and Lulu and apologize. I’m going to have to apologize to everyone,” she mutters as she pads away, leaving Ichabod to watch her leave in affectionate helplessness.

When she gets to the second deck, Phillip discreetly points her in the direction of her stylists, who are sitting on the scuba platform on the rear observation deck, their feet dangling in the water almost to their knees.

Due to their relative positions, Abbie’s able to cast a shadow across them both, and their conversation halts immediately when they glance up to see who’s disturbed them.

“Hi,” she says uneasily, seeing herself quadrupled in their sunglasses. “Can I talk to you both?”

Devon scrambles up and helps Lulu to her feet as well.

“Absolutely, Lady Abbie,” he says carefully.

Abbie shields her eyes and shakes her head.

“No, not like that. This isn’t an order,” she says quietly. “This is just me coming to apologize because I was way over the line.”

Lulu throws Devon a meaningful glance before turning to Abbie.

“Do you want me to respond to you as Lady Abbie, future princess of Cirtona or…”

“Just Abbie,” she says, bracing herself.

“Alright, then. I get why you’re pissed because you weren’t ready! Them tits came early didn’t they?” Lulu says with a grin.

“Lulu!” Abbie screeches in embarrassment as covers her face. “Oh, my god,” she mutters. “I’m locking myself in my room for the next couple of months.”

“Well I hope you don’t because we’ve got a gala to get ready for,” Devon says with a bit less exuberance. “Are we allowed to congratulate you?”

Abbie drops her hands to reveal her smile.

“Yeah,” she admits, and laughs when Devon hugs her hard enough to lift her from the deck briefly. “But only you guys know so far – not even Ichabod’s parents know. We’re telling them tonight,” she says at their expressions.

“Good,” they say in unison.

Abbie glances back and forth between them.

“Does this mean I’m forgiven?” she asks.

“Girl, yeah,” Lulu says. “So much is making sense now.”

“What does that mean?” Abbie demands.

“Not a thing,” Devon says, glaring briefly at Lulu.

“I swear I’m not going to be a bitch just because I’m pregnant,” Abbie says. “I’m not going to be a totally different person.”

“Hate to break it to you but sometimes you will be,” Lulu says. “Pregnancy is no joke. This trip is a much-needed vacation from my kid, hear me when I say.”

“And I’ll make the alterations needed to your wardrobe,” Devon says with a smile. “I’ve never had a pregnant client before, and I’ve always wanted one.”

“Can we just avoid going full maternity as long as possible? I’m not looking forward to the muumuu look,” Abbie says with a vague grimace.

“Fashionable muumuus, Lady Abbie,” he says, stressing her title. “So Lulu and I were talking, and we think we have a look you’ll like, and I have another dress you’re going to love, which is important because this is your first ball!”

“Yeah, I guess it is.” Abbie finds herself swept up in the excitement as Devon takes one arm and Lulu the other.

Her first ball, she thinks. The stuff of dreams--the dreams of a very young Abbie Mills who still believed in magic and things like that. It might be time for her to believe again, she thinks as she half listens to Lulu and Devon describe their ideas.

Yet again doubt tries to creep forward and dim her happiness. She’s never been to a ball before. What if she embarrasses Ichabod? Or worse, King Hernán and Queen Clarissa? Maybe she can keep mostly to herself and fly under the radar. Maybe –

Stop it, Abbie tells herself. Can we just exist in this moment and be happy?

Yes, yes she can. And she will.

But first…

“Excuse me,” she mutters, and bolts up the remaining stairs leading to the master suite, hoping to make it to the bathroom in time.

~*~

Thank goodness for reclining make-up chairs.

After two hours of being meticulously sewn into a dream of a dress, Abbie reclines in the seat and somewhere between getting a face mask and her eyebrows reshaped she falls fast asleep. When Abbie’s shoulder is gently shaken, Lulu manipulates the foot pedals to lift Abbie to a sitting position so she can see the result.

Abbie blinks at her reflection, amazed how before she fell asleep she was just Abbie in an almost stupidly expensive dress but now… She giggles nervously.

“What?” Devon asks immediately. “You don’t like it?”

Abbie turns to him, valiantly promising herself she wouldn’t tear up and ruin the amazing make up.

“Don’t like it?” she repeats. “Devon, Lulu… You’ve outdone yourselves,” she whispers, turning her head this way and that. Her hair has been brushed until it gleams under the light, pulled across her forehead and tucked behind her right ear where it falls in a gentle curl. The rest is pulled back in a graceful bun with a braid encircling the base, giving Abbie the aura of someone elegant and refined.

Even her makeup is both formal and elegant.

“I would’ve gone with a smoky eye, but this is much better,” she admits, admiring the nude shimmer on her lids when she blinks. Abbie smiles and the movement draws her attention to her mouth, clad in a dark and rich matte red.

It makes her wants to smile more.

“Lulu, you did amazing,” Abbie says again. “I don’t look like myself.”

“Oh stop. This is you, just your princess self,” Lulu reassures her.

Abbie glances down at her dress. It’s royal blue silk and gleams rather than shines as she shifts back and forth. The neckline is a simple vee that extends down until she’s not quite spilling out but it looks like it would take minimal effort to do so. The bodice is embroidered with delicate stitching that looks almost like frost on a window, extending to her navel in the front and down her hips on the sides.

The tailoring is exquisite; it settles lightly against her body before flaring out down near her knees in a mermaid skirt that trails the ground. Even the back is delightfully scandalous – the same vee in the front of her gown extends until it reaches just an inch before the top of her ass.

“This is amazing, really amazing,” Abbie can’t help but say again. “So how am I going to dance in this and not fall on my ass?”

“Glad you asked,” Devon says as he produces a pair of shoes that has Abbie gasping.

They’re sky-high Louboutin platform heels, encrusted with what looks like hundreds of blue crystals so they shine in the light like stars in the night sky. Abbie almost doesn’t want to put them on but Devon crouches down to help her into them and suddenly she’s a few inches taller and her dress just skims the floor.

“They’re perfect,” Abbie breathes, lifting her skirt to see her feet. She sticks one out so it can shine in the light. “Now I want everyone to see my shoes!”

“They’ll see them when you’re walking and dancing,” Devon reassures her.

Abbie beams at her reflection and traces the edge of her neckline.

“We haven’t picked out any jewelry,” she says.

“I was told it wouldn’t be necessary,” Devon says, glancing at his watch.

“I’m just in time!”

Devon and Lulu drop into a bow as Queen Clarissa breezes in with a black velvet box in her arms, the cape of her robin’s egg blue floor-length sheath dress fluttering behind her as she steps into the room.

“Devon, Lulu,” she breathes as she stops and stares at Abbie. “You’ve outdone yourselves!”

Abbie glances down, flushing under the adoring gaze of Ichabod’s mother.

“They did do a great job,” she agrees.

“But they had such a beautiful canvas to being with,” Clarissa says, reaching for her hand and squeezing it gently. “I come with gifts,” she says, handing Devon the box to hold while she reveals a diamond and teardrop sapphire necklace.

Abbie’s eyes widen as Clarissa lifts it from its velvet resting place and presents her with it.

“You want me to wear that?” she asks, her hand rising to her bare throat.

“Well, as you can see, I’m already wearing jewelry,” Clarissa says. Understatement of the year as she stands in a rose gold diamond tiara, necklace, and earrings. She steps behind Abbie and lowers the necklace in front of her.

“There,” she says, closing the clasp and adjusting it so the gems lay flat against the top of her chest. “Perfect,” Clarissa proclaims.

Abbie has never seen so many diamonds in one necklace before.

“This isn’t real, is it?” she blurts before thinking.

Clarissa laughs and returns to the box Devon is still holding.

“Now the earrings, and while I was going to bring you a tiara, technically you’re not married into the family yet and the only tiaras I have are royal regalia. But soon that won’t be a problem, will it,” she murmurs, beaming as Abbie slips on the earrings that match the necklace exactly.

“So, these aren’t considered regalia?” Abbie asks, unable to stop turning her head back and forth to watch the jewels glint in the light.

“They are,” Clarissa says. “They just won’t be royal until after you’re married.”

Abbie pauses as she catches her meaning.

“I can’t,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s too much!”

"You can and you will,” Clarissa says firmly. "Besides, how else are you to begin your jewelry collection? These are just a few starter pieces until you find a jeweler you want to design your pieces moving forward.”

“A… jeweler?” Abbie asks dazedly as Lulu hands her a beaded clutch and Clarissa links arms with Abbie.

“Now why don’t we see what’s keeping our men,” she says, basically propelling a still-processing Abbie along by sheer force of will.

They emerge out of the master suite and onto the deck, where King Hernán and Ichabod are quietly talking. Abbie’s heart leaps into her throat – Ichabod looks positively delectable in a black tuxedo with a blue brocade tie and vest drawing the eye up his lean and surprisingly broad shouldered frame.

While laughing at something his father says, Ichabod glances over and sees Abbie for the first time since that afternoon. Immediately she feels warm and she can’t suppress the answering smile blooming on her face as he comes toward her to take her hand.

“For as long as I can remember I have loved words and how easily they came to me when needed. So I am left wondering what kind of cosmic joke would have me blessed to be marrying a woman who robs me of my ability to turn a phrase?”

Abbie tightens her grip on Ichabod’s hand and looks away, rolling her eyes to avoid revealing how he affects her.

“I dunno, seems like you did just fine right there,” she murmurs, laughing quietly when he tips her chin up gently for a kiss. “Hold on, how do you know this won’t get all over you?” she asks against his mouth.

“Who says I care?” Ichabod asks, pulling her closer and kissing her soundly.

~*~

It’s straight out of a dream.

More specifically, a dream Abbie once had when she was a young teenager and watched some nameless movie where the lead actress wins the day with a makeover and all eyes are on her.

And here she is, flashbulbs exploding like stars in her face as she holds on to Ichabod’s arm and tries not to let the nerves trip her up on the red carpet.

She’s walking on an actual red carpet.

How is this real?

Abbie hopes the smile on her face looks natural and doesn’t reflect the mania bubbling up in the back of her throat as she waves to people on the way in. She glances around and sees that Ichabod and his parents are waving.

“Was I not supposed to wave?” she whispers to Ichabod, immediately dropping her arm.

“You can wave,” he reassures her. “It’s just that I normally don’t.”

“Oh. I guess this is just old hat for you,” Abbie says, eyes widening as she takes in the ballroom. The walls are draped in a sumptuous navy-colored gauzy fabric dotted with tiny LED lights and the tables are all dressed in pristine ivory. Chattering people dressed in fabulous shades of blues and green pack the tables, and Abbie tightens her grip on Ichabod’s arm as they’re shown to the dais, above everyone else.

“Their Majesties, King Hernán the Second and Queen Clarissa and his royal highness Prince Ichabod and Lady Grace.”

Abbie’s never been announced in such a manner before; it's a split second before she realizes that Lady Grace is, in fact, her.

“Everyone can see us,” Abbie says, smiling pleasantly as she takes her seat on the right of Ichabod with Clarissa and Hernán on his left. The table on the dais is long rather than circular and only seats four, decorated in the same soft ivory.

“Well, yes,” Ichabod says, reaching for her hand beneath the table.

“They’re staring at me,” she mutters, painfully aware of all the eyes trained on her.

“True,” Ichabod also agrees. “But only until the food arrives. And when the band starts, everyone’s going to go for the dance floor. After our dance, of course.”

Abbie pauses.

“Our dance?”

“Oh yes,” Clarissa says, smiling down the table at her. “Hernán and I start the dance, then you and Ichabod join. After an appropriate interval, the mayor and his husband will join us and then so on and so on until we can return to our table.” She glances at Abbie’s dismay. “No one told you?” she asks while looking pointedly at her son.

“No. I think I would remember that,” she says.

“But we will be with you, so it will be easier,” Hernán reassures her.

“At least this year should prove to be less cringeworthy than most,” Clarissa says. “We don’t have to hear about the free-for-all to determine who will dance with Ichabod.”

Abbie coughs to hide her laugh.

“Of course, you had to have a dance partner,” she says. “But why didn’t you choose your own?”

“Politics,” Ichabod says sourly. “I didn’t want to offend anyone, et cetera.”

“And we’d hoped he’d find someone who interested him,” Hernán says. “Instead he took it as such a drudgery.”

“Then you can dance with them, father,” Ichabod breezes.

“And I do,” Hernán points out. “And you’ll still have to do the same. They will just have to swallow the disappointment that you are no longer searching for an eligible woman.”

“You will be asked for many dances, Abbie,” Clarissa warns. “I have a signal with my guard. If I raise my eyebrow at him directly he is to produce some sort of urgent yet benign reason to remove me from present company.”

“Can’t I just tell them I don’t want to dance?” Abbie asks.

“People rarely forget, Abbie,” Ichabod says quietly. “There are so many ways people like to cause problems due to some minor perceived slight. It’s just easier, in the long run, to handle it in such a manner.”

Abbie frowns.

“It feels like lying,” she says. “If I don’t want to dance with someone, then I just don’t.”

“And I encourage you to continue to do so. What I’m also saying is that we must be careful in the way we reject contact with the public. This is something I’ve learned from years of doing the opposite.”

Abbie sighs, letting the wisdom of Ichabod’s words settle in her mind. It’s true, she has less experience with this than he does, but she also has plenty of experience with discouraging unwanted attention.

“I’ll try your way,” she mutters, unable to keep from smiling when Ichabod beams at her.

Abbie continues to watch the crowd, slowly but surely becoming disenchanted with the whole thing. Occasionally, she comes across someone glaring at her – more specifically, a gorgeous young woman with the glare of death in her eyes- more than likely someone who wanted another attempt at Ichabod this year.

“Oh well,” she mutters.

“Sorry?” Ichabod turns to her expectantly.

“Nothing,” Abbie says.

She only has ten minutes to people watch before the pomp and circumstance begins. The lights dim and the dais is suddenly both figuratively and literally in the spotlight as Hernán and Clarissa rise to give a speech about the dedicated people of the Cirtonian Navy and though the country has reached an era of peace that no longer requires an active Navy, they will never forget their sacrifices for the good of the country.

Abbie claps politely, squinting to see the people honored. Most of them are old, around Hernán’s age with medals proudly displayed on their chests and suddenly tears prickle in her eyes. Thankfully the speech is over shortly after that. With the spotlight gone, Abbie feels comfortable dabbing at her eyes with her napkin.

“Are you alright?” Ichabod leans in to murmur.

“It’s just that they all look like a bunch of granddads,” Abbie sniffles.

Ichabod looks confused but pats her hand.

“Are you going to be able to dance? If not, I’ll have someone find me someone to step in,” he says.

“Step in?” Abbie asks, snatching her hand back from Ichabod’s. “I don’t need a stand-in,” she says.

“I didn’t mean it like that, treasure,” Ichabod says. “I know that doing things in public tends to make you nervous and I want you to be as stress-free as you’re able,” he says, his gaze dropping down to her stomach pointedly.

“Watching you dance with some smug trick is going to be more stress than just dancing with you instead,” she says.

“Must they be smug tricks?” Ichabod asks, clearing his throat in attempts to hide his laughter.

“They mustn’t, but they are,” she points out.

“Can we not call them that to their faces?”

“I can be polite,” Abbie says. “Up to a point. I have a line, Ichabod Crane and if it’s crossed they’ll find out.”

Ichabod frowns.

“Find out what?”

Abbie’s smile is wan as she reaches up to pet his cheek gently.

“You are very white,” she whispers.

Ichabod grabs her hand and gasps.

“What?” he faux- exclaims. “When did this happen? Treasure, why didn’t you tell me?” he asks amidst her giggles.

“I thought you knew,” Abbie laughs, letting herself get pulled into a kiss. Flashbulbs burst as soon as her eyes are closed and it serves as a reminder they’re being watched.

“Crane,” she murmurs against his mouth.

“I don’t care,” he says, withdrawing only far enough to look into her eyes. “And they may as well get used to it.”

“What am I going to do with you?” Abbie shakes her head.

Ichabod brushes his nose against hers.

“Love me for the rest of my life? I’d suggest we start there.”

“My man.”

“And would you grant your man a twirl around the dance floor?” Ichabod rises from his seat and offers his arm.

Abbie beams at him, letting the public fall away as she accepts, and letting him lead her from the dais to follow his parents to the herringbone dance floor. When they stop, Abbie has the chance to glance around and just as the nerves begin to spark up, Ichabod’s taking her hand and pulling her closer, gazing down with such love and fondness that Abbie’s dancing before she realizes.

The band plays something instrumental that seems to float on the very air and with a graceful partner like Ichabod, the waltz is easy to do. She feels lighter than air as they move gently to the music, staring into each other’s eyes.

“To think you were nervous,” Ichabod says as they whirl around the dance floor.

Abbie blinks, glancing around to see they’re no longer the only dancers.

“Don’t jinx it. I can still faceplant in the middle of everyone,” she says, feeling a bit of confidence restore itself now that they aren’t alone.

“We wouldn’t want that,” he murmurs. “But I must admit, I could do this all night.”

“What, stare into my eyes or glance down at my cleavage?” Abbie asks sweetly.

“Both,” Ichabod retorts without missing a beat. “Oh, my treasure... the things I wanted to do to you when I first saw you in this dress,” he breathes.

The hair on the back of Abbie’s neck stands up under the sudden heat of his gaze.

“Like you didn’t look good enough to eat when I saw you,” she says. “If your parents hadn’t been there I don’t think we would’ve made it to the ball.” Abbie laughs when Ichabod’s grasp around her waist tightens. “Down boy,” she murmurs.

“I don’t think I shall,” he rumbles. “There is a nice secluded area w-”

“Many pardons, Prince Ichabod.”

Both Abbie and Ichabod manage to extract themselves from each other to find an older man standing beside them with a knowing smile.

“Uncle Henry,” Ichabod says, clasping the man by the hand. “Abbie, darling, this is my father’s cousin Henry Parrish, Duke of Costa Norteña.”

“I must say, my dear, it’s wonderful to meet you in the flesh, at last,” Henry says as he takes her hand and kisses the back.

Abbie can see some of Ichabod’s and even Hernán’s smile in Henry’s, but none of the warmth, she thinks as she musters up a smile.

“It’s wonderful to meet any relatives of Ichabod’s, your grace,” she says.

“Yes, as it seems we will soon be relatives as well. Ichabod, would you mind terribly if I asked Lady Grace for a dance?” Henry asks. “And I haven’t a date for you to pester, so don’t bother.”

Ichabod chuckles.

“If the Lady wishes,” he says.

“Sure,” Abbie says, not really seeing a reason why she should say no.

“Excellent.” Henry steps up and immediately takes Abbie by the waist, waltzing between the dancing couples around them. He moves so quickly Abbie stumbles into him a little, causing her to be a bit closer than she’d meant to be.

“Whoa,” she says, firmly putting a bit of distance between their bodies.

Henry smiles at her.

“Oh, please forgive me. It’s been some time since I’ve had such a beautiful woman in my arms. Try to overlook my nervous feet.”

Abbie feels slightly bad for immediately jumping to horrible conclusions.

Relax, girl, she thinks.

“It’s okay,” she says. “So, what is it you do?”

“I’m a businessman and financier, spending most of my time in England. While I’m here, I serve in parliament on behalf of Pento Cali. Have you been before?”

“Not yet,” Abbie says. “But it’s the next city on our list.”

“As an American, Pento Cali is probably more your speed. Trendy shops and restaurants, international citizenry and the bustle of big city life,” Henry says. “When you and Ichabod do arrive, I would love to extend the hospitality of my home for the duration of your stay.”

“Oh, thank you,” Abbie says. “But I don’t know what kind of arrangements have already been made. I’ll tell Ichabod, though.”

Henry levels an assessing gaze before smiling tightly.

“It’s refreshing to know you don’t mind capitulating to young Ichabod’s whims.”

Abbie tries not frown.

“What do you mean?”

“Surely, you’re an independent woman who tends to rely on her own whims to determine how she moves through the world,” Henry says. “It must be a bit of a culture shock, is all.”

“As an American or as a black woman?” Abbie asks, keeping her tone nonchalant.

“Probably both,” Henry says.

Abbie just stares at him, unsure if the man is just that racist or if he honestly doesn’t know what he’s saying.

“Well, where I’m from it's good manners to check with those who have made the arrangements before attempting to alter the itinerary,” she says evenly.

Henry laughs as if Abbie’s said something funny.

“Lady Grace--may, can I call you Abbie?”

“Sure,” she says coolly.

“You appear to be a fairly intelligent woman,” Henry says, nodding at someone they waltz past. “I would like to give you a bit of advice.”

He smiles as if they’re just talking about the weather.

“You’re in over your head, and you should get out now before it becomes more than just an embarrassment for young Ichabod, and for the entirety of Cirtona.”

Abbie stares back at him.

“What makes you think I’m in over my head?”

Henry’s laugh is throaty and full-bodied, a mere two keys away from being accurately described as menacing.

“My dear, you’re an American – there is no nobility left in that entire country. Democracy has rotted away to capitulation to the lowest common denominator of society regardless of class.

“So how can you, a product of that country, hope to know what it means to rule? To truly rule? This is no game, Abbie. I’m sure he’ll let you keep the clothes and maybe a few of the baubles because it would be in poor taste to demand the return of every gift he’s given you,” he says, eyeing the necklace slyly.

“Though, Ichabod can’t be blamed,” he says, leaning close and inhaling Abbie’s scent. “You have a… ripeness that I’m sure has driven him to distraction.”

Henry glances down at her cleavage and raises an eyebrow.

“Alas, such is our prince. But you will scuttle off, back into the obscurity from whence you emerged, and Ichabod will take his pick of any number of the remaining Cirtonian noble families with a daughter eligible for marriage and more fit to take the crown.”

Abbie narrows her eyes at him.

“You know-”

“Oh, is this where I get to see that famous black girl sass?” Henry asks eagerly. “Please, reveal yourself as you truly are during this formal event and in front of the press.”

He leans in close.

“I hope you recall how to pack your own bags.”

Abbie feels as if someone’s dumped a bucket of ice water down her gown. The chill weaves its way down her spine and leaves her breathless. Did this man just goad her and expect her to react like this is World Star in the middle of a dance floor?

“You’re such a cliché,” she says, her rage clearing her thoughts and making her relax. “Something left over from when the freshest air was whatever came out of your own ass. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to remain disappointed in Ichabod’s choice of spouse because I’m it and I’m not going anywhere.”

Abbie stops and attempts to pry her hands out of Henry’s but he holds on, his face a mask of barely restrained rage.

“It’s not wise to cross me, Abbie,” he hisses. “I can make your life difficult in ways you can’t imagine.”

“It’s Lady Grace,” she corrects. “And you can’t make my life difficult because you don’t matter enough. If you did, I would have heard of you before tonight.” Abbie smiles as Henry sputters, his face becoming redder.

“Lady Grace, may I ask you for the next dance?”

Abbie turns to see one of the grandfatherly looking veterans staring down at her hopefully.

“Absolutely,” she says, wrenching her hands out of Henry’s grasp and stepping away from him.

“What’s your name?” she asks, obviously dismissing Henry, who stands there awkwardly for a moment before moving away and melting between the dancing couples.

“I am Captain Manolo Brachi, my lady. I have been wanting to meet you ever since I saw you on the news,” he admits. “I have to apologize in advance;, my knees aren’t what they used to be.”

Abbie allows him to slow their dancing, immediately fond of the older man.

“So you’re a captain in the Cirtonian Navy?”

“Was,” he says with a flush. “The Cirtonian Navy was officially disbanded in 1979. Captain was the last rank I acquired.”

Abbie cocks her head.

“Are you sad the navy was disbanded?”

“As a citizen, I am proud my country is stable enough to no longer need naval warships. As a man who had dreams as a child of becoming a naval general, not so much,” Captain Brachi admits.

“I know everyone’s telling you this tonight, especially since it’s your night, but thank you for your service,” Abbie says, impulsively giving the old man a kiss on the cheek.

“While I’m thankful to have time to spend with my grandchildren,” Captain Brachi says as his eyes light up and he touches his cheek, “I don’t care what you need, Lady Grace, you sound the call and these old sea dogs will come running.”

Abbie’s eyes fill with tears as she hugs him again, and tells him to get off his feet before he has to be carried off the dance floor. Immediately she’s bombarded with other veterans and current members of the CNSI, or Cirtonian Naval Security and Investigation department.

Happily, Abbie dances with the old vets first, charmed by their nervousness and touched by some of the stories they tell of people they served with who are no longer here, how they say they can’t wait until her marriage and how they hope it’s a long and fruitful one.

The younger men are charmed by Abbie’s smile and the way she seems genuinely interested in their stories, their concerns about the future of the country and the future of the CNSI. Abbie doesn’t pretend to know everything they’re talking about, and immediately she realizes she’s slacking; there is so much about Cirtona she needs to learn and know.

Abbie doesn’t know how long she’s been accepting dances, but she’s getting tired and a bit parched, and after the last dance with a press photojournalist who spent the entire time telling her how pretty she is while staring at her chest, she can use a break.

Thankfully she’s not asked for another dance before leaving the dance floor, but her name is called as soon as she steps off.

“Lady Grace!”

Abbie squints in the dim light for who called her name before a beautiful woman around her age steps up and takes her hand. She has thick black hair perfectly coiffed and spilling in rich waves down her back and intensely blue eyes. Easily as tall as Ichabod, she’s lithe like a model and the teal dress she’s wearing fits like a dream, accentuating her long, elegant lines. As she moves closer the hem of her dress hovers just so above the floor, making it appear as if she’s floating instead of walking.

Immediately Abbie feels like she’s back in high school.

But the woman stops before her, a perfect set of teeth revealed in her perfect smile.

“Lady Grace, how are you? Are you enjoying the gala?”

“I just managed to escape the dance floor,” Abbie admits. “But it’s been fun so far.”

“Oh good,” the woman says, her bright green eyes sparkling in the lights. “Hope you don’t mind, but we’ve wanted to meet you for quite some time,” she beams, tugging her toward a table with three other gorgeous women all similarly dressed in gorgeous dresses of blue or green.

“We?” Abbie asks, trying not to feel awkward beneath their pointed stares.

“Where are our manners? Lady Grace, I introduce Lady Jamilah Maroun, daughter of Baron and Baroness Aaron Maroun.” As Jamilah nods, the gems on her seafoam green hijab glitter like stars in the night sky under the shifting lights.

“Next to her is Lady Juana de la Vega, daughter of Lord and Lady Marco de la Vega.” Juana takes a drink from her flute, not quite hiding the sly, dark red grin on her flawless face. With practiced ease, she crosses her leg and the skirt of her navy- colored dress falls away to the thigh as the slit reveals shapely brown legs.

“Then, Lady Demaris Anastas, daughter of Viscount Alexi Anastas.”

Demaris’ jet black bob gleams as she ducks her head and gives Abbie a quick smile, the light reflecting off her long diamond earrings as she tucks her hair behind her ear. The robin’s-egg blue dress she’s wearing has delicate seed pearl beading swirling across her translucent lace sleeves and down the neckline accentuating her modest cleavage. And yet next to Lady Juana’s figure hugging dress, it manages to look downright conservative. as Abbie tries not to stare at the impressive display of cleavage that Abbie suspects also holds her bodice in place.

“And you?” Abbie asks, turning to the woman beside her.

“I can’t forget me, can I? I’m Lady Lillianna Cordon, daughter of Baron and Baroness Maximillian Cordon,” she laughs, flipping her long black hair over her shoulder expertly. “Please, come sit with us,” she says, leading Abbie to one of the empty chairs around the table.

“I love your dress,” Lady Jamilah says. “Who are you wearing?”

Abbie turns and immediately blanks. ; Devon told her the designer in case she was asked, but for the life of her she doesn’t remember.

“I forgot,” she admits. “Someone who starts with an R.”

Lady Jamilah looks her up and down.

“I have a few suspects. I’m in design myself,” she says.

“Back off, Jamilah,” Lilliana laughs. “We don’t want to overwhelm Grace.”

“It’s Abbie,” she says. “No one calls me Grace.”

“That’s adorable,” Juana says. “Abbie. It’s so…” She turns to Demaris. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“It’s very pretty,” Demaris says, shooting Juana a look Abbie can’t quite decipher.

“Thank you. It’s short for Abigail, but no one calls me that either,” Abbie laughs, and trails off.

“Why don’t we get you something to drink,” Jahmillah says, signaling for a waiter.

“Oh, I’m good,” Abbie says, and Lillianna titters. “What?” she asks, looking around as everyone grins at her. “What’s so funny?”

“You're good,” Lillianna says. “You sound like you stepped right out of an American TV show!”

Abbie frowns.

“What?”

A waiter steps up to their table and refreshes Jahmillah and Demaris’ drinks.

“It’s your accent. It’s adorable,” Demaris says. “It’s not often we meet an American like you. What are you having to drink, Abbie?”

Abbie clears her throat.

“I’ll take some juice, whatever you have, thank you,” she tells the waiter.

“You mean wine, right?” Juana asks.

Abbie shakes her head.

“No, I’m not really in the mood for alcohol,” she lies. “I don’t drink on an empty stomach.”

“Well if that were a requirement Lillianna would never be able to drink, would she?” Jamilah asks sweetly while Lillianna takes a swallow of her champagne.

Lilliana merely stares at Jahmilah as she puts her glass down.

“Anyway, we wanted to congratulate you on your impending nuptials. When is the happy event?”

“We actually haven’t figured that out yet,” Abbie realizes.

Juana glances meaningfully at Demaris before schooling her expression into benign interest.

“Well, Prince Ichabod is known to have a fickle heart,” she says. “You may want to get any promises he makes you in writing.”

“You know him?” Abbie asks, trying to keep the defensiveness from her tone.

“Know him,” Lillianna snorts, causing Demaris and Jahmilah to laugh as well. “We’ve all had a turn around the dance floor with Prince Ichabod if you get my drift,” she says.

Abbie feels vaguely ill.

“I think I do,” she says coolly.

“Lady Grace, your juice. Chilled Cirtona berry,” the waiter says as he places her drink before her.

“Thank you,” Abbie says, instantly regretting its lack of alcohol as she drinks to keep her mouth occupied.

“So, imagine our surprise,” Jamilah says, brown eyes glinting as she stares back at Abbie. “But I must admit, you’re very pretty.”

Abbie stares back at her.

“Thank you,” she says.

“In an American kind of way,” Juana quantifies. “You’ve got that something about you.”

“Wonder what it is,” Demaris murmurs.

“I don’t,” Lillianna says. “So, Abbie, you’re in the press almost every day since you’ve begun the goodwill tour. How are you enjoying our country?”

“It’s wonderful,” Abbie says, glad to be on a topic she can talk about. “Everyone has been so nice and accommodating and really friendly. I think I’m going to enjoy it here.”

“But so far from home,” Juana murmurs. “That has to be difficult. How many brothers and sisters do you have? They must miss you.”

Abbie laughs strangely.

“I have just the one,” she says. “Our parents died when we were children so there were no other siblings.”

“That’s right, we heard about that,” Lillianna says seriously. “You’re an orphan, right?”

Abbie tilts her head as the word hits her wrong like it always has.

“I guess so,” she says.

“That’s why they call her Sleepy Hollow’s Cinderella,” Jamilah says. “With that moniker, how could you not snag our prince?”

Abbie tries to hide her surprise.

“I… I wasn’t called that before the press began saying that,” she says.

“Forgive Jahmilah. We were all devastated to find our very own Prince had gone and found himself a wife,” Demaris says, leaning back in her seat with a regretful expression.

“And from America, no less,” Juana chimes in. “But enough about that. What is it that you do?”

“Am I being interrogated?” Abbie asks, laughing a little to lighten her words.

“Just noble curiosity. We’d like to get to know our future princess,” Demaris says. “And we want to hear about your exciting life in America.”

“Well, the date isn’t set yet,” Lillianna reminds them with a smile.

Abbie swallows more juice and tries to find some patience, opting to completely ignore Lillianna’s comment.

“I am a self-defense teacher and a yoga instructor on the side,” she says. “Though I haven’t done much of either since I’ve arrived.”

“That is…” Lillianna turns to Jahmilah. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Unfortunate?” Jahmilah retorts.

“Behave,” Juana says as she signals with her empty flute for another drink.

“Adorable,” Lillianna settles on.

Demaris scoffs and looks at her nails.

“Two jobs? How did you do it?”

“They weren’t simultaneous,” Abbie says.

Juana leans forward onto her elbows as she examines Abbie from across the table.

“You look built for hard work,” she says.

“I’m sorry?” Abbie asks. “What does that mean?”

“Hearty,” Demaris interjects.

“Exactly.” Lillianna nods. “You don’t look delicate, is all we’re saying.”

Abbie doesn’t know if she’s overthinking things or not. They’re not American; they may not know they’re being rude.

“Uh, what do you guys do?”

“For fun?” Juana asks. “Once upon a time a certain prince…”

“Juana,” Demaris hisses while Jahmilah snorts and laughs, leaving Abbie to squash down her anger awkwardly.

“Ignore her,” Lillianna says, putting her hand over Abbie’s where it rests on the table. “Jamilah owns her own design house, Juana breeds horses, Demaris is a patron of the arts and I model, but I’m looking to get into movies. Maybe even go to Hollywood.”

“You would fit in on the red carpet,” Abbie says, and Lillianna squeals softly and throws her arm around Abbie.

“We’re going to be the best of friends,” she purrs.

“What exactly is a patron of the arts,” Abbie asks Demaris, discreetly removing Lillianna’s arm from around her shoulder.

Demaris tosses her hair proudly.

“I fund a few scholarships for exceedingly talented artists and musicians to study abroad. Just recently I broke ground on the update of the Grand Opera House in Mélida City.”

“Listen to you,” Lillianna laughs. “You broke ground like you were actually holding a real shovel instead of a miniature.”

“Those things are deceptively heavy,” Demaris retorts before turning back to Abbie. “So, tell us more about yourself,” she says.

“Yes, your deepest, darkest secrets…” Juana looks up when everyone pauses to stare at her. “Or where you went to school, whatever.”

“You did go to college, right?” Jahmilah asks, abruptly. “We’re you too poor?”

Abbie blinks.

“Well, I did have trouble affording it, but I was able to get a few small scholarships to the Westchester Community College. I have a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.”

“Because of the whole… orphan thing, right?” Lillianna asks; her face a regretful wince.

Abbie hesitates. Would she have gone into social work if she’d had a loving family to take her in after her parents died? Or if they had never died at all, would she even think about children with no parents themselves?

Probably not. The thought stings a little, but it’s the truth.

“Mostly, probably,” she says. “The American foster system needs a major overhaul,” Abbie says.

“Such passion,” Juana says. “And you were going to change it?”

Abbie’s hackles rise at the condescension.

“What I could,” she says.

“Oh well,” Demaris says. “Now what are you going to do with that degree?”

“I’m going to use it to help Cirtona,” Abbie says, feeling a shiver of excitement as a few things click in place as the words practically tumble from her mouth. “I can help to make sure Cirtona does its best by its most vulnerable children.”

“I guess,” Jamilah says, bouncing her knee disinterestedly. “What would you change?”

Abbie pauses.

“I don’t know yet,” she admits.

“So, you don’t have any plans,” Lillianna says.

“I don’t have a proposal put together or anything just yet, no,” Abbie says, feeling her face grow hot as Damaris and Juana whisper to each other before glancing at Abbie hiding smug smiles.

“This is all so very interesting,” Juana says. “Tell us some of your ideas at least.”

“Well-”

“Lady Grace?”

Abbie has to restrain herself from kissing the waiter that steps up to their table.

“Yes,” she says, a little over-eagerly.

“Her Majesty, Queen Clarissa requires your presence at your table,” he says; and offers his arm so he can assist Abbie out of her chair.

“Do come back,” Lillianna says enthusiastically.

“Yes, we would love to hear more about what you’ll do for the orphaned children of Cirtona,” Demaris says. Someone laughs and stops before Abbie can turn to see who.

“Sure,” Abbie says awkwardly and nods at the waiter to lead the way. Her head begins to pound the further from the table she gets and she tries not to rush the rest of the way up the dais to seek refuge.

“Clarissa, you needed me?” she murmurs, stepping up to crouch next to the queen’s chair.

“Abbie, darling,” Clarissa says, patting the empty chair Hernán has vacated. “Please sit. I don’t need anything,” she says as Abbie slips into the plush chair with a sigh. “I just saw you with that group and you looked like a deer caught in headlights.”

Abbie can’t help but huff and laugh.

“It wasn’t that bad,” she says. “They just had a lot of questions.”

Clarissa looks over the room of people briefly.

“About?”

“My past, things I have planned for the future. Some things I hadn’t put a lot of thought into yet,” Abbie says.

“But they are being respectful?” Clarissa asks. “While you all currently hold the same rank your rank is merely temporary; you outrank them.”

Abbie feels a little flustered.

“I don’t want to lord my title over people,” she says quietly.

“You’ll find the right balance,” Clarissa says. “Because your position demands respect.”

Abbie nods, looking around the room for Ichabod. She misses him suddenly and doesn’t know why.

“This is a lot to get used to,” she says.

“I know, dear. But that’s why we’re here,; to help you.” Clarissa smiles and hands Abbie a flute of dark blue liquid. “I got you some wine, dear. ; I’m sure after that conversation you could use it.”

Abbie accepts the glass and stares at the Cirtona berry wine longingly. Guiltily, she takes a small sip and savors the way the flavor bursts on her tongue. She takes another tiny sip before putting the glass down resolutely.

“I shouldn’t,” she says lowly. “I don’t like drinking on an empty stomach.”

Clarissa raises her hand briefly.

“Then we’ll remedy that. Let’s get you some food.”

Abbie doesn’t know if it’s guilt or the wine but once it hits her stomach, it begins to roil. She exhales through her nose slowly and clamps her mouth shut.

Oh god, not right now.

Yes, now, her stomach fires back.

“I gotta run to the restroom really quick,” Abbie says carefully as another of the wait staff steps forward expectantly. “Do you have any pasta that doesn’t have seafood in it?” she asks.

“No, my lady, we do not,” she says.

Abbie closes her eyes briefly as her head begins to pound again.

“Any cold sandwiches?” she asks as Clarissa looks at her strangely for a moment.

“No, but we can create something for you,” the waitress says.

“Okay, great. Chicken salad with pickles. Lots of pickles,” Abbie says. “And three of the cherry and Cirtona berry fruit tarts over there,” she continues, pointing toward the elegant spread on the other side of the room. “And do you have any roast beef?” she asks.

“We do,” the waitress confirms.

“I want a roast beef sandwich with swiss cheese and pickles,” Abbie says.

“So, you no longer want the chicken salad?” she asks.

Abbie frowns, rising from her seat. Right now, she doesn’t want anything, to be honest.

“No, I want everything I just said,” she says urgently. She manages to get out a “thank you” before excusing herself and rushing from the dais to the nearest restroom.

Thankfully it’s empty and no one sees Abbie practically trip on the hem of her dress to get through a rather elegant- looking stall door to the toilet inside. The wine comes up immediately as does the last thing she had;, which was a handful of cheese curls and a few Cirtona berries.

Eventually her body decides to stop punishing her and Abbie exhales in relief, practically hugging the commode. After a moment, she reaches down to remove her shoes and lowers the seat. Her legs shake as she stands and sits heavily on the toilet lid, breathing through her nose so she can collect herself. Abbie checks her dress and considers herself lucky she didn’t ruin it.

“No more wine,” she whispers to herself, and sits up when she hears a door open and a very familiar laugh.

Lillianna.

“Truly,” someone says, and Abbie pulls her feet up so they’re not visible from outside the stall.

Thank god for being tiny.

“’Maris, you can’t be serious,” Lillianna says. Abbie’s tempted to look but she can’t without risking being seen.

“She seems nice. In a dumb, American way,” Demaris says with a laugh.

Abbie’s heart drops into her stomach when she realizes they’re talking about her. She stares at the stall door, wondering if she can get away with kicking it in and tearing those bitches apart. Before she can decide, they keep talking and she feels like the moment has passed.

“What other way is there, right?” Lillianna says, laughing along. “God. She thinks this is America. She’s going to just waltz in here and do whatever the fuck she wants to do. She doesn’t even know anything about us. Hell, I wasn’t really listening most of the time. What does Ichabod even see in her?”

“She has a nice ass,” Demaris says. “And have you seen her lips?”

Lillianna sighs.

“True,” she admits. “And I mean, she’s got nice boobs, I’ll give her that but, I mean, Juana’s are bigger so...”

“And we all know the prince can’t resist the tits,” Demaris says dryly. “So, I never understood why you thought you were in the running.”

Lillianna gasps.

“Bitch,” she laughs. “I know I don’t have much, but I am fucking gorgeous and I look good in anything--, especially a crown and everyone knows Ichabod and I look damn good together. Besides, I thought he said he was going to marry one of us,” she pouts.

“Yeah, no more drinking for you,” Demaris says. “God, are you done? Your hair is fine,” she whines.

Abbie slips on her heels and stands up, ready to…

Ready to what? Beat the shit out of those women? While that would feel really, really great it wouldn’t solve anything, just prove to Ichabod’s uncle that he’s right about her.

At that thought, Abbie’s anger bleeds away, leaving nothing more than embarrassment. It’s true, she doesn’t know anything about the Cirtonian Social services. She just assumed it would need to be fixed, but that’s due to her experience, not because she’s a dumb American.

Abbie sits back down on the toilet, resigned to waiting for the women to leave. No point in embarrassing herself any further. What could she say? She was sitting on the toilet eavesdropping?

Yeah, that sounds classy.

Abbie looks up when she hears the door open again and a rustle as both Demaris and Lillianna murmur, “your Grace.”

“Ladies Demaris and Lillianna.” It’s a woman, and she sounds young. Immediately Abbie wishes she could see what was going on. “What are you doing in here?”

“Freshening up, your grace. We didn’t know you were coming to the gala this year,” Demaris says.

“My office didn’t run my itinerary by you?” The unknown woman says.

Abbie puts her hand over her mouth; the woman’s tone is dry and sharp enough to cut oneself.

“That’s not what she meant, your grace,” Lillianna murmurs.

“Yes, please enlighten me because I care so much about what you’re trying to say,” the unknown woman says, and Abbie’s eyes widen when neither Demaris or Lillianna respond. “Seeing those sour looks on your faces never gets old, I want you to know that.”

“Your Grace, I thought we had put aside our differences,” Demaris says quietly.

“We have,” the unknown woman says breezily. “I just don’t like you and the rest of your hateful clique.”

“Lady-”

“I believe the last time we spoke I asked you to keep my name out of your mouth. Didn’t I?” she asks.

“Yes, your grace,” the women respond in unison.

“You may leave now,” the woman says, and Abbie is practically holding her breath in efforts not to cackle laughing. Instead, she strains to listen to see if the woman is still there. Should she introduce herself?

Would it be weird to congratulate a stranger on a beautiful read?

The decision is made for Abbie; she hears the woman sigh heavily and the sound of the door opening and closing. Counting to ten, she emerges from the stall and finds herself alone again. Abbie takes a glance at herself in the mirror and is thankful for waterproof makeup. She splashes a bit of water on her face to try and remove that just-vomited look and uses the travel- sized bottle of mouthwash in her purse before she feels somewhat normal again.

“I need you to lighten up,” Abbie tells her stomach. “And I won’t take another sip of wine for as long as we’re in this together,” she vows.

Her stomach gurgles but it’s just hunger. Suddenly Abbie’s fiercely wanting something to eat. She checks her makeup again and checks the hall outside the bathroom to find Phillip standing next to the door.

As she passes him Abbie says nothing, too embarrassed to say anything.

On her way back to the dais she takes the route that does not bring her past Lillianna and her crew, shame warring with hunger in her gut. It must show on her face because when Clarissa turns, she looks concerned.

“Were you lost?” she asks.

Abbie shakes her head, sitting down in front of her food.

“There was a line for the restroom,” she lies before tucking in.

Thankfully Clarissa says nothing else, continuing her own meal of seafood ravioli. At least it’s smothered in lemon garlic sauce and doesn’t interfere with Abbie’s stomach like the crab earlier in the day, so Abbie’s free to down the roast beef and the chicken salad sandwiches before really pausing to breathe.

She sits back, her body practically buzzing with happiness and Abbie sighs with relief.

“You must’ve been hungry,” Clarissa says.

“She skipped lunch today,” Ichabod says, smoothly stepping in as he joins the two women on the dais.

“Where have you been?” Abbie asks, briefly irritated at herself for sounding needy as she offers her cheek for Ichabod to press a kiss against.

“I only now managed to leave the dance floor,” he says sourly, sitting heavily in his chair. “I’m starving, thirsty, and if I have to hear one more insincere congratulations on my pending nuptials I will be forced to start banishing people.”

“Oh, when I bring up banishment you and your father like to tell me it’s uncivilized, but suddenly it’s viable when it concerns you,” Clarissa sniffs and Abbie can’t help but smile.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ichabod says as he reaches around Abbie to grab her still mostly full glass of wine and downs it in one gulp. “I’ll have another,” he says to the staffer holding a decanter, at the ready.

“Can I get some water,” Abbie asks, looking around for someone to ask. Another staffer steps forward immediately.

“What kind of water would you like, my lady?” he asks.

“Cold, please,” she says.

“Mineral or flat?”

“Oh, right. Uh, flat,” Abbie says.

“Right away.”

Abbie watches the man dash off as if she’s asked for nuclear launch codes and shakes her head slightly.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” she murmurs.

“What, good service?” Ichabod asks.

Abbie turns to retort with a smart comment but she catches Lillianna’s eyes from across the room and the embarrassment she’d felt earlier rushes back.

“Ugh,” she mutters.

Ichabod frowns and follows her gaze to the woman as she leans against the table like she’s in a photo shoot.

“Oh, Lillianna,” he says, hiding a smirk behind his wine glass. “Have you met her?”

“She introduced herself, and her friends,” Abbie says, eyeing Ichabod as he tries not to chuckle. “Did you know she’s a bitch?” she asks and feels smug when he almost spits out his drink.

“God, you sound like Sophie,” he says, dabbing at a nonexistent wetness on his shirt.

“Who is Sophie?” Abbie asks. “I haven’t met her yet.”

“No, she isn’t here, but you’re going to meet her in Pento Cali, our last stop on the tour. She’s my oldest and best friend. I’ve known her since childhood.”

Abbie pauses.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve met anyone whom you’ve introduced as a friend,” she says.

Ichabod’s smile turns rueful.

“Don’t have many anymore,” he admits. “When I partied, I had friends galore. When the parties stopped, people drifted away quite abruptly.”

Abbie grabs his hand beneath the table and squeezes gently.

“That must’ve been hard,” she says.

Ichabod smiles at her gratefully.

“I should be glad, though, because it showed me who my real friends are. All two of them,” he says laughingly. “Andrew Brooks and Sophie, both of whom you will both meet after we arrive in Pento Cali. I met Andy at a poker game on the prince of Liechtenstein’s yacht. We hit it off and found we both liked to party hard.”

“And Sophie?” Abbie asks. “She liked to party, too?”

“Oh heavens, no,” Ichabod says, chuckling under his breath. “Quite the opposite. She was more of a fan of telling me what she thought of my, and I quote, drinking, gambling, and sleeping with anyone who gave me half a signal they were interested.”

Abbie winces.

“Ouch,” she says, unable to hide her smile.

“Indeed,” Ichabod says coolly, the amusement in his eyes taking away a bit of the sting of his tone. “After years, I finally listened, and I’m glad I did. It sent me down the road to you,” he says, lifting Abbie’s hand and kissing her knuckles.

And just like that, nothing else matters.

Not the catty women she’s met nor Ichabod’s rude and insulting uncle. None of it. She really does love Ichabod, and he loves her, and at the end of the day they have the rest of their lives to spend together.

“Treasure?” Ichabod tilts his head as Abbie sniffs and blinks away some tears. “Are you alright?”

“I am,” she says, finally beginning to admit it. “I love you.”

“And I you, my love,” Ichabod says, kissing her hand again. “You know, I haven’t gotten the chance to show you my favorite spot on this ship. Are you done?” he asks, gesturing to the tarts she has only just bitten once.

Abbie looks at them and shrugs.