For the first time in Nicholai’s long life, he had no need to rush to the finish, no need to drive hard and fast. Tonight was different—he was different.
“Let’s take things slow…” he whispered. “I want to make love tonight, not—”
“Now I know something is wrong. What is it?” Serena pulled away and turned to face him.
He rested his forehead on hers. “I’m not sure I can explain it.”
Serena took him by the hand and led him to the bed. Once they settled, side by side, she ran her fingertips over his jaw. “It’s just us. Talk to me.”
“I realized… I love you.”
Her hand moved to her throat. She’d likely taken it the wrong way.
“I’ve loved you for a long time…” He closed his eyes, unable to admit his faults to her face. “But…”
Serena’s voice rose. “Nicholai, you’re scaring me. Did the witch say something else?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” He pulled her close. “I’ve loved you for a long time, but I’ve always loved myself a little more.”
She smiled against his chest.
“No, but it’s hardly news.” Serena laughed until she saw his expression. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m screwing this up.” He brushed his lips across her temple. “I’m finally ready to put you first. Whatever it takes.”
“You’re selling yourself short. You’ve never been tested as you are now. How do you know you wouldn’t have made sacrifices for me before now?”
Nicholai cupped her cheek. “When did you become an optimist?”
“About the same time you became a romantic.”