Come along.” Nick took her arm when they left the box, and with his superior height, navigated her deftly through the crowds. “Where are we going?” Ellen asked, for she did not recognize the path they were traveling. “To meet your fate, my lady,” Nick said, but his eyes were sparkling, and Ellen didn’t realize the significance of his comment until she was being tugged backstage toward a growing buzz of voices. “The green room is this way”—Nick steered her along—“but for you, we will refer to it as the throne room. Ladies and gentlemen…” Nick bellowed as he gently pushed Ellen into a crowded, well-lit room. “Make way for the artist’s muse and for a large fellow bent on reaching that punch bowl.” Applause burst forth, and the crowd parted, leaving Ellen staring across the room at Valentine where he stood, a glass in his hand, still in his formal attire. He’d never looked so handsome to her, or so tired and happy and uncertain. He set the glass down and held out his left hand to her. “My Ellen,” he said, as if introducing her. She tried to make her steps dignified before all these strangers, but then she was walking very quickly, then, hang it, she pelted the rest of the distance right into his arms, holding on to him with every ounce of her strength. She did not leave his side when the duke and duchess were announced or when his various siblings and friends came to congratulate him. She was still right by his side when the duke approached. “Well.” Moreland smiled at his youngest son. “Suppose I was mistaken, then.” “Your Grace?” Ellen heard surprise in Val’s voice, and pleasure. “I kept trying to haze you off in a different direction, afraid the peasants wouldn’t appreciate you for the virtuoso you are.” The duke sipped his drink, gaze roving the crowd until it lit on his wife standing beside Westhaven. “I was worrying for nothing all those years. Of course they’re going to love you—you are my son, after all.” “I am that,” Val said softly, catching his father’s eye. “I always will be.” “I think you’re going to be somebody’s husband too, eh, lad?” The duke winked very boldly at Ellen then sauntered off, having delivered a parting shot worthy of the ducal reputation. “My papa is hell-bent on grandchildren. I hope you are not offended?” Ellen shook her head. “Of course not, but Valentine, we do need to talk.” “We do.” He signaled to Nick, where that worthy fellow stood guarding the punch bowl. Nick nodded imperceptibly in response and called some inane insult over the crowd to Westhaven, who quipped something equally pithy right back to the amusement of all onlookers, while Val and Ellen slipped out the door. By the light of a single tallow candle, he led Ellen to a deserted practice room. He set the candle on the floor before tugging her down beside him on the piano bench. “I can’t marry you,” Ellen said, wanting to make sure the words were said before she lost her resolve. “Hear me out,” Val replied quietly. “I think you’ll change your mind. I hope and pray you’ll change your mind, or all my talent, all my music, all my art means nothing.