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“I love you.” She turned her face up, her lips just a breath away from his.

His fingers tightened on her chin. “I can’t, not so long as you wear that mask.”

She reached up and pulled the feathered half mask away, her eyes searching his. “You’ve seen me before. Do you not recognize me?”

Ellis frowned and backed away. “Not that mask. The one you never take off. I can’t love you, Emma, because I don’t know you.”

“Of course you do.” She smiled as fear gripped her heart. He couldn’t love the real her. No one could. “You know me better than anyone.”

“I know.” His eyes were not unkind. “That’s what makes this so sad. I wish you weren’t so afraid to be yourself, Emma. I suspect the world needs a spirit like yours, but you’ll never show it. Maybe… maybe someday. But until that day comes, I can not love you. I can’t love a mask, Emma. I’m sorry.”

With that, he turned and strode into the twirling and shifting dancers, not once looking back. Tears burned behind Emma’s eyes as she looked down at the white swan mask in her hands. He was wrong. The world needed fewer spirits like hers, not more.

She blinked her tears away, affixing her mask in place. Tonight she would be the mysterious white swan, and tomorrow she would become someone new. Someone who’d never met Ellis Monroe. Who’d never loved him or anyone else.

Her heart broke, and a traitorous tear slid past her mask.

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