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Appealed: Extended Epilogue

Once upon a time . . . at the Mason Potomac Estate

“Robert?” Vivian Mason’s voice whispered. “Are you awake?”

She wasn’t supposed to be. Her parents had tucked her into bed hours ago. Her mother had softly brushed back her blond hair and kissed her forehead, her mother’s beautiful white dress glowing in the dim room like a star in the night sky. And her father had wished her sweet dreams, calling her his Little Fox, because he said she was smart like a fox. He was silly like that, always coming up with funny names for her and her little brother and sister.

But how could they expect her to sleep? It was New Year’s Eve and there was a grand party in the ballroom below them.

“Robert!” she demanded, louder now.

“Yes, I’m awake!”

The silk sheets whistled as her best friend in the whole world, Robert Atticus Becker, emerged from them. Though they were both eight, Robert was already a head taller than her. Her rubbed the drowsiness from his ice-blue eyes, pushed a hand through his black hair, and stood next to her by the door.

“Did it start yet?”

Vivian smiled with excitement—because for as long as she could remember, she looked forward to the fireworks display that would soon light up the world outside. Like magic.

“No, but soon.”

Robert took the lead, cracking open the door and peeking out, making sure the coast was clear. Then they crept down the endless hallway, Vivian’s slippered feet and Robert’s bare ones not making a sound. They stepped into the red bedroom and closed the door softly behind them.

This was where her grandmother kept her most treasured photo albums—the book shelves were lined with them. Her parents had had two weddings—one on an empty beach of white sand and swaying tropical trees—and another, fancier affair, with hundreds of guests in a building with intricate arches and marble columns. And there were photographs of all her parents’ trips and travels. Before she was born, they’d even jumped out of an airplane together. But they didn’t travel much anymore, not to anywhere the whole family couldn’t go.

Her father once said that having her was their greatest adventure.

The two children climbed onto the velvet window seat. Vivian rose up on her knees, her palms against the cold panes, looking out to catch a glimpse of the guests below.

“I can’t believe Samuel got to go to the party this year but we didn’t.” She pouted.

Robert shrugged. “He’s older than us.”

As the youngest of seven, Robert knew all about having to wait to do things his older siblings were already allowed.

“Just be lucky you’re not Nat or Xavier—they have years to go.”

That was true. Vivian’s younger siblings were at this moment confined to the nursery, with Harrison and Nanny Jane keeping careful watch.

Vivian stretched her neck as the crowd of guests stepped out onto the veranda in their shiny jewels, floaty gowns, and sharp tuxedos. She could practically hear the tinkling of champagne glasses as white-gloved servants handed them out from silver trays. She spotted her parents then—her mother laughing at something her father whispered in her ear. There were few things Brent Mason enjoyed more than making his wife laugh.

Then slowly, her father turned, his handsome face tilted up, as if he was looking right at her. And she could’ve sworn he winked.

For a second she gasped. Until she remembered the room was dark and they were high above him—he couldn’t possibly know she was there.

She saw her Uncle Stanton—tall and golden—walk up to her parents, with his arm around her beautiful Aunt Sofia. Beside her mother, she spotted Robert’s parents. Vivian thought Aunt Chelsea must be cold, because Uncle Jake had her tucked against his broad chest, his big arms around her, shielding her from the wind.

Sounding slightly bored, Robert asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up? I’m going to be a Navy Seal—they have the coolest assignments.”

Vivian sat back on her heels. “I’m going to be a writer, like my Aunt Vicky.”

Robert’s nose scrunched. School was easy for him, he could read something once and remember it word for word. But that didn’t mean he liked reading.

“What would you write about?”

Vivian gazed down at the three couples below, who were such a huge, wonderful part of her life. “I’m going to write about three superheroes. Everyone thinks they’re just normal people, but they have hidden identities.”

Robert nodded his head. “Secret identities are cool. What will they be?”

Vivian’s voice went soft as she imagined. “One will be a cowboy, one a knight, and the other, a prince.”

“Will they kill people?”

Vivian’s head whipped around to him. “No. They’ll save people. Every day. And they’ll have beautiful superhero wives who save them.”

Robert squinted. “I don’t know, Viv. Sounds kind of dumb.”

She just smiled. “My stories will be amazing. Everyone who reads them will laugh and cry and know how it feels to fall in love. And they’ll end the way all the very best stories end.”

Robert leaned toward her, his attention caught. “How will they end?”

“ ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ ”


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