Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(10)

By: Kelly Hunter


‘Casimir, I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking, but my career is here. I’ve worked hard to build it and I have no intention of throwing it away because you think Sophia and I would be safer in Byzenmaach. You have a problem on your Northern borders? Fix it. And then we can all get on with our lives.’

‘It’s really not that simple.’ He’d expected resistance. Possibly not quite this much resistance, but still… He’d come prepared to bargain. To say whatever he had to say in order to get her on that plane. ‘Anastasia, please. Take some leave from your work, come with me to Byzenmaach—where I need to be and where I can protect you—and let us work through this. You’re right. These people may not be a threat to you or Sophia. Maybe they want to welcome you into their community with open arms and treasure you both for reasons unknown. It’s possible. But right now we don’t know what they want from you. What if I ask for a mere two weeks of your time? Enough time to build a case either for or against you and Sophia returning to Geneva. Right now I don’t consider that an option but perhaps you can convince me otherwise. I’m not an unreasonable man. We can negotiate.’

She handed the photos and the envelope back to him and stared out of the car window by way of reply.

‘The palace will provide amply for both you and Sophia. Money won’t be an issue.’ Possibly not the point but still worth mentioning.

‘Thank you,’ she grated, still not looking at him. ‘Being dependent on someone else for the roof over my head, the clothes that I wear and the food in my mouth has always been one of my primary goals.’

‘Irony, right?’

She cut him a look that could have shredded steel.

‘Just checking. Some people wouldn’t have a problem with being kept, given the circumstances.’

Although it seemed unlikely that she would be one of them and make life easier for everyone.

‘Independence is hardly a character flaw,’ she said. ‘Try thinking of it as a strength.’

‘I’d like to.’ He really would. He just didn’t know how much of an asset it would be when navigating the demands of royal existence.

* * *

Ana lived in an apartment just outside Geneva’s UN precinct. By the time they reached it, a cold, illogical fear had begun to assail him. His daughter was in there. A daughter he’d never met, who was the image of his sister. A daughter who thought him dead.

‘Ten minutes,’ he said as he exited the car and leaned against the bonnet. ‘Clothes, passports, belongings you can’t live without. Whatever you’re likely to need for your stay, bring it.’

‘You’re not coming in?’

‘Am I invited?’

‘You hijack my life and yet you stand here and ask for an invitation inside? What are you, a vampire?’

‘I’m courteous.’

She laughed as if she couldn’t help it, a sudden brightness in a night full of shadows and wrongdoing. ‘You’re everything I never wanted and can’t forget,’ she said. ‘Presumably you’ve prepared for meeting your daughter as ruthlessly as you prepared for everything else.’

‘Yes.’

She paused, both hands to the little blue door of her house. ‘If you remember nothing else, remember this. If you hurt my daughter…if you ever make her feel less than the beautiful, innocent child she is… I will make you regret it.’ Her voice was shaking and so were her hands but she turned to spear him with eyes fiercer than any eagle in his aviary. ‘I will protect my child with my last breath. It’s what mothers do.’

‘Not in my experience.’

‘Maybe you need more experience.’ She turned away from him, put the key in the lock and pushed it open. ‘My warning stands.’

He watched her enter, squared his shoulders and followed. He knew nothing of parenting, or of six-year-old girls, except that maybe, just maybe, they liked playing in royal gardens and catching dragonflies. That and they were expendable political pawns.

God help them all.

* * *

A cluttered hallway. A teenage babysitter who stood nervously when they entered the living room, a blue bedroom door—not quite closed. A sleeping child, half buried in bedclothes. These were the images that stayed with him, even as he boarded the plane forty minutes later with both Anastasia and their daughter in tow.

He hadn’t been able to stand in that doorway as his daughter awoke, he’d returned to the living room—now minus the babysitter, who had been dismissed. He needed to put some physical distance between them so he could prepare himself for the moment. How to introduce himself to a six-year-old girl who thought her father dead? A child whose life would never be the same now that he’d claimed her as his?