Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(5)

By: Kelly Hunter

‘Are you asking if I can accept this child as a person in her own right—with strengths and flaws of her own making? Can I protect her from the expectations of others? Do I know how to be a father to a child who carries the expectations of a nation on her shoulders? Is that your concern?’

Rudolpho said nothing.

‘I was that child,’ he grated. ‘Who better to defend her exploitation than me?’

Casimir scowled and reached for his drink again. He knew exactly what his father would do with this information, and it would be as Rudolpho said. Use the girl to shore up a nation’s hope until legitimate heirs were produced, then cast her aside because she no longer fitted in the Byzenmaach monarch’s perfect world. She wouldn’t have it easy here. No child of Byzenmaach ever did.

The desk, this room and everything in it stank of duty and the weight that came with it. ‘You really think a part of me doesn’t realise that the kindest thing I can do for both of them is to leave them alone?’

All that, and still…

‘She’s mine,’ he said. ‘My child. My blood. My responsibility.’

The bottom line in all of this.

And yet.

And yet…

Could he really expose the child to the dangers that awaited her here in Byzenmaach?

‘There’s one more thing.’ Rudolpho eyed him warily. ‘We weren’t the only ones watching them. Anastasia Douglas and her daughter were already under surveillance. There was a team on the house, and another in place at the girl’s school. As far as we could ascertain, their focus was the girl rather than the mother.’

Dread turned his skin cold and clammy. ‘Who were they?’

‘We don’t know. They disappeared before we could deal with them. They’re good.’

Not good.

‘I’ve ordered a covert security team to watch and wait for additional orders,’ said Rudolpho. ‘I don’t think it wise to involve your father in any decision-making at this point.’

His father only had days to live. That was what Rudolpho meant. ‘I’ll handle it.’

‘If you need additional counsel—’

Casimir smiled bleakly. ‘I don’t.’


ANASTASIA DOUGLAS DIDN’T usually attend black-tie fundraising events at the director of the United Nations Secretariat’s request. She was a lowly interpreter, one of many, even if she did have a reputation for being extremely good at what she did. She commanded five languages instead of the average three and was conversationally fluent in half a dozen more. She could navigate diplomatic circles with ease, courtesy of the training she’d received at her Russian diplomat mother’s knee. She had an intimate understanding of world politics, and enough corporate mediation experience to be of use when conversation got heated. All good things for a career interpreter’s toolkit.

It still didn’t explain why she was here in Geneva’s fading Museum of Art and History, talking black tulips with the Minister for Transport’s wife. The ticket would be held for her at the door, the director had said. It was important for her to be there, he’d said. Someone wanted to meet her in person, in advance of securing her services.

It would help mightily, Ana thought grimly, if she knew who that person was.

Twenty more minutes and Ana would cut her losses and make her exit. She was drawing enough unwanted attention as it was—possibly because she’d put her hair up and was wearing the simple black gown her mother had bought her for Christmas. It had a discreet boat neckline, no sleeves, and clung to her curves like a lover’s hand. Very little skin was showing. The dress was more than appropriate for such an event, and yet…

It didn’t matter that she never particularly wanted to draw the male gaze, she drew it regardless. And the female gaze and the gaze of the security guard stationed at the door. Sex appeal, mystery, an air of worldliness—whatever it was, people always stared. Some envious, some dazzled, others covetous. No one was ever neutral around her.

When Ana had fallen pregnant at nineteen, with barely any knowledge of the father and no way to contact him again, her mother had been horrified. All those plans for Ana to make a powerfully advantageous marriage, gone. All Ana’s formidable allure spent on a man who didn’t want her.

Only he had wanted her.

For one glorious week Ana had been the centre of a laughing, passionate, attentive man’s world and she’d gloried in it. He’d smiled at her in a bar and she’d felt the warmth of it all the way to her toes. He’d put a hand to the small of her back and held the door open for her on their way out and she’d stumbled beneath the heat of it all.