Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(6)

By: Kelly Hunter


Clumsy Ana, when she’d never been clumsy before. All lit up at the touch of his hand.

So young. So utterly confident that the pulsing connection between them would last for ever. For one unforgettable week she’d found heaven here on earth. And then he’d left without a word, no farewell and no forwarding address.

He’s married, nothing surer, her mother had said.

You don’t have to have this baby, she’d said months later. You could move on with your life. Continue with your study plans.

Wise words from a woman Ana had always respected, only Ana had never quite been able to turn that stolen week into nothing. Never quite been able to wipe it from her consciousness.

She’d been nine months pregnant before she’d even figured out who Cas, her Cas, was. Not married. Not some feckless con man who’d needed a place to stay for a week.

He’d been the Crown Prince of Byzenmaach.

She’d woven that information into something she could live with; of course she had.

He hadn’t left her because he wanted to; he’d left her because duty to his crown demanded it. His father had forbidden it, and he’d fought for her, hard, but been overruled. He’d spent weeks in a dungeon, clamouring to get out and return to her. Yeah. Ana smiled ruefully. That last fantasy had always been a favourite.

Far better than the bitter knowledge that she simply hadn’t been a suitable choice for him and that he’d known it from the start and chosen to love her and leave her regardless.

She hadn’t got in touch.

The Transport Minister’s wife had exhausted the topic of tulips. By mutual consent they headed towards a larger circle of people, allowing Ana to drift away, towards a Grecian bust, champagne glass in hand. She rarely drank, although at an event such as this she would often take a glass of whatever they were offering. She liked to think it made her fit in.

The sculpture wasn’t the most impressive one in the room but studying it served the purpose of separating her from the crowd. She stood alone. Approachable. Any potential employer could introduce themselves now, in private, assuming they wanted to. If they didn’t, not a problem. She had enough work lined up to keep her and Sophia living comfortably for quite some time.

No one could accuse her of not giving her daughter a good start in life.

She felt the presence of someone at her side before she saw them. The movement of air, a dark shape in her peripheral vision. She turned to look at him, and felt the bottom drop out of her world.

She’d have known him anywhere, never mind that it had been years since she’d seen him last. She’d mapped that face with her lips and fingertips, and left not one inch of his body unexplored. Broad of shoulder and long of leg, his shoes were black and shiny and his shirt was snowy white beneath his black suit. His hands were in the pockets of his trousers, stretching the fabric taut across his abdomen and the top of his thighs.

Hurriedly, she turned her attention back to the Grecian bust, giving it far more attention than it deserved. Her palms felt suddenly slick and she longed to wipe them down the sides of her gown. Instead she wrapped both hands around her glass and tried to ignore the thunderous beating of her heart.

She hadn’t forgotten him, no, she could never do that. She woke to a living, breathing reminder of him every morning and fed her cheese on toast.

‘Hello, Ana,’ he said quietly.

‘Cas.’

‘Been a while,’ he said.

‘Yes.’

‘You’re looking well. A little pale. Must be all that working indoors.’

‘You know where I work?’

‘I had you investigated.’

‘Oh.’ Stay cool, Ana. There was still a chance he didn’t know about Sophia. ‘Why?’

He smiled grimly and shook his head. Shrugging those powerful shoulders as if to say he didn’t understand it either. ‘In truth—which is more than you deserve—my father is dying and I need to marry soon. The woman my country has in mind for me is a princess from a neighbouring principality. We’ve been informally promised to each other since we were nine years old and I wanted to do right by her before making it official. I wanted to put you—and the week we once shared—out of my mind for good.’

‘That’s right. You’re the Crown Prince of Byzenmaach.’ She smiled, because she knew the power in her smile. ‘In truth, that was something I deserved to know all those years ago, when you graced my bed. Don’t you think?’

Now it was Casimir’s turn to study the Grecian bust. ‘I don’t disagree,’ he offered finally.

She looked at his proud profile and wondered for the umpteenth time why he’d done it. Spent the week with her, pretending to be someone he was not. Was his life really that bad that he’d needed to escape it? Or had he too been blindsided by attraction?