Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(7)

By: Kelly Hunter

‘A lot of my choices would have been different had I known who you really were,’ she said.

‘They always are,’ he replied somewhat grimly.

‘So you had me investigated.’ Carefully, she picked up the earlier thread of their conversation. ‘How is that supposed to help put me out of your mind for good?’

‘You were supposed to have developed flaws.’

‘What kind of flaws?’

‘Any kind at all.’

‘Should I have lost teeth and grown warts?’

‘Yes.’ The glimmer of a smile chased the shadows from his eyes, but only for a moment. ‘You were supposed to have moved on.’

‘I have moved on. We had a good time. It’s done.’

‘You’re the mother of my child,’ he countered flatly.

Right. That.

As for Ana’s response, she’d prepared for this day. She had words in place in at least five languages.

‘You’re wrong.’ Those were the first words in her arsenal. She glanced up to see how he’d taken them. Not well, if his fierce and unforgiving glare was anything to go by.

‘Do I need to order a DNA test for the child?’ he enquired silkily. ‘Because I will if I have to. I will regardless, so let’s move past denial. We both know she’s mine.’

If denial wasn’t working, try reason. ‘Walk away, Your Highness. You don’t have to be here.’

‘You say that as if it’s an option.’ He kept his voice low but anger ran like a river beneath his words. ‘It’s not.’

‘Marry your princess, produce an heir to your throne and forget about me and mine. It is an option.’ She turned imploring eyes on him. ‘I’m well set up. I can provide for my daughter. You don’t have to be here.’

‘Does she ask about her father?’

Ana squared her shoulders and told it like it was. She’d tackled that question back when Sophia had been four years old. Not Ana’s finest moment. But the lie had fallen from her lips and there was no taking it back. ‘I told her you were dead. No one knows who Sophia’s father is. No one. Not even my parents.’

‘You say that as if it’s something to be proud of.’

‘Isn’t it?’ she said haughtily. ‘Think of it as protection rather than oversight, and maybe you’ll see where I’m coming from.’

His lips tightened.

‘I found out who you were purely by chance.’ Ana had the advantage so she pressed it. ‘I was nine months pregnant at the time, you were long gone and I’d already made the decision to raise my baby alone. I saw your picture in a Middle Eastern newspaper one of my mother’s guests had left behind. Suddenly your joy in the little everyday things we did made so much more sense. As did your disappearing act at the end.’

Needing distance, she walked around the statue, putting it between them even as their gazes stayed locked. ‘I researched you; how could I not? I read about your sister’s death and your mother’s suicide. Your father stood tall throughout.’ Ana badly wanted to reach out and run her fingers over the cold, smooth marble, but it wasn’t allowed. ‘I remember looking at the pictures of him and thinking how stalwart he was. The widower king who held it together, with you at his side…ten years old and so determined not to disappoint. You were your country’s last hope. You still are.’

She’d watched him walk away once before; she could do it again. ‘I’ll never know why you took up with me in the first place, but you left me behind for a reason, maybe for a whole lot of reasons. So I left your name off my daughter’s birth certificate for a reason too.’ She stared at him, willing him to understand. ‘Go home, Your Highness. I’ve got this.’

‘Come with me,’ he offered gruffly, his gaze never leaving hers. ‘Bring her.’

This wasn’t how the conversation ever went in her imagination. In her imagination he walked away, relieved by her silence. ‘You haven’t heard a word I said.’

‘On the contrary, I’m listening very carefully. You seem to know broadly what’s at stake, which makes this meeting easier than expected. I discovered my daughter’s existence three days ago. I want to meet her.’

‘No.’ She took a careful step left, partially obscuring him from her line of sight. ‘That’s not advisable.’

He tilted his head, the better to keep her in view. ‘It wasn’t a request. I have a jet waiting and a security team in place outside your house, awaiting orders.’ The smile he sent her was a worn and bitter thing. ‘I’m sorry, Ana. I had hoped for a more leisurely approach but circumstances beyond my control are against it. I need you and Sophia in Byzenmaach.’