Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(8)

By: Kelly Hunter


‘No.’

‘For your own protection, as well as mine,’ he said. ‘Perhaps it’s you who needs to listen a little more carefully. Because it’s not a request.’

* * *

There were other ways he could have gone about getting access to the child. Official, less invasive ways but all of them took time and time was something Casimir didn’t have. He’d carved out the hours and minutes it took to come here to collect them, and even gaining that amount of freedom had been harder than carving granite with bare hands. He didn’t have time to ease himself slowly into Ana and his daughter’s life.

They had to come to him.

‘My car is out front,’ he said.

‘Mine is in the car park.’

And if she thought he would allow her to drive it back to her house, she was mistaken. ‘Someone will make sure your vehicle is returned to your apartment.’

‘I need to go to the ladies’ room,’ she said next, glancing around as if weighing her options.

‘By all means.’ He nodded towards the severely dressed woman who stood by the stairway, her eyes sharply trained on them. ‘Katya will escort you.’

Ana swayed suddenly and he stepped closer and put his hand to the small of her back to steady her. Her skin was warm beneath the thin fabric of her dress and her breath hitched. It was all he could do to stop from lowering his head to the curve of her neck and breathing her in. Desire hit him, stronger than the desire he’d felt for her all those years ago. A staggering certainty that this woman would always be the woman he measured all others against. ‘Are you afraid of me?’

She glanced at him and their gazes caught and held. She feared him now, this woman who’d once offered him all that she had to give. He could feel it in the slight trembling beneath his hand.

‘I’m afraid of what you might take from me, yes.’ Her quietly contained reply made honesty seem like strength.

‘Perhaps I’ll share,’ he muttered as he took her drink and gave it to a passing waiter. ‘Right now my father is ill, I need to return to Byzenmaach and I don’t have time to waste. I could have sent strangers to collect you, but I thought you might prefer a familiar face.’

He hadn’t wanted her or their daughter to feel the terror of abduction.

He steered her towards the exit and Katya fell silently into step beside them. Another security type stood waiting by the door to the museum, holding Ana’s coat over one arm. Ana faltered when she saw him and Casimir slowed his steps to match.

‘Cas, please. I don’t want this.’ She looked at him imploringly and put her hand on his sleeve to hold him back. ‘I know what will happen once you claim her. She’ll be in the spotlight. A target for those who oppose you. I don’t want her to be a target. I want to keep my daughter safe.’

It had been seven years since they’d breathed the same air, but her effect on him was as potent as he remembered. He wanted to touch and he wanted to take. Sip at her lips and drive them both mad, until memories became their reality.

‘That’s what I’m trying to do. On my grave, Anastasia. I will keep you and your daughter safe.’

* * *

She let him escort her out of the museum and towards the waiting car, and Casimir was grateful for her acquiescence. Approaching Anastasia in public had been a calculated risk that his security team had advised against. They’d wanted to approach her at her home. He’d wanted to make his approach while the child wasn’t with her and he’d only had an evening to do it in. Easy enough for him to pull strings and arrange for her to be here this evening.

She got into the car without comment and he followed, as his bodyguards peeled away, one towards another vehicle, the other sliding into the front seat beside the driver. He had a team of eight in place for the pick-up. Four here and four more at Ana’s house. Overkill, but he was taking no chances. He could see the trembling of Ana’s hands as she clenched them together in her lap. The trembling didn’t stop, so with a shaky huff of breath she shoved her tell-tale hands beneath her thighs and sat on them.

‘Better?’ he said.

‘Interpreter training didn’t encompass fearlessness in the face of abduction.’

‘You’re doing very well.’

Ana cut short what might have been a bitter laugh and looked out of the window as the museum swept from view. He let her be, more content with the darkness of the car and the silence, and her presence, than he had any right to be.

‘What’s wrong with your father?’ she asked finally.

‘Cancer.’

‘How long does he have left?’