Shock Heir for the Crown Prince(9)

By: Kelly Hunter


‘Days.’

She nodded, and he appreciated her lack of false platitudes for a man she’d never met.

‘Do you want Sophia to meet him?’ she asked next, and it was a fair question. One he had yet to answer for himself.

‘I haven’t arranged it.’

‘Because your father will be disappointed that you spawned a bastard child?’

‘Because Sophia is the image of my sister at that age and my father is not always lucid,’ he countered. ‘He’ll see what he wants to see rather than reality, and I would protect her from that kind of confusion.’

‘And what will you see when you look at Sophia?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’ Truth again, and it sat uneasily on him after a lifetime of concealing his innermost thoughts and feelings. ‘Ask me again in fifteen minutes.’

‘Casimir, Your Highness, I’m not ready for this.’

Neither was he, but he was doing it. ‘My father resides in the royal palace in Byzenmaach’s capital but that’s not where we’re going. We’re going to my private residence instead. It’s a fortress under lockdown. There will be no press. No courtiers. You’ll be safe there.’

‘I was safe here,’ she said.

‘No, Anastasia. You weren’t. You and Sophia were already under surveillance when we came looking for you.’

‘I don’t believe you.’ She looked mutinous. ‘We are safe here. Safer than we’d be with you.’

He reached into the pocket of the seat in front of him and drew out an envelope and handed it to her. ‘This is all we’ve been able to come up with on those who have you under surveillance.’ She opened the envelope and photos spilled out. ‘That’s the school’s new contract gardener. He’s a Byzenmaach national with ties to those who took my sister.’

Ana said nothing as she flipped to the next photo, but her lips tightened.

‘Your new neighbours of three months. They live across the road from you. The woman is a Byzenmaach national. She’s the granddaughter of the speaker for the Northern mountain tribes of Byzenmaach. He unifies them. He’s also the one who ordered my sister’s abduction. That or allowed it to happen. That’s her real husband, by the way. He’s Swiss. We don’t know whether he’s part of your surveillance team or not.’

Ana’s hands trembled but she firmed them up fast and flicked over to the next photo. This one was of her sitting at a café with a co-worker. Her neighbour sat two tables away, reading the paper. ‘So they watch. So what? They haven’t done anything.’

‘Yet.’ He laid it out for her as plainly as he could. ‘The Northern rebels are ruthless. Sophia is of royal blood and may be used against me. I’d rather have her at my side than see her in their clutches. I’ve already seen one show of theirs and I don’t need a repeat performance.’

‘Cas.’ She shook her head, clearly not wanting to believe any of it. ‘I can’t—This isn’t my life.’

But it was. ‘I’m sorry, Anastasia. Had there been no other eyes on you I might have been able to leave you alone. Not saying I would have, but it was an option. That option ceased to exist the moment we identified who else we were dealing with. At that point I had to step in. Now that I have there’s no coming back from that. Not for any of us. The world you woke up to this morning is gone.’

She said nothing.

‘If it’s any consolation this is an equal opportunity disaster. The world as I know it shattered too, the moment I discovered I had a daughter.’

‘How very even-handed,’ she said faintly.

‘Isn’t it. You always were fluent in understatement.’ He’d always found it vaguely entertaining. ‘How many languages are you fluent in now?’

‘Six.’

‘Your UN résumé says five.’

‘They missed one.’

Not exactly reticent when it came to her skill set. Maybe that was a good thing, given the political world he was thrusting her into. ‘Which one did they miss?’

‘Yours.’

He blinked. Calculated the benefits of her being fluent in his native tongue and there were plenty. ‘Thank God for that.’

‘God has nothing to do with it. I learn fast. I was bored one day and picked up a dictionary.’

‘You’ll assimilate faster if you can speak the language. You may even be able to work as an interpreter for the palace.’

‘Why would I want to do that? I’ve already achieved my workplace goals,’ she snapped.

So she had. ‘Will the UN allow you to work remotely?’ They might. He’d not object.