To Claim His Heir by Christmas(2)

By: Victoria Parker

Luciana whipped out the serene smile she’d perfected since the cradle—not too bright or flashy, nor too dull. Just perfect, as her mother would say. Neglecting to add the tiny detail that it would strip her throat raw every time she faked it.

‘I want tonight to be perfect.’

Guilt trickled through the turbulent maelstrom of emotions warring for dominance in her chest. He was trying, wasn’t he?

Of course he is—he wants a throne of his own. Of course he’s pulling out every weapon in his cultivated arsenal.

Still, it wasn’t his fault that the ‘arranged marriage’ part of her conditioning hadn’t quite taken root. It wasn’t his fault that she dreamed of another. It wasn’t his fault that she had a taste for dark and dangerous.

Yes, and look what trouble that landed you in. Surely you’ve learned your lesson by now?

And Augustus was good-looking. Very handsome, in fact. Sandy blond hair artfully shorn and midnight-blue eyes. He had women after him in their droves. Yet he was her duty—tall and fair. The man she’d been ordered to wed. And from there to his bed.

A phantom knife sliced through her stomach and instinctively she bowed forward to ease the lancing pain… Then she forced her poise to kick in, reached gingerly for her glass and poured the amber liquid down her throat. Maybe if she got tipsy enough she’d have enough anaesthetic on board to say yes without shattering into a million pieces.

Flute back to the table, Luciana picked up her fork to push the tenderised beef around her gold-rimmed plate on the off-chance that he’d reach for her hand again. Once this evening was more than enough.

Would she ever get used to his touch? It was nothing like when he’d touched her. Nothing like the wickedly high jolt of electricity that had surged through her veins, or the blaze of her blood creating a raging inferno inside her.

Stop! For the love of God, Luciana, stop.

Problem was, as always, she found it impossible to halt the flow. The fiery rush of memories. Memories of a man who’d given her a gift to last a lifetime.

Pain and secrecy thumped inside her ribs like a dark heart. Because no one could know. No one could ever, ever know.

Princesses of the realm, first in line to the throne, were not meant to disgrace themselves by breaking free of their dutiful chains. Not meant to alter their appearance beyond recognition to avoid the paparazzi and go to rock concerts in Zurich dressed like a hippy, doling out false names. Not meant to fall in love…no, lust at first sight and have wild, passionate love affairs. They especially weren’t supposed to have them with Arunthia’s enemy. Not that she’d known exactly who he was when they’d met.

Such an ironic twist of fate. One she would have reduced to a dream if she didn’t hold and squeeze and hug and kiss the living proof of her reckless walk on the wild side every single day. Yet, despite it all—despite knowing she’d given her innocence to a treacherous, dangerous man—she could never, would never regret it. Because her first and only lover had given her a gift that was the single most brilliant, bright spark of joy in her world…her son.

Discreetly she sneaked a peek at the mobile phone hidden in her lap to see if Natanael’s goodnight text had come through. Nothing. She stifled the melancholy of missing him by picturing him playing happily with her sister Claudia and baby Isabelle, while Lucas watched on adoringly, protectively. Possessively.

At times it physically hurt to look at them. The perfect family. So deeply, devotedly in love. Their beautiful marriage was eons away from the union        s she was used to. Luciana hadn’t known such a thing existed. She would do anything for that. Pay any price.

Envy, thick and poignant, pierced her chest with a sweet, sharp ache and she cursed herself for feeling that way. Wanting what she couldn’t have. Plunging lower than the black trench of despair she’d dug beneath her own feet. On the verge of letting loose the scream that was irrevocably bottled up inside her.

Come on, Luce. You know happiness isn’t written in the cards for a royal firstborn. Only duty.

Luciana tried to swallow and block the lash of repercussions her trip down the aisle would provoke before anguish swept her mind away on a tide of insanity.

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