To Claim His Heir by Christmas(3)

By: Victoria Parker

Stop this! You’re protecting him—just as you’ve always done.

But how was she ever going to leave her heart? The person she needed in order to breathe, as if he were the very air itself? Her gorgeous little boy.

Claudia had sworn she’d save him from the oppressive walls of Arunthe Palace, love him as Luciana did until she could figure out a way for them to be together always. As Queen she’d have more power. She would think of something. She had to.

In the meantime Luciana would always be near—but what about his tub time, and the way he liked to be tucked tight and snug into bed? Luciana wanted to run his bath with his favourite bubbles that made his tender skin smell sweet. And what about when he called for her in the night when he was having bad dreams? She wanted to hold him when he was scared.

The thought of him asking for her and her not being there… It tormented her mind. How she was going to explain it all to him she had no idea. And how was she going to leave Natanael behind if this man dragged her to his family estate in Northern Arunthia?

So tell him. Tell him. He might understand. Support you. Help you.

This man? No. No, she didn’t trust him not to betray her confidence. Didn’t trust anyone.

You made a deal, Luciana. Now you pay.

Ah, yes, a deal made in naïve, youthful folly. In desperation such as she’d never known. A pact etched in her mind like an effigy on a tombstone. A shiver ghosted over her as she was haunted by the past…

* * *

‘Please…please, Father. I can’t do it. I can’t get rid of him.’ She knew he was small, so small inside her, but she couldn’t take him away, she couldn’t give him up. She couldn’t.

‘Luciana, you are not married. You will bring disgrace on us all. You are the heiress to the throne and the father of the child you carry is an enemy of this nation. Do you forget his assassination attempt? On me? He is a traitor to the crown.’

‘Yes, but I didn’t know who he was. I—’

‘If this man ever discovered your child’s existence he could use him as a pawn to gain power over us. He could take Arunthia. And do you honestly want his Satan of an uncle getting his hands on your son? We have avoided war for sixty years—do you want your people to live in tyranny as those in Galancia do?’

‘No, no. But…no one need ever know. I could go away for a while. Please, I’m begging you. Pleading with you… Let me keep him.’

The King’s deep sigh filled the oppressive air stifling his office and she teetered on the precipice of throwing her pride to the gale and plunging to her knees.

Then he said, ‘Five years, Luciana. Five years of freedom. That is all I will give you. But the world must never know he is yours because Thane must never, ever find him. You will never be able to claim him as your son and heir. Do you understand me?’

‘Yes. Yes, I understand,’ she said—wild, frenzied, frantic. Unthinking of the consequences of what she was agreeing to. So desperate she would have sold her soul in that moment.

‘You will be hidden well in the Far East, and in five years you will return to take the throne and do your duty. You will marry, Luciana, am I clear?’

‘Yes—yes, I swear it. I’ll do whatever you want. Just let me have him.’

His steely eyes were clouded with disappointment and grief and sorrow. That gaze was telling her she would rue this day, this bargain.

Luciana ignored it. As long as her son got to take his first breath, got to walk upon the earth and live life to the full, without the constraints of duty like a noose around his neck, she would make a deal with the devil himself. And so she did.

* * *

Augustus’s voice shattered her bleak reflection and she tuned back in to the chatter that fluttered around them in a hushed din.

All she had to do was remember that her happiness came second to Natanael’s safety. And she would keep him safe if it was the last thing she did.

‘Luciana? Would you like coffee and dessert or…?’

Or…? Lord, not now. Not when she was falling apart at the seams. She wasn’t ready to hear those words. Not yet. Not ever.

She felt powerless. Completely out of control. Like a puppet on a string.

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