To Claim His Heir by Christmas(5)

By: Victoria Parker



‘I know because the two of them having fun on the slopes made the French headlines this morning. Rumour has it she’s newly returned from Hong Kong, due to take the crown any day.’

Thane would have predicted a snowball in hell before he felt envy for a Verbault, but right then envy was definitely the evil he was up against. He wanted his crown. Taken from the hands of his uncle and placed in his own, where it should be. Before the man caused his people further damage. Four years… It seemed eons away, and his patience was wearing perilously thin.

He thrust his fingers through his hair and tucked some of the long, wayward strands behind his ear. ‘It isn’t hard to work out what Augustus wants. The vapid Viscount has always been an ambitious sleaze with illusions of grandeur.’

Seve chuckled darkly. ‘Very true. Although I will say that marriage to her will be no chore for him. Look at her. By God, she’s absolutely stunning.’

Thane couldn’t care less if she was Cleopatra. She was still a Verbault. Granted, he refused to get snarled up in that age-old vendetta again, but he wasn’t ignorant or blind to the reasoning for it. Verbault greed had once crippled a vulnerable Galancia, and rebuilding its former glory was an ongoing battle. Forgiveness would never be proffered. So the day he aligned with one of them would be the day he rode bareback with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Seve, meanwhile, was still staring her way. Smitten. Practically drooling. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful woman in my life.’

‘That’s saying something, considering how many you’ve bedded,’ Thane incised sardonically.

His cousin, his second in command, his best friend—the only person he would ever trust—shrugged his wide shoulders. ‘Wouldn’t do you any harm to get laid either, cousin. Come on—I didn’t drag you here just to hurtle down the black slopes all day.’

He knew fine well what Seve had dragged him here for. All work and no play made Thane a dull, arrogant ass, apparently—and for a minute or three he had considered it. But when the redhead sitting to his right had appeared from nowhere he’d turned to stone. Unable even to contemplate getting close to another woman. In fact, if she touched his arm one more time…

Dios, didn’t she know he was dangerous? That his blood ran black and his heart was dead? That he was more powerful and more feared than any other man in Europe? Surely his scars were enough to give her a clue?

Maybe he should give the mindless female a lesson in Princes of Galancia. Top of the list: do not touch.

He hated being touched. Didn’t want anyone close to him. Ever again. While getting beaten to a pulp couldn’t possibly hurt him any longer, it was the softer stuff that was more dangerous. One taste and he might very well crave it. Long for more of it. Glut himself on it. Live for it. Every touch. Every caress. Every kiss. Until it was taken away, as it inevitably would be. Leaving him empty. Aching. Feeling. Weak. And the dark Prince of Galancia could not afford to be weak. Not again. When he was weak he took his eye off the ball and everything went to hell.

Thane reached for his tumbler of rare single malt, his hand stalling in mid-air as an army of ants marched across his nape. Instinct born from a childhood in the barracks made him turn to peer over his right shoulder. Past the garish pine trees smothered in red ribbons and gold baubles, declaring the onslaught of the festive season. How quaint. How pointless.

Ah, yes, there was Augustus. Averting his gaze like an errant schoolboy. No woman with him—not that Thane could see.

But what he did see was a striking, statuesque blonde walking in the direction of the hallway that led to the restrooms. No. Not blonde at all. Her rich, decadent shower of loose tousled waves reminded him of a dark bronze. Like new-fallen acorns.

Now, she was beautiful. And that thought was so incredulous, so foreign, that he felt a tingle of something suspiciously close to shock.

His avid gaze locked on its target, his usual two-second scan turning into a drawn-out visual seduction, and he trailed his eyes over the low scooped neck of the black sheath that hugged her feminine curves. Lingered on the lapels of her long white dress coat, frisking and teasing all that flawless golden flesh.

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