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There was a table in an alcove in the nursery, which Freya had solemnly explained was the quiet reading area. Her husky tones suggested this rule had been quite rigid.

‘I cleared my own place after breakfast,’ she added proudly.

‘So do you always have breakfast here?’

The little girl nodded.

Kate’s throat ached with the emotion lodged there, and nostalgia for her own different breakfasts when she had been five, the good-natured and occasionally not so good-natured bickering. Quiet was one thing they had not been.

Of course, things had changed as she and Jake had got older. Breakfast had become less of a social start to the day and more self-service, with her mum putting the toast in her hand and packed lunch in her school bag as she left to catch the bus, her mother yelling after her that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

The wistful wave of sadness and loss was, for a split second, so intense that she couldn’t breathe.

They might often have been short of cash but compared to this rich little princess she had been wealthy.

And you threw it all away on a stupid stiff-necked principle!

Pinning on a smile, she turned a deaf ear to the troublemaking voice in her head, and reminded herself thatshewas the one in the right. They’d all lied to her and then made out she was the unreasonable one! Well, Jake had, at least.

‘Did you have a nice breakfast?’

‘I did,’ said Kate, who had located the rather upper-crust staff dining room with some difficulty.

Her entrance had drawn a lot of curious looks, some friendly, some less so. There had been a faint buzz when she had selected a table, after recognising one of the nursery maids she had seen the previous day.

The reason for the buzz became clear when the young girl looked surprised and explained that Kate was allowed on one of the other tables. It didn’t immediately click, but when she examined the people sitting on the other table, the significance of the lack of uniforms and the preponderance of suits hit her. The tables, she realised, were actually arranged in order of hierarchy and apparently in the scheme of things she was several tables above a mere nursery maid.

She had laughed and pronounced herself quite happy where she was. The food might be Michelin-star stuff but the entire set-up belonged, in her opinion, in the Dark Ages.

But then a child eating in the nursery alone was in itself a brutal Dark Ages throwback.

‘Do you eat all your meals here?’ Kate asked, nodding as one of the maids appeared carrying the tray she had requested earlier. ‘Oh, thank you...just put it down there.’

‘Oh, no, Granny has me over to lunch quite often.’ The little girl looked at the tray and its contents. ‘It’s too early for my milk and apple,’ she observed anxiously.

Kate responded to the five-going-on-forty-five comment with professional discretion, even though she just wanted to hug the child. ‘This is a “saying hello” break to get to know one another. Granny sounds fun.’

‘Oh, she is...and Grandpa too. We have picnics, though I get my knees dirty and nanny...the old nanny looked sad. Grandpa says it doesn’t matter, he gets messy loads, but he’s King so nobody tells him what to do. Papa will be King after him and then my brother, when I have one. He paints, you know, Grandpa.’ She lifted a conspiratorial hand to half cover her mouth. ‘He’s not very good, but Granny says I have to be kind so I say I like them.’

As she listened to the artless confidences it seemed to Kate that the Prince could take some lessons from this interesting-sounding monarch.

‘And you eat with him sometimes?’

‘Daddy is a very busy man.’

Kate could almost see the invisible quote marks around the sentence. The man, she brooded, was actually even more of an idiot than she had decided he was.

‘Nanny says he has very important things on his mind and I shouldn’t bother him.’

This extra information sent Kate’s temper into double digits. She imagined that Prince Marco’s mind was most often focused on which six-foot model to bed next, if his reputation was to be believed! Keeping her opinion of a man who wasfar too busyfor his own daughter to herself, she managed a smile despite wanting to hit something or, more accurately,someone.

‘Well, I have our special early elevenses on my mind so do you think someone could fetch me a chair so I can join you?’

‘All you have to do is ring and you can have anything you want.’

That had to be the saddest sentence she had ever heard, Kate reflected as she sat on her requested chair, which had magically appeared in seconds. What this child needed noringwas going to give her. What she needed was a daddy who cared!

The second chair was identical to the one that was the perfect size for Freya. The fit on her was comical enough to make the child giggle before she put her hand over her mouth to smother the sound, as if she expected to be reprimanded.

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