Font Size:  

She walked out of this area, eating a ripe nectarine she had picked, feeling more settled because she had made a decision. If the arrogant prince wouldn’t come to the nursery, she’d take it to him...or rather, she’d take herself to him.

She frowned at the tortuous grammar of the thought, her feet crunching on the gravel path of an intricately designed parterre she had passed through as she’d left the nursery playground, which meant there should be... She looked for the gap in the high hedge and realised as she did so that this was not the same piece of formal garden.

The hedge was lower and... She stopped. It was low enough to see a dark head above it.

She yelled out and hit the ground running.

Jogging along the grassy path between two rows of tall sentinel horse—the trees in full blossom made her think, between breathless huffs, of the one at the bottom of their drive where, as kids, she and Jake had fought over the best conkers. She pushed through the feeling of intense loss.

She had managed to keep the dark head in sight but she was already red-faced and breathless, her desperatehey!came out a wheezy croak.

She paused a moment, hands braced on her thighs as she fought to catch her breath. Jake would have seen the hilarity of this situation... He would never have let her live it down.

The wave of loss this time was even more painful. It made her forget the stitch in her side. She and Jake shared no blood link but they shared more important links, a lifetime of links, which was why his betrayal hurt so much.

Should she make the first move? Call him?

Before she could get sucked any deeper into the circuitous internal argument in her head, the dark head disappeared and she set off in pursuit again, heading for an archway in the wall, relief flooding her as the dark head came back into sight.

‘Wait! Hold on!’ she yelled out, breathless as she made it through the arch at a sprint.

The tall figure remained oblivious. He wasn’t running but due to his superiority in leg length and the fact she was out of breath the gap wasn’t getting any smaller, and she had the mother of all stitches in her side.

Then, just when she thought she might have to admit defeat or at least lie down, he paused and bent over as though he’d dropped something. She took her chance and yelled.


His head lifted and he straightened up. She was too far away to see his face, which was a blur, but she could make out his bare arms, dark against the white of a tee shirt. Her gaze didn’t get any lower than the black shorts. One minute there was only the thumping of her heart and the sound of birdsong, the next it was chaos, yells and waving guns all around her.

The sinister black-clad men had appeared from nowhere. It felt like dozens but, in reality, there were three. One relaying staccato information into a mouthpiece, while they all carried guns.

They were yelling at her in Italian. Actually, it could have been anything—her faculties had frozen in shock and icy, sense-numbing fear.

She said something back to proclaim her innocence and assure them that she was harmless. It was a waste of breath as they continued to bellow over her and indicated she should lie on the ground.

It was beyond disorientating and surreal to find yourself in the scene of an action movie, cast as one of the bad guys. A push in her back she didn’t see coming sent her onto her knees. It was at that point that all the yelling stopped as though it had been switched off.

There was just one voice now. Deeper, clipped, anger vibrating in every commanding syllable.

Relief so intense that tears came to her eyes washed over Kate. Slowly she lifted her head from her chest, where it had sunk. She saw the men in black had melted away, though she could hear the buzz of radio voices in the distance, and the man she had been pursuing was standing there.

She had caught him.

What was she going to do with him?

Her imagination, assisted by her hormones, supplied a stream of suggestions. It was shock, she told herself by way of an excuse, and she tried to think cooler thoughts.

One day she’d laugh about this with friends around a dinner table, but that day was a long way off. Right now, she’d settle for not having him guess her thoughts. Getting up would be good too. She took a deep breath and pressed her hands into the ground to help lever herself to her feet, but nothing worked. Everything shook, confirming her previous diagnosis of shock.

As she waited, their eyes met and she saw the anger in his face slide into another expression. Something that made her internal tremors worse.

‘I think... I think I might be sick...’ she warned.

As her head went down the last thing in the world she would have anticipated was Marco lifting the heavy ropes of hair from her face. She could feel his fingers cool on the back of her neck. He didn’t say a word.

‘I’m not going to,’ she said finally as the waves of nausea passed.

The hand on the nape of her neck vanished and he stepped away, waiting silently as she sat back on her heels, her hands on her thighs visibly shaking.