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‘At the ball next week I intend—’ He paused and angled a questioning glance at her face. ‘You have heard about the—?’


He nodded and sketched a smile without humour. ‘It is hard to keep a secret in this place.’

‘The ball is a secret?’

‘The announcement I am to make at it is.’

‘You’re getting married and you think your fiancée might have a problem with Freya’s—?’ Her hand went to her mouth. Had she really just said that our loud?

His deep bellow of laughter cut her off before she could dig herself a bigger hole.

‘That is quite an imagination you have there!’ he said. His mild scorn made it worse somehow, making her face burn. It would have burned hotter had she known he was wondering if that fertile imagination extended to the bedroom.

Marco took a deep breath. He wanted to have sex with her, and he couldn’t have it. It was not a complicated concept to grasp and yet his brain was still swerving around it, creating imaginary steamy scenes that were never going to happen.

‘I am not getting married, and when I do it is Freya who will be the one givingherapproval, not the other way around. When she’s older she’ll need a female role model...’

Kate noted the revealing fact that love didn’t feature at all and felt a stab of sympathy. ‘Poor woman!’ she exclaimed without thinking.

His dark brows shot up as he slumped with elegant negligence into his chair, spinning it back a couple of feet across the wooden floor to see her better. She knew the pose of lazy grace touched by decadence was an illusion. No man had a body like his without some pretty stern self-discipline.

‘You think being my wife, the future Queen, makes someone an object of pity?’ He posed the question, anticipating her discomfort. ‘I wish you’d tell that to the women queuing around the block to interview for the vacancy.’

Kate’s jaw literally dropped at this addition—outrageous even for him. The knot of incredulity in her chest bubbled to the surface and she laughed.

‘You have my sympathy. It must beso hardbeing catnip to the opposite sex.’

When they were handing out ego he really had stood in the line several times, but then if you looked at that face in the mirror every day who wouldn’t be arrogant? Her glance drifted to his sensual mouth. Where kissing was concerned he had the right to be arrogant, and if his skill at love-making was even a fraction as skilled... Unable to cling to her mockery and painfully aware of the ache between her legs, she found herself staring helplessly at the fascinating symmetry of his face. It was a face that in all its moods exerted a troubling fascination for Kate, a fascination that exposure didn’t diminish, but fed.

Head dug deep into the leather head rest and tilted to one side, in a what she was recognising as a characteristic gesture, he made some elegant adjustments to his posture and swirled the chair from side to side.

He laughed, the deep sound warm and uninhibited. Kate felt the rumble under her skin as a tingling warmth.

Helpless not to, she found herself smiling back.

God, what could he do if he put some effort into being charming?

She dodged the worrying answer to that one.

‘Oh, I’m under no illusions. I know it’s the crown that is the attraction. I will not expect any future bride to pretend otherwise.’

‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ The unwise words were out there before she could stop them.

He tipped his head in acknowledgment and she blushed. His smile faded into a sombre, introspective look.

‘I would not expect a future bride to pretend to be in love.’

‘But what if she is?’

‘Then I would not be marrying her.’

Because he thought he’d never love anyone the way he loved his first wife?

‘I think that is sad.’ She felt her cheeks flare again as she gnawed on her full lower lip. ‘I spoke out of turn.’

‘It’s not stopped you so far,’ he inserted drily as he pulled himself upright in one smooth, graceful motion. ‘So please enlighten me as to what issad.’ He managed to keep his voice totally neutral, but still imbue his words with cheek-stinging sarcasm. It was a neat trick that had probably taken years of practice.

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