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She took a deep breath. It was hard to be sympathetic to someone who gave a new meaning to unpleasant.

‘Freya’s mother, it was tragic, but some people do fall in love again, you know.’

Her interpretation of his comment stopped him dead in his tracks. He wondered how fast that idealistic glow of compassion would fade from her eyes if she knew the truth—that he’d killed Freya’s mother.

The doctors could talk about her ruptured uterus and massive blood loss, but he knew differently.

‘Is that your experience?’ he countered softly, and watched her eyes flare in alarm before the barriers were raised.

‘Oh, I’ve never—’ she began, stopping as she heard the echo of her brother’s accusations in her head.

Jake would have said no man ever reached her high standards, but it wasn’t that at all. She was what some people might call a closet romantic. She really believed in soulmates, that there was someone who completed you out there.

She didn’t think everyone was lucky enough to find theirs, but she didn’t want to settle, which didn’t mean she hadn’t dipped her toe in the dating waters, it was just that she’d never really gone any farther, which had led her to the conclusion that she really wasn’t that highly sexed.

A conclusion that had just been thrown into doubt by a kiss. Not just the kiss, the fact she had not wanted it to stop. The inconvenient possibility that the wrong...verywrong man, and not the man who was her perfect match, would awaken her dormant sexuality had never even crossed her mind.

She had always felt confident about her choices, but her right-and-wrong, black-and-white world view was taking some serious hits and the problem was that once you started questioningonecertainty you started questioning everything!

‘I have been very busy with my work, career.’ Able to hear the defensive note in her voice, she brought her lashes down in a protective sweep.

‘Climbing the greasy ladder,’ he drawled, recognising the lie but letting it go. ‘And then you leapt off,’ he added, miming a diving gesture with his long fingers. ‘Curious?’

She compressed her lips and clung to her defiance. ‘I have always wanted to travel.’

‘You really are a very bad liar, but shall we get back to my announcement? As things stand at the moment, when I die Freya is first in line to the throne, but should she have a male sibling he would take precedence.’

This man was so vitally alive, the most alive person she had ever met, to think of him notbeingaround set off a discordant note of denial in her head.

‘Freya does talk a lot about a brother.’

‘You’re telling me I should hurry up? I think I have a few years left in me yet.’

His mercurial mood shifts made Kate feel constantly on edge, and his lazy mockery made her teeth clench. Ego was not an attractive thing even when justified, and his was. His sexual potency entered a room before he did!

‘The point is,’ Marco continued, picking up his original thread, ‘as things stand a younger brother would be heir.’


‘Exactly, well, I have dragged the royal council kicking and screaming to the point where they are willing to sign off on the change. If they learned that Freya has anythingtheyconsider a handicap...’ he emphasised, forestalling her protest, ‘keeping in mind,’ he added drily, ‘that most of them have not changed their minds about anything since birth...they are so risk averse that some might consider that something as simple as red hair...’ his eyes came to rest on a rope of curls that lay against her neck ‘might set a dangerous precedent. You get my drift?’ he said, thinking of those ropes of russet gold against his skin as she sat above him.

She nodded. ‘Does Freya know?’

‘Not yet.’ Marco was unwilling to acknowledge he had not thought that far ahead. Had he worked so hard to gift his daughter something that he hadn’t considered her rejecting the gift? Maybe she wouldn’t want equality if equality meant her future was mapped out as his was.

‘Will she be at the ball when you do the big reveal?’

‘Freya!’ he exclaimed. ‘I don’t think that would be—’

‘Oh, she’d love it,’ Kate cut in, seeing the smile on her charge’s face if she could walk out beside her father. ‘She’d be so proud to walk in there with you. She should just put in an appearance, of course,’ she added hastily. ‘It’s not like she’d be there until the small hours...?’ Head tilted to one side, she looked at him appealingly.

‘Am I being manipulated, Kate?’

She shook her head, genuinely confused by the accusation. ‘Of course not. I just thought, if she hates the idea she can sit somewhere and watch with me.’

‘Sit and watch...’ he said slowly. ‘A delightful, if slightly Victorian image. I shall invite my daughter to the ball, but you will of course need to accompany her and whisk her away like a mini-Cinderella before the guests start misbehaving.’If only, he thought. The formal occasions were suffocating not scandalous.

Kate could not hide her horror at the prospect. ‘But I couldn’t. I don’t...’

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