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Despite her previous vow not to curtsey, Kate found herself doing just that, or at least a modified version, when she came face to face with the King. Did size matter, curtsey-wise?

Kate had been prepared to dislike him but, like his wife, he actually came across as very approachable, a lot less daunting in reality than his son, though she suspected that Freya’s presence helped. It was hard to be standoffish when a five-year-old was declaring herself bored, but at least she managed to get through the ordeal of introduction without saying anything controversial.

‘Where’s Papa?’ Freya sulked as she got into bed, protesting she wasn’t even slightly tired.

‘I don’t know.’ Kate had her dark suspicions, though, and all of them involved a blonde with endless legs. ‘How about you just close your eyes and if you’re still awake in a bit you can have a story?’ she suggested, switching on the night light before she switched off the main light in the room.

‘I won’t fall asleep,’ the child asserted confidently.

Kate smiled and brushed the hair off her warm forehead before quietly moving around the room, picking up the clothes that had been dropped on the floor. By the time she left Freya was sleeping deeply.

Moving back to her own apartment, switching off the lights behind her as she went, Kate was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be able to follow suit. Her thoughts were still racing, the sights and sounds of the glittering evening a confusing blur, but most disturbing was the imprint scorched into her brain of Marco’s face as he had stared at her. The fierce, scorching intensity still making her stomach flutter now, and feeding her restlessness.

The party would still be going on, though Marco, his duty done, might have taken his party somewhere more private by now, she thought, feeding her misery with the masochistic imagined scene of seduction. Which was ridiculous because she already knew what his lifestyle was, it was just that seeing him in action tonight had brought it home.

She’d seen him at work and he was good, very good. Was he as good at play? wondered that little voice in her head—the one that enjoyed picking at an unhealed wound.

Except she wasn’t wounded, she was just thinking of someone having meaningless sex with her boss. She didn’t envy her one bit. She had decided a long time ago that she didn’t want meaningless sex, she wanted something deeper, more meaningful.

‘And Kate never changes her mind about anything.’

Her delicate jaw quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she heard her brother’s voice in her head.

The accusation might have been true once, but in the short time she’d been here Kate knew she had changed. Her preconceptions had been challenged, not just by Marco, but by the feelings he had shaken loose in her.

She considered her options. A long relaxing soak in the bath, or slipping between crisp sheets and falling into a deep sleep? Both excellent options had she not known that there was zero chance of relaxation or sleep, deep or otherwise.

The evening scent of flowers blowing in through the open window suggested another option. Sliding her feet back into her shoes, she winced, the pressure on the balls of her feet burning.

She sat down and checked out her feet, relieved to see they were not blistered, but she definitely wouldn’t be squeezing into any heels for the next few days. In fact, why bother at all? she asked herself rebelliously. The idea of damp grass on her bare feet was actually rather appealing.


ALTHOUGHMARCOWASninety-nine per cent sure that his father’s command that he accompany the security detail to the airport was a ruse to provide him with an excuse to absent himself from the ball, there had been the one per cent possibility there was a legitimate reason for his presence.

This possibility quickly vanished; his royal presence was actually a hindrance to the men who knew their jobs. Marco only stayed long enough to have his suspicions confirmed, before bagging a car to drive himself back from the airport.

He’d learnt to drive in a similar open-sided soft-top Jeep. He smiled to himself as he negotiated the white-knuckle bends of the coastal road, remembering the days when being grounded for taking the off-roader onto a road, and practising his behind-the-wheel skills on this very stretch, had got him grounded.

Grounded, the worst thing in the world that, to his resentful teenage mind, could happen.Dio, he felt quite nostalgic for those lost days as he accelerated smoothly out of a bend in a way that only someone who knew the road like the back of his hand could.

How did life get so damned complicated?

Complications, he mused, thinking of Kate Armstrong dressed in that blue dress looking... The woman had taken up residence in his head. His had not been the only eyes following her, the only eyes admiring her fresh beauty, her glorious hair.

He didn’t want her in his head. He wanted her in his bed—you couldn’t get much more simple than that. He was actually creating complications where there weren’t any.

And any rules he’d be breaking were of his own making. Couldn’t heunmakethem?

The party was still in full swing when he slipped back into the palace through the kitchen. He got as far as one of the corridors leading off it. This corridor was lined with cool rooms, tonight acting as a rat-run for wait staff, who stared at him and, when he stopped dead, diverted around him.

They were probably wondering what he was doing, and now Marco was asking the same question of himself. Whatwashe doing? He’d been gifted his get-out-of-jail-free card by his father. Only a masochist, a madman or someone who actually enjoyed small talk, which was the same thing, would walk back into his cell and lock the door behind him.

So instead he retraced his steps, on impulse snatching a bottle of champagne from a cooler containing dozens, and headed out into the night.

He knew where he was heading but he didn’t acknowledge it even to himself. Only when he reached his destination did he admit that it was not by accident.

It was byneed.

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