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Something about him, the reckless combustible quality in his attitude, made her wonder if this was his first bottle.

‘No, I haven’t even had a sip,’ he said, responding to her unspoken question. ‘There we go!’ He held the bottle like a trophy, before lifting it to his lips and taking two deep gulps. ‘Waste not want not, is that not what you say?’

She responded to the challenge in his eyes by snatching the bottle off him and taking a large swallow, rather spoiling the effect when she choked.

‘Not your first...?’ he suggested, taking it back.

‘I had two glasses, my limit,’ she admitted.

Their eyes connected. ‘So, you are playing dangerously tonight?’

A little shiver went down her spine as she veiled her eyes with her lashes. ‘I’m not the type.’ But there were times when she wished she were.

He took another swallow. ‘Who told you that,cara...?’ he drawled.

‘I was always the sensible one at home. Jake was the emotional, reckless one.’ She laughed, suddenly realising that the roles had been reversed.

‘What’s the joke?’


He arched a brow but didn’t say anything as he lifted the bottle to his lips. Kate watched his brown throat work as he swallowed and felt a stab of pure lust. He put the bottle on the ground and turned his head. Caught looking, she lifted her chin, refusing to lower her gaze.

She managed to maintain eye contact for seconds until the heat in his gaze, the quickening in her blood, got too frightening. She had never felt this way, never imagined feeling this way.

For a while they sat side by side not saying anything. She’d heard of companionable silence, but this one was not. It wasdangeroussilence. It made Kate think of a pile of dry tinder waiting for a spark, and yet, despite the tension in the darkness and silence, she felt a strange connection to the man beside her.

Kate shook her head, swallowing to alleviate the dryness in her throat before she skimmed her lips quickly with the tip of her tongue.

‘Tonight went must be pleased.’ Her voice sounded high and forced even to her own ears.

‘Have I done the right thing...?’ he wondered out loud. ‘Or will one day my daughter curse me? You know, I never even considered that possibility. That she might notwantto be Queen. That it is more a curse than a gift. It was a battle and I won...’ The last self-condemnatory insight was muttered half to himself.

‘Freya could always walk away. You could have walked away if you had wanted to.’

He turned and looked at her, a series of expressions drifting across his face. ‘I suppose I could have but it never occurred to me. Duty is not an optional extra. I never fought against it, it’s more like I filtered it out. Like the bodyguards, you stop noticing them.’

Kate, who felt hideously conscious of the men with guns, could not imagine that ever being true.

He saw her expression and grinned. ‘It’s different for me. I’ve always lived under a microscope. My actions always judged. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m a victim. I’m not. I lead a very privileged life. I have freedom.’

‘There was no pressure for an arranged marriage like your parents.’

‘My parents’ marriage was not arranged.’

‘Oh, sorry. I just assumed...’

‘Because my father keeps a mistress and my mother pretends not to notice? Yeah, I can see how you would... But no, my parents were alovematch.’ The sneer in his voice was overt. ‘It was quite a scandal at the time. They were both beingencouragedto marry other people, but people fall out of love.’

And he had thought, in his arrogance, that he had avoided the trap his parents had fallen into. If you were never in love you couldn’t fall out of love. There was a lot less pain and humiliation involved in a loveless marriage. The destructive power of love had had the last laugh.

‘Your father...the King...he was very polite when...’

‘He is always polite. If there is anything that appears unpleasant, my mother ignores it. On paper they are the perfect couple.’ On paper he and Belle had been the perfect couple.

‘He looks just like his photos, verynoble. Did you have a mistress when you...?’ Her hand went to her mouth as she looked at him, her eyes wide and horrified. ‘I am so sorry, that was...’

‘No, it’s a legitimate question, but no, I didn’t. That is not to say I wouldn’t have at some stage,’ he observed, self-contempt in his voice. ‘Not much like your parents’ marriage, I suppose.’

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