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A dangerous scowl settled on his lean features. ‘Your brother has upset you!’

Kate saw his dark expression and added quickly, ‘No, not in that way. We have actually sort of made up. But he rang to give me bad news. Mum had a stroke, not serious apparently, transient something...but...well, it is considered a warning. I must have caused it, the worry about me and—’

‘It is notyourfault.’

Her slender shoulders lifted, and her lips twisted in anxiety. ‘That’s what Jake says, he said the doctor had suggested lifestyle changes because of her high blood pressure, a year ago or more, but she just laughed it off. The doctor also prescribed her medication, for her blood pressure and cholesterol, but she didn’t tell anyone and she hasn’t been taking them.’

‘Sonotyour fault, then.’

‘If I’d been there, she might have told me, and I would have persuaded her.’

‘Your mother is an adult, as stubborn, it seems, as her daughter, and she made a choice. Now hopefully she will make a better choice. It sounds like she has a second chance. Not everyone does.’

She gave a sniff and, tucking her hair behind her ears, stepped back, glancing towards the bed and the pile of clothes she’d been bundling into her case. ‘I suppose you’re right.’

‘I amalwaysright,’ he corrected, hoping to make her laugh, or hit him... She managed a watery smile.

‘So you are going home?’ He was prepared for it, which didn’t mean he had to like the idea. Freya would miss her, he told himself, not willing to make any further admission even to himself—especially to himself.

She nodded. ‘Of course. They need me.’

It was the right thing to do, and he would not have expected otherwise of her, but there was a selfish part of him that wanted to say,What about me? What about what I need?

It’s always about you, Marco, mocked the voice in his head.

‘I will arrange—’

‘Oh, it’s all right. I explained the situation to Luca so that he could make arrangements for someone to stand in for me with Freya. My flight is all in hand apparently.’

He watched as she began to methodically fold items of clothing and stack them in her case. ‘I wonder what the weight limit is—’

‘There is no weight limit. Luca will be arranging for you to fly in one of our private jets.’

She wheeled round, astonishment written on her oval face. ‘But—’

‘Why did you tell Luca and not me?’ That she had reached out to his assistant, albeit a very superior assistant about to be promoted to the post of their ambassador in the UK, troubled him more than he was prepared to admit.

Kate had too much on her mind to register his accusatory tone. She was trying not to think of saying goodbye to Freya. She had grown to love that child. Her eyes slid to the man she also loved...Love crept up while I wasn’t looking.The words that had been going through her head while she packed shouted in her head. ‘I didn’t want to bother you.’

‘Did it occur to you I’d want to be bothered?’

His tone made her turn, with a folded skirt pressed to her chest, a puzzled frown pleating her brow. ‘Honestly, no, it didn’t, Marco,’ she said quietly, before turning back to her packing.

Presenting him her back was not accidental. She didn’t want him to see or even suspect the tears pressing to be released, the emotions narrowing her throat.

She was a woman who had always prided herself on being self-sufficient and able to stand on her own feet. To admit the weakness was totally unacceptable and, besides, not an option.

Turning to Marco in moments of need was not the relationship they had. He had made no secret of the fact that he wanted sex with no complications. That involved no hand-holding, so his apparent indignation now was hard to stomach, she decided angrily. As if it weren’t hard enough as it was, hiding the extent of her feelings, without him blurring the lines he himself had drawn.

She had worked hard at acceptance. It hadn’t been easy for her. It would have been easy if she had allowed herself to read something that wasn’t there into their intimacy—taking the shared laughter for tenderness, the mind-bending lust for love—and drift into a world where princes fell for the nanny. But in the real world the Prince was in love with his lost one true love.

Kate intended to live in the real world too, the one where you enjoyed it while it lasted and then felt sad, maybe even bereft, who knew? But it was her decision to take what was on offer and accept the consequences.

She needed his attitude like a... Her lips compressed. She didn’t need it full stop!

‘How long do you think you’ll be gone?’

She paused. ‘I’m not sure. It depends.’

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