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Jennifer kissed him until the royal guards came to escort them home. She was in no rush. Tristan was hers, and she was his. She had always been his.


Present Day

Crown Prince Tristan August jogged along a thickly wooded trail, headed for his favorite waterfall. The waterfall where he’d first kissed his true love, Jennifer Shule, as an innocent eighteen-year-old with no clue how viciously life and love could turn on a person.

It was late morning on an early September day. He’d escaped from the endless meetings because it was his brother Derek’s wedding day—the second brother to get married in the past two weeks.

Also because Prime Minister Henry Shule had to go ‘meet’ with someone who had information about his wife Leslie’s whereabouts.

Tristan and his dad hadn’t pried, as the meetings were getting more and more disappointing. They happened often and so far there had been no leads. His twin, General Ray, and Ray’s best friend Chief Jensen also had people searching for Leslie and the Rindlesbachers around the clock. They’d sent notices throughout the world with Interpol, police departments, and military allies to find the criminals and rescue Leslie. They prayed for Leslie’s safe return and that Henry was beyond William Rindlesbacher’s devious manipulations.

Ray had been informed as soon as the prime minister walked out of the king’s office. Two guards were trailing him—for Henry’s safety as well as the royal family’s peace of mind. They were ninety-nine percent sure the snake William Rindlesbacher had Leslie and that he’d use her to his advantage when he struck again. It had been two peaceful weeks with no sightings of the man or his wife, but that meant little. The master manipulator could not be allowed to accomplish any more evil on their soil.

Tristan slowed his pace, tilted his head back, and let the dappled sunshine filtering through the trees soothe him. The day was plenty warm enough to take a dip in the chilly waterfall pool. He admired the gorgeous colors of fall that came early to their mountainous country sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria in the Alps, Germany their neighbor to the north and their southern tip touching northern Italy. Vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and greens lit up the mountain landscape. Derek and Ellery’s wedding this afternoon would be exceptionally beautiful.

Footsteps sounded behind him, but when he glanced over his shoulder, nobody was there. He upped his pace and touched the Ruger LCP on his hip. Preferring to run alone, he’d had to concede to the sidearm, a satellite phone, and a couple knives in his pocket to appease his twin brother. Ray took the protection of his country and his family seriously. Thank heavens for his new wife Macey’s calming influence and two blissful weeks with no Rindlesbacher schemes, or Tristan would be running with a platoon of royal guards surrounding him.

Not that he could blame Ray. Their family had been through some vicious attacks lately. The ugly scars on the left side of Tristan’s face, neck, and shoulder weren’t decorations, conversation-starters, or his latest attempt to keep droves of female admirers at bay. The recovery from the bombing incident had been painful enough that sometimes he’d secretly wished he’d joined his mum up in heaven instead of surviving the attack.

He’d never admit that to anyone, especially his twin or his best friend Major Chad Prescott. Those two had enough to worry about with keeping the kingdom safe, Ray with his new wife, and Chad having recently experienced his first female rejection when Sophie Pederson had chosen Tristan’s youngest brother Malik, the Charming Prince, over the suave Chad. It had stunned everyone, most of all Chad.

To keep everybody happy and the kingdom running smoothly, Tristan pasted a slightly sarcastic smile on his face and joked constantly that the scars were a blessing. He claimed he didn’t care about the disfiguration and didn’t want women chasing him solely for his handsome face.

Now they pursued him solely for his fit body, his sense of humor, and his crown prince title.

Tristan smiled to himself. The title was likely his only true draw. Though he dated often to appease his dad, his best friend Chad, and everybody else who expected the crown prince to not only attend events but to find the next queen, he wondered if any woman could truly love his scarred face if it wasn’t attached to a future crown. He still flinched if he glimpsed his reflection without preparing himself beforehand.

Jennifer would have still loved him. She’d seen past the veneer to him—the real him. She’d loved him for him—not his title, his status, his money, or his face, though she used to tease that she ‘supposed she could put up with staring at his handsome face for the rest of her life.’

But she was gone now, without a single text or note to give him any hope of a future together. There was no sign of her ever returning. Apparently true love didn’t matter to her any longer. If she loved him so much, how could she have left him?

Tristan had placed the beautiful two-karat princess cut diamond ring he’d bought in the safe next to his mum’s four-karat, pink-hued, heirloom diamond. He’d planned to ask Jennifer to marry him before everything had imploded. Now he kept a smile on his face and went on meaningless dates to keep everyone from suspecting how devastated he was that she’d given up on their love and how empty his life was without her.

Footsteps. Again.

He spun and caught a glimpse of bronze curls disappearing behind a tree. Those curls were achingly familiar to him. The soft, springy curls he’d loved twisting around his fingers but hadn’t had the pleasure of touching in nine lonely months.


It couldn’t be. He’d been daydreaming about her again, and now he was imagining she’d come for him. Sadly, she wouldn’t. Even her mum being kidnapped couldn’t get her to leave whatever corner of the earth she was helping with her impressive ability to improve children’s speech.

The love of his life had written him off and dropped off the face of the civilized earth the day after his mum had died. She had only given him one last lingering kiss, a murmured apology that made little sense, and no forwarding address.

Tristan had been in a state of shock after losing his beloved mother, and Jennifer telling him she was ‘leaving’ hadn’t sunk in for a while. She left all the time on month-long humanitarian trips, but that day apparently she’d meant she was leaving for good and with no plan on returning or letting him contact her. He hadn’t fought properly for or with Jenn, or chased after her like he should have.

When he’d recovered enough to think straight, he’d begged her father, Prime Minister Henry Shule, for information—where she was, if she was safe, and if Tristan had the man’s blessing to go find her and bring her home and marry her. With his mum gone, he’d needed Jennifer by his side more desperately than ever.

All he’d gotten out of Henry was the promise that she was safer not being in Augustine, whatever that meant, the man’s sincere regret that Jennifer couldn’t love Tristan any longer, and her father’s deepest apologies for yet another loss for Tristan because Jennifer wasnotcoming home.

Not coming home?

Didn’t love him any longer?

Were those two things even possible?

After weeks of pleading with Henry, Tristan’s hurt, anger, and pride had kicked in. He had turned to his usual defense mechanism to deal with the serious and heavy responsibility that was his life—joking and pretending nothing fazed him. His father had told him once that you had to develop thick skin to be the king. Tristan imagined his own skin was so thick it could rival any crocodile’s, and he wasn’t even king yet. Thank heavens.

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