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Helios Crowns His Mistress(2)

By:Michelle Smart

But a couple of months...?

Amy was contracted to stay in Agon until September, which was five whole months away. She’d imagined... Hoped...

She thought of King Astraeus, Helios’s grandfather. She had never met the King, but through her work in the palace museum she felt she had come to know him. The King was dying. Helios needed to marry and produce an heir of his own to assure the family line.

She knew all this. Yet still she’d shared his bed night after night and allowed herself to believe that Helios would hold off his wedding until her time on Agon was up.

Gripping the sides of the free-standing bath, she got carefully to her feet and stepped out. Hands trembling, she pulled a warm, fluffy towel off the rack and held it to her chest, not wanting to waste a second, not even to wrap it around herself.

Helios pulled his top lip down and brought the blade down in careful but expert fashion. ‘I’ll call you when the ball is finished.’

She strode to the door, uncaring that bathwater was dripping off her and onto the expensive floor tiles. ‘No, you won’t.’

‘Where are you going? You’re soaking wet.’

From out of the corner of her eye she saw him pat his towel over his face and follow her through into his bedroom, not bothering to cover himself.

She gathered her clothes into a bundle and held them tightly. A strange burning buzzed in her brain, making coherent thought difficult.

Three months. That was how long she’d shared his bed. In that time they’d slept apart on only a dozen or so occasions, when Helios had been away on official business. Like when he’d gone to Denmark and, unbeknownst to her, dined with Princess Catalina. And now he was throwing a ball to find the woman he would share a bed with for the rest of his life.

She’d known from the start that they had no future, and had been careful to keep her heart and emotions detached. But to hear him being so blasé about it...

She stood by the door that opened into the secret passageway connecting their apartments. There were dozens and dozens of such secret passageways throughout the palace; a fortress built on intrigue and secrets.

‘I’m going to my apartment. Enjoy your evening.’

‘Have I missed something?’

The fact that he looked genuinely perplexed only made matters worse.

‘You say it isn’t appropriate for me to come tonight, but I’ll tell you what isn’t appropriate—talking about the wife you’re hours away from selecting with the woman who has shared your bed for three months.’

‘I don’t know what your problem is,’ he said with a shrug, raising his hands in an open-palmed gesture. ‘My marriage won’t change anything between us.’

‘If you believe that then you’re as stupid as you are insensitive and misogynistic. You speak as if the women you are selecting from are sweets lined up in a shop rather than flesh and blood people.’ She shook her head to emphasise her distaste, watching as her words seeped in and the perplexity on Helios’s face darkened into something ugly.

Helios was not a man who received criticism well. On this island and in this palace he was celebrated and feted, a man whose words people hung on to. Affable and charming, his good humour was infectious. Cross him, however, and he would turn with the snap of two fingers.

If she wasn’t so furious with him Amy would probably be afraid.

He strode towards her, magnificently naked. He stopped a foot away and folded his arms across his defined chest. A pulse throbbed at his temple and his jaw clenched tightly.

‘Be careful in how you speak to me. I might be your lover, but you do not have a licence to insult me.’

‘Why? Because you’re a prince?’ She hugged the towel and the bundle of clothes even tighter, as if their closeness could stop her erratically thumping heart from jumping out of her chest. ‘You’re about to make a commitment to another woman and I want no part of it.’

Benedict, Helios’s black Labrador, sensed the atmosphere and padded over to her, his tongue lolling out as he sat on his haunches by her side and gave what looked like a disapproving stare at his master.

Helios noticed it too. He rubbed Benedict’s head, the darkness disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, an indulgent smile spreading over his face as he looked at Amy. ‘Don’t be so dramatic. I know you’re premenstrual, and that makes you more emotional than you would otherwise be, but you’re being irrational.’

‘Premenstrual? Did you really just say that? You really are on a different planet. God forbid that I should become “emotional” because my lover has had secret dates with other women and is about to take one of them for his wife and still expects me to warm his bed. But don’t worry. Pat me on the head and tell me I’m premenstrual. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you’ve done nothing wrong.’

Too furious to look at him any more, she turned the handle of the door and pushed it open with her hip.

‘Are you walking away from me?’

Was that laughter in his voice? Did he find this amusing?

Ignoring him, Amy raised her head high and walked up the narrow passageway that would take her to her own palace apartment.

A huge hand gripped her biceps, forcing her to twist around. He absolutely dwarfed her.

Regardless of the huge tug in her heart and the rising nausea, her voice was steady as she said, ‘Get your hands off me. We’re over.’

‘No, we’re not.’ He slid his hand over her shoulder to snake it around her neck. His breath was hot in her ear as he leaned down to whisper, ‘While you’re sulking tonight I will be thinking of you and imagining all the ways I can take you when the ball’s over. Then you will come to me and we will act them all out.’

Despite her praying to all the gods she could think of, her body reacted to his words and to his closeness the way it always did. With Helios she was like a starved child, finally allowed to feast. She craved him. She had desired him from the moment she’d met him all those months ago, with a powerful need that hadn’t abated with time.

But now the time had come to conquer the craving.

Pressing a hand to his solid chest, resisting the urge to run her fingers through the fine black hair that covered it, she pushed herself back and forced her eyes to meet his still playful gaze.

‘Enjoy your evening. Try not to spill wine down any princess’s dress.’

His mocking laughter followed her all the way to the sanctuary of her own apartment.

It wasn’t until she arrived in her apartment, which was spacious compared to normal accommodation but tiny when compared to Helios’s, and caught a glimpse of her reflection that she saw the clay mask was still on her face.

It had cracked all over.

* * *

Helios led his dance partner—a princess from the old Greek royal family—around the ballroom. She was a very pretty young woman, but as he danced with her and listened to her chatter he mentally struck her off his list. Whoever he married, he wanted to be able to hold a conversation with them about something other than the latest catwalk fashions.

When the waltz had finished he bowed gracefully and excused himself to join his brother Theseus at his table, ignoring all the pleading female eyes silently begging him to take their hand next.

Amy’s words about him treating the women here as sweets in a shop came back to him. He was man enough to admit they held the ring of truth. But if he had to choose someone to spend the rest of his life with and to bear his children, he wanted a woman as close to being perfect on his palate as he could taste.

If Amy could see the ladies in question and their eager eyes, the way they thrust their cleavages in his direction as they passed him, hoping to garner his attention, she would understand that they wanted to be tasted. They wanted him to find them exactly to his taste.

Theseus’s gaze was directed at their younger brother, Talos, who was dancing with the ravishing violinist who would play at their grandfather’s Jubilee Gala in three weeks.

‘There’s something going on there,’ Theseus said, swigging back his champagne. ‘Look at him. The fool’s smitten.’

Helios followed his brother’s gaze to the dance floor and knew immediately what he meant. The other couple of hundred guests in the room might as well not have been there for all the attention Talos and his dance partner were paying them. They had eyes only for each other and the heat they were producing...it was almost a visible entity. And strangely mesmerising.

Not for the first time Helios wished Amy could be there. She would adore waltzing around the great ballroom. For a conscientious academic she had a fun side that made her a pleasure to be with.

Theseus fixed his gaze back on Helios. ‘So what about you? Shouldn’t you be on the dance floor?’

‘I’m taking a breather.’

‘You should be taking it with Princess Catalina.’

Helios and his brothers had discussed his potential brides numerous times. The consensus was that Catalina would be a perfect fit for their family.

Only a generation ago, the marriages of the heirs to the Agon throne had been arranged. His own parents’ marriage had been arranged. It had been witnessing the implosion of their marriage that had led his grandfather King Astraeus to abandon protocol and allow the next generation to select their own spouses, providing they were of royal blood.