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Helios Crowns His Mistress(7)

By:Michelle Smart

What was he doing here?

She’d seen him only an hour ago, standing in the gardens talking to the school parties, as at ease with the children as he was in every other situation. That had been the moment she had forgotten how to breathe.

It will get better, she kept assuring herself. It’s still early days and still raw. Soon you’ll feel better.

‘King Timios was held in these cells for six months before Ares Patakis expelled him and, with the consent of the people, took the crown for himself,’ Helios said to the captivated children. ‘The palace was built over these dungeons so King Ares could have personal control over the prisoners.’

‘Did he kill anyone?’ asked the same bloodthirsty boy.

‘He killed many people,’ Helios answered solemnly. ‘But only in battle. Prisoners of war were released and sent back to Venice.’ He paused and offered a smile. ‘But only after having their hands chopped off. King Ares wanted to send a warning to other armies wishing to invade—Step on our shores and you will never wield a weapon again. That’s if they were lucky enough to live.’

The deeper they went into the dungeons, which were large enough to hold up to three hundred prisoners, the more questions were thrown at him as the children did their best to spook each other in the candlelit dimness.

It was with relief that Helios handled everything asked of him—his presence had made her tongue tie itself into a knot.

‘Have you ever killed anyone?’ an undersized girl asked with a nervous laugh.

He shook his head slowly. ‘But since I could walk and talk I’ve been trained to use knives, shoot arrows and throw a spear. My brothers and I are all military trained. Trust me, should any other nation try to invade us, Agonites are ready. We fight. We are not afraid to spill blood—whether it’s an enemy’s or our own—to protect what’s ours. We will defend our island to the death.’

Utter silence followed this impassioned speech. Twenty-three sets of wide eyes gazed up at Helios with a mixture of awe and terror. The teacher looked shell-shocked.

It had had the opposite effect on Amy.

His words had pushed through her skin to heat her veins. It had never so much been his looks, as gorgeous as he was, that had attracted her. It had been his passion. The Kalliakis family was a dynasty whose blood ran red, not blue. And no one’s blood ran redder than Helios’s. On the outside he was a true prince. Beneath his skin lay a warrior.

‘And that, children, proves that it’s not only Ares the Conqueror’s blood Prince Helios has inherited from his ancestor but his devotion to his homeland.’ Amy spoke quickly, to break the hush and to distract herself from the ache spreading inside her. ‘Now, who here would like to be adopted by the Prince? Any takers? No? Hmm... You surprise me. Come on, then, who wants to visit the museum gift shop?’

That brought them back to life; the thought of spending their money on gifts for themselves.

‘It’s a good thing you’ll never have to be a tour guide as your day job,’ Amy couldn’t resist saying to Helios as she climbed the stairs a little way behind the school party. ‘They’ll all have nightmares.’

He followed closely behind her. ‘They’re learning my family’s history. I was putting it into the context of the present day for them.’

‘Yes. They were learning about your history. There’s a big difference between hearing about wars and blood-spilling from centuries ago and having it put into the here and now, especially in the dungeons, of all places. They’re only ten years old.’

‘The world is full of bloodshed. That’s never changed in the history of mankind. The only way to stop it creeping to our shores is through fear and stability.’

Her hand tightened on the railing as she carried on climbing. ‘But Agon is stable. You have an elected senate. You are a democracy.’

‘The people still look to us, their royal family, for leadership. Our opinions matter. Our actions matter even more so.’

‘Hence the reason you’re marrying Princess Catalina,’ she stated flatly.

‘We are a prosperous, stable island nation, matakia mou, and it’s the hard work of generations of my family that has made it so. Until the entire world is stable we are vulnerable to attack in many different forms. We lead by example, and as a people we are united as one. Stability within the royal family promotes stability for the whole island. My grandfather is dying. My marriage will bring peace to him and act as security to my people, who will be assured that the future of my family is taken care of and by extension their own families too. They know that with a descendant of Ares Patakis on the throne their country is not only ready to defend itself but able to weather any financial storm that may hit our isles.’

Somewhere during his speech they’d both stopped climbing. Amy found herself facing him from two steps above, coming to eye level with him. His eyes were liquid, the shadows dancing over his features highlighting the strength of the angles and planes that made him so darkly handsome. Her fingers tingled with the urge to reach out and touch him...

‘I need to catch up with the children,’ she breathed, but her rubbery legs made no attempt to move.

‘They know where they’re going,’ he murmured, placing a hand on the damp wall to steady himself as he leaned in close.

His other hand caught her hip, jerking her to him. Delicious heat swirled through her; moisture pushed out the dryness in her mouth. Her skin danced and her lips parted as she moved her mouth to meet his...

She only just pulled away in time.

Swiping at his hand to remove it from her hip, she said, ‘I haven’t said goodbye to them.’

‘Then say your goodbyes.’ His eyes were alight with amusement. ‘Keep running, matakia mou, but know you can’t run for ever. Soon I will catch you.’

She didn’t answer, turning tail and racing to the top of the steep staircase, gripping tightly onto the rail, and then out into the corridor.

At least in the corridor she could breathe.

What had just happened? She’d been a breath away from kissing him. Did she have no pride? No sense of preservation?

She wanted to cry with frustration.

Whether Helios believed it or not, they were over. He was marrying someone else. It was abhorrent that she still reacted so strongly towards him.

There was only one thing she could do.

She had to leave.

As soon as the exhibition was officially opened, to coincide with the Gala in just over a fortnight, she would leave the palace and never come back.

* * *

After a long day spent overseeing the arrival of artefacts from the Greek museum Amy should have been dead on her feet, but the email she’d just received had acted like a shot of espresso to her brain.

After months of searching and weeks of tentative communication, Leander had agreed to see her. Tomorrow night she would meet her half-brother for the first time.

She looked at her watch. If she moved quickly she could run to Resina and buy herself a new dress to wear for their meal, before late-night shopping was over. She wouldn’t have time tomorrow, with Saturday being the museum’s busiest day.

After hurriedly turning her computer off and shuffling papers so her desk looked tidy, and not as if she’d abandoned it whilst in the middle of important work, she rushed out of her office and headed downstairs to see if Pedro was still about and could lock up.

She came to an abrupt halt.

There, in the museum entrance, talking to Pedro, stood Helios.

She wasn’t quick enough to escape. Both of them turned their faces to her.

‘Speak of the woman and she shall appear,’ said Pedro, beaming at her.

‘What have I done?’ she asked, squashing the butterflies in her stomach and feigning nonchalance.

Pedro grinned. ‘Don’t look so worried. Helios and I have been discussing your future.’

Within the confines of the museum the staff addressed Helios by his first name, at his insistence.

‘Oh?’ Her gaze fell on Helios. ‘I thought you were going to Monte Cleure,’ she said before she could stop herself.

‘My plane leaves in an hour.’

Her chest compressed in on itself. Stupidly, she’d looked up the distance between Agon and Monte Cleure, which came in at just over one thousand two hundred miles. Just over two and a half hours’ flying time. With the time difference factored in he would be there in time to share an intimate dinner with the Princess.

She pressed her lips together to prevent the yelp of pain that wanted to escape and forced her features into an expression of neutrality. Helios had so much power over her she couldn’t bear for him to know how deeply it ran.

Oblivious to any subtext going on around him, Pedro said, ‘I was going to leave this until tomorrow, but seeing as you’re here there’s no time like the present—’

‘We were saying how impressed we are with your handling of the exhibition,’ Helios cut in smoothly. ‘You have exceeded our expectations. We would like to offer you a permanent job at the museum when your secondment finishes.’

‘What kind of job?’ she asked warily. A week ago this news would have filled her with joy. But everything was different now.

‘Corinna will be leaving us at the end of the summer. We would like you to have her job.’