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His Drakon Runaway Bride

By:Tara Pammi

“IS THIS A coup to overthrow me?” Crown Prince Andreas Drakos of Drakon joked as he walked into his study to find his family staring at him with a spectrum of emotions—concern in his sister Eleni’s eyes, stubborn resolve in Mia’s, something he couldn’t define in his brother Nikandros’s and pure frost in Gabriel’s.

“None of us want your job, your popularity rating or your life, Andreas,” replied Nikandros, the financial genius who had set Drakon on its path of recovery after the mess their father had made in the last decade.

Nik was right. The state of his life currently—utter chaos with the Crown Council breathing down his neck for the announcement of his choice for the next Queen of Drakon, the questions the media was raising about his mental health, his frequent disappearances from Drakon in the last year, sometimes even his sexuality—would have usually had the effect of fire ants crawling all over his skin.

But he didn’t have any mental energy left beyond the hunt he’d been on for two years now. He was getting close, he knew it in his blood.

He settled down next to Mia. The smell of baby powder drifting from her was strangely calming. “How are you, Mia?”

Mia took his hands in hers. He tried not to flinch. Physical contact made him twitchy and now Mia knew it. But somewhere in the last few months, his sister-in-law and he had become strangely close.

“You didn’t come to see the twins, Andreas. After all the hullabaloo you raised about heirs for Drakon, I’m feeling neglected.”

He smiled. “I have just this hour returned to Drakon.”

“Which nicely segues to why we are all here. Andreas, what is going on?”

“You let her leave Tia and Alexio’s side to ask me this question?” Nik glared at him in response. Dark shadows bruised Mia’s eyes. “You look awful.”

“Stop posturing, Nik. You know he’s just trying to get a rise out of you.” She smiled and her eyes lit up with that same incandescent joy he’d seen in Nik’s of late. “I have two very good reasons for my ghoulish look, Your Highness,” she said, her gaze tracing the angles of his face. “You however do not.

“You look like hell,” she said with that forthrightness he’d come to expect from her, “and whether Nik and Gabriel will agree to put it like that or not, we’re all...very worried about you.”

He frowned, looked up and, with a strange knot in his gut, realized it was true. “It’s not necessary.”

“There’s talk from the Crown Council about asking you to step down. Your popularity level is at its lowest,” Nik said in a deceptively calm voice. “Some political pundits have dared say Father’s madness has already begun to manifest in you. You leave Drakon for days, not one of your aides knows your schedule, you refuse to see even Ellie and me...”

“That’s why you’re all worried?” Andreas asked with a laugh. “That Theos gave me his madness in addition to everything else?”

Eleni spoke up. “Of course not. But we do think you’ve been acting strange. Andreas, the House of Tharius is waiting for your word to release news of your engagement. The coronation is in two months and you—”

His phone pinged and every nerve in him went on high alert. He knew even before he switched on his phone’s screen what the news was going to be. His fingers shook when he swiped the screen.

Found the target. Sending location specs now.

His breath balled up in his chest, and he had to force himself to exhale.

Anticipation bubbled in his blood, coupled with savage satisfaction. “Let the House of Tharius know it’s off.”

The shock that spread through the huge room made the hairs on his neck rise. Nik and Eleni looked at him with such concern in their eyes that for the first time in months Andreas felt a little guilt. “I apologize for leaving you both in the lurch these past few months. I needed—”

“Thee mou, Andreas!” Nik burst out. “We don’t care that for the first time in thirty-six years, you took a few months for yourself.”

“Not the first time,” he said automatically. “I took a free year just when your health improved. Almost ten years ago.”

Nikandros frowned. “When Theos tried to make me his leashed dog?”

“A few months before that happened, yes.” When Andreas had, in a fit of madness, threatened Theo that he would walk out on Drakon if he didn’t give him some time off.

“Andreas.” Eleni reached him, her voice wavering. “You can’t be crowned King without a wife. That’s one of the oldest Drakonite laws. No member of the Crown Council will let you defy it. Are you...are you giving up the crown?”

Nikandros cursed so filthily that he had to laugh.

Andreas patted his sister’s hand awkwardly. “I’m not doing any such thing, Eleni. I will be crowned as scheduled.”

“You need a wife for that.” Nik again. Only Gabriel stood silent, staring at him from those steel-grey eyes. Gabriel, his brother-in-law, who had figured out the truth.

“Whatever you’re considering—” Eleni was close to tears now “—please tell us. Nik and I would never judge you for what—”

“I can’t marry Maria Tharius because I already have a wife. For two years, I’ve been trying to locate her.”

You are like me, Andreas, in every way. The same taste for power and control runs in your blood. Why do you think your little wife ran?

Those words had haunted him for two years now. But he didn’t give a damn.

He would willingly be a monster if that meant she was back in his life.

“You’re married? To whom? When? Why didn’t you ever...” Eleni faintly shook with the force of her questions, until Gabriel put his hands on her shoulders and absorbed her petite form into his.

“She was Father’s ward. I married her during that sabbatical year in a secret civil ceremony.”

“Father had a ward?” Another curse from Nikandros, for he knew that meant another life his father would have played games with.

“Your pity is wasted on her, Nik,” Andreas said stonily. “Turns out Father and she understood each other perfectly well.”

“Ariana Sakis.” Eleni pronounced the name that had become so much a part of his own makeup that Andreas couldn’t remember a day before her life tangled with his. “She was shy of eighteen by a few months.”

Utter shock was etched on their faces now.

He’d been twenty-six and he’d married a barely legal eighteen-year-old in a secret ceremony... He could have grown two horns and a tail and it would have been less shocking.

“Her parents...died in a car accident. There were rumors that they’d been arguing, that her mother had driven it into the tree on purpose,” Eleni explained to Nik. “Her father...was a military general, a close friend of Father.

“There was a lot of talk about what an abusive husband he was and Father immediately severed the connection between the House of Drakos and him.

“Only a handful of people knew he had her custody and he sent her off to...no one knew where. I don’t think she even set foot in the palace.”

“To a fishing village off the coast,” Andreas finished. “Having met Father a couple of times, she’d been more than willing to go.”

“That’s where you met her?” asked Nikandros.

Andreas nodded. “I... I demanded Father give me a year to do as I wanted, to research a book I wanted to write. He agreed, after a lot of ranting.

“Little did he know that I would end up at the same little village that summer.”

Crisp mountain air, blue ponds surrounded by lush woods, a remote cabin, a single coffee shop...and a girl with copper-colored hair and a wide, impish smile.

Andreas swayed as the past reached into him with a clawed hand. Those months in that village with Ariana had been the most glorious of his life.

Too good to last, he realized now with a bitterness that choked him.

“If you married her, how come none of us met her? We didn’t even know.”

“Father and I decided to wait for a more opportune time to announce that I had wed. For the three months of our marriage, she stayed in an apartment ten miles from the palace.”

“You’ve been looking for her...since Father’s decline began.” Eleni jerked her chin up. All the pieces were beginning to fall into place. “Where was she all these years, Andreas?”

“Father told me she died in a boating accident after I returned from that oil summit in the Middle East that year.”

“Instead?” Nik asked the question, tension filling his shoulders.

“Instead, she took the ten million he offered, faked her death and disappeared under a new identity.”

“That’s...horrible.” Eleni, always loyal to her brothers, had formed her opinion. “How could she make you think she was dead?”

Mia frowned. “You’ve found this woman now, haven’t you?” Something almost like fear glittered in her tired gaze. “Andreas, what is it that you intend to do? Clearly, the woman has made her choice. All of Drakon’s eyes will be on her.”

It was an edict he’d heard since before he’d even hit puberty. All of the media’s eyes would be on him and the woman he chose, Theos had whispered continuously.