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His Drakon Runaway Bride(11)

By:Tara Pammi

Suddenly, he questioned the sanity of everything he’d been doing since he’d found she was alive.


MILES OF NEATLY manicured land greeted Ariana as the jet taxied into the private airstrip and they disembarked. The same airstrip where King Theos’s staff had seen her into a jet that left Drakon ten years ago.

It wasn’t as bitterly cold as it had been in Colorado. But the air was just as crisp and fresh. In the distance, the outline of the mountain range made the perfect horizon. Tall palm trees dotted a neat perimeter around the airstrip.

As Ari stood there, a strange thread of homecoming rang through her. She hadn’t thought she’d missed Drakon but she had. Or maybe it was the sense of purpose that she’d found in herself that changed her view.

She wasn’t swinging from guilt over her mother’s death to the sudden, terrifying taste of freedom. Not running away from the fear that maybe her father had been right and she was good for nothing.

Suddenly, she was glad she was here. If only she could throw every derogatory word her father had called her about being a failure in his face, if only her mother were here to see that Ari had made something of herself, that Ari was utterly happy...

But you’ve not been utterly happy. Focused, dedicated, busy to the point of exhaustion and restless. But not happy, never happy.

That girl who’d laughed recklessly, who’d loved so generously, she’d just stifled her, desperate to avoid that heartbreak again. As if to punish herself for losing her baby boy.

But had it been anything more than a half-life?

Had it been anything but penance?

Three bulletproof cars arrived on the curb, the black-and-gold flags whipping in the wind. Three separate teams waited for Andreas’s attention, their curiosity evident in their scrutiny of her.

Her every action was going to be scrutinized and sanitized, her every word dissected to ensure it measured up against Andreas’s image. But no one was going to intimidate her this time.

Andreas stood before her, his eyes holding hers captive.

She shivered and was immediately covered in a warm, long coat that fell past her knees.

Sandalwood and his body heat combined to make a potent drug emanating from the thick wool. The familiarly comforting scent curled through her.

His hand around her shoulders caught them up in their own little world. So close, she could see the tiny golden flecks in his eyes. Feel the wiry strength of his lean body.

She stood mutely as he settled the coat around her shoulders and buttoned up the first couple buttons so that her chest was adequately protected.

Her heart thudded when he lifted the ring finger of her left hand. The tiny point-one-carat diamond struggled to throw off even a spark. With gentle movements that suggested he loathed putting her through any discomfort, a startling contrast as he ripped the fabric of her very life apart, he pulled the ring off her finger.

His jet-black gaze held hers in a possessive dare as he threw the ring into the acreage behind them.

Ariana jerked but his hand around her nape arrested her. Even for her five-nine height, he had to bend down. “Welcome home, Ariana,” he said, in a silky voice at her ear, before touching his mouth to the corner of hers.

His lips were warm against her skin, sending pockets of heat through her. Her entire body trembled at the searing contact, her hands rising to his chest automatically. To hold him close, to soak in his warmth.

She let her hands fall to her sides, heat swamping her face.

Andreas would always have this power over her, this...ability to turn her inside out. Accepting that was strangely calming.

She needed closure just as much as Andreas did.

She needed to figure out if it would always be a half-life without him. And if it was, would the little Andreas was offering be enough this time?

Because there was one thing she knew.

Andreas Drakos could never love.

* * *

The drive back to the palace was long but thankfully not intimate. Three of his staff, including Petra, joined them in the expansive limo, leaving Ariana to sit opposite him.

His cuffs rolled back to reveal strong forearms. Ariana followed the column of his throat, his chest tapering to a lean waist and then to his legs stretched out. His trousers cleanly molded the length of his muscular thighs.

Needing a reprieve from that overwhelming masculinity, Ariana leaned back and closed her eyes.

His words, assertive and rapid-fire, assaulted her senses.

Andreas answered questions and asked his own. Matters that would have been over her head and, quite honestly, boring, made more sense to Ariana this time.

Now, instead of being told by everyone how rapier-sharp Andreas’s mind was, she saw it in play. His memory was astounding, his attention to detail when he was mired in so many matters awe-inspiring. She listened in fascination as he took the first draft of a speech written by one of his press team and shredded it to pieces by calling out clichéd phrases and for not addressing any of the scare rhetoric that the media had been doling out about him following Theos’s madness in the last few years.

For the first time in decades, the populace was questioning what the royal house was doing for the people.

It was his coronation speech, Ariana realized, with unwise curiosity.

Absolute conviction rocked in his every gesture. “Drakon enters a new era with me at the helm. We shall not rest on the past laurels of the House of Drakos anymore. The royal house will begin the process of decoupling from the cabinet in coming years.”

Ariana scoffed. The sound was like an elephant blaring in the quiet interior.

“Do you have something to say, Ariana?”

“Nothing you would want said in company, Your Highness,” she replied sweetly.

“We do not want my staff to believe you’re afraid of me, do we?”

That put her spine up like nothing could. Even as she’d been utterly overwhelmed by him back then, she’d never let him intimidate her. There was a distinction, an important one they both knew.

She sat forward, looking him in the eye. “Decoupling the House of Drakos and the Drakon cabinet? Andreas Drakos walking away from power to rule the lives of millions? That’s like a lion giving up its ability to hunt.

“That power is in your blood, your bones, your very skin. You will never do it.”

“I’m not giving up power so much as I’m redistributing it into the right hands,” he said surprisingly receptive to her criticism. “I want more checks and balances. The Crown Council was supposed to do that, but Theos controlled them with his power and wealth. Until there was no one to question his executive command of the cabinet.

“Nikandros already has the economy of Drakon in his hand. He’s always been the financial genius.

“Eleni, if Gabriel lets her accept my proposal, will become the formal liaison between the palace and the hundreds of charities we support.”

“Your brother and sister? That’s your power distribution—other members of the House of Drakos? You think they will go against your wishes?”

“You would understand if you had...” He bit his accusation off, aware of the staff watching them with a hungry fascination. “My father hoarded power, until it drove him to madness. Until he began to think of even me as his enemy.

“I don’t intend to let that happen to me.

“After all, I have a personal life now and I intend to enjoy it.”

As much as she wanted to fight it, the truth of it shone in his eyes. “Control is everything to you.”

In the intimacy of the dark night, even as he had shocked her with his demands and his carnality, he’d not once let her lead. Even as he’d lost himself in the pleasures of sex, it had still been very much calculated.

The very devil glinted in his eyes. “Is that another challenge then, agapita?”

She felt a collective hiss of exhale from the two women in the car. Not that she could blame them.

He’s mine, she wanted to say, that wildness she’d tried to bury surfacing with a vengeance. Maybe it was the air of her homeland, maybe it was facing Andreas as the woman she was now, but restlessness slithered under her skin.

“Don’t make promises—” she raised a brow, and almost pulled it off “—that you cannot keep, Your Highness.”

His eyes shone with unholy mirth, deep grooves dug into his cheeks. His brows went all off-kilter. “Worried that you might not be able to resist me after all?”

A reluctant smile curved her lips and she looked out the window.

The outline of the mountain range became vague as the car entered the city, the white stone structure of the King’s Palace sitting atop the small hill emerging ahead.

Was he serious about all these changes? What had brought it on?

The more she spent time with him, the more she was realizing that something had changed in him. But the very idea of revealing the last bit of truth she had hidden, the condemnation in his eyes if he learned of what she had lost... Fear skated over her spine.

They arrived at the King’s Palace with very little fanfare.

The lack of his family’s presence was conspicuous and Ariana was caught between relief and a bit of disappointment, if she were honest.

She had obsessively followed every bit of palace gossip over the last few years. The changes it seemed Andreas was determined to bring to Drakon. Even the rising sentiment against the once-beloved Crown Prince.

She knew that the Daredevil Prince, Nikandros, had returned to Drakon after a years-long rift between him and Andreas. That Nikandros had married the ex-soccer player Mia Rodriguez and had two infant children.