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His Drakon Runaway Bride(12)

By:Tara Pammi

That Eleni Drakos, dubbed with the cheap moniker the Plain Princess of Drakon for years, had recently married Gabriel Marquez—Isabella Marquez’s brother, the same woman Andreas had been engaged to after Ariana fled.

Were these changes Andreas had brought out too?

Two security guards accompanied her through the miles of corridors.

Barely a staff of five, Andreas’s personal retinue greeted them. She was shown into a set of rooms done in elegant creams and mauves. A lounge, a bathroom that spanned the square footage of her legal aid agency, and a massive bed that was the pride of place in the bedroom.

“Do not even think of running, Ari,” Andreas suddenly whispered at her ear and Ariana jerked.

Her hand fluttered to his chest and she kept it there now, loving the solid feel of him under it. Needing suddenly the reassurance of his presence before he was lost to her in the maze of the palace.

“Do not give me reason to, Your Highness,” she quipped back, trying to hide her elation that he hadn’t forgotten about her as soon as they had set foot in the palace. That, this time, he had actually brought her to the palace and not hidden her away.

God, but she was pathetic that even the smallest crumbs from him made her heart dance.

He didn’t smile. But covered her hand with his, the long fingers tangling with hers. “Rest up for a couple of hours.” His gaze caressed her face, as if looking for proof that she wouldn’t faint again. “My family wishes to meet you.”

“More people who hate me, yay,” she said, a sudden panic seizing her chest. “Andreas, couldn’t we—”

“No, Ariana. I have defied every tenet I had for my personal life and pushed every Crown Council member that hates me to the edge by bringing you here.” A dark smile touched his eyes. “You’re ten years late, pethi mou. Drakon wants its queen and I want my wife.”

Ariana watched him leave, but instead of fear, a fierce determination filled her.

She had gone from a train wreck to something hopefully akin to a woman who knew her own mind.

Was it possible for the Crown Prince of Drakon to change, too?


“WELL, IS SHE HERE? What does she do? Where did she go after she left you?” Eleni demanded the moment Andreas walked into the Green Room at King’s Palace.

His head was pounding after the quick report he’d had from his aides.

Nikandros had been right. The situation with his popularity ratings was much worse than even he’d anticipated.

Soon, he had to find a way to turn the sentiment that was rising against him. “Calm down, Eleni,” Gabriel muttered. Andreas felt a flash of sympathy for his brother-in-law. It had to be hard to see Eleni continue like the little dynamo she was when she was pregnant.

“She’s a lawyer,” Andreas answered while accepting the drink Nik had poured him. “She set up a legal aid agency with the money she took from Father.”

Gabriel whistled, a devilish light in his green eyes. “The controlling bastard that you are, I always thought you needed a woman with steel balls. A woman who could perhaps be your saving grace. She sounds like it.”

“I didn’t realize I needed saving.”

The insufferable smile slid from Gabriel’s mouth. “You do. Before you end up like your father.”

Nothing fractured his self-control these days more than being compared to Theos. “I interfered in Eleni’s life because I wanted her to be happy. Because I knew what Theos did to her and I wanted to do right by her.”

“Leave it, Gabriel. It is his life,” said Nik.

“Being a member of the illustrious House of Drakos doesn’t mean you’re above the law,” Mia added, glaring at Nik.

“She gave him little choice when she decided to marry another man, Mia.” Eleni’s loyalty for her brothers had always been absolute. The scowl on Gabriel’s face made Andreas grin despite the open bashing of his morals. “If it came out later that the King of Drakon’s secret first wife had committed bigamy, it would—”

“It would have made the scandal of the century for the populace of Drakon,” said that husky voice Andreas would know in the darkest of nights.

Ariana walked into the evening lounge where they had all gathered for predinner drinks with the aplomb of a queen. Every cell in him came to attention, his skin tight over his muscles. There was a bright glitter in her eyes.

“A headline that could rival even the stories about that first band of warriors conquering the dragon. And believe me, your people need new material. That dragon lore...” Ariana rolled her eyes when Eleni, a staunch believer in all myths, dragons and the superiority of the House of Drakos, gasped. “It gets boring as hell after a while. Not to mention, it isn’t something to crow about to the world.”

Stunned silence met her prosaic announcement.

Disbelief etched on his family’s faces. Andreas flexed his fingers trying to forget the feel of her silky skin.

“Andreas,” she said, “introduce your family. After all, I did answer your royal summons.” She turned to the rest of them and smiled. “Apparently, ten years has only made Andreas’s penchant for control worse.”

Nikandros broke the ice. “We didn’t give him a choice, Ms. Sakis.” He took her hand in his and shook it. “Welcome to Drakon, I’m—”

“The Daredevil Prince,” she said with that wide smile of hers. Andreas scowled. She leaned into Nik, her voice lowered to a whisper that wasn’t quite one. “Come, Nikandros,” she said with that easy familiarity that was second nature to her, that made Andreas want to pull her to his side, “you really don’t expect me to believe that Andreas bowed to pressure from someone else, do you?”

Eleni bristled. “Is it hard to believe that we would want to meet our brother’s wife?”

“As far as I remember, Andreas did not share a close relationship with you or Nikandros. I have mostly found that he is incapable of nurturing relationships.”

Andreas stared into his drink, knowing that she was right. It was only in the last few years that he’d begun undoing the damage he’d done to his brother and sister.

He had still made mistakes, as Gabriel had pointed out.

“Maybe you do not,” Eleni replied, sending Ariana a cool look, “know our brother as well as you think you do.”

Her nostrils flared, her chin set in stubborn lines, Ariana looked like she wanted to argue. In the end, she shrugged.

“Point to the House of Drakos,” she added, with a wink at Gabriel.

Gabriel took her outstretched hand into his while Mia walked over to Ariana’s side and introduced herself.

Within minutes, Ariana had Mia and Gabriel roaring with laughter. Brows raised, Nik conveyed his own surprise about her with a twitching mouth.

Irate at his brother’s humor, Andreas turned to watch her. Acknowledged the fact that physical possession of Ariana was never going to be enough.

The cap-sleeved floral knee-length dress in white and pink with a string of pearls jarred with the elegant ambience of the palace as he accompanied Ariana to dinner. Her hair was in a riotous knot at the back of her head, wavy tendrils already falling away from it and framing her gamine face. Bright red lipstick made her full-lipped mouth stand out even more than usual amidst her stark features.

Even for a man who rarely understood fashion, Andreas was immediately aware that the whole outfit and makeup and what he knew of Ariana just didn’t gel.

When she moved to the other end, he forced her to sit on his right. Forced her to brush her body against his as she sat down. Still, she wouldn’t spare him a look.

Nothing however could leave Ariana daunted for too long. The moment the first course was served, she said, “I know what you must all be thinking. Not only is she an almost bigamist, but she has the most atrocious sense of style, ne?”

Mia just stared back with a rueful glint in her eye while Eleni flushed.

“You see, Andreas’s secretary—who very efficiently arranged these clothes for me because your brother kidnapped me in my torn wedding dress—and I have this cold war thing going on. From years back.

“Petra is making a point that everyone loyal to Andreas is dying to make right now. That I’m not fit to polish your brother’s handmade Italian boots much less to be his wife. A fact that was drilled into me with a sledgehammer in Version One of our marriage.”

“By our father,” Nik finished for her.

She shrugged. “In your father’s defense, King Theos already knew from my father what a failure I was. I got thrown out of three finishing schools, ran away from home three times, embarrassed and humiliated my father in a hundred different ways.

“For a military general whose sparkling reputation and pride were most important, I was a huge letdown. I had neither academic smarts, nor did I fit well with his friends’ high-achieving children.

“I was an utter failure, a fact he constantly reminded me of.”

Andreas stilled with his glass of water halfway to his mouth. The thought of Ariana running away sat like a boulder on his chest. Christos, he’d never known. He’d never even asked her about her life with her parents. “Why did you run away?”

“Whenever I... I defied him, my father locked me in my room.” A vacant expression emanated in her eyes. “Probably not a huge thing. But he would cut me off completely for days. I would be given food and water. But nothing else. He thought it character-building.