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His Drakon Runaway Bride(2)

By:Tara Pammi

She must bring either incomparable wealth—Gabriel’s sister had met the first condition—or good breeding in her own blood—Maria Tharius had met both—or be a woman with powerful connections who would agree to become the perfectly ornamental Queen.

Ariana had been none of the above.

“You could divorce her.” Gabriel spoke for the first time.

“Drakonite law mandates the couple wait for eighteen months after they file for divorce,” Eleni supplied, frowning. “With the coronation in two months, he can’t file for a divorce now.”

Andreas smiled, uncaring what they all saw in his face. “Father, in his Machiavellian masterminding, assumed that her being officially dead was enough to terminate our marriage. But she’s alive. So, even if I wanted, I could not marry Maria Tharius now.

“Ariana will be the next Queen of Drakon.” The declaration fell from his mouth, resonated in the very air that filled the King’s Palace.

He found he liked the sound of it. An additional bonus was that his father would be rolling in his grave.

* * *

Ariana stared at the white stone building of the small, beautiful church in downtown Fort Collins and shivered from head to toe. The frigid October wind that stole through her flimsy wedding dress had nothing to do with it.

The past would not leave her alone today. Didn’t matter that it was over ten years since she had married Andreas Drakos, the Crown Prince of Drakon, in a little forgotten church in a backwater fishing village near the mountains.

Didn’t matter that in a few hours she was to marry Magnus.

A vein of utter misery ran through her day and night.

She was Anna to her friends, to her colleagues at the legal aid agency where she worked, and to the little community she belonged to amidst the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Anna was not an impulsive, reckless woman that self-destructed in the name of love. Anna was not a woman who gave in to the dangerous passion for a man who didn’t know how to love.

Instead Anna was supposed to be married this evening to a nice, understanding man. Her friends must be thinking she’d lost her mind. But she had needed to get away from the madness of it all. She’d barely eaten a morsel of food yesterday and nothing at the dinner their friends had arranged for her and Magnus.

Against every better instinct, she pulled her phone out of her coat jacket and compulsively opened a browser. The page was still open to the same article she’d been reading for the last month.

She perused it greedily, as if reading it for the hundredth time would somehow change the gist of it.

Crown Prince Andreas Drakos of Drakon was to announce his choice for his Queen, before his coronation as the King of Drakon, a tiny principality in the Mediterranean again making its mark in the financial world.

A woman who was regal and educated, a doyenne of charities, born to wealth and perfect bloodlines. A woman who would be soft and womanly, a perfect complement to his brooding, controlling masculinity.

She had known that Andreas would one day take another woman, a woman far more suitable than her, to be his wife, to be the Queen of Drakon. That he had waited this long at all, when she knew of his devotion to Drakon, was a shock in itself.

And yet, from the moment she’d seen the little article, her world had tilted on its axis.

Was Anna really any better than the impulsive hothead she had been then? Was there any other reason except that her heart had broken a little again when she’d seen news of Andreas’s coronation and it had prompted her to accept Magnus’s proposal?

Thee mou, was she willing to destroy Magnus’s life, too?

Whatever sun had been shining this morning had receded under dark clouds, the weather resonating her own dark thoughts. She had to break it off. Before she hurt Magnus, before...

The smooth swish of a finely tuned engine broke her focus.

She looked up and froze, wishing with every cell inside of her that she could truly freeze, become invisible, blend into the gray, leaf-bare trees around her. Could become one of the statues that littered the lovely town.

The pounding of her heart in her ears said she was far too alive.

For she recognized the little black-and-gold flag fluttering in the harsh wind on the hood of the European luxury car idling not two steps away. She knew the symbol of the golden dragon with fires spewing out of its wide jaws. She knew the man inside and his body and he knew hers, better than she did her own.

Legs quaking under her, she stumbled away from the curving stone wall that led to the steps of the church. Wrapped her arm around a tall tree for support.

Every primal instinct she possessed screamed at her to run, to flee. And yet not a single cell obeyed. Not a single muscle moved even as she heard the click of the car door, even as she saw polished black shoes step out of the car, even as the tall angular form straightened.

He’d found her.

Dear God, after ten years, he’d caught up to her. Just as she had always known he would, in the deep dark of the night when she couldn’t hold the memories at bay.

Crown Prince Andreas Drakos, soon to be King of Drakon, was here.

A long black coat fluttered around his ankles, wavy hair the color of a raven’s wing carelessly combed away from a high forehead. Power stamped across those high cheekbones, the patrician nose, the thin-lipped mouth. Arrogant entitlement and self-confidence dripped from him with every movement of his body.

Jet-black eyes, hard and flinty like glittering opals, eyes that reflected nothing back, eyes that had sometimes felt as if there was nothing behind them, swept over her shivering body and came to rest on her face. “Kalimera, Ariana.”

Their eyes collided and held, sending a tsunami of emotions racing through her body. God, those eyes...she had drowned in them once. She had reveled in making them glow with humor, in making them darken in passion, in trying to break through that opaque shield.

She pressed her bare hands against the rough bark of the tree, hoping to jerk some kind of self-preservation instinct into life, for some kind of rationality to master the sheer emotional assault she was under.

Hands tucked into the pockets of his trousers, clad in all black, he looked like a dark angel come to serve swift justice. “It does not seem like a good day to be getting married. Does it, pethi mou?”

So he knew.

Ariana licked her dry lips, swallowing away the knowledge that she’d been about to call it off. Her gut instinct had been right. “What...what are you doing here?”

“Here on this side of the pond, in Colorado, in this little wonderful town that you’ve been hiding in?” He didn’t move, nor did a muscle flicker in his face. In that deep, gravelly voice of his, he could have been inquiring after the bitter weather.

They could have been a couple of friends discussing trivialities. No anger or emotion fractured his cool expression. Only a faint thread of sarcasm bled through.

“Or here in front of this beautiful little church on this bleary afternoon where you’re waiting for the man you’re supposed to marry in a few hours? Should I answer the general or the specific?”

Ariana closed her eyes. Didn’t help one bit. His presence was a hum of power in the air, making something in her vibrate in tune. Dragging cold air deep into her lungs, she flicked her eyes open. Feeling was beginning to come back into her muscles. And along with it memories and an unholy amount of panic.

How had she forgotten that the smoother Andreas’s voice got, the hotter his rage? The deeper the fracture in his self-control, the colder and calmer his actions? It was his shut-down mode, where neither reason nor begging would filter through. Fresh wind made her eyes water. It had to be the wind. “I don’t have your magic with words, Andreas.”

He inclined his head in a regal nod. “I am to be King soon. I thought now would be a wise time to take care of the little business between us. After all, you ran out on me without a word, and who knows when you will decide you want to come back to me?”

Shivers raced down her spine. “Go back to your precious Drakon.” She couldn’t help the bitterness in her voice, even as she cautioned herself against it. “You have nothing to worry about with me. You and I—” her voice caught, and still, nothing changed in his expression “—were an episode from a different life. The media will never catch hold of our little story, neither will I claim even an acquaintance.

“Ariana Sakis, for all intents and purposes, is dead.”

She glanced up and her breath seized in her lungs.

Suddenly, he was there in front of her, blocking everything else from her vision. Blocking the entire world from her. Sandalwood, flared by his body’s heat, taunted her nostrils. Filled her with sensations and memories. Such an interestingly warm scent for a man whose blood was decidedly cold. But then his passion had been just as contrasting to the ruthless lack of his heart.

“Ariana Drakos,” he corrected with the faintest trace of warning. “Do not forget you belong to me.”

Nothing so tacky as a raised voice or a teetering temper from the House of Drakos.

“You might be King of your bloody palace, Andreas—” panic rushed reckless words to her mouth “—but not of me. Magnus will be here any minute and I won’t—”

“Your fiancé has been made aware of the situation and is not coming.”

So polite even as he stood there, playing havoc with her life. So infuriatingly calm. Her hands itched to muss up that perfectly placid expression of his. The devil in her burned to unsettle him as he did her. That urge was dangerous. Just being near Andreas was like throwing herself off a cliff—exhilarating and terrifying. And she had stopped doing that to herself a long time ago.