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His Drakon Runaway Bride(23)

By:Tara Pammi

* * *

Andreas somehow managed to dig his senses out of the haze of arousal. Or maybe it was the fast leaching of color from Ari’s face that did it.

Ignoring the distress that emanated from her, he wrapped his arms around her while she was still on the call. The lush roundness of her bottom incensed his deprived body a little more. But he liked holding her like that. Even if it was torture.

Somehow, urging his body to calm down, he kneaded the tense jut of her shoulders just as she ended the call.

He knew he wasn’t going to like it the second she faced him.

“I have to go,” she whispered.

The words sank like stones through his gut. He frowned. Tried to keep his voice even. “Go where?”

“To the States. To Colorado,” she said absently, walking circles around the vast room.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he burst out.

Her awareness jerked back into the room. “Rhonda’s divorce came through.” Anguish painted her face deathly pale. “Her husband was so pissed off that he hit her. She needs me, Andreas.”

Andreas reached for his own phone and called Petra. “I’ll have Petra arrange for round-the-clock care for her. And security. That husband of hers won’t touch her again.”

She was still pale, her body tense. “I should have been there. She was...there for me when I had no one. When it mattered, Andreas,” Ariana whispered, as if she hadn’t heard a word he’d said.

The very idea made goose bumps rise on his skin. “If you had been there, then you’d have been hurt. Christos, Ariana, how could you not share how dangerous your cases are? What if you had been there and he had hit you instead?” Panic made his voice rise, made it harsh. He’d never felt panic like this. He didn’t know how to handle it.

Thee mou, was this what came of caring about her?

He never wanted to imagine Ari hurt or worse. “If you want, we’ll fly her here as soon as she’s able to travel. And first thing tomorrow morning, you’ll give over all your case files to Giannis.

“I want a security team vetting every case you take on in the future. You’ll be a target as it is without taking on unnecessary—”

Ariana covered his mouth with her hand, her arm going around his body. He stiffened, rejecting her caress, wishing he could reject the answering thrum of his heart as she looked into his eyes.

When had she gained this power over him?

“If you curtail my career, if you do anything to change even the course of it, you’ll lose me.” Her words were a whisper, an entreaty. As if she understood what she did to him. As if she was willing him to trust this thing between them. Willing him to trust this strange coiling of his own emotions that he was feeling for the first time in his life.

When, suddenly, all he wanted to do was to fight the choke hold of it.

When all he wanted was to have his sterile, uncaring self back.

“It’s the same as asking you to walk away from Drakon. Could you do it, Andreas? Could you do it for anything in the world?”

He pulled her hand away from his mouth, his pulse violently ringing in his entire body. “No.”

She clasped his cheeks, forcing him to look into her eyes. Forcing him, again, to face what he didn’t want to. “Then please trust me. Trust me to do what I need to do. Trust me to keep myself safe. Trust me to come back to you.”

Pressing his mouth to the inside of her wrist, he took a deep breath. Letting her go was akin to tearing out a part of him.

But he needed to do it. For both their sakes. To keep a modicum of control over his own emotions.

Whatever madness had consumed his father and whatever manipulations he had run through his children’s lives, Theos had been right in one thing.

Emotion was dangerous to men like them, men who held the fates of thousands in the palms of their hands. Men who could abuse that power so easily to rearrange the lives of people closest to them.

Even now, the urge to do something, to ruin her career, her case files, her associations, so that he could keep her safe, so that he could keep her to himself, was so rampant.

My jailer, this time, was the man I loved.

Never again. Thee mou, he couldn’t do that to her again. He couldn’t be the one who killed the spirit inside her.

He let her hand go, and turned away. “Fine, go. I’ll give you a week before I’ll drag you back here, by your hair if that’s what it takes.”

He felt her at his back, her arms vined around him, her laughter sending tremors through his frame. “I can’t decide if I like you as an academic or a warrior.” A wet kiss fluttered near his spine. “I think I like both.” Her hands circled to his chest, moved sinuously lower until she was palming his arousal. “I want both.”

A deep shudder went through him. Need shook him to the core. “You’re a witch.” He turned and took her mouth in a punishing kiss. He had to do it. He had to let her go, yet he hated the weakness in his gut. Hated the sweat that gathered at the thought of her not returning.

He poured everything he couldn’t say into his kiss. Lifting her off the floor, he plastered her body to his, until even air couldn’t separate them. Until she could have little doubt that she was his.

* * *

Longing rushed through Ariana, sending little tremors through her body. A haze descended on her and Ari struggled to keep her breathing even.

“Ari? What is it? Ari, are you having an attack?”

“No...” Ari whispered. She could hardly tell him that she was having one of those moments where you realized there was no hope for you.

That something in her was programmed to forever do what was not good for her. It was like trying to straighten a dog’s tail.

“Shh...agapi mou. Tell me what I can do, Ari. In this moment, just tell me what you want of me.”


Just tell me you love me, please. Tell me so that I can say it back. Tell me so that I can scream it to the world. Tell me so that this time I can truly love you, knowing who you are and knowing who I am.

“You’re mine, Ariana. I won’t let you go. Anything except that.”

Her laughter burst through the tears in her eyes. She had to give him points for constancy. “Just...hold me.”

Silently, he tightened his arms around her. His skin was so warm around her, his body lean and yet somehow hard. His heart thundered under her ear as she placed her cheek against his chest. Nothing could equal being held by Andreas. Being dwarfed in his arms, being hit with that sensation of the world righting itself.

At the back of her mind, she was aware everything was changing. She was sinking, falling, and yet she could not stop. She could not be in his life and fight it. She could not be near him and resist what he meant to her. What he’d always meant to her.

She hid her face in his chest, afraid he would see everything in her eyes. “Never let me go,” she whispered, shivering.

* * *

Three weeks later, coronation day dawned bright and sunny.

Her stomach twisting into a painful knot, her nerves stretched taut, Ariana stared at her reflection in the floor-length mirror in her suite.

The silence was startling after hours of hubbub with designers, hair stylists, her assistants running all over the palace and the palace jeweler, for God’s sake.

Only a few minutes before she walked down those curving stairs to a waiting Andreas.

Only a few minutes before the world saw Ariana Drakos.

Only a few minutes before the ceremony that crowned Andreas as King and her Queen.

The gold-edged, oval, floor-length mirror made her dress shimmer as if it had been spun from pure gold.

The bright bulbs overhead made the diamonds in her combs—she’d had to draw the line at the tiara, which had looked more like a crown, and an old, tacky design at that—glitter. The tiny combs, nestled in the complicated up-do she’d twisted her hair into, winked as if there were stars in her hair.

Only now in the first minutes of what seemed like privacy, after hours and hours of makeup artists and stylists and her own secretary hovering over her, did Ariana admit the existence of the football-stadium-sized butterflies in her tummy. Admit to herself that this mattered to her. Far too much.

Of course it did.

It was the moment she had partly run away from. Andreas had given her a reason, yes, but he had also been right.

All Ariana had known then was to run away from difficult situations.

Her father, King Theos, Andreas—they had all been so sure that she’d amount to nothing. Until a few months ago, Ariana had thought she’d never measure up, either.

Had never believed in herself. Had never believed herself worthy of Andreas and everything he had thrust on her in that little fishing village.

Tonight was the culmination of years of sticking to her chosen path, the culmination of the heartache she had suffered, the doubts that had filled her in the darkest moments that her father may have been right, that she was bound to be a train wreck her entire life.

The added layer was that tonight the outer surface matched what she finally believed herself to be inside.

She looked bold, fearless, stylish, a woman who had seduced the ruthless Crown Prince into love. Even she, who had never been into clothes much, had to admit that there was something to be said for the confidence the right designer duds gave.

Her gold ball gown had been a bold choice. Her choice, since Petra and her own secretary likewise thought it unnecessarily defiant. Far too radical.