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His Drakon Runaway Bride(24)

By:Tara Pammi

Ariana didn’t give a hoot.

The gold silk was so soft that the soft corset naturally clung to her torso, drawing attention to the meager curves of her breasts. Baring her shoulders, it had a straight neckline and sleeves that fell off her shoulders. At her waist, it flared into a wide skirt.

As she ran a hand over her tummy to calm the butterflies fluttering there, she stilled, stunned by something she hadn’t realized until now.

For weeks now, she had tried to shrug off the sinking tentacles of Drakon and all its centuries of glory. Had pretended to scorn the import of today, of her reception by the population of Drakon, to anyone who’d tried to lecture her on the importance of it.

Which meant Eleni, Petra, Andreas’s PR team, her own PR team, Nikandros, who thought it hilarious and particularly revelatory when she’d asked him to honestly tell her about the women who’d been running contestants for the coveted role of the future Queen and how she compared against them.

Only Andreas hadn’t put that pressure on her since she’d returned—later than the week he’d allotted but in time for the madness that was coronation day.

Only Andreas hadn’t filled her head with well-intentioned advice, or warnings, or phrases to be memorized.

Only Andreas had just let her be.

He had not once told her what he expected of her. No questions about if she’d familiarized herself with the Who’s Who of the guest list for the ball after, no questions about if she had memorized her statement on her husband’s policies about his new directive for the Crown Council.

No comments about sanitizing the reality of the cases she’d dealt with in her everyday life. Cases like Julia’s and Rhonda’s, cases that rattled some of the most powerful men in the world.

Not even a teasing question about her dress.

Only now, away from the breath-stealing intensity of his gaze, away from that sizzling awareness between them, did she realize that Andreas had showed trust in her abilities, her judgment.

Had he kept his doubts quiet because of their history, or because he actually trusted her to see this through?

Whichever it was, Ariana found she didn’t actually care. Did he know what a gift it was that he did not think her unequal to tonight’s celebration and fanfare?

Dare she take the risk and tell him the last piece of the past that shimmered between them like a ghost?

The longer she waited to tell him, the harder it was getting. She saw the question in his eyes sometimes. Knew that he didn’t like her answer about starting a family. That her lack of trust in him, in them, bothered him.

She did trust him, didn’t she? She trusted that he’d changed just as much as she had. That they were both different people now. That any child they might have would be loved by him. In his own way.

Tonight she would tell him. After the coronation, when the frenzy of these few months came to an end. When they could just be Andreas and Ariana again in the intimacy of their bedroom.

She would tell him about the boy they had lost. She would tell him how much she loved him. She had never wanted to so desperately believe her gut instinct. And yet had never been so terrified.

Trembling from head to toe, she turned when she heard someone behind her.

Giannis stood there, his eyes taking her in with a wide smile. “It is time, Your Highness,” he said with a nod that acknowledged everything he saw in her eyes.

Head high, Ariana walked to him. On an impulse she couldn’t deny, threw herself at him. The good man that he was, Giannis not only caught her but ran a hand over her back comfortingly.

Ariana straightened and nodded, more than grateful for a friend who saw and understood everything.

She was ready for Drakon and its King.

* * *

Ariana realized something was wrong the moment she came down the huge, curving staircase and looked into Andreas’s dark eyes.

She faltered on the last step and he caught her. His grip was so tight that she was sure she’d have bruises on her hips from his fingers. A fact he wasn’t even aware of, she knew, as his gaze swept over her from head to toe.

Her body rang like a pulse at his slow perusal, at the stark possession in his eyes.

A cold hand fisted her spine.

He knew.

Somehow, he knew what she’d hidden.

“Andreas, I...”

“Did you know that I have been prepared all my life for this moment?” The catch in his throat stunned her, scared her. “To be the King of Drakon, I’d been taught, was my only duty in life. My only purpose.

“And now that the day is here...you have destroyed everything, Ari. Even my belief in myself.”

“Andreas...wait, please. How did you know?”

“One of my aides thought it would be a good idea to make sure you had no surprises in your past. The media has a way of getting to those skeletons. And my team always tries to stay two steps ahead of them.

“Imagine the poor man’s shock and his nerves when he had to bring that hospital report to me... Can you imagine what you have done to me?”

The next few hours were the most torturous of Ariana’s life. Not one of her father’s passive-aggressive punishments, not even the pain of premature labor and not knowing if she and the baby would come through, nothing could equal the agony of smiling at people she neither knew nor cared about, when Andreas wouldn’t even look at her, nothing could trump the fear that she had, once again, ruined her happiness with her own hands.

But where she normally would have shattered and screamed at the unfairness of it all, she stood ramrod straight by Andreas’s side on the ramparts of the King’s Palace and waved at thousands of people lining up the streets of the city.

She never let her smile slip as she accompanied him in an armored car through the streets, never let the tension tying her belly into knots show as they posed for pictures outside the palace.

When she saw Maria Tharius, who seemed to be the very embodiment of poise and patience and every other virtue Ariana didn’t possess, and Andreas speaking to each other, his body language utterly relaxed with her, she didn’t rant and rave like a lunatic.

The one time she thought she would humiliate herself and the House of Drakos was when they had returned to the ballroom for the first ball given in their honor. When the string quartet began playing and Andreas and she were supposed to open the dancing.

For a few knee-buckling seconds, she thought he would not ask her. Five hundred distinguished guests watching their every interaction like vultures waiting to pick at her flesh. If he didn’t ask to dance with her... Nausea rose up.

A harsh exhale left her when he finally uncoupled himself from Maria Tharius and came to stand before her. The perfectly nice smile he had been wearing didn’t slip one bit. Only the cold chips of his eyes betrayed his emotions.

The string quartet started a sonata and with a fluid grace she should have expected, he pulled her onto the dance floor. Her heart dipped to her knees and stayed there when he held her as if she were the most precious thing on earth.

Their bodies, which had always fit each other like two puzzle pieces slotting into one, moved in perfect sync. Ariana didn’t have to look around to know that they had captured everyone’s attention. She wouldn’t have to look at the media reports tomorrow to know that the King and Queen of Drakon, unprecedented in the history of Drakon, were madly in love with each other.

When the dance ended and there was a thunderous applause, he pulled her to him and kissed her in complete contrast to the propriety that protocol demanded.

Her heart lurching painfully in her chest, her mouth clinging to his, only Ariana realized what it truly was.

There was no softness, no passion. He punished her with that kiss. Fingers crawling into her sophisticated up-do, he ravished her on the dance floor there. His tongue pushed into her mouth, enslaving her.

Even knowing what he intended, Ariana still clung to him. Her breath hung on a serrated edge, her body teased into painful arousal. Made even more cheap by his poisonous remark against her ear. “Welcome to our future life, my Queen.” Color slashed his high cheekbones. “It never fails to amaze me how sweet you taste even when you are filled with the bitterest lies, agapi mou. Good thing, too. Because all we have left between us is lies and lust.

“At least conceiving our children should not be as odious a task.”

Like jagged thorns, his words pricked Ariana. “What are you talking about?”

A feral gleam erupted in his yes. “I do not give a damn about your timeline, Ari. We will have children and we will have them whenever the mood strikes me.

“Smile, Ariana. You have won over all of Drakon with your perfect act. Someone should benefit from the sordid game you play with our lives.”

Swallowing back the tears and the ache from his words, Ariana turned to the guests and smiled. Until her jaw hurt. Until the knot in her throat seemed to cut off the very breath from her lungs.

Andreas was a consummate politician. It was a kiss that generations of Drakonites would talk about.

The romance of a century for their future King and Queen.

The twist that Andreas had wanted to start his reign with had paid off perfectly.

The whole world believed in their love story. And it was in ashes at Ariana’s feet.


IT WAS PAST midnight by the time Andreas, along with Ariana and his brother and sister, had been able to see off the last guest.

As he’d told Ariana, the evening had been a tremendous success on one measure.