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His Drakon Runaway Bride(31)

By:Tara Pammi

Her eyes wide, she looked around the cozy hall. Everything was gleaming and polished. Everything was exactly as they had left it. There was even a reference book of Andreas’s and a magazine of hers. Not collecting dust. But neatly arranged.

She frowned. Wait—what was Andreas doing here? So soon after she had left, too?

“You look beautiful,” he said in that deep voice behind her and she turned.

Far too fast apparently, because she was suddenly dizzy and would have knocked herself into the pillar if he hadn’t caught her.

She shook her head trying to find her balance again while he watched her from under those thick lashes. Scowling. “I don’t know what happened.” She cleared her throat, and stepped back from his grasp of her hands.

Which didn’t go unnoticed.

“I... I just came by to see this place.” A lump lodged in her throat as she spotted the shiny silver frame on the mantel. It was still here? She had bought it in a junk shop in this very same village.

She plucked it off the shelf and once again, breath left her. Another picture of her. This one in her wedding dress—or rather the pink, frilly dress that she had worn that morning.

She looked absolutely, utterly in love. And full of happiness.

Hands shaking, she put away the frame and turned. To find him leaning against the pillar, staring at her. “What are all these things, our things, doing here? I tried to find out who had bought the place but no one really knew. I... I thought it would have become a relic. Like us,” she said, and looked away.

She was not going to cry. She was not going to beg.

“I own it,” he finally said, and her head whipped up. “I should say, we own it.”

“When? When did you buy it?”

“The moment we left here.” He looked around at the high ceilings just like she had done. Rubbed the smoothly polished wood with affection. “It took a while to convince the old guy who lived here...but finally he caved.”

“Of course—the Crown Prince want something and not get it?”

In two quick strides, he reached her, crowding her along the wall. “What is that supposed to mean?”

She licked her lips, suddenly nervous. She had never seen him like this, so blatantly aggressive. “I... It’s not like you’re used to being denied what you want, Andreas.”

He frowned. “True, but I never used the weight of the crown to persuade this guy. I just told him it was the place where I spent a week trapped with my future wife, the one woman I was going to spend my life with, and that persuaded him.

“It turned out he was an utter romantic.”

She nodded, working hard to keep her gaze on his face when the column of his throat beckoned. “You never told me.”

A sigh fell from his lips. “I meant for it to be a surprise. I thought we could come back here regularly, but...”

“But everything fell apart when we returned to the city,” she finished. God, she had had enough of these games. “Well, I’m sure it would have been a nice gesture.” She slipped away from his grasp and faced him. “It works out for me, at least.”

“What works out for you?”

“I... I’m not returning to the Palace with you, assuming that’s why you’re here, ne?”

“For what?”

“Stop answering questions with questions.”

He put up his hands, as if she was the one being unreasonable. She was totally not prepared for dealing with him here. Any more of this and she’d dissolve into a puddle of tears. “You’re here because you think I’m throwing one of my fits and you need to chase me back to the palace for some weighty matter that requires your wife.

“There’s four days before the next state dinner and I’ll be by your side that morning.”

He shrugged. “Kala. I will inform Petra we will both return that morning.”

“You’re crazy. There must be a hundred details to see to.”

“As you’ve pointed out in the past, I have three teams to do my bidding and to arrange my life and one of them will see to the hundred details. I was going to write the speech myself anyway and I can focus better here.”

Tears filled her eyes. “Why are you playing with me, Andreas? What is it you want of me?” Her heart felt like it was shattering anew.

He pulled her into his arms instantly. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. Thee mou, do not cry, agapita. I just... You looked so beautiful, so painfully lovely standing there that I forgot what I meant to say.

“I have not come to take you back. In fact, to hell with the dinner if you just want to hole up here for a couple of months. I have enough wood and food to see us through the winter.” Now Ariana was alternately laughing and crying into his sweater.

“Why are you here?”

“I...came to give you something.” He plucked a book, his book, from the coffee table and handed it to her.

Smiling, Ariana opened the jacket, read the dedication. Again. “I saw it in your bedroom months ago. I... I’ve been even reading it when you’re...” She looked up and flushed. “When you’re not there.

“It made me feel like you were still there with me. Especially, the part of you that I fell in love with.”

He nodded and swallowed. “Ariana, will you ever forgive me?”

Words did not come, choked by the tears. She shook her head, then nodded, a deluge of emotions drowning her. “If you forgive me.”

His mouth came down on hers. Frantic words fell from his mouth as he kissed her, and tasted her. Ariana didn’t know whether she was crying or laughing.

Her heart jumped into her throat when he went to his knees in front of her and looked up at her.

He was so tall that his head still reached her abdomen. She buried her hands in his hair, her heart bursting to full.

“I love you so much. My life is empty of joy, of laughter, of everything without you, glykia mou.

“Will you come back to me, Ari? Will you come back because I love you and I can’t live without you?”

Ari nodded and fell to her knees. He caught her in his arms and she burst into sobs. Pitiful, wrenching sobs that she could not stop no matter what she did.

* * *

Andreas felt as if his heart would shatter all over again. God, he couldn’t bear her tears. He couldn’t stand the wretched sound of her grief. How heartless he had been to bring her to this?

He pulled her into his lap as he’d done once, a long time ago. Fingers stealing into her hair, he pulled her face up, until she was forced to look at him. “I promised myself I would never again hurt you, Ari. Not at any cost.

“Rage at me. Punch me. But forgive me, pethi mou. Forgive me for taking this long to understand this thing between us.

“I adore you. I love you so much that I’m still terrified of all the tumult I feel.”

He kissed her mouth and she sighed against him. “I would like to answer one of your questions.”

She frowned. “Which one?”

“About why I hadn’t publicized that manuscript.”

“I know why,” she said wiping her eyes. “You didn’t want to take away the faith and fantasy it gave the people. I even understand how hard it must have been because it was your life’s work, your real passion.”

He shook his head. “No. I...think I didn’t like it myself. I didn’t like that he so easily sacrificed the woman he loved. Even when I didn’t understand why, it didn’t sit well with me.

“It almost felt like if I revealed it, it would become true. Almost a sentence, a fate for all the rulers of Drakon.

“Even when I thought you were gone, I needed the happy ending. I needed to believe that I’d had my chance of happiness. That I had grabbed it with both hands while I could.

“But since I learned what price you paid for my—”

It was her turn to shut him up. She did it by kissing him softly, slowly, her entire being soaring with that kiss. By pouring all the love she felt for him into the slide of her mouth. “No, no past, Andreas. Only future.”

He nodded and wrapped his arms around her. His big palms came to rest on her tummy and suddenly Ariana knew. The dizziness, the nausea at the smell of coffee when she usually needed an IV of it, the lack of hunger...

She shivered violently and he was instantly in front of her. Concern etched in his face. “Ari? What is it?”

“I’m not sure. But I think...” She pulled his hand to her tummy and held it there. “I think we’re pregnant.”

The silence, which lasted maybe only ten seconds truthfully, stretched her nerves taut. “I don’t know how it happened. It’s not something I planned without telling you, I mean—”

With a soft growl that made her laugh, he plucked her off the ground as if she were a featherweight. “No more disappearing without telling anyone. No more eating at strange times. And definitely no more sudden twisting and twirling.”

He wasn’t even out of breath when he put her on the bed and came on top of her. His lower body flush against hers, he propped himself on his elbow. “Is this okay?” he asked, signaling to his body over hers.

Ariana nodded, determined to hold back the tears. Deep grooves etched around his mouth, a wary concern in his eyes. It was clear that the King of Drakon was absolutely terrified. Thankfully, with him by her side, she was not. She stretched like a cat under him and arched into the arousal she could feel against her leg. “You can do whatever you want to me.”