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His Drakon Runaway Bride(5)

By:Tara Pammi

She had thrown herself into her sudden, boundless freedom, as naively as jumping off a cliff. Guilt over her parents’ deaths had stolen reason from her. The need to experience life to the fullest after seventeen years of being trapped in a golden cage...it had consumed her.

He’d thought her ditzy, willful, reckless and any number of even less complimentary things. She had been all those and more. But not in the past ten years, not anymore.

Her hands settled on her belly, corrosive grief scratching her throat.

The freedom she’d finally got, the need to make something of her life, it had come at such a high price. But it had helped her find herself, helped her achieve control over those impulses that would destroy her.

Until this past month when his impending announcement had undone her again. And that made fear whisper through her bones. It was the same circle of self-abuse her mother had been stuck in with her father.


“I...had a salad for lunch yesterday and nothing since then. It has been a stressful week—the caseload at the firm is crazy right now and then a doubly stressful morning. I’ve never fainted before.” Except that one time after she had left Drakon and him behind. Because in her recklessness, the same that he accused her of right now, it had taken a fainting spell to realize she’d been three months pregnant.

His instant control of the situation, his interrogation of her as if she were a child, grated like nothing else. But to be fair, that’s what she had been then. “Because of the elevation above sea level of this town, I sometimes find it hard to breathe.”

“Mountain air makes your asthma worse. I checked your little purse and you didn’t have your inhaler on you.”

She looked up then and swallowed. She’d thought he would delete anything related to their time together from his life, from his mind. At least after learning of the biggest lie she’d ever told.

Apparently, like her, Andreas had forgotten nothing of their time together. Of their short-lived marriage. Of how they made each other burn up in flames when they touched, and ruined each other when they didn’t.

“It does flare it up from time to time. But it makes up with everything else.”

A little frown appeared between his brows. “Makes up?”

“The fact that it flares my asthma is a little inconvenience to what I have found here. I...found a community here, Andreas. My life has meaning here. There are women who count on me.” She held his gaze, air ballooning up in her chest, smothering her lungs. Time to face the facts. “You can’t really mean what you said earlier.”

“Have you ever known me to say anything I didn’t mean?”

No. He’d never once said that he loved her, even in the throes of passion, even when he’d let his control slip. And it was something to watch the iron-control-clad, emotionless, uptight Crown Prince lose it in the sheets.

She swung her legs out of the bed and stood up slowly. When he neared her to offer assistance with clear reluctance—because of course every touch and look had to be calculated in that steel trap that was his mind—she held him off with her hand.

The cut corset of her wedding dress hung limply around her waist but Ariana didn’t care. She didn’t care one bit what her sheer slip showed.

She didn’t care that his gaze traveled all over her, noted her defiant pose, and yet didn’t betray anything.

He had unraveled her life all over again and she was not going to hide and feel shame about it. She had to face Andreas and whatever came now, if she ever wanted to move forward in her life.

“Think about what you’re proposing, Andreas. Your father was right in one thing—I hardly possess the bloodlines. I was never brought up to be the next Queen of Drakon.

“You...completely agreed with him.” It took no small amount of effort to put this forward rationally. “You... The moment we left the village...”

“What about it, Ariana?”

He had regretted what he’d done, she knew. But the past was done, useless. “Do you think I would be any more malleable this time around?” She lifted her chin. “The last ten years have only made me realize how right I was. We would have destroyed each other if I’d stayed.”

He reached her then. Breath serrated her throat as he lifted his hand and softly clasped her jaw. For one sheer, indefinable moment, a wealth of emotion danced in his jet-black gaze. Pure rage and something else. A bleakness?

“Silly Ari. Do you think I give a damn about what you want or need right now?

“Your death tormented me for eight years.

“The little slip from Theos’s mouth that you were not only alive, but that you took money from him to disappear—” tight lines emerged around his mouth, a small fracture in his control “—that news has tortured me for the last two years.”

Ariana stared, stunned. A dent to his ego, she’d expected. But for Andreas to admit that losing her had tormented him...it was akin to the sun revolving around the earth. The pithy declaration raged through her, kindling feelings she couldn’t handle.

Had he truly felt something for her then?

“This is exactly what your father wanted you to become.”

“Theos is dead, agapita,” he said softly, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “It has been years since his will, his word, has had the power to move me. The power to persuade me. The power to control me.

“I have become my own man, Ari. Isn’t that what you wanted long ago?”

She’d have given anything to hear that ten years ago. But not anymore. “The moment we land in Drakon, I’ll yell what you’ve done through the rooftops. Your image can’t survive a scandal.”

He bared his teeth in a feral smile. “So you have kept tabs on me.”

The sound that fell from her mouth was half growl, half screech. “I know my place even in the illustrious world that you’re the unrivaled lord of. One word from me will plunge the House of Drakos into a horrible scandal.”

“Do you really want to threaten me?”

Panic bloomed, making her voice rise. “My entire life is here. Even more importantly, my clients are here.”

“Your fiancé fell over himself in his haste to accept my conditions. He gets to keep the legal agency running and keeps quiet about your secret identity for the rest of his life.”

“I built that agency with my blood and tears.” The one good thing that had come out of the loss she’d suffered.

“You built it with the dirty payoff you took from my father. Even your education was paid for by the House of Drakos. And since we’re still married—”

“Half of everything I own is yours,” she finished. Her mind whirled. “And you need Magnus to keep quiet about where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.”

His jaw clenched and Ariana exhaled roughly. Finally, there was one point she could negotiate with. But he didn’t give her even that chance.

“Your clients, what do you think will happen if the media gets hold of who you truly are? That you’ve been living a lie for ten years.”

“It’s not a lie. I busted my ass to earn my law degree. I opened that nonprofit legal aid agency because I wanted to help those women.”

“And when the world finds out that you’re not Anna Harris but Ariana Drakos, wife of the King of Drakon—”

“My clients will be dragged into the limelight along with me.” She exhaled roughly. “Those are women who have already been abused by men they trusted. Which will keep me quiet. Am I getting close, Andreas?”

He smiled then—a jagged mockery that made her chest ache. “You know what I find truly hard to believe in this new, peachy life you’ve made for yourself?”

“What?” She snarled the question at him.

“Am I to believe that you have found your true, deep purpose in your scattered life finally? That you truly devote yourself tirelessly to those women and their plight?”

If there was a moment that Ariana truly wanted to sink her nails into that perfect, arrogant, condescending face and scratch it, it was then. Ten years of striving to make something of herself, to give meaning to what she’d lost, to make a meaningful path for herself, and his careless disdain crushed it all.

And he knew it. He was all but challenging her to launch herself at him again, to go back to that lowest denominator of herself she’d once thrived on.

She would attack him and he would subdue her...and it would lead to only one conclusion. The knowledge suffused the very air around them with a dense heat.

Every time they had fought in those horrible three months of their marriage, they’d ended up in bed. Or against the wall. Or on the chaise longue with the Crown Prince on his knees, with his arrogant head between her thighs.

The memory shimmered like a bright glitter in his coal-black eyes.

With the sheer will that had helped her survive through the darkest night of her life, Ari looked away. Air rushed into her lungs, clearing the haze.

Her biggest defense against Andreas was to show leaving him hadn’t been a whim. That she wasn’t a car crash in the making anymore. That she had come into her own strength these last ten years. That she’d proactively made something of her life.

“I care about my clients, about their privacy, about not turning everything Magnus and I worked for into a lie. So, yes, you win my silence. But nothing else.”