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His Drakon Runaway Bride(7)

By:Tara Pammi

As if pulled from the past, he slowly looked down at her. “No. Even I’m not cruel enough to bring a child into this. At least not anymore.”

“Does that mean you intend to let me go at some point?”

This time, his answer was more thoughtful than driven by fury. “No.”

“But isn’t my only duty as your wife to produce as many healthy heirs as soon as humanly possible? My purpose, to be your broodmare?”

Deep grooves etched on the sides of his mouth as he responded without inflection. “Nikandros’s twins will be heirs.”

“Of course,” she said, swallowing away the ache. She had no idea why she was pushing him like this. Only that she wanted to hurt him as she was hurting. “How does the timeline look then? Do I have enough time to find a new GP in Drakon and get my pills without Petra and the entire palace knowing my business?”

His chin tilted down. “What?”

“The sex, Andreas? You and me and the humiliating sex that we’re going to have, you have a timeline for that, right?

“Sex is your weapon in this revenge scheme, ne? The thing I could never refuse you, the thing that you threatened to hold against—” Her voice broke, and he...his features paled. “So, yeah, if your schedule allows me to wait, then you don’t have to ask your secretary to fill your wife’s birth control prescription.”

When she’d have turned away from him, he gripped her arms so tightly that Ari knew she’d have bruises tomorrow. But the pain was worth the satisfaction that she had finally, finally ruffled him. “Humiliating sex? Punishment sex?” He turned her until she was facing him, her duvet forgotten, her stomach tying itself in knots. “Have you convinced yourself that with my power and prestige, I somehow forced you?

“Have you conveniently twisted the truth in that too, agapita? That you gave your innocence unwillingly?”

Laughter fell from her mouth, serrated and strange. “No, it was never that, whatever it was.” Her nose rubbed against his biceps, her mouth curving into a smile against the fabric of his shirt. Faint tension emanated from him, making Ari throw caution to the wind. “Even in this we disagree, ne, Andreas?”

He looked at her as though he was afraid she was going mad. She was a little afraid of that herself. “How?”

“To this day, I’m convinced that I seduced you and you’re convinced that you seduced me. Even in this, we have a power struggle.”

He didn’t outright laugh. The rigid, sculpted curve of his thin lips didn’t even move. But his grip on her arms eased. Something softened in his black eyes. A flash of that dry humor she had seen back then. Only she.

He lifted a finger and touched the tip of her nose. Her breath suspended in her throat, for Ari had a feeling he had been about to touch her mouth and changed his mind at the last second.

He’d been tempted. And it filled her with a heady power she didn’t want.

“It was not so much a power struggle as it was you defying me. Defying everything I stood for—Drakon, the Palace, the House of Drakos, my father and me.” His tone became far off, as if he too was reliving those first heady months when they had met.

Memories permeated the very air around them.

The first day he’d arrived at the café, he’d introduced himself as simply Andreas. As if he could ever be just that. But, of course, she’d known who he was. Ariana had only laughed at his imperious command to let him or his team know if she needed anything. Until she realized he’d been in earnest. That he meant to keep an eye on his father’s ward.

Keep an eye, he had.

He would come to the café where she had worked every night, two huge tomes, and newspaper cuttings and reams of paperwork spread out on his table. Not a word, not a greeting after that first one. No chatting with any other customers. Just that dark gaze tracking her all over the café, until the early hours of morning, as if he found her endlessly fascinating. After the first day, he’d walked her home to the apartment, again with nary a word exchanged between them.

Ariana had never found herself so thoroughly captivated.

He had done that for a whole month before Ari had lost her patience and approached him.

Are you my very own watchdog, Your Highness?

She cringed, remembering how outrageous she’d been.

His reply: You should not be drinking with strange men, Ms. Sakis.

And then he’d followed her to the party where she’d proceeded to get drunk. Taken her home to her little apartment she’d shared with three other girls.

No more exchanges except her increasingly reckless taunts to break his self-assurance over the next month.

Until the afternoon the verdict had come out about her parents’ deaths. There had been no doubt that her mother had deliberately caused the accident.

She’d taken her life and her husband’s, a day after he’d struck Ariana.

She’d been mindless with grief, desperate to run away from her own life. Andreas hadn’t asked her a single question that day, nor left her side. Like a shadow, he’d been at her back throughout the day and night as she’d flitted from the café to a party, from the party to a walk along the coast and then back to her apartment.

Finally, she had broken down into anguished sobs, finally, she had realized that she was now forever alone, a fate she’d wished for for so long. At her apartment, he had sat by her on the couch—not even their shadows touching, always so careful to not touch her even by accident—and he had started talking, uncaring of whether she was listening.

In that deep, gravelly voice of his that had been just a tether to hold on to at first.

He’d started with the reason for his stay in the little village, a question she’d asked of him countless times. Told her of how his trail had led him there.

It was the first time she’d heard of the story of the dragon and the warriors. For hours, he’d told her of his fascination with the history of Drakon and its centuries-old lore since he’d been a little boy. Of the painstaking years of research he’d put together in his free time, which was far too little and rare. Of his fierce determination to pin down the real truth behind the war the warriors had waged on the dragon.

And in the passion in his words that had been a revelation—when she’d relentlessly taunted him for being an uptight, dutiful, one-dimensional prince puffed up with his own privilege and power—Ariana had seen the man beneath the Crown Prince’s mantle. A historian, a weaver of words, a dreamer; a man that struggled to survive within the constraints of his birth and his position of power without even knowing it. A man who liked her, her company, her laughter, yet wouldn’t, or couldn’t put it in a simple sentence.

A man who could have the world at his feet and yet saw something worthwhile in her.

The realization that somehow the Crown Prince of Drakon, powerful and gorgeous, needed her just as much as she needed him, had reverberated through her.

As dawn had painted the sky a myriad of purples and pinks, his voice had slowly guided Ariana back to the world, to the life waiting for her.

Through her death, her mother had given her a gift. She had given Ariana her own life back.

With a fiercely alive feeling coursing through her veins, she had done what she’d been dying, but had been terrified, to do, until then. She had wiped her tears away roughly, kneeled between his long legs and pressed her mouth to his.

Her first kiss, she had decided so full of herself, would be the Crown Prince’s.

Of course, he hadn’t kissed her back as she’d mashed her lips against his. Tenderly, he’d clasped her jaw and pushed her back while she’d been burning with humiliation and thwarted desire, had guided her to her room, tucked her in, waited until she fell into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, she’d woken up, brimming with a renewed verve for life and determined to have him, in whatever form she could.

Thee mou, she’d been playing with fire. Was it any wonder she’d been burned?

He’d made her feel so secure that night—a feeling she’d never known. Like she could survive the bitterest grief if only she had his words, him by her side.

Except she hadn’t foreseen that what had attracted him to her would be what he would despise in the end.

“Challenging everything I had ever believed in,” Andreas said, pulling her back into the now, a strange glitter in those dark eyes, “about myself, about the world, about my place in the world.

“You were this skinny, reckless seventeen-year-old and the first person I had ever met in my life who...”

“Who what?” she whispered, desperate for more. Even knowing that this self-indulgence would only lead to pain.

“Who didn’t care how powerful, educated, or accomplished I was. With you, I was...” she’d never seen him lost for words, yet right then, she was sure he was choosing them carefully “...just Andreas for the first time.”

They were words Ariana had never heard him say before. Almost regretful. A little wistful. They gouged open a longing she’d shut away.

Tears filled her throat. She wanted to pound at him for never saying those things to her then, for never telling her... No. Ruthlessly, she pulled herself to the present. They would have never survived, she needed to hold on to that.