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His Drakon Runaway Bride(9)

By:Tara Pammi

Tension filled his shoulders and neck.

A white dress shirt, custom made for him, hung loose on her slender frame and was tucked into a pair of tight jeans that seemed to have been poured onto her lithe body.

The denim hugged the long muscles of her thighs and the flare of her hips. A moment’s relief filled him. She did not look as unhealthy as he’d assumed earlier. Her wavy hair, she had tied into a messy knot at the back of her head. A knot he had reveled in undoing, as many times as he’d wanted.

She wore no jewelry except for a thin gold chain.

Her gaze flicked to each member of his team, an array of expressions passing through her face. When she saw Petra, a little frown appeared between her brows. When she saw Thomas, one of his oldest security guards, she threw herself at him with a grin.

A grin that turned her from that wary, resentful woman he’d kidnapped to that smiling girl he’d known long ago. Not that it was news that Ariana had always found more in common with the staff than him.

And then her eyes found him. With a regal nod that would have made the starchiest of his royal ancestors proud, she took a seat on the opposite side of the cabin. When the steward inquired if she wanted to eat, she rattled off food enough for his entire team.

All vegetarian, he remembered. At least, his private chef was more equipped than Andreas himself had been to feed her.

Andreas continued to listen to his team’s updates with one ear while he watched her polish off most of the food she’d ordered. A little color returned to her cheeks and her hair glittered like drying copper left out in the sun for too long as it began falling from her knot.

He went back to discussing the security arrangements for the upcoming coronation, the details of the new trade deal he would be signing with their neighbor courtesy of Nikandros and Gabriel. “Petra?” He was about to ask her to bring him the proposal the Crown Council wanted him to push to the cabinet when he saw Ariana standing before him.

“Do you intend to work the entire flight?”

He lowered his head back to his work. “Yes. My coronation is in two months and I have let my duties slide in the last few months. Nikandros has been carrying the brunt of them.”

She sat down in front of him, and raised her brows when he silently stared at her. Her skin had that freshly scrubbed look. Her body, lithe and toned, he fought the urge to give in.

“You...ditched work? Had hell frozen over?”

He frowned, remembering the number of times after they had returned to Drakon that she had pled with him to take the day off. Or to spend the evening with her. Or at the least, to eat dinner with her every day.

And he remembered his answers very well, too.


He’d always said no, pushed her every request off as juvenile or attention-seeking. He’d been far too busy trying to prove to his father that his lapse in judgment was limited to marrying her. That he was still capable of representing Drakon at the oil summit that year. That he could shoulder the tremendous task of digging Drakon out of the financial pit it had fallen into.

And then one day, she...had stopped asking.

How hadn’t he noticed that until now?

“I had other things on my mind.”

She flicked her gaze to his face and then back to her hands on the table. “I’m sure losing your father must have been very hard.”

He laughed. Maybe he could tell her how terrified Theos had been that Andreas would kill him with his bare hands. That would discourage the sympathy in her eyes. “I was obsessed with finding you.”


Petra stood silently by them. Waiting for him to dismiss Ariana, he slowly realized. It was not an incorrect presumption. Nor out of place.

Andreas did not let work slide for anyone. Even when he’d been searching for Ariana the last year, Petra had accompanied him most of the time. He’d done as much as he could to stop Nik from drowning under the weight of Drakon. Petra had been with him since he’d returned from the navy at eighteen and his father had chosen her to be his secretary. She knew him, knew his priorities. Maybe even came closest to a friend, though the simple art of making friends had never been allowed to him.

Petra knew him enough to come to the conclusion that whatever he was doing with Ariana, which bordered on the insane, would not affect his other functions.

The words to dismiss Ariana hovered over his lips when he noticed the edge in her smile, the whiteness of her knuckles gripping the table.

“Petra, we will continue later.”

Petra hovered, her shock clear in the air. Andreas frowned and let her see it. Christos, his entire team had been with him for too long if Petra was questioning his orders.

Ariana crossed her legs in a casual gesture but the tension didn’t leave her mouth. The flash of vulnerability reminded him again of how young she’d been then.

The cabin was now mostly empty for his look had dispersed his team. He let the silence build.

She had come with an agenda.

He waited patiently. And with a thrum of anticipation. She had always been full of crazy schemes. Like when she’d suggested they run away to the States for a couple of years and leave Drakon behind. When he had looked astonished at that, she’d modified it to say she’d wanted to backpack through Europe for a couple of months while he sorted out Drakon and its myriad problems, since their marriage hadn’t been publicized.

The thought of reckless Ariana wandering through the hostels in Europe while he stayed back in Drakon...he had shot her down quite harshly.

Only now, however, he began to see the pattern. Crazy or not, he had denied her everything she had asked for. He’d given her over to his father, returning to the apartment when he’d needed sex. When he couldn’t go without touching her for another minute. When he’d made some headway through the myriad of issues on his desk and she was his reward for it.

As if he’d ration his quota of her.

And every time he’d gone to see her, he’d found her to be increasingly restless, coming up with crazier plans.

He had given her the most coveted role in his life, in all of Drakon and it had been utterly lost on Ariana.

How had he forgotten those months of their marriage? It had been hell, the direct contrast of the months they’d spent in the village.

“Did you ever sleep with her?”

His head jerked up at her soft whisper.

The filthy curse that had been about to fly from his mouth arrested when he saw that her question was in earnest. The wariness in her expression, as if she were bracing for the answer, the way she seemed to retreat into herself... It galled him that even when she was in the wrong, Ariana made the most primal, possessive, protective urges come out in him.

“You lost the right to ask me that.” But her question rankled. “Are you asking me if I cheated on you when we were together?”

“No.” Her immediate denial seemed to surprise her just as much as it did him. “I don’t think so.”

He leaned back and wrapped his arm around the seat. Wanting to touch her became secondary to the questions building up in his head. “I’m beginning to realize you did not think much of me when we were together.”

“No. I thought the world of you, actually,” she replied in that honest way she used to have. So where had it all gone wrong? “I knew...” Her gaze was serious when she met his. “I know that you wouldn’t have cheated on me.

“I meant before...before we met. Or maybe after.” She sighed. “But like you said, I’ve no right to ask that question.”

Just as easily as she provoked his ire, she mollified it. “Petra is my employee. A woman who depends on me for her livelihood. You’re aware that my sister, Eleni, was born of an affair between Theos and my nanny. Do you think anything could provoke me into repeating his scandalous, abusive behavior?”

Ariana looked away. There could be a hundred women ready to fall at his feet among his employees like Petra, a hundred more who adored the very ground their Crown Prince walked on. He didn’t notice the women as anything but staff members.

Petra was no more than his three aides, who were thankfully all men, no more than his security guard Thomas, no more than his tailor, or his fitness instructor or his chef.

Another cog in the complex machinery that made his life run smoothly.

And yet... “You worshipped your father.”

* * *

From the moment they had returned to the capital city, Ariana had seen the frightening truth. The man she had married was really no different from the cold, ruthless King Theos who had looked at her just as her father had done—as if she were a failure. A stain that had to be hidden far away from the gilded brightness of his palace.

“There were days when you were frighteningly similar to him.” As if the world and the people in it were accessories to his own life. They were present only to provide his life with certain value.

Even Ariana had been another cog, just a pleasurable one.

His self-imposed isolation at the village, she’d made the mistake of thinking that was his life. Instead it had been a stolen pocket of time.

He laid his head back now and rubbed his jaw with the base of his palm. A bristly stubble had come in since this afternoon. Coupled with the dark shadows under his eyes, he looked a mess. Tired and almost imperfect.

A twinge of ache settled in Ari’s chest. It was that same ferocious protectiveness for a man who owned the world, who didn’t need it that had led her into following him into fire. Had she gained no sense in ten years?