Authors: Laurie Paige
Falling in love was as new an experience for her as making love. Real or imagined, both played havoc with her emotions. Or perhaps it was carrying his child that did that.
“It’s so confusing,” she murmured when he released her mouth but continued to run his thumb along her jaw.
“This. Us.” She gestured helplessly.
“Then we need to continue until we totally understand everything.” His tone was mocking but his manner was moody, thoughtful and enigmatic.
She wanted to ask what things he thought they should comprehend, but he didn’t give her time. Clearing a space around them and laying her on the down comforter, he made love to her again. It was as wild and magical as the night had been.
Jean-Paul watched Megan busy herself about the place. She washed his wet sweats from his sojourn in the storm last night, plus their other clothing and towels. He smiled as she became quite domesticated with a feather duster or vacuum cleaner in her hands.
But he knew her real nature. She was as untamed as the mythic selky he accused her of being.
Smiling, he waited until she’d folded the dried items—a washer and dryer had been hidden behind folding doors next to a linen closet—then he turned the tape player on. Soft music filled the room. He bowed to her and held out his arms in invitation.
Without hesitation, she walked into them.
They danced for an hour, moving slowly, sinuously to the music as if they were one. She followed his steps easily, something he recalled she’d done at her older sister’s birthday ball.
Odd that he remembered so much about her and that night. Had it been an omen of things to come?
“You’re smiling,” she accused.
“I was thinking of the first time we danced.”
“At Meredith’s birthday ball.”
“Ah, so you remember, too.” That pleased him, but it also made him wonder at the nuances between them.
She stopped moving abruptly. “The sun,” she said. “Look, the sun.”
Going to the window, he stood behind her while the clouds parted and sunshine bathed the mountains in gold and caused sparkles to dance on the sea.
“The world looks new, all clean and fresh and lovely,” she said, quiet happiness in her voice.
He looked at her beautiful face. “Yes,” he agreed huskily and felt a heaviness inside. He knew what was coming.
In midafternoon, the familiar sound of an approaching helicopter confirmed his premonition. They were being rescued from their mountain aerie.
Duke Carson Logan didn’t accompany his men this time. The captain saluted smartly when Jean-Paul went out to greet the officer. “Ready to return, sir?”
“Yes.” He smiled grimly, knowing the queen would expect some resolution between him and her daughter. He would have to tell Her Royal Majesty that they hadn’t gotten around to discussing the future. There had been too many other things claiming their attention.
His blood stirred lustily.
Shaking his head at this sign of unabated hunger, he went to collect Megan for their return to reality. “It’s time,” he said.
“I know.” She hesitated, then gazed at him levelly. “Thank you for making things pleasant.”
He questioned her with his eyes as he gathered the two duffels.
“Some men would have greatly resented being abducted and forced to endure hours trapped in a mountain lodge. It could have been very uncomfortable…”
Her voice trailed off as he smiled. “I can think of no better way to wait out a storm. I hope we can do it again.”
He liked the pink that highlighted her cheeks and the way she returned his smile in her candid way. A treasure, his selky was, he decided. Their two days at the lodge had been very enjoyable, beyond any he’d ever known.
“Your Royal Highness,” the captain said with a crisp bow to Megan when they went outside. He took the bags from Jean-Paul and stored them in the rear area while a soldier helped Megan aboard.
When they were all belted in, the chopper lifted above the peaks and turned south. In little more than thirty minutes, he and the royal princess were back at the palace.
“The queen wishes to see you,” Candy reported as soon as they were in the family residence. She
gave the couple a quick perusal, then stared at the floor.
“I’ll change and go at once,” Megan said. She paused at her door and looked at him.
“I’ll go, too. Wait for me?” he asked.
She nodded, then disappeared inside her chambers.
Jean-Paul quickly changed to formal day wear, which was the diplomatic uniform of his country. Stopping by Megan’s rooms, he found her ready in a day outfit of soft pink.
“You’re more beautiful than a rose,” he whispered before they reached the queen’s door.
They were admitted at once by a maid, who quickly disappeared when they were inside the parlor. Tea was ready on a wheeled cart. Queen Marissa bustled in.
He bowed while Megan dropped into a curtsy.
“You’re here. Good.” The queen stripped formal gloves from her hands and tossed them on a table along with a hat that matched her royal blue shantung suit. “Megan, would you serve the tea while I wash up?”
She disappeared into the bedroom. Jean-Paul gave Megan a quick assessment as she took her place behind the tea cart. Her face was impassive, as if no emotion existed within her slight frame.
The Ice Princess was back.
He’d seen her adopt the mode each time she wanted to hide deep emotion. Only in his arms had
he ever seen her drop the facade. A strange mingling of satisfaction and pride shuffled through him.
The door opened, and the queen returned. She was in an informal robe and slippers. “We have a state dinner tonight,” she told them, settling on a settee. “I would like you two to attend.”
He flicked a quick glance at Megan and caught the panic that riffled through her before she nodded. “Of course. What time shall we be ready?”
“Eight. The formal dining salon. Your father will be there.”
Hmm, this could spell trouble, he thought and observed his sweet lover. She poured tea with hands that were as steady as a surgeon’s. Pleased, he took the cup and presented it to the queen with a little flourish.
The queen gave him a smile of thanks and took a sip. “Perfect,” she said.
He offered a plate of sandwiches and biscuits. She selected one of each and ate hungrily.
“Did you have lunch, Mother?” Megan asked with a note of concern.
“With the Privy Council,” the queen replied, her delicate brows lifted in an ironic expression. “They have agreed to the Monaco trade accord on tariffs.”
He noted that Megan seemed a bit uncomfortable. She was probably supposed to have attended the meeting with the council. However he felt no guilt about her missing the function. After all, the
queen had been the one to plan their little sojourn on the mountaintop.
Seeing the older woman’s eyes on him, he knew he and Megan were expected to make an announcement. The queen would probably be furious when they told her there was no accord reached between them while they’d been secluded.
Secret pleasures stirred within him. With a stern admonition for his libido to be still, he wondered what Megan would say when questioned about the past forty-eight hours. What would he say?
The queen sighed, then seemed to notice them still standing. “Be seated. You both look as if you intend to flee at any second.” She smiled, but there was an impatience about her that he’d never noticed.
Her Royal Majesty was disturbed about something, and it was more than a wayward daughter and her lover or an international trade agreement.
Jean-Paul considered all the undercurrents he’d sensed since arriving in Penwyck, Thursday of last week. Today was Friday. Eight days. It seemed a lifetime, yet only an instant, as if he and Megan had stumbled into a time warp.
And only God knows where this one would spit them out.
At least monarchs didn’t have one’s head severed and stuck on a spike nowadays. He gave a sardonic smile at the image, then sobered as he studied Me
gan. She was coolly composed, ready to take whatever came.
Admiration grew in him. And worry. He didn’t want her independent attitude to anger her father. She might not be locked in the dungeon, but she could be exiled for as long as the king chose, no matter what the queen might say.
Naturally he’d take her home with him, either to Drogheda or to his grandparents in France. His grandmother would welcome her with open arms, then pounce on him for not waiting until marriage to impregnate his lover.
Warmth crept over him. That was one thing he could offer Megan—his family’s acceptance. They would love the child, no matter what they thought of the parents’ behavior. He thought his mother would like the quiet princess once she got past Megan’s natural reticence. No one could resist his mother’s gaiety and gentle inquisition for long.
“Well,” the queen finally said. “The storm has passed, and we must be about other matters. What decision did you two reach?”
Megan swallowed and looked toward him. Her smile, resigned to whatever fate awaited them, sent him an apology. She opened her mouth.
Before she could speak, he did. “We agree to the marriage, Your Majesty. As soon as can be arranged.”
He could have heard a pin drop in the silence that ensued.
egan returned to her quarters shortly after midnight. Jean-Paul walked by her side. The state dinner had taken forever due to the toasts by the Minister of the Exchequer on the international trade accord. She’d realized that Drogheda’s balance of trade was much better than Penwyck’s and wondered what they exported that other countries found so desirable.
She asked him.
“Fine craftsmanship,” he promptly replied. “My grandfather noted that our people were skilled with their hands, whether knitting clothing or tying nets for fishing. He started looking for modern industry that could use those skills.”
“What did he find?”
“Jewelry-making first, then carved architectural ornamentation. My father added labs for silicon growing and etching, also drug manufacturing.”
She nodded. His information corresponded with the knowledge she’d gained at the trade conference and had been included in her report. Her own country exported a technical know-how in several fields, including medicine, science and engineering.
“Were you surprised when your father asked you to arrange a seminar on pathogenic neurology?”
“Somewhat. Meredith does most of the hostess duty in those types of things.”
“And Anastasia does the sports events.” His gaze skimmed over her face as if seeking information. “What is your specialty?”
“I don’t have one,” she admitted. “I fill in wherever my parents need me.”
He frowned as if displeased. “That’s one of the problems with being in our position. We must always do our duty, whether it fits with our plans or not.”
She nodded, then opened her door and stood there awkwardly, not sure what was expected. “Should I invite you in?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
“No, selky. It’s late, and you’re tired. Rest tonight. We’ll talk in the morning. Then I’ve got to call my parents, or else my mother will have my
head on a platter if our news leaks before I’ve informed her of our coming nuptials.”
“Our countries will have to negotiate the marriage contract,” she reminded him.
For a second he looked angry again, then he smiled in resignation. “I know. Let’s keep it simple, huh?”
Smiling at the absurdity of his wishful request, he bent and kissed her, then shooed her inside. “See that she isn’t disturbed in the morning,” he told Candy, who rushed to the door when she spied her mistress.
“Yes, sir,” the maid said with a saucy grin.
However, Megan had hardly gotten into bed, the light out and the maid dismissed, when the phone rang. Her private number, she saw by the light on the telephone. She answered.
“Megan,” her brother said.
“Yes. I, uh, heard some news today.”
She tensed when he paused. “From a tabloid?”
“Yes. Any truth in it?”
Huffing in exasperation at the speed with which gossip traveled, she told him the truth.
“You’re…expecting?” He was clearly astonished.
“Yes, about nine weeks or so.”
“Jean-Paul Augustuve is the father?”
By his tone, Owen seemed to be having trouble
accepting her news. Megan knew the feeling. It still amazed her.
“What are your plans?” her brother demanded, sounding as autocratic as their father.
“Well, Jean-Paul told Mother we intend to marry as soon as possible.”
Owen was silent, then asked, “And what do you want?”
It took her a moment to answer. “I don’t know.”
“Listen, Megan, the phone line is starting to cut in and out. We may have to hang up. Just promise me one thing?”
“Follow your heart. Don’t marry a man you don’t love just because…well, because of one foolish night. You know Dylan and I will help you through this. So will Meredith and Anastasia. We just all need to stick together. Don’t let Father force you into a loveless match that will make you miserable. Okay? Are you listening?”
“Yes. Thanks for your support,” she said in a lighter tone and meant it. “Wherever you are.”
She heard laughter in his voice when he answered. “I can’t tell you where that is, but Admiral Monteque knows how to get hold of me. Call if you need anything. That’s an order.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Come home soon,” she added, wishing he was there now.
When they hung up, she turned off the lamp again and sat there in the dark, thinking over their
conversation. Owen was on secret military maneuvers somewhere in the world; Dylan was off on some mission. She had a sudden premonition that both of them should be here in Penwyck, that they were needed…
But no, that was just her own foolish desire for support, which she knew she would get from her siblings. She had her two sisters available, if she needed them. However, for some reason, she didn’t feel like asking their opinion on what she should do.
Follow your heart, her brother had advised.
She wanted to. Oh, how she wanted to! Her marriage wouldn’t be completely loveless, she’d wanted to tell Owen. Because with each day, she was falling more and more in love with her unfathomable lover.
Jean-Paul seemed set on the union, but why? Because he wanted the child? Because he knew of her reluctance and hated to be thwarted when he had decided it was for the best? She didn’t know the answers.
Wearily she put the questions aside and forced herself to relax until she drifted into sleep. Her last thought was to wish he was beside her, holding her close to his warmth.
Nine o’clock had come and gone before Megan woke the next morning. Before dressing, she checked the weather. The day was overcast, but not
cold. Out on the moors, she saw two horsemen racing across the rough grass that covered the hills and blew in the wind like a wave-tossed sea.
She saw Jean-Paul and Anastasia when they stopped at the stables outside the palace walls. Her heart gave a painful lurch. Given a choice, would he have chosen her for his life’s companion?
That fanciful notion had been at the heart of her following him to his sailing yacht two months ago, she now realized. She’d fallen in love with him even then. That’s what had gotten them in their present predicament. It was her fault. That much was clear.
Although he insisted on taking his share of the blame for their problem, someone had to be practical about their future. Sighing, she admitted that someone would have to be her. She would speak to her mother as soon as possible and get this straightened out. Then she would go away.
Choosing black slacks and a white cotton sweater, she added onyx earrings and a necklace for her morning ensemble. With sensible black flats, she felt capable and efficient as she looked over her schedule with its sparse assortment of official functions to be attended. If she pleaded fatigue due to pregnancy, she knew she would be excused from most of them, but that seemed cowardly.
Besides, she had new duties to attend to. Taking the stairs, she descended to the underground passage and headed for the infirmary and medical lab
oratory where important research was conducted. She needed to speak to Dr. Waltham, head of the medical facilities and royal physician to the Penwyck family.
“Hello,” she said to the head nurse, who was studying a chart at her desk.
The nurse stuck the chart in a drawer, scrambled to her feet and curtsied. “Your Royal Highness,” she said, looking upset and somewhat breathless.
Megan assumed she’d caught the woman reading while on the job. She smiled to put the nurse at ease. “I wondered if Dr. Waltham was available today. I know it’s Saturday, but I thought he might have come in.”
“Uh, yes. Yes, he is. I’ll tell him you’re here.”
Megan watched the nurse flee down the hall and into the office at the end. She glanced around. The infirmary seemed unusually quiet. None of the royal family was ill, but the palace staff were also treated in the facility, as well as high-ranking officers and anyone with a disease that the medical researchers wanted to study. But that was done in an isolated wing so the contamination wouldn’t spread.
“The doctor will see you,” the nurse said, interrupting Megan’s thoughts.
After discussing the seminar, which the doctor wanted to hold within the next week if possible, he added, “Only the one day. I already have commitments from some of my most prominent col
leagues,” he told her, and mentioned three impressive names in the field of neuromedicine.
She wrote the names down, discussed a few more and prepared to leave. However, looking into his kindly eyes, she felt the need to confide in this man who had delivered her twenty-seven years ago. There was nothing about her physically that he didn’t already know.
“Dr. Waltham,” she began, then didn’t know how to continue.
“You know anything you tell me is confidential,” he assured her, as if sensing her uncertainty. “Not even the king can make me disclose information about my patients.”
She smiled in gratitude. “You may have heard the rumors about a royal princess being…” It was harder to say than she realized it would be.
“Pregnant? Yes. Is the princess you?”
She nodded. “I think so.”
“Shall we give you a checkup and be sure?”
Thinking of the nurse, she hesitated.
“It will be totally private,” he told her. “Come into my examining room.”
He performed the exam in a matter-of-fact manner that helped put her at ease. When he finished, he confirmed her condition and advised her to take vitamin supplements and not to go horseback riding or boating or anything that could result in a sudden, hard jolt to the body.
“Otherwise, continue as usual,” he said, “but don’t overdo it on state affairs, such as the other day when you fainted.”
“Oh, you heard about that,” she said in surprise. “It was the sun, I think. I became nauseated. Jean-Paul saved me from a fall.”
“Is he your young man?”
“I…he’s the father.”
The doctor patted her shoulder. “Your secrets are safe with me, young Megan, but they won’t be secrets long,” he warned. “Don’t put off marriage. You and the baby will be better off having a settled life.”
Nodding, she thanked the doctor and left the infirmary. Having official confirmation made the weight of impending motherhood settle heavily on her shoulders.
Laying a protective hand over the child, she knew they had to marry, but she was afraid. To end in hatred or indifference that which was begun in enchantment went against the grain.
However, there were acts and there were consequences. It was time to give up girlish dreams of a great and noble love. Reality was a marriage of convenience.
She smiled fatalistically. Or inconvenience, as the case may be. At least she was fairly sure that Jean-Paul didn’t have another love he pined for. Maybe…just maybe it would all work out.
Thus speaks the optimist, she scolded her ever-hopeful heart, and laughed because else she might cry.
Returning to her quarters, she went past the king’s chambers. Hearing a thump inside, she was surprised that her father was in his private rooms rather than the public ones he usually resided in during the day. She hesitated outside his door, then knocked softly.
Perhaps she shouldn’t disturb him, but she wanted to speak to him privately about her wedding. A quiet one, without a lot of state pomp and ceremony.
Was that possible?
When she didn’t get an answer, she knocked again, then, on an impulse she hadn’t followed since she had been three or four years old, she entered the king’s rooms without an invitation to do so.
The familiar furniture comforted her as she peered about. Closing the door swiftly behind her, she went toward the bedchamber. The hair rose on the back of her neck.
“Father?” she called.
No one answered. After calling again, she decided she’d been mistaken. He wasn’t there.
The feeling that someone was hiding and watching her was simply the product of her unruly imagination, which seemed to have grown stronger as of
late. However, she felt so uncomfortable, she decided to leave. At once.
Turning too fast, she grabbed a chair as dizziness washed over her. It was followed by nausea. She closed her eyes and held on until the spasm passed.
Feeling somewhat better, she opened her eyes. Before her was the pantry from which the king could have a snack whenever he wanted. Six exquisite little crystal jars caught a stray beam of sunlight and glittered like jewels in the dimness of the sitting room.
Seeing a tin of crackers, she peered inside and, noticing that it was nearly full, helped herself to two of them. The crackers would help settle the nausea. While nibbling on them, she examined the crystal jars.
Each held about four ounces of preserves. One had been opened. Lifting it, she unscrewed the golden lid, sniffed, then stuck her little finger into the dark purple jam for a taste.
Plum. Her father’s favorite. Judging from the fancy containers, these must have come from a head of state as a gift for some occasion, perhaps his last birthday.
An idea came to her. The king loved scones, clotted cream and plum preserves. She would invite him to tea, then they could talk privately about the wedding and her wishes for a quiet family ceremony.
Yeah, right, some skeptical part of her mocked.
As if a royal could ever do anything as important as marriage in a quiet manner. She wondered if Jean-Paul had spoken to his parents yet.
Taking a pen and pad from a writing desk, she quickly wrote a note to her father and left it on the desk as she had done when she was little. Selywyn didn’t like it when he was circumvented by the family, but sometimes subterfuge was necessary in order to get what one wanted.
She returned to her own quarters with a full jar of jewel-toned preserves. Suddenly starving, she opened her own private store, grabbed a cracker and wolfed it down. Calling for her maid, she sent the girl to the kitchen for a glass of milk and bowl of fruit.
After eating, she felt more capable of facing her duties. This morning, she would go to the children’s hospital in town for two hours, then it was a luncheon with the Embroidery Guild. Hand-crafted lace was one of Penwyck’s most delicate exports and in great demand by linen makers.