Authors: Laurie Paige
After lunch, she attended to the details of the seminar Dr. Waltham wanted Penwyck to host by composing a letter to each scientist. Once the formal invitations were printed, she reviewed them, then had Candy send them off.
Before lying down for a nap, she opened a package of Melba toast rounds and snacked on several. She’d been ravenous since rising that morning. Just
another strange day in the life of a pregnant princess, she concluded and fell into a light sleep.
At four, she dressed in fresh clothing and called her father on his private line to see if he’d gotten her note. He answered the phone, surprising her.
“Yes, I will stop by, but only for a moment. I don’t have time to join you for tea, but it sounds delightful,” he told her.
She was pleased that he sounded so cheerful. He would be even more pleased at the news of the marriage. She hoped.
The phone rang. When she picked it up, she was informed by Selywyn that the king had to take an important call but would get back with her when he had a moment.
Megan thanked the royal secretary, then grimaced when she hung up. She’d really rather get the meeting over with. Spying the jar of preserves, she regretfully picked it up and hurried down the corridor to the king’s chamber.
Slipping inside, she started to return it to the pantry and saw that the other five jars were gone. She looked on the shelves, but they were nowhere to be found. Had her father noticed the one missing and hidden the others, perhaps suspecting a servant of stealing it?
She sighed. She’d have to admit her crime since he didn’t attend her tea. Feeling guilty for invading his private stores, she rushed back to her room, the
crystal jar still in her hand. She would confess all when she saw him.
At loose ends, she wandered out to the garden. Usually she found her secluded spot soothing, but not today. She wanted the wedding ceremony discussed and arranged. Actually, she wished she could go to sleep and when she awoke, all would be over.
Then she would be a married woman.
A tremor rushed over her at the thought. There were so many questions, such as where they would live and what they would do to occupy their days.
Jean-Paul was trained in archaeology and went on digs with his friend, Dr. Stanhope. She’d read all about his interests in an article that described the earl as more than an international playboy. Would he want her with him if he joined his colleague on their latest find?
In some cases, the husband did his thing and the wife did hers and the two of them rarely met. Take the Duke and Duchess of York. Fergie had seen her husband a total of sixty days during one year of their early married life.
“Why so solemn?” a masculine voice inquired.
Megan stared at Jean-Paul as if he were a ghost. “Oh, it’s you,” she said, her thoughts in a muddle.
“Yes, the eager groom, rushing to his bride’s side as soon as she appeared. Have you been avoiding me?”
“No. I went to the children’s hospital, then I had a function—”
“Your maid told me,” he interrupted her hurried explanation. His smile was easy as he looked her over. “Did you rest any?”
“This afternoon. I took a nap.”
“Lucky you. I wish I could have been there.”
A flush crept up her face. “I was hoping to speak to my father about…about the…”
“I talked to my parents yesterday.” He held a birch branch aside and entered her favorite spot. Once he was seated on the wall, he took her hand. “My mother is too thrilled for words, according to her. Then she talked my ear off for another hour. She wants you to call her when you have a moment, if you will. She’s in her office every morning by nine. I’m to give you the private number.”
“That’s kind of her,” Megan said automatically while dreading the thought of talking to his mother.
“Father will have to speak to my uncle, Prince Bernier, about the marriage contract, then Drogheda’s minister will speak to Penwyck’s minister about the settlement. They will inform us what they have decided.”
She heard the irony in his tone and saw the muscle tighten in his jaw as he recounted the protocol that would be followed. “You resent this,” she began, then stopped.
His brief laughter was harsh. “I hate it that our private lives must be discussed and planned as if we had no say in it at all.”
“That’s why I wanted to talk to my father—to request a small ceremony with just family.”
“That is impossible,” Jean-Paul said grimly. “I am not so important, but you are a royal.”
“Your every move is reported in all the major papers of the world,” she reminded him.
He shrugged. “Gossip, mostly.”
“It isn’t known that you’re the father. We could simply not admit anything. I could go away. It isn’t too late. No one but our parents know of the wedding plans.”
She envisioned the mountains and glaciers and that she was part of them, remote and unfeeling. Nothing could touch an ice princess.
Jean-Paul stroked her arm. “Come back,” he demanded softly. “It is too late to withdraw.”
She blinked as reality returned, its weight squarely on her shoulders. To her shock, tears filled her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she managed to whisper.
“What’s done is done.”
She could read nothing from his expression or his tone. He seemed resigned to their fate, but it was clear he wasn’t joyful over it. The guilt bore down more heavily on her.
Before she could weep all over him, she rushed from the alcove, across the garden and up to her room. Sending her maid away, she threw herself on
her bed, but the tears didn’t come. Instead they formed a hard, aching ball inside her that refused to dissolve.
She really wished that she could simply fade away like the morning mist on the sea. Then no one would be forced into anything because of her indiscretion.
Jean-Paul worried about Megan when she didn’t appear at dinner. Only he, Meredith, Anastasia, Amira and her mother, Lady Gwendolyn, were present at the family table. The four women discussed their day while he brooded on his affairs.
The princess wasn’t happy about their marriage. So? She should have thought of that before following him to his ship that night in Monte Carlo.
But she had joined him. There had followed a wondrous night of delight. Their time at the lodge had proved the night hadn’t been a fluke. The second night together had been just as exciting.
So why was she reluctant to join with him in a legal ceremony that would please everyone involved, not to mention give their child the security of a father’s name?
Was it a diplomatic problem? Did she know something about their two countries that he didn’t?
“You’re quiet, Jean-Paul,” Meredith said, breaking into his useless musings. “Are you missing Megan?”
He glanced around the table, spotting the interest
in the women’s eyes. They were sincerely concerned about him and Megan, he realized. His parents had been worried about the couple’s happiness and well-being, too. He couldn’t resent their concerned questioning for long.
“I’m worried about her,” he told them, taking them into his confidence. “She’s concerned with the idea of our marriage.”
“I fear she thinks you will both come to regret it and perhaps hate each other,” Anastasia said. “Megan is a dreamer, you know. She wants Prince Charming and all that.”
“Yes, and you want his horse,” Meredith interjected, frowning at her younger sibling. She studied Jean-Paul. “Have you told her you love her? Men tend to forget these things. They think women just
Isn’t that true, Lady Gwendolyn?” she appealed to the older woman.
“You may be right,” the queen’s lady-in-waiting agreed. “I should think an honest revelation of your feelings would be the most effective. If you care for her,” she added.
The four women looked at him expectantly.
“Uh, I’m sure you’re right,” he said quickly. “I’ll speak to her when we finish.”
“Go now,” Meredith encouraged. “She’s in her chambers. Her maid said Megan had gone to bed with a headache.”
After a second’s indecision, Jean-Paul excused himself and went to the princess’s quarters. No one
greeted his knock on the outer door. He entered and went to the bedroom.
Seeing the door open, he went inside.
Moonlight slanted across the carpeted floor. On the bed, his princess slept with one arm resting under her breasts and one artfully laid beside her head on the pillow. She looked pale in the dim light.
A great tightening in his chest caused him to hesitate. He thought of the queen’s advice to court his elusive selky and Lady Gwendolyn’s to tell Megan of his feelings. He tried to determine what exactly he felt for this small female who had so forcibly caught his interest and imagination.
She made him dream of distant horizons and foreign seas and exotic things, he admitted. She stirred his body and filled his head with dizzy longing and emotions he couldn’t define, ones he’d never felt before.
Was this love?
Shaking his head, he admitted he didn’t know. He only knew he thought of her constantly, that he wanted to make love with her every night and being apart was torture.
Love? Maybe. Passion? Without a doubt.
“Move over, selky,” he murmured, going to her bed. “I won’t be denied this night. Whatever the morrow delivers, we’ll face together.”
Slipping his arms around her slender form, he cupped his body around hers and reveled in the feel and scent and wonder of her.
“Jean-Paul?” she questioned.
“None other,” he told her, and kissed her delectable mouth. To his delight, she returned the kiss. He made love to her with all the gentleness that he knew how to bring to his touch, trying to tell her…to tell her…
No words came to mind, but he realized he didn’t need any. She was all wild, sweet response in his arms. That had to foretell a fortuitous future.
egan woke to a muffled shriek. Startled out of a sound sleep, she bolted upright. Her maid, breakfast tray in hand, stood at the door, her face a comical mask of confusion, not to mention scandalized shock.
“Good morning, Candy,” Jean-Paul said, also sitting up. He pushed a pillow up to the headboard and leaned against it. “Just leave the tray on the table. We’ll serve ourselves.”
“Yes, sir,” the awestruck maid whispered as if her voice had been stolen by the sight of a man in her mistress’s bed.
Which Megan considered perfectly understandable. She felt rather stricken herself.
The young maid left them. Jean-Paul prepared a cup of tea as she liked it, took a sip, pronounced it “perfect” and gave it to her.
He peeked under the food covers and found her usual fruit cup, whole-grain porridge, toast and jelly. He added brown sugar to the cereal and tasted, then added a bit more.
“Here,” he said, and held the spoon to her lips.
She had perforce to take the bite. To her surprise, he helped himself to a spoonful, then gave her another. In this way, he shared the entire meal with her, a thing she’d never done before.
“An interesting way to start the day,” he remarked when they’d finished every bite and were sharing another cup of tea. He gave her a sexy glance. “I can think of others.”
“I have appointments this morning,” she hastily told him, suddenly fearing that her father might appear with a royal brigade behind him to arrest Jean-Paul or perhaps throw both of them in the dungeon.
Jean-Paul nodded, regret in his eyes. “Duty calls.”
Sighing, she pressed her temples and wished for a simpler life.
“A little,” she admitted.
He rubbed her temples for a moment, then gently pulled her into his arms, her head on his chest. “I think I could become used to connubial bliss,” he
murmured with a hint of laughter in his deepened tone.
Megan could, too. Too easily. She stroked over his chest and down his abdomen. He wore briefs. Recalling the night, she wondered when he’d donned them. Vaguely she remembered his helping her into her nightgown again before they settled into sleep, his arm under her head, his thigh over hers.
“I must stir,” she said, but made no move to rise.
“I know.” He kissed the crown of her head. “One, two, three,” he counted, then threw the cover back.
Laughing, they rose—she to go to the shower, he to quickly dress. He was gone when she reappeared, but on her pillow was one perfect pink rosebud.
She pressed it under a tome entitled
A Comprehensive History of Penwyck: The Fifteenth Century.
Like Juliet, she wished for the soft trill of the nightingale, but the night was gone. It was time for the morning song of the lark.
Massaging the back of her neck, which seemed stiff this morning, she went to her sitting room and flipped on the computer. After checking the e-mail and answering several from friends who lived or visited in other parts of the world, she sat there thinking of the magic she found in Jean-Paul’s arms. He seemed to find it, too.
Maybe marriage was the right thing for them.
Her feelings on the subject went up and down faster than a roller coaster, she realized. One simply had to take a mind-set and stick to it. Like a royal juggernaut, the wedding was already in the works. She should relax and go with the flow, as the saying went.
No! She wouldn’t dwell on foolish dreams of a great love. With her eyes wide-open, she would accept her fate and be gracious about it. If it killed her.
With a fatalistic smile, she went about her royal duties, which were light that morning. First was another tour of the palace and Penwyck’s ancient history for foreign visitors, then luncheon, this time a fund-raiser for the children’s hospital, her favorite charity.
By three, she had returned to her quarters, the headache more fierce than ever. An odd chill caused her to shiver as she reclined on the chaise lounge. She pulled the finely woven afghan over her and sank instantly into sleep.
Jean-Paul stood at the window of his bedroom and watched the gardens below. He was restless, and he knew the cause. He was impatient to see Megan.
The maid had informed him that Her Royal Highness was sleeping. He hadn’t the heart to disturb her. Perhaps it was the pregnancy, but Megan
seemed tired of late and vulnerable in a way he hadn’t been aware of in their past dealings.
In truth, he was worried about her. All this stress couldn’t be good for her or the baby.
His insides tightened convulsively at the thought of the child. His. And hers. A life created out of their passionate interlude. A symbol of the future, of hope and happiness to come.
He shook his head at the odd musings. Of late, he thought more and more of the future and his role as a husband and father. Although the rebel in him decried a forced marriage, another part embraced the idea.
And that was the oddest thing of all.
Just as he started to turn away, he spotted movement in the garden. The queen walked alone among the roses, stopping every few feet to sniff a blossom or remove a faded one from the vine. He wondered at her relationship with the king.
In truth, he’d never seen them together in the private family quarters and only once or twice at the state functions he’d attended as emissary from his country. He’d had a lengthy conversation with his uncle, Prince Bernier, that morning on a code-scrambled cell phone. The prince adamantly wanted to be part of any military alliance between the island kingdoms.
Easier said than done, Jean-Paul had felt like telling the prince. Naturally, he’d guarded his tongue.
The queen suddenly stopped, her entire posture
going stiff with surprise, then she relaxed. Jean-Paul saw her nod, then he spied the king. Morgan joined his queen, holding out an arm to her in a gallant fashion.
They strolled among the roses for perhaps ten minutes, chatting amiably, if one could go by their manner and gestures. King Morgan stopped beside a rosebush and plucked a white rose whose petals were edged in a pink blush. He removed the thorns from its stem.
To Jean-Paul’s amusement, the king touched his lips to the rose, then brushed it along the queen’s cheek to her mouth, lingered there a second, then dipped to a point between her breasts. In a loverlike manner, he slipped the rose into the queen’s cleavage. They stood very close.
Hmm, it would appear the couple was much closer than gossip indicated these days.
The king bent his head toward the queen, obviously intending to kiss her. Jean-Paul, feeling intrusive, decided to withdraw, but at that moment, another figure appeared.
The king stepped away from the queen, who pressed a hand to her breast as if flustered. Jean-Paul saw the other man was Duke Carson Logan, the royal bodyguard. He spoke to the king for a moment. The king nodded, then kissed the queen’s hand.
When the men were gone, the queen took a seat
in her favorite rose bower, her movements pensive, perhaps sad.
Jean-Paul wondered how anyone in public life ever had a private one. A rueful smile curved his mouth. Morgan and his queen had produced three girls and twin boys, so they must have had some quiet moments.
Recalling his own trysts with Megan, he turned from the window. His mother, aware that the wedding must be rushed, was determined to speak to the bride-to-be as soon as possible. He was to deliver a message to Megan to call at once. Suppressing the throb of hunger he felt each time he thought of the princess, he hurried to her chamber to see if she was awake.
The young maid greeted him with the news that the princess was still sleeping.
“I need to talk to her,” he said, frowning at the delay. “Awaken her.”
“Oh, sir, I cannot. The queen said the princess wasn’t to be disturbed.”
“The queen was here? When?”
“About an hour ago.” The girl was obviously worried out of her wits about something.
“What ails you?” he asked on a kinder note.
Candy caught her lower lip between her teeth. She glanced over her shoulder. Following her gaze, Jean-Paul went to the writing desk. A tabloid was placed there, its pages folded to a headline.
“Royal Princess Pregnant by Playboy Earl,” he
read. He cursed softly. A picture of him and Megan coming out of the conference room in Monte Carlo—they happened to be leaving at the same moment, but not together—was prominently displayed under the inch-high letters.
The tabloid seemed to have all the details, except the reporters hadn’t known about Megan being on his ship.
However, they did have the dates and length of her pregnancy correct. Putting two and two together with his being in Penwyck and staying in the royal residence, they had concluded that he was the father and that an official wedding would soon be announced. There was the usual speculation on their being in love and whether their parents approved of the match.
He groaned and cursed again.
Megan would be mortified and even more reluctant to wed under the circumstances. At that moment, she appeared in the bedroom doorway, looking lovely and flushed and heavy eyed, as if they’d just made love.
His blood warmed at the sight, and he went to her, drawn as surely as the proverbial moth to flame.
As soon as he touched her, though, he went from hunger to worry. “You’re hot,” he said, puzzled.
She giggled. “We used to play ‘find the thimble’ when we were little. We gave each other clues—
you’re hot or you’re cold, according to whether we were close to the hiding place or not.”
He ignored her rambling talk and laid a hand on her forehead. She was burning up, her skin dry and hot with fever. Fear darted through him.
“Come on,” he told her, taking her hand.
She followed him willingly. “Where are we going?”
“To the infirmary.”
“I’ve already seen Dr. Waltham. He confirmed our news.” She glanced at her maid, who watched with wide eyes, then covered her mouth as if to hold in their secret.
“All the world knows,” he said, leading her down the corridor to the stairs.
“That you’re pregnant and I’m the father.”
“Oh.” A sorrowful expression turned her mouth down. “I’m terribly sorry, Jean-Paul, for getting you into this.”
“Just shut up,” he ordered, rushing her down the stone steps to the underground passageways.
She sniffed like a child trying not to cry.
His concern grew. “Where’s Dr. Waltham?” he asked the nurse at the infirmary desk.
The woman glanced toward an office. Jean-Paul didn’t wait, but went at once to the room. An older man with white, wiry hair and eyebrows glanced up at him, surprise on his lined face. The doctor laid aside the paper he was reading.
“Megan’s ill,” Jean-Paul announced.
Alarm flashed through the doctor’s dark eyes. “In here,” he ordered, and led the way to a medical examination room. “When did she take sick?”
“After lunch, I think,” Jean-Paul reported. “She was sleeping. I needed to see her. She felt hot.”
The doctor nodded, as if the succinct explanation made sense, and had Megan sit on the table. He stuck a thermometer in her ear, then let out a hissing breath.
“You’re right. She’s burning up.” He went to the door. “Nurse Dora, I need your help.”
The nurse came at once. “Yes, Doctor?”
Jean-Paul noted the exchange of glances between the two. The hair stood up on the back of his neck. “What is it? What does she have?” he demanded.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to check. The works,” the doctor said to the nurse. “Full blood tests. Tell the lab I want the results today. Make that clear.”
“Yes, sir.” The nurse bustled around in an efficient, nonhurried manner that got things done.
“I’m giving her a fever reducer,” Dr. Waltham told Jean-Paul as he stuck a needle into Megan’s arm.
“Ouch,” she said, and frowned at them. After covering a yawn, she told them she wanted to go back to bed.
“Good idea,” Waltham agreed. “The isolation ward,” he told the nurse. “Room two.”
“Right. I’ll get a wheelchair.”
“I can walk,” Megan said indignantly.
“Hush,” Jean-Paul ordered. “You’ll do as told.”
Worry gnawed at him like a pack of wharf rats. He sensed the seriousness of the situation and all that the doctor didn’t say. “Why isolation?” he asked, helping Megan into the wheelchair the nurse brought.
The doctor hesitated, then shrugged. “She may have something contagious.”
“She volunteers at the children’s hospital in town,” Jean-Paul told him. “Last week a child died in her arms.”
“Hmm,” was all the doctor said.
The doctor didn’t seem concerned about the connection to the child at all. Jean-Paul set his teeth together to keep from cursing the medical team as they took Megan to another wing of the infirmary and, telling him to wait, disappeared from view.
He paced the floor, a thing he’d never done in his life. An hour passed before the nurse returned to the nursing station.
“Well?” he asked impatiently. “How is she?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“You’ll have to ask the doctor.”
He took a deep breath. “All right. Where is he?”
“Dr. Waltham is busy. He can’t see you now.”
“When will he be available?”
“I don’t know.”
Jean-Paul considered leaping over the counter and strangling the woman. With superhuman effort, he refrained. “Fine,” he said, his jaw so tight he could hardly speak. “I’ll wait in his office.”
That got her attention. “You can’t do that!”
“Watch me,” he said in a snarl. He marched into the doctor’s office, straddled a chair and waited.
The traffic in and out of the isolation ward increased steadily as medical technicians, nurses and some others whose function wasn’t clear to him came and went with great regularity. Dr. Waltham didn’t reappear.
At seven, the queen appeared. She rushed into the office looking as grim and worried as he felt.
“Where’s the doctor?” she demanded.
“Beats me,” Jean-Paul admitted. “He took Megan into the isolation ward and never returned. Did they tell you anything about her?”