That sense of intimacy she’d felt only moments before—that closeness beyond the physical—dissolved. He’d never let her into his life the way he’d let his fiancée. He’d never love like that again. He wouldn’t let himself. And that was fair enough. She too knew how much it was possible to hurt.
She smiled, determined not to let it show that she hurt right now. She was the distraction, the secret lover, the light relief for the royal workaholic. And she’d keep this private and fun because he was her distraction too. He was the one man who’d finally made her feel good and enjoy her sensuality and she wasn’t going to let anything ruin this last stolen moment she had with him. Certainly not any stupidly weak emotion.
But how did she forbid her heart from falling for him?
THE HOURS AND days stretched ahead, empty and frustrating, loaded with meetings from European delegations and civic duties. Nothing he could get out of.
He’d certainly been unable to decline this afternoon’s invitation to tour the new addition to the cancer unit at the hospital. While there, the staff had taken him on a tour of Alessia’s Garden. Amongst the beautiful roses and serene seating in the heart of the hospital grounds, he’d given his speech and thanked the committee for all the fundraising they’d done over the years, and continued to do, in his fiancée’s name. Because of them her name lived on.
They didn’t know that because of him, she’d died.
Not even his brother knew the truth.
Desperation curled around him as he read through the next day’s timetable. He needed a break from it. For the first time since he’d been crowned he wanted a holiday and an escape from the weight he carried on his shoulders. He’d never had more than a few days away and even then he’d taken work with him. It had been the one constant in his life, the one thing he knew he could do right. It was his calling.
But now he craved another moment of escape—from duty, from his past, from the lie he lived day in and out.
He didn’t deserve it, but he hungered for a moment of selfishness—the time to laze, linger and laugh on a bed with Bella instead of stealing a too-quick liaison in the last hour of the night.
He wanted just a little more. A whole night. A whole day. Enough of a feast to cure him and help him forget.
Three days since he’d done the unthinkable and brought her home, he sat alone in the palace, watching the hands of the clock slowly tick by.
There was no escape from his unrelenting schedule. And even if there was, he couldn’t go to the island: his brother, Eduardo, was there.
The brother to whom he’d never told the truth. The brother who’d repeatedly asked him how he could serve him better. The brother who’d changed so much in the last year since finding happiness with his soldier wife.
Antonio stared at his desk and finally picked up his phone. His brother answered immediately.
‘I need you to come to San Felipe,’ Antonio said quietly. ‘I need you to attend a couple of events for me.’
‘You’re not well?’ The shock in Eduardo’s voice burned.
‘I’m fine.’ He couldn’t lie about that. ‘I only need a day or so out.’
‘I will come right away,’ Eduardo answered, still obviously stunned, but he didn’t question more.
‘Thank you.’ Antonio rubbed the back of his neck. ‘It’s nothing serious. I just need a little time.’
‘It’s fine. I’m glad you asked.’ Eduardo sounded as if he was moving already. ‘If I need to make contact—’
‘I’ll be on the water.’ Antonio gazed out of the window to the inky black space where the Mediterranean ebbed and flowed. ‘You can radio me on the boat.’
Because he wasn’t completely reckless. But nor could he wait ’til dawn.
An hour later he stood in the landing just outside her office, looking over the narrow balcony railing to where she was in the middle of the dance floor. It had been a risk, but at this hour the club was mostly in darkness, the lights flashing, confusing, disguising.
Everyone present was too busy noticing her to notice him anyway. In white trousers and a slim white top she danced in the centre of the main floor. There was a space around her, like a halo, as if somehow everyone knew they were forbidden to get too close.