And then, when it was done and the bells began to toll, King Ares of Atilia took his beautiful queen by the hand, and led her into their sweet, bright, happy future. Just like those fairy tales Pia had mentioned all those years ago, when they were new.
Ares was the king. He would make it so. He would make it beautiful, like her.
And day by day, year by year, that was exactly what he did.
* * * * *
Coming next month
AN HEIR FOR THE WORLD’S RICHEST MAN
Dr Chang returned just before midday.
Saffie, having managed to keep down a piece of dry toast and two cups of tea, stood in the middle of the living room. Aware of Joao’s imposing presence beside her, she linked her fingers in front of her as Dr Chang entered. The two technicians who followed, wheeling in a large ultrasound machine, couldn’t have spelled out her condition louder if it’d been written in fifty-foot letters in the sky.
The room spun around her but Saffie wasn’t aware she’d moved until Joao’s arm wrapped firmly around her waist.
‘This is our new reality, Saffie,’ he rasped softly, almost soothingly, in her ear. His voice was gruff, but there was a layer of intent as he watched her that drew goosebumps across her flesh.
Dr Chang approached, leaving the butler and technicians at a discreet distance as he gave a shallow bow. ‘Miss Everhart, I have the results of your blood test.’ He cast a quick look behind him. ‘You can probably guess what it is. Congratulations.’
Her nod was shaky, her heart hammering against her ribs so hard she feared she would pass out. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured.
‘Would you still like me to perform the ultrasound?’
Beside her Joao stiffened, a coiled tension seizing his frame.
Joao relaxed a touch, his arm temporarily drifting over her hip before claiming her waist once more.
Within minutes, she was lying on her bed, Joao’s overwhelming presence beside her as Dr Chang rolled the wand over the cold gel on her abdomen.
When the coloured 3D image appeared on the screen, Saffie’s heart leapt into her throat. A moment later, a rapid heartbeat joined the picture. A breath of wonder shuddered out of her, her eyes prickling as she watched the wriggling bean on the screen.
Her baby. Her family. Every hope and aspiration within reach. But as she watched the dancing blob, Saffie’s breath caught for another reason. For as long as she’d yearned for this dream, she’d pictured just herself and her baby. Two against the world. dpg!
In all the years of hoping and dreaming, all she’d wanted was a mother. Someone to hold her close, tell her she mattered. Perhaps because she knew it was her mother who’d left her behind, she’d been the parental figure Saffie had wanted the most. A father had been an even more impossible dream. One totally out of her reach.
But now she was faced with an even more impossible scenario.
The shadowy shape of the stranger who would one day father her child had taken the form of the most formidable man she’d ever met. The richest man in the world, with endless power and influence, who would remain way out of her league for ever. A man who intended to claim her baby, but not her.