LUCIANA STOOD IN FRONT of the double porcelain basin in the sumptuous marble bathroom suite and flipped on the faucet. Cupping her hands beneath the flow, she watched the icy clear liquid pool and then splashed it over her face, dabbing the tender puffy skin beneath her eyes.

Keep it together, Luce. You’ll get through this.

She plucked an oyster hand-towel from the rail and patted her face dry, daring to peek at her reflection in the mirror. Lord, she still looked ghastly. And the black jeggings and white shirt she’d chosen to wear didn’t help a jot. Not that she cared for her appearance—she just didn’t want Lucas to latch on to her wretched state or he wouldn’t leave. Didn’t want Natanael to pick up on her mood either. This would be hard enough on him as it was.

Insides shaking, she gingerly walked back through to the bedroom…and, darn it, just the sight of those rumpled sheets and the lingering scent of their passion brought the wave of misery rushing back—so tall and wide it flooded over her in a great gush and she couldn’t stand up in it. Couldn’t even seem to breathe through it.

Crumpling to the bed, she tried her damnedest not to break. Not to splinter apart. She had to stay strong, because the next few days would be hard enough. Days? Try weeks. Try a lifetime.

Her conversation with Lucas played back in her mind.

‘Please, Lucas, you’re the only person I trust to get past my father and do as I ask. Thane knows. If you don’t bring him I don’t know what he’ll do.’

Already he paced like a caged animal, face dark, implacable. Cold. And if his brutal, austere demeanour wasn’t enough for her to know she’d destroyed any chance of happiness between them, his words tormented her heart and soul.

‘I will never forgive you for this… We will marry without delay…’

Luciana was unsure what was worse. An emotion-free marriage in which her heart was safe. Or being married to the man who’d always owned her heart and yet hated her in return. And loathe her he did. She’d never forget the look on his face. Such disappointment. Such hatred.

But Nate will have his daddy and you won’t have to leave him any time, any place, anywhere. You’ll spend every day with him and see him grow into a great man and that will be enough.

Of course it would be enough. It was all she’d ever wanted since the day that little stick had turned blue.

Lucas had promised to be here on the hour—though he wasn’t happy about it. His tone had suggested she’d gone stark raving mad. But luckily Claudia had smoothed the way. Thanks heavens for Claudia and her huge heart and quick mind.

Breathe, she told herself. In and out, slow and even as she made her way up four flights of stairs to the vestibule.

The future was staggeringly vague—and wasn’t that the story of her life? No idea what tomorrow would bring, how they’d live in this strange place where they didn’t know a soul. She was asking herself how they would fit in, how she’d explain to her father that she wasn’t taking her crown, how her own people would react on discovering they’d no longer have a new queen in the spring.

Thane had said she’d never leave, but that had to be his anger talking—he couldn’t possibly be serious. She’d have to go home before they wed…give a speech renouncing her birthright. Then enter a marriage she couldn’t bear to contemplate. And, wow, that seemed to be happening a lot lately.

All of it was churning in a relentless, nauseating roll. Until she felt insecure. Vulnerable. Defenceless. And by the time she stepped beneath the overhang of the palatial entryway, restless angst clutched her midsection, making her bow forward so hard she faked tying the satin bows on her pumps to cover it up.

Come on, Luce, you can do this. It’s just like being at home, right? Serene smiles. Cool façade. Think…poise and grace. By Christmas you’ll be a carbon copy of the ice queen that is your mother and in a barren, loveless marriage.

Oh, God.

Luciana pinned her spine straight and stood on the top step, squinting at the black dot swelling beneath the sun. Plagued by the need for someone to take her hand, tell her everything would be okay.

No, not someone. Not just anyone.

Chancing a look at Thane, she sneaked a peek towards the base of the stairs where he stood—separated from her by metres that felt more like a vast yawning chasm she had no clue how to fill.

Tags: Victoria Parker Billionaire Romance