‘You too, Daddy.’
He walked to the door as Luciana fussed.
‘Love you, tiger,’ she said.
Nate mumbled sleepily, ‘Love you too, Mamá.’
Thane leaned against the hallway wall outside his room, telling himself to leave now. Avoid confrontation. Any kind of temptation.
His traitorous feet didn’t like that idea—suddenly had a mind of their own, wanted to be with the woman that haunted his body and his mind.
Luciana pulled the door closed and warily met his gaze. Dios, she was so beautiful. Made his heart ache. And he couldn’t fathom that any more than he could understand anything else he was feeling.
Nate’s words from earlier penetrated his brain, and before he knew it he said, ‘He expects to see a marriage like your sister’s.’
Her eyes drifted downwards to where she scuffed the parquet with the toe of her fluffy sock.
‘He does. But all marriages and families are different. He’ll learn that too.’ Her husky voice teemed with yearning. ‘Claudia’s marriage is…unique, I suppose. They love each other intensely. Talk constantly. Wouldn’t dream of being in separate beds. They married for love, not because of duty or a child. Ours won’t be that kind of marriage.’
He knew that, so why a dagger lanced through his heart was a mystery.
‘I suppose ours will be more like my parents’. They always had separate beds. It didn’t affect me…’
A small furrow lined her brow as she nibbled on the pad of her thumb.
He didn’t believe her. Not one iota. Began to wonder if the revered Verbault union was more myth than fact and had affected her in ways he couldn’t see. Throw in the longing in her voice and he was more certain than ever that their marriage would be a far cry from what she truly coveted. Which was why he didn’t trust her not to run again.
‘Where did you sleep last night, Thane?’
Wrapping her arms around her gorgeous curves, she frisked her gaze down his midnight Italian suit, his ice-blue shirt, and he’d swear a shiver rustled over her skin.
‘Are you going there again?’
‘Si. Galancia Castle,’ he said easily, unsure why that would sadden her, or wreak the anxiety he could see clouding her brandy gaze.
He had to grind his jaw to stifle the explanation hovering on his tongue. He didn’t want her knowing there was trouble afoot. Didn’t want her worrying for their safety. He’d prove to her he could protect them if it was the last thing he did. She hadn’t believed in him five years ago, so this time he’d move the planets out of alignment to ensure she did. And if that meant he was running on two hours of sleep, constantly looking over his shoulder in the hellhole that was his birthplace, so be it.
‘Guards will be posted here, upstairs and down.’
‘All right,’ she said, her body deflating as she gazed down the hallway and out of the west-facing double doors, towards Arunthia, in a way that dropped an armoured tank on his chest.
Heart-wrenchingly familiar, it said she wanted to be a million miles away from here. From him. It said she wanted to be with her family, with people who truly loved her. Not a black hearted prince. It was a look he remembered well. The look of a woman imprisoned.
Dios, he couldn’t bear it. Didn’t know how to get rid of it. He’d never been able to with his mother, had he?
He pushed off the wall. Hardened his body into the emotionless indestructible weapon it had been honed to be. Focused on what he could control with some semblance of rationality.
‘Nate has asked to see Santa Claus and the Christmas fête is in Hourana this weekend. I was thinking we could all go as a family. For Nate.’
He knew that would sway her so he used it abominably. But they had to go out and paint a united front. Play happy families. Deflect his uncle’s attempts at undermining him. Word of his impending marriage had spread like wildfire and his people were in a celebratory mood. It was the perfect time to introduce them.
‘For Nate. Right.’
She gave him a short nod and forced one of those serene smiles that sparked his temper. Made him want to shake it out of her.
‘I’m sure he’d enjoy that.’
Another victory. But no relief in sight. ‘Good. I’ll see you in the morning.’
He stepped towards the staircase, stopping when her fingers tentatively touched his sleeve, sending a fresh arrow of heat through his veins.