She trailed her fingertips down the scimitar line of his jaw and stared into those beautiful dark fathomless eyes.
‘You’re going to be a powerful and noble King and I’ll be honoured to stand by your side. Our son needs a wonderful daddy too, and that man can only ever be you. And I need the man I love with my whole heart to be with me always. So…Thane Guerrero of Galancia…will you do me the great honour of becoming my husband?’
His throat was convulsing, and his magnificent chest shook as if he fought his emotions. Until one rogue teardrop finally spilled on his first spoken word.
‘L…Love? You love me, Luciana?’
Holding his jaw in her hands, she leaned forward and kissed his tear away, breathing him in. ‘Oh, I love you. I always have. Since the moment you knocked out a Viking in my honour.’
‘Really, really. I just didn’t believe in fairytales and happy-ever-afters. Didn’t believe in happiness for myself at all. The right to dream beyond duty was drummed out of me when I was three feet tall. Duty was why I would marry—not for love. So, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I ran years ago, when my heart screamed at me to stay and tell you who I was. I listened to my father and an age-old feud, ignoring my every instinct to come to you with our son. Duty would never bring happiness—my parents are proof of that—so when I discovered I was the key to your crown I ran scared again.’
She brushed his damp hair back from his temple, tucked one side behind his ear.
‘But I think if we try we could have both. I promise I’m not running any longer. I’m here to stay—more than ready to be your Queen. Your wife and your lover too, if you want me. So what do you say?’
Swooping in he came, and back down she went to the mattress, the heat of his body spilling over her.
‘Yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.’ He wrapped her in his arms in a cherishing crush and breathed against her neck. ‘I want it all too, Luciana. You’ll always come first to me. Always. I love you so much. You’ve always owned my heart. Only you.’
A sigh feathered the aching wall of her throat and she closed her eyes as the last stain of doubt was erased. Replaced by the sweet sherbet-bright happiness that fizzled inside of her. If she’d heard him right, that was.
‘Always,’ he said, his lips moving over her skin.
For long moments they held on tight. Breathing. Loving. Calming. Trying to accept a dream beyond dreaming, a thing too precious ever to risk again. Then he was kissing her with exquisite annihilating tenderness and she was melting beneath his fervid ardour.
‘Why else would I search for you for weeks, turn over every stone in Zurich looking for you, while my heart wouldn’t beat and my lungs could barely breathe?’
She felt one fat tear trickle down the side of her face. ‘Ah, Thane, why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I didn’t want to give you that power over me again. Stupid to think I had any control over it at all. I even kidded myself I was only after my crown. That worked for…’
He hiked his shoulders and she felt the play of muscle against her palms.
‘I don’t know—maybe a day? I wish I’d told you that at the ice rink, instead of making it all about the throne. I was a coward.’ Red scored his cheekbones. ‘And now I’m rambling.’
She laughed at his newfound candour. ‘No, you’re not—you’re talking, and I love it. It’s wonderful. That’s what I need.’
‘To share. You told me. See? I do listen to you, Luciana, I just… At first I thought I was doing the right thing. And, Dios, I should have asked you to marry me, but I didn’t want to hear your voice say no. I was silencing you, and that made me as bad as my father. Black. Twisted up inside. I kept having these visions of you hurting yourself, like my mother used to, and—’
‘Hey, look at me. Never going to happen. She wasn’t well, Thane. And that was your father’s doing—it had nothing to do with you. You’re nothing like him. You’re a heroic man in here.’ She placed her palm over his heart…a heart that thumped in tandem with hers. ‘Will you tell me about her one day?’
Closing his eyes, he rested his brow against hers. ‘One day soon. Just not today. Let me enjoy having you back in my arms.’
‘Okay.’ That was plenty good enough for her. ‘Just promise me you’ll keep talking. If you’re hurting I need to know, so I can be there for you. In the silence I’d convinced myself we were doomed. When you don’t share with me my mind runs wild. You were at the castle, trying to keep us safe, and I was picturing you with mistresses, you know?’