“You should go for the kill now,” Raoul murmured laconically. The younger prince came from the House of Navarro, whose royal lineage went only as far back as a century. It was definitely not as illustrious as Julian’s or even Jose’s, and since Ethereal citizens were very traditional, he had not been considered “royal” enough to be a worthy successor.
“You have managed to secure a military alliance with the neighboring kingdoms. You have him effectively surrounded. Why the delay?”
“First of all, it was you who managed to do those things, Prince Raoul, and for that I am deeply grateful.” Julian’s gaze was filled with frank scrutiny as he studied the other man. Raoul was slightly taller than he was, leaner, too, but with an aura that was more raw power than anything else. Anyone who didn’t know Raoul was likely to mistake him for a thug than a prince. “Why have you allied yourself with me?”
“You are the best choice.”
“You do not want to be king yourself?”
A brief smile formed on Raoul’s lips. “You remember the years we have trained together. Did I act like I wanted to be king?”
Julian did, and back then Raoul had seemed hell bent to violate every rule, never mind if it meant a punishment that sometimes felt worse than death. “Whatever your reason is, I thank you again for your support,” Julian said, knowing instinctively that there was no point asking Raoul for a more specific reason behind it. “And to answer your earlier question, I am biding my time with Manolo because we all know he can be crazy when he’s pushed to the corner. I do not want to risk him doing anything rash if I can help it.”
The office’s door opened, preventing Raoul from replying as Jose strode inside. Julian had sent his cousin to speak with Eduardo, prince from the House of Romualdez, for a possible alliance. If war did eventually happen, Julian wasn’t taking any chances and wanted as many allies on his side.
Jose didn’t mince words. “He wants to speak with you in person tomorrow.”
“Fuck.” That meant he would unlikely be able to come back to Cass tomorrow as well. He looked at Jose, “May I speak with you privately?”
Jose was visibly stunned at the request, but his voice was bland as he answered, “Of course.”
Julian led the way to the balcony, closing the doors to ensure that no one inside the office would hear their conversation. He wasted no time, explaining Cass’ presence in his life and asking Jose if he could drop by the hotel and keep her company.
“Every eye is on me right now.”
“What you mean is, you cannot afford to be photographed with another woman in the event that you may need to secure yourself a rich bride in order to accede the throne.”
Julian’s lips twisted at Jose’s accurate guess. “You have always known me too well, cousin.”
“Not that well, I think, since I’m having a hard time believing that you’ve brought your mistress with you here.”
Julian’s lips tightened. He wanted to tell Jose off for referring to Cass as his mistress, but was it not the truth? Even if he loathed the word completely, it was what the world would eventually label her if their union became known.
“You have always been on the straight and narrow. What does she have to make you take such a risk?”
“I’m not taking any kind of risk,” Julian said tightly. The risk…was all on Cass. “She knows I’m not going to marry her.”
“Maybe she thinks she can still change your mind—-”
“She’s not like that.”
Jose frowned. “Are you sure? I do not want to play devil’s advocate, but it’s beginning to look to me that your passion has clouded your judgment. Do not take this the wrong way, Julian. You know I’ve always been on your side. And because of that, I must be honest.” He paused, choosing his next words with care. “Maybe, right now, she’s everything you’ve been dreaming of.”
The irony of Jose’s words wasn’t lost on Julian, but it only made him more furious. He didn’t like how sensible Jose’s every argument was, forcing him to question everything that used to be so easy for him to believe in.
Or maybe…that was just St. Roch’s damn voodoo-like magic at work.
He tried to imagine how he would introduce Cass to the public. This is my lover, Cass, the girl I have been dreaming of for years even though we have never met. She can read your mind and see the future.
If he did that, he might as well give up on his hope to be king.
“But are you sure she’s not going to change?” Jose was asking steadily. “Before you know it, she might be demanding that you drop everything for her or poisoning you against everyone you used to trust.”