The Prince She Never Knew

By: Kate Hewitt

A little pleasure? His words stung. ‘I’m not terrified,’ she told him crisply. ‘It’s just— It’s a bit awkward, like you said; that’s all.’

‘Naturally. I’ll do my best to alleviate that awkwardness, of course.’

She heard a thread of amusement in his voice, saw it in his cool smile, and knew that being made love to by Leo wouldn’t be awkward at all. It would be wonderful.

Except it wouldn’t be making love. It would be cold, emotionless sex. A physical act, a soulless transaction. ‘A little pleasure’, indeed. She closed her eyes, hating the thought. Hating the fact that she had to pretend, would always have to pretend, not just with the press but with him. It would be so, so much harder now. Why hadn’t she realised that?

‘Alyse,’ Leo said, and she opened her eyes. He was leaning forward, his eyes narrowed in concern. ‘If you’d rather, we can wait. We don’t have to consummate our marriage tonight.’

‘A reprieve?’ she said, her voice sounding cynical even to her own ears.

‘It might be more pleasant when we’re not so tired and there are fewer expectations on us,’ Leo answered with a shrug. ‘And frankly, no matter what you’ve said, you do look terrified.’

Yes, she was, but not in the way he thought. She wasn’t afraid of sex. She was afraid of it being meaningless for Leo. Did he want her at all? Was this a bore for him, a chore?

‘I promise you, I’m not afraid,’ she said when she trusted herself to speak as neutrally as he had. ‘But I am tired, so perhaps this...aspect of our marriage can wait a little while.’

Leo shrugged, as if he didn’t care either way, and that hurt too. ‘Of course. But we should both sleep in the bed. Staff see everything, and even palace employees have been known to gossip.’

She nodded, trying not to imagine lying next to Leo, his nearly bare body so close to hers. It was a big bed, after all. And she needed to learn how to manage this kind of situation. They would, after all, be sleeping in the same bed for the next...

Except, no; perhaps they wouldn’t. Perhaps they would have separate bedrooms along with separate lives, coming together only for the cameras or to create an heir.

‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘I’ll just put some...’ She trailed off, because the only clothes in the room were her ballgown and the negligee. She didn’t like either option.

Leo glanced at the lace confection spread out on the bed. ‘It’s a big bed,’ he said dryly. ‘And I think I can control myself, even if you wear that bit of nonsense.’

Alyse swallowed, nodded. Even tried to smile, though every careless word he spoke felt like a dagger thrust to her heart. She didn’t want him to be able to control himself. She’d always known him to be cool, pragmatic, even ruthless. Yet she wanted him to be different with her, and she was honest enough to recognise that some stupid, schoolgirl part of her had secretly hoped things might change when they were finally alone.

‘Fine,’ she said and, rising from the chair, she went to the bed and swept the negligee from it before disappearing into the bathroom once more.

Leo stretched out on one side of the bed and waited for Alyse to emerge from the bathroom. He felt the conversation hadn’t gone as well as he would have liked. Alyse had seemed brittle, almost as if he’d hurt her feelings, a possibility which exasperated him. He’d thought she was as pragmatic as he was about their union        , yet this new, unexpected awkwardness clearly unnerved her—as well as him.

When had he started caring about her feelings, whether she felt nervous, awkward or afraid? The whole point of this marriage, this pretence, was that he didn’t have to care. He didn’t have to engage emotions he’d purposely kept dormant for so long.

And while he might be weary of pretending—he’d done enough of it in his life, God only knew—at least this marriage, this pretence, had been his choice. His decision.

He still remembered the negotiation they’d gone through after that wretched photograph had gone viral. His father had asked to see them privately.

Alyse had flown to Maldinia a few weeks after her birthday party; her mother had accompanied her. And, when she’d walked into his father’s private study alone, Leo had been jolted by how young and vulnerable she looked, dressed simply in a plain skirt and schoolgirl’s blouse, her dark hair held back in a ponytail.

His father hadn’t minced words; he never did. Queen Sophia and her mother were friends, he told Alyse, and they’d considered a match between her and Leo. Leo knew that hadn’t exactly been true; his mother had wanted someone with slightly bluer blood than Alyse’s to marry her son. Leo had gone to that birthday party with only a vague and passing knowledge of Alyse’s existence and it was the media hype that had turned it into something else entirely.

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