The Prince She Never Knew

By: Kate Hewitt

‘Good luck, Alyse,’ one starry-eyed teen gushed, clasping her hands tightly. ‘You look so beautiful—you really are a princess!’

Alyse squeezed the girl’s hands. ‘Thank you,’ she murmured. ‘You look beautiful too, you know. You’re glowing more than I am!’

She realised the clock had stopped chiming; she was late. Queen Sophia would be furious, yet it was because of moments like these she was here at all. She didn’t stick to the royal family’s formalised script; she wrote her own lines without even meaning to and the public loved them.

Except she didn’t know what her lines would be once she was married. She had no idea what she would say to Leo when she finally faced him as his wife.

I love you.

Those were words she was afraid he’d never want to hear.

The cathedral doors loomed in front of her, the interior of the building dim and hushed. Alyse turned one last time towards the crowd and another roar went up, echoing through the ancient streets of Averne. She waved and blew them a kiss, and she heard another cheer. Perhaps the kiss was a bit over the top, but she felt in that moment strangely reckless, almost defiant. There was no going back now.

And then she turned back to the cathedral and her waiting groom.

* * *

Leo stood with his back to the doors of the cathedral, but he knew the moment when Alyse had entered. He heard the murmurs fall to an expectant hush, and the roar of approbation that she generated wherever she went had fallen to silence outside. He flexed his shoulders once and remained with his back to the door—and his bride. Maldinian princes did not turn around until the bride had reached the altar and Leo deviated from neither tradition nor duty.

The organ had started playing with sonorous grandeur, some kind of baroque march, and he knew Alyse was walking towards him. He felt a flicker of curiosity; he hadn’t seen her dress, had no idea what she looked like in it. Polished, poised and as perfect as usual, he presumed. The perfect bride. The perfect love story. And of course, the perfect marriage. All of it the perfect pretense.

Nothing more.

Finally he felt the folds of her dress whisper against his legs and he turned to face her. He barely noticed the dress. Her face was pale except for two spots of blusher high on her cheekbones. She looked surprisingly nervous, he thought. For the past six years she’d been handling the intense media scrutiny of their engagement with apparent effortless ease, and her attack of nerves now surprised him. Alarmed him a bit too.

She’d agreed to all of this. It was a little late for cold feet.

Conscious of the stares of the congregation—as well as the cameras televising the ceremony live to millions of people—he smiled and took her hand, which was icy and small in his. He squeezed her fingers, an encouragement if anyone saw, but also a warning. Neither of them could make a mistake now. Too much rode on this marriage, this masquerade. She knew that; so did he. They’d both sold their souls, and willingly.

Now he watched as Alyse lifted her chin, her wide grey eyes flashing with both comprehension and spirit. Her lips curved in a tiny smile and she squeezed his hand back. He felt a flicker of admiration for her courage and poise—as well as one of relief. Crisis averted.

She turned towards the archbishop who was performing the ceremony and he saw the gleam of chestnut hair beneath the lace of her veil, the soft glimmer of a pearl in the shell-like curve of her ear. He turned to face the man as well.

Fifteen minutes later it was done. They’d said their vows and Leo had brushed his lips against Alyse’s. He’d kissed her dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times during their engagement, always in front of a crowd. A camera.

He kissed her now as he always had, a firm press of lips that conveyed enthusiasm and even desire without actually feeling either. He didn’t want to feel either; he wasn’t about to complicate what had been a business arrangement by stirring up a hornet’s nest of emotions—either in her or himself.

Although now that they were married, now that they would actually consummate this marriage, he would certainly allow himself to feel attraction at least, a natural desire. All his life he’d controlled such contrary emotions, refused to let them dictate his behaviour as they had his parents’. Refused to let them ruin his life and wreck the monarchy, as they had with his parents.

No, he had more dignity, more self-control, than that. But he certainly intended to take full advantage of his marriage vows—and his marriage bed. It didn’t mean his emotions would actually be engaged.

Just his libido.

Leo lifted his head and gazed down at her, smiling slightly for the sake of their audience, and saw that Alyse was gazing at him with panic in her eyes. Her nerves clearly had not abated.

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