The Prince She Never Knew

By: Kate Hewitt

She’d wanted to have some kind of normalcy in her life, some kind of separation from Leo and the feelings he stirred up in her; from the bizarre intensity of life in the media spotlight and under the monarchy’s critical eye.

University had thankfully given her a degree of that normalcy she’d craved. Out of respect, and perhaps even love for her, the paparazzi hadn’t followed her too closely.

She’d had a somewhat usual university experience—or as usual as it could be, considering the jaunts to royal functions every few weeks, her carefully choreographed appearances with Leo and the constant curiosity and speculation of the other students and even some of the tutors and lecturers.

Remembering it all now brought a sudden lump to her throat. No matter how normal her life had seemed on the surface, she’d still felt the loneliness of being different from the other students. Of knowing the paltry truth of her relationship with Leo.

It was a knowledge that had sometimes led to despair, and that had once led to a foolish choice and a heartache and shame that even now could bring her to a cringing blush.

She pushed the memory away. It had no place here and now, on her wedding night.

‘But we’re not going to live separate lives now,’ she said and Leo inclined his head in brief acknowledgement.

‘I suppose we need to decide how we want to conduct our marriage, now that we’ll be under the same roof.’ He paused to take a long swallow of whisky, and Alyse watched the movement of the corded muscles of his throat, felt a spasm of helpless longing. ‘I don’t see any real reason to change things too much,’ he continued. Her longing left her in a rush.

She felt the way you did when you thought there was one more step in a staircase, the jolt going right through her bones to her soul. Had she actually thought things would change that much now they were married? That Leo would? It would mean more pretending, not less. Yet how could they pretend that much?

‘Things will have to change a bit, I imagine,’ she said, trying to speak lightly. ‘I mean...we’re married. It’s different.’

‘Assuredly, but it doesn’t mean we have to be different, does it?’ He glanced at her, eyebrows raised, cool smile in place. ‘The last six years have worked out quite well, don’t you think?’

No. No, no, no. Yet how could she disagree with him when she’d been acting like she’d agreed with him all along? Alyse swallowed. ‘I suppose, but now we have a chance to actually get to know each other...’ She trailed off uncertainly, wanting him to leap in and agree. When would she learn? He wasn’t going to do that. He wasn’t that kind of man.

Leo frowned, then turned back to the fire. ‘We’ve always had that chance,’ he answered after a moment. ‘We just chose not to take it.’

‘I suppose,’ Alyse managed. She tried not to let his words hurt her; he didn’t mean to be cruel; he simply had no idea of how she felt, never had. This wasn’t his fault, it was hers, for agreeing to pretend for so long. For never having been honest with him about how she really felt.

‘It might get a bit tedious,’ she ventured. ‘Pretending for so long. We’ll have to appear together more often, I mean.’

‘Oh, the media will get tired of us eventually,’ Leo said dismissively. He gave her a quick, cool smile, his eyes hard and glinting. ‘Especially once the next generation comes along.’

The next generation. Their children. Alyse felt her heart start to thud.

He put his glass down, raking both hands through his hair so Alyse’s gaze was drawn to the ripple of muscles in his arms and chest, the sculpted beauty of his body. Desire twisted and writhed inside her like some desperate, untamed creature seeking its freedom.

Leo dropped his hands and gave her a measured look. ‘I know tonight is bound to be awkward, at least at first.’ He nodded towards the huge bed looming behind them. ‘I think if we acknowledge that up front, it might be easier.’

Alyse’s mouth felt like sandpaper as she stared at him. ‘Yes, probably it will be.’ She tried for a light tone, or at least as matter-of-fact as his. She wasn’t sure she managed either. ‘Much better to be upfront and honest with each other from the start.’ She forced a smile, knowing her words for lies. ‘We pretend enough as it is.’

‘Exactly.’ Leo nodded in approval. ‘It’s one thing to pretend to the press, but I hope we can always be honest with each other.’

She nodded back mechanically. ‘That...would be good.’

‘Don’t look so terrified,’ Leo said dryly. He nodded once more towards the bed. ‘I hope we can find a little pleasure there at least.’

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