Authors: Melissa James
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Fire fighters, #Princesses
The title and tiara were the least of his problems. She loved him, wanted him—but she didn’t
him. After half a lifetime of him being everything to her, she trusted him with the truth only now—when she believed it was too late.
But if Lia wanted a man to show her just how much he wanted her, he was the one to do it.
A majestic new duet by Melissa James!
Meet Charlie and Lia Costa, an ordinary brother and sister who are about to discover they are SUDDENLY ROYAL!
Charlie and Lia take their rightful places on the throne of Hellenia.
Royal protocol must be followed—two
matches have been arranged for the new king and princess….
But for convenience—or for love?
The unexpected king and princess of Hellenia must choose between their duty—and their hearts….
In April you met Charlie Costa, who went from rebel to king in a whirlwind!
This month meet his sister, Lia, who’s just discovered she’s a princess!
is a mother of three who lives in a beach suburb in New South Wales, Australia. A former nurse, waitress, shop assistant and perfume and chocolate demonstrator—among other things—she believes in taking on new jobs for the fun experience. She’ll try anything at least once, to see what it feels like—a fact that scares her family on regular occasions. She fell into writing by accident when her husband brought home an article stating how much a famous romance author earned. She thought,
I can do that!
She can be found most mornings walking and swimming at her local beach with her husband, and every afternoon running around to her kids’ sporting hobbies, while dreaming of flying, scuba diving, belaying down a cave or over a cliff—anywhere her characters are at the time!
Don’t miss Melissa’s next Harlequin Romance
His Housekeeper Bride
To an old friend who waited long years
for his damaged love to come to him.
I know the reward was worth the wait.
Thanks to Rachel, Robyn Grady and
Barbara Jeffcott-Geris for helping shape this book,
and special thanks to Barbara Daille-White
for an outsider’s perspective.
Sydney clinic for eating disorders, ten years ago
is she today?”
The middle-aged specialist smiled up at the brown-skinned young giant hovering over him, with intense blue eyes filled with anxiety and stress. “I’d say you’d know the answer better than I do, Toby, since you stayed overnight and have spoken to her twice already today.”
One side of the boy’s mouth curved up in acknowledgement of the comment, but he said, “I meant to ask how her counselling session went.”
The doctor reached up to lay a hand on the other’s shoulder—a massive, muscled shoulder, evidence of his active profession. “Lia says what we want to hear, so we’ll send her home. You know she only talks to you.”
The doctor spoke without anger or frustration. Indeed, he’d never known a boy like this one. Not brother, not lover, but the most devoted friend any girl in this clinic had ever had. Here day and night for the girl he called “his best friend’s sister,” there were undercurrents that made everyone on staff smile.
But they never laughed. Not when the boy always knew what the near-silent girl wasn’t saying, what she’d eat and
when she’d eat—and when she needed a few hours in the outside world, going on a bushwalk or sitting on the beach.
Toby Winder was the most unorthodox support person everyone at the clinic had ever known. He’d read every book written on anorexia nervosa, and yet tossed out the rule books half the time, using his knowledge of Lia instead—and somehow his unique method of treatment worked. Lia was not only putting on weight, she was
She ate when he didn’t coax her, but made her smile and laugh and feel cherished. He seemed to heal young Lia Costa just by being there, by knowing her as few family members or friends knew anyone with this secretive, killing disease.
Lia had lost so much in a year. First, her parents had died in a car crash. Within five months of their deaths she’d been rejected by the Australian Ballet because of her height. Now her grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was enough to drive a girl as intense as Lia, with so little self-esteem, into starving herself.
Toby Winder was the single miracle keeping her alive. The biggest threat to recovery was feeling alone, ugly or unloved. He made her feel safe and beautiful and loved, made her feel special by calling her by her real name, Giulia, when everyone else called her Lia.
A first-year fireman, he’d managed to arrange his schedule to be the opposite to Lia’s brother Charlie, a fellow fireman, so that if one of them couldn’t be there the other could, or so her grandfather could visit Lia around his wife’s visiting hours. Toby had asked them both to hide their anxiety, which only put an added burden on Lia. He’d shown them the parts of the garden she liked at the clinic, and the games she enjoyed playing, eating when she was so absorbed in the fun she barely noticed.
When he’d discovered that Lia exercised all night if left alone, still trying to lose the last vestiges of the slender yet
curvaceous figure that she believed had kept her from the ballet, Toby had cajoled the staff into putting a camp-bed beside her at night. How he slept with his six-foot-five frame on that squeaky old bed, the staff never could work out. He simply said that if she was sleeping he could sleep.
And, when she needed to visit her ill grandmother, Toby took her—and by some miracle Lia never starved herself afterwards to deal with the stress, because Toby was there beside her.
Nobody on the staff had ever seen a case like this. They’d never seen an anorexic girl’s face light up the way Lia’s did when she saw Toby come through the gates, or when she heard his voice. Anorexic girls rarely welcomed touch the way she did with Toby. And
had seen a nineteen-year-old boy put aside his entire life to help someone who wasn’t even his girlfriend to recover from this unrecoverable disease, giving and giving without a hope of reward apart from her return to health.
All of which made the doctor’s task so much harder now.
“You’ve been incredibly devoted to her recovery,” the doctor began gently. “We’ve all been amazed by the way she responds to you.”
Toby reddened and shrugged a shoulder. “She’s my friend.”
“I think she’s a little more than that to you…or a lot. Isn’t she?” he pressed.
The boy turned towards the window. “I think I’ll go find her.”
“This is for her sake, Toby. I need to know.”
Toby didn’t turn back, but the way he rubbed his neck told the doctor he’d rather have him stick pins in him than answer these questions. “We’ve been friends for five years, since Charlie took me home to meet the family. She was only eleven. She was like one of my little sisters to me. I moved in with the family a year later.” He didn’t elaborate why, and Dr Evans realised Toby was as secretive as Lia.
“When did it change for you?” the doctor asked, gentle but remorseless.
A long silence followed. Then, slowly, he said, “When she came here. When she collapsed. I knew then.”
He frowned fiercely out of the window, as if something there offended him. “I’m going to marry her.”
Five blunt words, but from the mouth of this boy, so young and yet so old beyond his years, they didn’t seem romantic, melodramatic or ridiculous. It was a vow made all the stronger for the unemotional way he’d said it.
And that only made the doctor’s task harder now. “You can’t tell her.”
Toby wheeled round. The doctor shrank from the unaccustomed ferocity in the boy’s face. “Why not?”
And the doctor knew he’d chosen the right time. Toby
been about to show Lia the feelings he’d been bottling up for months during her recovery.
“Because you’re her ‘it’ person. She needs your friendship to live.”
“She’ll always have it.”
The doctor refused to step back this time, even when he saw Toby’s massive fists clench—even as he imagined the rookie fireman breaking down burning walls and doors with a single punch. “Will she?”
“Yes.” No protests, no outburst of teenage anger or indignation, and again his simplicity made him all the more believable.
“She can’t be expected to make a decision of this calibre now, Toby. She’s lost so much this year. That she’s recovered to this point is a miracle in itself, and a testament to her inner strength and your devotion.” Aching with pity, he forced himself to go on. “For the sake of her future health, you must take your cues from her. If she ever tells you she wants more than friendship, I’ll be happy for you both.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
The rough pain in Toby’s voice made the doctor’s ache
even stronger. “Then you can’t, either.” He sighed, turning away; it hurt to look at him. “She needs you in a way I’ve never seen an anorexic patient need a single person before. Though everyone loves her, and she gives to everyone, you’re the only one who knows her heart and soul. She trusts you to be there. If you ever withdrew the friendship, or broke her trust—”
“It won’t happen.”
“What if she doesn’t feel the same way?” he asked quietly. “Will she still have your unswerving devotion when she brings home a boyfriend, a lover? Will you still give her everything she needs when she’s sleeping with another man?”
For as long as he lived, Dr Evans would never forget the look on Toby Winder’s face at that moment. Just the thought of Lia with another man turned this bronzed young giant pale and shaking, his eyes blank with devastation.
“She’ll still have it,” was all he said.
Many times in the past five months, the doctor had wished he’d known love the way this boy did. Now he was glad his heart was a little shallower.
“She’s almost better now, but former anorexics need their trusted support systems through the greatest stresses in life—moving, death, weddings. Childbirth,” he pressed. “If she married another man, but still needed your friendship, can you say with absolute certainty that you could devote yourself to her? Losing your friendship could send her back into anorexic behaviour patterns. The danger will always be there. Like alcoholics, they never completely recover. It’s a stress release she’ll always be tempted to return to. Intense stress, fear, loss or shock will lead to vomiting—and she’ll remember the comfort of losing weight. It’s a sense of control for her when the world spins out of control.”
“I know all that,” Toby said, his voice tight.
Hating this, Dr Evans added the final words to convince
him. “Even thinking she could lose your friendship might send her back here. Next time, it could kill her.”
Toby’s face whitened even more and his eyes darkened, but he didn’t speak, didn’t move. After a long wait, a single nod was all he gave in answer—but every line of the boy’s body, the perspiration on his neck and forehead, told the doctor how very close to the edge he was.
Moved with pity, he reached out to touch his shoulder again, but Toby moved to the door. “She’s coming.”
He was out before the doctor could say another word.
The doctor moved to the window where Toby had been standing, and opened it.
The tall, slender girl, almost recovered now, was dressed in the anorexic ‘uniform’ of concealing trousers and a windcheater. She wandered the flowered paths, head down, with the listless, puppet-like attitude she always displayed until…
Toby walked towards Lia across the sunlit grass in the pretty, hilly gardens of the centre. When he came close, he spoke her name.
She looked up; her eyes lit. A smile was born, and filled her face until she was radiant. Her tumbled dark curls glistened in the sunlight. All the ethereal beauty lost inside her withdrawn nature when he wasn’t near her came to life.
came to life.
The doctor shook his head in wonder. He wasn’t an emotional man, but whenever he saw these two he thought of Juliet with Romeo, Isolde with Tristan.
Toby opened his arms and Lia ran into them.
A lump filled Dr Evans’ throat. The joy on the boy’s face as he held her, the serenity and completion on hers, almost convinced him he was doing the wrong thing. Could he throw out the rule book on love the way Toby had with healing her? Could he let them just
Because the incandescence of this boy and girl when they were together was something he’d never seen before, and probably never would again.
But what if he was right? What if?
Despite her secretive nature, Lia had given some sweet memory, some piece of tender wisdom, to every person at the centre, staff or patient. She was one of those people everyone loved. From the first day Dr Evans had met Lia, every instinct had screamed at him that this girl
to live…and Toby Winder had made her want to live. He had to be there to catch her when she fell.
No, he couldn’t risk Lia’s life because a boy was in love now.
Yes, he’d done the right thing. But the doctor knew that he’d continue to question the wisdom of his decision until the day he died.