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Authors: Christina Hollis

Weight of the Crown

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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She looks as poised and controlling as she did when she turned her back on me for the last time,
he thought, with a flicker of the falcon in his eyes. There had been little time to think over the past few days, but every second he’d been able to spare had overflowed with thoughts of her. Now he had come to a decision.

It was impossible to shut her out of his mind. He closed his hands slowly into fists. He had been away for too long, fighting through public battles and private negotiations. Now there was only one thing left to sort out. A provocative, priceless woman had trespassed into his private life, and tonight would see the showdown.

He ran a hand through his raven hair once more, and tried to pull his battle-weary uniform into some kind of order. Then he turned his ruthless stare back to the instrument panel. His mouth moved, and he almost smiled. At last. With one twitch of his hand he set his plane on the path down, to find the woman who could change his life for ever.

About the Author

CHRISTINA HOLLIS
was born in Somerset, and now lives in the idyllic Wye valley. She was born reading, and her childhood dream was to become a writer. This was realised when she became a successful journalist and lecturer in organic horticulture. Then she gave it all up to become a full-time mother of two and run half an acre of productive country garden.

Writing Mills & Boon
®
romances is another ambition realised. It fills most of her time, in between complicated rural school runs. The rest of her life is divided among garden and kitchen, either growing fruit and vegetables or cooking with them. Her daughter’s cat always closely supervises everything she does around the home, from typing to picking strawberries!

You can learn more about Christina and her writing at www.christinahollis.com

Recent titles by the same author:

THE COUNT OF CASTELFINO
THE TUSCAN TYCOON’S PREGNANT HOUSEKEEPER
THE RUTHLESS ITALIAN’S INEXPERIENCED WIFE
HER RUTHLESS ITALIAN BOSS

Weight of the Crown

Christina Hollis

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Martyn, who makes all things possible.

PROLOGUE

L
YSANDER
was flying. Far below, the glitter of city lights was a diamond necklace drawn back into the velvet case of night. His lips parted in a wicked smile. He had made it to the top, and he was coming back to a hero’s welcome. Nothing could stop him now, no matter how exhausted he was. His uniform was open at the neck, the sleeves turned back anyhow and he needed a shave. He dug the fingers of one hand through his tousled hair, trying to stop exhaustion shadowing his eyes. To him, tonight, sleep felt like a waste of time. He had too many things to do, and they all involved a certain person he hadn’t seen for six days, four hours, eighteen minutes and counting …

Alyssa …

Her name moved around inside his mind like polished stones as he cruised over the sleeping English countryside. Several times his hand went towards his breast pocket as though to pull something out. Each time, he hesitated. His memory was enough. That snapshot couldn’t affect him any more.

The intercom buzzed.

‘You are cleared to land, Your Royal Highness!’ a respectful voice informed him.

‘That’s OK.’

Lysander smiled. For the first time in his life, he felt comfortable with the title. Now he was flying through the night to reclaim what was his. This was what he was born to do. He had it all, and it felt good.

But the feeling didn’t last.

His knuckles whitened as he gripped the controls of his private jet, anticipating trouble. It was a mistake to assume anything when it came to Alyssa. He didn’t have everything he desired. Not yet.

That thought made him uneasy. Dragging at his cuff, he checked the watch on his smooth golden wrist. Timing this next move was crucial. He dug his teeth into his lower lip. The cause of all his sleepless nights would be in Ra’id’s bedroom right now. Her changeless evening routine would be almost over. Everything would be peaceful, calm and predictable—until he dropped in.

Within seconds her neatly starched, ordered calm would be transformed into noisy chaos.

Lysander laughed. Adrenaline powered through his body, preparing him. The sort of happy homecoming he had dreamed about since he was a child was nearly within his grasp—but it wasn’t guaranteed, not by any stretch of the imagination. He still had work to do. Alyssa Dene wasn’t his—not yet. Lysander was a winner in his own country, but he had a different struggle in mind now. He was shaping up to confront Alyssa with what he had just done.

Lysander’s mouth twitched as he considered the problem. This was going to be his hardest battle. He had already seen two tragedies in his thirty-two years,
but there was not going to be a third. He was sure of that. So far things were going completely according to plan—
his
plan. But for how much longer?

His hand strayed towards his pocket again. With a sharp shake of his head, he slapped his fingers back to the controls. He was returning in triumph, secure in his position as leader of his country. He didn’t want to spoil that. So the photograph stayed in his pocket, lodged like a cherry stone. He knew exactly how Miss Alyssa Dene would look right now, moving around the warm, welcoming rooms she had made her own. That was how he wanted to remember her right up to the end, whatever that might be.

His brow contracted. For the first time in his life, there was a slight chance things might not go entirely his way, but Lysander was determined. Thoughts of what he had done in the past, and how she had reacted to it, had tortured him for long enough. He was coming back to offer her the chance of a lifetime, whether she wanted it or not.

He felt his dark, strong features work with emotion, and resented it. That happened each time he remembered the angry words he had thrown at her on the night he left to secure the throne of Rosara.

I’ve
got nothing to prove!
You’re
the one whose future is on the line …
Lysander clenched his teeth until they ached. Snatching the damned photograph from his breast pocket, he slapped it down in front of him. As it came to rest on the instrument panel flesh and blood threatened to overwhelm him. All his best intentions
crumbled to dust. When he looked at that picture, time stood still.

Suddenly it was summer in his heart again; his body and soul busy with thoughts of the woman whose presence could arouse him with desert-scorching fire. But then he had been forced to make a choice between his country, and her. She had turned her back on him, and the reason why would never go away. In the eyes of other people, Lysander was the world’s most successful man. That was true—up until now. He had won the hearts of his people, but the only battle he truly cared about hadn’t started yet. He exhaled heavily, trying to focus on the stellar image lying on the bulkhead before him. It was no good. He couldn’t quite look her in the eyes.

Alyssa …
He savoured her name as well as the sight of her tempting, toned body. The silky feel of her soft blonde hair between his fingers was such a distant dream, but this photograph brought it all back. That swimsuit was supposed to be discreet, but its sleek green gloss showed off her full breasts as provocatively as it sculpted her neat waist and warmly rounded hips.

Lysander drew in a slow, ragged breath. His hands could recognise her shape in the dark of a desert night, but the expression she wore in this picture chilled him to the bone.

She looks as poised and controlling as she did when she turned her back on me for the last time
, he thought with a flicker of the falcon in his eyes. There had been little time to think over the past few days, but every second he could spare had overflowed with thoughts of
her. Now he had come to a decision, and he was going to stick with it.

Lysander tried to concentrate on the instrument panel before him, not the image of a woman he had last heard telling him to go to hell. Working on automatic, he flicked switches and checked displays, but it was impossible to shut her out of his mind. He closed his hands slowly into fists around the controls. He had been away for too long, fighting through public battles and private negotiations. Now there was only one thing left to sort out. A provocative, priceless woman had trespassed into his private life, and tonight would see the showdown.

He ran a hand through his raven hair once more, and tried to pull his battle-weary uniform into some kind of order. Then he turned his ruthless stare back to the instrument panel. His mouth moved, and he almost smiled again. At last. With one twitch of his hand he set his plane on the path down to find the woman who could change his life for ever.

CHAPTER ONE

A month earlier.

T
HIS
is supposed to be fun, Alyssa reminded herself. It should have been ideal. Everything she loved was all here in one place—solitude, a beautiful setting and time to think. The only downside was the weather. Raindrops were still rustling through the tree canopy after that last shower, but the sky was clearing. This was England in summer, after all. Changeable weather was all part of the
fun
.

She grimaced. That was the second time she had used the ‘f’ word inside thirty seconds, but it didn’t make her feel any better. If only she could stop remembering … She shuddered.

Rebuilding some sort of existence for herself wasn’t easy. This holiday was supposed to give her space and time to plan her future. Out here in the forest she had the room and the opportunity to think, but all she could do was brood on what had happened, instead of how she might move on.

She hugged her knees, trying to enjoy the feeling of being snug inside the entrance to her tent. It was hopeless. This sabbatical wasn’t working. Listening to the
gentle play of water welling up from the spring beside her, she shut her eyes and tried to clear her mind. This spot was a real find. It was miles off the beaten track, in a hidden valley that hadn’t seen the hand of humans for years. There was wildlife, and flowers, and perfect peace—until her phone rang.

‘Hi, it’s only me.’

Alyssa tried her best to raise a smile. Karen, the agency manager, was a good friend, and that wasn’t always a good thing. Today, it was part of the trouble.

‘Look, please don’t take this the wrong way, Karen, but I’d be glad if you could give me a bit of a break. I really don’t need you to keep pushing work in my direction. I’m supposed to be getting away from the whole childcare scene for a bit.’

Looking back, there might have been the briefest of pauses, but Alyssa wasn’t aware of it at the time.

‘Who said this was a job offer?’ her boss began breezily. ‘I’m just ringing up to check that you’re OK. Good grief, you thought I was calling to offer you the job that came in this morning? Believe me, you’ll be glad you’re
not
available when I tell you about it. They wanted the best, and they’ll need it, but it’s a poisoned chalice.’

Alyssa stiffened. ‘It sounds like trouble.’ Her mouth dried and she couldn’t say any more.

‘No, no. It’s not as though the child is in actual
danger
…’

But the hint was there. Alyssa felt her blood run cold.

‘So anyway, how do you feel, Alyssa? Any better?
What are you up to at the moment?’ Karen said without pausing for breath.

‘That doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in that new job you mentioned. There’s something wrong. I can hear it in your voice.’

‘Rubbish! The new Regent of Rosara wants the best for his nephew. That’s all.’

Alyssa gasped.

‘That’s
all
?’

Awful headlines had been splashed across every newspaper for days. To read about a child orphaned in a car crash while visiting his family’s holiday home in England was bad enough. When A-list celebrity Lysander Kahani was named as his guardian, the story had stuck in Alyssa’s mind. Glamorous Prince Lysander’s link with the case had instantly snatched all the limelight from the little boy.

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
13.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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