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Authors: Christina Hollis

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BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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‘The nanny’s rooms are through there.’ He pointed to the door. ‘But that way is kept locked all the time, to stop Ra’id disturbing her during the night. You’ll
have to go out into the corridor and use the main door, at the top of the stairs.’

Alyssa flashed a dangerous look at him. ‘And how would you know that, if you’ve never had anything to do with Ra’id before?’

Lysander smiled at her knowingly. ‘Let’s call it a lucky guess, shall we?’

‘Well, the minute I find the key I’m going to unlock that door, and leave it open. That’s how it’s going to stay. I can assure you I’ll never have any reason to stop Ra’id coming into my rooms to see me.’

‘Really?’ He gave her a mocking look of disbelief.

‘Really.’

Her reply led him to give a casual shrug. ‘Then it must be time for me to take you to your lonely suite.’

Alyssa raised her eyebrows.

‘To the door and no further,’ he assured her, offering his arm.

She hesitated. All day she had fought against falling under his spell. She had managed it so far. Surely she could reward herself with this one, brief point of contact? The fear that Lysander would misunderstand and assume it was the start of something warred with the excitement of being escorted by such a gorgeous, polite man. She already knew he was too much temptation, but had to find out if he was enough of a gentleman.

‘Thanks, but I want you to know I’m giving you the benefit of some very big doubts, Lysander,’ she told him, slipping her hand into the crook of his arm.

It was just as well she answered before the sensation of his warm, vital body rose through the thin fabric of his jacket. The feel of it shook Alyssa to the core.
She wanted to go on standing there in the middle of the room, enjoying the casual intimacy with this dark stranger. Lysander had other ideas. At the very moment she was most vulnerable, he ignored his advantage and started off towards the door.

‘Would it help to put your mind at rest about me if we talked about work?’ he asked her.

‘That depends,’ Alyssa said warily. ‘Whose work did you want to discuss? Yours or mine?’

‘Yours, of course. Now I’ve discovered little Ra’id isn’t the creature from hell that everyone warned me about, I think I will want to take a more active role in his upbringing.’

Alyssa considered his words carefully. Ra’id was so full of himself, he wouldn’t be helped by a fickle uncle who would be distracted by every woman who lured him away. On the other hand, whatever his motives, she didn’t want to put Lysander off getting closer to Ra’id. In her bitter experience, it was better to have an adult getting in her way than taking no interest, and ignoring her professional advice.

‘You’ve already told me that Ra’id didn’t have a very close relationship with his parents. What he needs is some stability and routine in his life, not to mention some love and affection from a parent figure. If you could offer him that, it would be great. I’d love to have your help,’ she continued cautiously, ‘although I wouldn’t want you to overcommit yourself. Why don’t you try to make tea time with Ra’id a daily appointment to begin with, and see how you manage with that? Making some time available regularly in your schedule is much better than overwhelming him with attention
to begin with, and then leaving him high and dry when something comes up to divert your attention.’

‘I agree. I can’t abide people who promise everything and then don’t deliver.’

Alyssa looked at him quickly. ‘That sounded heartfelt!’

‘I’ve got good reason,’ he told her, but didn’t say anything else until they reached a door at the point where the nursery wing joined the main house.

‘Here it is—the main entrance to your suite. To the door and no further, as promised.’

‘Thank you—and I didn’t promise anything at all, so that means you won’t be disappointed when I say goodbye and let you go,’ Alyssa said firmly, taking her hand from his arm. Going inside her suite, she turned around quickly to block the doorway in case he tried to follow her.

‘I was thinking about someone else who didn’t keep their word—to me.’ His voice was slow and thoughtful. ‘I find this hard to say but the fact is I need you, Alyssa.’

Alarmed, she took another step backwards into her rooms and tried to close the door on him. Lysander was too quick for her, and grabbed the edge of the door. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you, Alyssa. For once, I wasn’t flirting. I meant that I need you
professionally
, because I don’t know the first thing about children.’

He sounded so genuinely pained, she laughed. ‘You were one yourself once, don’t forget!’

‘I know and I remember all too well what I had to go through. I admit, I’d rather leave all the caring to
experts like you, and just be there for the fun stuff,’ he said with real feeling.

Alyssa was moved. Without realising what she was doing, she reached out and patted him on the arm.

‘That’s better than nothing, and right now might be exactly what Ra’id needs his uncle for. It’ll be great.’

‘With you in charge, I’m sure it will be perfect.’ His voice was a low murmur, full of possibilities. Alyssa tensed, but his hand slid from the door straight into his pocket.

For two heartbeats she thought about simply closing the door on him, but she couldn’t do it. Lysander didn’t move a muscle. His stillness was as arousing as the look in his darkly mysterious eyes. She knew exactly what was going to happen, but could not stop herself waiting for it.

Slowly, silently, Lysander reached out to her. She was unresisting, so he drew her into his arms for a kiss that made her forget everything—until she remembered that she was in the grip of a serial womaniser. With a heart-rending effort she forced herself out of his grasp.

‘Lysander! You promised you were going to take me to my door and no further!’

He pointed towards the floor. Without knowing what she was doing, Alyssa had stepped over the threshold. She was now out in the hall again.

Lysander was already coolly backing away from her. ‘I was as good as my word. That is exactly what I did. No more—but no less, either.’

With that, he blew her a kiss, turned and sauntered off.

Alyssa was rooted to the spot. She watched him go,
her fingertips resting on her lips as she tried to recapture the pressure of his mouth against hers. When he reached the top of the stairs, he stopped and glanced back. His smile told her everything she didn’t want to know. It took her right back to those few delicious seconds she had spent in his arms. She responded with a sudden rush of sensual warmth. Her body would have done anything to experience his strength surrounding her again.

But her heart was too afraid …

CHAPTER THREE

E
ARLY
next morning, Lysander appeared in the nursery doorway. His unexpected arrival threw Alyssa into a panic, but she was careful not to show it. She was briefing her members of staff when she saw him, and didn’t want to betray her feelings in front of them. Luckily, this wasn’t a social call. He stayed brisk and businesslike as he informed them he was arranging for the royal household to fly back to Rosara in a few days’ time.

‘Once we get there, instead of Ra’id taking tea in my suite I thought we could take him out for a picnic every afternoon, Alyssa,’ he told her.

She nodded, glad he was keeping things light and impersonal. ‘If the weather’s good, it’ll be a great idea.’

‘Don’t worry about the weather, it’s the company that matters,’ he said teasingly, then walked off, with nothing more than a wink for the other girls.

Alyssa went back to her work in a haze of regret. She might have had more sense than to be seduced by Lysander last night, but it was a near thing. His touch had ignited a slow burning fire inside her that couldn’t be extinguished. She knew she should have kept right out of his grasp. All she could do now was try and feel glad that at least she’d found the strength from
somewhere to push him away. If she had given in to the temptation, let him go all the way and seduce her, how much worse would she be feeling this morning? She would be tortured by regret as well as feelings of loss. As it was, she felt as though a sticking plaster had been wrenched off her heart—the heart that her ex-fiancée had broken and Lysander now endangered once again, just as she was trying to heal. She was so afraid the edges of her mental wounds were coming apart again, too. If that happened, there would be nothing to hold back the flood of her bad memories. And then all those mistakes would return to haunt her.

Over the next few days, Alyssa barely saw Lysander. He was too busy arranging their transfer to Rosara to spend more than a few minutes with Ra’id each day, over tea. At those times Alyssa kept out of the way, using the excuse that she wanted them to get to know each other without any distractions. That didn’t stop her keeping a discreet eye on Lysander from the next room. She told herself she was only being professional, but that wasn’t true. The way he smiled each time she opened the door to him made her blush so furiously she could barely meet his gaze.

The rest of the time, all she got was a glimpse of him in passing now and again as she and Ra’id settled into their new routine, or she heard the sound of his clear, calm voice ringing through the house. Those tantalising hints of what might have been made him all the more desirable. All Alyssa could do was go on telling herself she had been right to push him away, and try to keep her mind off him. It was almost impossible, but packing
all Ra’id’s things ready for the journey to Rosara gave her hardly any time to brood. She already adored the little boy. Getting him to tell her all about his home far away strengthened their bond and cheered him up, too. While he painted pictures of his ponies and spun stories about life in Rosara’s Rose Palace, Alyssa told herself life couldn’t possibly get any better.

If only she could stop thinking about Lysander. And if only international travel didn’t involve flying …

On the night before they were due to leave for Rosara, Alyssa sat up late. She pretended she was collecting things to keep Ra’id occupied during the flight, but the idea of sitting in a tin can hurtling through the air thousands of feet above the ground had a lot to do with her sleeplessness. Only in the early hours of the morning did she finally give in and go to bed. She had barely closed her eyes when the alarm buzzed in her ears.

Ra’id was so excited about going back home he was a real handful, but Alyssa was determined he should behave. They ate a quiet breakfast together in the nursery wing, though she barely had an appetite. Then she marched him downstairs to the entrance hall. Lysander was already there, supervising the transfer and as smartly dressed as ever.

The moment he spotted her, he strolled over to meet them at the bottom of the stairs. Ra’id was delighted, but Lysander was more interested in Alyssa.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing, Lysander.’

‘I hope you are being a good boy?’ he warned his nephew.

The little boy blinked up at them both innocently.

‘He’s fine,’ Alyssa said quickly. ‘We’re getting used to each other, gradually.’

‘But there’s definitely
something
different about you.’ Lysander’s hand went out to her, but he brought it sharply back to his side before it went anywhere. ‘If you’re still worried about what happened on your first night here—’ he murmured.

If they had been alone, Alyssa knew he would have reached out to her, which could so easily have turned into something more. The urgent need to feel his touch again filled her until she couldn’t speak. All she could do was shake her head.

That wasn’t enough for Lysander. ‘So what
is
your problem?’

‘What problem?’

He gave up. ‘OK. I’m taking the lead car for the drive to the airport while you and Ra’id follow in the one behind, so I’ll speak to you again once we’re on the plane.’ Lysander rapped out the words like a warning.

Alyssa felt herself going green. Luckily, Lysander didn’t notice. He was distracted by a furious wail from Ra’id.

‘No! I want to go with you, Uncle Ly!’

Alyssa frowned. ‘You can at least ask properly, Ra’id. Now, we’ve been working on this. What should you have said?’

The little boy gazed at her for a few seconds, and then remembered.

‘Please, Alyssa, may I go in Uncle Ly’s car?’

She smiled gravely. ‘Well done, Ra’id, although it all depends on your uncle. Your Royal Highness?’

She looked up at Lysander, expecting only an answer to her question. She got a whole lot more. He was gazing down at her so intensely that, for a moment, every one of her fears vanished.

‘I think that would be a very good idea, Alyssa.’

She stood up again and bowed slightly. ‘Then I’ll arrange to have Prince Ra’id’s things moved into your car.’

‘There’s no need for that. I’ll ride with you in your car, instead.’

Alyssa felt her face relax in a smile of relief.

‘That’s better,’ he murmured to her as they all moved towards the front door. Alyssa thought she felt a slight touch on her arm, but when she looked down there was no trace of his hand. It didn’t matter. Knowing Lysander would be sitting in the same car with them was a welcome distraction. It would give her something other than the flight to think about on their drive to the airport.

As they got to the great front door of Combe House Ra’id broke away and frolicked out into the sunlight.

‘I want to sit next to the driver!’

‘I thought you might!’ Lysander laughed, with a quick sideways smile at Alyssa.

Unable to stop herself, she blushed. As they stepped out of the house the dazzle of bright sunlight reflecting off three highly polished limousines made her blink. It was the perfect excuse to look away from Lysander and hide her nerves. As their chauffeur settled Ra’id into the front passenger seat Lysander reached out and opened the rear door for himself. Alyssa couldn’t look at him directly, but made the most of the glimpse she
got of his lean, golden-tanned hand. Suddenly, he stood aside.

‘After you, Alyssa. Since you’re trying to teach Ra’id to be a gentleman, I will of course lead by example! For tips on gentlemanly etiquette, you need look no further than me.’

BOOK: Weight of the Crown
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