His Majesty's Child

By: Sharon Kendrick

CHAPTER ONE




GOLDEN light streamed down from the vaulted ceiling but Melissa didn’t pay it any attention. Even palaces paled into in significance when measured against the realisation that her moment had come.

At last.

Sometimes it seemed as if her life had been defined by this moment—and that her future would be determined by its outcome. A moment she could trace right back to that terrifying second when she’d held the strip of plastic in her shaking fingers and seen the unmistakable blue line which had confirmed her pregnancy.

And the world as she’d known it had changed forever.

‘Did you hear me, Melissa?’ Stephen’s voice punctured her ballooning thoughts. ‘I said that the King will see you shortly.’

‘Yes. Yes, I heard you,’ said Melissa, her heart beginning to pound as she allowed herself a brief glance in one of the ornate mirrors which lined the ante-room of the Zaffirinthos palace. She was not a vain woman—there would have been no time for vanity in her life even if her looks had warranted it. She had the kind of face which wouldn’t have launched even a single ship—let alone a thousand. But an audience with the King…

The King who had fathered her son!

As she tidied her long, thick hair for what felt the hundredth time she hoped she looked better from the outside than she felt on the inside. Because she had to look her best. Her very best. She had to make Casimiro believe that she was worth something. That she was fit to be the mother of his child. Smoothing damp palms down over the linen of her new dress, she looked anxiously to Stephen for some kind of confirmation. ‘Do I…do I look okay?’

He flicked her a brief glance before returning his attention to the clipboard in his hand. ‘You look fine—but you do realise he isn’t going to notice what you’re wearing? Royals never do. We’re staff so we’re deemed servants—and they never look properly at servants. We’re just there—like part of the wallpaper.’

‘Wallpaper,’ she repeated blankly.

‘That’s right. Part of the background. All he wants from you is a brief outline of the itinerary for tonight’s ball. Basically, I’ve told him everything he needs to know—but since you’ve organised the flowers and the band he wants to speak to you himself, to thank you. It’s a courtesy thing. Keep it short and keep it sweet, and don’t forget—only speak when you’re spoken to.’

‘Of course I won’t forget.’ There was a pause. What Melissa might have called a pregnant pause if the expression hadn’t mocked her quite so much. ‘You know I’ve…I’ve met the King once before,’ she ventured.

Stephen frowned as he looked up from his clipboard. ‘When?’

What had made her say that? Was it perhaps to pave the way for the number one dream scenario she’d nurtured for so long—that Casimiro would immediately acknowledge Ben as his son and heir? That she would be able to tell people about Ben’s dad with a certain amount of pride, instead of biting her lip and saying that she’d rather not talk about it?

The only trouble with dream scenarios was that once you started coming up with them, it wasn’t easy to stop.

Because wasn’t it possible that the King might even be grateful to her for the bombshell she was about to drop—especially as his younger brother’s wife had recently given birth to a son. The world’s press had fan-fared the birth of an heir to the fabulous Mediterranean kingdom, but Melissa knew that wasn’t true. Because Ben was the heir. The true heir.

She cleared her throat. ‘When…when we did that museum party in London, for the touring exhibition of the Zaffirinthos marbles. Casimiro was there—and at the after-show party. Surely you remember?’

‘Sure I do.’ Stephen screwed up his eyes. ‘You helped me hand out the canapés that night, Mel—I doubt whether you actually engaged him in any conversation other than, “Would you like another hors d’oeuvre, Your Majesty?” And if you’re expecting him to remember you from back then, you’d better think again.’

Melissa gave a brief, nervous smile. Of course her boss wouldn’t have noticed—for there had been no chemistry or eye contact between the party planner’s assistant and the eligible King during what had been just another glittering socialite gathering. You would hardly expect the guest of honour to engage in light-hearted banter with a woman who was there simply to serve the privileged throng.

And yet what would Stephen say if he knew just what the King had said to her the very next night when she had been cold and empty and aching for some human comfort? Something along the lines of how criminal it was for her to wear panties at all…and then he had proceeded to remove them with a dexterity which, when coupled with a passionate kiss, had made any argument against his love-making completely futile.

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