Crowned: An Ordinary Girl(10)

By: Natasha Oakley


More than something. Marianne took a sip of water. They’d taken her in, pregnant and scared, when her own mother had not. She owed them everything. She took another mouthful of ice cream and let her eyes wander to Seb’s handsome profile. Supremely confident, charismatic and charming. He really had no idea of the fate he’d left her to.

What would Seb say if he knew he’d left her expecting their baby?

Had he ever thought to wonder what had happened to her? Or had he really returned to Andovaria and his royal responsibilities without sparing her a moment’s consideration?

What kind of conversation would they be having now if little Jessica had lived?

In many ways nature had known best. It hurt her to think it, but at eighteen she’d been hopelessly ill-prepared to take on the responsibility of a child. The logical part of her brain accepted that, even while her heart probably never would. Eliana had spent hours talking her through…everything. Patiently helping her manage emotions she’d not had the life skills to even begin to deal with.

First, there’d been the pregnancy itself and her mother’s inability to cope with her ‘perfect’ daughter’s fall from grace.

And then the stillbirth. The heartbreaking scan. The long hours of labour which had resulted in a perfectly formed baby girl—born asleep, as the euphemism went.

Marianne covertly studied His Serene Highness Prince Sebastian II. Their baby. She and Seb had created a little girl—and he didn’t even know.

She reached out for her water glass and took a sip, carefully placing it back down on the table. Eliana believed all men had the right to know if they were about to become a father…

Sometimes she wondered…if Jessica had lived long enough to be born safely, whether she’d ever have told him. At eighteen she’d been adamant he’d never know, but that had been her hurt talking. The first photographs of the about-to-be-enthroned Prince of Andovaria with his dark-haired fiancée had been cataclysmic. Like a switch flicking inside her—love to hate in a moment.

She sat back in her chair. But…eventually she might have told him. Perhaps. When Jessica had grown old enough to decide whether she wanted the poisoned chalice of being universally known as the illegitimate daughter of a European prince—with a mother he’d not considered worth marrying.

It was an academic question. There’d been no baby past the seventh month of her pregnancy. Marianne could feel the pain now, shooting through her—as it always did whenever she was reminded of Jessica. The sense of failure. And the emptiness that pervaded everything—and had done for practically her entire adult life.

She watched as Seb reached for his wine glass. He’d no idea. No understanding of how comprehensively he’d wrecked her life. And how she’d never forgive him.





CHAPTER THREE




THE photographs were fascinating. Far more so than Marianne had expected.

‘This is quite remarkable. Remarkable,’ the professor mumbled. ‘Everything completely shut away…’

‘Yes,’ Seb agreed, moving to stand behind him. ‘Until the renovation work began on that part of the castle, no one alive knew the rooms were even there.’

Marianne’s eyes instinctively followed Seb as he walked across the room, helplessly noticing the way his jacket skimmed the powerful shoulders of a man she knew had become an Olympic skier.

It was peculiar to think that she knew so much about him, whereas he knew nothing about her since he’d left her in Paris. She forced herself to look back down at the 10” x 8” photograph of a long, narrow room with row upon row of serviceable shelving filled to capacity.

‘Is nothing in here catalogued?’ the professor asked, pointing at the image he was holding.

‘No.’

Dr Leibnitz nodded his agreement. ‘So far, all we’ve done is make a very cursory inventory. There’s been no attempt at any sort of organisation.’

‘Marianne?’ The professor’s voice startled her. ‘What do you think?’

What did she think? Marianne looked up. ‘I think it’s a mammoth responsibility,’ she said carefully.

He nodded. ‘This needs a team.’

Seb sat down in an elegant Queen Anne armchair, his attention fixed on the professor. ‘What we’re hoping is you’ll feel able to head up that team. Handpick the people you want to work with you.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because you’re highly respected in your field,’ Seb answered, his voice deep, sexy and tugging at all kinds of memories she didn’t want to remember. Certainly not now. Not with Seb sitting so close to her. Marianne swallowed the hard lump that appeared to be wedged in her throat and deliberately looked down at the photograph in her hand.

‘As are many others.’

Marianne’s eyes skittered away from it as Seb leant forward on his chair. She looked back down, silently cursing. Somehow she needed to bring herself under a tighter control. Every movement he made, every blasted thing he did, she seemed to notice.

‘Andovaria is a small principality. Bigger than Liechtenstein or Monaco, but nowhere near the size of Austria or Switzerland. The sheer quantity of what we’ve found has made us think much of it might not rightly belong in Andovaria.’

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