His Two Royal Secrets(6)

By: Caitlin Crews

Meanwhile, Alexandrina San Giacomo had been the most beautiful woman in the world. That was what they’d called her since she’d been all of eighteen. At her funeral, pop stars had sung elegies, the world had watched the televised version to weep along and post pictures of their black armbands, and rarely a day had passed since without Pia encountering some or other remembrance of Alexandrina that called her La Bellissima, the angel of our time.

And that was the more restrained lot.

Their parents’ love story had transfixed a generation. Pia had always been transported by it herself, especially as her experience of their love came with the shouting matches, the broken crockery followed by Those Noises behind locked doors, and their utter and complete fixation on each other at all times. No matter who else was in the room.

Matteo, darkly handsome, broodingly intense, and excruciatingly dedicated to his role as the last San Giacomo heir as well as his father’s successor in the family business, was precisely the sort of child one might expect to come from such a union    .

Pia, by contrast, had been hidden away for most of her life, which she had always assumed was a direct consequence of her chipmunk cheeks. She’d been packed off to a convent, then a finishing school, while everyone in the family had gone to extreme and excessive links to keep her out of the public eye.

They all claimed it was to protect her, but she knew better. She was too awkward. Too chunky. The most beautiful woman in the world could not have an embarrassing, tragic daughter, could she? Alexandrina had been a swan by any measure. Pia was, sadly, still very much the ugly duckling in comparison, and she’d resigned herself to that.

Or she’d tried, very hard, to resign herself to that.

“Did you...ask me how it happened?” She stared at her brother now, feeling the wholly inappropriate urge to let out a laugh. Only her brother’s likely reaction to such a thing kept her from it. “Not that you fling it about, or anything, but I was fairly certain you...already knew.”

“Thank you for making light of the situation, Pia,” Matteo snapped, that glass in his mouth getting the better of him. “I’m glad this is all a joke to you. Our father’s funeral starts within the hour. You don’t think you could have given me some advance warning about—” his gaze raked over her, and made her cheeks heat with shame “—this?”

“I thought I should do it in person,” Pia said. That was true. What was also true was that she really hadn’t wanted to do it at all. “And you’ve been down in London since—” But she didn’t want to discuss their mother’s death. “And I knew you would be coming up here for the funeral anyway, so I thought, why not wait until I saw you.”

And Pia was nearly twenty-three years old. She might have been protected to the point of smothering her whole life, but she was still a woman grown. So why did she find herself acting like a stammering child when her older brother glared at her?

“This is a disaster,” he growled, as if she’d missed that. “This is not a game.”

“You’re not the one who can’t wear most of the clothes in your wardrobe, Matteo,” she replied. Airily, because what else could she do? “I don’t think you need to tell me how real this is.”

He stared at her, shaking his head. And Pia had tried so hard to put a brave face on all this. But the truth was, she was ashamed. She could feel that heat in her cheeks, and everywhere else, too.

And the way Matteo looked at her then, as if he was so disappointed in her it hurt, Pia was very much afraid that she would stay ashamed forever more.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“Who is the father?”

But that only made that sickening shame inside her worse.

“Dad asked me that, too,” she said, instead of answering the question.

Because the answer was so...squalid. Humiliating, really. Oh, she’d thought it was so delightful before. She finally had a secret! She was a modern woman at last, like everyone else she knew! She’d stepped smartly into her own future, seized the day—or the night, to be more precise—and had stopped keeping herself like some kind of vestal virgin, forever on the shelf, because for some reason her scandal-ridden family seemed united in their desire to keep her from making the mistakes they had.

Everything was fun and games until the morning sickness hit, she had discovered.

Matteo’s glare darkened, which should have been impossible. “Dad knew about this?”

“Both Mum and Dad knew about it,” Pia said, her voice small.

Of all the things she couldn’t believe, what newly lived inside of her was really the least of it. She didn’t understand how the world could continue turning without her parents in it. Her mother had been like the sky above, even in the quiet of her own sitting room. That vast and given to sudden storms. Her father had been like a volcano. Big and imposing, and always this close to eruption.

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