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I walk around the desk, looking down on her, face-to-face. “Now let’s try this again. Ask me what you want to know. The words are right there on your lips—you can taste them, can’t you? Fucking ask.”

And Lenora doesn’t disappoint.

“Did you lie to me? Are you lying to me now?” She steps closer, her voice rising with each word. “Did you meet her? Did you kiss her? Did she touch you?” She shoves me with her hands. “Did you fuck her?” And beats at my chest with her fists. “Did you? Did you?”

I grab her wrists, trapping them between us. “No. Never.” The word growls out of me, between gnashing teeth. “You think I’d do that to you? That I’d obliterate my vows, betray our child . . . hurt you that way? Is that who you think I am?”

Her gaze slides toward the floor, but I grip her chin, forcing her eyes to mine.

“Look at me. If that’s the kind of man you think I am, then what the fuck have we been doing all these months?”

And she searches my face, her eyes shimmering like two broken diamonds. Her mouth opens and closes, then eventually, the soft, strangled words come out.

“I don’t think you’re that kind of man.”

I let her go, stepping back.

She looks down at the photos and one by one, tears fall down her cheeks. “But she’s very beautiful. And I’m—”

“You are beautiful.” I take her face in both my hands, gently now, cupping her cheeks and swiping her tears away with my thumbs. “Christ, you are all I see. Don’t you know that? Even when you’re not with me . . . you’re all I can see.”

Her face crumbles, collapses into a sob. And I pull her into my arms, pressing her against my chest.

“I do, I do know that,” she cries. “I’m sorry.”

“Shhh . . .” I pet her hair, rocking her.

Her hands twist in my shirt. “I’m sorry, Edward. I just . . . I don’t know what’s happening. I’m so tired and there’s just so much . . .

“I know, I know.”

So much responsibility, so much to do, so much weight, so much worry. Never ending and always.

“And I feel like I’m losing my mind. I—”

I tilt her head and cover her mouth with mine. Her lips are pillow soft and puffy from crying.

“It’s all right. It’s all right, now.” I soothe her.

And I kiss her again and again until she settles. My lips trail over her face, swallowing her tears and drinking her pain. I stroke her tongue with mine, cup her breasts, kneading the sensitive mounds, stroking her nipples, coaxing moans from deep inside her.

I take her to the bed and strip her slowly. I drag my mouth, my hands, over every inch of her tender flesh, until she writhes, and nothing exists in the world except what I’m doing to her. Between kisses and moans, I promise and whisper that she is my beautiful girl, my lovely lass, my sweet, my only . . . my everything.

Because she is.

We lie on our sides, chest to back, and I make love to her with gentle, smooth thrusts from behind. Lenora reaches back for me, her hand on my hip, my thigh—pushing me forward, urging me deeper, to give her more.

And I do. Christ, I do.

I slide my arms beneath her and across her breasts, holding her shoulders, rocking up into her, until the pleasure ripples through us and we come at the same time—her, with a perfect, keening cry and me, with a hoarse, ragged groan.

I watch Lenora as she sleeps, with my hand on her stomach, feeling the moving life inside her—the life we made together. Her sweet lips part and her breath shudders in a hiccup, reminding me of the pain that pulled her under earlier. I throw the covers back, slip on my trousers and a half-buttoned shirt and tuck Lenny in snugly. Then I walk through the halls, down to the guard’s quarters.

When I step inside, the men scurry up from the couches and chairs to stand and bow. My eyes go only to one man.

“I need a word,” I tell Winston softly.

He follows me out across the hall to an empty room.

“Shut the door,” I tell him, and he does. Then I stand in front of him, fists clenched at my sides, feet spread.

“For now, in this moment, I am not a prince and you are not a guard. We are just men—speaking as men—is that understood?”

His face and tone are impassive. “Yes, I understand.”


And then I pummel the bastard. Unleashing my rage and frustration, raining hard fists down on him like rocks.

“Motherfucking son of a bitch!”

He doesn’t just take it. He blocks and jabs, we kick and crash, knock over a table and punch a massive, cracked, dent in the wall. In the end we’re both bleeding, but I get leverage—and press him against the wall with my forearm to his windpipe.

I lean into his face so there is no mistaking me.

“Fill her head with that shit again and I’ll kill you. Make her cry again . . . I’ll fucking kill you slow.” I press against his throat harder, my voice louder. “You will never have her. She belongs to me—she is mine. When I am dead and buried she will still be fucking mine.”

I let the words sink in, and then I shove him back as I release him.

He gulps in air, hand to his throat, wheezing, “It’s not about that.”

I scoff, turning away.

“You wanted her to see those photos out in public?” he yells. “In front of a reporter? You wanted a journalist to catch her unaware and show them to her—now—when she’s days from delivering? Is that your idea of how I should protect her?”

He shakes his head.

“No, no, I’ll do my job properly. Protect her as she needs to be protected—truly—her and all who belong to her. I won’t stop. You want to kill me for that one day, you’re welcome to try.”

I swipe at the blood on my lip with the back of my hand and point at him. “This happens again—you bring it to us, together. Not when she’s alone—never again when she’s alone. Do you hear me?”

He thinks on that, then he looks me in the eyes and nods. “Yes. All right, I agree.”

A few days later, after the bile in my gut has had time to settle and the words don’t taste quite so bitter, I lie in bed with Lenora. We’re naked—just as I like her—with her head on my shoulder, her heavy breasts against my chest and her swollen stomach between us pushing into my side, my hand trailing up and down the curve of her spine.

“I want Winston to be made head of palace security. I want him in charge of everything. Covert programs, securing the palace grounds, trips abroad—he’s to have all the resources he needs.”

Lenora stares up at me. “You hate Winston.”

My arm pulls her closer. “I hate him because he’s in love with you.”

She’s quiet for a bit, tracing my stomach with her fingertip.

Then she sighs. “Edward—”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s the best at his job. He’s completely devoted to you and to the Crown. He’ll protect you at all costs and he’ll be there to make sure you’re safe when I can’t.” I rest my hand on her warm, tight stomach. “Both of you.”

Her gaze glides over my face. “Is it difficult for you? To not be the one who protects us all the time?”

“I’m a man—of course it’s difficult for me.” I brush my hand through her long, dark hair, twining a strand around my finger. “I want to be everything for you, always. But that’s not who we are. What kind of man would I be—what kind of husband, or father, or prince—if I let my pride put you at risk?”