Winter Wedding for the Prince(2)

By: Barbara Wallace

“It would be,” Armando replied, “if Max Brown were the father.”

“What?” Rosa’s hand froze mid-sip. She would ask if he was joking, except this wasn’t something to joke about. “Who...?” It didn’t matter. “Does Max know?”

“Yes, and he doesn’t care.”

“He must love your sister very much.” Took a special kind of love to marry a woman carrying another man’s child. Certainly not the kind of love people like Rosa got to witness. People like her got a leftover kind of love. As Fredo had been so fond of telling her, she was flavorless and bland.

“Max’s devotion is wonderful for Arianna, but...”

But it didn’t erase the problems this pregnancy caused. “He or she can’t be the heir.”

Corinthian law stated that only the biological offspring of both parents could inherit the throne. Should anything happen to Armando and Arianna, then the title would skip to someone else, such as Arianna and Max’s child or one of the distant cousins. Either way opened a host of complications.

“Not to mention that if the truth were to come out, that child would spend the rest of his or her life hounded by gossip and innuendo. Max and Arianna, too. The whole house of Santoro, for that matter.”

“Unless Arianna and Max lie.” Armando scowled at her suggestion. “What?” she asked. “You don’t think that’s happened before?” Not even the house of Santoro was that lily pure. In fact, someone trying to slip an illegitimate heir into the mix was probably the reason for the inane law to begin with.

“Whether it’s been done before or not isn’t the point,” he replied. “Other generations didn’t have tabloids or your wonderful internet.”

Good point. Today, secrets couldn’t last forever. Eventually the truth would come out, and when it did, there would be challenges. Corinthia would be plunged into a protracted legal battle that benefited no one.

“I take it you’ve already thought of trying to change the law,” she said.

“Of course, but again, this isn’t the old days, when the king could change the laws on a whim. The ministers would want to know the reason for the change.”

“All hail increased democracy,” Rosa muttered. There wasn’t much more that could be done, barring Armando remarrying and having children of his own, and a monk dated more than he did. The Melancholy Prince, the papers called him. The title fit. While Armando had always been serious, Christina’s death had added an extra layer. It was as though he was suspended in permanent mourning. He never attended anything that wasn’t an official event, and those he attended alone. Other than his sister, Rosa was the only woman in his life.

The prince had returned his attention to his coffee, studying the untouched contents from beneath thick lashes as if they contained the answer. Rosa couldn’t help but indulge in a moment of appreciation. If he decided to date again, Armando’s return to the dating world would be a welcome one. Even if he wasn’t the future king of Corinthia, he was a man worthy of desire. Granted, he wasn’t the most beautiful man in the country; his Roman features were a little too pronounced, although not so much that they looked out of proportion. Besides, she always thought a strong man should have strong features. Fredo, for all his self-importance, had had a weak chin.

The muscles in Armando’s chin twitched with tension.

“You know King El Halwani,” he started.

“That’s a silly question.” Of course she knew the man. The sultan of Yelgiers was a frequent visitor. Corinthia and the tiny principality had a long history of economic and political relations. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“His daughter, Mona, is of marrying age.”

“Is that so? I didn’t know.” Rosa’s insides ran cold. Surely, he wasn’t...

“A union   between our two countries will be a tremendous alliance.”

Did he say will? The chill spread down her spine, ending in a shiver.

Apology darkened his eyes to near black. “I called him this morning and suggested we discuss an arrangement.”

“You—you did.” Rosa set down her cup. The coffee she’d been drinking threatened to rise back up her throat.

Armando, remarrying.

She shouldn’t have been surprised. Royalty lived a different kind of life than commoners like her. Marriages were arranged for all kinds of reasons: trade relations, military alliances. Why not to secure an heir?

The news still made her queasy. It was too quick. Armando wasn’t the type to make rash decisions. For crying out loud, he’d waited a year before proposing to her sister, and they’d fallen in love at first sight. For him to wake up and decide he was going to marry a virtual stranger was completely out of character, looming scandal or no looming scandal. At the very least, he would have asked her what she thought.

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