Winter Wedding for the Prince(9)

By: Barbara Wallace

“Too many to count,” Armando replied. “Some only stay for a night or two while they make arrangements in another part of Europe, while others stay longer. This time of year is among our busiest, as we like to make sure circumstances don’t prevent the children from enjoying the magic of the holidays. Every year we host a Christmas party for current and past residents, complete with traditional foods and presents.”

“It’s also when we host our largest fund-raiser,” Rosa added. “The Concert for Christina’s Home is broadcast nationwide and is fast becoming a tradition.” Even though she felt ashamed about her own behavior, she was spectacularly proud of how her sister’s legacy had taken hold. All those late nights she and Armando worked, neither of them willing to go home and face their sad empty lives. That the program thrived proved amazing things could come out of even the most profound sadness. It was almost as much of a legacy to their triumph over grief as it was a tribute to Christina.

“The program sounds exactly like the kind of work Mona would want to see continued.” Rosa jerked from her thoughts just in time to hear King Omar mention his daughter’s involvement. “I have no doubt she would be honored if you allowed her to help expand the work being done in your first wife’s name.”

Armando would never allow it, she thought as possessiveness took hold. Christina’s Home was too sacred to let a stranger—even one he planned to marry—become involved. She looked across the table, expecting to find him giving her a reassuring look. Instead, she found him taking an unusually long drink of water.

“The people of Corinthia would appreciate that,” he said finally. He looked to her, eyes filled with silent apology.

Rosa lost her appetite.

* * *

“He backed me into a corner,” Armando said when they were on the elevator and heading back downstairs. “It would have been insulting to say anything other than yes.”

Rosa didn’t reply. Mainly because she didn’t want to admit Armando was right. The king had practically forced his daughter’s involvement on Armando. That didn’t make it sting any less.

Christina’s Home had been her idea as a way of honoring her sister. She’d been the one poring over the budget with Armando and massaging corporate donors. What made King Omar think his daughter could waltz in and become Armando’s partner?

Because Mona was to be his wife, that’s what. Next year at this time, it would be Mona helping Armando. Mona going over party plans in his dimly lit office while he shed his jacket and tie. Letting him drink her coffee when he grew punchy. For a man who could dominate a room of leaders, Armando managed to look like a sleepy cat when tired. So adorably rumpled. She’d bet Mona wouldn’t be able to resist running a hand through his curls when she saw him.

Oh, for crying out loud, you’d think she was jealous, worrying what Mona did with Armando’s hair. What mattered was maintaining control over a charity she’d helped create.

“Clearly, he thought playing up his daughter’s generous nature would impress me,” Armando replied. Busy adjusting his jacket, he thankfully missed Rosa’s scowl. The man certainly had been eager to paint his daughter in a good light.

“Did it work?” she asked.

“Did what work? Singing his daughter’s praises?” He gave his cuff a tug. “I suppose. It’s good to know the future queen has a keen understanding of her responsibilities. Although right now King Omar is going out of his way to paint her in the most positive light possible. He’s quite a salesman in that regard.”

“You think he’s exaggerating?” She was ashamed at the thrill she felt over the possibility of a problem.

The shake of Armando’s head quickly squelched the notion. “Oh, no, the El Halwani dedication to social causes has been well documented. They are considered among the most progressive ruling families in the region.”

Of course they were. No doubt the mythical Mona would be extremely dedicated to bettering Corinthian society, including helping Christina’s Home. Next year, she would be the one working by Armando’s side. While he left Rosa behind.

She pressed a fist to her midsection. Lunch truly wasn’t agreeing with her. What started as a burning sensation had grown to a full-blown knot that stretched from her breast to her throat.

“Do you feel all right?” Armando asked. “You’ve been pale since lunch.”

“Too much spicy food. My stomach wasn’t expecting such an exotic lunch.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” he asked, turning in her direction.

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