Pretender to the Throne - Page 16

Because nothing eased the way like throwing charitable donations around. At least, he hoped it would ease the way.

The people loved Stavros. They wouldn’t accept the change lightly. Come to think of it, he was sure it was why his brother remained out of the country, even knowing Xander was back. The bastard.

He nearly laughed out loud. No, Stavros wasn’t the bastard here. He never had been. The bastard had always been him.

But it was too late to worry about that now. His decision was made.

He thought of Layna, of his need for a wife. Some of his decisions were made, but not all of them.

He would have to figure that part out as quickly as possible. Of course, in order to have it all figured out, he needed to know what he was dealing with.

He turned to his desk, to his laptop, sitting there, open. He typed in his name on the search engine and hit enter.

It had hit. The servants must have called. Someone had said something, because there were headlines already.

The Disgraced Heir’s Return. He clicked the link and skimmed the article. It was filled with bile and innuendo. About all he’d done with his life since he’d been gone.

Prince Alexander Drakos, abandoned Kyonos like a rat when it was a sinking ship, saved, of course by Prince Stavros. All while Xander partied in Monaco, wasting his family fortune, sleeping with countless women while indulging in alcohol and illegal substances.

One source from an exclusive casino was quoted.

“One night, he was so drunk he could hardly stand straight. He put his arms around two women to brace himself and they helped him back to his room. I didn’t see them leave until the next morning.”

And this is the man who presumes to come back and be king of our great nation.

Xander closed the laptop, heat streaking up the back of his neck. He couldn’t remember the night being referenced in the article, but he couldn’t say it was a lie.

It wasn’t going to be like he’d thought. It was going to be worse. And all he could do was go forward with the plan.

There was no other option.

* * *

“I assumed asking you to put on something more appropriate for the occasion would make you look at me like I’d grown a second head.”

Layna was at the breakfast table, wearing an insipid pale pink shift and a sweater that was the color of a dirty rose. She looked up, her gaze serene. But it didn’t cover the fire beneath. He’d spoken the truth to her last night. The fire was still there, fire she’d always been so desperate to hide. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. My dress is the picture of appropriate.”

“For a nunnery.”

She arched a brow. “Funny that.”

“You’re not in the convent anymore, Dorothy.”

“I don’t suppose if I tapped my heels together three times I might find my way back.”

“Unlikely. I doubt nuns are allowed to possess magic shoes.”

“Novice.”

“Either way,” he said, crossing the room and planting his hands on the back of one of the dining chairs, “I am wearing a tie. And I don’t think you understand just what a concession that is, so all things considered, perhaps you would allow me to get you a more appropriate dress for what I am certain will end up being a press conference.”

Her expression went blank at the mention of the press. “What’s the point? I’m not speaking in your press conference. I’m there to be your...what am I exactly—some homely, saintly representation of your good intentions? Or am I just supposed to stand close so that the lightning bolt you were concerned about earlier doesn’t hit you?”

“I thought God didn’t work that way.”

She lifted a shoulder. “I said that before I’d spent this much time with you.”

“I won’t lie to you, you are here to give me a bit more of a savory appearance. And also because I think it lends nice closure to our story. If you can forgive me...”

“Oh, I see. Another layer to my usefulness.” She stood, color slowly blooming in her cheeks as her voice rose. “You thought that if I would forgive you the country would follow suit. That if you came back and the woman you were engaged to before you left opened her arms to you, your people would do the same.” And then she did something wholly unexpected. She started laughing.

Not just a giggle, but a laugh that seemed to take over her whole body. She put her hand on the back of the chair in front of her and doubled over, laughing so hard he thought she might choke.

“Oh, poor Xander,” she gasped. “You came back to find your queen, your key to your redemption and you found a scarred woman who’d given herself to the church. Your plans just aren’t going well, are they?”

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