He tightened his hold on her. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not? Because you might lose your place?”
“Because I might...I won’t have...”
“You won’t have your family.”
The tension released from him slowly. He was glad she’d said it and not him. “Silly, I know, considering I hadn’t spoken to any of them in ages.”
“But they were there. I understand that. My family is there, even though we don’t really speak.”
“Why is that, Layna?”
“It’s easier not to. For all of us. I should think you would understand that.”
“Why don’t we sleep for a while,” she said, yawning. “Then...then maybe I’ll do better tying your tie, and we’ll have a hope of being on time for dinner.”
THE PLAN TO make it to dinner perfectly pressed and on time didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Halfway through tying Xander’s tie for the second time, Layna found herself tangled up in him, and the bedsheets, again.
That put them behind schedule by a good twenty minutes, and by then, she hadn’t been able to have her makeup artist coat her face with all the paint she needed to begin to cover her scars, which meant she was rocking a much more natural look for the dinner than she’d intended.
But Xander didn’t seem to mind.
And he’d called her beautiful.
Something bloomed inside of her, like a flower that had found the sun after a long battle with the clouds. And she wanted badly to crush it herself. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It was frightening, how much his words meant to her, and yet she found she wanted to hold them close, even knowing that doing that might be too costly.
She didn’t know how today had happened. All that nudity, and not just in bed. It had been real honesty that had passed between them.
And their lovemaking was... She felt her cheeks heat even as they walked into the dining room together, where ten dignitaries were already seated. Yes, their lovemaking was explosive and far beyond anything she’d ever imagined.
If she thought way back to when she’d imagined she might have a sexual relationship with a man, then she remembered having fantasies about Xander. But she remembered them as being quite calm and hazy. Certainly not with her loving the bite of pain from his hands in her hair and rough demands issued from his lips.
She tried to look casual as the past few hours replayed in her mind. This was not the time. This was a formal dinner. Stavros and Jessica were seated near Eva and Mak, and the head of the table was empty, as was the foot. And just like it was choreographed, she and Xander parted and he walked up to his chair, while she moved down to hers.
It was choreographed, she supposed. From a time long passed, but even so, they both knew the steps. They were steps ingrained in them from years ago. It was the position they’d trained for. The marriage they’d trained for.
So strange to be here now, after she’d let go of it all. So strange to have it be so much the same to what she’d imagined and also so different.
They both had scars now. They had the kind of passion that had nothing to do with a bored, disinterested worldview. They might even be better people now than when they’d first been poised to slip into this roll.
“In the absence of my father,” Xander said, “I will be acting as host.”
“And how is the king?” One of the politicians to Xander’s right posed the question.
“He is as well as can be expected. I would hope he makes a recovery.”
“But of course we can’t plan for that,” Eva said, looking bleak.
“We can’t plan for the worst, either, Eva,” Xander said. “We can prepare for it, but why not do that and then plan on a better outcome?”
She smiled. “I like that idea better than mine. I tend to be a catastrophist.”
“I think this family has had enough catastrophes,” he said.
Layna looked down the table at Stavros, who was looking at his older brother with an expression that was...almost like approval. It made her heart do strange and wonderful things. Because she found that she cared about what happened with Xander and his family. It made her ache for him. Made her appreciate how truly difficult things were for him.
Because he felt like he had a smaller foothold on the Drakos family than he should. Because he wasn’t truly a Drakos at all, but the child of an unnamed man he would never know.
It made her want to go to him. Made her want to hold his hand. But that wasn’t the proper thing to do. So she would help him by being everything a royal wife should be. She wasn’t his wife yet, but today she was acting the part. It was what she could do for him, so she would do it.