His Majesty's Child(9)

By: Sharon Kendrick


Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Orso stir—his muscle-packed frame as imposing as the bear after which he’d been named. Yet he moved with surprising agility to speak softly into Casimiro’s ear.

‘Shall I get rid of her, Majesty?’ he questioned, in the Greek in which both men were fluent and which was less widely understood than their first language of Italian.

Casimiro’s instinctive response was to say yes as etiquette demanded—but as the woman called Melissa drew nearer her unquestionable breach of protocol was enough to again capture his interest. And something written on her face struck at a chord within him—an echo of the expression he had seen there earlier. Something which set off some far-distant warning bell ringing deep inside him.

Instinct told him to speak to her—and now that he was about to cast off the strictures of royal life, then surely he could listen to his instincts at long last. Surely he could satisfy his curiosity about what she wanted—if only as a distraction until this interminable meal ended, when the speech was burning a hole in his pocket and, unexpectedly, his heart was aching at the thought of delivering it.

‘No. Let her speak. She intrigues me. Perhaps there is some problem to which she wishes to alert me. This ball is part of my gift to my brother and therefore my responsibility, after all.’

‘But, Majesty—’

‘Let her approach, Orso—but guide her more discreetly. All eyes are upon her and she has neither the poise nor the beauty to with stand such scrutiny.’

‘Ochi, Majesty.’

Melissa walked towards the King, her heart crashing madly against her chest, feeling a rivulet of sweat beginning to trickle its way down between her breasts. She was scarcelyable to believe that she was actually going through with this, but as she had been getting ready for tonight she’d realised that she couldn’t delay telling him. Not for a moment longer. She had blown her opportunity when they’d been alone together earlier—sheer nerves had defeated her, along with her stupid and over-optimistic plan of waiting for the ‘right’ time. And there never was going to be a ‘right’ time—not when the situation was as wrong as could be. Even she, guided by fierce maternal love, could see that.

She had thought about delaying it until after the King’s speech—but surely she wouldn’t stand a chance of getting near him then? Not with people clamouring around to tell him how wonderful he was as they inevitably would.

She saw the towering form of his aide beginning to advance towards her with grim intent in his black eyes and she wondered if he had been told to act as a buffer between them. So that for one crazy moment, she actually thought of making a run for it. Of flying straight over to the King and blurting out her secret before anyone could stop her. But the man he had called Orso was lighter on his feet than his huge frame suggested—and suddenly he was by her side, with a light but iron-firm grip to her elbow which meant she was going nowhere without his say-so, and she felt her nerve begin to desert her.

‘You wish to speak to the King?’

‘Y-yes.’

‘About what?’ snapped Orso.

Meeting the glare from his eyes, Melissa knew it was imperative that she held her nerve. She had come this far and she would not be fobbed off with a member of his entourage. ‘That’s between me and the King. I wish to speak privately with him.’

‘Then you will approach His Majesty with more caution.’ Orso’s heavily accented voice was harsh with disapproval. ‘Unless you wish for a posse of his armed guards to spring on you and to throw you in the jail house at Ghalazamba?’

‘Of c-course I don’t,’ she stumbled, some of her nerve deserting her.

‘Then walk with me,’ instructed Orso tersely.

He led her by a circuitous route to the long dais where Casimiro sat along with the other exulted guests. Melissa stood looking at the backs of them all—at the women’s jewel-encrusted necklaces and priceless earrings which dangled down to their naked shoulders—and there was a moment when she wondered if he’d forgotten she was there. Until suddenly he turned, fastening her in the amber snare of his eyes—the faintest inclination of his dark head the only outward sign that he was summoning her towards him.

Heart crashing, she approached him. Had anyone noticed that she wasn’t busying herself on the side lines with Stephen—helping deal with every little crisis as it arose? Which was what she should have been doing. But Melissa didn’t care. It didn’t even matter if her job was on the line. She could always find another job—but never find another father for her son.

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