The Accidental Prince

By: Michelle Willingham
Chapter One


The outer borders of Lohenberg—1855

Karl von Lohenberg had always been a bastard. For twenty-five years, he’d merely thought it was a personality disorder rather than a reflection of his birth.

He’d been raised to believe he was a prince, the fürst, who would one day be king of Lohenberg. And only a fortnight ago, one word had stripped away his future: bastard.

His father had ordered him out of the palace, granting him land and a manor house near the borders, as if to say: hide him where he won’t cause any trouble.

Bitterness smouldered within him, at the way they’d turned their backs on him so quickly. Did they believe he was planning to kill or overthrow the true prince? Were the years of obedience and loyalty nothing to the king and queen? They treated him like a lighted fuse, leading to a keg of gunpowder.

Karl was stronger than that. He knew, well enough, that he’d never regain the throne of Lohenberg. It rightfully belonged to his half-brother Michael, and he wouldn’t blacken the royal family or his country with scandal, fighting for something that wasn’t his.

He’d given his life to his homeland, believing that one day he would be king, responsible for the lives of many. He liked being in command, and by God, he’d been good at it.

Fate might have picked him up by the collar and beaten him into a bloody mass, but he wasn’t about to slink quietly into the shadows to lick his wounds. This was his life, and he intended to live it on his own terms.

For there was another way to restore his position. Cold-hearted and villainous, yes, but it was a solution.

He simply had to marry a princess.

Karl reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter he’d received a few days ago like the shred of hope it represented. His betrothed, Princess Serena of Badenstein, was leaving the palace on an impromptu holiday to her grandfather’s hunting lodge in Hamburg. Alone. The letter from her sister Anna thanked him for his promise to accompany Serena as her protector.

At first, he hadn’t understood the letter. He’d made no such promise, since he’d known nothing about Serena’s plans. They hardly knew one another, for Karl had only met the princess twice in the six years they’d been betrothed. She was beautiful, with a heart-shaped face, dark blond hair, and green eyes that held years of unhappiness.

Not once had he seen her smile. When they’d first met, she’d eyed him with distrust and more than a little fear. He didn’t know what falsehoods her family had told her, but he wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t a man who caused small children to flee into hiding. Usually.

Why would the princess make a journey where her sister felt she needed protection? Wouldn’t she have her father’s guards and a hundred servants to keep her safe?

His instincts warned him that something was wrong with this so-called holiday. It was doubtful that Serena had invited him at all. More likely, the princess had lied to her sister, to appease her.

But Anna had turned the tables, letting Karl know that his bride was up to something. He didn’t doubt that Serena would carry out her plan of leaving the palace, but why was she planning to go alone? Was she running away? Or meeting someone else—a lover, perhaps?

Grimly, Karl folded the letter, his mind taking apart each possibility. It was too soon for anyone in Badenstein to know of his fallen status. At the time Anna had sent this letter, he’d still been the heir to the Lohenberg throne.

If he joined the Princess on her holiday, as Anna had suggested, his presence might grant her protection—but it would also compromise Serena’s reputation beyond repair. She’d have no choice but to wed him, even if he never laid a hand upon her.

There would be hell to pay afterwards, but he could live with that. Once he became her prince consort, the scandal would eventually die down, and she could live her life as she wished.

Karl stared outside the window of the inn where he and his men were staying. The skies were growing dark, and he was within a few hours’ ride of the palace. In the morning, he would put his plan into action. With any luck, he could claim the princess as his bride before anyone learned the truth about his lost kingdom.

Serena dragged out the small trunk she’d packed with a few days’ worth of clothing. Today she would leave the palace, seizing the freedom she craved. She would depart Badenstein with a handful of servants and reclaim her life. Although the risk of discovery was terrible, it was worth it.

Beneath her tightly laced corset, her broken ribs had finally healed after so many weeks. Though it sometimes hurt to breathe or to lift her arms above her head, she’d grown accustomed to the pain. And after today, everything would be different.

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