"What?” Her ears hurt with the force of her blood’s rushing. “No way.”
“I was in love with you and then you took money from my mother to leave? How could you do that, Ivy?”
She swept her eyes shut, hating in that moment that she’d accepted the cheque, hating that she’d cashed it even when she’d donated the bulk of it to a charity for children just like she’d been, passed from foster home to foster home.
“You weren’t in love with me.” Disbelief exploded in her belly.
“Why do you find that so hard to believe?”
“My mother interfered where she shouldn’t have. If she told you I felt ashamed of you, then she lied.”
Ivy opened her mouth, but the words stayed locked inside her. Emotions were rioting violently in her chest, confusing her, pulling at her. “She didn’t say that.” A frown pulled at her lips. “Not precisely.”
“Well, what did she say?”
“Nothing.” Ivy spun and moved away from him, needing space, but there was nowhere she could go that would make it easier to breathe. She was suffocating in her thoughts, her own past pulling at her until her chest was rupturing. “Honestly, it wasn’t your mother’s fault. She made me see what I already knew, that’s all.”
His voice was stern. “My mother has been an exceptional queen to the people of Akilandos, but she doesn’t know me very well. She certainly doesn’t know what’s good for me, nor what I want.” He paused, and the words fell through her reality, forming a part of her soul. “Ivy, I just wanted you.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “I wanted you in my life and I wanted you by my side—as my queen, not just my lover.”
Ivy shook her head, his words so beautiful, so full of love, but they hurt all the more for that, because he was speaking about the distant past; it was no longer relevant. And if he was telling the truth? Then that was so much worse, because her failure to believe in him had caused all this pain. She’d hurt herself, and him, beyond repair, because she hadn’t had faith in his ability to care for her.
“And I thought you knew that. I thought you understood.”She heard him move across the room; she felt his body behind hers. “What did you do with the money?”
Her chest hurt, her head spinning. “I spent it.”
“I don’t believe you.”
At that, she turned to face him. Hope shifted through her that he could still see the best in her, after all this. “Why not?”
“Because you’re not mercenary. I wanted to believe that but looking at you now, it’s like seeing you clearly for the first time in three years. What did you spend the money on?”
Her heart was leaping through her wildly, filling her with a rapid, racing beat. She felt the promise of a second chance but she didn’t dare let herself hope. Surely there was no way to right this? Not after so much pain?
“Did you regret it?”
His questions were tearing into her. She bit down on her lip and nodded, because she had. Almost the second she’d left. But Queen Margerite had made it impossible not to see things clearly. They never would have worked. They were too different. Except, if he’d loved her… More guilt. Uncertainty. Her lips tugged downward as she fell deep into thought.
“Why did you take it?”
More frustrating tears threatened and she toyed with her fingers at her sides, needing to think, to work out what to say. But he was so close, his questions rapid-fire, so she knew she had to answer. “You know what my life was like.” The words were expelled from her. “I grew up in extreme poverty. The amount your mother offered was eye-watering to me. I mean, to you it’s probably nothing, but for me…” Her words trailed off into nothing.
“You really expect me to believe you kept it?”
Lie to him. Lie to him so you can get out of here. Except she’d never been very good at lying, and she didn’t especially want to run away again. She’d done that once before and the decision had haunted her for three years. Now she needed to do this properly. To confess everything and hope he understood.
“You were too good for me, Chyrós. It was easy to believe that I was making a fool of myself. It was so easy to believe that. I felt every bit the love-sick puppy dog your mother accused me of being. I was mortified to think that I had been making a nuisance of myself, that you were trying to work out a way to end it with me. I didn’t believe that, not at first, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realised how stupid I was being. You were destined to become a king. What future was there for us? What else could you want from me but sex?” She shook her head. “And then your mother offered me money and a glowing reference and I thought at least some good could come from this. So I took it, and I left.”
A muscle jerked in his jaw, his emotions palpable. But he said nothing.
“I hated leaving without saying goodbye, but I was afraid that if I saw you and you asked me to stay that I would.”
“And that would have been bad?”
“I felt that it would have just been prolonging the inevitable.”
He jerked his gaze away, focusing on the windows. “What did you spend the money on?”
She expelled a soft breath. “Does it matter?”
“I think it does. Why else wouldn’t you just tell me?”
Her eyes flared wide. “I used some of it to start my business.”
He nodded speculatively. “And the rest?”
She lifted a hand to her necklace, toying with it distractedly.
“Ivy?” Her name was almost a curse on his lips.
“I donated it, okay?”
He stilled, taking a moment to digest this. Only his chest moved with the force of his breathing, but otherwise he was perfectly still. After several moments, he looked at her steadily. “To what?”
“A charity for foster kids. A group home where they can go and have fun. I thought some good should come from this.”
He moved closer. “You said that.”
“I should have told you I was leaving,” she saidquietly. “I should have given you the respect of a goodbye.”
“I would never have let you leave.” He cupped her cheeks, holding her steady. “I was completely in love with you but I failed you, Ivy.”
Tears strangled her throat. “How?”
“I knew what your childhood was like. You came to this palace carrying the wounds of that past. You’d never known love and I saw that, I understood. I should have screamed it from the rooftops that I did love you. I should have left you in no doubt that you were the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I should have told you what I wanted as soon as I realised it.”
Tears dropped from her eyes, running down her cheeks. “I don’t think I would have believed you.”
He kissed her gently, his lips moving over hers, so her heart stammered inside her. “What if I tell you that I never stopped loving you?”
She shook her head against his, pulling away. “That’s not possible.”
“Why do you think I haven’t married? Why do you think no relationship has ever worked out? You are all I have ever wanted, Ivy. You and your beautiful cooking and your laugh and your mind and your body—all of you. I fell in love with you three years ago and I don’t ever intend to stop. So let me do now what I should have done then.”
She stared at him, her breath held, waiting.
“I love you. I have loved you for as long as I’ve known you and one day, I want you to marry me. Would you consider staying here in Akilandos and giving me a chance to convince you?”
Three years ago, she’d fallen at the first hurdle. It had been so easy to listen to Queen Margerite’s explanation, but doing so had been an act of cowardice, not bravery. Fighting for what you wanted was the true sign of courage, even when you were terrified of being hurt.
And she was terrified. Terrified of how much she loved Chyrós, of the fact she’d never stopped loving him, terrified of what marrying him would mean, but most of all, she was terrified of living her life without him in it for even one more day.
Her smile ached for how full it was. “I never stopped loving you either.” She lifted her hands to his chest, pressing them against his wall of muscles, feeling his heart ricocheting against his ribs as hard and fast as her own.
Her pulse fired in her veins and her smile lifted. “I intend to.”
It was the wedding of the decade. Almost one thousand guests filled the ancient ballroom, each dressed beautifully. Thanos and Alice were there, and Leonidas and Hannah, no one happier for Ivy than Alice, who now considered Ivy to be one of her dearest friends.
There was an array of pastel silk, suits, fancy hats, plus a full string orchestra and white doves, and yet neither Ivy nor Chyrós noticed any of that.
For despite the fanfare and grandeur, Ivy Harris stood opposite Chyrós Protokia and they were no longer king and fiancé, they were simply man and woman, two people who had pledged to stand side by side and live their lives as a pair.
Ivy had spent a lifetime believing herself to be unlovable, but Chyrós had erased that pain. She felt loved, but not because he loved her so much as that he had helped her see that she was worthy of love. They emerged from the chapel, man and wife, and the sun shone with a brightness that was matched only by their future.
Log in or create an account to read the next chapter of "Claimed by the King"
Every month we select a new title from one of our authors so that you can discover new stories, locations and genres for free.