“How kind of you to come,” Sofia said past the dagger lodged in her chest. “It’s lovely to meet you,” she lied to the woman Laszlo had brought.
“I wanted to show support for something close to my heart,” Laszlo said, meeting her gaze.
Don’t be cruel, Sofia wanted to say.
In Madrid, as she’d been absorbing her brother’s scandal and its implications, she had known immediately that she would have to choose between the crown that was her destiny and the man who, in another life, might have been her soul mate.
She had made her choice and had to live with it, but the backs of her eyes were hot. It was the greatest test of her control that she held her welcoming smile and didn’t let her cry of anguish break from her throat.
She turned her attention to the next person in the VIP line, the ones given the privilege of being greeted by the queen of Vallia in her first public appearance.
Her brother was beside her, proving his loyalty to her despite his ouster. They were deeply attuned to each other’s moods, and he glanced at her, transmitting his concern at whatever tension he sensed.
Sofia gave the barest hint of a dismissive head shake and they went on with the night.
Laszlo was determined to torture her, however. He danced with his date while Sofia was on the dance floor with the husband of one of the organizers. Laszlo had the temerity to cut in, saying something about his date’s desire to meet the man’s wife. “Would you be so kind as to introduce her?”
When Laszlo then held out his hand to Sofia, she had no choice but to let him draw her into the waltz.
“I’m pleased to see you’re moving on,” she said stiffly, trying to ignore the way her body came alive from the mere pressure of his legs against the fall of her gown.
“I haven’t,” he said grimly.
“I wish you would,” she insisted, only to have her hand squeezed in warning. “What other choice is there?” she asked in a faint hiss. “You are needed in your country as badly as I’m needed in mine.” They had made no promises. No declarations.
A wide canyon sat empty inside her, where those words of intimacy might have echoed and resided, if they’d ever managed to say them.
“Put that aside a moment,” he ordered. His voice lowered with concern. “How are you?”
Still winded by overturning power and catching it in her own hands. Determined, but overwhelmed by the profound responsibility she’d taken on. Frightened she wouldn’t live up to her own expectations, let alone anyone else’s. Deeply grateful to her brother, and a tiny bit resentful that he’d done this to her. That he’d cost her Laszlo.
“Liar,” he accused under his breath.
The music was reaching its conclusion. Sofia could feel the tension rising in her that always presaged their goodbyes. This would be their last one. It had to be. She couldn’t bear another.
“I really do want you to move on,” she said sincerely. While it was an agonizing thought that another woman could give him what she hadn’t, she said, “I want you to be happy.”
The music stopped and he continued to hold her in the stance while her skirts settled.
“Igor has my room number if—” he began against her cheek.
“I’ll send a car.”
They stepped apart. Their gazes remained tangled for one more second before they were forced to walk away.
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