“Why do you look like hell?” Luca asked Sofia, throwing himself into a chair in her boudoir. “Guillermo is going to think I’m poisoning you to get my old job back.”
“I’ve missed you, too. When are you leaving?”
He snorted, but his voice softened with concern. “Seriously. Why the dark circles and hollow cheeks?” He remained sprawled in a relaxed pose, but his keen gaze missed nothing. “That’s not just one sleepless night. Is it the coronation? I can take over the last-minute barking of orders.”
Initially, the ceremony had been planned for Luca. It was strange to think back on all that had happened in a year. At this time last year, she had been holed up in a hotel room, waiting out a pregnancy test. Soon after, she’d lost her father and pledged allegiance to her brother only to then steal his crown. She had moved in to the monarch’s chambers and, in a few days, would have a ceremony and a parade in her honor.
Amid all of that, she had fallen deeply in love.
She briefly closed her eyes, using a slow breath to withstand the bittersweet angst of joy and yearning.
Laszlo had become a fixture in her mind, one she carried against her heart with a glad, burning pain, stinging even more so lately because he seemed to have found someone. Not the woman he’d brought to the gala, but a human rights lawyer.
Sofia wanted to hate that other woman, but she seemed bright and determined. She had better make him happy
She wanted Laszlo to be happy, but she was dying of loneliness.
“Sofia. Hi. Still here. Still worried.”
“I’m fine.” She went back to putting on her makeup, using a heavy touch with the concealer. “Yes, take over the coronation. One less thing for me to worry about.”
“Good, because there was a question from your assistant that I said I would run by you.” He paused, waiting for her to glance over her shoulder in query. “The president of Presovia has offered to come in a day or two early. He wants a private meeting. Would that be a trade agreement or…?”
Sofia’s ears buzzed and her heart took a stumble in her chest. She realized she had stopped breathing and forced herself to gather her composure and pivot on the stool to meet her brother’s flat gaze.
“Do you think you’re clever?”
He cocked a brow. “Do you think you could tell me you had a pregnancy scare and I wouldn’t obsess over who the father could have been? Laszlo Fabin, hmm?”
“Please don’t tease me,” she said with quiet dignity, despite the fact her heart was pinched in a vise.
“Tease you? I want to know if I should have a private chat with him or welcome him to the family.”
She choked on a wistful laugh. “Neither. We’re not…possible.” She turned back to the mirror, steeped in despair.
“A year ago, I was told it wasn’t possible to give the crown to my sister.”
“Yes, and thanks to your bullheadedness, I have a country to run. So does Laszlo. What am I supposed to do? Commute from Presovia with my morning coffee? Don’t put dreams into my head that can’t happen.”
“Are you still letting the nanny panel tell you what you can and cannot do?” Luca asked impatiently. “You’re the queen, Sofia. I didn’t give you that power so you could squander it. What the hell is the Privy Council going to do if you break a few rules? Ask me back?”
“Oof. Can you imagine?” she asked with pithy horror.
They held straight faces as long as they could before breaking into laughter.
It was her first moment of levity, her first glimpse of something besides loneliness, she’d had in weeks.
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