Between seeing Sofia in the ballroom and visiting her private apartment, this was Laszlo’s third visit to the palace since he had gone back to his hotel.
Today, he was shown into a formal reception parlor.
The second he saw her, he felt as though he was breathing fully for the first time in months, even though she wore her most aloof persona, the one that told him she was very much on the defensive. She wore a navy blue skirt with an angled line of buttons from her waist to her knee. Her blue-and-white-checked jacket was tailored perfectly to her figure.
Everything in him wanted to rush to her and crush her close, smell her, feel her, but she wasn’t alone. Prince Luca was with her, dressed in bone-colored trousers and a dark jacket over a striped shirt and tie. The cranky butler was hovering, as well.
Had she felt a need for reinforcements? A chaperone?
“President Fabin,” Sofia greeted with a cool smile and a brief handshake. “It’s nice to see you again. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to meet my brother?”
They shook hands and the sharp glint in Luca’s eye held a warning. What had she told him?
They briefly exchanged diplomatic niceties before Luca excused himself, saying, “Guillermo, I need you in my meeting.”
“Come along,” Luca said with a pleasant smile, opening the door for the palace secretary and waving him through.
As the door closed behind the men, Laszlo said, “You told him about us?”
“He knows we were involved, yes.”
The way she framed it as past tense made his blood prickle.
“My assistant wasn’t given any preparatory materials.” Her voice was strained. “Is this a courtesy call? If so, it’s not necessary. I told you before you left last time—”
“I’m not involved with her.”
Her gaze crashed into his. She must have seen the animal rising in him. Her eyes widened and her breasts hitched with an uneven breath. She swallowed.
“The woman in the news?” she asked stiffly.
“Natasha, yes. I think she has a good chance at being my successor. We’re in talks as to how we would rally the support she needs before campaigning starts in January.”
Sofia’s jaw went slack. “You’re not running?”
“Not if I have a better offer, no.” He lifted his brows at her expectantly.
“Laszlo.” His name was a breath of shock. She took a few staggering steps, one forward, one back.
He opened his hands to catch her, but she stayed where she was.
He looked at his empty arms. This had been a gamble. He had known that, but he pressed on.
“It will take time. You should know that I’m asking you to wait. I know that’s not fair, but I actually loathe the idea of you moving on with someone else even though I realize you might have to.” He choked on a lump of gall. “It seems absurd in this day and age that you would marry purely to make the next king or queen, but I suppose that’s how this works?”
“It does. You don’t have any real idea how restrictive this life is. How much pressure I’m under.” Her eyes grew shiny with distress. “I won’t cage you into it. I can’t, Laszlo. Don’t give up what you have for me.”
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