“Things have changed. For both of us,” Laszlo insisted. “When this started, you had just mediated our trade agreement. You were afraid your neutrality would be called into question if we went public with our involvement. We’re past that. Our dating wouldn’t reflect badly on you now. On my side, I was new enough in my position I couldn’t afford to be linked to the daughter of a man with an image problem. Now I have a stronger record, and I’d be dating the sister of the Golden Prince—a king who has never made a mistake in his life.”
Sofia gently extricated herself and sank onto the foot of his bed, considering his words.
“Has he made a mistake?” Laszlo asked. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
She sent an ironic glance upward. There were many things they didn’t tell each other. This was the longest, most personal conversation they’d ever had. Did he realize that?
“Luca is every bit as scrupled as I am—probably more.” Like her, he had been hemmed in his entire life by nannies and mentors and advisers, all hired by their mother to ensure they upheld the morals their father had abandoned. Luca was still trying to convince the Privy Council to let her take the crown, trying to right their father’s wrong.
Sofia couldn’t tell Laszlo that, however. It bordered on treason that she was still chafed at being passed over, but was there a silver lining to that injustice? Rather than living her life in careful preparation for the slim possibility she would ascend, could she embrace a less exalted and more humble role, one that allowed her to become involved with the president of Presovia?
“I still have to live a very faultless life. If something happens, I’m first in line for the throne. Think about what that would mean to you if it came to pass.”
“That’s not likely,” he dismissed—too easily. “Your brother is healthy and, if he’s as duty-conscious as you are, will marry quickly. You won’t be next in line for long.”
“There would still be a lot of pressures and expectations on both of us. Are you willing to put up with that for an affair? It would be different if we were in love, but…” She lifted her questioning gaze.
His face became a blank slate and he stepped away.
“I don’t expect that,” she lied. “We barely know one another.”
“I know you,” he asserted, pivoting to confront her. “I know you’re taking that tone right now because I’ve hurt you by not stating unequivocally that I’m in love and willing to do whatever it takes to be together. I know how to touch you to make you wild. I know when you walk into a crowded auditorium without hearing or seeing you. I know that your brother is probably the only person you genuinely trust, and that hurts me.”
“Is that it, then?” She looked at her hands in her lap, stunned by all he had said. At length she asked, “You can’t open your heart to me because I don’t share state secrets?”
“I didn’t say I don’t care for you.” His stare was hard enough it nearly knocked her flat onto the mattress. “I’d closed myself off to strong feelings when my mother died, and what I feel for you is nothing like what I remember of the love I had for her. This is a greedy ache in the pit of my stomach, a hunger to have you beside me all the time. I want our lives so intertwined there are no secrets, state or otherwise, that I can’t share with you.”
“Laszlo,” she breathed, so moved her eyes stung. “I want that, too.”
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