Sleep proved impossible. Ben gave up trying long before dawn and instead found himself walking the streets of Valle de Asturia through the dimly lit night. The pretty medieval city was amongst the safest in Europe, which was probably a good thing as he was far too sunk in thought to be aware of any danger. By the time the sun began to rise over the distant mountains, Ben had walked several miles and thankfully found a coffee shop to stop at, opting for the bitter, strong coffee favoured by Asturians. Standing at the counter, he checked his phone for the twentieth time at least, hoping that despite the earliness of the hour Sally had made contact.
Before he’d left the ball he’d managed to ascertain that Sally was staying at the Palais d’Artega, the royal country residence, a medieval palace set in miles of heavily guarded estate. There was no way he was getting in without a permit. But he’d lay siege if he had to; he’d do anything to get the answers he needed.
To find out if Sally was telling the truth. To find out if he really was a father.
He had no idea what came next. He wasn’t thirty yet, hadn’t met anyone he’d wanted to settle down with, to start a family with, although as the holder of a hereditary title and estate, he knew he couldn’t put off marriage forever. But fatherhood was something that still belonged in the distant future. Or so he’d thought.
Before last night he would have said that his work was the most important thing in his life. Building up the natural-alternatives business he’d started during his PhD usually occupied almost every waking and sleeping moment.
He checked his phone again. Result! To his equal relief and surprise Sally had got in touch, although she’d sent him just three words.
Noon. The Cathedral.
He had a meeting and even better he had a number.
He didn’t need to think about his response.
See you there.
Ben headed back to his hotel room to reschedule the meetings he’d had set up for today, then gave in to temptation and searched for Sally online. Hundreds of results were returned, most focusing on her friendship with Clem Beaumont and the crown princess. He scrolled through them quickly until a headline from the local paper caught his eye.
‘Bingo,’ he muttered as he clicked on it. A photo filled the screen, the whole Fletcher family standing in front of a freshly repainted café, a beaming Sally with her hands on the shoulders of a small dark-haired girl—a girl who looked just like Ben.
Alice. Six and a half and likely his.
If so he’d lost so much time already.
He checked his watch. Ten o’clock. Just two hours until he found out the truth.
But he already knew that his life was about to change forever.
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