Jaxon hadn't intended to visit Boston again so soon, let alone stay. Instead he'd been back and forth all week—holding meetings online, making do with phone calls, whisking her back to his place in the helicopter when he could and not really giving a damn. Seven nights he'd had with her. Seven nights of not enough yet.
Temptation slid through him in waves too powerful to hold back. Their days were constrained by her studies but her passion for her project fascinated him and the last thing he wanted was to distract her from it. Not that he thought he could. She was too enthusiastic and brilliant. But her zest for learning was now turned on to him too. She put everything into discovering passion with him and he could no more resist her than he could stop himself from breathing.
'Fiorella.' He woke her with a series of kisses.
'Not yet,' she moaned.
'Yes yet.' He chuckled. 'We have to get up.'
She finally opened her eyes. 'It's Saturday and it's not even light.'
She was flying to Triscari this afternoon to attend her brother's wedding and he knew that when she left it would be goodbye. It had to be. Their liaison was supposed to have been brief and harmless but he'd been unable to end it. And this was one little thing he wanted to do for her.
'I have a surprise.' He felt stupidly awkward about it.
'You're not going to tell me where we're going?'
He shook his head and made up an excuse. 'Spontaneity and surprises. You haven't had enough of either of those things.'
Which was true. But he didn't want to tell her his plans in case she decided she didn't have time before her flight. But he'd triple checked it.
'It's still not even light.' She half laughed as the driver headed them out of town.
'You hadn't been in a helicopter, you won't dance in public…you haven't done so much, Fiorella. But you should do all the things.' He wanted her to have fun and experience everything.
But he watched a little self-consciously when they finally arrived at the field and the waiting crew. Her jaw dropped when she saw the basket and the beautiful silks.
'A hot-air balloon? Jaxon, this is incredible.'
It didn't take long to get ready. They stepped into the basket and he handed her a glass of champagne to have with a pastry. How else to enjoy the dawn?
She pressed a hand to her stomach and giggled as she realized they'd already risen away from the ground. 'How is it possible to be flying and not even know? It's just…'
'Worth the early start?'
'Yes.' She beamed at him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes shining. 'Absolutely.'
He couldn't tear his gaze from her. 'We're at the mercy of the wind, but there's a car chasing us, you won't miss your flight.'
Triscari felt a world away and her place in that kingdom was a different world from his.
'This is just incredible,' she murmured. 'It's so quiet.'
'There's something about the simplicity of the science, right? No engine, no amazingly advanced technology. But with heat and air, something impossible can happen.'
But Fiorella wasn't looking up at the balloon or at the view as the sun rose. She was staring back at him and suddenly she wrapped her arms around him tightly. 'You're every bit as romantic as I am.'
He stiffened and stepped back but the basket wasn't big enough and suddenly this trip felt more dangerous than he'd planned. 'Don't read more into this than I intended, Princess.'
He wished he could resist falling into the gorgeously dark depths of her eyes.
But now hurt flashed. 'What did you intend?'
Jaxon gritted his teeth. 'I just thought you might like it.'
'But you're not romantic? Even though you spent time secretly planning a trip in a hot-air balloon at dawn because you thought the girl you're sleeping with might like it?'
He had to glance away from her then.
'Don't freak out,' Fiorella said. 'I know that this is just…that you don't want a relationship. But I'd like to know why. What happened? Is it your parents? An ex? What put you off?'
'Fiorella, you ask more questions than I do.' He couldn't resist running his fingers through her hair. 'Maybe I'm just not ready. Maybe I'm busy with a billion other projects.'
'So a relationship is a project? This date was a project?'
'Why are you getting so hung up on semantics?'
'Why are you getting so defensive?'
'Because I don't like having to explain or defend my choices.'
'So they are choices?'
'You really want to know?' He sighed. 'Fine. It's very simple. Very boring. My mother wanted a husband, wanted to fall in love and get married, right? Because it's so romantic and it's what everyone wants.' He shot her a jeering look. 'The problem was I was always around. Always asking too many questions. So many. Why wouldn't I ever shut up? I was annoying and one day she turned and screamed that it was my fault her boyfriends wouldn't stay, my fault that they never proposed. I was what was stopping her from getting what she really wanted. Because she sure as hell didn't want me.' He stared at her widened eyes and drew a sharp breath at the compassion he read in them. 'Don't look like that,' he growled. 'She did me a favor. Made me all the more determined to make something of myself.'
'Well, you sure did that,' she said quietly. 'She must be proud of you now?'
'You'd think, right?' He almost choked. 'I even went to see her a couple of years ago. I wanted to give her some money so she wouldn't think she needed a husband anymore—because I could provide for her, her son. Heaven forbid she might begin to believe she could actually provide for herself. Even when she did, she didn't believe it.'
'What happened?' Fiorella asked gently.
He'd never told a soul about that trip. He'd never let himself think about it since. But somehow, in the soft silence of a beautiful dawn, as he floated over a river with a princess of a woman, the horror slipped out.
'She was hard to track down,' he muttered. 'She'd changed her name. I turned up on her doorstep and she didn't invite me in. Instead she asked me to leave. It turned out the reason she changed her name was because she'd married and she didn't want her husband to know she'd ever had a child. She never wants him to know, let alone meet me. So I left. She's happy. She finally got everything she wanted.'
Fiorella's beautiful face paled. 'Oh, Jaxon.'
He couldn't stand the pity melting her eyes. 'It's fine.'
'It's as far from fine as you can get.' And now she was angry for him. 'You've not heard from her since?'
He stiffened but Fiorella was watching too closely, too caringly for him to ignore her. 'She's left a couple of messages. Birthdays. Christmas. One random one. I haven't replied.'
'So she's tried to reach out?' She leaned forward and he could almost see her mind spinning with possibilities. 'Maybe she wants to explain. Maybe she thought you were better off without her? Maybe she wants to—'
'You're determined to believe the best of people, aren't you?' He interrupted her with a growl, fully regretting telling her that. 'To see happy endings when they're never going to happen. They don't happen. There's only now. All you can do is enjoy something while it lasts and move on the moment it...'
He shook his head and turned away from the tiny twist of a smile that Fiorella sent him.
Fiorella knew leaving now was good. Leaving now would give her a chance to get her feelings into perspective—to get over her first affair. She'd be home in Triscari—and it still was home, wasn't it?
But her head and heart hurt. She couldn't help wishing things might've become more. But Jaxon's cynicism ran deep and she feared he was actually right. Relationships didn't last. Someone invariably left—be it by dying, like her mother had, or just by walking out—as Jaxon's father had. Heartbreak happened and people closed themselves away. Her father had. And he'd locked her away too.
It was late on the eve of the wedding when she arrived in Triscari but Alek met her at the airport himself.
'Is everything in hand?' She didn't even know why she asked. Her brother might be playful, but he always got what needed to be done, done. And he never leaned on her for help anyway.
'Of course. And you—your study is going well?'
'Yes, I love it.' She forced a bright smile.
'So you're happy there?' He watched out the window as they were driven swiftly through the city.
She noticed her brother was more than distracted, he was nervous. The least she could do was reassure him and remove herself as one of his many burdens.
'Yes, of course. I can't wait to go back.'
He didn't need to protect her—not from the public or the media, from their father's controlling nature, from the grief of losing their mother. He didn't have to worry about her at all anymore. She was all grown up and she wanted him to be happy.
The next day Fiorella sat opposite Hester in the glass carriage on their way to the palace chapel.
'We're almost there. Deep breath, Hester.' She smiled at her former assistant. 'This is going to be amazing.'
But despite her pallor, Hester was looking back at Fiorella with concern. 'Are you okay, Fiorella?'
'Okay?' Telltale heat flooded her cheeks as her brain scrambled. Hester couldn't possibly know about Jaxon. 'You mean about the wedding?'
'You're the best person in the world for Alek,' Fiorella whispered quickly as the carriage stopped and Hester's attention slid.
Fiorella watched Hester and Alek exchange their vows too solemnly. But then they smiled at each other and Fiorella's heart burst at the warmth suddenly evident between them. She was so happy for her brother. But stupidly, she still ached inside. She smiled so much to hide it, her jaw throbbed.
Hours later she finally got to her old room. Immediately she checked her phone. She shivered when she saw she'd missed his call and she quickly hit the number.
'Are you coming back?' Jaxon asked.
Pleasure swamped her at the husky edge of desire in his voice. So it wasn't over yet.
'Tomorrow,' she promised. 'Alek doesn't need my help for the coronation so I'm coming back for that just the night before. Did you watch the wedding?'
It took Jaxon a moment to answer, he was too busy appreciating the sound of her voice. The effect of it stunned him—as did the leap of anticipation at knowing she was returning so soon. So much for thinking he could end this.
'I've been swamped—' Jaxon finally answered, sidestepping the truth. Fact was he'd stared at the stunning princess bridesmaid for the entire broadcast.
'You should've seen Hester,' Fiorella said. 'She was so beautiful, just radiant.'
He heard the starriness in her voice.
'Satisfied, that's why,' he tried to joke.
'Still Mr Cynical?'
Of course. And now more than ever, he needed to remind her of that. 'It's simple science. Biology. Chemistry. Nothing more than that.'
There was a pause. 'You're wrong.'
He sighed. 'You're...' impossible.
Nothing and no one ever interfered with his thinking. Nothing and no one ever distracted him. Not since he'd met Henry and learned to focus his attention on his work and what he wanted to achieve—independence. Always.
The innocent, sweet princess he'd corrupted was the only thing he could think about. 'What time are you landing?' he couldn't stop himself from asking, even though he knew she was too good for him and he was too bad for her.
Another pause. 'I'm not sure. It'll be late, but there'll be a car.'
Something hard and fierce made his muscles tense. 'Of course.'
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