Juno knew the grin on her face probably made her look like a dope, but she didn’t care as she watched her husband, always breathtaking in his full dress uniform, holding their already sleeping child in his arms as he carried her into the next room.
Her heart swelled and beat heavily in her throat, and she pressed a hand to her abdomen as the two of them disappeared into Alice’s bedroom. In eight months’ time Alice would have a sibling… The dopey smile quirked into a grin. Or maybe even two if her family were lucky enough to have twins.
The dopey grin became even dopier. Who would have thought four years ago, when she’d had the mad plan for her and her twin Jade to swap places for three weeks over Christmas, she would end up getting everything she could ever want in life? Especially as they were all things which she had always thought she would never want, let alone have: a husband, a child, a new regal role by their side…
She brushed her hands down her dress, and was touching her hair, which had been set into an elaborate chignon by her stylists, as Leo walked back into the room.
‘That was remarkably easy,’ he murmured, and she could hear the rueful smile in his voice. ‘For once.’
With his head bent to check his cuffs, she had a moment to study him unobserved. One of her favourite pastimes. He was so ludicrously handsome and debonair, with a magnificent physique matched only by that startlingly gorgeous face. But it wasn’t his looks—stupendous as they were—that made him so beautiful, she thought. It was the strong, steady, utterly reliable and dependable heart that beat beneath his uniform… And the fact that he loved her and Alice with a power that staggered her every single day.
He made her feel so cherished and protected, so brilliant and smart and special. He made her the very best she could be, she realised, and she hoped she did the same for him.
She sighed as her heart bumped heavily against her ribs. She couldn’t wait until the ball was over and she could tell him the news she’d discovered an hour ago, but hadn’t had a chance to tell him yet. Thank goodness it would be very different from when they’d got the results of their first royal pregnancy test together. This time she knew he would be overjoyed—and this time she would be too. There would be no questions about whether what they had together was about love or simply duty. Because all those questions had been answered long ago.
Even better, she knew what an awesome father he was, and also that she was capable of being a good mother. This child would be loved and cherished too, in a way the two of them had never had the chance to be by their own parents.
‘Hey…?’ He cupped her chin in strong, steady fingers, that laser-sharp blue gaze studying her. ‘Are you okay? You look…’
He tilted his head to one side, watching her with such intensity that he seemed able to look into her soul and discover all her secrets. Funny to think that intense gaze had once terrified her, when all it did now was make her feel more settled and secure.
‘Different…’ he murmured, sounding confused.
She smiled. Maybe Leo couldn’t see all her secrets…yet. But she might have to tell him her news sooner rather than later, she decided. The man was far too perceptive.
‘And even more beautiful than usual,’ he added, pressing a kiss to her lips that went from chaste to carnal in a heartbeat.
She flattened her hands against his broad chest in the dark uniform and dragged herself out of his arms reluctantly.
‘Why, thank you, Your Majesty,’ she teased, giving him a deliberately flirty once-over. ‘And so do you. But we don’t have time for any hanky-panky.’
‘Hanky what, now?’
His husky chuckle only spurred her senses as he grasped her hand to lead her out of their private rooms.
‘Come on, then. Let’s get this damn ball over with before I explode.’
He wasn’t the only one primed to explode, she thought, as they headed down the palace corridors together.
The next hour dragged past as Juno applied herself to her royal hosting duties—greeting guests, making small talk, chatting to members of the royal household to ensure everything was running smoothly…and keeping her eye on the entrance to the lavishly decorated ballroom for Jade and Alvaro’s arrival.
These events were always more fun with Jade here. She hoped their journey hadn’t been too arduous… She couldn’t wait to tell Jade her news too… Although… She felt that strange drawing in her chest which she always thought of as their ‘twin tingle’. How odd… She had the weird feeling that Jade might already know her news.
The lights around the ballroom dimmed and the orchestra lifted their instruments to play the first waltz. Juno excused herself from the Monrovan Ambassador and her husband as she spotted Leo, crossing the ballroom floor towards her. The flaming torches in the wall sconces made his ceremonial sabre glitter and glow as he lifted it over his head to hand to his valet, in preparation for the introductory waltz that they would lead.
The crowd hushed and the strains of the music infected Juno’s soul, making it bound and jump and sing as Leo bowed in front of her and offered her his hand. She dropped into a curtsey and their simultaneous grins were spontaneous as their gazes met and she laid her fingers in his palm. Grasping her hand, while she placed her other hand on his broad shoulder, he held her waist and tugged her a little too close.
‘Careful, Your Majesty,’ she said, as an energy so potent, and physical, rippled through his body and into hers. ‘People will talk.’
‘Like you care,’ he teased, his smile becoming feral as the music lifted and he swung her into the first turn.
He whisked her around the floor, their steps flowing in unison, and a wicked thought she couldn’t seem to stop came to her.
She was tired of waiting. Her anticipation had already built to fever-pitch, and they had hours yet before she could get him alone, so why not tell him now? She had him all to herself, their spinning turns as the rest of the crowd joined the floor creating their own little world in the middle of this melee.
‘I have an early Christmas gift for you,’ she said breathlessly.
‘Oh, yeah?’ he asked, squeezing her waist a little tighter.
The arousal in his eyes was even more potent than their spinning steps and her giddy heartbeat.
‘What?’ he blurted out, coming to such an abrupt stop that Juno almost toppled over.
He caught her against him, then cradled her cheek, his gaze searching her face, his own cheeks flushing slightly as his ragged breathing matched her own.
‘What did you just say?’ he asked, his voice deep with shock and awe.
The music stopped and so did all the other dancers, as was tradition, making his question drop into silence. But even though a part of Juno could feel every eye on them, every ear tuned in to what they were saying, it was only Leo she was speaking to when she said, ‘I’m pregnant. Again.’
The collective gasp of the crowd was drowned out by Leo’s joyous shout as he grasped her around the waist, lifted her up and spun her around.
She could hear the applause, the shouts of congratulation and the buzz of excited conversation as the news spread like wildfire through the ballroom—once Leo had finally set her back on her feet. Then he kissed her, and the noise of the cheering and the clapping became deafening as their audience celebrated with them.
But when he finally lifted his head, his face a picture of joy and longing and excitement and happiness and everything in between, the moment felt somehow intimate and special.
‘Merry Christmas, Your Majesty,’ she murmured, and that dopey grin was back with a vengeance.
Thank goodness she wasn’t the only one making a lovestruck fool of herself, though.
He smiled back at her. ‘Merry Christmas to you too, Your Majesty,’ he whispered, for her ears only, cupping her cheek and drawing his thumb across her lips. ‘But be warned…’ he said, his voice roughening with the sensual threat she adored. ‘I intend to punish you when we’re finally alone, for giving me this information when we can’t celebrate it properly for hours.’
She lifted up on her tiptoes, pressed a quick, teasing kiss to his lips, and when he growled with frustration whispered, ‘Bring it on, Your Majesty.’
After all, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas, she thought, if she didn’t adhere to her own special Christmas tradition, which she’d started four years ago… Taking every possible opportunity to drive King Leonardo DeLessi Severo of the Kingdom of Severene completely wild!
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