Sophia Van has spent years in exile–a kind of limbo–waiting for the right time to seize her birthright and the time has finally come. She’s going home to challenge her brother for the throne that rightfully belongs her, and she isn’t going alone.
Galinn Vargis has been trying to get to know his mate slowly, but when he discovers her life is in danger he has to act fast. She accepts his proposal. Convincing her its more than just a marriage of convenience will be a lesson in pleasure for both of them. He just has to keep her alive.
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Sophia Van, exiled princess of Levania, stared at the message on her phone. To say she was stunned was an understatement but it shouldn’t have been. She’d been outplayed. She’d known something was coming for months. Too many of her old countrymen–exiles like her–had sought her out. She’d trained and planned for years for her return home, but not like this. She wasn’t ready, all the pieces weren’t set yet. Unfortunately, the ghosts of her past weren’t playing by her rules. Still, six years of planning and relative safety gone in one well placed bribe was hard to swallow. And it had to be a bribe.
After her brother killed their parents, the remaining loyal guards had helped sneak her and her sister Ivy out of the palace, and then smuggled them out of the country. She’d managed to steal a few of Oscar’s dirtiest secrets and traded it for security in the Alliance. Now someone was revoking that protection. She suspected her brother was responsible for it–there had been calls for her return and he’d never risk losing the power of the throne, even though by their laws he had no right to it. Damn it. Just…damn it. What the hell was she going to do?
A Delroi warrior had just stepped out of the conference room door and he looked her over. First with concern but growing reserved as he met her gaze. Standing, she gave him a bright false smile.
“Are they ready for me?”
She’d been brought in by the public relations firm the Delroi had hired to plan several events over the month of December as they tried to ease their way more fully into Earth society. Everything was planned and ready to order. She just needed their approval, hence today’s meeting. It was kind of funny how the skills she’d learned to run a kingdom were so compatible with party planning. She was more than just an event planner, though. She had a knack for putting people together who needed each other or could help each other. Those connections could be for business, politics, or just social arrangements. The good thing about being an honest to God princess on a planet with very few remaining monarchies was the number of doors open to her. Too bad she hadn’t figured out a way to profit from all those sword fighting lessons.
“Ms. Van?” the young warrior queried.
If he knew her rank he didn’t use it, and if he found her behaviour odd he didn’t question her, simply waited. She forced her breathing to even and hoped her distraction didn’t show as she passed through the door. There were four warriors sitting at the table. She’d learned over the last few weeks that two were the most senior members of the northern clans while the other two represented the southern clans. They fell silent as she entered. She had the uncomfortable feeling they knew how rattled she was. She didn’t meet anyone’s eyes, just went to her place at the table and set down her document case. The sooner she got this over with, the sooner she could change her plans. Contact her allies. How exactly did one go about raising an army?
“What’s wrong, princess?” Galinn drawled in a voice that was a purring seductive menace.
She winced but didn’t look his way. He was the only one who called her that here, and it had taken a few times before she’d realized he used it as a term of endearment not a title. Most of the time she thought he didn’t know who she was. After most of these planning meetings they had lunch, usually alone. Those meals tended to be the highlight of her week. He was always charming. Flirty. Seriously hot. He had to be at least 6’4, was broad shouldered and thickly muscled. He had what she’d learned were tattoos of the southern clans stretching down the right side of his face, neck, and arm. She wondered where else they were but had never had the guts to ask. She got the feeling that given even a little encouragement he’d try to seduce her out of her panties and she was pretty sure she’d love every minute of it.
Under normal circumstances, she didn’t need the kind of drama jumping into bed with an alien would likely cause. But facing deportation and then the fight to claim her throne? Hell, maybe she should go for it. If she succeeded men would be clamoring to be her consort. This might well be her last chance to have a little fun.
“Nothing,” she said, forcing a chipper tone she didn’t come close to feeling. “Let’s get started.”
She drew out a file to pass around a list of vendors, but Galinn didn’t give her the chance. He placed two fingers under her chin and forced her to look at him.
His eyes glittered and his nostrils flared as if he could take in the scent of her anxiety. She wrenched free and looked around at the others. They’d all been nice if reserved with her, but now she saw the hardness, the severity that freaked out so many people on Earth. She’d get no help from them. That was fine. She’d grown up in a palace that was basically an armed camp. She didn’t intimidate easily. Galinn waited her out. She should have guessed he’d read her distraction. She sighed.
“My sister and I are getting deported, apparently.”
“You’re not an Alliance citizen?”
Well, shit. She’d brought it up. She could hardly refuse to explain now, could she?
“No. We’re here on political asylum.”
“Why would the Alliance revoke that?”
She stared at him then narrowed her eyes at his suspicious tone. She couldn’t believe the Delroi hadn’t gone through her background. How was it he didn’t know everything about her life? Dumb move and he hadn’t struck her as a dumb man.
“You let someone into your base without vetting her?”
He cocked his eyebrows and one of the others snickered.
“Gentlemen, give us the room for a few minutes.”
They left without comment, the door closing with a loud click behind them that made her repress a wince. Being left alone with Galinn was probably a bad idea. He’d been wearing at her resistance since they’d met.
“Why are you being deported?”
“Why didn’t you do a background check?”
She didn’t know why she was pushing about it, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.
“There was a check done. You were approved,” he said. His eyes were hooded, intense. “I wanted to get to know you myself.”
Every nerve in her body lit up at those words. That’s what all those lunches were about, of course, but while she’d learned a lot about him she’d been careful to keep her secrets to herself.
“Why are you getting deported?”
“I imagine my brother was behind it,” she said, fighting and failing to keep the old hatred and fury, not to mention a healthy dose of bitterness, from her tone.
“What will happen if you are sent home?”
That was the question of the hour wasn’t it?
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “But I imagine, if my brother has his way it will either be death or imprisonment. He hates me and my sister.”
And she’d damned well take him with her, or die trying. The feeling of menace spiked but she didn’t feel threatened. She’d spent enough time with the Delroi in the last few weeks to see how protective they were of women. Maybe she should lay it all out and ask him for help, but why would he be interested in helping her seize her throne? Especially when he finally went back, read that report, and discovered that women ruled in her country. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the Delroi from what she saw.
“What are you thinking about?” he interrupted her thoughts.
Startled, she looked up at him. She couldn’t decide if it was triumph or anticipation she saw on his face but it made her stomach do a slow roll. He stood too close and she suddenly, desperately needed space. He radiated heat and promise. The gaze that met hers was shining with desire. That invitation had been in his eyes from the moment she met him, though usually banked. If he ever really set his mind to seducing her she knew she was a goner. Time to change the subject.
“My current circumstances won’t affect my ability to finish this job,” she said, hoping they could get back on track.
He cocked an eyebrow. “I’m sure it won’t. I have a proposal to get you out of your predicament.”
“What’s your proposal?” she asked curiously. Unless he had an army to offer her, he couldn’t do much.
“Marry me.” His tone was matter of fact. His eyes anything but. And his proposition? Why wasn’t she saying no immediately and emphatically? It was impossible. Intriguing but…impossible.
“That seems a rather extreme solution,” she managed to get it out.
He shrugged one shoulder. “It will solve your problem. Since your sister is part of your household she would also come under my protection. The Alliance wouldn’t be able to touch either of you.”
She stared at him. She’d seen Delroi women with their husbands, mates they called them. She hadn’t met one yet that didn’t seem to be completely devoted to his spouse. But she didn’t have that foundation of respect and love with Galinn she saw in those other couples. For some reason that made her livid at his offer. She couldn’t deny she needed help and a marriage of convenience might be in her future, but coming from him it infuriated her. What the hell? She took a deep breath just as her phone rang.
“It’s a generous offer, thank you. But I must decline,” she said, pulling her phone out of her slacks pocket. It rang again as she stared at the Levanian area code. It could be anyone and given the news she’d just received she couldn’t ignore it.
“Hello?” she answered as Galinn’s expression changed to disbelief. Couldn’t blame the man. He’d just proposed and here she was answering the phone.
She immediately recognized the growly voice on the other end. Michaelson, former captain of the royal guard and one of the men who’d saved her and her sister. She hadn’t seen him in years, but she often got messages from him about plans to retake the country and what was going on back home. Still, he’d never addressed her as the queen before.
“Is my brother dead?”
“Sadly, the usurper yet lives but the time to change that has come. We’ve secured your sister. We’ll be with you momentarily.”
“Whoa wait. You’re in the city? With the guard?”
“Yes, majesty. Oscar sent an assassination team.”
Suddenly she was freezing. She’d expected that at home, hadn’t anticipated he’d bring the war to her doorstep. He was getting desperate.
“I’ll come to you. You can’t get clearance to where I am.”
He growled. “Already done.”
She heard a door slam as the line disconnected. She wasn’t surprised he could track her down but how had he gotten into the Delroi camp? Before she could call back or even think, there was a brisk knock on the door and Galinn’s second in command, Thrane, walked through without invitation. He shut it softly and turned to look at her, while speaking to Galinn.
“The ambassador of Levania is here requesting an audience with his queen.”
Galinn recovered from his surprise quickly but the way he watched her now made it clear he had a few things to say later. Whatever. She took a step towards the door, but he blocked her, took her elbow, and drew her close.
“The northern clans vouchsafed his and his people’s entrance. One of their warriors is mated to one of her nobles. You really should have read that file, Galinn,” Thrane continued drily. “Daggar is hoping for a treaty with her people and he can’t get it from the brother.”
Ah, maybe that was why the PR firm had brought her in. Was it a part of their contract with the Delroi? Her connections would likely prove useful to the aliens. That could definitely work to her advantage. She tugged free of Galinn’s grip and got to the door.
“Where are you going?” he snapped as she tugged it open.
She threw him a grin over her shoulder, feeling the kind of hopefulness and recklessness she hadn’t since she was a kid secure in her palace.
“To start a war. Want to join me?”