To Steal a Groom

By: Cora Caraway

Royal Lions, Book Two


1


Opening my eyes in the predawn light, I awake into a dream. There’s a prince in bed beside me, his face serene as he slumbers. He asked me to marry him yesterday morning, and I said yes. By the smile on his sleeping face, he’s pleased with his decision. My heart thumps as I twirl the lion ring around my finger. Is it my imagination, or is it more snug this morning?

I slip it off, just to be sure that I still can. Taking a deep breath, I look at Damon. His lashes flutter, but his eyes don’t open. Rolling over, he drapes an arm over me. How is it that he knows just how to comfort me even when unconscious? I slide the ring back on, lying with him for a moment in the light.

I still can’t believe that anyone would fall in love with a thief like me, let alone a prince. But if I hadn’t stolen and subsequently crashed his car, he never would have looked twice at me. Of course, that wasn’t my goal at the time. I was trying to make my getaway with the crown his future princess would wear. In a lovely fit of irony, that turned out to be me.

Sunlight shows the outline of Damon’s cheek and strong jaw. Slight shadows on his chin mark the stubble he’ll meticulously shave away when he wakes. Restless, I comb my fingers through my hair. I can’t stare at him all day. I have too many things to think about.

As carefully as I can, I lift his arm and edge off the bed. I thought my dismount was flawless, but as I gather my wayward clothes, he reaches a hand across the bed.

“Grace,” he mumbles without opening his eyes.

I tense. I don’t want to talk about what happened last night. Not now.

Damon closes and opens his hand, the only motion he can muster at this hour.

I can’t refuse him. I twine my fingers with his, giving a gentle squeeze. He’s so warm.

“I love you,” he says.

My heart twists. Three little words that cost me nothing to say, yet I can’t return them. I don’t deserve to after last night. I study Damon’s face, wondering how long before his eyes will flicker open, his face full of concern.

He breathes in deeply, his fingers relaxing their grip. I’m glad he’s spared the hurt of my silence. With any luck, he won’t remember any of this when he wakes.

I leave my painfully beautiful fiancé alone in bed, the covers rumpled from sleep and nothing more. My fingers start to twitch, like they always do when I’m stressed. Even a month ago, this usually meant someone was about to be relieved of their wallet. The problem with Damon is that he’d gladly give me anything I asked for. What am I supposed to steal now?

Dressing quickly, I check my hair in a gilded mirror. I doubt many people are awake at this hour, but today of all days I’d like to look nice. Closing Damon’s door as quietly as I can, I head to the main hall.

Its forest of pillars reminds me of a cathedral. I wander among them, their silence offering a chance for contemplation. A glint of gold catches my eye, and I stop by an alcove I’ve never noticed before. It holds three Fabergé eggs, which glimmer with intricate designs.

I stare at them. I admit that they’re works of art, though too gaudy for my taste. I’m sure King Darius could run the City of Lions for years on what they cost. Who even thinks of making garishly decorative eggs? More importantly, why would any sane person collect this kind of thing?

My fingers itch. The eggs lie unguarded, because who would be foolish enough to take them from under the king’s nose? There are tiny cameras monitoring this place, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’ve hidden before, and I could do it again.

With just one egg, I could live a comfortable life far from the palace. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about ball gowns, bodyguards, or Damon’s double-crossing brother. Word is that the king convinced Marc to return to the palace, but I’m not looking forward to seeing him again. He has a nasty habit of trying to frame me for his crimes.

I gaze at the eggs so long that they become all I see. Yes, Damon could get me anything. But what if I most want a life away from the palace? Somewhere I don’t have to worry about royal politics. I recently met Natalia, Damon’s ex and the daughter of a duke. I’d rather swim in shark-filled waters with a bacon bikini than have another conversation with her.

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