Carrying the King's Pride

By: Jennifer Hayward


“I have an understanding of what it’s like to lose something precious.” She moved her gaze back to his. “It makes you aware of how easily it can all fall apart.”

“And yet sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you go on to make something of yourself. Create and run a successful business...”

Her mouth twisted. “Which could also fall apart if the market changes.”

“Any business could fall apart if the market changes. It’s the reality of being in the game. You don’t anticipate failure, you believe in your vision.”

She absorbed the verbal hand slap.

“How did you fund the business?” he asked. “You never did tell me.”

“The airline was at fault for my father’s accident. Faulty mechanics. The settlement was held in trust for me until I turned twenty-one. I put myself through design school on a scholarship in the meantime.”

“What was the ultimate intention? The business or the designing?”

“Both. My first love is designing, but I put that on hold when we started the business. We needed to get the store in the black, pay off some investments. Now I finally feel like we’re getting to the point where we can hire some staff and I can work on a line for the store.”

“How many years have you been open now?”

“Six.”

“Six years is a long time to wait on a dream, Sofía.”

Heat singed her cheeks. “These things don’t happen overnight. Interviewing is time-consuming, not to mention finding someone I can trust my baby with.”

“Perhaps it’s you you don’t trust.” Nik’s softly worded challenge brought her chin up. “When you want something badly enough, you make it happen. There are no can’ts in life, only barriers we create for ourselves.”

“I’m getting there.” She hated the defensive note in her voice. “We don’t all cut a swath through our lives like you do, Nik, impervious to anything or anyone but the end goal.”

His gaze sharpened on her face. “Is that how you see me?”

“Isn’t it true?”

He studied her silently for a moment. She looked away, his criticisms broaching an uncomfortable truth, one she’d been avoiding examining too closely. Putting off the designing had been practicality in the beginning when establishing Carlotta and finding a steady clientele had been a matter of survival. The problem was the longer she put it off, the harder it was to pick up her sketch pad again. Doubt had crept in as to whether she had what it took.

“You know what I think?” Nik said finally. “I think you’re scared. I think you talk a good game, Sofía, but you aren’t nearly as tough as you make yourself out to be. I think you’re scared of investing yourself in something you care so much about because there’s a chance you might fail. And it’s personal, isn’t it, designing for you? You’re putting yourself out there. What if you do and New York rejects you? What if it all falls apart?”

She blinked at how scarily accurate that was. “I think that’s a bit of a stretch.”

“I don’t.” He stepped closer and reached up to trace a finger down her cheek, an electric charge zigzagging its way through her. “I know how easily it can all fall apart. Your words, not mine.”

“Philosophical musings,” she denied.

His fingers dropped to her mouth, tracing the line of her bottom lip. “I think my first impression of you at that benefit that night was right. You don’t fully engage with life, you hold a part of yourself back so you won’t get hurt. So there’s no chance it will fall apart. But that’s a delusion you feed yourself. Nothing can prevent a tragedy or a failure or someone walking away because it isn’t right. To reap the reward you have to take the risk.”

She had no answer for that because she was afraid it was true. All of it. But if it was true about her, it was equally, if not more so, true about him.

“And what about you?” she countered. “You hide yourself under this smooth veneer, Nik. No one ever really gets to know the real you. What you dream of. What you hope for. Tonight, what you said about winning, about not knowing what happens when it isn’t enough anymore, it was the first time you’ve admitted anything truly intimate about yourself to me. And soon, my time will be up, won’t it? You’ll decide I’m getting too close, your attention span will wane and I’ll receive a very nice piece of jewelry to kiss off and fade into the sunset.”

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