Carrying the King's Pride

By: Jennifer Hayward

Content to keep it uncomplicated. And yet tonight it had gotten complicated. He had hurt her.

His insides twisted. His rule never to allow a woman too close, to trust anyone in his position, was based on experience. He was a target for fame seekers, for those who sought to use him to further their own agendas. Charlotte, his ex-girlfriend, who’d sold her story to the tabloids and almost destroyed his family’s reputation was a prime example.

Not that he put Sofía in that category. She was different. He had trusted her. He thought, perhaps, he was more angry than anything. Angry she’d broken things off first. Angry because he’d thought their relationship still had legs—the sexual part of it that is. It was the first time a woman had initiated an end to a mutually beneficial relationship. He couldn’t deny it stung.

A wry smile curved his lips. Perhaps he’d had that one coming for a long time.

He pulled out his laptop, deciding to work through a few emails he’d left earlier to attend the event. His personal aide, Abram, who must have seen the light, knocked and entered from the adjoining staff quarters.

Equal parts friend, butler and highly trained fixer, Abram was sometimes dour, frequently circumspect, but never flustered. And yet, right now, in the heart of the Manhattan night, he looked distinctly agitated.

“What is it now?” Nik asked. “Don’t tell me—King Idas has somehow managed to put my brother’s nose out of joint with yet another expulsion of hot air.”

Abram fixed his faded green gaze on him. The tumultuous light he saw there made his heart skip a beat. “Crown Prince Athamos has been in an accident, Your Highness. He is dead.”

The room dissolved around him. He rested a palm against the sofa, his head spinning. “An accident,” he repeated. “It’s not possible. I just spoke with Athamos last night.”

Abram dipped his head. “I’m so sorry, sir. It happened last evening in Carnelia. It’s taken time to verify the reports.”

His blood turned to ice. His mind raced as he attempted to process what his aide had just told him. His brother had been raging about Akathinia’s overly amorous suitor last night, its sister island Carnelia and its king, Idas, who wanted to annex Akathinia back into the Catharian Islands to which it had once belonged over a century ago. Insanity in this age of democracy, but there were enough examples around the world to put everyone on edge.

Nik had talked his brother off the ledge. What the hell had happened after that?

“What was he doing in Carnelia?”

“The facts are thin at the moment. There was an argument of some sort over a woman. Prince Athamos and Crown Prince Kostas of Carnelia decided to settle it with a car race through the mountains, the same route the ancient horse race used to take.” His aide paused. “An onlooker said Prince Athamos took a curve too steeply. His car plunged off the cliff and into the ocean.”

An argument? Over a woman? His brother was as levelheaded as Nik was passionate and reckless. And yet he had gotten into his car and raced his arch nemesis through the suicidal cliffs of Carnelia? His enemy’s domain? A man known to have as much fire in his veins as his hotheaded, tyrannical father...

He worked to free his throat from the paralysis that claimed it. “Are they sure...?”

“That he is dead?” Abram nodded. “I’m sorry, sir. Witnesses say there is no possibility a man could have emerged alive from that drop. They are working to recover his body now.”

“And Kostas,” Nik grated. “He survived?”

Abram nodded. “He was a car length behind. He saw the whole thing happen.”

A red rage blurred his vision, mixing with the agony that gripped his insides to form a deadly, potent storm. He got up and walked blindly to the windows, the spectacular skyline of Manhattan unfolding in front of him.

All he could see was red.

The clink of crystal sounded behind him. Abram came to stand beside him and pressed a glass of whiskey into his hand. Nik raised it to his mouth and took a long swig. When he had emptied half the glass, his aide cleared his throat. “There is more.”

More? How could there be more?

“Your father took the news of the accident badly. He has suffered a severe heart attack. The doctors are holding out hope he will survive, but it’s touch and go.”

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