‘Yes, you do. You won’t be able to smile without someone demanding to know why you’re happy and you won’t be able to frown without someone saying that you’re suffering from depression and about to be admitted to a clinic.’ He hammered home the facts with lethal precision. ‘You’ll either be too thin or too fat—’
‘Too fat, obviously.’ Heart pounding, Holly sank down onto the sofa. ‘Enough. You can stop now. I get the picture.’
‘I’m describing your new life, Holly. The life you’ve chosen.’
There was a tense, electric silence and she licked her lips nervously. ‘What are you saying?’
‘You have made sure that the whole world believes that this is my baby. And, as a result, the whole world is now waiting for me to take appropriate action.’
Pacing back over to the window, he stared down into the street.
Holly had a sudden sick feeling in her stomach. ‘A—appropriate action? What do you mean?’
There was a deathly silence and then he turned, his eyes empty of emotion. ‘You’re going to marry me, Holly.’ The savage bite in his tone was a perfect match for the chill in his eyes. ‘And you may think that I’ve just made your wildest dreams come true, but I can assure you that you’re about to embark on your worst nightmare.’
‘SO WHEN do you think he’ll be back?’ Holly paced across the priceless rug in the Georgian manor house. ‘I mean, he’s been gone for two weeks, Emilio! I haven’t even had a chance to talk to him since that day at the flat.’ The day he’d announced that she was going to marry him. ‘Not that this house isn’t fabulous and luxurious and all that—but he virtually kidnapped me!’
‘On the contrary, His Highness was merely concerned for your safety,’ Emilio said gently. ‘The press had discovered where you were and the situation was about to turn extremely ugly. It was imperative that we extracted you from there as fast as possible.’
Remembering the crowd of reporters that had suddenly converged on Nicky’s flat, and the slick security operation that had ensured their escape, Holly rubbed her fingers over her forehead. ‘Yes, all right, I accept that, but that doesn’t explain why he hasn’t been in touch. When is he planning to come back? We need to talk.’
There was so much she needed to say to him.
When she’d opened the door to the flat and seen the prince standing there, her first reaction had been one of pure joy. For a crazy moment she’d actually thought that he was there because he’d spent the past two weeks thinking about her and decided that he needed to see her again. Her mind had raced forward, imagining all sorts of unrealistic scenarios that she was now too embarrassed to even recall. Her crazy, stupid brain had actually started to believe that extraordinary things could happen to someone ordinary like her.
And then he’d strode into her flat like a Roman conqueror neutralising the enemy.
Remembering everything he’d said to her, she felt a rush of misery.
He didn’t believe it was his baby and the injustice of that still stung. True, she wasn’t exactly proud of the way she’d behaved, but it seemed he’d conveniently forgotten his own role in the affair.
And as for his proposal of marriage—well, that unexpected twist had more than kept her mind occupied over the past two weeks.
Had he meant it? Was he serious? And, if he was serious, what was her response going to be?
It was the most difficult decision she’d ever had to make, and the arguments for and against had gone round and round in her head like a fairground carousel. Marrying him meant being with a man who didn’t know her or trust her, but not marrying him meant denying her baby a father.
And that was the one thing she’d promised herself would never happen to any child of hers .
Reminding herself of that fact, Holly straightened her shoulders and stared across the beautifully landscaped gardens that surrounded the manor.
Their baby was not going to grow up thinking that his father had abandoned him. She swallowed down the lump that sprang into her throat. Their baby was not going to be the only child in school not making a Father’s Day card.
Which meant that her answer had to be yes, regardless of everything else.
What else mattered? Hopefully over time the prince would realise how wrong he had been about her, and once the baby was born it would be a simple matter to prove paternity. Perhaps, then, their relationship could develop.
Realising that Emilio was still watching her, she felt a squeeze of guilt. ‘I’m sorry. I’m being really selfish. Is there any news about your little boy? Have you phoned the hospital this morning?’
Remembering just how taciturn and uncommunicative the prince’s Head of Security had been when they’d first met, she was relieved that he’d responded to her attempts to be friendly.
‘His temperature is down,’ he told her. ‘And he’s responding to the antibiotics, although they’re still not sure what it was.’
‘Your poor wife must be so tired. And little Tomasso must be missing you. I remember having chicken pox just after—’ Just after her father had left. The feelings of abandonment were as fresh as ever and Holly walked across to him and touched his arm. ‘Go home, Emilio,’ she urged. ‘Your wife would like the support and your little boy would dearly love to see his daddy.’
‘That’s out of the question, madam.’
‘Why? I’m not going anywhere. I feel really guilty that you’re stuck here with me. If it weren’t for me, you’d be back home in Santallia.’
Emilio cleared his throat. ‘If I may say so, your company has been a pleasure, madam. And you’ve been a great comfort since Tomasso was ill. I’ll never forget your kindness that first night when he was first taken into hospital and you stayed up and kept me company.’
‘I’ve never been thrashed so many times at poker in my life. It’s a good job I don’t have any money to lose,’ Holly said lightly. ‘The moment the prince turns up, you’re going home.’
But what if he didn’t turn up?
Perhaps he didn’t want to marry her any more.
Perhaps he’d changed his mind.
Or perhaps he’d just imprisoned her here, away from the press, until the story died down? After all, he believed that she’d talked to the press. Was he keeping her here just to ensure her silence?
Her thoughts in turmoil, Holly spent the rest of the morning on the computer in the wood-panelled study that overlooked the ornamental lake. Resisting the temptation to do another trawl of the Internet for mentions of Prince Casper, she concentrated on what she was doing and then wandered down to the kitchen to eat lunch with the head chef and other members of the prince’s household staff.
‘Something smells delicious, Pietro.’ Loving the cosy atmosphere of the kitchen, she warmed her hands on the Aga. Naturally chatty by nature, and delighted to find herself suddenly part of this close community, Holly had lost no time in getting to know everyone living and working in the historic manor house.
‘It’s a pleasure to cook for someone who enjoys her food, madam,’ the chef said, smiling warmly as he gestured towards some pastries cooling on a wire rack. ‘Try one and give me your verdict. You’re eating for two, remember.’
‘Well, I’d rather not be the size of two. I’m not sure I’m meant to be developing cravings this early, but already I don’t think I can live without your pollo alla limone.’ Holly still felt slightly self-conscious that everyone clearly felt so possessive about her baby. She bit into a pastry and moaned with genuine appreciation. ‘Oh, please—this is sublime. Truly, Pietro. I’ve never tasted anything this good in my life before. What is it?’
Pietro blossomed. ‘Goat’s cheese, with a secret combination of herbs—’ He broke off as Emilio entered the room and Holly smiled.
‘Emilio, thank goodness.’ She took another nibble of pastry. ‘You’re just in time to stop me eating the lot by myself.’
‘Miss Phillips.’ The bodyguard’s eyes were misted, and Holly dropped the pastry, alarmed to see this controlled man so close to the edge.
‘What? What? Has something happened? Did the hospital ring?’
‘How can I ever thank you? You are—’ Emilio’s voice was gruff and he cleared his throat. ‘A very special person. My wife called—she just received a delivery of beautiful toys. How you managed to arrange that so quickly I have no idea. Tomasso is thrilled.’
‘He liked his parcel?’ Relieved that nothing awful had happened, Holly retrieved the pastry and threw Pietro an apologetic glance. ‘Sorry. Slight overreaction there on my part. Just in case you can’t tell, I briefly considered drama as a career. So he liked the toys? I couldn’t decide between the fire engine and the police car.’