Not wanting to be reminded of her barren childhood, Holly burrowed deeper inside the sleeping bag. ‘He didn’t know she’d died.’
‘If he’d stayed in touch he would have known.’
‘Do you mind if we don’t talk about this?’ Her voice high-pitched, Holly rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. ‘I have to decide what to do. I’ve lost my job, and I can’t go home because the press are like a pack of wolves outside my flat. And the whole world thinks I’m a giant slut.’ Dying of embarrassment, her insides twisting with regret, she buried her face in the pillow.
And she was a slut, wasn’t she?
She’d had sex with a total stranger.
And not just sex—recklessly abandoned, wild sex. Sex that had taken her breath away and wiped her mind of guilt, worry, morals.
Whenever Eddie had touched her, her first thought had always been I mustn’t get pregnant. When the prince had touched her the only thought in her head had been more, more…
What had happened to her?
Yes, she’d been upset and insecure about herself after her break up with Eddie, but that didn’t explain or excuse it.
And then she remembered the way the prince had planted himself protectively in front of her, shielding her from the rest of the group. What other man had ever shown that degree of sensitivity? He’d noticed she was upset, shielded her, and then…
Appalled with herself, she gave another moan of regret, and Nicky yanked the sleeping bag away from her.
‘Stop torturing yourself. You’re going to be a great mother.’
‘How can I be a great mother? I’m going to have to give my baby to someone else to look after while I work! Which basically means that someone else will pick my baby up when it cries.’
‘Well, if it’s a real bawler that might be an advantage.’
Holly wiped the tears from her face with a mangled damp hanky. ‘How can it be an advantage? I want to be there for my baby.’
‘Well, perhaps you’ll win the lottery.’
‘I can’t afford to play the lottery. I can’t even afford to pay you rent.’
‘I don’t want rent, and you can sleep on my sofa as long as you need to.’ Nicky shrugged. ‘You can’t exactly go home, can you? The entire British public are gagging for pictures of you. “Where’s the waitress?” is today’s headline. Yesterday it was “royal’s rugby romp”. Rumour has it that they’re offering a reward to anyone who shops you. Everyone wants to know about that kiss.’
‘For crying out loud.’ Holly blew her nose hard. ‘People in the world are starving and they want to write about the fact that I kissed a prince? Doesn’t anyone have any sense of perspective?’ Thank goodness they didn’t know the whole story.
‘Well, we all need a little light relief now and then, and people love it when royalty show they’re human.’ Nicky sprang to her feet. ‘I’m hungry and there’s no food in this flat.’
‘I don’t want anything,’ Holly said miserably, too embarrassed to admit to her friend that the real reason she was so upset was because the prince hadn’t made any attempt to get in touch.
Even though she knew it was ridiculous to expect him to contact her, a small part of her was still desperately hoping that he would. Yes, she was a waitress and he was a prince, but he’d liked her, hadn’t he? He’d thrown all the other people out of the room so that he could be with her, and he’d said all those nice things about her, and then…
Holly’s body burned in a rush of sexual excitement that shocked her. Surely after sex as mind-blowing as that, he might have been tempted to track her down?
But how could he get in touch when the press was staking out her flat? She had a mental image of the prince hiding behind a bush, waiting for the opportunity to bang on her door. ‘Do you think he’s really annoyed about the headlines?’
‘Don’t tell me you’re worrying about him!’ Nicky had her hand in a packet of cereal. ‘He just pulls up his bloody drawbridge, leaving the enemy on the outside!’
Holly bit her lip. She was the one who’d kissed him by the window. She’d had no idea. ‘I feel guilty.’
‘Oh, please! This is Prince Casper we’re talking about. He doesn’t care what the newspapers write about him. You’re the one who’s going to suffer. If you ask me, the least he could have done was give you some security or advice. But he’s left you to take the flak!’
Holly’s spirits sank further at that depressing analysis. ‘He doesn’t know where I am.’
‘He’s a prince,’ Nicky said contemptuously, flopping back down on the sofa, her mouth full of cereal. ‘He commands a whole army, complete with special forces. He could find you in an instant if he wanted to. MI5, FBI, I don’t know—one of that lot. One word from him and there’d be a satellite trained on my flat.’
Shrinking at the thought, Holly slid back into the sleeping bag. ‘Close the blinds.’ What had she done?
‘Well, you can go on hiding if that’s what you want. Or you could give those sharks outside your flat an interview.’
‘Are you mad?’
‘No, I’m practical. Thanks to His Royal Highness, you have no job and you’re trapped indoors. Sell your story to the highest bidder. “My lunchtime of love” or “sexy Santallian stud”?’
Appalled, Holly shook her head. ‘Absolutely not. I couldn’t do that.’
‘You have a baby to support.’
‘And I don’t want my child looking back at the year he was conceived and seeing that his life started with me dishing the dirt on his dad in the papers! I just want the whole thing to go away.’
It was ironic, she thought numbly, that she’d fantasised about this exact moment ever since she was a teenager. She’d longed to be a mother. Longed to have a child of her own—to be able to create the sort of family she’d always wanted.
She’d even lain awake at night, imagining what it must be like to discover that you were pregnant and to share that excitement with a partner. She’d imagined his delight and his pride. She’d imagined him pulling her into a protective hug and fiercely declaring that he would never leave his family.
Not once, ever, had she imagined that she’d be in this position, doing it on her own.
One rash moment, one transgression—just one—and her life had been blown apart. Even though she was in a state of shock, the deeper implications weren’t lost on her. Her hopes of eventually being able to melt back into her old life unobserved died. She knew that once someone spotted that she was pregnant it wouldn’t take long for them to do the maths.
This was Prince Casper of Santallia’s child.
Nicky stood up. ‘I need to buy some food. Back in a minute.’ The front door slammed behind her, and moments later Holly heard the doorbell. Assuming Nicky had forgotten something, she slid off the sofa and padded over to the door.
‘So this is where you’ve been hiding!’ Eddie stood in the doorway, holding a huge, ostentatious bunch of dark-red roses wrapped in cheap cellophane.
Holly simply stared, suddenly realising that she’d barely thought about him over the past two weeks.
‘I didn’t expect to see you here, Eddie.’
He gave a benign smile. ‘I expect it seems like a dream.’ Sure of himself, Eddie smiled down at her. ‘Aren’t you going to invite me in?’
‘No. You broke off our engagement, Eddie. I was devastated.’ Holly frowned to herself. Her devastation hadn’t lasted long, though, had it? It had been supplanted by bigger issues—but should that have been possible? Did broken hearts really mend that quickly?
‘I can’t talk about this on the doorstep.’ He pushed his way into the flat and thrust the flowers into her hands. Past their best, a few curling petals floated onto the floor. ‘Here. These are for you. To show that I forgive you.’
‘Forgive me?’ Holly winced as a thorn buried itself into her hand. Gingerly she put the flowers down on the hall table and sucked the blood from her finger. ‘What are you forgiving me for?’
‘For kissing the prince.’ Eddie’s face turned the same shade as the roses. ‘For making a fool of me in public.’
‘Eddie—you were the one partying in that box with your new girlfriend.’
‘She was no one special. We both need to stop hurting each other. I admit that I was furious when I saw you kissing the prince, then I realised that it must have been hard on you, watching me get that promotion and then losing me. But it seems to have loosened up something inside you. A whole new you emerged.’ He grinned like a schoolboy who had just discovered girls. ‘You’ve always been quite shy and a bit prim. And suddenly you were, well, wild. When I saw you kissing him, I couldn’t help thinking it should have been me.’