Seduced By a Prince – Tanya Anne Crosby

How can you believe he would marry you? He was a prince, after all, she only an impoverished earl’s daughter. Julian Merrick Welbourne III would command a nation someday, while Fiona no longer even had a home left to return to. Indulging in a rare moment of self-pity, Lady Fiona Elizabeth MacEwen sat on the immense claw-footed bed that dominated her guest room. The fine, silk cloth rumpled beneath her bottom. This room, where she’d been confined since the birth of her twins, was no more than a luxurious cell. No doubt, she felt more like a prisoner than a guest. Outside, there were no trees to shade the room from the heat of the day; the afternoon sun, diffused through gold-chiffon draperies, burnished the entire room with a gilded light that made one feel as though one simmered in the belly of a furnace. It was devilishly hot in this country—so unlike her beloved Scotland. What a despicable mess she’d made of her life. Fiona fought her tears. Her father hadn’t raised a wilting violet. Nor had he raised an imbecile. She understood perfectly well why Julian was marrying that other woman. As the only son of Meridian’s sovereign, he was expected to marry for the good of his country, not for love. She simply couldn’t comprehend how he had forgotten his obligations to begin with—though perhaps he hadn’t? Perhaps she’d never been more to him than a final rebellion? That revelation made her feel used, abused and deceived.

Her eyes stung bitterly. Had he truly never loved her? Had he brought her to this palace only to become his mistress? Alas, she would rather die than be any man’s Jezebel! A single tear slipped down her cheek. The worst of it all was not that she would never be wed to the man she thought she loved…but that she would never be wed at all. What man would marry her with two little bairns in tow? And worse, because of her damnable pride, Glen Abbey Manor—their ancestral home —was no longer her sanctuary. Even if Julian released her, she had nowhere to go. Her heart squeezed painfully at the thought of her father—a mere guest in his own home. They’d had so little to offer as a dowry and they’d both been so deliriously joyful over Fiona’s good fortune at marrying so well, that her papa had sacrificed everything to see her dream come true. Trusting in the word of a gentleman, long before the impending nuptials, her father handed over the deed to Glen Abbey Manor. For four hundred and twenty-two years her kinsmen had been proud to call that manor their home. From Chreagach Mhor to the woodlands that spilled into McClellan’s valley, all of Glen Abbey was a part of their legacy.

The little church in the grove was even rumored to have sheltered the Stone of Scone when Edward of England sought to steal it for his own. If her father was left wanting, it wasn’t in honor or in charity. He’d shared his legacy quite generously, allowing the townsfolk, who’d settled the land along with their ancestors, to occupy their parcels without payment. What would become of those people now? How foolish they had been—how very, very foolish. And the greatest irony of it all was that Julian hadn’t even wanted or needed Glen Abbey. Bordered by the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, the Principality of Meridian covered no more than two square miles, but it was one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in all of Europe. In comparison, the only value Glen Abbey held was as a means of control. She had no doubt Julian would use it now to control her life and that of her sons. Shortly after the church bells struck two, a sharp rap sounded at the bedroom door. Fiona didn’t stir herself from the bed; her time to avoid this moment was long past.

At any rate, she knew it would be him. The maid had a key and never bothered to knock. Julian also had a key; he turned it in the lock to allow himself in. She heard the lock click, the door creak on old iron hinges, and then, dark and beautiful, he stood in the doorway. Her breath caught at the sight of him—as it always did. But she loathed this weakness within herself—that she could love this man, despite that he’d treated her so shabbily. For only an instant he glanced downward, as though ashamed, and then said, “I’ve come to see my sons.” “I want to go home,” Fiona countered, though she knew it would gain her naught. Julian’s handsome face was stern, his chiseled jaw clenched with iron resolve. His blue eyes were as pale as a new moon, silvered with lack of emotion.

“As I have already explained, Fiona, I cannot allow you to leave with my children.” He stood gazing at her, his presence large, and she noted little sway in his posture. He would never let her go—not with her sons. Fiona couldn’t help herself; a tear escaped, sliding down her cheek. She ignored it. So did he as he crossed the room, toward the crib. “I really don’t believe you ever loved me,” she accused him, swallowing her pride, feeling defeated. “If ever you did, you wouldn’t keep me here to suffer the sight of your bride.” He said nothing and she took some comfort in anger. “Tell me, Julian, will it please you to know I will be sitting here cradling our bairns as your wedding bells toll?” He walked past her, toward the window, without looking at her and she added, “I wonder how pleased your Elena will be when she learns of my presence in her home.

” To her dismay, she started to cry. Julian stopped, at last, and turned to face her, his gaze softening. “Please… don’t cry,” he said, and for an instant, when he met her gaze, she saw a glimpse of the man she thought she’d known. It squeezed at her heart. Unbidden, he came and sat beside her upon the bed, reaching out to swipe the tear from her cheek with a steady finger. Fiona closed her eyes, wincing over the tenderness in his touch. “Fiona,” he pleaded, “I could make you happy, if only you’d allow it. I would shower you and my sons with gifts. I would take good care of you. I would never disappoint you.

” “You already have,” she said, eyes swimming as she looked at him. “Only think on it,” he begged. Fiona shook her head adamantly. “I will never be your mistress, Julian,” she said with more conviction than she felt. He reached out to touch her hand, and she moved it away. “You know how I feel about you,” he said, but his confession professed nothing. He hadn’t said those three words to her since the day he’d revealed his plan to wed another woman. If he dared to say them… if she heard them…her will to resist would have crumpled. But he hadn’t said those three little words. “My darling,” he beseeched.

“I promise to give you my full devotion.” Fiona’s brows collided, and she said with acid sweetness, “You mean, when you aren’t otherwise devoted to your wife and her children?” He looked away guiltily. “Fiona,” he begged. “You know it was not my choice to wed Elena.” Fiona didn’t care to hear it. She swallowed her tears, summoning the last of her strength, and stood, turning her back to him. “All I know is that I will not disgrace my father’s name any more than I have. As it is, I may never be able to face him again.” She walked away, needing distance, lest she be tempted. She still couldn’t look at him without longing to leap into his arms to beg him to love her and her children.

How pitiful she felt. Across the room, waking in their crib, the babes began to whimper, and Fiona rushed over to the cradle, grateful for the distraction. She touched each of their little cheeks, caressing them with a finger, their sweet little noses. Merrick and Ian were everything to her. For them she would bear any shame, endure any trial. At the very least, if he must lock her away from the world, he’d been merciful enough to leave her with her precious darlings. “Mother adores you,” she cooed. Already they looked so much like their father, with dark hair and eyes so deep a grey they were like storm-ridden skies. Merrick seemed the more content of the two and she scooped Ian into her arms, intending to soothe him first. She hadn’t heard Julian approach, but his voice broke when he spoke, startling her.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you are, indeed, correct, Fiona.” He put a hand upon her shoulder and squeezed very gently. “I cannot keep you against your will.” Fiona choked back a sob, anticipating what he was about to do. She wanted to go home—she did—but it pained her so much to leave him… never to see him again… never to have the chance to hold him. “As you know, Elena will be arriving soon. I’ll not have her unsettled by my mistake.” Mistake? Fiona’s throat constricted. If Julian had wished to hurt her, he couldn’t have chosen finer daggers for words. Tears sprang to her eyes as she shrugged away from him.

With Ian in her arms, she turned to face the father of her children, the man she was supposed to have wed, the very man who had seduced her and then locked her away. Mistake? His expression turned hard and as cold as steel. He sighed deeply. “I’ve a proposition.” Fiona suddenly couldn’t speak past the knot in her throat. Taking comfort in Ian’s soft coos, she held her son to her breast, and though the glitter in her eyes must have betrayed her, she lifted her chin. And yet… nothing could have prepared her for what he was about to say. “You may choose one of our sons,” he said. “The other you must leave with me. If you agree to this, I will return Glen Abbey Manor to you and to your father.

” Fiona blinked, disbelieving her ears. Whatever she had expected, it wasn’t this. Her throat constricted and her mouth would not open to speak. “I would allot you a generous allowance to comfortably raise my son.” “No!” She found her voice at last. “How can you possibly expect me to abandon my flesh and blood?” He stood firm. “You have no choice in the matter.” “I refuse to leave either!” “If you fight me,” he warned, his tone colder than she’d ever heard it before, “I will take both and send you away with neither.” He gave her no more than an instant to digest the threat and then added, “Nor will I return Glen Abbey Manor to your father. You will be homeless and childless besides.

” Her heart seemed to plummet to her feet. Had she not been holding Ian she might have given in to a swoon. In desperation, she clutched her son to her breast. Pride vanished completely. “I’ll stay,” she said, choking back tears. “I’ll do what you wish. Please, don’t take my children!” His voice hardened. “I’m afraid you’ve made it very clear to me that allowing you to remain in Meridian is an impossibility.” “But you… you cannot do this,” she said, trembling. She shook her head in denial, but even as she did so, she knew he could, and he would do precisely as he wished.

In his domain, Julian could do anything he pleased, and if it pleased him to send her away empty-handed, she knew that he could. Who would take him to task over it? Nobody. She was hardly important enough for anyone to raise their head over, much less their hand. The futility of it all swept through her as a terrible wave of nausea. “Julian,” she begged, and stumbled to her knees, clasping her son to her breast. Ian started to cry in earnest, sensing her distress, and she loosened her grip. “You have one hour to choose which of our two sons you will take and to pack your belongings,” he said, resolved. “I’ve already made arrangements for you to be escorted home.” “No—please!” Fiona begged. Julian raised a hand to silence her, his jaw taut.

His gaze lost every trace of warmth. “And if you return,” he warned, “I shall take both my sons and leave you with nothing— not even your lofty pride.” Shock, for an instant, stopped the pounding of her heart. What pride was there in a woman on her knees? Fiona blinked away stinging tears. Without another word, Julian turned and left her with the cold reality of his intentions. As the door closed behind him and the key turned in the lock, she vowed one day to make him pay. In the end she would have both her sons, and he would die a lonely old man.

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