United by Their Royal Baby is out in just over a month! So today, I’m sharing an excerpt from the first book in the Conveniently Wed, Royally Bound duet. I hope you enjoy it!
United by Their Royal Baby – Prologue
PRINCESS LEYNA OF AIDARA thought she’d never been more content than right at that moment. She had the sun shining on her, the ocean in front of her and the sandy beach around her.
And, of course, she had the future King of Mattan lying next to her.
‘We should do this more often,’ she said, and dug her back a little deeper into the sand.
‘We do this at least once a week, Leyna.’
She could hear the amusement in Xavier’s tone and her lips curved.
‘We visit the beach at least once a week. Doing this—’ she lifted a hand into the air and gestured to the towels that lay side by side ‘—is a rarity that we should definitely make more time for.’
‘You’re only saying that because you want to escape your royal duties,’ Xavier teased.
‘And you don’t?’ she shot back, turning her head to offer him a grin.
And ignoring the inner voice that sounded dangerously like her grandmother telling her that Xavier was an excuse to do just that.
‘I’m the future King of Mattan, Princess,’ he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. ‘I’m aware of my duties. Even though there are things expected of me that I can’t possibly begin to imagine.’
Hearing the fatigue, the annoyance just beneath his words, she turned her body to face him, resting her head on her hand. ‘Are your mother and grandmother at it again?’
He mirrored her position. Before she could stop herself, her eyes took in his muscular body, the dark brown hair that was a mess from their swim earlier and the kindness that was clear in every feature of his face. Her heart began to race. And then she told herself to stop it, and notice how that kindness was now eclipsed by sadness—tinged with the slightest bit of anger—that she knew came from his hopelessness about his family.
‘When are they not at it?’ He shook his head. ‘Every time I think I do something right, they counter with something I should have done instead.’ He paused. ‘Maybe I’m just not doing anything right.’
‘Oh, that’s rubbish and you know it.’ She sat up now, curling her legs under her. ‘I’ve never seen someone put more effort into their crown than you have.’
‘Besides you, you mean,’ he said with a smile.
‘Of course.’ She smiled back, though the voice in her head had returned, this time telling her she would put in even more if she didn’t have Xavier in her life. ‘But what I meant was that that dedication already means you’re doing something right, Xavier. Trust it.’
She reached over to squeeze the back of his hand, but he turned his over so quickly she didn’t know it until his fingers threaded through hers. Her heart jumped, and she opened her mouth to cut off what she knew was coming.
‘No,’ he said before she could. ‘You’re not going to put me off this time, Leyna.’
‘What…what do you mean?’
‘I’d like you to marry me.’
Her chest tightened. ‘I don’t think that—’
‘Both our families want this, Leyna,’ he interrupted.
‘They want Aidara and Mattan bonded, yes. This—you and I?’ She shook her head. ‘They aren’t quite as invested in that.’ When he didn’t answer her, she frowned. ‘You know this. You know what they think about our friendship.’
‘But I know what we think about our friendship, too. Don’t you think that’s more important?’
She didn’t know what to say. But she did know that she was glad they were on Aidara’s private beach, where there would be no prying eyes witnessing their conversation.
‘Leyna.’ He sat up now. ‘There is no choice for me. I have to marry you or my heart won’t ever forgive me.’ The seriousness in his eyes upped her heart rate even more. ‘I know you feel the same way, too.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Because it’s time,’ he said simply. He stood, and held out a hand to help her do the same. She took it, but when she was on her feet she snatched her hand back.
‘It’s time to ruin something that means more to me than anything else?’
‘No. It’s time to finally make this—us—into what we were always supposed to be, Leyna. A family.’
‘I have family. I have parents who are King and Queen of a kingdom that needs them.’
So they don’t have time for me to need them.
‘And a grandmother whose heart is still broken from losing her husband almost ten years ago.’
And who’s so focused on the crown she can’t support the person who’ll one day wear it.
‘I have family, Xavier,’ she repeated. ‘What I don’t have are friends. I need us to be friends.’
‘You don’t think we’d be friends if we were married?’ His sombre tone told her things would probably change between them now, regardless of what she chose.
The panic inside her told her to make the right choice.
‘We’re best as friends. Just friends.’
‘Is that you speaking, or your family?’
‘It’s me.’ But a part of her wondered. ‘I haven’t listened to what they’ve said about us before. I don’t care about that.’
‘Then why are you so scared of what’s between us, Leyna?’ He closed the space between them with one step.
Because…’ She cleared her throat when her words came out more breathily than she wanted. ‘Our lives aren’t easy. The thing that’s helped me through it is our friendship. We’ve been friends for almost twenty years.’ Her voice broke. ‘Don’t take that away from me.’
He lifted her chin. ‘I’m not taking anything away from you. I want to add to that friendship.’ The left side of his mouth curved into a half-smile. ‘Yes, we’ve been friends for twenty years. But you know I’ve been in love with you for most of that time.’ She opened her mouth to dispute his words, but he shook his head. ‘You know it’s true.’
‘No,’ she said firmly.
‘Really?’ he drawled. ‘Why have you been trying to stop me from saying it to you for all these years then?’ His eyebrows lifted when she didn’t reply, and then he nodded. ‘Because you do know it. We both have from the moment I gave you that rose when we were five.’
When her heart melted at even the memory of it, she finally acknowledged the truth of his words. But he was right. She was scared. Scared of the change, and of what that change would mean for her life. One day she would be Queen of Aidara and she knew what that would demand from her.
And it wasn’t because her grandmother had warned her of the demands of the role. Or the way she constantly referred to Xavier as a distraction, and their friendship as ‘childish’. After years of defending what they had, Leyna had learnt to brush it off, knowing that Kathleen had a limited idea of what real relationships were.
No, Leyna’s fears had nothing to do with Xavier, and everything to do with what she knew those demands would cost her. Because she’d seen exactly how they had affected her father.
King Clive had gone from exuberant Prince to reserved King. She had memories of her father being happy, chasing her around the royal gardens as her mother watched on, laughing. But in the ten years since he’d become King, that man had slowly faded away. Wrinkles of stress had replaced those of laughter. Every smile he gave her seemed like the hardest thing in the world.
The only remnant of the man her father used to be was the love he clearly still had for her mother. It made her ask, ‘Will you still love me when I become Queen, when you become King, and we both have the hardest jobs in the world?’
‘Of course I will.’ His hand moved from her chin to brush away a stray curl. ‘Who better to love and support you than someone who knows exactly what you’re going through?’
‘It’s going to be harder than anything we’ve had to do so far, Xavier,’ she said, to remind herself just as much as to remind him. ‘You’ve seen what it’s done to my father,’ she whispered.
‘We’ll get through it,’ Xavier said softly.
‘What if we got through it better as just friends?’
‘We’ve never been just friends, Leyna.’
‘So why bring it all up now?’
‘Because it’s your birthday in two days. You’ll be twenty-one and you’ll be expected to marry. Just as I’ve been expected to marry for the last year.’
She pulled a lip between her teeth at the reminder of their one-year age difference.
‘You know I’ve been waiting for you. It’s the only reason I’ve managed to put my family off. I love you, Leyna. I want to be married to you. And I know that we’ll be stronger together than we’ll ever be apart. Apart here meaning just being friends.’
She smiled at that and felt the punishing pulse of fear ease. ‘It’s not as charming as you think, you know. Having all the answers.’
She saw the relief in his features, and he grinned. ‘And yet you’re still in love with me.’
‘Full of yourself, too.’
‘But you love me,’ he insisted.
She studied him and felt a smile claim her lips. ‘Since you seem so sure, I suppose I don’t have to say it.’
‘If you don’t say it, I’ll be forced to carry you back into that water.’
‘And I’ll be forced to decline your proposal.’
His eyes widened in mock fear. ‘You wouldn’t.’
‘You have no idea what I’m capable of.’
The teasing tone of his voice disappeared in a flash, and the light that had been in his eyes heated.
‘Are you propositioning—’
She was silenced by his lips on hers.
It wasn’t their first kiss—that had happened when they were thirteen and fourteen, beneath the very palm tree they stood under now. But it might as well have been their first. When they were barely teenagers, the kiss had been out of curiosity. It had been exploratory. As had the other kisses they’d shared since.
None of them compared to this.
It had the heat of a summer’s day in Aidara. And the promise of passion that had been restrained for years. Leyna’s arms were around Xavier’s waist before she fully knew it, their bodies so close together she could feel every part of him. Her body responded and, for the first time in her life, Leyna felt like a woman. Not a daughter or a granddaughter. Certainly not like the heir to a throne.
No, she felt like a woman.
One who could make a man moan just as Xavier did now. One who had the power to make a man lift her from the ground and press her against the trunk of a tree so he could press even closer to her. She was lost in the sensation of his lips against hers, of his tongue in her mouth.
She was suddenly grateful they were at the beach, wearing the attire required by their location. It meant she didn’t have to battle with clothing to feel the muscular planes of Xavier’s body. It meant she could enjoy the way his hands touched—claimed—the curves of hers.
When his hand lifted a thigh so he could angle himself against her, Leyna heard a sound come from her throat. She felt Xavier still, and then he pulled his head away, just far enough so he could look into her eyes.
‘Nothing,’ she breathed, and put a hand on the back of his neck, urging him closer.
‘Leyna,’ Xavier said. ‘I’ve known you all my life. Tell me.’
‘I just…’ She felt her face burn. ‘I’ve just never…’
‘You know I haven’t either.’
‘I know,’ she echoed, knowing that if Xavier had had another woman, she would have known about it. ‘But…are we doing this now? Against a tree on a beach, with our bodyguards a short distance away?’
‘I…I didn’t think about that.’
Xavier took a deep breath, and then took a step back. Leyna immediately missed the contact.
‘I didn’t mean that we can’t do it at all. I just… Well, I just pictured it on our wedding night. In a bed surrounded by candles and rose petals. With champagne cooling.’
She sounded like a fool. More so when silence followed her words. But then Xavier smiled.
‘You pictured it?’
Her cheeks went hot, but she laughed. ‘Maybe.’
‘On our wedding night?’
Her heart softened at the emotion she heard in his voice. ‘Yes.’
‘So you always knew there was more, too?’
‘Of course I did. Did you think I was resisting something I knew wasn’t true?’ She frowned. ‘You were so sure…?’
‘I was betting with the most important thing in my life, Leyna. I had to be.’
She stared at him, and then shook her head. ‘If I didn’t already love you, Xavier, I think I might have fallen for you right now.’
‘But you do. Love me.’
‘I do.’ And, realising that he needed to hear the words, she said, ‘I love you, Xavier.’
He pulled her into his arms and rested his forehead on hers. ‘And you’re going to marry me.’
‘I am,’ she answered, though it wasn’t a question. ‘As soon as I possibly can.’
‘I think this might be—’
It happened so quickly that Leyna barely registered what had cut Xavier off. All she knew was that her royal aide, Carlos, was now standing in front of her and Xavier. Their bodyguards hovered just beyond him; their expressions were twisted with an emotion she couldn’t read, but it had her heart pounding with fear.
‘What is it?’ she asked, stepping out of Xavier’s embrace.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt—’ there was the briefest moment of hesitation before Carlos said ‘—Your Majesty.’