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Table of contents
So who's being melodramatic? How could a fire die when it had never really been lit? OK, so three years ago—on the other side of the world—she and Gerd had been thrown together for a whole magical summer. Although they'd known each other all her life, things had changed during those long, hot weeks, but even at eighteen Rosie had been wary. Gerd was almost twelve years older, and probably a couple of centuries further advanced in sophistication.
As well, her mother's lamentable history with men had coloured Rosie's outlook, so although she'd become giddy with excitement whenever he smiled at her, she'd masked it with the brash, cheerful fagade she'd made her defence against the world. Yet while they'd sailed, swum, ridden horses and talked at length about almost everything, her childhood affection for Gerd gradually developed into a deeper emotion, something that shimmered with a promise she didn't dare recognise—until the night before he went away.
And Rosie had gone up in flames, all fears forgotten in a shocking, mesmerising rush of passion. He'd muttered her name and tried to pull away, but she'd clung, and as if he too was caught in the grip of some elemental summons he'd kissed her again, and then again, his arms tightening around her while every kiss took her deeper and deeper into unknown, thrilling territory. How long they'd kissed she never knew, but each sensuous exploration stoked the fire that burned away her virginal inhibitions, and she was crushed against his lean, strong body in an ecstasy of surrender when he suddenly jerked free.
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Chilled, the intoxicating hunger rapidly vanishing, she'd dragged in a painful, jarring breath, unable to speak, unable to feel anything but an icy, bitter wash of hu milia tion at his rejection. He'd straightened and stepped back further. In a controlled, coldly remote voice he said, 'Rosemary, I should not have done that. Forgive me. You still have a lot of growing up to do. Enjoy university, and try not to break too many hearts.
A small, cynically rueful smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. The only heart that had been affected was hers.
For the first—and only—time in her life Rosie had known the wild, intoxicating charge of desire. Why hadn't it happened again?
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She'd met men almost as handsome as Gerd, men with reputations as superb lovers, and not one had stirred her emotions, not one had summoned that ravishment of her senses, as though she'd die if it wasn't satisfied…. Her eyes narrowed slightly when Gerd said something to his partner. The princess lifted her face and smiled, and they looked so utterly right together that Rosie winced at a stark return of the aching emptiness that had followed Gerd's departure that summer.
Whatever had happened during those enchanted weeks—the com pan ion ship, the close ness—had meant nothing to him. Not once had he contacted Rosie.
News of him came through his brother, Kelt. Don't be an idiot, she told herself robustly. Of course he hadn't contacted her. Once he'd left New Zealand his life had been packed with action and events.
Immediately after he'd arrived in Carathia his grandmother, the Grand Duchess, named him heir to her throne, and he'd had to deal with disaffection amongst the mountain people—disorder that became riots, and had then turned into a nasty little civil war. No sooner had it been decisively won than Princess Ilona slipped into the lingering final illness that forced. Gerd to become the de facto ruler of Carathia. A year of official mourning had followed her death. Which had given her three years to break free of the spell of the hot, lazy days she'd spent falling in love.
It wasn't through lack of trying. She'd kissed enough would-be lovers to gain herself a reputation as a tease, but nothing—and no one—had matched the sensuous magic of Gerd's kisses. Flirting had become a defence; she used it as a glossy, sparkling shield against any sort of true intimacy. Yet when she did make love she wanted it to mean something—and she wasn't going to succumb until her feelings matched the hungry passion Gerd had summoned so effortlessly in her.
Rosie focused her attention on the rest of the dancing throng, but inevitably her gaze crept back to Gerd and his partner. He was looking over Princess Serina's head, straight at Rosie.
Weight of the Crown by Christina Hollis
For a heart-stopping second she thought she read anger in his topaz-gold survey before the woman in his arms said something, and he glanced back at her. Rosie's heart thumped violently and a swift flare of colour burned up through her skin. Turning to Hani, she gave a quick nod in the general direction of the dance floor and forced her voice into its normal insouciant tone. Rosie would have liked very much to ask what was behind the equivocal note in her voice, but the music stopped then, and Kelt, Gerd's younger brother and Hani's husband, came up.
Hani's face broke into the smile she kept only for him. Rosie sighed silently; even after several years of marriage and a gorgeous little son, Hani and Kelt still looked at each other like lovers.
And, when the band struck up again after the interval, she watched them melt into each other's arms on the dance floor and fought back a shaming surge of envy, of wonder that they'd found such joy and satisfaction, when she…. When she'd let a memory rule her life. One summer of laughing, stimulating companionship and a few passionate kisses had fuelled a futile desire without any chance of fulfilment. Enough's enough, she thought on a sudden spurt of defiance. She was tired of being moonstruck.
From now on—from this moment, in fact—it was officially over. She'd find some nice man and discover what sex was all about, get rid of this humiliating, futile hangover from the past—. The floor shifted under her feet and her stomach contracted as though bracing for a blow. She sucked in a sharp breath before slowly turning to look up into Gerd's face, its angular features imprinted with the intimidating heritage of a thousand years of rule. Here it was again, that seductive, treacherous ache of longing, almost more potent than the physical hunger that accompanied it.
Pride persuaded her to ignore the shivers tingling down her spine. Rosie's snort was involuntary. You never did. You are not in love with him, she reminded herself with desperate insistence. You never have been. All she had to do was get him out of her bloodstream, out of her head, and see him as a man, not the compelling, powerful, unattainable lover of her fantasies. Resisting the seductive impact of that thought, she summoned a smile glinting with challenge. His mouth quirked at her formality, and something jabbed her heart.
Weight Of The Crown
It took a determined effort of will to walk beside him onto the dance floor. But when Gerd took her in his arms her natural sense of rhythm almost deserted her. Concentrating fiercely, she followed his lead. In that dazzling, dazed summer they'd danced together several times and she'd never forgotten the sensation of being held against his big frame, the way she'd felt so deliciously overpowered by his size and latent strength.
This was merely physical, a matter of hormones and hero-worship. He'd imprinted her the way a mother goose imprinted her goslings. The thought curved her mouth in an involuntary smile. How apt.