‘We need to talk about your…’ Henna struggled for a word that wasn’t offensive or rude ‘…requirements.’ She thought she heard him grunt in response. Really, she was beginning to get more than a little frustrated. This was supposed to be something he wanted after all; for her to find him the perfect fiancé. ‘Your Highness, we need to discuss timelines and—’
        ‘Two weeks.’
        Henna missed a step.
        ‘Are you unwell?’ Aleksander demanded.
        ‘I have a headache.’
        ‘I know the feeling,’ he muttered, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
        ‘Two weeks is all we have, as she will need to be on my arm for Freya’s engagement party,’ he said, tucking his hands into his trouser pockets. He squinted off into the distance. ‘She must be educated. Degree level at least,’ Aleksander plucked from an invisible list.
        Henna noted it down on her tablet.
        ‘Scandal-free, preferably,’ he continued, and she ignored the way it sounded horrifyingly like ticking boxes on a medical health form.
        ‘Able to handle the press and public events,’ Henna added, adding it to the list only once Aleksander had nodded in approval. ‘Titled,’ she continued, starting to type before he could respond.
        ‘No.’
        ‘What?’ Henna asked, stopping to stare at him.
        ‘No, my future Queen doesn’t have to have a title.’ He was peering at her as if she had started to sprout leaves.
        ‘But what about Freya? And Marit when she thought she would have to replace Freya as second in line to the throne? The second in line has to marry someone with a title. It’s the legislation.’
        ‘I know that you might find this hard to believe, but I do know my country’s constitution. Can we?’ he asked, gesturing impatiently to the pathway that would bring them to the back of the palace.
        ‘But why not you?’
        He stared at her impatiently. ‘Do you not consider my title enough for both of us?’
        Us. She knew he hadn’t meant it like that, but her unhelpful mind inserted herself into that impossible equation and suddenly she did feel unwell.
        ‘I have a one o’clock meeting,’ he said over his shoulder as he marched towards the palace.
        ‘And I have one at twelve-thirty,’ she threw back.
        His gaze snapped to hers and embarrassment stained her cheeks and burned her skin.

                                                                                                                                                                    *

Aleksander turned away, wondering how the woman currently blushing with such discomfort had managed to extract an apology from the French Ambassador and three hundred words of glowing praise currently taking up space in his email when they had all known that Freya had been in the wrong.
        The stark contrast reminded him of years ago in the palace maze, where he’d first seen Henna looking devastated in a way he’d not yet experienced. It had hurt him to see her pain so clearly and instinctively he’d reached out to her.
        But she’d pulled back, flinching from him, as if he already wore a crown, as if the thing created a shield between him and everyone around him. His girlfriend, who’d hated the spotlight of being associated with a prince. His father, whose lessons and teachings had been unrelenting. His mother, who’d been so picture-perfect she’d remained that way even when the press had gone home. But when Henna had placed her hand in his it had cut through the numbness surrounding him. She had given him her trust and, as it turned out, her loyalty.
        ‘What about Sonja Hund?’
        Henna’s question yanked him from the memory and dropped him mid-stride towards the Palace. He thought of the blonde banking CFO who had done a lot of good charity work throughout the Scandinavian Peninsula.
        ‘No. She’s about to launch a coup against the CEO of Lungrandst and that would be…’
        ‘Distasteful?’
        ‘… To the world’s press. My fiancée can’t be seen as more—’
        ‘Powerful?’
        ‘Aggressive than me.’ That aside, he hadn’t minded her suggestion. ‘What about Marian Fastvold?’ he asked her, curious about what Henna would think.
        ‘Gambling addiction.’
        ‘Really?’ he asked, genuinely shocked. He was very good at reading people and he’d never seen a hint of it.
        ‘Really,’ she confirmed. ‘Would you consider English-speaking?’
        He winced. ‘Might be harder, unless they were fluent in at least one of the Scandinavian languages.’
        Henna cocked her head to one side. ‘Natassia Malthe?’
        Hmm… He hadn’t considered the Norwegian businesswoman, though she did meet the requirements of his future fiancée. ‘How old is she?’
        ‘Twenty-eight.’
        They were finally approaching the Palace building. ‘And you think she would be amenable?’
        Henna considered his question. ‘Yes.’
        ‘This would have to be done quietly.’
        ‘Of course, Your Majesty.’
        He clenched his jaw. ‘I am serious, Henna.’
        ‘As am I. It can be done very discreetly.’
        ‘How? Is there some secret cabal of assistants I should know about?’
        ‘Absolutely. And the first rule of the secret cabal is not to talk about the secret cabal.’
        And, with that, she left him standing at the back entrance to the Palace wondering what perfume she was wearing, because it reminded him of both roses and cucumber and it was driving him a little crazy.

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Coming in August 2022


CLAIMED TO SAVE HIS CROWN

Don't miss the conclusion of The Royals of Svardia!

In this dramatic romance from Pippa Roscoe, will she become a part of his royal world?​

From Cinderella in the palace shadows… To his unexpected queen!

Lady-in-waiting Henna would do anything for the royal family that gave her a home when her own wouldn’t. So after Henna stops a marriage that would protect King Aleksander’s throne but ruin his life, she must face the Ice King’s fury!

Aleks’s coldhearted reputation isn’t a secret. His tough exterior is designed to fiercely guard against the heartbreak that once tore his world apart. But then a transformational kiss with Henna awakens him to a surprising new possibility that could save his crown… And it starts with her!



 

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