Catch up with Alvaro & Jade, Leo & Juno
four years into the future…
Chapter One: Leo
‘And then the big scary dragon and the clever little princess became the best of friends and lived happily ever after in their castle in the clouds.’
King Leonardo DeLessi Severo of the Kingdom of Severene closed the picture book and watched his three-year-old daughter Alice stretch her cupid’s bow mouth in an enormous yawn.
‘The End,’ he added, planting a kiss on his daughter’s nose.
‘No, Daddy.’ She gazed up at him from her position on his lap, pinning him with those wide emerald eyes just like her mother’s, and blinked. ‘Read it more, Daddy,’ she demanded, her pleading expression one she knew full well could turn him to putty in her tiny little hands. ‘Ple-ee-ase, Daddy.’
‘No, sweetheart. It’s bedtime.’
In fact it was almost half an hour past her bedtime—but what else was new? The child pulled that deadly puppy dog pout on him pretty much every night, and even though he swore he wouldn’t, pretty much every night he fell for it. Because—well, because she was the brightest, cutest, most adorable child who had ever lived. And he loved reading to her. He loved holding her small body in her favourite Frozen pyjamas on his lap, smelling the comforting scent of strawberry shampoo as her dark head nestled under his chin and she followed her favourite story with avid interest, while asking him a ton of increasingly ridiculous questions which he had to come up with equally ridiculous answers to so he could hear her throaty baby chuckle and feel his heart expand with love.
Unfortunately, though, tonight he was going to be forced to cut the night-time ritual they both enjoyed shorter than usual—and resist the deadly puppy dog pout. Because tonight was the Severene Christmas Ball, which he and Juno hosted every year the week before Christmas, and they were already overdue downstairs in the palace ballroom.
His advisors and Juno’s advisors would be having a fit.
‘Pretty ple-eease, Daddy,’ his daughter said.
Was she actually fluttering her eyelashes right now? Good God. He’d created a monster.
‘Not tonight, baby. Mummy and I have to go to the ball,’ he said, lifting her off his lap and standing her in front of him. ‘And we’re already late.’
Funny to think that once upon a time his life had been all about duty. And the prospect of being even a nanosecond late for such an event would have been unthinkable.
Not any more, he thought, with no small degree of joy and wry amusement…
Alice planted her fists on her hips in a stance that also reminded him of her mother.
‘But, Daddy…please. I love the dragon and the princess story so, so much.’
He smiled at the mutinous expression which only made her look even more utterly adorable. How on earth had he survived the dullness of his life before having Juno and Alice in it? And how on earth had he ended up with two females who paid no attention to his authority whatsoever?
For a moment he debated reading the story to her once more. After all, they would both enjoy it. And Juno had already told him that their guests of honour—her twin sister Queen Jade and her husband Alvaro Byrne—were running late, thanks to the snowstorm that had blanketed their neighbouring countries in six feet of snow that afternoon.
‘Leo, don’t you dare give in to her…’
He glanced up to find his wife standing at the entrance to their private sitting room, dressed in a shimmering green and gold dress that hugged every one of her curves. Heat shot through him, swiftly followed by a deep sense of gratitude for all the gifts this woman had given him since dropping into his life four Christmases ago.
Not just the gift of the child he adored, but also spontaneity and heat and fun and laughter and fierce, furious, unconditional love… All things which had been missing in his life before Juno.
‘Mommy…Mommy…’ Alice shot across the room, surprisingly fast for a child who had almost dislocated her jaw by yawning a moment ago, and flung out her arms.
Her mother scooped her up and perched her on her hip. ‘Hello, Princess Trouble,’ she said. ‘I see you’re wrapping your father round your little pinkie again.’
Alice giggled, delighted with the analogy.
‘I want the dragon and the princess story again,’ she said, gripping her mother’s cheeks to get all her attention.
‘Nope, it’s bedtime. Did you know it’s Christmas in a week’s time?’ her mother added, deftly changing the subject.
Alice nodded furiously, her face a picture of excitement. ‘Yes, Mommy. Santa’s coming.’
‘Do you want to be on Santa’s naughty list?’
Alice’s face became comical with concern, then she shook her head vigorously. ‘No, Mommy.’
‘Then do you think you should go to bed now, without any more arguments?’
The puppy dog pout appeared, but then Alice rested her head against her mother’s bosom and sighed. ‘Yes, Mommy.’
‘Good girl,’ Leo said as he approached his wife, smiling at the picture they made together. And then another errant thought occurred to him.
How on earth had it come to pass that Juno—the former Rebel Princess—was so much better at disciplining their daughter than he was?
He lifted his now yawning baby girl out of her mother’s arms. ‘I’ll tuck Princess Trouble in and be right back,’ he said, as Alice clutched the hair at his nape with one hand, while sticking the thumb of her other hand into her mouth to suck.
‘I’ll see you in a minute, Daddy,’ Juno whispered. She stroked Alice’s back and touched his cheek before pressing a kiss to his lips.
The sultry smell of citrus and musk filled his nostrils and heat eddied through him, as it always did whenever he got a lungful of his wife’s scent. He bit back a groan and headed for his daughter’s bedchamber, only too aware that it would be hours yet before he could follow through on that kiss.
As much as he adored dancing with his Queen and showing her off, and as much as he was looking forward to seeing her face light up when her twin sister the Queen of Monrova arrived, and perhaps sharing a glass of whisky with his brother-in-law, the billionaire businessman Alvaro Byrne later in the evening, he was also already anticipating the moment when tonight’s Royal Severene Christmas Ball would be over.
And then he could take his wife to bed—to celebrate the approaching Christmas season and a whole ten days free of official duties.
Santa would be putting them both firmly on his naughty list tonight. He planned to make sure of it and he could not wait.
Chapter Two: Juno
Juno knew the grin on her face probably made her look like a dope, but she didn’t care as she watched her husband, always breathtaking in his full dress uniform, holding their already sleeping child in his arms as he carried her into the next room.
Her heart swelled and beat heavily in her throat, and she pressed a hand to her abdomen as the two of them disappeared into Alice’s bedroom. In eight months’ time Alice would have a sibling… The dopey smile quirked into a grin. Or maybe even two if her family were lucky enough to have twins.
The dopey grin became even dopier. Who would have thought four years ago, when she’d had the mad plan for her and her twin Jade to swap places for three weeks over Christmas, she would end up getting everything she could ever want in life? Especially as they were all things which she had always thought she would never want, let alone have: a husband, a child, a new regal role by their side…
She brushed her hands down her dress, and was touching her hair, which had been set into an elaborate chignon by her stylists, as Leo walked back into the room.
‘That was remarkably easy,’ he murmured, and she could hear the rueful smile in his voice. ‘For once.’
With his head bent to check his cuffs, she had a moment to study him unobserved. One of her favourite pastimes. He was so ludicrously handsome and debonair, with a magnificent physique matched only by that startlingly gorgeous face. But it wasn’t his looks—stupendous as they were—that made him so beautiful, she thought. It was the strong, steady, utterly reliable and dependable heart that beat beneath his uniform… And the fact that he loved her and Alice with a power that staggered her every single day.
He made her feel so cherished and protected, so brilliant and smart and special. He made her the very best she could be, she realised, and she hoped she did the same for him.
She sighed as her heart bumped heavily against her ribs. She couldn’t wait until the ball was over and she could tell him the news she’d discovered an hour ago, but hadn’t had a chance to tell him yet. Thank goodness it would be very different from when they’d got the results of their first royal pregnancy test together. This time she knew he would be overjoyed—and this time she would be too. There would be no questions about whether what they had together was about love or simply duty. Because all those questions had been answered long ago.
Even better, she knew what an awesome father he was, and also that she was capable of being a good mother. This child would be loved and cherished too, in a way the two of them had never had the chance to be by their own parents.
‘Hey…?’ He cupped her chin in strong, steady fingers, that laser-sharp blue gaze studying her. ‘Are you okay? You look…’
He tilted his head to one side, watching her with such intensity that he seemed able to look into her soul and discover all her secrets. Funny to think that intense gaze had once terrified her, when all it did now was make her feel more settled and secure.
‘Different…’ he murmured, sounding confused.
She smiled. Maybe Leo couldn’t see all her secrets…yet. But she might have to tell him her news sooner rather than later, she decided. The man was far too perceptive.
‘And even more beautiful than usual,’ he added, pressing a kiss to her lips that went from chaste to carnal in a heartbeat.
She flattened her hands against his broad chest in the dark uniform and dragged herself out of his arms reluctantly.
‘Why, thank you, Your Majesty,’ she teased, giving him a deliberately flirty once-over. ‘And so do you. But we don’t have time for any hanky-panky.’
‘Hanky what, now?’
His husky chuckle only spurred her senses as he grasped her hand to lead her out of their private rooms.
‘Come on, then. Let’s get this damn ball over with before I explode.’
He wasn’t the only one primed to explode, she thought, as they headed down the palace corridors together.
The next hour dragged past as Juno applied herself to her royal hosting duties—greeting guests, making small talk, chatting to members of the royal household to ensure everything was running smoothly…and keeping her eye on the entrance to the lavishly decorated ballroom for Jade and Alvaro’s arrival.
These events were always more fun with Jade here. She hoped their journey hadn’t been too arduous… She couldn’t wait to tell Jade her news too… Although… She felt that strange drawing in her chest which she always thought of as their ‘twin tingle’. How odd… She had the weird feeling that Jade might already know her news.
The lights around the ballroom dimmed and the orchestra lifted their instruments to play the first waltz. Juno excused herself from the Monrovan Ambassador and her husband as she spotted Leo, crossing the ballroom floor towards her. The flaming torches in the wall sconces made his ceremonial sabre glitter and glow as he lifted it over his head to hand to his valet, in preparation for the introductory waltz that they would lead.
The crowd hushed and the strains of the music infected Juno’s soul, making it bound and jump and sing as Leo bowed in front of her and offered her his hand. She dropped into a curtsey and their simultaneous grins were spontaneous as their gazes met and she laid her fingers in his palm. Grasping her hand, while she placed her other hand on his broad shoulder, he held her waist and tugged her a little too close.
‘Careful, Your Majesty,’ she said, as an energy so potent, and physical, rippled through his body and into hers. ‘People will talk.’
‘Like you care,’ he teased, his smile becoming feral as the music lifted and he swung her into the first turn.
He whisked her around the floor, their steps flowing in unison, and a wicked thought she couldn’t seem to stop came to her.
She was tired of waiting. Her anticipation had already built to fever-pitch, and they had hours yet before she could get him alone, so why not tell him now? She had him all to herself, their spinning turns as the rest of the crowd joined the floor creating their own little world in the middle of this melee.
‘I have an early Christmas gift for you,’ she said breathlessly.
‘Oh, yeah?’ he asked, squeezing her waist a little tighter.
The arousal in his eyes was even more potent than their spinning steps and her giddy heartbeat.
‘What?’ he blurted out, coming to such an abrupt stop that Juno almost toppled over.
He caught her against him, then cradled her cheek, his gaze searching her face, his own cheeks flushing slightly as his ragged breathing matched her own.
‘What did you just say?’ he asked, his voice deep with shock and awe.
The music stopped and so did all the other dancers, as was tradition, making his question drop into silence. But even though a part of Juno could feel every eye on them, every ear tuned in to what they were saying, it was only Leo she was speaking to when she said, ‘I’m pregnant. Again.’
The collective gasp of the crowd was drowned out by Leo’s joyous shout as he grasped her around the waist, lifted her up and spun her around.
She could hear the applause, the shouts of congratulation and the buzz of excited conversation as the news spread like wildfire through the ballroom—once Leo had finally set her back on her feet. Then he kissed her, and the noise of the cheering and the clapping became deafening as their audience celebrated with them.
But when he finally lifted his head, his face a picture of joy and longing and excitement and happiness and everything in between, the moment felt somehow intimate and special.
‘Merry Christmas, Your Majesty,’ she murmured, and that dopey grin was back with a vengeance.
Thank goodness she wasn’t the only one making a lovestruck fool of herself, though.
He smiled back at her. ‘Merry Christmas to you too, Your Majesty,’ he whispered, for her ears only, cupping her cheek and drawing his thumb across her lips. ‘But be warned…’ he said, his voice roughening with the sensual threat she adored. ‘I intend to punish you when we’re finally alone, for giving me this information when we can’t celebrate it properly for hours.’
She lifted up on her tiptoes, pressed a quick, teasing kiss to his lips, and when he growled with frustration whispered, ‘Bring it on, Your Majesty.’
After all, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas, she thought, if she didn’t adhere to her own special Christmas tradition, which she’d started four years ago… Taking every possible opportunity to drive King Leonardo DeLessi Severo of the Kingdom of Severene completely wild!
Chapter Three: Alvaro
Alvaro Byrne stared at his wife. ‘You want to what?’
‘Just a little ride.’ She smiled winsomely at him. ‘It’s beautiful out there. Untouched and perfect.’
He always found it impossible to say no to her. Not because she was Queen of his adoptive country, but because she was Queen of his heart, body and soul—yeah, she owned him.
Jade Monroyale, Queen of Monrova, was his world.
Fortunately for him, the same was true in reverse.
But he stepped forward, unable to resist teasing her, because this request was most unlike his very conscientious Jade. He admired her strength of purpose, her sense of duty—it was part of who she was. But this…? This was a little off-course.
‘You realise we’re supposed to be on board in an hour?’ he reminded her.
He was already dressed in his formal attire. They’d been married a couple of years, but he still wasn’t used to the scarlet sash that crossed his chest. He knew he had to wear it at events like this—well, he wore it purely for Jade—but it still felt like a costume. He laughed to himself with a quick glance around the room. Then again, he was living in a fairy tale, complete with tall forests and stone castles and spellbinding princesses.
‘Just twenty minutes,’ his Queen said softly, her green eyes like bewitching jewels. ‘I can get ready quickly.’
That was true. Jade had attended so many formal events in her life she had it down to a fine art. She always looked immaculate, even when she’d had only a stunningly short amount of time to prepare. Because sometimes when they were supposed to be getting ready they stole secret moments for themselves…
But she was asking for a little more than such a moment now. Then again, if she wanted to escape for a while, he was her man.
He’d barely seen her today. They’d both been busy, working through the last of their respective to-do lists before the Christmas break. He had his own office suite with all the technology he needed down the corridor from hers. And, as he’d promised when he’d proposed, they’d made it work. He still ran his business, and was enjoying diversifying into charitable projects as well. He’d have done anything to ensure he could have the woman he loved by his side. It still gave him a kick to realise she was his wife.
But their final public event of the year was the ball tonight, in the neighbouring Kingdom of Severene, where Jade’s twin Juno lived with her husband King Leo. After the ball it would be their private time. They were heading back to the States to their lighthouse for a week, and would see his foster carer Ellen on the way. He couldn’t wait. And at least he didn’t have to wear feathers and a sword, like his brother-in-law King Leo.
‘I just need some fresh air…’ Jade gazed at him, clearly willing him to say yes.
The afternoon’s blizzard had eased, leaving behind a dusting of powdery snow, and his winter-loving woman wanted to play. He loved it when she turned to him for these quiet moments. He would steal her away to space and peace and silence. Just the two of them. And twenty minutes now…? If that was what she needed, then he was ready. Frankly, he ached for it too.
‘It’s freezing out there,’ he teased as he reached for the intercom button.
‘It’s fresh,’ she corrected, with a sparkle in her eye.
Her merriment melted his heart, but the flush in her cheeks gave him pause. ‘Are you okay? We don’t have to go tonight if you’re—’
‘I’m fine. I just want to get out for a few minutes.’
That he could understand.
He buzzed and issued his instructions when the butler answered.
‘Twenty minutes of freedom…’ Jade sighed happily. ‘Then I’ll get ready.’
By the time they got to the stables two huge horses had been harnessed up, their feathered plumes and jingling bells lacking any subtlety whatsoever. The Kingdom of Monrova certainly did things in fairy tale style. The highly polished black and silver sleigh was packed with soft woollen blankets, and even a basket with a Thermos of hot chocolate was safely stowed in front.
All this had been got ready in only ten minutes. The stable hands were amazing. But they loved their Queen and would move heaven and earth to accommodate her wishes. Alvaro understood that desire well.
‘No bodyguard,’ she said, glancing at the head of security loitering only a few feet away. ‘Okay?’
‘There’s a locator beacon in the sleigh. We couldn’t escape destiny even if we wanted to, darling.’ Alvaro winked, knowing full well she didn’t want to. ‘You wish to drive?’
She climbed up and took the reins. Alvaro tucked in close beside her, running his arm along the back of the seat, holding her to him.
One of the grooms swung the side gate open and the horses moved out onto the track. The royal park rose up the hillside behind the town. Further on it merged into a vast national park, but this lower part was private and safe. She let the horses pick up speed, so they could climb the hill with ease. It was only a few minutes until they got into thick trees and then rode a little higher to a lookout that was kept trimmed for the ultimate view.
The stunning countryside was postcard-perfect. With dusk already falling, darkness was coming quickly. Alvaro listened to the soft sounds of snow falling from branches. Through the forest he could see the castle, glittering below them in the distance. The town lights twinkled too, like beacons welcoming them home—just as the lighthouse guided them to their holiday home in the States.
He’d not just fallen in love with Jade, but with her country Monrova too. He’d never imagined he could be this happy, feel this at home or this grounded. As if he truly belonged. And that place really was by her side.
‘It’s truly beautiful, isn’t it?’ he breathed.
The chilly air refreshed his lungs and made him blink. This wasn’t a dream, nor a fairy tale. This was real. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to how stunning it was. How stunning she was. Glancing down, he saw that the merriment in her eyes had morphed into peace and pure appreciation. To pure love.
‘Thank you for coming with me,’ she said simply.
‘Always.’ He bent his head and kissed her.
She had such a sweet, hungry mouth. He felt her clutch him closer, and then she all but crawled onto his lap. He saw her energy fire, seeking connection, and she arched towards him. His luscious wife needed his touch. He needed hers too.
Beneath the blankets, he slid his hand to her soft, secret places and discovered just how much she needed it. ‘Long day, darling?’ he muttered as she moaned against him. ‘You missed me?’
It was a whispered plea he couldn’t ignore. There was no greater joy than giving his woman pleasure. And, as responsive as she always was, this took almost nothing. She was so on edge, so worked up. A bundle of feminine strength and need and fire.
‘Jade…’ He kissed her, held her, touched her. Loved her.
He caught her cry of release in his mouth. The knowledge that this—he—was so vital to her devastated him.
With a profound sigh she rested against him, her eyes drifting shut. He swept back the strands of hair from her forehead with gentle, regular strokes, feeling her soften and relax against him as he did so. Contentment swept over him. He was happy to wait for his own release. Later, after the ball, when they had their big bed and the whole night before them, he would have what he wanted with her. But right now being together like this, alone beneath the stars was everything.
And they were about to have two solid weeks of pure perfection. He’d discovered in the last couple of years that Christmas was the best time ever.
‘Sweetheart…?’ He studied Jade’s face in the pale light as the sky above them darkened.
She’d been hyper-responsive—hyper-emotional, really. And now she was this fatigued…? And for her to be unfazed at the prospect of being late to a state function…
Something was a little different with his dutiful Queen. Something had changed.
Still holding her against his chest, he tightened the reins and clicked his tongue. One thought gripped him as he guided the horses home. One possibility that would be so perfect he couldn’t bring himself to whisper it aloud.
There was only one thing to be done. ‘Are you sure you want to go tonight?’ he asked, gently rousing her as they neared the stables. ‘You seem very tired.’
‘No, we need to go. I’m better now.’ She straightened up, her full pout curving slowly into a soft smile. ‘Thank you.’
Back up in their suite, he felt his heart thump heavily in his chest. Suddenly she looked so fragile to him. Which she wasn’t—and she’d be at pains to point that out if he mentioned it. And yet…
He foraged in the drawer for the item he’d purchased privately, so that no one else would know. ‘Jade?’
She looked at him. Outwardly there were no real signs of the secret he hoped she might be carrying within her.
‘Maybe you should use this.’ He held the small box out to her.
Her eyes widened. He saw the second hope ignited within them. Had she not considered this herself?
‘What makes you think…?’
He shrugged. ‘Humour me?’
Chapter Four: Jade
Jade’s heart raced as she took the pregnancy test from Alvaro. Why did he think that she might be—?
She looked into his amber eyes and saw that implacable certainty and confidence. Her brain spun, dates whizzing in her mind as she recalled her heightened emotionality in the last couple of days. The feelings of need, tenderness and tiredness that weren’t like her.
The possibility made sense, and it was what they wanted. They’d quietly stopped using contraception a while ago, deciding to leave it to chance. She’d tried not to think about it too much, not wanting to get her hopes up each month…and she’d been so busy she’d partially succeeded. In fact, she couldn’t think clearly about dates at all now.
Suddenly she needed to know.
Yet at the same time she was terrified of finding out.
Because she wanted this so, so much.
Grabbing all her courage, she dashed into the bathroom. Two minutes later she dashed back out and put the plastic-capped test on the nearest table.
‘I can’t watch it,’ she choked. ‘You watch it and let me know.’
He laughed and wrapped his arms around her, stopping her from running away. So she waited with him, eyes screwed tightly shut, grateful for his equally tight embrace. If she was in his arms everything would be all right. No matter what the result.
It was only a few moments before she felt him draw a deep breath.
‘Open your eyes, darling,’ he said huskily.
She blinked—was it blurred vision making her see two lines?
She blinked again and focused. Definitely two lines.
She gasped as she realised it was positive.
She was pregnant.
They were having a baby!
Jade trembled and Alvaro’s embrace instantly strengthened, giving her the support she needed. He always did that for her. And then he turned her to face him. The vulnerability and the reflection of raw emotion in his face melted her already gooey heart. He was as delighted, as terrified, as overwhelmed as she. But they were together in this. They’d always be together.
Their kiss was tender, and so loving. And so hot that within seconds she stirred restlessly against him.
He lifted himself away with a growl. ‘Of all the timing!’
‘You’re going to be a dad.’ She half-laughed, half-sobbed.
‘And you’re going to be the loveliest mother in the world.’ Emotion made his eyes mist. ‘We’re going to do this, darling.’
‘Yes.’ She framed his face in her hands and gazed up at him. Never had she loved anyone the way she loved him. ‘What made you suspect?’
A wary but amused look entered his eyes. ‘You just seemed a little more…intense than usual.’
‘Intense…?’ she echoed.
He nodded and his smile quirked.
She lifted her chin and smiled back as she stepped away. She’d show him intense… ‘I need to get dressed.’
A zing of energy made her feet light. She summoned her dresser and together they got her hair neatly twisted up beneath her crown in double time, and she applied a light layer of make-up in mere minutes.
‘You’re sure about this one?’ Her dresser held up the dress Jade had selected.
‘Yes, thanks, Nikki,’ she murmured, smiling to herself. ‘You can go now. I can finish.’
When she emerged from the dressing room into their private lounge Alvaro was standing at the window, gazing towards the mountains where the snow gleamed in the moonlight. She took the chance to admire him. So tall, as muscular as ever, and still with that slightly too long hair, giving him a rebel air despite the gorgeously fitted formal suit. But he was her rebel—headstrong and loyal and filled with the teasing, wicked warmth that brought her to life.
He’d said she’d seemed more intense… Truthfully, every feeling she had for him was. It ought to have been impossible to love him more. Yet as every day passed she did.
‘Will you do my zip for me?’ she asked huskily.
Alvaro turned. He didn’t move towards her…didn’t answer. He just stared.
It wasn’t the usual style of dress that Jade wore to these events. While it covered her, this one had an undeniably sexier edge than her other gowns. The sparkling scarlet and gold hugged her body, and she rather loved the high heels to match.
‘You really don’t want to go to the ball tonight, do you?’ he growled, and flicked that slightly too long hair from his forehead.
She sent him an innocent smile. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I know you’re torturing me on purpose.’ He turned her around and tugged up the zip with slightly jerky movements. ‘So…if we’re going to go to this damn thing, we’d better go now.’ He tightly gripped her hand as they walked through the long corridor and out to the helipad. ‘We’re not staying late,’ he muttered.
‘No,’ she agreed demurely, but with devilish enjoyment.
The flight to Severene didn’t take long, but they were a little late regardless.
Excitement coursed through Jade’s veins. She had the smallest, most special of secrets and she couldn’t wait to see her twin sister.
The liveried courtier announced their arrival. ‘Queen Jade and Prince Alvaro of Monrova.’
Jade placed her hand on Alvaro’s arm and he walked with her down the grand stairs to the ballroom. Juno and Leo stepped forward to meet them, but Jade paused a few steps up before greeting Juno. She saw an effervescent light shining unmistakably in her twin’s eyes. Jade blinked, and registered the ever-so-slight softening of her sister’s curves. She felt a tug inside—of recognition, and of something more than kinship. A feeling that filled her with wonder.
This was going to be the most magical Christmas ever.
Alvaro bent to speak into her ear. ‘What is it?’ he asked, having already mastered the art of hiding his lips from the cameras when saying something he didn’t want lip-readers to try to decipher. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘Actually,’ she murmured, ‘I think something might be very right.’
She stepped down the last two steps as Juno stepped forward.
‘I’m sorry we’re late, Juno.’ Jade smiled. ‘It was my fault—’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Juno interrupted with a rueful grin. ‘We’re just glad you’re here now.’
Jade narrowed her gaze on her twin, certain that her instinct was right and she wasn’t just projecting her own news.
‘You’ve missed the moment of the night, though.’ Leo drawled.
‘What moment was that?’ Alvaro queried.
‘Juno blurted out some news to me on the dance floor, but the entire ballroom heard.’ Leo sent his wife a laughing look.
‘What news?’ Alvaro asked.
But Jade already knew. Because she was watching her sister’s expressive face. Juno had become more open with her emotions since she’d found happiness with Leo. And now Juno was looking back at Jade with a twinkle in her eye that mirrored her own.
‘You’re pregnant,’ Jade said softly.
Jade felt Alvaro’s hand grip her waist firmly.
‘You’ve heard already?’ Leo asked, and there was excited, proud delight evident on his face.
Jade shook her head. ‘Twinstincts,’ she explained softly. ‘They’re a thing.’
Juno narrowed her eyes speculatively. ‘Oh, they really are, sis.’
Alvaro cleared his throat. ‘Congratulations. Alice will be so excited to be a big sister.’
But Juno was still studying Jade, and now her expression sharpened and she clapped her hand over her mouth to muffle a sudden shriek.
‘Juno…?’ Leo’s eyebrows lifted.
‘I’m not going to say it,’ Juno mumbled. ‘Not going to.’
‘Your restraint astounds me,’ Jade teased.
Her sister leaned close. ‘But I’m right, aren’t I?’
Jade took her sister’s hand and held it tightly. ‘Our twinstincts are on point.’
Leo frowned. ‘What—?’
‘Come and get a drink with me, Leo,’ Alvaro said suddenly. ‘I’ll explain. Trust me—we’ll need doubles.’
Jade chuckled as she watched Alvaro bend his head to his brother-in-law’s as they walked away. She glanced back at Juno, and caught her eyeing Leo’s back as shamelessly as she’d been ogling Alvaro’s.
Happiness bubbled up in an unstoppable fountain of pure joy. She had everything she’d secretly dreamed of for so long. She had a man who was beyond amazing, who loved her for herself, not for her crown. She had her beloved twin with a happy family of her own near. And now she had a baby on the way. Life was impossibly wonderful and its richness was only going to deepen.
‘You know it’s going to be chaos?’ Juno said, with a soft, dreamy smile.
‘Oh, yes…’ Jade abandoned all protocol to grab her sister in a sudden impulsive hug, and laughed with sheer delight at their total fulfilment. ‘But it’s going to be heaven!’
The Christmas Princess Surprise by Heidi Rice & Natalie Anderson
Copyright © 2020 by Heidi Rice & Natalie Anderson
No copying/sharing without written permission from the authors.
Natalie’s newsletter has books, banter & access to bonus short stories, scenes and epilogues to read online or download.
If your email confirmation doesn’t arrive quickly, check your junk/spam folder :)