Reunited with Her Surgeon Prince
Dr. Ellie Carson once married her secret prince, but then duty tore their whirlwind marriage apart—only, Ellie was also pregnant!
Now surgeon and crown prince Marc Falken is soon to become king—and he's discovered he has a son! Claiming his heir means seeking out Ellie—the woman he's never stopped loving. But can Marc convince Ellie that she can be a doctor and his queen, and that finally they can become the family they were always meant to be?
The brand-new Crown Prince of Falkenstein managed three hours of nightmare-filled sleep. He rose at dawn, desperate for coffee and a walk to clear his head. Instead, he found the Secretary of State waiting. The massive palace dining table was covered with newspapers, and their front pages all screamed versions of the same.
Entire Royal Family Killed in Plane Tragedy!
‘This is what you get for breaking rules,’ Josef said in greeting, and Marc wanted to thump him. At such a time, to be thinking of rules…
He headed for the huge silver coffee pot before deigning to answer. Being Crown Prince had to count for something. Half a cup of coffee in, his head was clear enough to respond. ‘How did breaking the rules cause this?’
‘Heirs in succession to the throne should never travel in the same plane,’ Josef told him. ‘Your uncle and his wife, your cousin, his sons and their assorted mistresses. All in the one small plane, on one indulgent holiday—and at vast expense when so much needs to be done at home. No consideration for rules. It’s all part of the same. Your grandfather was a warlord. Your uncle was a playboy. Your cousin was a wastrel, and his sons were already mixing with women of the worst kind.’ Josef heaved a sigh and laid the newspaper aside. ‘Now it’s up to you, boy, to fix the mess.’
‘I have messes of my own to fix.’
‘Not as big as this one. Your Highness—’
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘It’s who you are,’ Josef said simply. ‘You’re Marc Pierre Henri de Falken, Crown Prince of Falkenstein. After your coronation you’ll be His Majesty.’ He hesitated but then forged on. ‘And, might I say, this tragedy is appalling, but for the country it may well be a force for good.’
‘I’m no prince,’ Marc exploded. ‘I’m a surgeon and I need to stay a surgeon. If you look at the mess our country’s health system is in…’
‘That’s why you have no choice but to take the throne.’ There’d been hours now to take in the news, and the country’s chief administrator obviously saw the path ahead as being without obstacles. ‘You’ve been doing your best with rundown hospitals, fighting for funds from a royal family who doesn’t care. Now the reins are yours. Think of the bigger picture. The schools. The courts. Our welfare system. If you refuse the throne then it goes to Ranald de Bougier, and heaven help us if that happens. He’ll propel us back to war.’
‘But I don’t want it.’
Marc took his coffee and stood at the vast bay window of the King’s private dining room. Though it was the informal part of the palace, even this part was intimidating.
Marc’s father had been the ignored younger son of the King. He’d been a pacifist who had hated his father’s warlike tendencies. He’d studied medicine, he’d struggled to build the country’s health system and he’d been appalled when the King propelled the country into a meaningless border conflict.
Marc had only been in this palace once, as an awed seven-year-old, brought to be introduced to a family his parents had little to do with. There’d been continual fights about health funding and then an epic fight when war broke out. Marc had never been back. Until now.
Marc raked his long surgeon’s fingers through his dark hair and stared into the future with horror.
He glanced through to the family’s ‘informal’ sitting room. It was an opulent display of gilt, brocades and priceless furniture.
He wanted nothing to do with it.
The huge mirror above the dining room’s massive fireplace showed Marc as he was, a thirty-five-year-old surgeon, a man who was weary from operating until midnight and who’d been brought to the palace straight from Theatre. After four hours of horrified discussion, he’d fallen asleep in his clothes. He was wearing faded jeans and a plain white T-shirt. He hadn’t had time to shave.
A king? Ha!
‘I can’t,’ he said simply. ‘I love my work.’
‘You have no choice,’ Josef told him, and Marc thought of the mess the country’s healthcare system was in, of the theatres without equipment, of the rundown hospitals, of the endless waiting lists.
If he turned his back on the throne, he could do more of what he was doing now. He could save lives, one patient at a time. If he accepted the throne…how many more could he save?
Josef was right. He had no choice, but he felt ill. He dug his hands into his pockets and kicked the heirloom rug at his feet.
‘We need to move on,’ Josef was saying, gently now, obviously knowing his argument had been won. ‘You need to face the press. We need to get you shaved, dressed in something…’ he eyed Marc’s clothes with distaste ‘…more fitting. And we need to have a statement ready. The country’s in uproar. We need reassurance of continuity. Even at this time we need the implication that this tragedy might make things better.’
‘Why? Surely there’s no need to talk of the future yet?’
‘There is a need,’ Josef told him. ‘The country’s desperate for a lifeline. You know there’s no one fit to form government. Marc, we need steadiness and the promise of a better future. Moving on, we need to find you a wife. Get you a son. I believe you’ll make a great king, and your sons after you.’
And that made Marc think of something else. Something that had played on his mind many times these past ten years. Something else that made him unfit to be royal.
He hesitated but it had to be said.
‘There may be another…issue.’
‘Yes?’ Josef looked as if nothing could surprise him, but Marc knew this would.
‘I have a son.’
He was right. To say Josef looked stunned would be an understatement.
Marc refilled his coffee mug and realised this was the first time ever that he’d said those words.
I have a son. The words seemed unreal in this situation that was already unreal. Having a son was part of another world. And yet, when it was said out loud it assumed a reality that shocked him as well as Josef.
He watched the colour drain from the old man’s face. His grandfather’s and then his uncle’s reign had been marred by scandal after scandal, Marc knew, and now he was asking Josef to cope with more. He was under no illusions as to the old man’s role in the royal household. Somehow Josef had kept the royal family intact, holding the country together. He’d served his country with honour. He didn’t deserve to have to cope with this.
‘A son…’ Josef whispered. ‘Where? When?’
‘You knew I was married, briefly?’
‘I…yes.’ The old man was struggling to regroup, sifting long-forgotten information about a Marc he barely knew, a doctor on the outer fringes of the royal family. ‘I had heard that,’ he said. ‘It was just after you qualified as a doctor, wasn’t it? In Australia. A momentary aberration. You came home when war broke out. The divorce was almost immediate?’
‘It was,’ Marc said heavily. ‘The marriage was…a mistake. I didn’t know Ellie was pregnant when we separated, and the child was born well after I returned. A son.’
‘It was never said.’
‘There was no need. Neither of us was in a position to keep a child. I was flying back into a war zone. Ellie was a second-year medical student and she wished to continue. The baby was adopted at birth.’
‘Do you know the adoptive parents?’
‘No. I had nothing to do with the adoption.’
He watched Josef think through the ramifications while he considered a third coffee. Josef’s background was legal, Marc knew, and he’d spent a lifetime getting the royal family out of trouble. Scotching scandals was his principal skill. Marc could almost see the cogs whirring.
‘There should be no concern,’ he said at last. ‘This was a child conceived in an impulsive marriage when you were little more than a child yourself. If he’s been formally adopted, there can be no claim on inheritance. That can be explained to him if there’s ever contact. But then…’ he hesitated ‘…there may be more immediate repercussions. As the unexpected heir to the throne, you’ll face media scrutiny of the worst kind. The country hardly knows you, so the media frenzy will be extraordinary. They’ll dig out this old marriage. Where’s your ex-wife now?’
‘I presume she’s still in Australia. I haven’t spoken to her in years.’
‘Tell me about her.’
He was too tired for this. He was too tired for everything. To be dredging up memories of Ellie…
But, strangely, it was easy. She should have been a distant memory. Instead she was a vivid reality, a warm, vibrant woman, curvy, laughing…
Except when he’d last seen her, ten years ago, standing in the airport lounge. She’d been wan with what he’d learned later was morning sickness, but she’d been resolute in the direction they had to take.
‘We’ve been stupid, Marc, but you know what we need to do.’
He did. The senseless war was bringing his country to its knees. He was a qualified doctor—just—but his place was at home. Ellie was only two years into her medical course. Even after he’d learned of the pregnancy, they’d both known there was no room in their lives for a child.
‘Ellie’s a doctor too,’ he told Josef but he didn’t even know that for sure. Their separation had been absolute. She’d reluctantly allowed him to provide funds to keep studying—because of the pregnancy—but the amount she’d decided was ‘over the top’ had been returned and he hadn’t heard from her since.
‘Our marriage was a mistake by both of us,’ she’d told him. ‘I have no intention of profiting by it.’
And he’d had no choice but to agree. He’d been desperate to be with her for the birth but the conflict at home had escalated. The need for doctors had been dire, and by the time her—their?—baby was born, getting out of the country had been impossible.
Her email telling him of the birth had been businesslike, informing him only of the bare fact that she’d given birth to a boy. The feeling he’d had then was indescribable. Pain. Helplessness. Anger at a situation which made it impossible for him to claim his son.
And when he’d finally found a way to phone, her response had been curt.
‘Leave it, Marc. He’ll have a good home, I promise. You’re needed where you are and so am I. Our marriage was a fantasy, and we need to put it behind us. Good luck, Marc, and goodbye.’
Their son was no longer their son, yet the anger and helplessness had stayed. And guilt. Disconnecting from that phone call had seemed the hardest thing he’d ever done, and there’d been many times since when mother and child had been in his dreams.
‘She’s intelligent enough to be discreet?’ Josef asked, dragging him back to the present.
‘Of course.’ It was a snap, inappropriately terse.
‘Has she married again? Has she told her new husband?’
‘I have no idea. She made it clear she wanted no further contact.’
‘And the divorce? It was amicable?’
He thought of Ellie’s face that last time. They’d both known the impossibility of their situation. There’d been no argument, just bleak acceptance. ‘Yes.’
‘That’s a help.’ Josef wasn’t seeing Marc’s emotion. He was thinking ahead, anticipating trouble. ‘But you don’t know where the boy is?’
‘Ellie never shared adoption details.’ He hadn’t asked. In the midst of the chaos of war, he hadn’t had the energy to ask questions, and it had seemed unfair – even cruel – to question Ellie’s judgement.
‘Then that’s how it must remain,’ Josef decreed. ‘For the child’s sake, it’s imperative his adoption records remain confidential. There’s no problem with inheritance but the media would love it.’
‘I can’t guarantee—’
‘We need to guarantee,’ Josef said flatly. ‘If the media finds him, can you imagine the headlines? We need to contact this woman before the media does. Press the need for silence. Pay her if necessary.’
‘She won’t accept payment.’
He remembered that last conversation almost word for word.
‘You have a disaster to deal with. How many people dead, Marc? What’s the adoption of one child compared to that? Marc, you’ve helped enough. I don’t want to continue contact. It’s over.’
‘We’ll do what’s necessary and do it fast,’ Josef was saying. ‘If she’s remarried and hasn’t told her husband, then it could become messy. I’ll brief one of our best lawyers. We’ll research her background while he’s on the way to Australia. He’ll meet her face to face, tell her exactly what’s involved, tell her she has to keep her mouth shut. Most countries allow contact between adoptive parents and birth mothers. If she has that contact then she needs to be silent about where he is. Did she name you as the father?’
‘No.’ That was down to him too. She’d asked him in that first curt email:
‘Do you want your name on his birth certificate?’
The choice he’d made was wrong.
In his defence, he’d been stressed to the point of breaking. The war had been going badly. He’d been overworked past exhaustion, doing work far beyond his range of expertise, but there’d been no choice. For every patient he’d treated there’d been three more waiting. He’d also been gutted by the thought of Ellie having the baby alone. He couldn’t bear the thought of what he’d lost. He’d made an instant decision then that he still regretted.
‘Leave it blank,’ he’d told her. ‘I can’t be there for him. I have no right to be his father. The adoptive father should have all the rights.’
It still hurt but Josef’s face cleared. ‘There you are, then,’ he said. ‘Even if the media finds out, it can be implied he wasn’t yours. What better reason to end the marriage?’
‘That’s not fair to Ellie.’
‘We’ll pay her enough to compensate.’
As if that would work.
He turned and faced out of the window again, across the manicured palace gardens to the mountains in the distance. Somewhere, on the other side of the world, Ellie was making a life for herself, without him and without their son. It was a decision they’d made together.
Ellie was tough. She’d had to be, with her background. She called life as she saw it.
And now? A legal expert would come blustering in from her past, offering her bribes. Even asking her to swear a child wasn’t his.
He thought of the Ellie he’d known. She was feisty, opinionated…moral. She also had a temper.
‘No,’ he told Josef. ‘It could turn the situation into a disaster.’
‘There’s no other way,’ Josef told him.
‘There is,’ he said heavily and he saw his path clear. This part, at least. ‘If this is as important as you say, then let me do it. I must be able to fly under the radar for a few days. I’ll face the media this morning and then I have a week’s grace until the funeral. Say I’m stricken with grief, incommunicado. If I board a plane this morning no one will notice—the media surely won’t expect me to be leaving the country. I’ll go to Australia and talk to Ellie myself. I’ll make sure the child’s privacy is protected and there are no cracks the media can chisel open. And then…’
He put down his coffee cup. It was fine china with the royal coat of arms emblazoned on the front, and he found himself thinking almost longingly of the paper cups he grabbed after all-night Theatre shifts. That part of his life was over and he had to accept it. ‘Then I’ll come home,’ he said heavily. ‘I’ll bury my family and I’ll accept the throne.’