A Royal Marriage of Convenience
Nikolai de Montez, an international lawyer, has just discovered he's the estranged heir to the throne of Alp de Montez. To rightfully rule, he must marry Rose!
Rose McCray is an ordinary country vet, but her royal bloodline makes her Nik's bride of choice—and Rose knows it's her duty to accept.
The wedding ceremony is sumptuous, but when the formalities are over it's time for the prince and princess of Alp de Montez to get to know one another as man and wife!
Rose-Anitra, we have a surprise for you.'
Rose sighed. In her experience surprises from her in-laws were like surprises in a fairground ghost-train: 'Surprise!' followed by green slime—or worse. Rose had spent the evening on a windswept scree, delivering a calf which had taken one look at the outside world and elected to stay put. It had taken her hours to persuade it to change its mind. She'd been up before dawn and she hadn't stopped since. More than anything else in the whole world, she wanted to go to bed.
There was also the issue of the letter. The stiff, formal communication had arrived, registered mail, in the midst of a bunch of condolence cards. She'd read it briefly, then had stuffed it in her overall pocket to try and make sense of later. She'd like to think about it now, but Rose knew better than to try and deflect her in-laws. So she perched on the edge of an overstuffed chair in their overheated sitting room, she clasped her hands obediently, and she braced herself.
'It's a wonderful surprise,' Gladys said, but for once she sounded a bit nervous.
'You'll be really pleased,' Bob said, and Rose cast him an uncertain glance. Ever since her husband Max had died two years ago, Rose suspected Bob empathised with her a little. But only a little. Not so much that he'd stand up to his wife.
'You know, it's the anniversary of Max's death today,' Gladys said, casting a quelling glance at her husband.
'Of course.' How could Rose have forgotten? Yes, she still grieved for the man she'd loved, but maybe it was a little over the top that her veterinary clinic had been filled with as many flowers today as it had been two years ago. Max had been a loved son of the village. His memory would be kept alive for ever.
'We waited until now to tell you,' Gladys said. 'Because Max asked us to wait. He said we were to let you get the worst of your grieving over, for you couldn't have coped with a child until now.'
'I… What are you saying?' Rose's fingers clenched involuntarily into her palms. Of course she couldn't have coped with a child. Not when she'd been fighting to earn her way though vet school. Not when she and Max had been battling his illness. And not now, when she was struggling to earn enough for this tiny vet clinic to support them all.
'But now it's time,' Gladys said, and she smiled.
'Time?' Rose managed. 'For what?'
'It's his sperm,'Bob said, and the elderly man's voice was eager. 'It's Max's sperm, Rose. When he first got sick, years and years ago, he was naught but a lad, but they told us that the treatment might make him infertile. Even then we thought who'd inherit this life? Who'd take this place forward?'
Who indeed? But Rose wasn't asking the question. She was staring at them in dawning horror.
'So we had it frozen,' Gladys said. 'And we wanted it to be a surprise. It's his two-year anniversary present. From Max to you. Now you can have his babies.'
Five hundred miles away in London, in the illustrious international law firm Goodman, Stern and Haddock, another surprise was being played out.
Nikolai de Montez, barrister-at-law, was staring at the elderly man across his desk in stunned silence.
He'd walked in five minutes before the scheduled appointment he'd made a week earlier, neatly dressed, stooped with age, and with hands that trembled. The card he'd handed over had said simply: 'Erhard Fritz. Assistant to the Crown.'
'My question is simple, really,' Erhard said without preamble. 'If it meant you were to inherit a throne, would you be prepared to marry?'
As partner in this internationally renowned law firm, Nick was accustomed to listening to all sorts of outrageous proposals, but this was one to take the breath away.
'Would I be prepared to marry?' he said now, really carefully, as if his words alone could make the situation explode. 'May I ask…marry who?'
'A woman called Rose McCray. You might know her as Rose-Anitra de Montez. She's a veterinarian in Yorkshire, but it seems that she might also be first in line to the throne of Alp de Montez.'
How could she walk away? She couldn't, but for the last two days Rose had felt like she was walking in a nightmare—the nightmare that was the remains of her husband's life.
Everywhere she went she was surrounded by memories. She woke and Max looked down on her from the framed photograph beside their wedding bed. Gladys had collapsed in hysterics when Rose had wanted to give away his clothes, so Max's shirts and trousers still hung in the closet. Max's coats still hung in the entrance hall, his boots still stood on the back porch. 'I'll not be forgetting our Max,'she said fiercely when anyone challenged her.
Rose's grief over the death of her husband had been as deep as it had been sincere, but now it was starting to overwhelm her. She felt like she was living in a perpetual shrine to Max—and now they wanted her to have Max's child.
The request had been playing over and over in her head for the last two days—along with the contents of the letter. She was so weary she was about to fall over, but one truth was starting to emerge: this couldn't go on. Max had been dead these two years. If there'd been the money she would have moved out to a place of her own, but her income paid the upkeep on this place. She couldn't leave. Unless… Unless…
The proposal outlined in the letter was crazy, but so was this situation. The proposal was almost like a siren song. Alp de Montez…a country she loved. She lifted the photograph that had come with the letter, a picture of one Nikolai de Montez. He was long, lean and darkly handsome. His Mediterranean good looks were stunning.
He was about as different from Max as it was possible to get, she thought, reading the letter for the tenth time and then putting it firmly away. No. It was stupid. The letter was a lunacy, a crazy escape-clause with no guarantees that she wouldn't be worse off.
This was Max's community. She had to give it one last try, no matter how trapped she was feeling. If only they'd back off about the baby.
She walked into the sitting room, determined to say what had to be said. They were waiting for her. Bob was pouring her a sherry.
'We've been thinking,' Gladys said before she could say a word. 'We're so excited about the baby, but you need to hurry. There's enough sperm for you to have more than one, and you're almost thirty. If you don't have a boy first, then we…' She caught herself. 'You'll want another. Rose, we've made an appointment for you with the specialist in Newcastle tomorrow, and Bob's arranged for a locum so you can go.'
'That's good,' Rose said faintly, but she didn't take the sherry. Gladys smiled her approval.
'Good girl. I told Bob no alcohol. Not if you're pregnant.'
'I'm not pregnant yet.'
'But you will be.'
'No,' Rose said faintly, and then more forcibly. 'No. If you'll excuse me…' She took a deep breath. 'It's good that you've organised a locum. I need to go to London for a couple of days. I've received a letter.'
'It came registered post to the surgery,'she said, knowing full well that any post out of the ordinary that came via the private letter-box was likely to be steamed open. 'You remember my family has royal connections?'
'Yes,' Gladys said, stiffening in disapproval. 'It seems someone came here to see me a week ago,' she said. 'Someone from Alp de Montez. You told him I was away?'
'I…'Gladys looked at Bob and then she looked at the carpet. 'He said he had a proposal for you,' she muttered, defensive. 'What would you be wanting with a proposal?'
Rose nodded. Two proposals in two weeks. The one facing her here made the other one seem mild in comparison.
But what Gladys had just said firmed things for her. If she agreed to have a child, a daughter would never be enough. If she finally had Max's son, then the child would be a living memorial to Max. What crazy reason was that to bring a child into the world?
'It seems I'm needed,' she said, thinking it through as she spoke. 'I mean…needed by someone other than you. By someone other than my dead husband's family and his community. When I first read the letter I thought it was crazy, but it seems as if it's not crazy after all. Or no more crazy than this. Either way, I'm going to find out. I'm going to London to see if I've inherited a crown.'