The prince is in for a shocking revelation in this secret baby romance by USA TODAY bestselling author Lucy Monroe!
The mother of his child…
…and wearing his crown?
Prince Konstantin can’t forget Emma Carmichael, who vanished after a wedding contract forced him to end their relationship. A surprise meeting five years later shocks Konstantin—Emma has a son. Unmistakably his son.
Emma wants Konstantin in their son’s life—yet she’s wary. She’d had no choice but to walk away; his family hadn’t deemed her worthy of being his princess. But as their reunion stokes the flames of their passion, can she trust that this time their bond is strong enough to prove them all wrong?
Emma walked into her bank in downtown Santa Fe, her son’s hand clasped tightly in her own.
There had been a tech glitch with the automatic deposits on payroll this month and the company had been forced to cut paper checks for all their employees. She hoped it was an anomaly.
Errands like this with an active four-nearly-five-year-old were not her favorite thing. Besides, since she was now working full-time as a bookkeeper, Emma preferred her time with Mickey to be focused on things that her son enjoyed.
He’d gotten used to having her around as she’d worked as a childminder to put herself through college, taking online courses part-time. She’d kept him with her since birth. The past year had been an adjustment for both of them since she’d finally gotten her degree and landed a job with decent pay and benefits.
Waiting in line at the bank, where he had to be quiet and stay still, was not her son’s idea of fun. He liked to be moving, not still and quiet.
“Mom, how long?” he demanded, the spitting image of his father, his tone and manner only adding to the similarity.
Sometimes, Emma found it jarring how alike Mickey was to his biological father, though her son had never met the man. Anyone who knew the Prince would see His Royal Highness in his son within seconds of meeting Mickey.
Emma smiled down at her son. “Just a little while longer. See? There are only three people ahead of us.”
“Then we can go for shaved ice?” Her son loved his shaved ice, but always managed to cover himself in sticky syrup by the time he’d finished even a small cup.
Inwardly sighing at the mess to come, Emma nodded nevertheless.
She laughed. “Indoor voice, all right?”
“Okay, Mom.” Could her son’s tone be any more long-suffering?
A disturbance near the back of the bank drew her attention and Emma looked up. A group of businessmen in polished suits were exiting into the large lobby of the downtown branch, the aura of power around them a palpable thing.
One of the security guards that discreetly accompanied the group seemed familiar to Emma. He turned his head and she recognized him only a second before her eyes collided with the decadent chocolate brown gaze of the man she’d been sure she would never see again.
Prince Konstantin of Mirrus.
Second son to the small country’s former King and the man who had not only broken her heart, but abandoned their son.
His eyes widened in instant recognition.
Memories of the last time they saw each other assaulted Emma like a bad movie she couldn’t look away from.
They’d both been at university when they first met. He’d been twenty-three, in his last year of getting his MBA. She’d been nineteen, in her first year of business school. They’d run into each other in the quad.
It had been such a cliché. She’d dropped some books; he’d picked them up.
Their eyes had met and she’d felt like she’d been hit by a train. She hadn’t known he was a prince, or that the men standing at a discreet distance were not other students, but his security detail.
He’d smiled, white teeth flashing below gorgeous brown eyes. Nearly six and a half feet tall, he’d towered over Emma’s respectable five feet seven inches. Muscular and handsome, he’d taken her breath away. And her ability to speak.
He hadn’t been put off by Emma’s inability to voice her thanks. Rather, he’d seemed charmed by it.
“I believe these are yours.” He’d held out her books.
She’d taken them with a silent nod.
“New to campus?”
They were nearing the end of the first semester of the year, but she’d nodded anyway.
“Would you like to go out with me?”
She’d managed a word then. “Yes.”
While that memory was bittersweet, it was the ones that came later that caused so much pain in Emma’s chest.
They’d dated for nearly a year, moving in together against her parents’ wishes the summer after her freshman year. Despite his having told her at the start that he’d signed some kind of medieval contract to eventually marry the niece of another country’s king, Kon had acted like he couldn’t live without her.
He’d been attentive and caring, always charming, and incredibly passionate.
Emma had built dreams of the future around his behavior, rather than his words.
Then the ax had fallen.
“What did you just say?” Emma couldn’t take in the words.
Kon couldn’t mean them.
“My father wants me to honor the contract now. We have to break up. You’re going to need to find somewhere else to live.”
“No. You don’t mean that.”
Kon looked pained. “Emma, you knew this was coming.”
“No.” She shook her head, screaming inside from the pain. “No. You want to make love every day. You want to talk to me all the time when you’re gone. You don’t want to marry someone else.”
She’d thought, when he’d asked her to move in with him, that the contract was a nonissue. He’d never brought it up again. Emma had simply forced herself to ignore its existence, choosing to focus on the here and now. She loved Kon, and while he’d never used those words with her, his actions made her believe she was just as necessary to him as he was to her.
“It is not a matter of wanting to marry her. I made a promise. I must keep it.”
“What? No, you signed that contract five years ago. You were just a kid.”
“I hope not. You were the same age when we started dating.”
She was twenty now, but not a lot wiser apparently. And he was twenty-four, also not a lot wiser if he was going to marry a woman he did not love for the sake of his family’s consequence and business.
The argument had devolved from there. Emma had cried, and she wasn’t proud remembering she’d begged him to reconsider. But Kon? He’d taken on his Prince Konstantin mantle, remaining aloof and cold, refusing to engage.
He’d offered her a year living in the apartment rent-free as a transition.
It had felt like a payoff and it was in that moment she’d known they were truly over.
Emma’s heart had disintegrated in an explosion of pain. She’d moved out that night, going home to her parents with her tail tucked between her legs.
That hadn’t worked out either, but those memories weren’t going to take hold now.
She wouldn’t let them.
Emma forced herself to stop playing the memory reel in her head and to focus on the present. The feel of her son’s hand in hers. The sounds of the other bank customers and tellers speaking. Paper shuffling. Pens scratching as people signed things.
Knowing what was coming next, Emma should look away first. For her pride’s sake. No way would His Royal Highness want to acknowledge he knew her.
She never considered he might not recognize her.
Even her ex-lover wasn’t that oblivious.
She couldn’t make herself look away though. Even after more than five years, her heart beat a mad rhythm at the sight of him and her eyes soaked him in like water to a thirsty plant.
But she was not thirsty. Not for him.
She had gotten over Konstantin. Had learned to hate him, in fact. And then learned to let that hatred go. Emma had had no choice. She wasn’t living her life with the thorns of bitterness piercing her soul on a daily basis.
She did yoga. She meditated. She did not hate.
But right that minute? Seeing him so confident and unconcerned with his business cohorts, Emma was really having difficulty remembering patience, compassion and tolerance.
Her son’s voice did what her own willpower had been unable to accomplish and broke her focus on the royal rat. Okay, tolerance wasn’t going to be her strong suit today.
Emma looked down and found a strained smile for the little boy. “Yes, pumpkin?”
“I’m not a pumpkin.” Her son’s face, so like his father’s, creased in a cranky frown. “I’m a boy.”
Mickey was going through a phase of not liking endearments. He was not a pumpkin. Not sweet. Not darling. He barely tolerated the nickname Mickey over Mikhail, the name she’d had him christened. As he kept reminding her, he was a big boy. Almost five.
Heaven help her when he hit his teens.
“Yes, you are a wonderful little boy.”
“I’m almost five!” he said loudly, clearly offended again. Being referred to as little was also on the banned list.
But she only grinned, despite the nervous tension thrumming through her at that sighting of his sperm donor. “You are four…and three-quarters,” she tacked on to appease. “And while you may be big for your age, you are still my little boy.”
“And mine too, I think.” Konstantin had crossed the vast lobby of the bank very quickly.
But why he had done so when he had taken out the restraining order that prevented her from getting within fifty feet of him, she had no idea. And then his words registered, and Emma wanted to hit him.
With her fist. Not her palm.
The unutterable rat!
Compassion was definitely out the window too.
Of course Mickey was his. She’d tried to tell Konstantin, but he’d kept her at a distance and his efforts to do so had made life for her and their son so much harder than it had to be.
She glared up at him. “Go away, Konstantin.” Her mouth clamped shut. Calling him by name felt way too personal now.
But she didn’t think referring to him as Prince Rat was going to go over well.
“I am going nowhere.” He pointed down to Mickey, who was watching them both in rapt fascination, the recognition in his eyes impossible to miss. “That is my son and you have withheld him from me, for years.”
Heat and cold washed over Emma in waves. She knew only one thing.
She was finally going to get her say, but she didn’t want to have it here. Not with a bevy of rich executives and bank customers looking on.
“It’s my daddy. That man is my daddy.” Mickey tugged urgently at Emma’s hand, his voice carrying in the cavernous lobby.
Gasps could be heard and whispers, but Emma ignored them all, including the man staring at her as if the ceiling had just fallen on his head, to look down at her son. “Does he look like the pictures?”
Mickey slid eyes the same chocolate brown as his father’s to the Prince and then back to meet his mother’s gaze. “He doesn’t look so mad in the pictures.” His voice wobbled just a little, his usual confidence clearly shaken by Konstantin’s attitude. “Doesn’t he like me?”
“Of course I like you. You are my son.” Konstantin’s tone was nothing like filled with its usual arrogance. In fact, he sounded sick. “You’ve shown him pictures of me?” he asked her.
She didn’t know if he was angry, relieved or entirely unimpacted by that fact.
Emma gave a short nod of agreement.
“But you did not tell me about him.”
“Do we have to do this here?” she asked him, wishing they did not have to do this at all. She’d come to terms with the truth that her son would never meet his father until Mickey was of an age to contact the royal family of Mirrus on his own, DNA test results in hand.
This scene, right now, was out of some kind of horror novel. Her worst nightmare.
“We will go back to my hotel.”
She shook her head. “No.” She wasn’t stupid. She knew this man had diplomatic status. She wasn’t sure if that made his hotel room his own little fiefdom while he was in Santa Fe, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “You can come to our home. In an hour. I need to finish running errands.”
“You and my son are not leaving my sight.”
“Then I guess you can follow us around as I finish the things I need to do,” she said sarcastically.
“Do not be ridiculous. We need to talk.”
“I need to deposit my check and then I need to buy groceries.”
“My staff can take care of both.”
“You think I’d trust your staff with my paycheck?” She would never let him hurt her, or more important, their son, again.
He jerked as if she’d hit him like she’d wanted to only moments before. “Why not?”
Emma did her best to give her son a natural smile. “Mickey, can you be a big boy and hold my place in line. I’m going to be right there.” She pointed to a spot about ten feet away where she planned to set Konstantin straight out of her son’s hearing.
“You’ll both be right there?” her son asked.
“Okay, Mom. I’ll stand right here.” Mickey drew himself up importantly.
Emma said nothing to Konstantin before stepping away to the spot she’d indicated, her attention never leaving her son.
“Because I don’t trust you at all,” she whispered to Konstantin fiercely while smiling reassuringly at her son. “I don’t trust you not to have the check tossed just to cause me further pain and embarrassment. I don’t trust you not to use the information on it to find my employer and have me sacked. I don’t—”
“I get the picture. You think I am some kind of monster.”
“No, just a royal rat who has hurt me before in ways I never would have expected and I’ll never make the mistake of not expecting it ever again.”
He turned and strode back to the group of men who had been with him, saying something to one of the men in the business suits. Suddenly, she was collecting Mickey and they were being led to a teller and getting her check deposited with all due haste.
“If you give a list to Sergei, he will see that your groceries are purchased.”
One of the security men stepped forward with a nod.
She sighed. “Fine, but I’ve only budgeted seventy-five dollars and if he goes over buying the more expensive brands, I’m not paying for it. And all fresh veg, meat and dairy have to be organic.” She frowned up at Sergei. “You can get those things most economically at—” Emma named one of the three stores she had to shop at to get the healthiest food for her son on the tightest budget.
“I will take care of it,” Sergei promised.
“Give me your number and I’ll send you my grocery list.” She kept it in an app on her phone.
That taken care of, she led the way out of the bank and into the Santa Fe sunshine. “What are you doing in New Mexico?”
She had never once anticipated quite literally running into a prince in the place she’d chosen to start over for its lower cost of living and family-friendly environment.
“A mining deal.” He said it like that should have been obvious.
“You are aware that minerals are a strong natural resource in this state.” It was a statement, not a question.
“I am now.” She’d come to Santa Fe looking for a fresh start.
The only major industries that registered with her were ones she might work in. She’d settled in Santa Fe, rather than somewhere else in New Mexico, because of the numerous art galleries and thriving artist community.
She’d been supplementing her income with small commissions from one of them since a year after her move from Seattle. For a place to live and her main income, she’d watched children for a wealthy couple who had a real estate business. When Emma had gone job hunting, none of the places she’d applied to had been mining companies.
It had taken her nearly four years to build her life back to something decent, where she and her son did not have to live a hand-to-mouth existence and she wasn’t going to let Konstantin mess it up now.
She’d gotten her degree, only an associate’s and not the bachelor’s she’d planned for, but it was a degree. But in order to get away from the stigma of the restraining order he’d taken out against her, Emma had had to change her name.
It had hurt to give up her adoptive parents’ name. She’d been a Sloan since only a few months after birth.
However, they’d washed their hands of her, so she’d done it, changing both her and her son’s last name to the one she’d been born with, Carmichael. The only thing she had of biological parents she would never know.
There was drama at the car, Mickey not wanting his father to leave and follow in another car, his screams and tears not unusual for his age, but having a more profound impact on Emma because of the situation. Moisture burned in the back of her own eyes as she tried to explain that Konstantin would meet them at their small house.
“I will ride with you,” he said as he walked around the car to the passenger side.
She stared at him and then down at her ten-year-old domestic compact and tried to compute that statement. Him ride with her and Mickey?
Konstantin’s security argued, but he ignored them, opening the back door for Mickey and helping her incredibly independent son, who had stopped allowing her to help him more than a year ago, into his safety seat.
Hands shaking with nerves, Emma spoke to Konstantin across the roof of the car. “You can ride with your security. Mickey will settle.”
Her son was no longer crying because he believed Konstantin would be riding with them, but was now busy doing up the buckles on his five-point harness.
She acknowledged ruefully that he was no longer the one in danger of having a meltdown.
Konstantin closed Mickey’s door, tapped the hood and came around the car to speak to her.
“You kept my son from me.” The accusation in his voice would have hurt.
If the words had been true.
They were not.
A parking lot was better than a bank, but the car was not exactly soundproof. She lowered her voice, but let her tone drip with accusation. “You ejected me from your life so you could marry another woman.”
“And so out of spite, you did this thing!” The Prince was making no effort to keep his voice down.
“Spite? Are you delusional?” she demanded, her voice still low. “I tried to call you. You refused my calls. I tried to see you, and you had a restraining order taken out against me, remember that? I’d done nothing to warrant one, but men like you, they get what they want.”
“I am not the delusional one. I took out no restraining order. More to the point, I did not want to be a nonentity in my child’s life,” he said in a driven tone.
“You couldn’t tell from how you treated me.” He had made it clear he wanted to be a nonentity in her life and his dedication to that endeavor had dictated his not finding out about their son.
“You should have tried harder.”
How typical to expect her to have had options he would have taken for granted, but that he’d removed from her. He lived in such a rarified world, he probably really believed the garbage he was spouting.
“What do you mean, harder? I called and texted, but you blocked my number. You moved out of our apartment and I couldn’t get a forwarding address.” She’d tried, but the building super and doormen had held firm against charm, pleading and even threats. “I wrote and you never answered, I didn’t even know if you got my letters. I sent emails through the contact form on the Mirrus Global website, but never got a reply.”
It had been hellish. And once she had finally gotten in touch with someone in his family? That hell had only gotten worse, not better.
Something like guilt briefly showed in his expression and then it was gone.
Konstantin looked down at their son through the window, realized the small boy was watching them avidly even if he couldn’t hear everything said and grimaced. “We will have this discussion later.”
“Good call.” She made no effort to temper her sarcasm. But neither did she reopen the conversation.
Emma tried to protest his riding with them again when he walked around to the passenger door, but he shook his head. “I told him I would, so I will.” Then the Prince climbed into her car and pulled his seat belt into place, like he rode in such humble transportation all the time.
Mickey kept up a running dialogue with his father as Emma drove, stopping every few sentences, to get her confirmation. “Right, Mom?” was one of his favorite phrases when he was feeling nervous.
The number of times he used that phrase in the short drive to their house on the outskirts of town indicated just how nervous he was feeling, despite the confident demeanor he put forth.
So much like his father, she ached. As she often did at that reminder.
When they arrived at the fixer-upper house she’d managed to buy only a month previously, Konstantin did not look impressed. She tried to see the one-level old adobe house through his eyes and failed utterly. She could see only what had drawn her to it first.
The coral-stained adobe contrasted happily with the wood trim painted turquoise. The landscaping needed work as odd scrub grew between and around the natural rock that acted as tile in the tiny front courtyard. She did her best to keep up on the weeds, but she had only so many off-hours.
“Is this your home?” Konstantin asked.
Emma didn’t know if he was talking to her or to their son, but Mickey answered. “We just got it. I have my own room now and Mom is gonna put in a play structure in back when we get enough money.”
Konstantin made a sound like he was choking, but he smiled at Mickey. “I would like to see your room.”
“Okay. That’s okay, right, Mom?” Mickey asked again.
“Of course.” She turned off the car. “Let’s go inside.”
Konstantin stopped once they were in the living room and just stared around him. “This is where you and my son live?” he asked with what sounded like disdain to her sensitive ears.
Emma gritted her teeth, gave their son a significant look and then replied, “Yes. This is the home our son loves and is very proud to be able to call his own. Think before you speak, Konstantin. I mean, Your Highness.”
He frowned. “You used to call me Kon.”
“We used to be friends.” They’d been lovers too, but she wasn’t saying that in front of her son.
“We are going to be much more than that soon. Call me Konstantin if you must, but don’t use my title. We are way beyond that.” With that pronouncement he headed down the hallway with Mickey.
The next two hours were a revelation. Konstantin should not have been so good with Mickey. He had no experience with children. He was a tycoon prince, not a dad.
But he was patient with the little boy, showing no frustration when Mickey grew fractious.
“It’s time for lunch, I think.” Emma smiled down at her son. “Are you hungry, Mickey?”
“My name is Mikhail!” her son shouted.
Emma winced at the volume, but her reaction was nothing compared with how still Konstantin became. “You named him after me? But why?”
She stepped back, though he’d made no move to come closer to her. She’d been very careful to keep her distance and their son between them. She had no answer she was willing to say in front of Mickey for why she’d given her son his father’s middle name.
It hadn’t been because she wanted to honor Konstantin, but she’d thought her son deserved something of his father’s and that was all Emma had ever been able to give him.
She just shook her head. “Lunch.”
“Because you’re my dad,” Mickey replied with none of his mother’s reticence. “Mom says I’m just like you.”
“Does she?” Konstantin stared at her and then at Mickey.
Mickey nodded. “Mostly when I’m being stubborn.”
“Like about eating lunch?”
“I don’t want you to go away.”
Oh, man. Emma had never doubted that Mickey needed his dad, but she’d had no way to give him access. Now Prince Konstantin Mikhail of the House of Merikov was here in the flesh and Mickey didn’t want to lose him.
Resolve firmed inside Emma. Whatever Konstantin had planned, he was going to play a significant part in his son’s life from this point forward. Even if Emma had to go to the media and shame him into it.
Tiana, the former Queen of Mirrus and his sister-in-law, not to mention the woman who had threatened to take her baby away, was dead now. It was time for Emma to stop acting out of fear of Konstantin’s family.
“I am going nowhere,” Konstantin promised.
Emma only hoped he meant it.
“Would you like to eat lunch with us?” she invited.
See her remembering manners taught by her parents and patience taught by her yogi.
“Yes, thank you.” Konstantin looked surprised by the offer. “What would you like? I will send Sergei out for it.”
Sergei had been careful to stay close, but always shifting to a different room than the one she, Mickey and Konstantin were in. The rest of the detail were outside watching her front and back door for threats, but probably just as much for paparazzi sniffing around.
“Thank you for the offer, but Mickey needs to eat now, or he’s going to get hangry and none of us wants to deal with that.”
“Hangry? I am not familiar with this term.”
“Hungry and angry together. Hangry.”
Konstantin smiled. “I too can become hangry,” he admitted to Mickey. “We should both eat lunch.”
“We’ll all eat together at the table, like a family. That’s okay, right, Mom?” Mickey’s nerves were showing again.
“Yes. We’ll all eat together. Do you want to help me make sandwiches?”
“Will Dad…” He looked at Konstantin as if asking if that was okay.
The Prince nodded at his son, swallowing like he was having trouble containing emotion.
“Will Dad help us make them too?” Mickey asked, stressing his father’s title like he was savoring it.
Tears burned at the back of Emma’s eyes and she hated Konstantin more in that moment than she ever had before. For all he’d stolen from Mickey, for the fear of loss her son couldn’t hide.
Konstantin met her gaze and something must have shown on her face because he flinched backward as if she’d struck him.
Emma forced her anger deep inside, repeating the mantra she’d used to let go of her hatred in the first place and gave her son the reassuring smile he needed. “I’m not sure Konstantin has ever made a sandwich before. You can show him how to spread the mayo.”
Emma insisted on making sandwiches for the security detail as well as the three of them, which she knew meant she’d have to dip into the rainy day fund to buy more groceries, but needs must. Konstantin tried to argue with her that his people didn’t need to be fed by her, but she ignored him.
What did he know about what the average person needed? He lived in his rarified world and had no clue what it meant to be just a regular guy.
Cooking with her ex-lover in her tiny kitchen turned into a test of Emma’s strength.
He kept brushing up against her and sending her senses into orbit. And the worst part? She didn’t think he even realized he was doing it.
There just wasn’t enough space not to bump into each other with three of them working at the counter, putting the food together. She pulled a container of gazpacho she’d made the day before out and dished it up to go with the sandwiches for everyone.
The day was warm and chilled soup would be refreshing. Never mind it was supposed to be her and Mickey’s dinner two nights next week.
“You’re gonna like this, Dad,” Mickey assured Konstantin. “Mom’s the best cook!”
“I remember a time when she struggled to boil water.” He smiled at her, inviting her to share the joke.
Emma’s mother had been old-fashioned in so many ways, but her kitchen was her private domain and she never allowed anyone in it. Not even her daughter. Emma had had no clue how to cook when she’d gone to college.
“I learned.” When she’d been pregnant and alone.
Konstantin frowned, like her thoughts were broadcast for him to see. Maybe they were. Emma had never had much of a poker face. Her dad used to tease her that he knew if she liked her presents, not by what she said when she opened them, but by what her face told him.
Some days, she missed her parents so much, it hurt.
But like Konstantin, they’d opted to eject Emma from their lives when she wasn’t what they wanted her to be.
“You look sad. What is wrong?”
He was asking her that? Like he couldn’t guess, if not the particulars, then certainly the gist. And what gave him the right to ask any personal questions of her at all anyway?
She inhaled and exhaled repeating patience, compassion and tolerance under her breath.
“Mom gets like that,” Mickey said practically. “She says memories aren’t always warm and happy, but they’re still ours. It’s okay if I cry sometimes when I remember Snoopy dying.”
“Who is Snoopy?”
“He was the family dog for the people I worked for.”
“Worked?” he asked, probing.
But she ignored him and started handing out plates.
“You are not their servant. They can come get their food if you insist on feeding them.”
“Don’t you think they deserve to eat?” she asked with bite.
He frowned at her, seemingly shocked. “You know me better than that. They could have gotten takeout. I would have paid for it.”
“Instead, I chose to feed them.”
“I don’t remember you being this stubborn.”
“Life changes us all.”
Lunch was a surprisingly convivial meal, but by the end of it, Mickey was practically drooping off his chair. “Nap time for you.”
“I will be here when you wake,” Konstantin promised, staving off what might have been another meltdown.
Her son was tired. He was stressed. And he was terrified he’d never again see this person he’d just gotten to call Dad.
Mickey insisted on holding Konstantin’s hand on the way to his bedroom.
“Bathroom first,” Emma insisted from behind them.
Mickey didn’t argue, just veered into the brightly tiled, if small room. She’d taken pains to get the grout clean, but she didn’t have the knowhow to fix the chips in the mosaic tiles put in when the house had been built more than forty years ago, or the money to hire someone to do it.
Emma tucked her son in, but he extracted no fewer than three more promises from Konstantin that he would be there when Mickey woke up.
She just hoped the Prince realized how important it was that he keep that promise.