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Jessica Chambers stared into the deep blue eyes of her baby's father and saw a stranger. The ranch hand with amnesia whom she'd called "Joe" was gone forever. For Prince Lucas Sebastiani had regained his memory and his life—and now he had come to claim the mother of his child as his future queen. But although her body burned for his sensual touch, Jessica knew she must resist. Her regal suitor spoke of privilege and duty but said nothing of the feelings in his heart for his commoner bride. And though Lucas had ...
Jessica Chambers stared into the deep blue eyes of her baby's father and saw a stranger. The ranch hand with amnesia whom she'd called "Joe" was gone forever. For Prince Lucas Sebastiani had regained his memory and his life—and now he had come to claim the mother of his child as his future queen. But although her body burned for his sensual touch, Jessica knew she must resist. Her regal suitor spoke of privilege and duty but said nothing of the feelings in his heart for his commoner bride. And though Lucas had laid his kingdom at Jessie's feet, all she wanted was his love....
If nothing else, Lucas Sebastiani was certain of that. All those years of training, virtually from the cradle, on how to put on a public face were paying off now in a way he'd never expected. No one would be able to guess at his agitated state of mind.
But never before had it been such an effort to maintain that practiced facade - a fact he was very aware of and not particularly happy about.
"We'll be landing in Colorado in approximately one hour, Your Highness."
Lucas nodded without looking at the attendant in the Montebellan uniform. Not because he was fascinated by the view out the small jet's window, but because he didn't want to see the speculation he was sure would be in the woman's eyes. She would never say anything - anyone who worked for the Sebastianis was too well-trained for that - but Lucas suspected they were all wondering how he was feeling as they headed toward the scene of his own personal disaster, the place where his last flight had ended so abruptly and painfully.
How did they think he felt? That crash had done more than rattle his brain, temporarily wiping out his memory. It had changed his life - and he himself - forever. "May I get you anything, Your Highness?"
"No, thank you, Mareta. Why don't you relax for the rest of the flight."
The woman nodded, then turned and walked toward the front of the plane. Restlessly, Lucas stood up. Normally when he felt like this he would head for the cockpit and take over the controls for a while. Flying his beloved new Redstone Hawk V was usually just the thing to settle his nerves. Something about flying the responsive craft made all his problems fade in significance, although it set Roark, the Sebastianis' chief pilot, on edge not to be at the controls himself.
If he'd been flying the Hawk that night, Lucas knew he likely would have beaten that storm. He even had the passing thought that flying it here and now, nearing the place where he'd come to grief all those months ago, would be a good thing, sort of like getting back on a horse after you'd been thrown.
But instead of heading for the cockpit, he found himself moving the other way, toward the stateroom at the back of the plane's cabin. Once he'd been pleased with the richly appointed fixtures and lush furnishings of the powerful little jet. Now he barely noticed any of the many amenities. The sleek plane was merely the quickest and easiest way to carry out this all-important mission.
Once, he thought wryly, you were the walking personification of a stereotype, the guy the term "playboy prince" was coined for. And now?
He wasn't sure who he was now.
He stepped through the door of the stateroom, and immediately some of his tension eased. That carefree, sometimes heedless man had died in that plane crash in the mountains ahead of them. The man who stood here now had been reborn, given a fresh start, and he was determined to make the most of it.
The reason for his determination lay sleeping peacefully in a small portable crib. As Lucas approached, the older woman who sat vigilantly beside his baby son's bed rose to her feet and inclined her head respectfully.
"How is he?"
"He is sleeping quietly, Your Highness."
"Thank you, Eliya. I'll watch him for a while." The nurse nodded, reached into the small crib to adjust the blanket, gave the baby a last gentle pat, then gathered up the length of silk she'd been embroidering and quietly exited the stateroom.
Lucas sat in the chair she'd vacated and stared down at the tiny being, this miracle who was part of him, and part of history. The next prince of the kingdom of Montebello, heir to the more-than-a-century-old island throne that had been held by his family since its inception in 1880.
Luke Marcus Augustus Sebastiani. Such a big name for such a little boy.
Of course, when he'd come to them he'd been only Luke. But once his identity had been confirmed beyond doubt, he'd been renamed after his father, grandfather and illustrious ancestor in an official royal ceremony designating him as Lucas's - and Montebello's - heir.
Now, at three months old, he was blissfully ignorant of the fact that he was aboard a royal Montebellan jet, winging his way toward a reunion with the mother he'd never known. The mother he'd been stolen away from on the very day he'd come into the world.
Lucas shrugged his shoulders rather fiercely, as if the sudden action could somehow shed the memories of the confused emotions he'd felt when he'd first gotten word of Jessica's death. And his state of confusion had only gotten worse when he'd pressed for details and his cousin Drew had reluctantly told him that she'd died giving birth to a stillborn child. It was only later that he'd learned she'd been kidnapped by Gerald Hanson, who posed as the caretaker of the ranch, and who'd been in league with Jessie's sister in the plot to murder her and steal the baby.
The thought that Jessie had been pregnant when he'd left her had been a hammer blow. First had come wonder, that they had created new life out of their love. Then had come more confusion - why hadn't she told him? Judging by the timing, she had to have known.
Of course, he had to admit with much reluctance, he hadn't exactly stayed around long enough to give her time to work up to it.
When his memory had suddenly returned, he'd left her for her own good, he'd thought, knowing what chaos would descend on her beloved ranch if he stayed and was discovered there. He'd spent many a long night since torturing himself with guilt, especially after the report of her death - if he'd stayed, would she still be alive?
And the knowledge that his child, a baby whose existence he hadn't even been aware of, had also died had made the hollow ache inside him almost unbearable. He'd told himself he couldn't possibly feel so bad over a baby he hadn't even known about, who hadn't even lived to draw a breath.
But he had. And there it was. He'd thrown himself into a passion of work, until even his father had suggested he slow down. He'd ridden on his favorite horse over the island of Montebello from one end to the other, until rumors about the mental state of their returned prince began to circulate among the people.
And then the miracle had happened. Out of the morass of evil hatched by Jessica's sister had come a tiny, precious bit of goodness. Gerald had lied, and his son was alive.
There had been the formality of paternity testing, but Lucas hadn't needed any DNA report to prove what he'd known the moment he'd looked at the child. His mother had gasped aloud when she'd first seen the boy, and then tears had come to her lovely blue eyes as she'd looked upon the very image of her own firstborn child.
Lucas stared at his sleeping son. He saw a chin and cheekbones familiar from photographs of his own babyhood, the dark hair, knew that when the baby's eyes were open they were the same dark blue as his own. But the beautiful, trusting smile that made Lucas's chest tighten painfully, was a gift from his mother.
From Jessica. Jessie.
A shiver rippled through him. She'd been his touchstone, his center in a world spun out of control, the only anchor in the storm that had swamped his life. She'd quite literally saved his life and his sanity. She'd given him peace, a reason to go on, and hot, sweet love in the darkness.
And he'd walked out on her, in the middle of a Colorado winter night.
"I didn't know about you," he whispered to his sleeping son. "I didn't know."
And what would you have done if you had?
Excerpted from The Prince's Wedding by Justine Davis Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 4, 2011
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