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By Penny Jordan
Mills & BoonCopyright © 2004 Penny Jordan
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Chapter One"So, you realise now that I was telling the truth when I warned you that you could never be anything other than a momentary diversion to my godson?" The Countess gave an elegant, contemptuous shrug. "How could it be otherwise? Luc is a prince, of noble blood and destiny. Of course he is also a man, and you are a very pretty girl, and ... an available one!" Another shrug, this time a disparaging one, accompanied her coldly dismissive words, whilst Carrie's face burned with humiliation and anguish.
"It was perhaps inevitable that he should pursue you. But he will never marry you! How could he? You are nothing. Nobody! The daughter of a mere employee, that is all! A foolish and immoral young woman the whole principality knows has thrown herself at him and inveigled her way into his bed! When Luc marries it has to be to someone of appropriate background and status. The most suitable candidate to become his wife is, of course, my own granddaughter. And it is to this end that she is presently being groomed and educated."
Carrie stared at her tormentor in shocked disbelief. She had known, of course, about the Countess's antagonism to the relationship developing between Luc and herself, but she had never dreamed that the older woman was calculatedly planning to have Luc marry heryoung granddaughter.
"But Maria is only ten years old, and Luc is almost twenty-five!"
The Countess gave Carrie another cold look.
"Age does not come into it, and besides, what is a mere fifteen years? My own late husband was over twenty years my senior! However, I digress. I have sent for you today, Catherine, in order that I may carry out Luc's instructions. Luc wishes you to leave S'Antander immediately. Furthermore, he does not wish to have any future contact with you."
"No!" Carrie protested. "No, I do not believe it."
One thin arched eyebrow rose superciliously.
"Why? Because Luc took you to his bed? You are not so naove, Catherine. You know how the world works beyond our borders. After all, it is only your school holidays you have spent here in S'Antander with your father and your brother."
"But Luc -" Abruptly Carrie stopped. Luc had not made any declarations of love to her, nor given her any promises, she knew that, but she had believed that he shared her feelings, and that it was only a matter of time before he told her that he loved her as much as she did him!
Last night when he'd informed her that he was going away on business she had never imagined that anything like this could happen! And when he had insisted that she was to return to her own bed instead of staying in his, as she had so longed to do, she had thought it was because he wanted to protect her reputation. But now her wonderful, precious romantic dreams had been brought crashing down by the cold reality of his godmother's announcement.
How could Luc love her when he had instructed his godmother to treat her so ignominiously and to send her away?
Carrie admitted that up until this summer her feelings towards Luc had been slightly ambiguous. Seven years her senior, he was someone who had always taken his duties and his responsibilities seriously. He'd always held himself slightly aloof, which made her feel small and unimportant, even though she knew of the mutually high esteem that existed between Luc and her father, who had been commissioned by Luc's late guardian to advise and educate Luc on the complexities of international economics and finance. She knew too that within a matter of months the present Regency of the principality's elders, set in place to govern the country until Luc reached the age of twenty-five, would come to an end and Luc would become the principality's ruler.
"Luc what?" the Countess challenged her icily. "It is obvious that he has now lost interest, having satisfied his sexual curiosity about you! My godson is a man of pride and principle who knows where his duty lies. All you were to him was a momentary diversion which he now wishes to forget. Surely you must realise that yourself, after hearing what he has instructed me to tell you?
"Your father tells me that you have been offered a place in his own old university college. There must be a great many things you need to do in England in preparation for beginning your degree. A seat has been booked for you on tomorrow morning's flight from Nice to Heathrow. My driver will take you to the airport. Oh, I almost forgot. Luc asked me to give you this," she added, handing Carrie a cheque. "He understands that university can be expensive, and he wished me to tell you that he didn't want you to think he was unappreciative of your -"
Her face hot with chagrin and fury, Carrie broke in sharply.
"You can tell Luc that he can keep his money and that I don't want it - or him! Why should I? All he is - is a ... a ... an outdated character from a cheap operetta. A pantomime character who thinks he's something special because he gets to dress up in a uniform and call himself Prince! The only reason he still has this stupid bit of land is because no one else wants it. He's a joke! And you can tell him that I said so," Carrie finished recklessly.
"How dare you speak so?" The Countess had lost her haughty, cool detachment, and was now furiously angry.
"My godson can trace his line right back over five hundred years, to the first Prince of S'Antander, who was granted this land as a gift from the Pope. His family have held it as a sacred trust against all adversity ever since. It was because Luc's grandfather allowed the Allied Troops to land here on our beaches that he himself was shot and lost his life! S'Antander is no mere puppet kingdom, as its ruling family have proved over and over again, and with your own ignorant words you prove - if it needed to be proved - how unworthy you are of sharing Luc's life."
Much as she disliked the Countess, Carrie felt a tiny burn of shame. It was true that Luc's family did have a history and a tradition of supporting those causes they considered to be just and of benefit to humankind, but she was in no mood to acknowledge any good in Luc right now. In fact at this moment in time she felt that she hated Luc even more than she did his manipulative godmother! Ignoring the cheque the Countess was still holding out to her, she spun round on her heel and headed for the door, before her emotions could totally get the better of her.
* * *
"I won't say 'be happy,' because I know that you will be. I am so pleased for you both!"
Carrie hugged her beaming newly married brother and his ecstatic bride.
"Carrie, there is something Maria wants you to do for her," Harry begged her urgently.
Enquiringly Carrie looked at the pretty dark-haired girl wrapped in her brother's arms.
"Please, Carrie, will you go to S'Antander and tell them that Harry and I are man and wife?"
"You want them to know?" Carrie questioned a little warily.
She had been taken completely by surprise by her beloved younger brother's announcement only a matter of days ago that he and Maria were to marry. After all, hadn't it always been a given that Maria was going to marry Luc?
While no official announcement of an engagement or forthcoming wedding had actually been publicly made, Maria herself had admitted that everyone expected her and Luc to marry - including Luc himself! But when Carrie had reminded Maria of this, Maria's response had been that her grandmother might have decided that she and Luc were going to marry, but Maria had absolutely no intention of being coerced into a cynical marriage of convenience - especially not now, when she and Harry had fallen so deeply in love!
Excerpted from Blackmail Marriage by Penny Jordan Copyright © 2004 by Penny Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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