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She'd started running for exercise. That was what Pippa told her security detail anyway. She knew the truth. She was running from memories. Memories and the possibility that there was only one man for her and he was the one man she couldn't have.
"Stop it," she told herself, staring at the empty beach in front of her. Azure waves dappled onto white sands. By noon, there would be quite a few more bodies enjoying the beach. At six in the morning, however, she was the only one around. She debated turning on some music via her smartphone. She usually welcomed the noise, hoping it would drown out some of her thoughts. Today, she was searching for a little peace. Maybe the sound of the waves would help, she thought, and started out.
One foot in front of the other, she ran for two minutes, then walked for three. It was called interval training and the different paces suited her. Pippa had never been athletic. From the time she'd learned to read, she'd always been happiest with her nose stuck in a book. Her nanny had been relieved because her brothers and most of her sisters had been more demanding in one way or another.
Running again, she inhaled the scent of the salt air. The humidity was low today and she could feel the moisture on her skin begin to evaporate. Slowing after three minutes of running, she took a swig of her water and trudged onward.
Along the shore, in the distance, she spotted a long figure walking. She would wave and be friendly. Pippa was a royal and Chantaine royals were not allowed to be snooty. Other runners might be able to put their blinders and zip past everyone in their path, but not a Devereaux.
As she drew closer, she saw that the figure was that of a woman. Short white hair crowned her head, and a sundress that resembled a nightgown covered her petite frame.
Pippa nodded. "Good morning," she said.
The woman looked away and stumbled.
Curious, Pippa vacillated as to whether to approach her. Perhaps she was longing for solitude just as Pippa was. The woman stumbled again and Pippa felt a twist of concern. She walked toward the woman. "Pardon me, may I help you?"
The woman shook her head. "No, no. I'm fine. It's so beautiful here," she said in a lilting voice that contrasted with the lines on her face and the frailness of her frame.
Something about her seemed familiar, but Pippa couldn't quite identify it. The woman stumbled again, and Pippa's concern grew. Was she ill?
"Yes, the beach is lovely. Are you sure I can't help you? I could walk you back to where you started," she said. "Or perhaps you would like some water."
The woman's face crumpled. "No, no. Please don't make me go back. Please don't" She broke off and collapsed right in front of Pippa.
Alarm shot through her. "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed and bent over the woman. This was one time when she would have loved to have had her security detail close by. Pippa put her arms around the woman and lifted her, surprised by her light weight. Glancing around, she pulled her toward a small stand of palm trees.
Frantic, she held the woman and gently shook her. "Please. Miss. Please." She spilled water from her bottle onto one of her hands and gently patted the woman's face. "Please wake up. Please."
Terrified that the woman was dying, she reached for her cell phone. The woman clearly needed emergency medical attention. Just as she put her finger over the speed dial for her security, the woman blinked her eyes. Huge and full of emotion, her eyes captivated Pippa.
She held her breath. "Are you all right? Please take a few sips of my water. It's clearly too hot out here for you. I'll call for help and"
"No," the woman said with a strength that surprised Pippa. "Please don't do that." Then the woman closed her amazing, mesermizing eyes and began to sob.
The sound wrenched at Pippa. "You must let me help you."
"There's only one thing I want," she said and met Pippa's gaze again. "I just want to die in Chantaine."
Pippa gasped. Then a lightning flash of realization rocked through her. She looked at the woman and saw the resemblance of Nic in her eyes. His bone structure was a stronger, more masculine version, but his eyes were all Amelie. "Amelie," she whispered. "You're Amelie Lafitte."
The woman reluctantly nodded. "How do you know?"
"I know your son Nic." Pippa also knew that Amelie was in the final stages of cancer. Her time was drawing painfully close.
Amelie looked away. "I just wanted a little walk on the beach. I bet he's quite peeved that I left the yacht."
Peeved wasn't the word that came to Pippa's mind. "I'll call him for you," she said.
"Then all my fun will be over," she said with a cute pout. "He's such a worrywart."
Stunned at how quickly Amelie's spirit had returned, she hesitated a half beat, then dialed his cell. Despite the fact that she'd deleted it from her phone records months ago, every digit was engraved on her brain.
Five minutes later, a black Mercedes came to screeching halt on the curb of the road above the beach. Pippa immediately identified the dark figure exiting the driver's side of the vehicle. Nic. As he strode swiftly toward her and Amelie, she could see the tension in his frame. Seeing him after all these months set off a visceral response inside her. Her stomach clenched. Her heart beat unevenly.
"Hi, darling," Amelie said, remaining seated on the sand under the tree as she sipped Pippa's water. Pippa was still surprised at how quickly the woman had recovered after fainting. "Sorry to be a bother, but I woke up early and I just couldn't resist the chance to go for a walk on the beach."
"I would have been happy to walk with you," Nic said and turned to Pippa. What she wouldn't give to get a peek behind his dark sunglasses. "Thank you for calling me. I'll take her back to the yacht now and you can continue your run. I didn't know you were a runner."
She felt her face heat with self-consciousness. "I'm more of a combination walker and runner."
He nodded and glanced back at his mother. "Dad's beside himself with worry. It was all I could do to keep him from tearing after you."
"Paul can't hobble with crutches let alone tear after me with that broken foot of his. The doctor said it will be ten more weeks before he can put any weight on it at all," she said, then turned her head thoughtfully to the side. "You know what I'm in the mood for? Crepes. There used to be a wonderful cafe on the edge of town. They made the most delicious crepes."
"Bebe's on Oleander," Pippa said. "It's still there, and Bebe's granddaughter helps makes the crepes."
"Oh," Amelie said, clasping her hands together. "It's still there. We must go. And we can bring one back for Paul." She turned to Pippa. "You must come, too."
Pippa blinked at the invitation and slid a quick helpless glance at Nic.
"Mother, do you know who Pippa is?" he asked as he extended his hand to help her rise to her feet.
Amelie studied her for a long moment and frowned. "She looks a bit familiar. I can't quite." Her eyes widened. "Oh, dear. You're a Devereaux. I can see it in your eyes and your chin. Oh, dear. This could get a bit messy."
"Just a little," Nic said in a wry tone. "But let's give her the choice. Would you like to join us for crepes, Your Highness?"
Pippa heard the hint of goading challenge in Nic's voice. She'd heard it before, but it seemed to hold more of an edge than ever. The truth was she didn't want her photo taken with Nic and his mother. To say it could cause problems was a huge understatement.
"That's okay," he said before she could respond. "Thanks again for looking out for my mother. Ci"
"I'm coming," Pippa said impulsively. "Unless you're rescinding the invitation," she tossed back at him in her own challenging voice.
He paused a half beat and tilted his head as if she'd taken him off guard. The possibility thrilled her. "Not at all. Would you like to ride with us in my vehicle?"
"Thank you, but no. I'll drive myself and meet you in about fifteen minutes," Pippa said and turned her gaze to Amelie. "I'll see you soon. Please drink some more fluids."
"Thank you, darling. Isn't she delightful?" she said to Nic. "She fusses just like you do."
"Yes," he said in a dry tone. "Delightful."
Fifteen minutes later as Pippa put a ball cap on her head and adjusted her large pair of sunglasses, she wondered if she'd lost her mind agreeing to join Nic and his mother, the notorious Amelie, for crepes. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she could easily imagine the horror on the face of the royal advisers. Running on the beach at 6:00 a.m. in her current state was one thing, but walking into a public place of business was quite another. She thought of Nic's goading attitude and made a face at the mirror. Well, she couldn't back down now. Stepping from her car, she could only hope she wouldn't be recognized.
Because she'd spent far less time in the public eye than her siblings, that was on her side. Her hair, however, was very distinctive and not in a good way. Wavy and brown with a tendency to frizz, she hoped she'd concealed it adequately by pulling it back in a ponytail and covering it with a cap.
She walked into the old but elegant eating establishment that featured every kind of crepe one could imagine. As soon as she stepped inside, she spotted Amelie, who also saw her and lifted her hand in a wave. Nic, sitting opposite Amelia, turned his head around to look at her and also waved. His gaze said he was surprised she'd shown up, which irritated Pippa.
She walked to the booth where Amelia and Nic sat and sank onto the red vinyl seat.
"Lovely that you joined us," Amelie said and smiled as she lifted a menu. "How shall I choose? I want one of everything."
Enchanted, Pippa picked up the menu. The array of choices was vast and mind-boggling. "What are you in the mood for?"
"Something sweet," Amelie said. "Sweet, fruity. Oh, no, chocolate, too." She shrugged helplessly.
The waitress approached. "Bonjour. How can I help you? Coffee?"
"Yes," Amelie said. "Cafe au lait."
"Tea," Pippa said.
"Coffee, black," Nic said. "Ladies, any idea what you want to order?"
"Apricot crepes. Strawberries and cream. Chocolate hazelnut. Banana cream." Amelie paused.
Wondering how the woman could possibly consume that many crepes, she exchanged a quick glance with Nic, who shook his head and rubbed his jaw. She glanced back at Amelie. "Do you want anything with protein?"
"Not particularly," Nic's mother said.
"And you?" Pippa asked Nic.
He shrugged. "I'm here for the ride."
"Can you please also bring us the crepe suzette and some carryout boxes?" Pippa asked the server.
"No problem, ma'am," she said and stared at Pippa for a long moment. "Pardon me, you look familiar."
Pippa fought a sliver of panic and held her breath. Please don't recognize me.
"Are you a newscaster?"
Relief rushed through her, making her almost giddy. She shook her head and smiled. "Nope, I'm just a university student. Thanks for the compliment, though."
The server's face was sheepish. "No trouble. I'll have your order up as soon as possible."
"Thank you so very much," Pippa said and after the server left, she felt the gazes of both Nic and Amelie.
Amelie sighed, lifting her shoulders and smiling with a charm that lit up the room and Pippa suddenly realized who the woman resembled. Gamin with super-expressive eyes, Amelie could have been a white-haired twin of Audrey Hepburn. "It's so wonderful to be here again. Magic. The smell is divine. I should have come back sooner, so I'll just make up for it today."
"You don't want to make yourself sick," Nic said.
"Of course not. I'll just take a bite of each, and we can take the rest back to Paul." Amelie's smile fell and she made a tsking sound. "Poor Paul. He's in such pain with his foot."
She said it as if she suffered no pain herself, but Pippa knew she did. She took a quick glance at Nic and caught the tightening of his jaw. She was struck by Amelie's determination to grab at every experience in life and Nic's struggle to hide a myriad of the emotions he was experiencing.
"I've heard the recovery from a broken foot can be a bear," Pippa said.
"Oh, and trust me, Paul is a being a complete bear," Amelie said. "He doesn't like being restrained. Never has." Amelie glanced at Nic. "It runs in the family." She turned back to Pippa with an expressive, interested gaze. "But enough about us. Tell me about you, your interests, your life. Over the years, I've read a few stories in the news about the Devereauxs, and I must confess I wondered about Edward's children. I'm sure he must have been proud of all of you."