Taken by a trillionaire.., p.29
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       Taken by a Trillionaire 1-3, p.29

         Part #1 of Taken by a Trillionaire series by Ruth Cardello
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  She shouldn’t. It broke her heart to be suffering under such a nagging sensation at all.

  “You can tell me what you’re thinking. Please, Adara,” Chris said after the silence had stretched on for too long.

  “I can’t tell you, because I don’t understand it. I just know that I’m in a country I’ve never visited before, and I’m with a man I definitely have feelings for but don’t understand why, and I have a whole life that’s a blank to me. When I’m with you, I’m contented. And yet something inside me tells me that I’m missing the bigger picture.”

  “I understand that you’re frightened, my love — I can’t imagine that loss of memory is easy. But I’ll do everything in my power to make you a very happy woman.”

  “Why do we need to rush all of this, though? Why can’t we take our time?”

  “In my country, princes must be wed by their thirtieth birthday. I didn’t give a . . . whatever . . . for the longest time. I was willing to throw away my title instead of following the rules of a place I was unsure that I even cared about anymore . . .”

  Now she was really worried. “Is that why you want to marry me?” The question hurt as she asked it.

  “No. I assure you of that. I didn’t plan to marry . . . until I found you. I knew then that I didn’t want to live without you. And my sentiments for you made me understand that I did love my country. You opened my heart. And when I finally saw that I could have the best of both worlds, it calmed me. It saved me. I care about you, Adara — I can’t tell you how much — and I know that you feel the same for me. Though we might seem to be rushing this, love doesn’t work according to any set calendar.” Sheesh. Now he was parroting Xander’s words.

  “I’m truly sorry I don’t have the words that you want to hear,” she said, sadness overtaking her.

  “You can take your time, Adara. None of this has been easy on you.”

  “I need to . . . powder my nose,” Adara told him. She needed a few minutes alone needed them desperately.

  He released her hand and she stood up on shaky legs. And she nearly dissolved in tears when he stood at the same time. She loved the custom, loved how attentive a true gentleman he could be. But she just didn’t love not having the answers she needed.

  Standing in front of the mirror, Adara pulled out her lipstick and refreshed her makeup. She was trying so hard to remember who she was and what she believed in.

  Nothing was coming back to her, nothing at all, even as she pondered her reflection.

  “Are you enjoying yourself with Prince Christopher?”

  Adara’s eyes met a dark-haired woman’s gaze in the mirror. The woman certainly wasn’t smiling — hell, a deep rage seemed to be burning in this new stranger’s eyes. She was extremely beautiful, with her luxurious hair piled up artfully on her head, and her almost golden eyes highlighted by an expert stylist.

  Adara turned to face the woman. “Do I know you?” she asked.

  “No, but you should,” the woman said, her voice not rising, but scorn dripping from it.

  “I’m so sorry, but I’m having a difficult time remembering anyone,” Adara said. “It’s a long story. What is your name?”

  “My name is of no concern to you. All you need to know is that I don’t appreciate whatever spell you have put on my Christopher. He and I were quite happy together before you seduced him. An American, of all things. So tacky — I think that’s a word you know. And now I see you’re wearing my ring.”

  “I . . . I don’t understand.” Adara took an instinctive step back. Just her luck to be in the very quiet bathroom alone with such a woman. A woman who spoke in what appeared like a stream of strange italics.

  “Christopher and I have known each other since we were young. Our parents knew we would one day be joined together in matrimony. They planned it. And our romance lasted for years. Then he left for America, hiding away like a coward from his country and his responsibilities. When he returned, he had you in tow,” she said, and she took a step closer to Adara.

  “He never mentioned that he’d been dating anyone else — not that I know of, at least,” Adara said.

  “One expects princes to sow their wild oats. It’s a part of their genes, and one learns to turn a blind eye to these . . . derelictions of duty. Or indiscretions, if you will. But this is outside of enough. He’s placed a ring on the finger of one of his whores. That is unacceptable.”

  Adara couldn’t help but blink, though she tried to keep her thoughts to herself. She didn’t owe this woman any explanations at all, but even if she’d wanted to give her any, she wouldn’t have been able to. And all she really wanted at this moment was to get far, far away.

  “I see you’re afraid of me. That’s excellent. I can be a great friend, but I’m a nightmare as an enemy. And to make myself clear, if I haven’t already, you are most certainly my enemy.” The woman moved even closer, and her breath fanned Adara’s face.

  “I’m sorry. I truly am. If Christopher is indeed in love with you, though, I can’t imagine he would . . . be with me. He’s an honorable man,” Adara said, finding strength as she said the words. She wasn’t about to cower anymore, dammit.

  “Hah! Honorable. You don’t know your ‘Prince Charming’ at all. None of them know the least thing about honor. They do what they need to do to live in the manner to which they’re born.”

  “If you really feel that way, why in the world would you want to marry this man?” Adara asked her.

  “We are perfectly suited in every way. My noble lineage goes back many more centuries than you, as an American, could possibly comprehend. He and I would produce splendid offspring.”

  “That’s not a reason to marry,” Adara told her. “Love should enter into the equation.”

  “You Americans and your silly notions. What’s love got to do with it? It’s about responsibility and traditions. And it’s about genetics.”

  Adara blinked. “I feel sorry for you,” she said. “You’re obviously a very unhappy woman.” She was done with this conversation.

  She scooted around this insane person and was reaching for the door when the woman grabbed her.

  “Don’t you dare feel sorry for me, you little bitch. You’re the one who will be sorry.” And then she let go and was suddenly gone.

  Adara took a moment to compose herself before returning to the table where Chris was sitting. He looked up with his usual welcoming smile, but that smile quickly turned to concern.

  “Has something upset you?” he asked as he rose, rushed toward her, and took her hands. “What is wrong?”

  “It’s nothing. I just think the food didn’t agree with me.”

  She wasn’t pleased with herself for deceiving him in that way, but she was reluctant to tell him about her visitor. Not yet, anyway. She had a lot to think about.

  “I am sorry, Adara. Let me get you back to the palace.”

  He pulled her into his arms and held her on the way back, and that helped — it helped more than she wanted it to. Being with him made her so happy. Or it did most of the time. Maybe she should just deep-six her feelings of unease, forget about the strange woman in the restaurant restroom, and just enjoy this moment, enjoy her time with Prince Christopher of Rubare Collina.

  Yes, maybe that was exactly what she’d do.

  Chapter Twelve

  As Adara walked along the paths in the large gardens behind the palace, she came to a decision. Would she ever regain her memory? Who really knew? And she couldn’t just wait with that sort of uncertainty, wait indefinitely to live her life. Yes, all she had to go by at this point was the way she felt when she was with Chris now. Prince Chris. Prince Christopher. His Royal Highness.

  Yes, that was a lot to deal with. But she felt wonderful.

  So, even though she was still assailed by feelings of doubt, she knew she was going to marry this man. How could it be wrong? After all, it was already a decision she’d made, wasn’t it?

  “Are you enjoying the weather?”

  Adara turned and smiled up at Chris’s brother Bryan. “Yes, very much. What are you doing out here, away from palace business?”

  “I’ve been working with Xander and Christopher on commercial business for our company, Dyholm, and I decided I needed a walk. It appears that you and I both had the same idea,” he said, easily falling into step with her.

  “Yes. I was trying to clear my head. Or what I have left of it.”

  “Anything to do with my brother?”

  “Maybe,” she said, but she was hardly about to elaborate on that.

  “You know, I’m sure that all three of us — my father’s sons, I mean — haven’t had an easy life in many respects, though that statement might seem surprising to many people. But if I may speak for myself and Xander . . . we’ve never been happier since we each found the woman we were meant to find all along.”

  “Yes, I can see how much both of you adore your respective wives. It’s touching. And inspiring. And Chris is very kind to me.”

  “And why do you think that is?” he said before answering his own question. “It’s because he feels the same way about you as Xander and I feel about the women we chose to marry.”

  “Thank you,” she told him. She felt awkward about discussing her feelings for Chris, especially to one of his brothers.

  “Adara, I’m not normally a man to talk about emotions, but finding my wife and the child I didn’t know I had changed me in many ways. Fighting against the Arcano has also changed me. Give our brother a chance and he’ll prove to you how loyal he is.”

  Adara stopped, and Bryan was now a few steps ahead of her before he realized what had happened. He turned and waited.

  “What is the Arcano?” she asked grimly. “Or who? And why do you have to fight against them?”

  His face instantly became a blank mask, and it surprised her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought that Christopher had spoken to you already about that secret society.”

  “I don’t know what he’s told me in the past. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell me who these people are.”

  No dice. It was more than obvious now that the discussion was at an end.

  “I really should get back in. We have more Dyholm business to deal with,” Bryan said.

  “Please don’t do this. If there’s something I should know, something that affects my life with Christopher, I deserve to know. As you are well aware, I’m more than a little lost here. My memory . . .”

  “You’ll have to ask my brother.” Bryan began walking away, but he turned back toward her. “Please don’t head anywhere near the cliffs, Adara. They can be . . . dangerous.”

  He glanced toward those jagged rocks with a lost look in his eyes, but then the same blank expression as before took over his features again. And this time he actually left.

  What had put that look into his eyes? Adara decided she was in no way ready to return to the palace. Yes, Chris was currently tied up in business meetings, but he could be done at any time, and she wasn’t prepared to see him. With the new information that Bryan had given her — though not much of it — she had even more to think about.

  Maybe marrying Chris was a bad decision. If she had all of these doubts, shouldn’t she take her time? She smiled briefly and thought that she, with a background in studying the stars, should consult her horoscope. But that little joke didn’t comfort her.

  Why wasn’t her life easier? She headed toward those cliffs, and when she reached them, she leaned against the black iron railing to look over at the water far down below. Closing her eyes, she imagined being there in prehistoric times. So much simpler.

  Of course, she wouldn’t have had much of a choice whether to marry back then. The men were the ones in charge. Hell, maybe they still were, though women had proved in the modern world that they were just as capable as men. If not more so.

  But what a lonely life it would be to go it all alone. That wasn’t what she wanted. All she wanted was to make sure she was marrying the right man. Divorce? No. Definitely not.

  Opening her eyes again, she turned a corner, following the path where it led. Peace filled her as she got away from view of the palace. There, eyes were always on her, everywhere she went, and it was an eerie feeling. At least no one was watching her this far from the palace.

  Or so she thought.

  She heard a noise behind her, and she whirled around to see three people approaching. Her eyes widened when she recognized the one in the lead.

  “We meet again, Adara.”

  The woman who’d threatened her in the restroom at the restaurant stood before her, and two very large men were directly behind.

  “What are you doing here?” Adara asked. “What do you want?”

  “Interesting question,” the woman said. “But you’ll have to wait to find out.”

  “Vanessa, we really must go,” one of the men said.

  “Shut up, Edwin. I will go when I please,” she snapped. “And I told you not to use my name.”

  “What does it matter? She won’t be able to tell anyone,” he shot back.

  “Look, I really don’t want any trouble,” Adara told them all as she cast about for any exit strategy.

  “It’s far too late for that,” Vanessa said as she pulled out some sort of gun and pointed it at Adara.

  “Don’t do this,” Adara said as she took several staggering steps back.

  “Have a nice nap, dear,” Vanessa said before firing the weapon.

  A dart entered her shoulder, and Adara didn’t know whether to feel even more panic as blackness began overtaking her, or to feel relief that she wasn’t dead yet — it wasn’t a bullet.

  She never got a chance to decide.

  Chapter Thirteen

  You have a telephone call, Your Highness.”

  Chris moved over to the desk and picked up the line, a smile still on his face.

  “Hurry up, brother,” Xander told him. “I want to end this meeting so I can get back to my wife.”

  “This is Christopher,” the prince said into the mouthpiece.

  “We require that you meet us at the southern end of the Rinalde Mountains.”

  Chris bristled and sent the full force of his royal voice hurtling through the phone lines. “Who is this that you think you can command me in this way?”

  “All you need to know is that I’m a member of the Arcano. We are displeased in the extreme with the royal family, as you can easily imagine. You’ve broken away from centuries of traditions that we instituted, decided that your family can rule without our help. We cannot let that happen. We have your intended bride. It is her life or yours that we take. The choice is up to you.”

  The phone line went dead, and Chris dropped the receiver, turning toward his brothers without knowing what to say.

  “What is it?” Xander asked. He and Bryan rushed up to their little brother.

  “They have Adara.” Chris’s knees were suddenly unsteady, shaking.

  “We’ll get her back,” Xander said. The king’s eyes were flashing dangerously.

  “Where are they holding her?” Bryan demanded.

  Neither bothered to ask who had Adara. They all knew there was only one enemy. The Arcano.

  “They are never going to go away,” Chris said, coming out of his shock, and rage beginning to take over.

  “I don’t know that we’ll ever get all of the Arcano, but someday it will end,” Xander said. “Because each time we take out one of them, it weakens the collective. And we’ve done rather well. One day they will no longer pose a threat to us or our families.”

  “They want me to meet them at the southern end of the Rinalde Mountains,” Chris told them. He moved away from the desk and past the conference table, and he headed toward the door.

  Bryan grabbed Chris’s arm to stop him. “What are you doing?” the middle brother asked.

  Chris turned around and growled. “I need to go there, to save Adara,” he said. “Take your hands off me, dammit!”

sp; “Be reasonable,” Xander said. “You aren’t going to just rush in there like a fool. We need to figure this out. They won’t kill her if you’re not there. They want you to suffer. What exactly did they tell you?”

  “How can you be so calm? It’s really pissing me off, and I was already beyond angry, Xander,” Chris told him.

  “Trust me, brother, if it were Reanna they were holding, you would be the one having to calm me down.”

  “I know that, but I need to move, need to get there and do what I can save her life.”

  “Tell us what terms they laid down,” Bryan said, still gripping Christopher’s arm.

  “They told me it’s either her head or mine — they didn’t care which,” Chris said through clenched teeth. “They can have my life if that’s what it comes down to, but they won’t take hers. I can’t allow that.”

  “Do you honestly think they’ll let either of you live?” Bryan asked. “They will execute her in front of you as a form of torture. To rip you apart. And then they’ll kill you. And if they get the opportunity, they will come after me and my family, and of course Xander’s, since he’s now our king.”

  “He’s right, Chris,” Xander said. “We must think this through. They picked the southern end of the mountains because there’s only one way in and one way out that they are aware of. I’m sure they have men staked out at strategic points. We can’t take a chopper in there — they’d see us first, and they’d take us out easily. Shoot us down in the air. We’ll have to walk in. But we aren’t going in there blind.”

  “I just want to go,” Chris said.

  “Not yet. What we have to do could have grave consequences. We’ll be risking almost our entire royal line, Chris, and yet I’m willing to risk it all. Family will always come first to me. But we need to think for a moment, to make the most effective plan.”

  “Then what do you suggest?” Chris asked tensely, bitterly. He was tired of all this talking. They should be moving.