The Prince's Pregnant Bride

By: Jennifer Lewis

One


“What do you mean I have to marry her?” AJ Rahia tried to keep his voice down. Waiters passed out champagne, and the polite hum of conversation buzzed in his ears. The woman in question stood only a few yards away, in the well-dressed crowd of mourners at the wake.

His mother took his hand between her two soft ones. “It’s your duty. If the king dies, one of his brothers must marry the royal widow.”

The carved walls of the old palace seemed to close in on him. “That’s ridiculous. It’s the twenty-first century. And I’m sure she doesn’t want to marry me any more than I want to marry her.” He resisted the urge to turn and glance at the petite young widow he hadn’t even seen since her wedding five years earlier.

His mother tilted her head and spoke softly. “She’s as sweet as she is beautiful.”

“Mom!”

“And I have no other sons.”

AJ stiffened. Something had happened during his own birth that left his mom unable to have more children. Just another burden of guilt that settled uncomfortably back on his shoulders each time he returned to Rahiri.

He’d just arrived for his brother’s funeral—or whatever you called it when there was no body—and already his ticket back to L.A. was burning a hole in his pocket.

“I’m sure she’ll want to mourn for at least a year before she thinks about marrying again.” He rested his hand on his mom’s shoulder. She was so tiny. Or he was so huge. He resisted a powerful urge to hug this very demanding but fiercely loving woman. “Then you’ll find the perfect husband for her.”

“You can’t choose a king.” His mother looked up, her eyes imploring. “A king is born.”

“And I wasn’t born to be king. Most people are convinced I was born to direct big-budget action movies, which is why they give me so much money for it.”

His mom waved her hand, dismissive. “Child’s play and you know it.” She took his hand and squeezed it between her palms. “Come home. You belong here, and we need you.”

He ignored the tightening in his chest. “To rule the country? I don’t think so. How about Cousin Ainu? He’s always trying to run everything. He’d be thrilled.”

His mom narrowed her eyes, which caused her mascaraed lashes to clump together. “The Rahia family has ruled Rahiri for as long as anyone can remember. That chain of tradition cannot be broken.”

“Change can be good.” He didn’t sound as convincing as he’d hoped. “Out with the old, in with the…” He stopped in horror as his mom’s usually sharp black eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, that was insensitive of me. I didn’t mean that Vanu’s death was…was…”

A good thing?

Though it had been his first thought when he’d heard the news.

On the other hand, if he was suddenly expected to fill his brother’s narrow designer shoes, it was a very bad thing.

“I know, sweetheart. You can’t help speaking your thoughts. You were always like that, wild, free-spirited—”

“And totally unsuitable to be a monarch.”

He wasn’t quite such a wild child as his reputation suggested, but the image could work in his favor now.

“Come talk to Lani.” His mom’s lipsticked smile did nothing to mask the steely determination in her eyes. AJ glanced around. Hopefully none of the gathered mourners had any idea of her intentions. Especially his brother’s widow.

She pulled him across the room with a pincer grip on his hand, pink nails digging into his flesh. “Lani, dear, you remember AJ? Vanu’s younger brother.”


Panic flashed in the young woman’s eyes. “Y-yes,” she stammered. “Yes, of course I do. Pleased to meet you again.” A forced smile quivered on her lips.

She knew.

And was horrified.

AJ extended his hand and shook hers. Her fingers trembled against his palm. Small and slight, she was wrapped in a traditional blue mourning dress, partially covered by her long, loose hair. He’d remembered her unusual eyes—gold-brown, like polished tortoise-shell—but not the haunted look in them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” He glanced away from her face, which was polite in Rahiian tradition. And good advice in any case because Lani Rahia was an extraordinary beauty.

Clear, fine features mingled her Rahiian and American heritage. Her skin glowed like the proverbial milk and honey. Her thick, lustrous hair looked brown in ordinary light, but if touched by sunshine it shone brilliantly as pure, twenty-four carat gold.

He could see why his brother—or was it his mother who had truly chosen her?—had picked Lani as queen despite her humble background.

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