Arranged, A Masters and Mercenaries Novella, Book 13.5, Now Available!

Kash Kamdar is the king of a peaceful but powerful island nation. As Loa Mali’s sovereign, he is always in control, the final authority. Until his mother uses an ancient law to force her son into marriage. His prospective queen is a buttoned-up intellectual, nothing like Kash’s usual party girl. Still, from the moment of their forced engagement, he can’t stop thinking about her.

Dayita Samar comes from one of Loa Mali’s most respected families. The Oxford-educated scientist has dedicated her life to her country’s future. But under her staid and calm exterior, Day hides a few sexy secrets of her own. She is willing to marry her king, but also agrees that they can circumvent the law. Just because they’re married doesn’t mean they have to change their lives. It certainly doesn’t mean they have to fall in love.

After one wild weekend in Dallas, Kash discovers his bride-to-be is more than she seems. Engulfed in a changing world, Kash finds exciting new possibilities for himself. Could Day help him find respite from the crushing responsibility he’s carried all his life? This fairy tale could have a happy ending, if only they can escape Kash’s past…


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Reviews

Arranged was an awesome addition to the M & M lineup. The story went super fast for me - I could've read about Day and Kash for much longer. I hope we get to see them in future books. ~ Krista's Dust Jacket, KristasDustJacket.blogspot

Not gonna lie, I love arranged marriages and I love me some Lexi Blake! I knew this book was going to be banging but she got me in the FEELS, ya'll! I've read the last word and find myself with a book hangover. ~ Books According to Abby, BooksAccordingToAbby.blogspot

ARRANGED was an absolute pleasure to devour. ~ Natalie "The Biblioholic", NatalieTheBiblioholic.blogspot

Looking for a quick and sexy escape from reality? Look no further, because Lexi Blake has the novella for you. ARRANGED is a Masters & Mercenaries novella that had me hooked from the very beginning. I didn’t know what to expect, and yet, I wasn’t surprised at all with how much I LOVED Kash and Dayita’s complicated love story. It’s emotional. It’s rich. It’s complex, despite the page length, and I was a complete goner from the very start. ~ Shayna Renee's Spicy Reads, ShaynaReneesSpicyReads.com

Arranged was adorable! Loved this book from start to finish. Honestly, I’ve been craving a good BDSM story for some time and haven’t been able to get around to looking for one. Luckily for me Arranged just fell in my lap and I couldn’t be happier.~ Reese's Reviews, ReesesReviews.blogspot

All in all a great addition to the world of Masters and Mercenaries, and, as usual, I cannot wait for more! ~ Ruby's Books, Rubys-Books.blogspot

Arranged was a sexy , addicting , heartwarming story , filled with twist and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat . I loved this story so much and I cannot wait to my hands on Lexi Blake's next book !!. This has to be one of my favorite novellas of this year. I highly recommend getting it as soon as you can. ~ JoJo the Bookaholic, JoJoTheBookaholic.blogspot

Meet old friends and acquaintances, new enemies and friends. Read about drama, love, hot sex scenes and a well deserved HEA.I loved the characters and I love Lexi Blake’s writing! 5 Stars and Thank you Lexi Blake!~ Allgemein, KDRBCK.wordpress

This book was very different from any of the others in the series or anything I’ve read from Lexi to date but it was also a refreshing change of pace. While this particular set up is not my usual go to, I certainly enjoyed it. ~ Lana, Dirty Girl Romance, DirtyGirlRomance.com

This series is one of my all-time favourites , I loved this book from start to finish. I didn’t want to put it down and was so annoyed when real life conspired to stop me from reading it in one session. ~ Erin, MI Bookshelf, MIBookshelf.blogspot


Excerpt


Chapter One

Kash woke when the pillow beneath his head shifted. Confusion set in even as his head started to pound. His mouth was dry as the desert. Why was the bed moving?

He wasn’t going to wake up this morning. There was no reason to. He was going to lie here and pretend he had absolutely nothing to do.

In some ways it was true. He was fairly inconsequential recently.

He groaned as he realized the pillow he’d been lying on wasn’t a pillow at all. It had been a woman’s hip, soft and warm.

Where the hell was he?

“That’s right, Your Majesty. Time to wakey, wakey,” a male voice said. “I’d offer you eggs and bakey, but I saw what you drank last night. We might want to hold off on the food for a while. Wish I could let you sleep this off, but I got orders.”

The voice was familiar, but he struggled to attach a face. Whoever had invaded his bedroom was speaking English with a Western accent. Kash didn’t want to open his eyes. The world was far too bright. “Well, I’m the king so I can override any orders you’ve been given. Where is my guard? And who the hell are you?”

“Yeah, I take my orders from Big Tag. I think he’s far scarier than you are. Especially right now.” More light invaded his previously darkened room. “That’s right, darling. You should get dressed. The king is thankful for your company last night. And your sister’s. And whoever the other lady was.”

“Oh, good lord. Does he owe you cash?” An upper-crust British accent split the air and Kash did recognize that one. Simon Weston. And his partner, Jesse Murdoch, was the laconic Western guy.

“They’re not hookers.” Why the hell was McKay-Taggart here?

“Yes, we are,” a feminine voice said. “And we agreed on a thousand for each of us. Are you telling me we’re about to get stiffed?”

“I’ll make sure you get everything he promised you and a bit more if you’ll please avoid the paparazzi outside,” Weston was saying. “If not, you’ll find I’m good at suing people. Your choice, ladies. Easy cash or a nice lawsuit. Jesse, would you please escort his majesty’s friends to the taxi that’s waiting for them?”

“Sure thing, partner. You going to deal with our charge?” Murdoch asked.

“Hopefully our charge isn’t about to vomit all over the hotel suite. Let management know that we’ll be leaving soon and will require a security escort off the grounds. Michael will be here with the limo and Boomer is watching to ensure none of those reporters get to this floor. I’ll have the king down in thirty minutes.”

“We’ll be ready. Ladies, let’s get you home. You should probably put on some clothes…oh, huh. I didn’t know those counted as clothes. All right then.”

The door closed and Kash forced himself to sit up. The room immediately started spinning, but he wasn’t going to give in. “Where is my guard? I don’t remember much about last night, but I do know I didn’t call McKay-Taggart. I certainly didn’t need you to rescue me from three lovely ladies.”

Weston looked perfectly neat and clean in his three-piece suit with shiny loafers. He crossed the suite to where someone had brought in coffee service. He poured a cup and started back across the room. “One of them isn’t a hooker. One of them is a reporter and she’s about to discover that the film she took last night of your antics is going to go missing. Jesse’s quite excellent with sleight of hand.”

He frowned. “A film?”

“Some would call it pornography.” Weston placed the cup on the nightstand. “I’ll choose to call it a reality show that will never be aired. As for your guard, apparently he quit last night. He was fed up because he’d figured out who the lovely lady was, but you refused to listen. He called home and explained the situation and your mother hired us. You’re lucky you were here in Miami. If you’d been in Europe, you would be dealing with a cranky Aussie. I assure you I’m going to handle you with more care than he would. Well, unless you give me trouble.”

Kash reached for the cup. Some of it was coming back to him. He’d fought with Rai. The man had been his personal guard for years, but lately they’d been squabbling like an old married couple. Rai knew him, knew how to deal with him even when he was a complete ass. Lately Rai kept getting on him, pointing out all the ways Kash was failing.

Shit. Rai had found out about Lia. Shit. Shit. Shit. Someone had told Rai about the fact that Lia had once been in his bed. Years before she’d married Rai. It had meant nothing to either one of them. It had been one night of pleasure and he hadn’t seen her again. Fuck, he’d meant to go to the grave with that secret.

“Damn it. I certainly didn’t mean to fire anyone. Is he still here in Miami?”

He needed to talk to Rai. He had to put things right. There was also the added problem that if he didn’t have an approved guard, he would be forced to go home. Kash had come to Miami to attend a meeting with a company that claimed it could help protect the pipeline that brought Loa Mali’s oil to the refineries. His country spent millions to ensure the drilling they did left their natural resources and the beauty of their island untouched.

Until such time as Kash found a way to get rid of fossil fuels altogether. That was the ultimate goal, to find a way to free the world from its dependence on oil. Well, and then to license the technology and make an enormous amount of money, but first and foremost it was about the science.

He’d been close. So close when an asshole rabid former CIA agent had blown up his fucking lab and killed several of his best engineers. Good men and women who were trying to help the world and now they were gone.

Their research had only survived because of Simon Weston’s boss. Ian Taggart and his wife, Charlotte, had saved Kash, too. So he owed them.

And damn, but he owed Rai.

“He’s already gone home.” Weston sank into a chair beside the big bed. “Your mother has hired him to work a position that allows him to stay in Loa Mali most of the time. Apparently he’s recently married and wants more time with his wife.”

Guilt swamped him. Since that CIA bastard had ruined years of Kash’s work, he’d dragged Rai around the globe, partying and pretending to enjoy life. The last few years had been one long sinkhole he couldn’t seem to come out of.

He was even tired of sex. Not that he was going to let anyone know that. He had a reputation to uphold. A bad, horrible, playboy reputation.

“That’s good for Rai. I need a younger guard anyway. I need one who can keep up with me. Rai has become an old man. All he cares about is his job and his wife.”

“Yes, how boring of him.”

Kash nodded. “I’m glad you see that. I offered him a world of travel and to be surrounded by the most beautiful of all women. He gives me lectures on how I should settle down. He tells me my liver will die soon. My liver is as strong as I am. My liver is a bull.”

“Well, I do suspect you’re full of bullshit, as my cousins would say. You should think about getting dressed. Our plane leaves in two hours. I need to get you out of here. The paparazzi will be swarming the place by now.”

The coffee was starting to work. He was vaguely beginning to remember that Rai had called him an idiot. That hadn’t been polite of him. He could remember Rai’s dark eyes rolling and him saying something about how he’d given up, how he’d become everything his father would have detested.

Rai had been so sanctimonious. Then his own guilt had caused him to hit the bottle hard. It was why he’d brought those women to his room even though he’d figured out one of them wasn’t a well-paid call girl.

Still, he was fairly certain he’d performed admirably, and what was one more sex tape? Why did everyone overreact?

“Don’t worry about the paparazzi. They’re perfectly harmless. How many do you expect? Five? Prince Harry’s in New York. Most of the royal watchers will be after him. He’s only shown his willy off a few times. Mine is everywhere. The Internet is awash in my beauty. The upside of that is the paps merely want a picture of me smiling and then they’ll leave me alone.” He stood up, feeling infinitely better.

Rai had poked his personal buttons, but Kash had behaved abominably. He needed to get Rai on the phone and apologize. The truth was he had neglected his research for the last few years. It was a setback and nothing more.

And the last several months had been particularly bad, and he blamed the Taggarts. He’d hosted the wedding of the youngest Taggart and it had left him feeling restless. Being around all those happy families had done something terrible to him. It had made him wonder if he wasn’t missing something. Those smiling men with their women and children had caused him to wonder if his life wasn’t a bit on the shallow side.

And for the first time in forever, he’d thought of her. He’d stood as Theo Taggart had promised to love Erin Argent for the rest of his life and he’d had a vision of Day with her gray eyes and silky hair. Day, with those ridiculous glasses.

Innocent Day.

They were worlds apart now. She was probably married and teaching somewhere in the States or England. She would have a professor husband who would argue fine points of theory with her and she would be raising a couple of genius-level children. He wondered if she saw him in the papers and laughed about the time the playboy prince had kissed her.

He hoped she was happy.

And for a moment, he’d mourned. Not for his father and brother. He did that every day. He’d mourned the Kash he’d been. He’d ached at the thought of what that Kashmir would think about who he was today.

“Good lord, man, put on some clothes.” Weston stood and walked back to the coffee service. “Everyone else might have seen that, but I’ve been careful not to.”

He wasn’t sure why Weston was such a prude. The man was known to be a member of Sanctum. It was a club in Dallas that catered to people in the BDSM lifestyle.

“My mother has overreacted. I’m sure she was terrified when she learned I was over here in America without a proper guard, but she certainly shouldn’t have called McKay-Taggart to escort me home. I assure you I can find my way. You don’t have to make the twenty-hour flight.” Who had he brought with him? Yes, that lovely girl from the east side of the island with the pretty breasts was the flight attendant. He could spend some time with her.

“There are currently around two hundred members of the press outside waiting to get a statement from you.”

Kash stopped. “Two hundred?”

“Give or take a few. That’s why we’re going to require a police escort.” Weston continued on as though nothing was wrong. “I’ve got my man with a limo in the parking garage. We’ll meet Jesse down there and Boomer will join us in the lift. The hotel has agreed to shut down one of the lifts so it only stops on this floor and the parking garage. Boomer will ensure no one gets through. Miami PD has offered an escort to the airport. You should hurry and shower. We don’t have much time.”

His head was reeling in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the unholy amount of vodka he’d downed the night before. “Why is the fact that I had sex with three women news? Believe me, it happens all the time. Second, why would I need a bloody police escort? And what is a Boomer?”

“A Boomer is one of two new former Special Forces bodyguards your mother has hired until Jesse and I train a new group to protect the royal family since it’s expanding. I hope you have a large refrigerator. Boomer eats constantly, and you should watch out for any erratic behavior. He’s a nice lad, but he’s been hit on the head more than anyone could imagine. However, he’s a bit of a savant when it comes to marksmanship. No one cares that you had sex with three women last night because no one knows. I took care of that and your mother is not going to be happy about all the bribes I had to expense to accomplish that. You need a bloody police escort to get through the throngs of reporters, as I mentioned earlier. Now could you please put that thing away? My wife is meeting us at the airport. I would like to be able to tell her the amount of nudity I witnessed was minimal.”

He was getting irritated. He tossed on last evening’s slacks. If the Brit wanted to power play him, he could get with the game. It wasn’t like he would allow them to come in and drag his ass home like he was some kind of wayward child. He was a king. “Don’t bother to bring your wife. I’m sure she’s lovely, but my mother has overstepped herself. I will choose my guard and I will select who will train them.”

Weston checked his watch. “How soon can you be ready?”

“Have you heard a word I’ve said? I thank you for helping me out last night and keeping that tape from hitting the web, but I can manage from here.”

Weston picked up the newspaper that had been delivered along with the coffee service. He tossed it Kash’s way. “If you feel that way, I can certainly let Michael and Jesse know they should stick to her majesty’s side and allow you to be brutally murdered if it comes to that.”

“Mother already has guards.” He clutched the newspaper. She’d had the same set of guards for years. She liked to call them her girls. Four women who’d served in the military and had been trained by…well, by McKay-Taggart. Had something happened? “Why is Mother so afraid she needs more guards?”

“Not for your mother,” Weston replied casually. “It’s for your future bride. As for firing me and Jesse, you can’t. We’ve been hired by your parliament to provide security and assistance for the royal wedding and to train the new queen’s guard.”

Yes, he’d had far too much to drink. He was still sleeping and having the oddest dream.

Weston shook his head. “It’s all right there in the paper, if you don’t believe me. Now hurry and take that shower. You’ve got to get home because the formal engagement ceremony is in two days.”

Kash opened the paper and stared down at the headline.

Playboy King to Claim His Bride

“I’m not getting married.”

Weston stepped up and patted his arm. “You are or you’ll give up your throne. I’ll explain it all on the plane. The other reason your mother hired me is I have a degree in law. I’ve read the clause in your constitution that your mother intends to use to force you to marry. I assure you, it will hold up. You can attempt to change the constitution but that requires a two-year review process, another year of public forums, and a vote. You’ll be replaced by then. Like I said, I can explain it all on the incredibly long plane trip. Are you all right, Your Majesty? You went a bit green.”

Kash ran for the bathroom.

He’d been right. He shouldn’t have bothered to wake up.


* * * *


Dayita Samar stepped into the queen’s private reception room with a smile. Not for the stunning décor or the view of the ocean in the distance, though both were worthy of great praise. No, Day’s smile was for the woman herself. Queen Yasmine was one of the kindest women she’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. The queen mother was a stabilizing influence on the country, someone to look up to and admire for her willingness to serve her people.

How she’d managed to produce a son who was a walking venereal disease was beyond Day’s comprehension.

Day curtsied even as the queen waved off such formalities.

“Darling Day, come here. It’s been so long,” the queen said, enveloping her in a hug.

She was far too thin. It had been a while and the queen seemed frailer than before.

“Your Majesty, it’s always a pleasure to see you.” Day had learned how to maneuver her way around a bureaucracy, but she genuinely enjoyed dealing with the queen. After the morning she’d had, it was a nice way to spend her afternoon. “You said it was urgent. How can I help you?”

“Oh, my dear, you won’t simply be helping me. You’ll be helping your country. You might be helping the world.” The queen took a step back and there was no way to miss the sheen of tears in her eyes, though she took a deep breath and seemed to banish them. She turned and walked to the sitting area, a cluster of lush chairs on a carpet that was likely worth more than Day’s yearly salary at the ministry.

The queen took a seat, gesturing for Day to take one of her own.

“I’m certainly intrigued, Your Majesty.” Day studied the queen. There was a weariness to her that couldn’t be missed, even though she smiled like nothing was wrong. “How can I help?”

“You can marry my son.”

Day smiled and couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out. The queen was also quite funny. The idea of Kashmir marrying anyone was ludicrous. He was far too busy screwing supermodels and actresses and other men’s wives. After a long moment, she sat back with a sigh. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I needed a laugh today. I’ve spent the morning fighting with parliament over funding for my elementary science education program.”

The blustery old men who ran parliament didn’t see the need. She’d argued that early science and math intervention worked to get more girls involved in those areas of study. By the time they hit junior high it was too late, and certain societal norms took over, making the classes less interesting to female students. Apparently that was perfectly fine with parliament. One of the men had even told her she would be far happier if she quit her job, got married, and had a husband to occupy her time.

Oh, how she would love to take a whip to that bastard, and not in a pleasurable way.

The queen frowned in Day’s direction, getting her attention quickly.

Day sat up. “You’re serious? About me marrying the king? I haven’t spoken to the king in years. I hardly think he wants to marry me.”

The queen’s hands tightened around the arms of her chair. “I’m dead serious. The time has come and passed and I can’t wait another second more. Have you ever heard of the Law of Rational Succession? It’s a tiny clause set into our constitution over two hundred years ago.”

She’d read the constitution, of course. History, and in particular Loa Malian history, was a subject she enjoyed. Since becoming the head of the country’s education department, she spent her time reviewing public school books. She didn’t remember the law, however. “I’ve never heard of it.”

Her majesty seemed to relax a bit, as though she’d half expected Day to run for the hills. “I’m not surprised. Few people outside of constitutional lawyers have, but I’ve been assured that it will hold and that it’s perfectly legal. The Law of Rational Succession states that the king can be forced to marry or give up his throne if he has not selected a bride by his twentieth birthday.”

“Twenty?” Kash was thirty-five.

“Yes, well, it was written long ago when men and women were expected to marry and reproduce at a young age,” the queen explained. “I’ve given him fifteen years but there’s no end in sight. According to the law, the king or queen’s parents have the right to select a proper spouse, and the wedding must take place within two weeks of the invocation or the king’s crown is forfeit. It was placed into law in an attempt to avoid the kind of trouble that comes from the line of succession being broken. There is also a clause about being able to remove a monarch who will not abide by the constitution or one who is too sick to care for the people.”

“Has it ever been used?”

The queen shook her head. “It has never been invoked before. Now, I am going to assume that my son will work to block me, but I’ve got a legal team on that as well. Changing the constitution will require roughly three years. I can end the monarchy in two weeks. The only place for the crown to go is to my nephew, Chapal, and he will refuse it. He has already signed the documents of abdication in case Kashmir proves stubborn.”

End the monarchy? Day tried to process the idea. The Kamdars had held the crown for centuries. The family had been the one to put into place the constitution that protected the citizens—even from a bad king. Kash’s grandfather had been the one who shared the revenue from the country’s oil with every Loa Malian, making them the wealthiest citizenship in the world.

Loa Mali had a parliament, but the crown worked hand in hand with them and the king could have the final say if he chose to use his power.

Not that King Kash paid much attention anymore. He was far too busy running around the world having his picture taken at parties.

“You would have us move to a purely representative government? I don’t know if that is a smart move, Your Majesty. Some people in this country are still extremely set in their ways. I spent all morning arguing with a group of elected officials who believe a woman’s place is in the home and that educating our girls in anything beyond how to keep a house is a waste of time.”

The queen’s lips curled up in an encouraging smile. “Excellent. As queen, you will be able to direct education from a much more powerful position. They won’t be able to refuse you. Smile when you force them to eat crow, darling. That is the one thing we shall have to work on. You frown far too much. I know it’s not proper to ask a woman to smile these days, but a queen is different. You must never allow them to see anything but strength. A good smile while you’re gutting some idiot’s argument is a perfect show of strength. Come along. Give me one. I know you can do it.”

What surreal dream was she having? She was going to wake up any minute. She had to. “Your Majesty, I don’t understand.”

“It’s easy. Look.” The queen’s mouth curled up in a restrained smile. “You see, the key is to not look too joyous. Save that for moments when you need the public to see you as a woman and not a queen. Those times come too. The key is knowing when and how to use the power to its best effect.”

“What?”

The queen waved away the question. “I know you young people love your resting bitchy faces, but you have to save that for particular people. Like those men today. You may use this bitchy face on them to show your queenly power, though I assure you smiling will set them off their games more. And don’t let the cameras catch you frowning or they do those miming things on the Internet now. There was a terrible one of me and some Harry Potter character. If you smile, they can’t do this to you.”

Day had seen it. Some Potter fan had likened the queen to Professor McGonagall. It had been Day’s screensaver for over a month.

“I think you’re talking about memes. No one makes memes of the head of education.” Of course, no one really listened to her either.

“But they will make the memings when you are queen,” Queen Yasmine announced solemnly. “Now, we must talk about your dress. I think traditional is best for the actual ceremony, but you should wear couture to the reception. The whole world will be watching. We need to present a true vision of our country as a cosmopolitan nation. I’ve already called the heads of three fashion houses to submit designs. And, darling girl, I love you, but we must pluck those eyebrows. They’re growing together. They’re not supposed to do that.”

She wasn’t… She felt her forehead and grimaced. Technically hair was supposed to grow. Plucking it was the unnatural force here. It was also not the point. “Kash hasn’t spoken to me in fifteen years. Why would he want to marry me now?”

The queen sighed. “Have you listened to a word I’ve said? Kash doesn’t want to get married at all. I’m rather certain he doesn’t want to come home. That’s why I hired guards to drag him here. I was even smart enough to hire the particularly handsome one with the British accent and the law degree. Even now he’s explaining to Kash that there’s no way out of the trap I’ve set and that he should accept this beautiful gift of love and stability I’m offering him.”

“Is it a gift or a trap?” The queen had used both words, but it was definitely starting to feel like a trap to Day.

The queen’s smile turned beatific. “It’s both, of course. That’s the beauty of it all. You’re going to be perfect for him. You’re the girl to keep him in line. My boy is lovely and so smart, though he often forgets to use his brain. I wish his penis wasn’t so large. I think that was where we went wrong. It has to have come from my side of the family, because my husband certainly wasn’t that large. And I was happy with that. It meant he didn’t feel the need to use it on every woman who walked by. And you must get Kashmir to stop having it photographed. It’s unseemly.”

Day felt herself blush. Damn it. She didn’t blush. Ever. She’d seen almost everything there was to be seen and she was cool with it all. Sex was part of a good and natural life. Accepting her own sexuality had been important. But something about the elderly queen talking about Kash’s penis had Day’s skin flushing. “Your Majesty, I’m not marrying Kashmir. He’s been a halfway decent king, especially in the early years, but he would make a terrible husband.”

“But he won’t once you show him the way.”

“The way?”

“I don’t know why you think I can do that.”

The queen seemed to come to some inner decision because she sniffled and then sat back, her head coming up regally. “You are smart enough to lead this country. You are perfect to be the face of the monarchy. If I allow Kash to continue, we will be obsolete and our country will go the way of so many other small nations. You are right. At this point we still have a faction that would love to see us go back into the Dark Ages. I worry that there is a group of men waiting to take over. They would privatize something that has always been public. That oil was found on public land and therefore belongs to all of us. They would change this and that would send many of our people into poverty. Women and girls, most of all. Are you willing to risk that?”

Something was wrong with the queen. Day had never seen her like this before. Her majesty was so gentle and gracious. “Your Majesty, I understand that you’re upset with Kashmir, but I’m not going to marry him. You need to talk to him about this. You need to make him see reason. He should marry, but he needs to find the right woman.”

“You are the right woman, but he is far too foolish to see it. He’s spent fifteen years avoiding you.”

“He doesn’t remember my name.” He’d refused to see her the one time she’d shown up to the palace in person. He’d never written her back. She’d sent him letters for more than a year until she finally realized he was ignoring her.

“Then introduce yourself, darling, because I won’t be swayed,” the queen announced. “I will see the two of you married and settled and working for a brighter future or I will destroy it all and let the cards fall as they may.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because it’s my last chance to make things right for him. He wasn’t raised to be the king. The pressure has been too much. He chafes at the bit because he was allowed too much freedom in his younger years. I must leave him with a woman who can handle him, who can direct him in how he should go. Someone who can be a partner to him, even lead him when he needs to be led. Someone strong, and if I allow him to he will choose poorly. If I had more time… I do not so I will place this bet on the table. I will put everything I have into it and see if you will call me. I’m not bluffing, Dayita. I will do this.”

Day felt her breath flee as she realized the truth behind the queen’s words. “Does Kash know you’re dying?”

“No.”

“You have to tell him.”

“I will, when the time is right.” She waved a hand and the door to the hallway opened. A servant rushed in, carrying a tray. It was as though she’d been hovering outside, waiting for the moment when the queen would call upon her, anxious to do her part.

Was Day’s country calling her now? It was insane to think that in this day and age she would be asked to marry in order to help her country, but some of what the queen was saying made sense.

“I’m a commoner.” She tried to come up with any way out of this trap.

The queen took the pills her servant had brought her. She reached for them and clasped the older woman’s hand when they touched. This wasn’t a mere servant. Day had seen Mrs. Pashmi Indrus every time she’d met with the queen. She hovered in the background, but it was obvious she was close to her majesty. She handed the queen a glass of water.

“So is the English girl and she’s done quite well,” the queen replied. “She is the new royalty and you are very much like her.”

“I’m not a virgin.”

That made the queen laugh. “Darling, no one is anymore. And to marry a virgin off to my son would be like handing one over to a dragon and expecting her to know how to slay it.”

“I’m afraid I would be more likely to kill your son than to find happiness with him.”

“You cared for him once.” She swallowed the pills and that proved to Day more than anything how serious the queen was. Her majesty would never allow herself to do something so personal around anyone but her small family. By showing Day her weakness, she was bringing her in. “I know the two of you were close in England. You can find this again.”

Day shook her head, even though she knew damn well she was already sliding down the queen’s slippery slope. “We’re two entirely different people now.”

“No, you’re not. You’re merely older and time has worn off some of your joy,” the queen said quietly. “It will do this to you, time will. Only if you let it. It’s easy to let time and pain change you into someone less than you were. Less able to love. Less able to forgive. Less able to look at this world of ours and see that it is so beautiful. Time teaches us to see the ugly parts so we can protect ourselves. But, darling, when we spend all of our energy protecting ourselves we miss out on all the reasons we’re alive in the first place.”

Day felt a tear slip down her cheek and missed her mother so much in that moment. Her father had moved on, starting another family and leaving her behind, but she could hear her own mother in the queen’s words. Perhaps they were the words of every mother to her child, the prayer that her child would find love, joy, happiness. And a place in the world. A reason to be.

“I cared for him a long time ago,” Day admitted. “But even then I didn’t think it could work.”

“Then what fun it will be when it does,” the queen replied. “Am I taking you away from someone you truly care about? My intelligence says you haven’t had a serious man in your life for years.”

Not since she’d made the decision to move home. She’d dated a few men in England and then had a more serious relationship when she’d taken the head of education job back here. It hadn’t worked out and now she threw herself into work. She was nearly thirty-six. There was plenty of time to find a mate.

But would she find a calling as well? Already there was a part of her that wondered what she could do with that crown on her head. She could ensure that a whole generation of children got what they needed. She could be an ambassador for science around the world. The Professor Queen.

She didn’t have to love Kash. She merely had to be a good partner to him. Perhaps some people found their true love in the form of another human being, but Day could find it in helping her people.

“No, Your Majesty. I’m not in love. I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.” Except she’d thought she’d loved Kash. Those months with him had haunted her for years. She could still remember how it felt to brush her lips against his.

If the queen knew how she spent some of her nights, would she want her as a daughter-in-law?

“There are personal things we should talk about.” Day couldn’t not be honest.

“Is this about that club you go to? And the one in Paris? What was it called?”

Mrs. Indrus piped up. “The Velvet Collar.”

“Yes, that is the one.” The queen’s eyes lit with mirth. “Pashmi and I looked at their website. Very interesting place.”

The queen’s servant giggled a bit behind her hand and suddenly looked years younger.

And Day found herself blushing again. “It’s for relaxation. I rarely indulge myself physically.”

“Well, that’s good because I’m sure that my son does. He needs a good spanking, if I do say so myself. You both like those clubs. That’s one thing you have in common. Excellent. It’s a start.” The queen clapped her hands together. “Now let’s talk about your wedding. Pashmi, could you get us some tea and then perhaps you will join us? You have such a good eye when it comes to colors. We shall fill the palace with flowers.”

Pashmi strode away to do the queen’s will and Day realized she was trapped.

Utterly and completely trapped in a cage she couldn’t force her way out of because there was a piece of her that still wanted to know if it could work.

That was the most dangerous trap of all.

Copyright 2017 Lexi Blake