Scorched, p.1

Scorched, page 1

 part  #4 of  Surrender Series

 

Scorched



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Scorched
Page 1

 

  PROLOGUE

  “THIS TRADITION OF not seeing the bride before the wedding is ridiculous. I think it would be so much wiser if we just met up for one hour to help…ease our…nerves,” Rafe said with a seductive purr.

  “Mmm, sounds good to me. Now if I could just get away from my mother for two seconds, I would think about taking you up on that offer, Mr. Palazzo,” Ari replied with a giggle.

  “I can pull the fire alarm,” Rafe suggested.

  His tone implied that he was 100 percent serious about doing just that. The strange part was that Ari was actually considering it.

  “I think our parents would disown us,” she said.

  “I can live with that. ”

  “I love you, Rafe,” she told him, overcome with emotion as she cradled the phone to her ear, wanting so badly to touch him, feel him there next to her. She’d only been apart from him for one night, but today was her wedding day — the day she would become his wife.

  She wanted to throw out all tradition and simply be in his arms. Their years apart now seemed like such a waste, though she knew that the time had helped them grow and mature.

  “You are the center of my world, Ari,” he replied.

  It meant more to her to hear him say that than a simple I love you. To be the center of a person like Rafe’s world was indeed a compliment.

  “After the wedding is over, I have a very special surprise for you,” she whispered as she glanced over at the bathroom door to make sure it was still tightly shut.

  The breath rushed audibly from his mouth. “What is that?”

  Oh, the excitement she felt at so easily arousing her fiancé.

  “For starters, what I’m wearing beneath this wedding dress wouldn’t even cover a Barbie doll,” she replied.

  “You’re going to give me a heart attack before I’m able to say my vows,” he whispered, strain in his voice.

  “I wouldn’t want to do that. I couldn’t do a striptease for you then, and… Oh, I shouldn’t give it all away,” she taunted him.

  “That’s it! The alarm is getting pulled right now. ”

  Ari didn’t want to argue. She wouldn’t mind getting rid of her pre-wedding jitters by spending an hour in his arms. Heck, she’d take fifteen minutes.

  Sandra knocked. “Ari, I can hear you on the phone,” she said through the door. “That’s cheating, young lady,” her mother added with a smile in her voice.

  “We’ve been busted, Rafe. I guess you will just have to wait until tonight to see my bright red negligée. ”

  “We’ll see about waiting that long. I may not be able to stand it — just like I can’t wait to say my vows with you. ”

  “Becoming Mrs. Palazzo can’t come soon enough for me. ”

  They hung up and Ari reluctantly left the bathroom so the huge team who had been hired to make her perfect could continue to prep her. Soon, she would be Mrs. Rafe Palazzo. The minutes would creep by, but at least the end was in sight.

  CHAPTER ONE

  PERFECT TIMING.

  Damned makeup. Damned mirror. Damned nausea.

  Up until this point she hadn’t felt even the slightest indisposition, but here it was, the day of her brother’s wedding, and she was suddenly overcome with morning sickness. In the middle of the freaking afternoon. She dropped the mascara, reached down to feel her stomach, and groaned heavily.

  “Please, just let me get through the ceremony. Then we can tell the family all about you. We don’t need to make your presence known by my throwing up all over your uncle Rafe’s polished new shoes,” Rachel said aloud.

  She had to smile. She hadn’t wanted be a mother yet, but that didn’t change the fact that it was going to happen. It seemed that she’d gotten past most of the fear and was now moving on to acceptance. Amazingly enough, she was beginning to love this little creation she’d made by accident.

  It hadn’t taken her as long as she’d thought. Only three and a half months. Now, she couldn’t picture her life without this child.

  “I promise to buy you a pony if you just allow me to get through the wedding with no problems,” she offered with a chuckle.

  Didn’t all children want their very own pony? Well, she’d find out very soon whether the bribe worked.

  “Maybe our child wants his presence to be known to the world. After all, he is the future king of Corythia and shouldn’t be hidden, even while still in the womb. ”

  Rachel froze as she peered into the mirror and discovered Ian, or King Adriane, standing just inside the door to her room. Page 2

 

  Of course. The day was just getting better and better.

  It was more than obvious that this man wasn’t going to simply disappear. Why make it easy for her and her unborn child? She should have known he wouldn’t have the patience to wait for a better time to seek her out.

  It was all about his schedule and what was convenient to him. This was one of the reasons she had refused to answer his calls — he was too damn impatient. She didn’t know what she wanted to do yet; she didn’t have any answers for him, so there was no point in them talking just yet.

  “You weren’t invited here, Ian,” she said in her haughtiest tone. She quickly regained her composure after the initial shock of seeing him.

  “I didn’t ask for your permission, Rachel. You’ve been avoiding me for too long now. Don’t you realize how rude that is?” he asked with irritation as he prowled about the room, coming closer to where she was sitting.

  “I would say that you’re the one being rude. I didn’t invite you to any wedding, much less my brother’s. And I certainly didn’t allow you into the room I’m dressing in. ”

  “You’ve apparently been coddled too long, because your manners are appalling. ”

  Rachel gasped at his audacity and lack of self-awareness. If her stomach hadn’t been rolling, she’d have shot to her feet to confront him more forcefully. The man needed to be taught a lesson on how to treat a lady. He was no knight in shining armor, and certainly no Prince Charming — or King Charming in his case.

  “Yes, you are right, Ian Graziani, or I guess I should say Adriane, since even your name was a lie. I have been very well taken care of my entire life because I have parents who adore me as I adore them. This is my brother and my best friend’s wedding, and I don’t have time to fight with you today. Leave now, and I will talk to you next week. ”

  Rachel’s choice of words and abrupt dismissal lit a fire inside him that went shooting through his eyes. Well, tough, she thought. They were having a child together, one she was carrying, and as long as he continued treating her like a servant, he’d have to get used to her attitude. She didn’t submit well — not well at all.

  “I’ve been trying to be reasonable with you, Rachel, but you insist on acting like a spoiled brat. I tire of this game you are playing. ” He stood directly behind her, lifted his hand and placed it on her shoulder as if he had a right to do so.

  He didn’t.

  Now it was Rachel’s eyes that were blazing. How dare he! Twisting around, she threw his hand off her shoulder.

  “Look, Ian. I really don’t want to say something that can’t be taken back. It’s more than apparent that you don’t have the same consideration toward me. Before this goes any further, I suggest you do as I’ve requested and make yourself scarce,” she said between clenched teeth.

  “I was invited here, Rachel — by your brother,” he told her smugly.

  “Why in the world would he invite you?”

  “We are friends. I told you this already. It seems you don’t listen when I speak. Rafe and I have done business together for many years. ”

  “You didn’t te
ll him about the baby, did you?” She hated the hint of worry in her tone.

  Adriane paused. He looked at her, his head slightly tilted as if assessing her mood along with her words. She didn’t like feeling as if she were under a microscope — and that’s exactly how she was feeling as his gaze seared her.

  “No. I thought you should be the one to do it. But you obviously have a difficult time communicating with your family,” he replied.

  “I do not!” Did this man have a death wish?

  “Then why haven’t you said anything yet?”

  “That is none of your business. ” Because she was afraid of their reaction. Their good little girl had screwed up. Literally. Why else wouldn’t she have told them?

  “The fact that you carry my heir makes it very much my business. ”

  “Doesn’t the baby have to be a boy to be your heir?”

  Puzzled, he looked at her for a few moments before he responded. “Of course it’s a boy. ”

  “You don’t know that. There’s a fifty percent chance that I carry a girl. If he is in fact a she, will you go away and leave us alone?”

  Rachel didn’t like the pang that thought caused. No, she wasn’t in love with Adriane. How could she be after spending only a week with the man? But she did want her child to know his or her father, even if the man wasn’t completely active in the baby’s life. Rachel just didn’t want to deal with him at this moment. Eventually, though, the two of them would have to come to an understanding.

  Page 3

 

  “Throughout our country’s long history, the first child of every king of Corythia has been a boy. It is invariable in the royal line. ”

  “Well, maybe this time the little girl swimmer was the fastest out of the bunch,” she countered.

  “In that case, she is still a princess of Corythia. ”

  Rachel thawed just the tiniest bit — he’d said those words with a hint of a smile. So he probably wouldn’t reject the child if it turned out to be a girl, after all. That was a point in his favor. Still, even if he wasn’t a complete ass, her anger with him was through the roof.

  “But that is a moot point, Rachel, since you will produce a son for me. Our second child can be a daughter,” he said matter-of-factly.

  Rachel gaped at him and waited for her voice to return. Was he kidding?

  “You say I’m the one who is spoiled. Have you looked in a mirror, lately, Adriane? A second child? There won’t be one. I’m hardly ecstatic about being stuck with you because of the first. Don’t get me wrong — I will love my baby with everything I have. It’s the fact that you are involved that displeases me. ”

  There. Maybe that would get through his thick skull.

  “When we are married, you will learn to be more respectful. I have no doubt about it,” he told her with an indulgent glance.

  “I’ve already told you that I won’t be marrying you, Adriane. The sooner you accept that, the better off we’ll all be,” she replied, trying desperately to hold on to her temper. It wouldn’t do her body any good to raise her blood pressure.

  “I think you will make a mighty fine first wife,” he said with a smirk.

  Rachel forgot all about her blood pressure as she saw spots start forming before her eyes.

  “First wife?” she roared.

  Adriane actually had the nerve to laugh. Never before had she felt such a desire to bloody anyone, but she was close to finding a sharp object and impaling him. The makeup table had a few promising weapons.

  “I’m just kidding, Rachel. You will be my only wife,” he said with a laugh as he held up his hands in surrender.

  “You’d best find a more willing partner, Adriane. I won’t marry you — not for all the gold in the vaults hidden beneath your dungeons — not for all the jewels in your kingdom. I don’t know how many times I need to say that until it sinks in,” she snapped.

  “Well, then, although we appear to be at an impasse, one way or the other you will marry me, Rachel,” he said with a confident grin, not fazed in the least by her rejection of him.

  Rachel’s temper heated up to molten levels. She leaped to her feet to confront him at her full height — a less than intimidating five foot four. It was the wrong move. The room suddenly started to spin and black spots began to interfere with her vision. She was about to pass out and there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it.

  “Rachel!” Adriane called out, but her name sounded as if it were coming through a long black tunnel.

  Adriane caught her just before she slammed against the floor.

  CHAPTER TWO

  IT STARTED OUT in slow motion. Adriane stood in horror as Rachel’s eyes rolled back and she drooped forward.

  He sprang into action, catching her before she hit the ground. What a fool he’d been. Why had he pushed her so hard? She’d always been so tough, and he’d thought she could handle it. But he’d been wrong, and guilt consumed him.

  Laying her down carefully on the couch in her room, he snatched up his phone. “Nico, have the car readied now,” he commanded before hanging up and rushing to Rachel’s temporary desk.

  He was going to take her to his private villa, where his personal physician was waiting, and had been since Adriane found out Rachel carried his child. But Adriane couldn’t whisk her away without leaving a note for her family, so he paused long enough to find a pen and paper.

  Almost frantic, he scrawled a few words:

  To Rachel’s family,

  I have taken Rachel to see my personal physician. After he clears her for travel, we will leave for Corythia, where I will be able to care for her and my child. Though Rachel is hesitant about the upcoming nuptials, I will notify you of my plans for the wedding when they are final. You are welcome to join us, but I must inform you that I will not change my mind on this matter. She carries the heir to the throne of Corythia, and she will be my wife. Rachel will be well taken care of as the royal consort.

  King Adriano of Corythia

  Tossing the note onto her dressing table, Adriane carefully lifted Rachel into his arms and made his way from her room, using the back staircase. Nothing was going to stop him at this point and he’d rather not have to bother with a confrontation.

  Page 4

 

  Rachel needed medical care — which, in Adriane’s opinion, only his physician was qualified to give. After all, she carried royalty, and she deserved only the best. He didn’t have time to deal with somebody trying to play the hero. He knew there would be hell to pay when she woke and found they were on their way to Corythia, but he’d face that problem when he had to.

  His luck held, and he made it through the resort without any interference. Nico was waiting for him out back, and he shifted Rachel to his trusted adviser while he climbed into the car, then carefully held out his arms to take her back.

  Adriane cradled Rachel as Nico rushed to the villa. When Rachel began stirring about five minutes into the drive, Adriane breathed a sigh of relief. She blinked up at him when she realized she was in his arms.

  It took a few moments for her to recognize that they were in a car.

  “Where am I?” she asked, her brow wrinkled as she tried to look around, but the night surrounded them and there wasn’t much light from the moon.

  “We’re heading to my villa, where my physician can have a look at you,” he said as he stroked her hair and tried to give her a reassuring smile.

  “You took me from the resort?” Her voice came back stronger than ever. She began to struggle against his hold, so he had no choice but to release her.

  She pulled back from him, scooting as far away as the seat would allow.

  “Of course I took you from there. You passed out in front of me. My doctor must examine you and make sure that both you and the baby are healthy,” he said calmly.

  “I demand that you turn this car around right now, Adriane,” she snapp
ed, looking at her door as if contemplating opening it.

  Adriane snaked out his arm and pulled her back to him. He wasn’t about to take any chances.

  “If you behave and let the doctor look at you, then we will discuss your return,” he said, crossing his fingers. He knew that nothing but his doctor saying she was unfit to travel would stop him from taking her home.

  “I have a wedding to attend,” she said, spacing out the words in an attempt to remain as calm as he was.

  “I left them a note. They will understand. Your health comes first. ”

  When it was obvious he wasn’t going to change his mind, she glared at him, but sat back and waited for the car ride to end. It did about ten minutes later.

  Adriane rushed from the car when she threw her door open and dashed out. She looked around as if searching for an escape route. She wouldn’t find it. The villa was on a lake and far from other houses.

  When she knew there was little choice but to accompany him inside, she followed him up the stairs and inside, where his doctor was anxiously pacing.

  “Hello, Ms. Palazzo. It’s a pleasure to meet you. If you would please come and sit over here, I can make sure you are in good health,” the doctor said.

  Rachel sent Adriane one more withering glare before she followed the doctor to a chair and had a seat. “I’m fine. I just haven’t eaten much the last few days, because my stomach has been too upset. I need to get this ridiculous exam over with so I can return to the resort for my brother’s wedding. ” She wasn’t happy about taking her anger out on the doctor, but still, he was loyal to Adriane, so she overcame her sense of guilt.

  “She fainted while we were at the resort. It took her about five minutes to wake. I want to have everything tested,” Adriane told the doctor.

  “Of course, Sire,” Dr. Ricord said. He slipped a cuff on her arm and, having taken her blood pressure, listened to her heart rate at the same time.

  Several minutes passed as he also checked her breathing and temperature, plus other matters of significance, while asking the occasional question. How was she sleeping? How much was she eating? Did certain foods trigger her nausea?

  She answered each one, growing more frustrated as time passed. Rafe and Ari were supposed to be getting married in about half an hour. She was barely going to make it in time.

  “She’s breathing well, and her color is only slightly flushed,” the doctor told Adriane as he jotted down notes about Rachel’s condition.

 
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