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Joanne Brookes covered her mouth to stifle a yawn and blinked rapidly to keep her eyes open. She was quite tempted to shove the thick pile of papers aside and have a nap at the small kitchen table, but she needed to read and digest as much as she could.
The floor creaked behind her and she turned to see Toby poke his head around the door of the tiny living space.
'What are you doing up, you little monkey?' she asked with a smile.
'You've got water in your room.'
He gave an impish grin and padded over to her, his too-short pyjamas displaying his bare ankles. He hoisted himself up onto her lap and pressed his warm face into her neck.
'Do you have to go away?'
Wrapping her arms tightly around his skinny frame, Jo dropped a kiss in Toby's thick black hair. 'I wish I didn't.'
There was no point in explaining the finer details of why she had to leave for the island of Agon in the morning. Toby was four years old and any kind of rationalising normally went right over his head.
'Is ten days a long time?' he asked.
'It is to start with, but before you know it the time will have flown by and I'll be home.' She wouldn't lie to him, and could only dress her departure up into something bearable. Her stomach had been in knots all day, knitted so tightly she hadn't been able to eat a thing.
They'd only spent two nights apart since Toby's birth. Under normal circumstances she wouldn't even have considered going. It would have been a flat-out no.
'And just think what fun you'll have with Uncle Jonathan,' she added, injecting a huge dose of positivity into her voice.
'And Aunty Cathy?'
'Yes—and Aunty Cathy. And Lucy.'
Her brother and his wife lived in the local town with their year-old daughter. Toby adored them almost as much as they adored him. Even knowing that he would be in safe, loving hands, Jo hated the thought of being apart from him for such a long time.
But Giles, her boss, had been desperate. Fiona Samaras, their in-house biographer, who was working on the commemorative biography of the King of Agon, had been struck down with acute appendicitis. Jo was only a copywriter, but that didn't matter—she was the only other person who spoke Greek in the specialist publishing house she worked for. She wasn't completely fluent, but she knew enough to translate the research papers into English and make it readable.
If the biography wasn't complete by a week on Wednesday there wouldn't be time for it to be copy-edited and proofread and sent to the printers, who were waiting to print five thousand English language copies and courier them to the Agon palace in time for the gala.
The gala, exactly three weeks away, was to be a huge affair, celebrating fifty years of King Astraeus's reign. If they messed up the commemorative biography they would lose all the custom they'd gained from Agon's palace museum over the decades. Their reputation as a publisher of biographies and historical tomes would take a battering. Possibly a fatal one.
Jo loved her job—loved the work, loved the people. It might not be the exact career she'd dreamed of, but the support she'd received throughout the years had made up for it.
Giles had been so desperate for her to take on the job that he'd promised her a bonus and an extra fortnight's paid leave. How could she have said no? When everything was factored in, she hadn't been able to.
She'd been through the emotional mill enough to know she would survive this separation. It would rip her apart but she would get through it—and Toby would too. The past five years had taught her to be a survivor. And the money would be welcome. She would finally have enough to take Toby to Greece and begin the task of tracking down his father.
She wondered if she would have any time to begin her search whilst she was on Agon. Although Agon wasn't technically a Greek island, its closest neighbour was Crete and its people spoke Greek—which was why Jo had been the person her boss had turned to.
'We'll speak every day on the computer while I'm gone,' she said now, reiterating what she'd already told him a dozen times that day.
'And you'll get me a present?'
'I'll get you an enormous present,' she promised with a smile.
'The biggest present in the world?'
She tickled his sides. 'The biggest present I can stick in my suitcase.'
Toby giggled and tickled her neck. 'Can I see where you're going?'
'Sure.' She manoeuvred him around so that he faced her desk, pulled her laptop closer to them and clicked a button to bring it out of hibernation.
Having had only a day to prepare for the trip, she'd spent hours making arrangements for herself and Toby while trying to familiarise herself with the biography she needed to finish. She hadn't yet had the time to do any research on the island she was travelling to.
Keeping an arm around her son's waist to secure him on her lap, she typed Agon Royal Palace' into the search bar and selected images.
Toby gasped when he saw what appeared and pressed a finger to the screen. 'You're going there?'
Jo was just as taken with the images, which showed an enormous sprawling palace that evoked romantic thoughts of hot Arabian nights.
'Yes, I am.'
'Will you have your own room?'
'I'll get an apartment in the palace.'
Until that moment she hadn't had time to consider the fact that she would be staying in a royal palace for ten nights. She moved her cursor down the screen slowly, looking for a better picture.
'Will you meet the King?'
She smiled at the eagerness in Toby's voice. She wondered how he would react if she were to tell him that she and Toby were distantly—very distantly—related to the British royal family. He'd probably spring to the ceiling with excitement.
'I'll be working for the King's grandson, who's a prince, but I might meet the King too. Shall I find a picture of him?'
She typed in 'King of Agon' and hit the search button.
She supposed she should send Toby back to bed, but she really didn't want to—not when he was so warm and snuggly on her lap, and especially not when she knew he wouldn't be warm and snuggly on her lap again for another ten days.
The search revealed hundreds, if not thousands of pictures of the King. Scrolling through them, she thought how distinguished he looked. There were pictures of him with his late wife, Queen Rhea, who had died five years ago, others with his eldest grandson and heir, Helios, and one of King Astraeus standing with all three of his grandsons—one of whom must be Theseus, the Prince she would be directly reporting to…
She stared hard at the picture of the King and his grandsons and felt the hairs on her arms lifting. With a hand that suddenly seemed to be filled with lead, she enlarged the photo to fill the screen.
It couldn't be.
Making sure not to squash her son, she leaned forward and adjusted the screen so she could peer at it more closely. The picture was too grainy for her to see with any certainty.
It couldn't be…
'Are those men kings too?' Toby asked.
She couldn't speak, could only manage a quick shake of her head before she clicked on to another picture of the King with his grandsons.
This photo was of a much higher quality and had been taken from less distance.
Her head buzzed and burned, every pulse in her body hammering.
Working frantically, she clicked through dozens of pictures until she found one that showed him alone. She enlarged it.
It was him.
For an age she did nothing but hold her son so tightly she could feel the thrum of his little heart vibrating through his back.
How was it possible?
Two hours later she was still there on her laptop, searching through everything the internet had to offer about Prince Theseus Kalliakis. Somehow she'd managed to pull herself out of the cold stupor she'd slipped into at seeing Theo's face on the screen for long enough to tuck Toby back into bed and kiss him goodnight.
All that ran through her head now was crystal clarity.
No wonder her years of searching for Theo had been fruitless. She'd assumed that living in the age of social media would have made it an easy task, but she had been foiled at every turn. It hadn't stopped her looking. She'd never given up hope of finding him.
But she might have searched for a thousand years and would still never have found him. Because the man she'd been seeking didn't exist.
It had all been a big lie.
Toby's father wasn't Theo Patakis, an engineer from Athens. He was Theseus Kalliakis. A prince.
Prince Theseus Kalliakis stepped out of his office and into his private apartment just as his phone vibrated in his pocket. He dug it out and put it to his ear.
'She's on her way,' said Dimitris, his private secretary, without any preamble.
Theseus killed the call, strode into his bedroom and put the phone on his bureau.
He'd spent most of the day sleeping off the after-effects of the Royal Ball his older brother, Helios had hosted the night before, and catching up on reports relating to the various businesses he and his two brothers invested in under the Kalliakis Investment Company name. Now it was time to change out of his jeans and T-shirt.
He would greet Miss Brookes, then spend some time with his grandfather while she settled in. His grandfather's nurse had messaged him to say the King was having a good spell and Theseus was loath to miss spending private time with him when he was lucid.
Nikos, his right-hand man, had laid out a freshly pressed suit for him. Theseus had heard tales of royalty from other nations actually being dressed by their personal staff, something that had always struck him as slightly ludicrous. He was a man. He dressed himself. His lips curved in amusement as he imagined Nikos's reaction should he request that the man do his shirt buttons up for him. All Nikos's respect would be gone in an instant. He would think Theseus had lost his testosterone.
Once dressed, he rubbed a little wax between his hands and worked it quickly into his hair, then added a splash of cologne. He was done.
Exiting his apartment, he headed down a flight of stairs and walked briskly along a long, narrow corridor lit up by tiny ceiling lights. After walking through three more corridors he cut through the palace kitchens, then through four more corridors, until he arrived at the stateroom where he would meet Fiona Samaras's replacement.
Murmured voices sounded from behind the open door. The replacement had clearly arrived—something that relieved him greatly.
His grandfather's illness had forced the brothers to bring the Jubilee Gala forward by three months. That had meant that the deadline for completing a biography of his grandfather—which Theseus had tasked himself with producing—had been brought forward too.
His relationship with his grandfather had never been easy. Theseus freely admitted he'd been a nightmare to raise. He'd thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor pursuits which had come with being a young Agon prince, but had openly despised the rest of it—the boundaries, the stuffy protocol and all the other constraints that came with his title.
His demand for a sabbatical and the consequences of his absence had caused a further rift between him and his grandfather that had never fully healed. He hoped the biography would go some way to mending that rift before his grandfather's frail body succumbed to the cancer eating at it.
Five years of exemplary behaviour did not make up for almost three decades of errant behaviour. This was his last chance to prove to his grandfather that the Kalliakis name did mean something to him.
But first the damn thing needed to be completed. The deadline was tight enough without Fiona's appendicitis derailing the project further.
Her replacement had better be up for the task. Giles had sworn she was perfect for it. Theseus had no choice but to trust his judgement.
Dimitris stood with his back to the door, talking to the woman Theseus assumed to be Despinis Brookes.
'You got back from the airport quickly,' he said as he stepped into the stateroom.
Dimitris turned around and straightened. 'Traffic was light, Your Highness.'
The woman behind him stepped forward. He moved towards her, his hand outstretched. 'It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Brookes,' he said in English. 'Thank you for coming at such short notice.'
He would keep his doubts to himself. She would be under enough pressure to deliver without him adding to it. His job, from this point onwards, was as support vehicle. He would treat her as if she were one of the young men and women whose start-up businesses he and his brothers invested in.
His role in their company was officially finance director. Unofficially he saw himself as chief cheerleader—good cop to his younger brother Talos's bad cop—there to give encouragement and help those people realise their dreams in a way he could never realise his own. But woe betide them if they should lie to him or cheat him. The few who'd been foolish enough to do that had been taught a lesson they would never forget.
He wasn't a Kalliakis for nothing.
He waited for Miss Brookes to take his hand. Possibly she would curtsey. Many non-islanders did, although protocol did not insist on it unless it was an official function.
She didn't take his offered hand. Just stared at him with an expression he didn't quite understand but which made the hairs on his nape shoot up.
Possibly she was overwhelmed at meeting a prince? It happened.
In the hanging silence he looked at her properly, seeing things that he'd failed to notice in his hurry to be introduced and get down to business. The colour of her hair was familiar, a deep russet-red, like the colour of the autumn leaves he'd used to crunch through when he'd been at boarding school in England. It fell like an undulating wave over her shoulders and down her back, framing a pretty face with an English rose complexion, high cheekbones and generous bee-stung lips. Blue-grey eyes pierced him with a look of intense concentration.
He knew those eyes. He knew that hair. It wasn't a common colour, more like something from the artistic imagination of the old masters of the Renaissance than anything real. But it was those eyes that really cut him short. They too were an unusual shade—impossible to define, but evocative of early-morning skies before the sun had fully risen.
And as all these thoughts rushed through his mind she finally advanced her hand into his and spoke two words. The final two little syllables were delivered with a compacted tightness that sliced through him upon impact.
Other books in The Kalliakis Crown series.
THE PRINCE'S SECRET LOVE CHILD!
Shocking news has rocked the Mediterranean Principality of Agon. Prince Theseus—second in line to the throne—is rumored to have fathered a secret love child.
Reports surfaced the moment stunning royal biographer Joanne Brooks was hired to memorialize King Astraeus's reign. It seems she's brought more than pens and paper!
Witnesses suggest that five years ago, our onetime bad boy prince traveled the world in disguise as engineer Theo Petakis and met Joanne. This reporter wants to know how Ms. Brooks will react when our commanding prince wants to claim his child and his bride!
"The romance is enjoyable because the characters share an awesome rapport and it is pure delight when they come together.
Theseus Discovers His Heir by Michelle Smart is a must read for everyone who loves the secret baby trope!." Harlequin Junkie
A Romantic Times Top Pick!
"Smart’s story will make every girl wish she could find a prince and fall in love." Romantic Times
Theseus Discovers His Heir's Playlist
Theseus Discovers His Heir(The Kalliakis Crown)
Buy in the US
Excerpt: Chapter One
Buy in the UK