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C1 Heirs

Principality of Avernos, Vernonia— How it all began…

“No. No way, no how. You’re not doing this, Miri. I don’t care what you say or do. I won’t have you involved in any of this.”

She threw off her cover-up to reveal the wedding gown she wore beneath. She didn’t care how much he loomed over her, she wasn’t about to back down. Her other royal stepbrother, Lander, had long been dubbed the “Lion of Mt. Roche.” But Merrick reminded her more of a golden leopard than the king of beasts. Maybe that had something to do with his being whipcord lean and sleek, and deadly silent until he moved in for an attack. Not to mention possessing a speed and agility she’d never seen best.

“It’s too late, Merrick. I’m already involved.” His mouth compressed at the sight of her gown, and he pinned her with a merciless gaze.

“Only because you listened in on a private conversation.” He nodded knowingly. “Yes, you damn well should blush. Hell, Miri. I’m the head of Vernonia’s Royal Security Force. If I’d caught anyone else doing what you did, I’d have thrown them in the deepest, darkest pit I could find. Worse, if anyone in a position of authority had found out you’d spied, I’d have been forced to act. My own sister!”

“You need my help,” she insisted stubbornly. He gripped her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake.

“Listen to me, honey, this is serious. Abducting a woman… could mean jail for everyone involved.”

“Then it means jail.” She shot Merrick a stony glare, utilizing every ounce of logic she could summon—a difficult proposition when raw emotion held her in its grip. “Think about it. You’re planning to abduct Princess Alyssa minutes before her wedding. Don’t you think the groom’s going to notice when his bride goes missing? You need someone to take her place at the altar. To fool people just long enough so you have time to getaway.

” He thrust a hand through hair streaked every colour from blond to umber. “The operative words here are ‘getaway.’ I get away. My men getaway. Even Alyssa gets away, if not by choice. You’re the one left at von Folke’s mercy. What do you think will happen when he unveils you—literally—and discovers you’re not Princess Alyssa Sutherland, a political ally. Instead, he’s married Princess Miri Montgomery, sister of his political foe. Or have you forgotten that von Folke and Lander are rivals for the throne of Vernonia?” She dismissed the question with a sweep of her hand.

“Of course I haven’t forgotten. But do you really think Prince Brandt will have me arrested? Throw me into prison? How will that look five short months before the election to choose our next king?”

“Von Folke isn’t going to be happy,” Merrick replied, before adding beneath his breath, “and that has to be the understatement of the year.

There’s no question in my mind that he’ll take out his unhappiness on someone. I don’t want that someone to be you.”

“Brandt wouldn’t hurt me. At least…not the way you mean.”

“You can’t be certain of that.” Merrick started hammering away again.

“He might find another way to get even for the theft of his bride. I won’t allow him to use you for that purpose. Not when I’m the one responsible.”

“Nor will I.”

She stood in a copy of another woman’s wedding gown, trembling from a combination of fury and heartbreak.

“I have it all planned out. When it’s time for the unveiling at the end of the ceremony, I’m going to refuse to allow it. I’ll fake an illness if I have to. I’ll ask them to take me to my room— Alyssa’s room—until I can recover. And the instant I’m alone, I’ll change into whatever of hers fits and leave.”

“Just like that? You don’t think anyone will stop you?” Merrick folded his arms across his chest. “You can’t be that naive.” Miri lifted an eyebrow.

“Why would anyone stop me? After all, I’m just a guest at the wedding, not the bride. It’ll be Miri Montgomery who strolls out the front door, not Princess Alyssa Sutherland von Folke. Now, stop arguing, Merrick. If you don’t like my idea, then work on perfecting the plan. What can we change so it will work?”

“There’s no point in perfecting or changing anything. I won’t allow you to go through with this.”

“You’ll do it.” She played her final card.

“You’ll do it, or I’ll tell big brother what you’re planning.”

She may have pushed him too far. Anger sent twin flags of colour flaring across his cheekbones. “You’d involve Lander?” “In a heartbeat.”

“If you tell him, if you involve him in this, he’ll lose any chance at the throne. He’ll be an accessory.” She grasped Merrick’s hands in hers.

“Then let me help you. If your plan succeeds, Lander will sit on the throne. Isn’t that what you want?”

“That’s not why I’m doing this,” he instantly denied.

“All I want is a fair election. That won’t happen if von Folke marries Princess Alyssa. If he gains her as a political ally, the throne is as good as his.”

“Fine. We’re both doing it for the good of Vernonia. I just want your plan to succeed and I’m the best person to make sure that happens. Now, are we through here?” She gestured toward the door.

“Do we go switch brides now, or do you want to waste more time arguing?” Sheer stubbornness turned his eyes a molten gold and for a full thirty seconds, she was certain she’d lost.

Then he gave an abrupt nod and Miri allowed her breath to escape in a silent sigh of relief. She turned toward the door, but he stopped her before she could open it. “Not so fast.” Drawing her deeper into the room of the cottage he’d rented, he examined her appearance with a critical eye.

“What the hell did you do to your hair?”

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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