A Secret Heir to Secure His Throne

Satisfyingly Spicy

The king’s road to vengeance starts at the altar! USA TODAY bestselling author Caitlin Crews thrills with this secret baby romance.

Reclaiming his royal future
With the consequence of his past!

Paris Apollo was unwillingly crowned King when his parents were murdered. Grief-stricken, he distanced himself from his people, intent on planning his revenge. Now he’s discovered a shocking secret: he has a son! A legitimate heir would mean a triumphant return to power— if Madelyn Jones will marry him…

No longer wide-eyed and innocent, Madelyn refuses to be a pawn in Paris Apollo’s royal game—but each electrifying moment in his presence reminds her of their first whirlwind affair. Dare she risk her heart again as his queen?

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A Secret Heir to Secure His Throne

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As walks of shame went, this one bordered on epic.

And better yet, gave Madelyn Jones a lot of time to think about the consequences of her foolish actions during her semester abroad back in college. As if she hadn’t already spent the past six years doing exactly that.

At some points, hourly.

Though she had thought about it less and less as the years went by. That was what reality did—it chipped away at all the flights of fancy and what ifs, not to mention all the pointless angst that went along with it, and what was left was life itself. No more and no less.

Madelyn liked her life these days. She’d worked hard to assemble it.

Now it was as if she might as well not have bothered.

She laughed a little at that, though not because it was funny. She was sitting in the back of an armored SUV, halfway up the side of a mountain in the remotest region of the island kingdom of Ilonia, known for winning wars against the Visigoths in antiquity and for otherwise being a largely isolated wet and gray archipelago located off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, north and east of the Azores.

When a person thought about island kingdoms, they thought of sparkling blue waters the temperature of a cozy hug. Or Madelyn did. White-sand beaches beneath graceful palm trees, cocktails festooned with ripe and exotic fruits, and lovely, temperate winters bursting with tropical flowers in a riot of bright colors.

It was just Madelyn’s luck that even that was denied her. The capital of Ilonia was on a different island than this one, with an old harbor, colorful buildings arranged prettily enough, and the Royal Ilonian Palace set on the highest hill. That was where they’d landed, and while it was hardly the Caribbean she’d never set foot in but had dreamed about through many a snowy winter, she’d thought it was nice enough. But this island—accessible only by one designated and highly regulated ferry or the monarch’s personal air transport—was considered the royal refuge in these green and cloudy mountains sticking up out of the Atlantic, covered in deep jungles, volcanic craters, and an improbable number of blue hydrangeas.

Here stood the tallest mountain in Ilonia, Madelyn had been told. With more pride than someone who lived in the American West and knew from tall mountains found reasonable. What that meant in practical terms was that they were high up and it was cold. It was still temperate enough compared to Madelyn’s home back in a little village near Lake Tahoe—a vast and mostly unspoiled lake nestled between California and Nevada and currently blanketed by the latest snowstorm, the way it would likely continue to be until June—but still. The slap of the cold as they’d climbed up the winding mountain road—the center vehicle in a convoy, flanked by the Royal Guard—was unexpected.

Like all the rest of what was happening to her.

“You have been cleared to approach the Hermitage, Miss Jones,” the forbiddingly sleek older woman beside her said in her smoothly accented English.

For the second time, since Madelyn had yet to make a move.

Madelyn had already gotten all the arguments out of her system. Or, more accurately, she’d grudgingly accepted their futility.

“Lucky me,” she murmured, sarcastically, because maybe she was still more in the grudging part of her acceptance of this shocking turn her life had taken.

The woman beside her—the terrifying Angelique Silvestri, whose silver hair seemed to gleam with malice—only smiled.

It was the same smile she’d aimed at Madelyn when she presented herself at the front door of the house Madelyn shared with her aunt Corrine, a black-clad entourage splayed out behind her. The same smile that stayed in place throughout each and every interaction that had led them here, across the world and up the side of a mountain in the rain and sleet.

“You agreed to this course of action,” the older woman reminded her calmly.

Always so very calmly, as if that made it better.

“It was less an agreement and more blackmail,” Madelyn reminded her. She had fought too hard the past six years to take anything lying down. But then she sighed because she also wasn’t quite so foolish these days. She didn’t take pointless stands that might negatively impact her survival. That wasn’t an option available to her. Again, that was reality. That was life. And usually, she thought that was a good thing. “But I’m here. How many people would you estimate have died by slipping off that tiny path and falling to their deaths far below?”

Angelique Silvestri was an Ilonian minister. Madelyn didn’t know or care of what.

But she was very good at infusing her every utterance with the weight of her mysterious office when she spoke. “Very few commoners are permitted to set foot on this island, Miss Jones. Those who do are sufficiently aware of the privilege and do not tend to waste the opportunity on histrionics. All you need to do is walk up the path and enter the Hermitage. I hope that’s not too much to ask of a girl with your apparent resourcefulness.”

Madelyn did not dignify that comment with a response. One of Angelique Silvestri’s talents was making it clear that she was delivering a stinging set down, but opaquely enough to leave it open to interpretation. Was she referring to Madelyn’s job as a waitress in one of Tahoe’s fancier resorts? Or did she mean the fact that Madelyn had never asked for help—or anything else? All that was clear was that resourcefulness was not being mentioned as a positive. Not along with the reminder that Madelyn was a commoner.

But she bit her tongue because there was nothing to gain by getting into this again. She’d flown all the way here. She’d agreed to this back in Tahoe. There was no point in backing out now just because it was all a little bit more frightening than advertised.

That could be the title of her autobiography, really.

Spurred on by that notion, she pushed open the heavy SUV door—made heavier by the gusting wind and the sleet turned to hail that pelted her. She climbed out, taking a moment to pull the hood of her jacket over her head. It wasn’t much help, but she told herself it was better than nothing.

“Sometimes that’s all you get,” she reminded herself beneath her breath.

Life was nothing if not an opportunity to gather up the lemons and make lemonade.

She didn’t look back at the SUV and Angelique, swallowed up behind the tinted windows. Madelyn headed instead for the path up the mountain, which was little more than a narrow hiking trail carved into the forbidding rock. The trail wound away from the small, flat area where the convoy was parked, hugging the steep mountainside as it curved around and headed up.

And up. And up.

Madelyn knew where she was going. She’d dutifully looked at the images while flying over the Atlantic. The Hermitage had been built centuries ago to honor an Ilonian king. It had been carved into the mountain itself and still stood proudly, famous for the lights that beamed out from this otherwise restricted island when a royal was in residence, like a beacon over the archipelago.

Or like the ego of the man she knew waited within.

But there was no point in worrying about him just yet, Madelyn told herself. First, there was living through this hike.

The wind picked up as she trudged up the path, doing her best to huddle against the side of the mountain without seeming to do exactly that. She did still have her pride, after all. Pride that was hard-won and well deserved—and she was keenly aware that every step she took drew her closer and closer to one of the major reasons she’d had to fight so hard in the first place.

She didn’t like to think about those last few weeks of her study-abroad adventure at Cambridge. Those clear, sunny days that everyone in England had told her were unusual, especially as it wasn’t beastly hot, either. The days had been so long. The evenings had stretched on into forever.

And the sweet, warm nights had changed her whole life.

She could still hear his laughter, like it might dance on the wind in this lonely place the way it had seemed to all along the River Cam. She could see all that light and magic sparking in his unusual green eyes, nearly as turquoise as the sea she’d imagined would surround the fanciful island kingdom she’d known—vaguely—he came from.

Just as she could remember how it had ended. Her flight back home had been canceled at the last minute, leaving her with an extra night in England. Instead of staying down in London, she’d taken the train back up to Cambridge. She’d been so thrilled that she would get to surprise him. She’d been so sure he would welcome that surprise. She hadn’t stopped to think twice. She hadn’t stopped or thought at all.

It was cringeworthy, looking back. Madelyn had to take care she didn’t cringe herself right off the side of the slick, cold mountain.

Madelyn had hurried into the endless party that was forever going on in the private house where he lived. It sometimes appeared to be a communal-living situation with his friends and sometimes seemed to be only his—he had waved a hand and changed the subject whenever it was raised—but in either case, she had pushed her way through the usual throngs of people and darted up the stairs, bursting with excitement.

But those guards of his that she’d come to consider friends barred her way.

Worse, they’d looked at her with pity. And hadn’t let her into his rooms.

And she’d known full well, by then, that there was only ever one reason they kept the Prince from his adoring friends and fans. It was still embarrassing, even now as she tracked up the side of this endless mountain, to remember how long it had taken for the penny to drop. How humiliatingly long she’d stood there, staring up at his guards in disbelief because they had always been so friendly to her before and what could possibly have changed…?

“Idiot,” she muttered to herself now, picking up her pace on the narrow path. “Complete and utter fool.”

She told herself the good thing about remembering all the actual details she usually preferred to gloss over these days was that she wasn’t tempted to look off the side of the path or imagine, in dizzying detail, exactly what would happen to her if she slipped…

Better to think of that first, perhaps more painful fall, back in Cambridge.

In the present, Madelyn blew out a breath. Back then, she’d turned away from those great doors and his pitying guards. Eventually. But that hadn’t been an improvement, because one of his slinky friends waited there, at the top of the stairs. Very much as if she’d gone out of her way to follow Madelyn up from the crowded lounge.

In the aftermath, Madelyn had returned to that moment again and again, and she could only conclude that Annabel—who was Lady Something-or-other-unutterably-posh, yet spent the bulk of her time partying with her family’s money—had almost certainly seen Madelyn enter the house. And had followed her up the stairs to take pleasure in what she would find here.

But that night, Annabel had pretended to be sympathetic.

With the same insincerity she’d used while pretending to be friendly over those last few weeks.

Darling, Annabel had purred. You look positively crestfallen. I did warn him that you couldn’t possibly know how these games are played. But he’s careless, you see. He always has been. No one ever dared tell him not to break his toys.

What was funny, Madelyn thought as she kept marching resolutely uphill, was that for some time after she’d slunk back to spend a terrible night on a shiny terminal floor in Heathrow, she’d imagined that moment between her and the smirking, completely phony Annabel was the worst of it.

When it had only been the beginning.

It was that last thought that calmed her, though she sped up even more. She wanted out of the cold. Out of the pelting hail. She wanted to do what she’d agreed to do, then march herself right back down to the brittle Angelique, express her sympathies that she’d been unsuccessful because she was sure she would be, and head right back to her life.

Like everything else in life, the only way out was through.

The Madelyn who had staggered out of that house in Cambridge, heartsick and bewildered, had been weak. Foolish and silly, just as Annabel had always intimated, and the fact she had to admit that to herself stung. It had been a bitter pill then and it never got any less bitter.

It was just that Madelyn had grown stronger.

She’d had no choice. She’d lost everything she’d thought mattered to her, as surely as if she’d set her life on fire. But it turned out she was a phoenix, because she’d learned how to rise up anyway. These days, she thought of the fire as the thing that had made her, not destroyed her.

And all this was, she thought as she wound around the side of the mountain again and saw that stone-cut building before her in the gloom, was a little bit of leftover ash. Easily enough given over to the wind, then hopefully forgotten.

Madelyn studied the Hermitage as she climbed the last little way. It was even more impressive up close, where she could see that the ancient artisans really had etched the building from the mountain itself. From a distance, it looked as if it floated here, somehow holding the peak up above it while perched so prettily on the bulk of the mountain below. Up close, it was less pretty and more…a kind of shrine to a certain ruthlessness, really.

Because who climbed this far up the side of an inhospitable mountain and thought, Why, yes. I will fashion myself a dwelling place here and make myself a part of the mountain itself.

But even as she thought that, something in her knew the answer.

The Hermitage rose several stories above the path, on the other side of a stone arch and an ancient gate that could have guarded the entrance to any medieval keep. As she approached, she looked around, not for a doorbell or anything so modern, but for some kind of ancient device—a bellpull or the like—that might allow her to signal whoever lurked within that she was here.

A part of her hoped there was nothing. Or even if there was, that it would fail to raise the Hermitage’s lone inhabitant. She was already plotting out how she would sorrowfully explain to Angelique that there was nothing to be done. That she couldn’t even gain entrance, and so it was best all round if she simply took herself back home and let the Kingdom of Ilonia sort itself out without her.

Madelyn felt the most cheerful she’d been in days as the path opened up a bit wider here at the top, to fit in all that stone and drama.

But her hopes were crushed when she got closer and realized that there was a little door in the great gate, and it already stood open.

Muttering under her breath, Madelyn forced herself to step right on through instead of standing there, thinking better of it.

Inside, she blinked as she looked around, because she was still outside, if beneath the outcropping above. She’d walked into what looked like some kind of castle keep and realized that what she’d taken for an ornate window between one floor and the next was actually a perfect place to pace around, staring down at the world far below. On clear days, Angelique Silvestri’s assistant had informed her on the plane, it was possible to see the entire sweep of Ilonia from the hallowed heights of the Hermitage. Madelyn hadn’t cared much about that while flying. But now that she was up here, she found herself almost wishing that it was clear today. Because she imagined the view must be spectacular enough to almost make even her forced march worth it.

And that was when some faint little movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. So she turned her head, and there he was.

Her breath caught.

Seeing him, it turned out, was significantly worse than imagining seeing him had been all these years.

Seeing him was like getting torn wide open. She was shocked she withstood the impact of it. She thought she might have crumpled, or screamed, or simply…imploded.

But she didn’t. She stood fast.

She reminded herself that she had already survived him.

Defiantly, Madelyn took a big, deep breath and told herself it was the melodrama of this situation that was getting to her, nothing more.

There was no need to feel anything, she told herself. She eyed him critically instead.

He stood there at the top of the carved stone stairs. He was dressed in black. A pair of black boots that looked better suited to combat, even from a distance. A pair of tactical trousers that rode low on his hips, as if he planned to scale a fortress later on. And a T-shirt that did its job of defining each and every muscle in his upper body far too well.

He had been lean and beautiful when she’d known him. Almost ethereal, as his many admirers had sighed and simpered. His hair had been longer, a mess of blond waves that had made him look like a myth. Today, that hair was close cropped and much darker, giving him the look of a kind of burnished gold and lending him an air of intensity that made her skin seem to tighten where she stood.

But it wasn’t his hair that was the most disconcerting, she corrected herself. It wasn’t all the messy things inside her that she refused to admit she was feeling. It was that he wasn’t smiling.

His mouth was set in a hard line, though that didn’t diminish the sensuality that had always been one of the first things anyone ever noticed about him—a presence and charisma that could light up whole cities without his even trying—but, rather, made it something else again. He had always seemed amused by his effect on others. He’d appeared entertained by the arrangement of his features, as if he’d had a hand in making himself so beautiful. Those high cheekbones, that mouth, the dazzling symmetry of his objectively perfect face.

Today, there was nothing that suggested entertainment or amusement anywhere in him. He looked…tougher, Madelyn thought. Though that was a remarkably strange word to use about this man. A man she always pictured lounging somewhere. A man so languid and committed to his own pleasure that he could make a simple morning stretch, still lying in bed, a symphony of sensuality if he chose.

It was not that this harder, more intense man had lost that sensuality. It was more that it had shifted into a kind of brooding masculinity that seemed to carve its way deep inside Madelyn where she stood. Then it was not only that her skin prickled, but also that she could feel that same tightening wind around and around inside her, spiraling down until she felt it twist into heat at her core.

She shouldn’t have been surprised.

This was the problem with this man. This was his sorcery. Madelyn had been levelheaded and rational, not at all the sort to have her head turned by the glittering mob of Cambridge’s excruciatingly glamorous upper class. She’d worked too hard to get there. She’d known exactly who she was. She’d been proud of her modest beginnings, her down-to-earth upbringing. Her goal in life had been to make her parents proud, then do something worthwhile with her life to prove that she was worth all the education neither Angie nor Timothy Jones had ever thought was worth the bother.

Instead, one night she’d walked into the wrong pub—filled, for some reason, with a collection of bright and shining young things who the friends she’d been with had informed her spent most of their days on the pages of Tatler. When not yacht-hopping across the Mediterranean or sequestering themselves on breathtakingly posh estates from Vanuatu to Positano and back again.

Madelyn had glanced their way with the sort of interest she might have shown a cage of sleeping creatures in a zoo.

But he’d looked back. Their eyes had met, then held.

And nothing had ever been the same.

She’d found a prince in England, just as her friends back home had teased her she would. Sadly for her, he’d used his charm to talk her into behavior that was so unlike the staid, prim, studious girl she’d been that she’d spent all the years in between wondering how on earth he’d ever compelled her to do it.

But as he slowly descended those stairs, she found, to her dismay, that she understood the former version of herself entirely.

Even though he wasn’t smiling today. Even though his approach seemed far more measured, far less breathless and bright. Even though it was different, he still managed to make her forget that they were stuck together in a heap of stone thousands of feet above the ground. On this island in the middle of nowhere, closer to Iceland than the coast of Portugal. He made her forget everything except him, as if he was still as inevitable as he’d seemed then.

It was the way he walked, as if the entire universe had been created to celebrate every step he took and to arrange itself around him as he moved.

It was the way he focused on her, intent and decisive enough that she had the same stray panic she’d had years ago, wondering if he could read every single thought she had inside her head.

It didn’t matter that this version of him seemed grim and changed.

It was still him. Paris Apollo of Ilonia. The man who had altered the entire course of her life.

She stood straighter. She lifted her chin as he stopped before her, there in the half-protected stone yard of this ancient place.

“I will admit that I am intrigued,” he said, and it was still his voice. She still recognized it, much as she’d like to deny that, because that recognition was physical. It rolled through her like fire, leaving the same scorch marks it always had. “To discover why, having failed to compel me with all of the previous emissaries they’ve sent to beg and beseech me, they settled on a slip of a woman in cheap shoes.”

Madelyn took that in. And did not indulge the spark of outrage deep inside her that wanted to inform him that these were the most expensive shoes she owned. Because there was scrimping and there was saving, and then there was appropriate footwear for life beside Lake Tahoe, where it was always necessary to be ready for any and all weather at any given time.

Because she was certain he knew perfectly well that he was being rude.

“Nothing to say?” His voice was quiet and somehow more…commanding than she recalled. But then, she needed to catch up to current events. Paris Apollo was a king now. He’d been elevated from the Prince she’d known two years ago, when his parents had been killed. “They cannot possibly have sent me a woman for pleasure. If they had, I feel certain they would not have chosen you. Some nameless creature, wan and faintly disapproving. These things do not stir the body or the blood, I think you’ll find.”

That was even more astonishing, as she assumed it was meant to be. And Madelyn could not say that she cared much for his choice of descriptors, but she couldn’t really argue with his assessment, either. “I flew halfway around the world to climb an inhospitable mountain and be insulted by you for the effort. You’re lucky I’m not significantly more disheveled.”

“I think someone has made yet another error in judgment.” He prowled closer and peered down at her, as if looking for evidence of that error. On her face. “It’s not that there isn’t something pleasing about your appearance, you understand. A whiff of innocence to go along with the American accent. They should have told you that I have always preferred my lovers to be rather more sophisticated.”

And he was already stepping back again, flipping the back of his hand in her direction to dismiss her before she’d processed what he’d said.

Not the fact that he seemed to think she’d been sent in like a royal harlot.

But the other, more critical part.

She tilted her head to one side. And considered a possibility she would have assumed was inconceivable. “You don’t know who I am?”

He paused. Considered her. His eyes seemed to gleam. “Should I?”

A thousand possible responses to that flooded her. There was outrage and insult aplenty. She couldn’t deny that. And maybe, buried way down beneath it, some kind of hurt, too.

Because she certainly remembered him. Every single day, whether she liked it or not.

But in all of this, it had never occurred to her that he would fail to remember her in turn.

She wasn’t sure she believed him. Even so, she wanted to remind him exactly who she was and who she’d been to him, if briefly. So much that she ached with all the things she didn’t say. She wanted to give him dates and times and even produce the one photograph she had of the two of them together, but she didn’t.

Because if he didn’t remember her, Madelyn couldn’t influence him one way or the other, and that was her entire reason for being here.

And if she couldn’t influence him, if she didn’t have the leverage on him that Angelique Silvestri had imagined she would, Madelyn might as well turn right around and leave.

There was a different kind of sensation drumming in her then, electric and intense. She told herself it was relief. And that she would do her due diligence, nothing more. “Is this all a lot of smoke and mirrors to cover up a case of royal amnesia?”

Those pale green eyes of his looked even more unworldly set against his darker, shorter hair. She noticed things she didn’t remember, like how sooty his lashes were. And he was still as beautiful as ever, but it was all changed now. As if he’d spent all these years since she’d last seen him ridding himself of anything that was soft or accessible or languid until there was nothing left but this…tempered steel.

As if he was more a weapon than a king.

“Is that the prevailing propaganda?” he asked softly. “Is it my incapacity they whisper of in the palace? Are you here to bear witness to it? It’s an inspired choice, I grant you. You somehow manage to look both as if butter wouldn’t melt and yet practical. I can already see you giving reluctant interviews to anyone who asks. Poor Paris Apollo, so diminished. So unequal to his role, as everyone expected after his misspent youth. You have my blessing to tell them whatever you wish.”

“So that’s a no, then, on the head injury? You’re not suffering from any kind of condition—you legitimately don’t remember me. You have absolutely no idea who I am.”

She tried not to sound as pleased by that as she told herself she felt.

“I’ve never liked tests,” he said, and there was a hint, then, of the amusing, rambling, philosophical way he’d used to talk. So leisurely and unconcerned about everything because, truly, he’d been the most unsuitable Crown Prince anyone in Europe had ever heard of. Or so the tabloids had claimed. “Do you think I ought to recognize you?”

Madelyn felt something enormous inside her…shift.

And as it did, a kind of giddiness flooded in behind it.

She told herself that was what it was.

“No,” she said. “Certainly not.”

She did not curse his name. She did not indulge the part of her that would always be that foolish girl standing outside his bedroom door, unable to process that he’d moved on before she’d even left the country. Or that, in all likelihood, he’d never considered them a couple at all in the way that she had. She didn’t offer proof that she knew him. Because a part of her had long since accepted that in reality, she didn’t. She hadn’t. She’d never known him, because if she had, her life would look very different than it did now.

And she liked her life, she reminded herself. Fiercely. Just as it was now, which didn’t mean that it was without difficulty—but it was hers. She’d made it. She claimed it.

It wasn’t her fault that his was a disaster, despite or because of his entire government playing games like this one. He clearly had no interest in fixing it, but why should she care? This had nothing to do with her.

“No,” she said again, more firmly. “If you don’t know me, you don’t know me. Enjoy your…hermiting.”

And then she turned and headed for the door and the path down the mountain, more than ready to get the hell out of this unpleasant spiral into the past before it ate her whole.

End of excerpt