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By His Royal Decree Duo Book 1
Connected to Prince of Secrets (August 2013)
Harlequin Presents #3155 - July 2013
© By Lucy Monroe
Fury riding him like a pissed off stallion, Crown Prince Maksim of Volyarus let loose with a punch-cross-hook kick-boxing combo against his cousin and sparring partner.
Demyan blocked, the sound of flesh hitting pads mixed with his grunt of surprise. “Something the matter, your highness?”
Maks hated when his cousin, older by four years and raised as a brother with Maks in their family’s palace, referred to him by his title.
Demyan was well aware, but the older man liked pushing buttons, especially during their workout sessions. He said it made the sparring more intense.
Today would have been sufficiently punishing without the added irritation. Not that Maks warned Demyan of that. His cousin deserved what he got.
“Nothing wiping the smug look off your face won’t take care of.” Maks danced back before driving forward with another fast-paced, grueling combo.
Well-matched in stature and strength, they both kept their six-feet-four-inch frames in top physical condition.
“I thought tonight was the big night with Gillian,” Demyan said, scrambling in a way he rarely did during their sessions. “Don’t tell me you think she’s going to turn you down?”
“If I were going to ask, she’d say yes.” And a day ago that certainty had given Maks a great deal of pleasure.
Now, it just taunted him with what he couldn’t have. Namely, Gillian.
“So, what is the problem?” Demyan demanded as he went on the offensive, forcing Maks to defend against a barrage of punches and kicks.
“Her medical tests came back.”
“She’s not sick is she?” Demyan asked, sounding sincerely concerned.
Coming from the man with a reputation for cold ruthlessness, it would have shocked anyone else.
But Maks knew how much Demyan cared about their family. And for the last eight months, the beautiful, sweet Gillian had been moving closer and closer to joining that group.
“She’s perfectly fine.” If you didn’t count poorly functioning ovaries. “Now.”
“What does that mean?”
“She had appendicitis when she was sixteen.”
“That was ten years ago, what bearing does it have on her health now?”
Demyan stopped and stared at Maks in confusion. “What?”
In no mood to give his cousin a break, Maks took advantage of the other man’s inattention and knocked him on his ass with a well-timed kick.
Demyan jumped to his feet, but he didn’t come back for more like Maks expected. “Knock it off and explain what the hell appendicitis as a teenager has to do with an adult woman’s fallopian tubes.”
Demyan was no idiot. He knew Maks’ interest in Gillian’s reproductive system was of paramount importance to the House of Yurkovich, the royal family of Volyarus.
“She has a poorly functioning reproductive system.” Maks adjusted his thin sparring gloves. “There is less than a thirty percent chance of pregnancy.”
A lot less by some estimations, slightly more by others, according the specialist Maks had consulted.
Demyan shoved hair the same dark color as Maks’ own off his forehead. “With fertility treatment?”
“I have no intention of becoming the next father of sextuplets.”
“Don’t be an ass.”
“I’m not. You know I cannot marry a woman who won’t be able to produce the next heir plus a spare.”
Demyan didn’t reply immediately. They were both too personally aware of the costs associated with those issues.
“You aren’t your father. You don’t have to marry a woman you don’t love in order to provide an heir.”
“I have no intention of doing so. Neither will I marry a woman I like whose only hope of providing that child would be via often painful and not always successful fertility treatments.”
“You could adopt.”
“Like my parents adopted you?”
“They didn’t formally adopt me. I am still a Zaretsky. It was never your father’s intention that I inherit the throne.”
“You were just his spare,” Maks muttered with some bitterness.
Demyan shrugged. “Duty is duty.”
“And my duty precludes asking Gillian Harris to marry me.” His personal sense of honor also dictated he break things off with her as soon as possible.
“You don’t love her?” Demyan asked with only mild curiosity.
“You know better.”
“Love only leads to pain,” Demyan quoted one of Maks’ mother’s favorite refrains.
Maks added the rest, “And a compromise on duty.”
Both men had reason to believe it too.
“What are you going to do?” Demyan asked, dropping back into a sparring stance.
Maks executed a simple forward jab-left hook combo. “What do you think?”
“I’ll miss her.”
Maks didn’t doubt it. One of the reasons he’d decided to ask Gillian to marry him was because despite her mostly small town upbringing, she got along surprisingly well with his family and successfully navigated social situations many would find overwhelming.
The daughter of a renowned world news correspondent, Gillian had had been attending events with the world’s richest and most powerful since a young age.
Demyan blocked Maks’ kick and returned one of his own. “Are you going to tell her tonight?”
“I may not need to.” The lovely blue-eyed blonde would have gotten a copy of the results of her latest physical.
Gillian would know about the reasons behind her irregular menses now as well. She already knew the responsibilities associated with his position. She should be expecting the dissolution of their relationship.
A more practical woman than most, he had hopes there would be no awkward “break-up” scene.