Being the Crown Prince means responsibility, but being a single father can be more responsibility than one man can handle. Thus Crown Prince Zhaiden Sinclair finds himself looking for a child psychologist to help his Heir Matthieu deal with the absence of his mother Colette, who has been barred from the lives of her children since their ugly divorce.
Enter Lady Renee Delacorte, whose expertise was driven by her own childhood trauma. Yet intelligence, education, and deep understanding cannot mitigate her fear to be in the public spotlight, a legacy of childhood trauma. When Zhaiden’s desire to court Renee is met with her reticence to pursue a relationship, he spends inordinate amounts of time to win her love, despite the press of his political duties. As the enemy planet of Javonia causes more galactic upheaval, Zhaiden strives to keep the peace without jeopardizing his family, his Empire, or his budding romance with the exquisite Renee, already dear to his precious sons.
Just when the Javonian troubles seem almost impossible to negotiate, Zhaiden’s ex-wife proves enemies closer to home can devastate an Empire as surely as any war. Can Zhaiden convince Renee to marry him after Colette’s treasonous attack? Will Renee’s nurturing ways turn her away from dealing with the traitors in the way the Imperial Family must, by execution? And can a lady who has never experienced true social pressure find the courage and sheer gumption to become the next Empress of the Sinclair Demesnes?
This futuristic romance is the fourth book of the seven-part To Be Sinclair series. The saga continues with Fealty and its companion volume Royalty, which detail the romances and political struggles of the Prince Second and Crown Prince of the Sinclair Demesnes. A few scenes describe sexually explicit behavior.
Although Zhaiden met Renee at the door to the Residence that Saturday morning, she seemed to prefer Marie’s companionship on the ride. Pretending unconcern, he gave his horse a considerable workout, galloping back and forth on the straightaway and performing the complex figure-eight moves around the trees at each end as quickly as possible. As Marie and Renee put their horses through their paces, Zhaiden watched the others jump for a while until Phillip rode over to him.
“So, I see you are becoming friends with Marie’s friend Renee.” Phillip’s grin supported one eyebrow raised in speculation.
“Yes. She is very pleasant, though very reserved. She helped me choose a psychologist for Matthieu, and she and Marie will be looking over my apartment with an eye to redecorating it, which I have wanted for quite some time.” Zhaiden decided to deflect Phillip’s attention. “I was wondering if you and Annette have finalized your wedding plans yet. You have three months or so until you wind up on Rendel. Will you be able to manage a wedding on such short notice?”
“Yes, we decided on the Saturday before Father’s Birthday Celebration, since everyone important will be in town. As the eldest Imperial, Annette and I will be first, then Elizabeth and Gerard and Sophia and Alex. Since Marie and Les married less than a year ago, we’ll use their decorations. Can you imagine what Mother and Father’s wedding must have been like, to need a year and a half of preparation?” They shook their heads together.
“Are you going to Fight Club this afternoon? I think I would like to, myself.” Zhaiden ran a hand through his hair. “I’m very frustrated about some things at this point, and I’ve not had the chance to work out all week. I suppose I should schedule workouts like Father does, but I prefer Fight Club.”
The ladies settled into Marie’s suite to look over the considerable number of catalogs the four of them had acquired that week, while Zhaiden, Phillip, Les, Gerard, and Alex headed to Fight Club. Zhaiden’s personal plan to get Renee alone in his apartment that evening was destroyed when, fairly early on, he broke his left hand, two fingers down to their metacarpals, while trying to block a kick to his face. He was grateful that Annette, a surgical medic, was on her usual Saturday half-shift at the Imperial Service and Veteran’s Hospital. Phillip was even allowed to watch while the physician had Annette and Alex help him repair the damage under a local anesthetic.
The three men returned to the Palace, with Phillip and Alex supervising Zhaiden’s first adult exposure to strong pain medications. They got him to his suite, but when Zhaiden realized they would not pour him a brandy, too, he complained.
“No alcohol for you, not while you are on pain meds. You don’t want to live with brain damage or die of asphyxiation, do you?” Alex’s gaze was determined.
“Man, you don’t soften your blows, do you?” Zhaiden half-sprawled on the couch as Alex propped his hand up on cushions. Phillip laughed gently and shook his head.
“No, I don’t. I also suggest you be careful of what you eat tonight. You are so loopy I’m afraid you might even have problems swallowing. I’ll be watching you closely, so you behave when I tell you what to do,” Alex growled. Zhaiden laughed.
Phillip sat beside him. “Alex is serious, man. Remember getting notified when Zachary Makov bashed my head in while you were on your galactic tour? Alex stayed with me at my condo for a solid week when I got out of the infirmary. Made me take my meds precisely on schedule, made me drink X amount of water precisely on schedule, and he was constantly giving me visual and verbal and reflex and balance tests. He even kicked General St. Stevens out of my condo when he came to visit and see how I was, just because it was near my bedtime. Besides, Mother will probably get Alex a day off work on Monday to supervise you during your workday and make sure you don’t bang yourself around anymore. He’ll probably rearrange your entire office to keep you from accidental injury.”
Spaced out on the medications, Zhaiden simply said, “Wow. I guess I rate a high-powered nanny after all.” Turning glum, he griped, “But Renee will think I’m an idiot, to be treated like a child.”
Phillip crowed, “Aha! The truth comes out!” as Alex supplied his own grin of triumph and Zhaiden groaned for letting his private thoughts out of the bag. Phillip had just encouraged him to confide some of his thoughts about Renee when there was a knock on the door. All four ladies entered, with Marie and Sophia cuddling up to Zhaiden instantly, asking questions showing their deep concern.
“We should have been there,” Marie moaned, biting her lip. Sophia was near tears; Zhaiden wondered if she was remembering the Fight Club accident which resulted in her skull fracture.
“Hey, hey, I’m all right, it’s just a little break or three. The men handled things well; it’s not like they haven’t seen the emergency procedures a hundred times,” he slurred a bit. Alex and Phillip surrendered their seats to Renee and Elizabeth and went to get them all softees. “And now that you ladies are here, you can go look at the new addition and tell me what you’ve come up with so far.” He slung his head in the general direction of the new door attaching the two previous suites.
“We visited it already,” Sophia stated, immediately cheering up. “Renee has a great idea. Tell him, Renee!”
Zhaiden fixed his gaze on her, blinking blearily. Renee looked very demure in the company of his vivacious sisters, but she steadily replied, “I believe it would be best if you have Matthieu decide what to bring from his nursery and bedroom to his new rooms. But I would limit the items to, say, three or four favorites. We have otherwise selected a wide array of colorful and fun furnishings, including a multi-colored picnic table as well as a small office desk that looks very grown up, like his father’s,” she concluded with a smile.
“Yes, and he can keep his art supplies there,” Elizabeth added. “I believe Renee is right; he will love having a corner of his play room as his ‘office space’, with a bookshelf for his children’s books and a small station for a new training computer.”
“I would scale them rather large, say to that of an eight-year-old, for by the time Matthieu is ready to graduate to adult furniture, Theo will be able to use them,” Renee reasoned. “Otherwise, he can develop his hand-eye coordination with drawing materials while expressing himself with his art work.”
Zhaiden smiled helplessly. “You’ve thought of everything. Maybe I’ll keep the rest of the sitting room so he can have one just like his Papa, too. The night watchman and nannies can sit there to supervise. A vidphone console with computer capabilities, a vidscreen connected to the satellite networks, a sound system, that’s all they need. They can take notes at the vidphone while letting the boys view videos.”
A knock on the door was Watchman Hockley, reminding them all of dinner in fifteen minutes. Zhaiden asked Renee, “I usually have Matthieu come to family dinners, so would you like to be seated next to him? To observe his behavior,” he added. That would put Renee right beside him, he thought happily.
Renee smiled. “But of course.”
Dinner was filled with discussions about Zhaiden and his sons’ new living arrangements. Renee spoke to Matthieu about the new room and toys he was going to have, plus the fact that he could select a few items to take with him. Matthieu was quiet while he ate and listened. He was especially attentive when everyone discussed Zhaiden’s broken hand, strapped to his chest with a sling for the evening.
Talk turned to Zhaiden’s potential new furnishings. Zhaiden reminisced about a deep, soft couch his parents used to have, while Mother and Father exchanged fond glances. At a lull in conversation, Matthieu suddenly asked, “Is Mama there?”
Everyone froze. Zhaiden glanced briefly at Renee before looking beyond her at Matthieu. “No, Mama is at her new home. This will be your new home, your own.”
Matthieu absorbed this a bit before Marie, at his other side, reminded him, “But your new home is right next to your Papa’s so he can visit you every night before bedtime, and you can visit him when you are very good.” By then everyone had resumed normal meal noises, though not a few eyes shone with unshed tears.
“Shall we all go see your new home after dinner? It’s empty and waiting for you. You can plan what you want to take with you in a few days,” Renee said matter-of-factly. This was seconded by everyone at the table, so after the meal they all went directly to what was previously Catherine’s suite.
Entering it, with Grandfather Victor holding young Matthieu, they crowded through the rooms, exclaiming how excited they were that Matthieu would be getting such a nice new home. Zhaiden inspected every room with Father and Matthieu as they talked about where the beds might go.
Josef and Stefan volunteered to take on the task of relocating what would be the new video screen and vidphone, while Evan personally guaranteed little Matthieu he would find a nice training computer for his ‘office corner’, “…just like your Papa has.” Zhaiden smiled, for Mother had taught his three youngest brothers to do such things when they were fourteen, and they had made major improvements to almost every suite in the Palace since that time.
Zhaiden palmed the door open between the two suites and escorted Father and Matthieu over to see his current suite. He had three conversational groupings in his sitting room, one to each side near the windows and one in the center facing the doorway, so Phillip rustled up some drinks for everyone while Zhaiden and Father showed Matthieu his papa’s bedroom and study.
It might have ended up being a party if Mother and Father didn’t have to tear away to attend their own evening party for a mixed group of dukes, ministers, and commissioners, to discuss the Javonian problem and give excuses for Zhaiden’s absence. The others trickled out in twos and threes, headed for their own social events, until it was just Renee with Marie and Les, as Phillip and Annette volunteered to carry the now-sleepy Matthieu on to his nursery. Zhaiden kissed his son and Annette on the cheek with his thanks while admitting his pain pills were wearing off.
Turning back to the others, Zhaiden noticed Marie and Les were engaged in a deep conversation with Renee. He went to the bar, where Phillip had stashed his meds by the small sink, then held the bottle helplessly, for he could not get the fingers of his broken hand to help open it. His low groan of frustration drew their attention, and Renee rushed over immediately to open the bottle for him.
Zhaiden leaned against the counter. “I cannot thank you enough, Renee. For everything. For this entire day.” He couldn’t understand why he abruptly had tears in his eyes. Renee, who was just turning to him with a glass of water, drew in a sharp breath of surprise. She gulped before straightening in concern and commanding him to take the pill.
Handing him the water to finish it off, Renee’s hand was lifted a bit as if to take the glass right back. Zhaiden put the glass on the sideboard and captured her hand instead. He raised it to his mouth to kiss instead of bowing over it, and let his lips linger, eyes longing for her though the tears were gone. Renee’s eyes were as wide as a deer’s.
When he let go of her hand, Renee managed to say, “It’s no shame to need help. I was glad to help. And I had fun with Elizabeth and Sophia, too. Your family is extraordinary.”
Zhaiden noticed her reserve slipping into place again. “Helping with my furnishings. Helping with my son. Helping me take my meds.” He smiled as sweetly as possible. “You would make an excellent wife.”
He smiled in even deeper satisfaction as she drew in her breath and blinked rapidly, but when she stepped back a pace and crossed her arms over her chest, his grin faded. “I’m sorry; it seems I have offended you with that remark. Please forgive me.”
Renee shook her head. “Not offended, no.” But she still stood stiffly.
Zhaiden wasn’t sure what those mixed messages represented. “I want to understand, because you are standing so defensively. Does it bother you to talk about being a wife someday?”
Renee gulped again. “Yes. Anyone’s wife,” she added for clarity. It was Zhaiden’s turn to blink.
He thought he could at least try one more time. “How about, anyone’s friend?”
A precious smile crept across her features. “That, I can do.” She unwound enough to say, “And I think you will be getting fairly doped up on that med soon, so I suggest you go to bed.” She called over her shoulder. “Marie? We need a physiological opinion over here.”
When Marie came over, Renee pointed out Zhaiden’s need to have help with his sling and removal of his shirt for the night. She helped Marie get that done and put her hand on his bare upper arm to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Good night, Zhaiden.” She pushed him gently as Marie tugged him toward the bedroom.
Marie had him in bed with his arm elevated on a pillow before Zhaiden murmured, “I really want to be her friend, Marie. Can you invite her to Family Night?” His voice was hollow already.
Marie looked at him closely. “Okay. But take it slow with her.”
“She’s shy, like an animal in a burrow. Doesn’t want to move out of her comfort zone.”
Marie nodded. “That’s right. That’s exactly right.” She turned off his light on the way out.
Zhaiden fell asleep wondering why he couldn’t remember the color of Renee’s eyes.
Copyright© Eva Caye. All rights reserved.