The Princess & the Pea
power of his arms around her and hear the fervor of his dedication in every word he spoke. This was a man one could willingly sacrifice one's own dreams for to help him achieve his. This was a man with whom to share a life. A future. A love.
    She sighed with contentment and rested her head on the back of the seat. A smile from somewhere deep within her blossomed slowly on her face. She had never known sensations like this before. But then, never before had she been well and truly kissed.
    Jared strode toward the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower looming before him. He spotted Cece's unmistakable figure some distance ahead and his determined step faltered, then slowed.
    He pulled to a stop and studied the scene, far enough away to watch the sisters without fear of detection. Cece, tall and lithe, sported a stylish if somewhat absurd hat, and he smiled at the sight of it. She stood over her sister's seated form beside what appeared to be an artist's easel.
    At once his smile faded. He clenched his jaw and fisted his hands at his sides. A leaden weight lay in the pit of his stomach. A heavy vise gripped his chest. For all he wanted to hear her voice, revel in her smile, hold her in his arms, his courage failed him.
    He did not fear what he had come to tell her, although it was perhaps the most difficult thing he'd ever had to do. Now that he saw her, at most a few strides away, he suspected—no, he knew —that if he spoke to her face-to-face he would not be able to resist taking her in his arms. And then he would never let her go.
    Jared had spent a long, sleepless night wrestling with unanswered questions of responsibility and honor and desire and, God help him, even love. With the dawn came the inescapable truth that this new and previously unknown feeling was surely love. What else could be so compelling? What else could be so painful?
    Cece laughed, and even at this distance the sound tugged at his heart, a sound resonant with energy and the sheer joy of living. This was a woman who could be more than a mere wife: this was a woman who could be a partner. His partner. A mate not simply for his life but for his soul.
    Together, they could make his dreams come true. Together they could build his lone automobile into an empire. Together, they could share what would surely be as close to what he, or any other man, could ever come to paradise on this earth.
    Jared didn't care if she was the daughter of a butcher or a king. And perhaps in another time, another place, love alone would be enough. Today ... it was not.
    Slowly, he withdrew' an envelope from his waistcoat. He had written the note it held by the first light of day in the event he did not have the fortitude to do what he must. It was not so much a question of strength, or even courage, but rather honor. With Cece's blatant disregard of convention, enthusiastic response to his kiss, and trusting innocence, he had no doubt he could make her his, take her for his pleasure alone. But given the depressed state of the family finances, he was not free to offer her more. He could not make her his wife.
    He turned, and his gaze fell on a group of small boys playing on the grass. He gestured to the oldest, a lad of about eight. "Boy?"
    "Oui, monsieur?"
    Quickly Jared explained the errand, pointed out Cece to the child and handed him the note and a coin. The boy grinned slyly and winked. It seemed even at this tender age a Frenchman was a Frenchman, and well versed in the little intrigues of love.
    Jared sent the child on his way. He cast one last greedy glance in Cece's direction, as if to burn her image into his mind forever, men quickly strode away.
    Putting her behind him, figuratively and literally, also meant an end to his ambitions for his automobile. His own dreams were inconsequential compared to his family's need for him to marry wealth and guarantee their financial survival. There wasn't a chance in hell that the heiress he so badly needed to find and wed would understand

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