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The Playboy Prince's Pregnant American
Author: Leslie North

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Sovalon’s Center for Social Welfare buzzed with stiff suits and ties, women with their hair in tight buns and men with thin-rimmed glasses perched on their noses. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get to their cubicles or meetings so they could tackle whatever pressing things were on their agendas this morning.

Prince Marcus Ashton was in no hurry.

He groaned inwardly, dreading the idea of spending an entire day trapped inside this building, at a board meeting for the new women and children’s crisis shelter that was being constructed in the city center of the kingdom.

“It will be a good experience for you, dear,” Queen Therese had said just yesterday at the castle. “It will ground you and show you how others struggle. You can afford to learn some compassion, Marcus.”

“You know I’m compassionate, Mother,” he’d argued, and she’d placed a hand on his arm.

“Remember your friend Timmy from primary school?”

How could Marcus forget? Timmy was always showing up with bruises on his dirty face, and he’d had no coat to wear in the winter. Marcus had thought his family was poor, but he came to realize it was more than that. Timmy’s father was abusive to his mother and thought nothing of shoving Timmy around as well. Marcus had gone to his parents about it, and they’d tried to help Timmy’s mother. It hadn’t ended well.

“Your work on the crisis center will ultimately help women like Timmy’s mother,” the queen said.

Her words had hit home, just as she’d expected. But that didn’t mean he was optimistic about being able to make a difference. In order to do some good on the board, the others would have to take him seriously, and that hardly seemed likely.

No one ever had before, after all.

“More importantly,” his father, King Hanson, echoed a note of sternness in his voice. “It will be a lesson in responsibility. You are to take this position seriously, Marcus. Time for you to grow up and put the playboy antics to rest.”

“Father, I can handle responsibility,” Marcus had argued, but his father scoffed, as usual.

“I find it hard to take you at your word.” The King placed a hand on Marcus’s shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “This position is your chance to show us what you’re capable of. Do a good job, and you’ll secure your inheritance and your position in the kingdom.”

“I know you can do it, Marcus.” Despite her encouraging words, his mother was wringing her hands as if she were altogether unsure of him.

Marcus sighed and attempted to argue. “This is just punishment for—”

“Watch your step, son,” his father scolded. “If you end up in the press again for anything other than your stellar work on this crisis shelter, I’ll have to consider somewhere else to invest your inheritance money. Are we clear?”

Blaming him for the fact that his short-lived fling with that dignitary’s daughter had blown up into a saucy front-page scandal was really unfair. It wasn’t as if he’d known she was engaged to someone else. When he’d met Marta, she hadn’t let on that she was attached. Only later, when pictures of them snogging in the corner of a nightclub wound up plastered on the pages of every gossip mag, had he found out about her engagement to the Prince of Jovingston.

He wasn’t the one who’d cheated while in a committed relationship. But according to his parents, it was his fault that Marta’s wedding was now on hold. Marcus was, as always, the irresponsible playboy. Every time the tabloids took a picture of him doing a shot at a club or with a different girl on his arm, his father would scold him for bringing shame on the kingdom or disgracing their family name. But this time, he’d decided to take a step beyond just scolding. This time, Marcus’s inheritance was on the line. Quiet down, stay out of the tabloids, and serve on the board to get the shelter built like a good boy, or lose everything.

Worse than the ultimatum was how certain his father seemed to be that he’d fail. Just because he enjoyed a variety of women and liked to party didn’t mean he couldn’t be accountable. He could hold down a job—especially when all it entailed was attending some meetings.

He had no burning desire to do so, but he could if he had to.

“Prove it,” his father had said.

And so, at seven a.m., an hour far too early for his liking, Marcus had forced himself out from under his comfortable silk sheets. He’d shaved and dressed in this tragically dull and conservative—and uncomfortable—suit and prepared himself for what would surely be the most boring experience of his life.

Inside the boardroom, he slid into a chair at a long table that was filled with serious-looking individuals, each one studying a pile of papers in front of him or her. Marcus didn’t have papers to study. No one had bothered to send them to him.

He was about to lay his head on the table when a deep voice yanked him from his well of self-pity.

“Good morning, Prince Marcus.”

Marcus peered up into the face of Dr. James Meriter, president of the board. He stood from his chair and shook Meriter’s outstretched hand.

“Glad to be able to serve with you,” Marcus said, unsure of what to say. “This is a great project, a worthy cause.”

“Yes,” Meriter said tightly, his lips pursed, his eyes narrowed. “This is a serious undertaking. We are quite committed to creating a positive space for women and children who have been through tough times.”

“Of course,” Marcus replied. “Me too… I mean I’m committed as well.”

Meriter eyed him suspiciously. “Prince Marcus, with all due respect, I have to be honest and tell you your father confided in me that it was his idea to place you on this board, a way to teach you some responsibility.”

Marcus nodded. What was Meriter getting at?

“I do hope you’re earnest in your efforts here and that you will avoid behaviors that might shed a negative light on our project.”

Marcus felt fingers of aggravation crawl up his neck and onto his face. His fists curled, and he had to stifle the urge to snap back with a sharp retort. It was galling to be scolded like a schoolboy, but throwing a tantrum over it would just confirm the man’s poor opinion of him.

“You don’t have to worry, Dr. Meriter,” Marcus replied with all the self-control he could muster. “I’m all business on this project.”

“Good,” Meriter said, but he continued to eye Marcus suspiciously. Marcus wanted to punch him. It was bad enough he was stuck on this damn project, but now he had to put up with Meriter’s arrogant ass all day?

“We’re about to get started, everyone,” Meriter announced. “Please take your seats.”

As Marcus slunk back into his chair, the office door swung opened. A striking, dark-skinned woman about his age sailed into the room.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said to Meriter. Marcus noticed she had an American accent. Sexy.

“Miss Rogers, welcome,” Meriter said. “We’re so happy to have you with us.” He looked at his watch. “Seems to me you’re right on time.”

Amen to that, Marcus thought.

“Team, I’d like to take a moment to introduce our newest consultant.” Meriter gestured to the beautiful and professional-looking woman. “Kyra Rogers is with us all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. She’s got an impressive resume in social work and has served on several strategic boards like ours to oversee the creation of crisis shelters in the states.”

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