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CHAPTER 100

OUTSIDE THE STONE chapel, in the predawn mist, Ambra Vidal pressed the phone anxiously to her ear. Julián is sorry! She felt a rising dread, fearing what he might be about to confess regarding the terrible events of tonight.

Two Guardia agents lingered nearby, just out of earshot.

“Ambra,” the prince began quietly. “My marriage proposal to you … I’m so sorry.”

Ambra was confused. The prince’s televised proposal was the last thing on her mind tonight.

“I was trying to be romantic,” he said, “and I ended up putting you in an impossible situation. Then, when you told me you couldn’t have children … I pulled away. But that wasn’t the reason! It was because I couldn’t believe you hadn’t told me sooner. I moved too quickly, I know, but I fell for you so fast. I wanted to start our lives together. Maybe it was because my father was dying—”

“Julián, stop!” she interrupted. “You don’t need to apologize. And tonight, there are many more important things than—”

“No, there’s nothing more important. Not to me. I just need you to know how deeply sorry I am about how everything happened.”

The voice she was hearing was that of the earnest and vulnerable man with whom she had fallen in love months ago. “Thank you, Julián,” she whispered. “That means a lot.”

As an awkward silence grew between them, Ambra finally mustered the courage to ask the hard question she needed to ask.

“Julián,” she whispered, “I need to know if you were involved tonight in any way with the murder of Edmond Kirsch.”

The prince fell silent. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight with pain. “Ambra, I struggled deeply with the fact that you spent so much time with Kirsch preparing this event. And I strongly disagreed with your decision to participate in hosting such a controversial figure. Frankly, I was wishing you had never met him.” He paused. “But no, I swear I had absolutely no involvement in his murder. I was utterly horrified by it … and that a public assassination took place in our country. The fact that it happened only a few yards from the woman I love … has shaken me to my core.”

Ambra could hear the truth in his voice and felt a rush of relief. “Julián, I’m so sorry to ask, but with all the news reports, the palace, Valdespino, the kidnapping story … I just didn’t know what to think anymore.”

Julián shared with her what he knew about the convoluted web of conspiracy surrounding Kirsch’s murder. He also told her about his ailing father, their poignant meeting, and the rapidly deteriorating state of the king’s health.

“Come home,” he whispered. “I need to see you.”

A flood of conflicting emotions surged through her heart as she heard the tenderness in his voice.

“One more thing,” he said, his tone lightening. “I have a crazy idea, and I want to know what you think.” The prince paused. “I think we should call off our engagement … and start all over.”

The words sent Ambra reeling. She knew the political fallout for the prince and for the palace would be substantial. “You … would do that?”

Julián laughed affectionately. “My dear, for a chance to propose to you again someday, in private … I would do absolutely anything.”

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