The Life She Left Behind

By: Maisey Yates

A prequel novella to The Santina Crown series

Chapter One

It had finally happened. Sheikh Taj Ahmad, ruler of Rahat, had lost his mind completely. She was there, standing in the shadows on the otherwise vacant balcony that extended over the back portion of the ballroom. In an instant all the well-dressed, beautiful women that surrounded him faded away. He could see nothing but Angelina Carpenter.

So many times she had featured in his dreams, and yet, she had never quite looked like this. Hair pulled back into a ponytail, skinny jeans hugging her curves. This was a formal event, the engagement party for Prince Alessandro Santina. And famed oil heiress Angelina Carpenter was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

The entire party had possessed an air of the surreal from the moment it had started. The presence of the loud, tacky Jackson family, the prince’s future in-laws, with their penchant for drama had turned the royal setting on its head from the beginning.

The tension was only heightened by the attendance of Alessandro’s ex-fiancée, who looked beautiful and brittle, ready to crack at any moment.

But none of that mattered now. He couldn’t see it anymore. He could hardly remember the reason he’d come tonight. There was nothing but Angelina now.

She turned her head, her eyes clashing with his, in spite of the distance and every person between them. She froze, up in her hiding place there on the balcony, her beautiful lips parting.

He could see her intake of breath, see her hold it, and he held his in answer. Or possibly because breathing had simply become too difficult.

“Taj,” the woman to his right, the one who had been attempting to climb him all evening, purred his name, her fingers curving into his bicep, “would you go and fetch me a drink?”

He turned to look at her, breaking the spell Angelina had held him under. The room came back, conversation rising in volume. His unwanted companion’s red lips were pursed into a pout. His stomach clenched. With annoyance, not desire.

“I do not fetch,” he said, breaking out of the woman’s grasp, redirecting his attention to the balcony.

Angelina was gone.

Had she really been an illusion? A dream? A waking one this time, sent to tempt and torment him with the memory of what he could not have?

It wasn’t possible. Angelina, in his dreams, was always the polished heiress. Never undone, not even in his more erotic dreams, when he pictured holding her in his arms, their naked limbs entwined. Even then she was the soul of high-gloss perfection.

This woman, with her strawberry hair pulled back into something as juvenile and unsophisticated as a ponytail, was not the Angelina of his fantasies.

That could only mean she was real.

Cold pin pricks dotted over his back, a clammy sweat on his forehead, as he wove through the ballroom, headed to the back doors. Unless there were secret passageways in the Santina palace, and it was possible, she would have to pass by the ballroom when she went down the stairs.

He moved quickly through the crowd, paying no attention to the people who tried to greet him. He hardly heard them, hardly understood them. The low din of conversation and the strains of music simply faded.

He pushed the doors open and cursed when he saw the empty corridor. Perhaps it had been an illusion. Another round of torture at the hands of Angelina Carpenter. Three years since he’d seen her and still she tormented him.

He heard a sound to his left and he followed it, feeling a fool on an even more foolish errand. But he could not stop himself. Not now.

His heart thundered and he rounded the corner and into another stretch of hallway, just in time to see long strawberry hair disappearing around the next corner.

And he ran.

It couldn’t be him. No, it very well could be him, and that was the problem. The very scary, very bad, very heart pounding-hand-shaking problem.

Angelina leaned against the wall in the vacant corridor and closed her eyes, tried to catch her breath. Taj.

Flashes. Pictures. The happiest moments of her life flashed behind her eyes. Taj when she’d met him for the first time, his warm smile. His attempt at wearing a cowboy hat and adapting to the Western style of horseback riding. And the evening they’d spent in the main barn at her father’s ranch, the night she’d fallen in love with him.

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