Forced Wife, Royal Love-Child

By: Trish Morey

‘Genevieve D’Angelo,’ he began, sounding suitably put out on the young woman’s behalf, ‘can hardly be written off as some “pretty young thing”. She has an impeccable background and her family have been nobles for centuries. She is eminently qualified for the role as Montvelatte’s Princess.’

‘And what good is it to be “eminently qualified” if I don’t want her?’

‘How do you know you don’t want her before you’ve even met her?’

Rafe looked up at the older man, his eyes narrowing. Nobody else could get away with such impertinence. Nobody else would even try. But Sebastiano had been in charge of palace administration for something like forty years, and, while he’d been shunted to one side in his half-brothers’ desire to rule unopposed, Rafe credited him with almost certainly being the one thing that had held the principality together during those years of recklessness and financial ineptitude. Not that that meant he had to like what his aide said. ‘I haven’t wanted one of them yet.’

Sebastiano gave an exasperated sigh, his attention on the recently arrived aircraft. ‘We’ve been through this. Montvelatte needs an heir. How are you to achieve this without a wife? We are simply trying to expedite the process.’

‘By turning this island into some kind of ghastly reality game show?’

Sebastiano gave up the fight with a small bow. ‘I’ll inform the Contessa and her daughter you’ll meet them in the library after they’ve freshened up.’ Without waiting for a reply he withdrew as briskly as he’d arrived. Scant seconds later Rafe noticed the golf buggy used to transport travellers between the helipad and the palace heading out along the narrow path.

Rafe sighed. He knew Sebastiano was right, that Montvelatte’s future was insecure without another generation of Lombardis, and that nobody would invest the necessary funds in Montvelatte’s financial reconstruction without a guarantee of the longevity of the island’s status as a principality. But he still didn’t like the implications.

The buggy came to a halt alongside the helicopter where his aide emerged crisp and dapper, stooping under the still-circling blades as he approached before opening the door.

Rafe turned back to his papers and the problem at hand. He had no interest in its passengers: the hopeful mother, the ‘eminently qualified’ daughter. He’d seen the stills, he’d seen the tapes and the two-minute interview, all of which had been provided to give him the opportunity to assess how this particular marriage prospect looked, walked and talked and how she might satisfy at least half the requirements of a future Princess of Montvelatte—that of looking the part. The other half—doing her part—had been apparently already assured by a barrage of eminent medical specialists.

Rafe had no sympathy for these women, these carefully selected marriage prospects, who seemed so keen for the opportunity to parade in front of him like some choice cut of meat. All so they might secure marriage to a near perfect stranger and, through it, the title of princess.

It made no sense to him. What they had subjected themselves to to prove that their families and their past were beyond reproach and that there were no health impediments to both conceiving a child and carrying it to full term, beggared belief.

On the other hand, nobody had dared question his prowess to conceive a child, for despite the scandalous circumstances of his own bastard birth thirty-three years ago, he had the right bloodlines and that, it was deemed, was sufficient.

He would have laughed, if it weren’t the truth. A hitherto unknown prince had appeared on the scene in a blaze of publicity and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of the fairy tale.

Rafe glanced up, noticing Sebastiano’s lips move as he handed the second of the women into the buggy, the silky outfit she was wearing shifting on the breeze, rippling like the sea.

Even from here he could see she was beautiful. Tall, willow slim and every bit as elegant as the photographs and film footage suggested.

But then they were all beautiful.

And he was completely unmoved.

He sighed. Maybe that was one good thing about this search for a princess. At least nobody would labour under the misapprehension that this was a love match. At least he would be spared that.

The woman hesitated a fraction before entering the vehicle and turned her silver-blonde head up towards the palace, scanning from behind her designer sunglasses. Was she looking for him, wondering where he was and whether the snub of not being there to greet her was deliberate? Or was she merely sizing up the real estate?

Rafe drained the last of the thick, rich coffee and collected his papers together. He would have to meet her, he supposed. He might as well get it over with. But he would talk to Sebastiano and make him see sense. This system of princess hunting that Sebastiano and his team of courtiers had devised was no basis for a marriage. Especially not his.

Over at the helipad the buggy’s cargo was safely loaded, and the buggy was pulling away when the door of the helicopter was thrown open and the pilot jumped out, running out after the vehicle with a small case in his hands.