Castiglione's Pregnant Princess(2)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Who’s Pygmalion?’ Zac asked with a genuine frown. ‘And how can you not know any ordinary women? You live in the same world I do.’

‘Not quite.’ Vitale’s affairs were always very discreet and he avoided the sort of tacky, celebrity-chasing women likely to boast of him as a conquest, while Zac seemed to view any attractive woman as fair game. Vitale, however, didn’t want to run the risk of any tabloid exposés containing the kind of sexual revelations that would dishonour the Lerovian throne.

In addition, he was an investment banker and CEO of the very conservative and respectable Bank of Lerovia, thus expected to live a very staid life: bankers who led rackety lives made investors unprofitably nervous. Lerovia was, after all, a tax shelter of international repute. It was a small country, hemmed in by much larger, more powerful countries, and Vitale’s grandfather had built Lerovia’s wealth and stability on a secure financial base. Vitale had had few career options open to him. His mother had wanted him to simply be the Crown Prince, her heir in waiting, but Vitale had needed a greater purpose, not to mention the freedom to become a man in his own right, something his autocratic mother would never have willingly given him.

He had fought for his right to have a career just as he now fought for his continuing freedom of choice as a single man. At only twenty-eight, he wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a wife or, even more depressingly, the demands of a baby. His stomach sank at the prospect of a crying, clinging child looking to him for support. He also knew better than anyone how difficult it would be for any woman to enter the Lerovian royal family and be forced to deal with his domineering mother, the current Queen. His unfortunate bride would need balls of steel to hold her own.

At that point in Vitale’s brooding reflections, Angel reappeared, looking abnormally subdued, and Vitale sprang upright with a question in his eyes.

‘Your turn,’ his older brother told him very drily without making any attempt to respond to Vitale’s unspoken question for greater clarification.

Angel was visibly on edge, Vitale acknowledged in surprise, wondering what sensitive subject Charles Russell had broached with his eldest son. And then Vitale made a very good guess and he winced for his brother, because possibly their father had discovered that Angel had an illegitimate daughter he had yet to meet. That was Angel’s biggest darkest secret, one he had shared only with Vitale, and it was likely to be an inflammatory topic for a man as family-orientated as their parent. It wasn’t, however, a mistake that Vitale would ever make, Vitale thought with blazing confidence, because he never ever took risks in the birth-control department. He knew too well how narrow his options would be in that scenario if anything went wrong. Either he would have to face up to a colossal scandal or he would have to marry the woman concerned. Since the prospect of either option chilled him to the bone, he always played safe.

A still-handsome middle-aged man with greying hair, Charles Russell strode forward to give his taller son an enthusiastic hug. ‘Sorry to have kept you waiting so long.’

‘Not a problem,’ Vitale said smoothly, refusing to admit that he had enraged his mother with his insistence on travelling to London rather than attending yet another court ceremonial function. Even so, his lean muscular length still stiffened in the circle of the older man’s arms because while he was warmed by that open affection he was challenged to respond to it. Deep down somewhere inside him he was still the shrinking little boy whose mother had pushed him away with distaste at the age of two, telling him firmly that it was babyish and bad to still seek such attention.

‘I need a favour and I thought you could deal with this thorny issue better than I could,’ Charles admitted stiffly. ‘Do you remember the housekeeper I employed at Chimneys?’

Vitale’s eloquent dark eyes widened a little in disconcertion, lush black gold-tipped lashes framing his shrewd questioning gaze. He and Angel had spent countless school vacations at their father’s country house on the Welsh border and Vitale had cherished every one of those holidays liberated from the stuffy traditions and formality of the Lerovian court. At Chimneys, an Elizabethan manor house, Vitale had been free as a bird, free to be a grubby little boy, a moody difficult adolescent, free to be whatever he wanted to be without the stress of constantly striving to meet arbitrary expectations.

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