Olivia Gates Bestseller Collection 2012

BOOK: Olivia Gates Bestseller Collection 2012
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Olivia Gates Bestseller Collection 2012
Olivia Gates
Harlequin Enterprises Pty Ltd, Australia (2009)

The Once And Future Prince

He would have been king of Castaldini until scandal sent Prince Leandro D'Agostino into exile. Now Phoebe Alexander - his secret lover who'd refused to leave with him - had come to convince him to accept his rightful crown. But the pain of betrayal still coursed through Leandro's veins.

Scorched from the decisions of her past, Phoebe knew she could never be his queen, but she would freely become the prince's lover. Then, an unexpected pregnancy changed everything...

The Prodigal Prince's Seduction

As one of the world's most powerful men, Prince Durante D'Agostino often received inappropriate offers. Yet the woman attached to this one stole the breath from his body.

Seducing the messenger wasn't supposed to be part of the deal. But after one fiery night, Durante knew Gabrielle was meant to rule by his side. Until he discovered her true identity - and launched his scheme for the most royal revenge...

THE ONCE AND FUTURE PRINCE
THE PRODIGAL PRINCE’S SEDUCTION
Olivia Gates

www.millsandboon.com.au

THE ONCE AND FUTURE PRINCE
Olivia Gates
“Should We Get On With The Negotiations, Prince D’Agostino?”

The title that he hadn’t heard in eight years and the formality that had never before passed her lips were like claws swiped across raw tissue.

“Leandro.”
He couldn’t temper his anger. “You remember my name, don’t you, Phoebe? Say it. You once moaned it, sobbed it, screamed it. I’m sure you can now pay me the courtesy of just saying it.”

Her eyes wavered before they hardened, her lips twitched before they thinned. “I see no reason to. Prince D’Agostino is what’s proper in this situation. And I demand
you
pay me the courtesy of not bringing up our past liaison again.”

He gave a rough huff. “You’d better realize fast that I don’t respond well to demands, Phoebe. I’m also notorious for being impossible to steer. So quit wasting your breath trying to maneuver this ‘negotiation.’ We’re doing this my way.”

 

Dear Reader,

After my THRONE OF JUDAR series, which was magical to write, I wondered what to do next. I wanted to continue writing to that same level of sumptuousness and enchantment, with the same world-shaking stakes. I longed to create more irresistible überalpha, larger-than-life men and the women who are their perfect counterparts. I wanted to tell more stories of impossible riches and towering passions.

And so was born THE CASTALDINI CROWN, a trilogy set on a lush Mediterranean island drenched in sun and history, a kingdom that has refused to follow the rules of the world. For in Castaldini the crown is won, not inherited.

For the first time in eight hundred years, Castaldini is in jeopardy. The reigning king is sick, and the quest for the next king is made more desperate because, according to the ancient laws, each of the only three men suited to hold the crown has one major criterion that makes him ineligible for it.

THE CASTALDINI CROWN launches with
The Once and Future Prince,
as renegade Prince Leandro D’Agostino wrestles with the decision to return to the kingdom that exiled him, and with his fear of surrendering his heart again to the woman who deserted him. Or did she?

The storyline continues in the next two months with
The Prodigal Prince’s Seduction
and
The Illegitimate King.

I would love to hear your thoughts at [email protected] Also please visit me at www.oliviagates.com.

Thank you for reading.

Olivia Gates

OLIVIA GATES

has always pursued creative passions—painting, singing and many handcrafts. She still does, but only one of her passions grew gratifying enough, consuming enough, to become an ongoing career: writing.

She is most fulfilled when she is creating worlds and conflicts for her characters, then exploring and untangling them bit by bit, sharing her protagonists’ every heart-wrenching heartache and hope, their every heart-pounding doubt and trial, until she leads them to an indisputably earned and gloriously satisfying happy ending.

When she’s not writing, she is a doctor, a wife to her own alpha male and a mother to one brilliant girl and one demanding Angora cat. Visit Olivia at www.oliviagates.com.

To Melissa Jeglinski.
Thank you for the wonderful new path. I wish you
happiness and success in everything you endeavor, MJ.

To Natashya Wilson, my incredible editor.

Can’t be happier that we’re a team, Tashya.

 

E
ight hundred years ago, Antonio D’Agostino founded the Mediterranean kingdom of Castaldini. With a culture mixing Italian and Moorish influences, the kingdom was unique. But what set it apart from the world’s monarchies was the succession law Antonio D’Agostino created. He knew none of his sons was fit to wear a crown after him, so he decreed that the succession would not be by blood but by merit. Anyone from the extensive D’Agostino clan, all now considered the royal family, could prove himself worthy of being the next king. He set stringent rules that had to be satisfied before someone could be a candidate for the crown, including that the selection of the next king had to be with the unanimous approval of the royal council of the reigning king.

And the other rules? That the future king be of impeccable reputation, of sturdy health and no vices, of solid lineage from both sides, a leader people followed due to the power of his character and charisma, and above all, a self-made success of the highest order.

So it had always been—D’Agostino men vying for the crown, striving to deserve it. Throughout history, one D’Agostino man always won over all competitors and claimed the crown. He chose his council from the royal family and during his reign selected the next king to be his crown prince, so that the transition of power occurred smoothly in case anything befell him.

And the kingdom’s motto was
Lasci l’uomo migliore vincere.

Let the best man win.

Prologue

Eight years ago

“C
ome closer, Phoebe. I won’t bite. Not too hard.”

Leandro’s rumble reverberated in Phoebe’s bones.

She choked on the surge of response, on the breath that was trapped inside her lungs. The breath she’d been holding waiting for him to contact her. The one she always held until he did.

She still couldn’t breathe. He stood as if carved from rock, staring out of his penthouse’s floor-to-ceiling windows at the Manhattan skyline, which glittered like clusters of stars set in arcane patterns. Her starved senses registered only him.

The power of his physique, the silken layers crowning his head, dimmed spotlights overhead caressing copper overtones from the hairs’ deepest mahogany. Her hands stung with the memory of convulsing in that hair as he’d exposed her to the mercilessness of his pleasuring.

His scent invaded her with a maleness and a potency that were only his, an aphrodisiac even from the distance he bade
her to eliminate. He’d already gotten her to travel four thousand miles to “come closer.”

Eight hours ago, she’d received a message from Ernesto—Leandro’s right-hand man, and their secret go-between—during Julia’s daily physiotherapy session. She’d thought he was inviting her to yet another clandestine rendezvous, one even more secret because Leandro’s situation in Castaldini was more delicate than ever after his resignation from his ambassador post. But she hadn’t found Leandro. Just his jet. There’d been no word from him all through the seven-hour flight to New York.

There hadn’t been one in four months. She’d feared silence had been his way of informing her it was over. But it wasn’t….

“I turned thirty, two months ago.”

She lurched at his rasp, a twist of longing in her gut. She’d known that. On October 26th. The urge to call him that day had frayed what had remained intact of her nerves. But his rules had been clear.
He
contacted her. It had seemed he wouldn’t anymore.

“Happy birthday.” She winced as the lame response left her lips.

His huff abraded her. “Indeed. The happiest birthday ever.”

He turned to her then. She would have staggered if she hadn’t been incapable of moving a muscle, even involuntarily.

“Nothing more to say,
bella malaki?
” My beautiful angel. The endearment shuddered through her, that mix of Italian and Moorish only he used. He prowled toward her, his shirt phosphorescent in the dimness, unbuttoned to his waist, revealing chiseled power that bunched and gleamed with every step. “Shall I make it easier? Give you a lead?” He stopped half a breath away, his emerald eyes flaring and subsiding like pulsars. “Miss me?”

She’d thought so. She’d been wrong. She’d
starved
for him.

He reached out to her, warm, large hands singeing her, steadying her body, shaking everything else. “Shall I find out?”

Yes
, her every cell shrieked.

But he did nothing, stilled. She started to shake.

The moment her tremors hit him, his pupils obliterated his irises, black holes that sucked coherence from her mind, wrenched hunger from her depths. She pitched forward, a helpless satellite yanked to an inexorable planet, hurtled into his containment.

It was like a dam had burst. Violent. Deluging. Their mouths collided, merged, flooding her with what she’d never thought to find until him. Oneness. Need that sliced her open.

Her world churned, with the delight of reconnection, with his savagery and what it betrayed of a hunger as searing as hers as his power bore them deeper into passion.

“Next time,
bellezza helwa
…next time I’ll take hours…
days
to worship you…but this time…this time…”

He threw her down, and she could only moan as she sank into the luxury of silk sheets and his scent, anticipation becoming agony as their clothes disappeared under the force of his impatience. Her arms shook, begged for his possession. He obeyed, impacted her with the force she was gasping for, thrust inside her, no preliminaries, no way to withstand any, fierce and full and beyond her endurance, razing her with pleasure, ripping an orgasm from the core that clenched around his invasion. He snatched her scream of release into his ravaging mouth, roared his own, jetting into her depths to the rhythm of her convulsions until she lay beneath him, boneless. Devoured. Replete.
Leandro.
Her lion man. Back in her life. No longer in secret…?

He drove deeper inside her, ending questions. She arched beneath him, taking, offering all. He growled into her neck, the darkness of it shaking through her with the reverberation of satiation, the accumulation of renewed need.

Until the words it carried lodged in her brain.

“I will never return to Castaldini.”

Everything stilled. She knew the situation had been tense for him in Castaldini. But not to return there, ever? Nothing could be that bad. That final. Could it?

She squirmed beneath his suddenly crushing weight. “What d-do you mean you w-won’t return? You have to…”

He pulled back, stared down at her for a long, incredulous moment, before he made an explosive sound deep in his gut, then jerked away, separated from her body, left it aching. Bereft.

“You don’t
know?

She winced at his rage. “Know what?”


Dio,
could it be? They’ve kept their decree a secret in Castaldini? This is much worse than I thought. They’re not only culturally and economically isolating Castaldini, they’re keeping it behind their own brand of iron curtain.”

“Please, Leandro…I don’t understand.”

“You want to know what spread like wildfire through the world news before the media found something else to exploit? The trivial news that I, Prince Leandro D’Agostino, whom the world was certain would be named Castaldini’s crown prince and next king, through merit and lifelong achievement—the moment I defied the current king and his men, I was declared a renegade and stripped of all my titles.”

“Oh, no…”

He barked a harsh laugh. “Don’t ‘oh, no’ yet. There’s more. I was stripped of my Castaldinian nationality, too.”

She went still, as if under the weight of a collapsing wall. She struggled for breath. “That c-can’t be true.”

“Oh, it can. I’ve been offered American citizenship and I’ve accepted it. I’m never setting foot on Castaldini again.” Suddenly he hauled her to him, stabbed his fingers into the tumble of her locks, plundered her lips in a kiss that branded her. His urgency chased everything away, had her clinging until he rasped against her lips, “And you’re never going back, either.”

The fierceness of his declaration jolted through her, had her wrenching her lips away. “I have to.”

His eyes became slits of hypnosis as he spread her, loomed over her, the embodiment of her desires. “No, you don’t. This is your country, as it now is mine. You’ll stay with me.”

She wrestled the rest out. “I have to go back to Julia.”

His hand stilled its caresses on her aching-from-pleasure breast. “Oh, yes, your poor dependent sister. The princess with a whole kingdom at her disposal and her service.”

“You know it’s not like that. She needs me.”


I
need you.”

The agonized confession lurched through her heart, each syllable a stab. Of shock.

Out of paralysis, hope started to quiver, only to be stilled in the cold grip of…suspicion.

He
needed
her? How? And why now? He hadn’t needed her before, apart from the obvious. Leandro didn’t know the meaning of need. His one and only need had been to become king of Castaldini, and nothing else had mattered in his quest for the crown. Least of all her. He’d proved that over and over.

He’d kept her a secret, had escorted other women—especially his second cousin Stella—to formal functions, passing Phoebe with that malignant woman on his arm and nodding to her as if she were nothing more than his cousin Paolo’s sister-in-law.

He’d said he’d done it to divert suspicion from their intimate liaison, which would have damaged both his chance at the crown and her reputation. At first she’d thought his claim that his measures were “to protect them both in these sensitive times” meant that he’d been planning for a future together and was being discreet to protect her reputation in the highly conservative kingdom.

But he certainly hadn’t said or done anything overt to support this belief. And that had been before Stella—who went around swatting away fawning females from Leandro as she would flies—had told her what Phoebe realized she’d been the last to know. A fact that was widely accepted. That in order to take the crown, Leandro would have to marry an “acceptable” woman. And Phoebe was certainly far less acceptable than the royal-blooded Stella D’Agostino. In fact, Stella herself was second best, and it was just as widely known that she’d get him only if his perfect match and ideal running
companion for the crown turned him down. That woman was someone who’d become Phoebe’s friend—Clarissa D’Agostino, the king’s daughter.

Now, finally, she let herself face it. The truth. He’d feared exposure not for the sake of their future together, but for his as king. That Clarissa, or even Stella, boosted his chances and she didn’t—she’d never even been in the running for his future bride. That she’d been cowardly, fearing that if she brought up any of her grievances or suspicions, he would have ended their affair. That she’d been so weak, so in love, she’d forced herself not even to think about it, had buried her head in the sand so that she could take what she could get.

But self-deception hadn’t done a thing to stop her anguish from mounting. Hadn’t she become more distraught the closer he’d gotten to the crown? Hadn’t she subconsciously wished he wouldn’t get it, so that he could settle on her? Hadn’t she feared that if he did take it—and Clarissa or Stella with it—and still wanted her, that she wouldn’t be able say no? She’d started to understand how some women ended up being the “other woman.”

And she’d gotten the wish she’d hidden even from herself. He was not in the running for the crown anymore. And he wanted her. Had said what she’d never thought he’d say. That he
needed
her.

Yeah. Right. After treating her like a dirty secret for more than a year, then cutting her off for four months without a word?

All her anguish burst out of her. “What do you need me for, Leandro? As your on-demand lover, like before? Or perhaps something a bit more permanent, now that you’ve run out of better options? What would I be in your life at this point? The ever-present outlet for your frustrations? The convenient body when you need sexual relief? Would I even be the only one to provide that?
Have
I been the only one?”

He gaped at her, as if she’d metamorphosed into an alien being right in front of him. The cold rage that crept into his eyes almost made her cringe and cry out a retraction.

Almost. She stood her ground. She had to. She
needed
to. It felt as if she’d been slowly poisoned by humiliation.

He tore his hands off her, stood and glared daggers at her enervated body. “
You’re
accusing
me,
after all I’ve done, all you’ve cost me? Why don’t you be up-front about what’s really happening here, what I suspected during those four months that you didn’t even bother to pick up the phone to inquire if I was alive or dead? I was worth your while when I was lined up to be the next king. Minutes ago you melted in my arms when you still didn’t know there was no longer any chance of that. Now I’m suddenly patently resistible.”

His aggression and the unjust accusations felt like a one-two combo. But the sting only strengthened her resolve, ignited her anger, sent it raging.

She struggled up. “You can think what you like.”

He swooped down on her, dragged her into his arms. “You’re not turning your back on me, too.”

She looked up and started to push at him and…stopped. Slumped into his hold. His eyes. What she saw there hit her harder than a KO would have. Pain. Such Pain.

And it all slotted in her mind. The loss that must be gnawing at him, corroding his spirit as the realization that he’d ceased to be everything that defined him congealed into reality. Need to absorb his pain, need for
him
hammered at her. And he’d said he needed her….

No.
He didn’t need her. He’d never needed her. He just needed to assert his thwarted will, to placate his wounded pride.

All the pain that she’d been fooling herself she hadn’t been accumulating for the past year and a half ripped through her as she tore out of his arms and jerked on her clothes.

“I hope you’ll be very happy in your new country with your miserable view of others and your self-absorption. They sure are winning you many allies.”

He approached her, his fury causing her to freeze. “So first you throw this out-of-the-blue accusation at me, and when I
throw back something relevant, instead of showing me I’m wrong, you use it as the excuse to do what you’d do anyway. Desert me. And I’m supposed to take part in this act? Speak the lines where we pretend I’m the callous offender and you’re the noble accused?”

BOOK: Olivia Gates Bestseller Collection 2012
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