Taken by a trillionaire.., p.13
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       Taken by a Trillionaire 1-3, p.13

         Part #1 of Taken by a Trillionaire series by Ruth Cardello
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His eldest brother, Xander, had refused to tell Bryan why it had been necessary for him to marry months ago, when he’d been so desperate to find his bride. Bryan hadn’t understood back then why it had been so damn critical to Xander to have his chosen bride, Reanna, love him and swear her loyalty to Rubare Collina. Xander had banished the royal council, and a lot of changes had been made in the Rubarian government since his coronation. Today, one year exactly before his own thirtieth birthday, Bryan had just been informed of the truth. He’d never questioned anything Xander did, trusting that his elder brother knew what he was doing and why. Everything that had been happening earlier with his sibling and his new bride now fell into place, Xander’s actions making complete sense.

  Now I wish to be ignorant again.

  “Xander and Reanna are happy. He’s now king, and he and his wife have already birthed the next heir to the throne. The council has been banished, and Xander is tracking down the rogue Arcano.” Xander and Reanna had a love marriage, and she had just given birth to Bryan’s nephew — the future king. After a rather rocky start, the couple had wed with all the pomp and circumstance that accompanied a Rubarian royal wedding. Xander’s coronation had taken place, making him King of Rubare Collina. Reanna and Xander’s son had been born just a few weeks ago, and his brother was happier than Bryan had ever seen him.

  That doesn’t mean that marriage would work for me. I’m not Xander — born to rule a country and a natural leader. And I’m not Chris — a genius who’s added additional wealth to our kingdom with his gift of high intellect. I’m a middle child of no great value. I don’t need to get married. And I don’t need to produce royal babies.

  He’d always been aware that all of the royal princes were expected to marry a kidnapped bride before the age of thirty, a Rubarian custom he’d always found barbaric. For God’s sake, they were in the twenty-first century, and theirs was a progressive, prosperous country. Still, there were some traditions that were apparently hard to let go of because of the Arcano. What he hadn’t known was that Xander and Reanna had nearly lost their lives trying to ban the darker laws that Bryan hadn’t been aware of, laws so twisted that he couldn’t imagine them being enforced — even centuries ago. But apparently, they had. Twice. First with his Uncle Ivan and then with his own father.

  It had been a shock for Bryan to find out that his father’s chosen bride had been executed because of the Arcano marriage law. Their late mother hadn’t been his father’s first choice. He’d only married her long after his first choice had been killed to pacify the council and the Arcano. Maybe that had been the reason that their mother had been so unhappy, melancholy enough to toss herself off a cliff at the summer castle.

  Father never loved Mother. His first choice died, was executed by the hands of the Arcano.

  Bryan shuddered, trying to block his memory of the particularly horrific day when Queen Stephanie had taken her own life. He shoved away the visions of the mother who had cared nothing about any of her sons. It wasn’t that he and his brothers hadn’t sought her love and approval, but that she hadn’t been willing to give it. Nothing he, Xander or Christopher did ever pleased her, and she had always wanted them all out of her sight while they resided in the same palace.

  That’s why I never wanted to marry. Now that I know the truth, I’m certain I will never take a wife. My mother married Father simply because he was a wealthy king, but she was obviously miserable because his heart belonged to a woman who had been executed. Xander may have found it necessary to follow custom to secure the succession, and he’s done that. Thank God he’s happy with his fate. Christopher and I have no reason to be forced into marriage. Well…except for the fact that the remaining Arcano will try to kill us if we don’t.

  He scowled as he contemplated his dilemma. Bryan was a mining engineer and mineralogist. He’d rather be out getting dirty and sweaty working with his hands, designing mines, and discovering new mineral deposits while trying to work at preserving the natural environment on Rubare Collina. That was what he was good at. That was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He had a place and purpose at Dyholm, the company that had made him, Xander and Christopher three of only a handful of trillionaires in the world. The few other trillionaires in existence were related to them, Demande cousins on sister islands. Rubare Collina had some of the rarest natural mineral deposits in the world, which made the island nation one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.

  “With all due respect, Your Highness, I won’t sit by and watch you get assassinated, nor will your father. The death threats are coming daily now. The Arcano have been wounded by King Xander’s persistence, but they aren’t neutralized,” Simon argued calmly. “The ones who remain are from an ancient lineage, conditioned from birth to follow the rules of the Arcano. We need you safely married as soon as possible.”

  Bryan snorted. He didn’t think any man could be safely married. “I thought I had until my thirtieth birthday.”

  I can help Xander catch all of the rogue Arcano by then!

  “The Arcano aren’t waiting,” Simon replied unhappily. “Since they’re under attack, they’re volatile. The death threats are unusual this early. It’s only your twenty-ninth birthday, but they know their days are probably numbered. They aren’t predictable.”

  Bryan smirked at the royal advisor, a man he had known as long as he could remember. “Then I had best watch my back,” he answered harshly, his voice firm.

  “You’ll be safer if you’d just wed,” Simon answered, as though his request for Bryan to commit the rest of his life to one chosen woman was perfectly reasonable.

  “I can watch out for myself, Simon. I’m not a child anymore.” Simon had been the royal advisor for as long as Bryan could remember, and he’d been instructing him since he was in diapers. Sometimes he treated them all like they were still in the nursery.

  “I don’t think you understand the Arcano. They’ve become radicals; their only purpose is to protect the succession of the royal family and adhere to tradition.”

  Unfortunately, Bryan now understood the situation perfectly after hearing the entire history of the Arcano from his father and Simon. His father had decided that Bryan needed to be informed that he had to marry immediately because the threats from the Arcano, should he fail to comply very soon, were going to continue to escalate daily. His father had delivered the news and left Bryan with Simon to figure out and discuss the details.

  Obviously his father had expected Bryan’s complete cooperation, but he wasn’t going to get it. Bryan needed to talk to Xander…soon.

  Members of the secret society of the Arcano, which had existed among the people and former council of Rubare Collina for centuries, were being hunted down by Xander and exterminated one by one, but the identities of the remaining members were deeply hidden. It was making his older brother’s success limited. The duties of the Arcano had been passed from parent to child over the centuries; the family names of the remaining members were unknown even to his father, the previous king. His father had stressed that Bryan was to trust no one, not even the royal guard. Although the majority of the guard was behind the royal family, Arcano very well could be planted among them.

  As the Americans would say…the Arcano are all bat-shit crazy. How do I combat men that live for only one purpose, a cause that’s no longer even necessary?

  “Why in the hell haven’t they been extinguished before now? We’re in the twenty-first century for fuck’s sake,” Bryan answered testily, reverting to the profanity he’d picked up during his six years in the United States while he’d attended college there. He was grateful that the royal nanny, Moira, wasn’t present or she’d probably box his ears for using what she considered vulgar language. Fortunately, Moira was happily busy these days with the newborn Prince Alexander II. Bryan’s hazel eyes turned momentarily warm as he thought about the very first offspring from either of his siblings. He was an uncle now — Uncle Bryan to little Alex, and he adored the boy already.

bsp; “You know why the Arcano was originally formed,” Simon reminded him ominously. “When the first Demandes came to Rubare Collina, the harsh laws were necessary to continue having strong leaders, many men in line to lead. Males didn’t live long, and between the pirates and the harsh conditions here, there weren’t many from the royal family left to rule.”

  “It’s not the Middle Ages anymore, Simon.” Bryan stopped pacing, halting at the gold and marble bar to pour himself a drink. He no longer noticed the enormous precious gems that accented almost everything in the royal residence. He’d grown up with massive supplies of priceless gems, and they were nothing more than a decoration. He didn’t even think about the shot of decades-old, rare Scotch he poured into a fine crystal glass as he downed the expensive liquor worth thousands of dollars in one hefty gulp.

  “With all due respect, Your Highness, it doesn’t matter. Your life is in danger.”

  “I think I’ll take my chances. I don’t want to marry.” That was putting his feelings on the subject mildly. Perhaps Xander and Reanna were happy, but Bryan shuddered at the thought of coming home to the same woman every night, a woman who wanted him only because he was a prince and one of the wealthiest men in the world. Admittedly, he liked to bury himself inside a willing woman when the need literally arose, but he chose women of experience, women who expected nothing but money in return for their services. He avoided the fawning females who courted him not for himself, but in the hopes of becoming a very wealthy princess someday.

  There’s only ever been one woman who wanted me for myself, at least for one night — a woman who gave me something precious without even knowing who I was.

  Disgusted because he was even thinking about her, he slammed his empty glass back onto the marble surface of the bar with more force than necessary. It had been a short encounter, a college fling. Five years later, he shouldn’t even remember her name, much less her scent or the silky feel of her skin under his fingers. But dammit…he did.


  Like he could forget? They hadn’t shared any important personal information, but the damn woman had haunted his dreams for years now, her innocent, sensual responses making him hard every time he thought about that night. She’d given herself to him just because she’d felt the same connection that he had. She’d never known who he was or even where he was from. She’d just wanted him. Shit! It was past time to forget her. She was probably happily married with children by now.

  Bryan clenched his fists, the very thought of Shea belonging to somebody else making him half crazed.

  “I’m afraid I can’t let anything happen to you, Your Highness. I promised His Royal Highness, Prince Francis, that I’d make sure you were safe.” Simon hadn’t moved from his position by the door, and his expression was still annoyingly serene.

  It took Bryan a moment to remember that Simon was referring to his father. His parent had relinquished the title of King Francis of Rubare Collina when he’d handed the title and crown to Xander, reverting to his previous designation after the coronation. The transfer of power had been unusual, but Bryan hadn’t questioned it. His father had told both him and Christopher that he was tired and ready for Xander to take over as king. The reason why it happened was evident now: Xander had needed to fight the Arcano where their father had failed. Now, their sire was growing older and tired. And Xander was in the fight of his life.

  “What are you going to do?” Bryan snarled. “Kidnap me? Force me to marry?” The whole archaic traditions of his royal family were beginning to annoy him greatly. Rubare Collina was a progressive nation, and the traditions of the Arcano had no place in his country. A large percentage of the population enjoyed a tax-free existence and worked for Dyholm. The people of the villages and towns were prosperous farmers, producing some of the finest crops in the world because they had the most modern farming equipment available, and excellent soil and climate. They were a happy, thriving nation. Thanks to Christopher and the natural resources found only on the island, many Rubarians were comfortably well off financially — if not downright wealthy — in their own right.

  “It’s not custom to kidnap a prince,” Simon protested, sounding insulted. “I think you’ll marry willingly…eventually.”

  “And I think you need your hearing and your head evaluated by one of the royal physicians as soon as possible.” Hadn’t he just told Simon he wasn’t marrying? Bryan moved to pick up his hard hat so he could return to his worksite. He was on the verge of discovering a previously unknown mineral deposit, and was itching to get back to work. If he could recover it from the new mine, Christopher could analyze it. Since all of the Demande siblings were wealthy almost beyond measure or comprehension, the discovery wasn’t about money. For Bryan, it was all about the hunt, the thrill of discovering the undiscovered.

  “I’m returning to the Dyholm site, Simon. I have work to do. Give up on the ridiculous notion that I’m marrying a woman chosen for me.” Or that I’ll ever be wed at all.

  Bryan wasn’t about to go kidnap a bride chosen for him, another archaic tradition of the royal family that had been started centuries ago and apparently was still required by the Arcano. And he wasn’t going to insist that she proclaim her love for him and her loyalty to Rubare Collina in front of Xander, his father, and other high-ranking officials in the monarchy now that the council was gone. During Medieval times, maybe there had been no women on the island at the beginning of the Demande rule, and the custom had been necessary. But it wasn’t imperative now. In fact, it was blatantly illegal. If the progressive Rubarians ever found out about some of the royal family’s secrets, the barbaric customs that were followed because of the Arcano, Xander would probably lose his crown to a revolt.

  If I never choose a woman, or make any woman my preference, they can’t make me marry. Let the Arcano call out a death sentence for me just because I refuse to wed. I’m not putting another life in danger.

  “We shall see, Your Highness,” Simon replied knowingly. “Difficult times may call for unconventional solutions,” he muttered cryptically.

  Bryan stopped by the door and glared at Simon. “I won’t consider marrying,” he answered emphatically. He paused before adding, “I’ve known you since I was born. Can’t you just call me Bryan?” Bryan abided by royal customs when he had to because they’d been hammered into him since birth. But it seemed ridiculous that the elderly royal advisor couldn’t seem to address any of them without using their titles. Especially him. He was a second son, not the king or the direct heir to the throne. Simon was honorary family, and all of the Demande brothers were fond of him even if he was a meddling busybody.

  “Of course, Prince Bryan. I’ll try to remember.” Simon never batted an eye as he gave his deadpan response.

  “Just Bryan,” he shot back at Simon, knowing very well that the aged employee would never call him by his first name only. He’d reminded Simon at least a thousand times in the past to address him more casually. Calling him “Prince Bryan” was as informal as the rigid old man was going to get.

  Simon simply bowed as Bryan strode out of the room, still frustrated with what he’d learned only a few hours ago about his beloved country and the secret society of the Arcano. He wanted to throttle Xander for not warning him about what was going to happen, but he honestly couldn’t blame him completely. Xander was now king and Bryan knew his brother had wanted to protect him as long as possible, let him live a normal life until the whole truth about the Arcano had to be disclosed. Nevertheless, he had put himself into battle, and it angered Bryan that Xander hadn’t come to him for help.

  Hopefully all of this nonsense will be resolved before it has to be revealed to Christopher.

  The youngest prince’s twenty-ninth birthday would take place in just a little over a year; the three brothers were only a year apart, give or take a few months.

  Maybe that was what Xander had hoped for, too. Maybe Xander had hoped he’d be able to search out all of the Arcano and get rid of them before it w
as my turn, so Christopher and I would never have to know.

  He appreciated Xander’s protective nature, but Bryan would just as soon be engaged in the fight. If either one of his brothers was in danger, he wanted to know about it.

  Members of his royal guard stationed outside the door fell into step behind him before he waved them off impatiently. He was going to a work site. The last thing he needed was the immaculately uniformed guard crawling around in the mine with him.

  I don’t want to be responsible for any of their deaths because I refuse to marry.

  As he strode out the enormous palace doors, Bryan admitted to himself that he didn’t want to be the cause of anyone being hurt. While there was a slight possibility that a member of his guard could be Arcano, he’d known most of them for years, and didn’t want any of them injured or killed because of his defiance. He wasn’t as rebellious as Christopher, but he didn’t want to marry. Being a middle son, it shouldn’t even be necessary for him to do so. Judging by how besotted Xander was with Reanna, there would be no real need for additional royal children from either him or Christopher. The happily married king would no doubt provide plenty of those in the future.

  Striding down the ornate steps of the royal castle, Bryan refused the fancy Rolls Royce and driver out front and demanded his truck from one of the royal attendants, the same vehicle he’d driven to get here. He’d been summoned by his father from his work at the mine, and he was still dressed in denims, heavy work boots, and a t-shirt stained with dirt. It had certainly been an urgent request for his presence, and Bryan had thought that maybe it was because it was his birthday. It was certainly some birthday present he’d gotten from his father and Simon: Happy Birthday…you need to get married or be murdered.

  Worst. Gift. Ever.

  Normally, he’d never respond to a royal summons in anything except appropriate attire. However, the tone of Simon’s voice had been urgent, and he’d asked for Bryan’s immediate compliance.