Taken by a trillionaire.., p.14
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       Taken by a Trillionaire 1-3, p.14

         Part #1 of Taken by a Trillionaire series by Ruth Cardello
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  He smirked as he thought about how Christopher would love the fact that Bryan had answered a royal summons in dirty jeans. His father hadn’t really given him a choice. Because Bryan was so involved in his work, and so close to identifying his discovery, he’d wanted to get his audience with his father and Simon over with as quickly as possible. He hadn’t been thrilled about reporting to the castle, even if the meeting was because it was his birthday — which it kind of was — but not in a good way.

  The black four-wheel-drive truck halted in front of him and Bryan took the keys, smiling as he noticed that the attendants had washed and waxed the vehicle. It would be filthy again the minute he entered the dirty, muddy roads in the hills that led to the mines.

  My fault. I should have told them not to bother. Not that it would have done any good. They would have washed it anyway because that’s their job, making sure the royal family always looks good, and anticipating our needs.

  Bryan heaved a long, masculine sigh as he seated himself in the driver’s seat, his spirits lifting as he heard the sound of the diesel engine revving up. Just knowing he was returning to the hills and the mines made him happy. It was where he belonged.

  His gaze landed on the weathered stone of the castle exterior, some of the original walls left in place to remind them all of the sacrifices of their ancestors.

  He honored his obligations as a prince, a member of the royal family, because of tradition.

  He did his job at Dyholm because he loved it.

  I’ve done my royal duty. Now I can get back to work.

  He jammed the truck into gear and headed back toward the mine, trying to forget that there were men out there somewhere who had him marked for death if he didn’t comply with their wishes…soon.

  “Let them come after me then,” he rasped to himself, winding the truck along the curvy city roads to get to the hills. “My work is more important than marriage. I’d rather die doing what I want to do than to live with a wife as miserable as Mother.”

  While he wasn’t one to shirk his royal duties, Bryan wasn’t about to wed just because of some archaic tradition, and the threats of the Arcano that he hadn’t been informed about until a few hours ago. He’d join Xander in the hunt for the Arcano now that he knew the truth, but he refused to bow to their demands. He was royalty, and he conceded to no one except occasionally his father, and now Xander because he was king.

  Brothers first.

  He smiled as he finally turned onto the mining road, remembering the motto of the Demande brothers. If Xander tried to pull rank on him to marry because he was now king, he’d remind his eldest brother of the rule the three of them had always followed since the death of their mother. As children, they’d made that solemn vow to each other that nothing would ever get in the way of their loyalty to each other as siblings.

  Brothers first.

  Bryan took comfort in those words as he grabbed the phone on the passenger seat to call Xander and see how he could help join in the fight to hunt down the Arcano. The secret society needed to be put in their place once and for all.

  Chapter Two

  What in the hell happened?” Shea Turner groaned as she woke and tried to open her eyes, slamming them closed again because the light made her banging headache worse. And that was saying something because her head already felt like it was being squeezed in some kind of giant torture device.

  Where am I?

  Running her palms over the material she laid on, she noted that it felt like silk. Her head might be killing her, but the rest of her body felt like it was floating on a very soft, fluffy cloud.

  I have to open my eyes. Think, Shea, think. What happened? And where is Hayden?

  Concern made her eyes fly open wide despite the pain it caused her, wondering what had happened to Hayden. “Oh, my God.” Frantic now, she stumbled to her feet, completely ignoring the agonizing pain in her skull. “Hayden!” she screamed, trying to clear her foggy brain.

  The last thing she could remember was being at her second job as a cocktail waitress, serving drinks to wealthy, sexist men who had no problem treating her like she was there solely for them to ogle, poke and prod. Every time she left the private club, her ass was so bruised from getting pinched that she could barely sit down, and after every shift, she contemplated where she could get a pair of metal underwear. She despised the place and most of the male members of the club, but the tips helped her eke out a living. Quitting wasn’t an option. Revulsion had made her turn down every offer of getting paid more for spending the night with some of the rich clients there, but she couldn’t stop serving drinks. The extra income was needed. Shivering, she looked down at her outfit, realizing she was still dressed in the very short, black skirt and barely-there halter top that she wore for her part-time employment.

  I was working. But something happened. Why can’t I remember?

  Frustrating and cursing the three inch heels on her feet, she stumbled as she tried to walk. She quickly surveyed her surroundings, not recognizing the marble floors or the luxurious bedroom. Wrapping her hand around one of the gold posts on the corner of the massive bed to steady herself, Shea realized that she had been lying on silk. Literally. The sumptuous material was bright red and embroidered with designs and decorations that reminded her of different colored gems. In the center of the bedspread was an elaborate pattern of a king’s crown with two crossed swords beneath it.

  “Somebody thinks a lot of himself,” she mumbled, turning away to investigate the rest of her surroundings.

  Opulence was everywhere she turned, from the marble floors to the spa-like bath. When she finally reached the exit door she was seeking in the living room, she discovered it was locked. “Dammit!” She pushed against the heavy mahogany. The wood didn’t even budge.

  Frantically, she looked for windows, but found none. Even the damn walls appeared to be solid marble.

  Shit. Shit. Shit. What. The. Hell?

  Yanking hard on the gold, ornamental handle on the door, all she got was a nearly dislocated shoulder from her efforts, the exit obviously impenetrable. Peering at the small crack where the deadbolt should be, she discovered that there was more than one piece of steel between her and freedom. There were about ten of them, every deadbolt about the size of her wrist. The damn door had to be dense, and incredibly thick. She didn’t bother to check the bottom edge because it didn’t matter if it was bolted or not. She wasn’t getting out. Shea leaned with her back against the wall, sliding slowly down the wood in defeat.

  I’m a prisoner? For what purpose? And where is Hayden?

  Was she still in some unknown room of the club, being held captive by a horny millionaire with gaudy decorating preferences? If she was, the rich guy was delusional, convinced he was some kind of…royalty.

  Hugging her knees to her chest, she startled as she bumped a small, round table beside the door, sending a piece of paper fluttering through the air. She snatched it as it glided downward, desperate for any information. It was a note…addressed to her.

  Dear Ms. Turner:

  Salutations and welcome to Rubare Collina. I regret that it was necessary to detain you in this manner, but the prince’s life is at stake, so the actions were necessary. Hayden is safe and well, in the care of the royal nanny and well-guarded. I hope you can make yourself comfortable until the prince arrives and you are able to work out a suitable arrangement for your wedding. I think you will find everything you need here in the tower, and trust that your accommodations are adequate. At the request of His Royal Highness, Prince Francis, we attempted to anticipate your needs as an honored guest.

  There was no signature. Shea blinked and read the words again, certain that her foggy brain was deceiving her. It wasn’t. The words were completely the same.

  Rubare Collina? No, it wasn’t possible that she’d traveled half way around the world without knowing it. This had to be some kind of elaborate joke. She stroked her hand over the stamp at the top of the letter, an exact replica of the
royal imprint she’d seen on the bed. As a matter of fact, it was a symbol that seemed to be almost everywhere in her luxurious prison. Looking around the room, she saw it above the fireplace across the room. Getting up and moving around the living room carefully, she continued to see the same marking on tables, glasses on the bar, and countertops.

  “Holy shit,” she whispered to herself, running her fingers over what appeared to be a fine crystal glass with the royal stamp.

  Dropping the letter onto the bar, she strode to the kitchen, rifling through the cupboards until she found some Tylenol for her headache and swallowed them with some juice she found in the refrigerator. Taking the beverage with her, she sipped it slowly, desperately hoping her queasy stomach wouldn’t rebel, Shea took in her opulent surroundings. Uncertainty set in as she went from room to room as if she were in a trance, not completely convinced she wasn’t having a very odd dream.

  I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Can anxiety cause weird dreams? But my head really does hurt, and I’m nauseous. Is it possible to feel real pain in a dream? But if I’m not really asleep and having these strange images, can I really trust that Hayden is truly safe?

  Shea shuddered as she searched frantically for a phone, or any device that could get her released from the impenetrable fortress in which she was currently stuck. She found…nothing. Every other kind of luxury was present, but not one thing that would help her right now. Even the computer in the corner only allowed certain functions, none of them any type of communication with the outside world.

  “Why am I not surprised?” she grumbled irritably as she slammed a frustrated fist on the computer desk.

  Rubare Collina? The deranged person who had written the letter she’d just read was certifiably crazy. She wracked her brain for any information she knew about the island nation. Of course she knew about the existence of the small country, and it was indeed ruled by a monarchy, but it was a far cry from primitive. All the latest technology came out of the nation that was geographically located somewhere off the European coast, and it was more developed and rich with natural resources than almost any other country in the world. And it was progressive — minus the fact that it was still ruled by a king. Rubare Collina was one of the wealthiest nations on earth, and the ruling family was so rich that it was almost impossible for her to imagine.

  And what had the crazy guy writing the letter meant about me marrying a prince?

  “If I’m really in Rubare Collina…why am I here?” she whispered, perplexed. She had no ties to the country at all, no family history connecting her to the Rubarians. She didn’t even know anybody who lived here.

  I can’t have traveled to Rubare Collina without knowing it. Impossible.

  Still, she searched her foggy brain for facts. “They speak English.” Shea remembered reading something about the history of the country, and how the people there had developed into an English-speaking nation. The royal family had been sent to the Island from Europe after helping a treacherous European king during a brutal time in history, forced to Rubare Collina in exile. English pirates had inhabited the island centuries ago, and the displaced aristocrats had taken over when they arrived, fighting the pirates for supremacy. Eventually the original inhabitants had to either join them or be killed. The royal family had learned English to communicate, and it had eventually become the national language. Shea was pretty certain that many languages were actually spoken on the island nation, but English was the most prevalent.

  No wonder the letter was so well written.

  Shaking her head at the incredulous situation, she sat down on the bed again, placed her juice on the bedside table, and wondered what to do next. If she’d really been kidnapped by Rubarians — which she wasn’t even certain was true — she had to escape and prove that there had been some sort of identity mistake. Whoever they wanted, it wasn’t a poor woman like her, and she certainly had nothing with which to pay any sort of ransom. She could barely even pay her electric bill. The thought of her marrying a prince would have sent her into a fit of laughter if she wasn’t so worried about Hayden.

  What if I’m not really in Rubare Collina and some nut-job kidnapped me for some other nefarious purpose? What if he’s a sociopathic serial rapist and murderer?

  The banging of the heavy door opening in the living room had her on her feet instantly, running to catch whoever had entered. “Wait. Please wait,” she cried out as she tripped on her heels to catch the closing door. “Dammit!” she exclaimed as the bolts slid back in place and she banged on the door fruitlessly. The toe of her shoe nudged a delivery that sat right beside the door, which had been quickly opened and closed. Someone had obviously pushed something inside the plush surroundings incarcerating her.

  Shea stepped back as she realized that they hadn’t delivered a thing; someone had delivered a person. Pushing her long, curly, honey brown hair from her face, she gaped at the man on the floor. He was enormous, every muscle in his body bulging with anger at his predicament.

  “Are you a prince? You certainly don’t look like a prince,” she mumbled, taking in his worn jeans, boots, and dirty t-shirt. Honestly, he looked a lot more like the serial killer she’d been afraid of in the first place. He was blindfolded, his mouth covered with a piece of heavy tape. Since he was bound, he was practically helpless, but he was struggling against the thick tape around his ankles and wrists, trying to break free.

  She hesitated for a moment before kneeling beside the muscular body propped up against the wall. Should she release him? Or was he safer being bound?

  He can probably tell me what’s going on. He’s obviously another victim. Either that or he’s part of this whole elaborate setup.

  Deciding to at least let him talk so she could question him, she grabbed the bulky tape over his lips and jerked it free before pulling the blindfold from his head. Her heart skittered as she met an unforgettable and furious pair of hazel eyes that knocked the breath from her body.

  “Bryan?” she whispered tremulously, confused.

  “Shea?” he answered huskily. “What are you doing in Rubare Collina?”

  It’s him. It’s really him.

  Shea moved back instinctively, staring at the man who had changed her entire world five years ago…and who’d then left her without a thought or a backward glance. Well, she wasn’t certain if he’d looked back at her or not because she’d been sleeping, but she’d assumed he hadn’t turned around as he’d left. She’d never heard from him again, but he’d come in and out of her life during a very life-changing night.

  “Is that really where I am? Rubare Collina?” It was almost unfathomable that she had come this far without knowing. “Why?” After five years of silence, why was he here now? Why had he been bound and imprisoned with her? What the hell was going on?

  Bryan nodded sharply, still pulling against his restraints. “Release me,” he commanded. “I’ll explain.”

  She thought she heard him mumbling something about somebody named Simon and how he had said kidnapping a prince wasn’t a tradition. Or maybe she just hadn’t heard Bryan correctly because he was muttering angrily under his breath.

  Crossing her arms in front of her, she debated whether or not it was safer to leave him tied up. “I’m not sure that I should turn you loose.”

  “You’re afraid of me?” he asked in a raspy, insulted tone, his intense eyes boring into her.

  “Right now, I’m afraid of everyone,” she snapped back, rising to her feet so she felt more powerful than she really was right at the moment. “I’ve obviously been drugged, kidnapped and dragged halfway across the world if you’re telling the truth. I think it’s only logical to be a little wary.” She was more than just a little distrustful, but she didn’t want Bryan to know that she was nearly petrified right now.

  Bryan’s presence was both terrifying and comforting. She doubted that he was a murderer. If he was, she would be dead by now, their previous encounter in New York having given him more than enough time and
opportunity to extinguish her life.

  She wrapped her arms around her waist in a protective gesture, shivering, probably from the after effects of whatever drug had been used to sedate her and the shock of the entire situation.

  “Let me loose, Shea,” Bryan cajoled softly. “If you let me go, I’ll tell you what happened. It’s not whatever you’re thinking, I can guarantee that. It’s stranger than anything you can imagine. Hell, it’s stranger than even I can comprehend, and I’m Rubarian.”

  The low, sultry persuasion in his panty-droppingly sexy, accented voice caused her to shudder as she looked into his sane-looking but still angry, hazel stare. Yeah, he looked ticked-off, but he didn’t look like he was ready to cause her physical harm. Unfortunately, he was dangerous to every female hormone in her body; his raven hair, chiseled features and enormous, muscular body were unchanged. He looked almost exactly the same as he had five years ago; like he looked in her dreams almost every night.

  “You’re Rubarian?” Shea had always wondered what nationality he’d been. She’d assumed he was Italian, but his accent wasn’t quite Italian, and definitely not completely French. It was combination of both, yet it was…unique. Bryan spoke English as well as she did, but his accent was unlike any she’d ever heard before. Regrettably, it was also incredibly hot, making him all the more irresistible, as she’d found out very well years ago. Every word that came out of his mouth sounded seductive, even if it wasn’t meant to be.

  He nodded, his stare unwavering as his eyes roamed over her. “What in the hell are you wearing?”

  “Work clothes,” she shot back at him, refusing to feel guilty because he had kidnapped her from the club. So what if he had to deal with her bimbo attire. What she wore for work was none of his damn business.

  “You work dressed like that?” he growled.

  “Yes. It’s a required uniform.” One that she despised, but wore only because she needed the money the cocktail server position provided.