Taken by a trillionaire.., p.21
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       Taken by a Trillionaire 1-3, p.21

         Part #1 of Taken by a Trillionaire series by Ruth Cardello
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  Shea wasn’t surprised, but she wondered why Bryan had never told her that he did so much to contribute to the welfare of all of the citizens of his country. “He never told me.”

  The prince shook his head. “He wouldn’t. Bryan has always considered it part of his duties as a royal living a life of privilege. He’s never seen anything he does as extraordinary.”

  She followed the family into the great room. A fire was laid in the massive fireplace, and the colorful stones dotting almost every surface seemed to sparkle. “The beads and marble in here are incredible,” Shea marveled, turning her head in every direction only to see more colorful stones.

  Reanna laughed. “They aren’t exactly stones. They’re gems. Rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires, topaz, and every other precious and semi-precious gem you can think of. Rubare Collina has a rather over-abundance of them.”

  “Oh, God. I’m walking on millions of dollars’ worth of gems?” Shea looked down at her feet, trying to keep herself from stepping on diamonds. It was impossible. The floor was littered with inlaid jewels.

  “You’ll get used to it,” Reanna said in an amused voice as she patted the seat beside her on the couch. “Come tell me about your visit to the summer house.”

  Shea gave up looking at her feet and sat next to Reanna, letting out a sigh of relief that she wasn’t stomping on any precious stones.

  “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine with all of this eventually. Bryan’s residence is lovely. It’s grand, but not like the royal main residence here. This castle was made to impress, with the royal emblems plastered everywhere. Outside the castle, life isn’t that much different than it was in the U.S. except on special occasions. Xander is a lot like Bryan, and he loves mingling and talking to the citizens. Everything is usually a lot calmer. Once you and Bryan are married, everything will go back to normal.” Reanna hesitated before asking, “You are marrying him, right?”

  Shea looked at Reanna, smiling at her weakly. “Yes. We’ve agreed it’s the safest and best way to protect Hayden.”

  “Is that the only reason?” Reanna queried softly.

  “No. I want to marry him,” she admitted to Reanna and to herself out loud. “He’s the most incredible man I’ve ever known.”

  “Of course you’re talking about me,” a mischievous masculine voice pronounced over Shea’s head. “But really, we haven’t even been introduced. I am, however, very flattered.”

  Her head jerked up to meet a pair of twinkling blue eyes set in a dark, handsome face. Shea smiled at the unknown man. She couldn’t seem to help herself. “Christopher, I presume?” He was a slightly younger version of Xander, and could only belong to the Demande family.

  “Stop being Prince Charming, Christopher and properly introduce yourself,” Reanna demanded with very little rancor. In fact, she sounded amused.

  “Very well,” Christopher said agreeably. He reached for Shea’s hand and bent elegantly over it. “Christopher Demande…at your service.” He grinned as he straightened. “I assume you’re the poor woman who’s marrying my brother.”

  Shea was just wondering if she should stand when Christopher seated himself next to her on the other side of the couch. Dressed casually in slacks and a buttoned-down shirt, he relaxed against the back of the sofa, his manner casual but his eyes assessing her boldly. Despite his arrogant comment, Christopher’s observation wasn’t carnal or sexual. He was looking at her as though he were trying to figure her out, wanting to know what was inside her thoughts.

  She turned her head and met his gaze. “Poor woman?”

  Christopher shrugged. “My brothers might be rich, but living with them is hell. Hence, any woman getting married to them is to be pitied. I should know.”

  “Don’t mind him,” Reanna said teasingly. “He’s just jealous that no decent woman will take him on. He’s already married to Dyholm and his mad scientist experiments.”

  “Scientific discoveries that have made this family the richest on earth, if you please,” Christopher grumbled to Reanna. “Speaking of my brothers and Dyholm…where is everybody? I went by the mine on my way here and nobody is there. Is it a holiday of some kind that I don’t know about?”

  Shea shook her head. “You must be mistaken. Bryan is there. He had a work emergency and was headed to the mine. There was a problem.”

  “What kind of problem?” Chris asked gruffly, suddenly alert and completely serious.

  “He didn’t say. The engineer wasn’t very informative and then he wasn’t answering Bryan’s calls. He had to go to the mine himself to check out the situation.” Shea’s heart accelerated, suddenly worried by the pensive look on Christopher’s face.

  “The place is completely deserted. Something’s not right. All of the crew and managers shouldn’t be gone. And I didn’t see Bryan at all,” Christopher said curtly as he stood and strode over to Xander’s side.

  Shea turned her head to give Reanna a puzzled look. “Is he right? Is something wrong?”

  Reanna’s brows drew together as she looked at Shea. “It’s strange. The mine shouldn’t be deserted.”

  “Oh, God. Bryan!” Shea gulped in a breath, trying not to panic. “We need to go. We need to find out if everything is okay. What if it’s the Arcano? What if it was a trap? Christopher said he didn’t see Bryan.”

  Xander and Christopher stood across the room having a heated conversation. Shea could tell both men were debating what to do about the unusual situation at the mine.

  Reanna clasped her hand, keeping her in her seat. “Xander or Christopher will go, and they’ll take backup. Xander will probably go since Chris doesn’t know about the Arcano yet. If this is something set up by the Arcano, we have another job to do, and we need to do it fast.”

  “What do you mean?” Shea’s heart was hammering, her anxiety for Bryan’s safety out of control. “I have to do something, Reanna. He has to be okay.” Panic filled her senses and her eyes began to tear. She couldn’t bear to think of something happening to Bryan. Every moment was critical right now.

  “We can do something,” Reanna said determinedly as she squeezed Shea’s fingers. “Are you ready to do whatever you have to do to get Bryan out of danger?”

  “Yes,” Shea answered breathlessly with no hesitation.

  “I have an idea.” Reanna jumped to her feet. “We don’t know right now if something really is happening at the mine or if it’s just a miscommunication. But if something is happening, we need to do something to pacify the Arcano.”

  Shea stood and the two women looked each other in the eyes. She didn’t care what she needed to do. She’d do it. It didn’t matter if everything was a misunderstanding. She didn’t want to take even a small chance that Bryan could be in danger. “Tell me,” Shea insisted adamantly. “I’ll do anything.”

  Reanna looked at her sharply and nodded. In that moment, the two women formed a bond that would never be broken; a cohesive, protective instinct to protect their family together, and the people they loved.

  Chapter Ten

  Bryan knew he’d been set up the moment he’d set eyes on his chief engineer’s face. He should have known something was wrong when he’d entered the site and every vehicle was gone except for Philip’s. His chief engineer’s brown truck was the solo vehicle sitting in the makeshift parking lot, which was devoid of any other vehicles. Usually, the place was humming with activity. Even after he’d seen the deserted lot, although his gut had been telling him something wasn’t right, he thought logically that Phillip had evacuated the site, so he’d brushed off his negative instincts.

  He shouldn’t have. Not listening to his instincts was likely to be a fatal mistake.

  His driver, Charles, had dropped Bryan off at his residence, from which he’d driven his heavy truck to the current mine site. The mining area was no place for a Rolls Royce, and he preferred to drive himself. It had given him time to fantasize about all of things he still wanted to teach Shea, the things he wanted to do to her and with her, and how h
e could make her love him.

  Now, one of the things he regretted the most was the fact that he might never get the chance.

  Bryan had only gotten a glimpse at Phillip’s maniacal face before he’d been slammed over the head with a piece of equipment large enough to make him lose consciousness. He was awake now, pissed off, and sporting a massive headache, his vision still blurry.

  His back propped against a rock, he was trussed up in ropes from his shoulders to his waist, bindings that held him fast against the boulder.

  Execution position.

  All Phil had to do was swing the large machete that he was currently holding, slamming the blade through his neck and against the rock to take his head off. Bryan struggled against the bindings, trying to figure out a way to get himself loose.

  “You should have married, Your Highness. You had warnings,” Phil spat out angrily, his face red with fury.

  “I’m marrying Shea,” he told Phil calmly, still unable to reconcile the man standing before him as the same chief engineer he’d come to know and like over the last several years. A man he had trusted…until now.

  “She hasn’t declared herself, and you didn’t heed the orders of the Arcano,” Phil answered in a surly, hostile voice.

  “King Xander announced that she has declared herself.”

  “King Xander is a disgrace, a ruler who seeks to destroy us, the very citizens who have protected the crown for centuries. He’s not to be trusted,” Phil said in the paranoid voice of a killer. “She has not come out publicly. We have only a treacherous king’s word.”

  “Kill me. But I’m not asking her to do it. She’s already consented to our marriage, and the ceremony is already prepared.” To save his life, Shea would declare herself to king and country. But she would be uttering a lie. Rubare Collina customs had been nothing but harsh to her so far, drugging her and kidnapping her against her will. And…she didn’t love him. She needed time, and he’d be damned if he asked her to lie to the people of his country. Everything so far had been unfair to her: raising their child alone, her financial hardship, missing so much of Hayden’s life because she was working to feed them, the drugging, the kidnapping, being held against her will. She’d agreed to marry him, and that would have to be enough. To him, it was a goddamn miracle.

  Obviously, the Arcano didn’t deem it sufficient that Xander had announced that Shea was loyal and that she loved Bryan and wanted to marry him. The wedding ceremony taking place was already public.

  “You will die,” Phil agreed. “And so will your child and your whore who finally agreed to the marriage, a woman who had your child without marriage or loyalty to Rubare Collina.” He swung the blade restlessly.

  He’s fucking insane!

  But Phil’s madness meant nothing to Bryan. “She’s a damn angel. And she is not a whore.” Bryan’s fury went just as deep as Phil’s insanity now, as he struggled with every bit of strength he had to escape his bondage. “Lay one finger on either one of them and my brothers will come for you, and you’ll die painfully,” Bryan growled, his face red with rage. “Do you think you’ll be able to hide yourself once you’ve slain me?”

  “It doesn’t matter. My duty will be done to Rubare Collina,” Phil replied, his voice deranged and unstable.

  “You have no duty. The Arcano are no longer recognized,” Bryan said fiercely. “Times have changed. There’s no need for the Arcano. There hasn’t been for centuries.”

  “The Arcano will always be necessary. They’ve saved the royal line from extinction. We are the power behind the crown,” Phil snarled. “The present king refuses to see it, but we will be reinstated. We are needed. Only the Arcano can save this nation.”

  Bryan finally got enough slack in the ropes to start slowly moving his fingers along the strands, hoping the bindings were looped with a single knot. He found the area where the rope was tied to the right side and behind him, and his fingers worked furiously to release the tangled bunch of rope.

  Stall him. Make him keep talking. Get free and kill the bastard.

  He ground his teeth as he said, “Maybe you’re right. Tell me why you think we need the Arcano back again.” It nearly killed him to utter the words because he loathed the Arcano and everything it stood for in his country, but it worked.

  Phil started ranting, but while Bryan was forcing himself to look interested in what the man who had betrayed him was saying, he wasn’t listening to the insane chatter. He was working the knot in the rope, finally getting it loose and starting to pull slack to his bindings. The process was too damn slow, requiring him to loosen one strand at a time without drawing Phil’s attention. But his captor was too busy bellowing about the sacrifices the Arcano had made for Rubare Collina to notice that Bryan was slowly freeing himself.

  “So that’s why you will die. You will be an example to any who dare to defy or ignore the ancient laws of the Arcano,” Phil finished dramatically, raising the massive blade over his head to render the fatal blow that would sever Bryan’s head from his body.

  Had Bryan lifted the loose strands of rope over his head one second later, both his arms and his head would be rolling on the ground. But his timing was impeccable as he lifted the ropes and rolled his entire body into Phil, bringing the man to the ground as he swung. The machete flew from the Arcano member’s hand as it hit the solid rock.

  Bryan didn’t give him a moment to recover. He was on his betrayer in a second, a red curtain of rage clouding his brain.

  The bastard would have killed me, killed my family without a thought. He would have killed Shea.

  Phil was almost a match for Bryan in size and strength, and both of them had rage on their sides. But Bryan was fighting for love; Phil was fighting for an insane, archaic tradition. He punched Bryan, landing several blows to his face, but Bryan was so furious that he didn’t let the landed punches faze him, continuing to pummel the man who would have hurt Shea and possibly his innocent daughter.

  “I fucking trusted you, and you betrayed me. You betrayed your country, and your madness continues to cause havoc in my country.” He grasped the man’s hair when Phil put his hands around Bryan’s neck, trying to choke him. Still caught in an adrenaline, near-death-experience frenzy, he started slamming Phil’s head against the ground.

  Suddenly, Bryan felt himself being pulled off Phil’s body and propelled through the air, Xander’s voice booming commands.

  “Restrain him. Take him to the prison and have him put under guard,” Xander ordered angrily, the guard around him scrambling to obey their king’s orders.

  Bryan struggled to get out of Xander’s grip, still determined to kill the bastard who had threatened Shea’s life and the lives of people he cared about. “He was going to kill Shea. I want him dead,” Bryan growled, his face dripping blood, his features contorted with animosity.

  “Stop,” Xander ordered from behind Bryan, holding him fast with both of his arms around his shoulders to keep him back. “He’ll be punished, and he’ll never be free again. He might be able to give us more information on the other members of the Arcano. We need him alive…for now.”

  “He would have hurt Shea,” Bryan grunted still fighting against his own brother to kill the man the guards were currently taking away.

  “He was trying to kill you,” Xander told him calmly.

  “His plans were to go after Shea next.” Bryan was panting wildly, his heart thundering in fear over what could have happened to the woman he loved.

  “He didn’t,” Xander said calmly, loosening his hold on Bryan slowly as the guards drove away with Phil. “Shea is perfectly safe at the castle. Calm down, Bryan. I understand your anger. But we need to question him, try to get information.”

  Bryan shrugged out of Xander’s hold, leaned over and grasped his knees trying to catch his breath. He could see blood dripping to the ground as he sucked air in and out of his lungs, and he knew it was his own. “I wanted him dead. How did you know I’d been betrayed?” His mind was beginning to c
lear, but his anger was still boiling.

  “Christopher said the mine site was deserted when he passed by and Shea mentioned you’d been called here. I was afraid it was a trap.” Xander handed Bryan the hand towels that his driver, Albert, had fetched from the vehicle. “You need medical attention.”

  Bryan straightened, looking him in the eye, the concern on Xander’s face evident. Albert was standing at Xander’s side, looking anxious. Bryan took several deep breaths, trying to get his raging emotions under control.

  “I would have killed the bastard,” Bryan grumbled as he swiped one of the towels carelessly over his face, ignoring the stinging pain of his facial injuries.

  Xander shrugged. “I would have let you had I not thought it more important to get information out of him. Come, we need to get back to the palace. Everyone is concerned.” He grabbed Bryan’s upper arm as he walked a little unsteadily to the car.

  Xander was right. Phil could provide some information on the Arcano that was desperately needed, but Bryan hadn’t been thinking any further than extinguishing any threat to Shea or the ones he loved. “I might thank you later for stopping me,” Bryan grumbled as he got into the back of Xander’s Bentley.

  Albert closed the doors of the vehicle after the brothers had seated themselves in the rear, and got the vehicle in motion toward the castle.

  Bryan knew he was in no shape to drive. He’d have his truck fetched for him later.

  “I doubt you’ll want to thank me,” Xander mused as he frowned at Bryan’s broken up face. “I wanted to kill him myself when I realized he nearly took your head off.” Xander released a masculine sigh. “But we do what we must for our country.”

  “I’m in love with Shea,” Bryan admitted, taking the damp rag that Xander was offering him to clean his face. The Bentley had just about every conceivable convenience.