Taken by a trillionaire.., p.22
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       Taken by a Trillionaire 1-3, p.22

         Part #1 of Taken by a Trillionaire series by Ruth Cardello
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  “I noticed,” Xander said casually, as he carefully folded another rag with some ice for Bryan to hold to his swollen face.

  Bryan flinched as he covered his swollen jaw with the freezing cloth. “Is it that obvious?”

  “Only when you try to crack the skull of a man who threatened her,” Xander said, sounding mildly amused. “And probably only to me because I feel the same way about Reanna,” he confessed.

  The brothers rode in a comfortable silence as Albert drove them back to the city, Bryan trying to figure out exactly when he’d fallen for Shea.

  Five years ago. Maybe I couldn’t identify exactly how I felt, but she’s always been a woman like no other for me.

  The problem was, he wanted her to feel the same way. He could declare that she would love him all he wanted, but it wouldn’t make it so.

  “Interesting. There seems to be a very large crowd around the castle,” Xander observed as the perimeter gates swung open for them to enter.

  Bryan surveyed the crowd, a gathering several times the size of the one that had been there to greet him and Shea on their arrival.

  “Something happened. Shit. Something happened,” Bryan growled, knowing a crowd like this didn’t gather for no reason.

  Xander put a hand on Bryan’s shoulder as the vehicle rolled to a stop. “Nothing happened. Look.” He pointed upward toward the balcony off the main parlor above them and opened the window. “Listen.”

  Bryan gaped as he heard Shea speaking. Obviously the press and people had been called here. And his bride was speaking.

  Her sweet voice rang out to the crowd via the microphone and speakers that were placed around the grounds:

  “And so, citizens of Rubare Collina, I’m desperately in love with His Highness, Prince Bryan Demande, and my love for him has only grown richer and deeper. I officially declare that I will love him always, and my heart, body, mind, and soul will be his, and my loyalty will be given to you, the citizens of this country, King Xander, and all of Rubare Collina until I take my last breath,” Shea vowed confidently.

  “I think that’s my cue to run up there and verify her declaration,” Xander said, amused, as he exited the vehicle and hurried up the castle steps.

  Bryan was spellbound, and his heart was slamming against his chest wall as he watched Shea, her chin held high, her voice now silent as though she was waiting for his people to accept her. His father flanked her to the right, and Reanna stood regally to Shea’s left. Christopher was standing next to their father.

  Does she really love me? Was what she was saying really true? Had she decided to hold the declaration to try to save his life because she was afraid he was in danger, or was it how she really felt?

  He had to know.

  Finally willing his body to move, he got out of the car as Albert opened the back door, following Xander into the castle. For once, he brushed off any semblance of royal behavior and sprinted up the marble stairs as quickly as his pain-wracked body would allow, anxious to get to his future wife.

  The roar of the crowd started as they chanted her name:

  Princess Shea, Princess Shea, Princess Shea.

  His people were showing their overwhelming support as Xander stepped onto the balcony to verify that he’d heard and accepted Shea’s words.

  Bryan cursed and grabbed his painful ribcage where he’d taken some hard punches, as he raced up another flight of stairs, hoping like hell he’d hear the words he wanted to hear the most from Shea herself.

  He knew exactly what his first words would be, exactly what he regretted not telling her when he’d thought he might die out there at the mine.

  “You will love me, Shea,” he rumbled under his breath as he entered the parlor and stalked directly over to the balcony, snagging her around the waist and pulling her inside.

  Chapter Eleven

  Shea squeaked as she was seized from behind, her mind and body taking a moment to process exactly who was holding her prisoner. She squirmed and turned as steely arms held her tightly within the circle of their embrace. “Bryan!” Her eyes roamed hungrily over his beloved face, the blood and injuries making her gasp again, “Bryan? Oh my God, you’re hurt.” She touched a gentle finger to his face, wondering how he was even still standing.

  “I love you,” he growled, grasping her hand and holding her palm against his face. “I think I’ve been in love with you since the moment we met. There’s never been anyone else who mattered. Only you, Shea. It’s always been you. When I knew I might die without you knowing how I felt, I regretted not saying it. So I need to say it now.”

  Her hand against his face trembled as tears filled her eyes. The look on his face was primal and fierce, his eyes burning with emotional fire. “Sit,” she told him shakily, backing him up until he collapsed on the beautiful white couch behind him. For once, she didn’t care if a royal possession got dirty. She just wanted Bryan to be okay. “I can see the injuries to your face. Where else are you hurting?” She sat beside him gently and ran her fingers gingerly through his hair. He seemed to have cuts and bruises everywhere.

  “Did you hear me?” Bryan grumbled, his eyes boring into hers.

  “Yes,” she answered calmly, relieved as she saw one of the royal physicians hurry into the room. “The doctor is here. He needs to look at you. You’re injured, Bryan.” Her voice crackled with emotion.

  It occurred to her that Bryan was confessing his love in the heat of the moment, but she instantly discarded the notion. She could see his raw emotions in his eyes, feel the intensity of his feelings for her. They were nearly a mirror of her own tumultuous, chaotic love for him. She burned to tell him how she felt, but his health came first.

  He grabbed her hand as she rose to let the physician take over. “I. Love. You.” His voice was a troubled growl, and his intent stare was fixed on her face.

  “I love you, too,” she whispered, her heart aching to tell him just how much.

  “The words you spoke were true then?” he asked fiercely.

  “Yes. Every word I said is the truth.” Their gazes locked, and for just a moment there was only the two of them in the room, each trying to convey with their eyes how they felt.

  Shea sighed as she slowly pried her fingers from Bryan’s grip and allowed the physician to examine his patient.

  “Don’t leave,” Bryan demanded. “Don’t ever leave me again.”

  It wasn’t the time or place to tell him not to be so bossy, and that he had actually been the one to leave her. Not only were his words laced with vulnerability, but Shea couldn’t think of any other place she could possibly be when Bryan was injured. She wanted him to want her with him. “I’m not going anywhere.” She moved to the back of the couch and stood behind him, cradling his head against her torso and threading her fingers gently through his hair. “I’ll be right here,” she leaned down to whisper in his ear.

  “Thank God,” he grunted. “I’ve been missing you for years.” Bryan closed his eyes and let his head rest against her with a broken, masculine sigh.

  Shea’s heart skipped a beat as it acknowledged his words. The truth was…she felt exactly the same way. A part of her had been missing since Bryan had left her, even though he’d left her with his child. It was an emptiness that was suddenly filled, his love clicking into the yawning space inside her. “I’ve missed you, too.”

  She watched as the older man poked and prodded at Bryan, trying to figure out exactly what his injuries were. The ceremony of her declaration had ended with a short acknowledgment and speech from Xander, who hurried inside with his father, Reanna and Christopher, all of them waiting pensively as the doctor examined Bryan thoroughly.

  “He needs some x-rays to be certain that his injuries aren’t more extensive than they appear,” the white-haired physician mused aloud. “And he’s going to need some stitches. Good thing the boy has always had a hard head.”

  Christopher snickered and Xander elbowed his younger brother.

  “The wedding will have to
be delayed,” Xander stated.



  Bryan and Shea spoke at the same time.

  “Be reasonable, Bryan. You need medical attention,” Shea admonished him.

  “No delays. We marry today,” Bryan answered stubbornly, flinching as the doctor probed his ribs.

  “The Arcano should be pacified. The wedding can wait,” Xander declared.

  “I don’t give a damn about the Arcano. I can’t wait,” Bryan grumbled, shooting Xander a defiant look. “I’ve waited for years already.”

  Shea’s heart melted. “Get your x-rays and let the doctor tend to your wounds.”

  Bryan opened his mouth, presumably to argue, but he never got the words out. The high-pitched wail of a woman’s anguished screams sounded outside the parlor. “Bryan. My Bryan.”

  The eerie sound of her voice got closer and closer. As the owner of the tortured cries came bursting into the room, Bryan’s father moved to intercept the woman and pull her into his arms. “He’s okay, Moira,” Prince Francis crooned to the panicked nanny as he enfolded her against his chest. “Bryan is going to be fine.”

  Shea watched in morbid fascination as Bryan’s father rocked the disheveled older woman against him, comforting her as she sobbed against his shoulder. Every set of eyes turned to the sight of the former king comforting the nanny as she whimpered two words that got the entire room’s undivided attention.

  “My son.”


  The wedding ceremony was short, but Bryan got what he demanded — wed before another day passed. He and Shea were married just before midnight in a candlelight ceremony in the castle’s small chapel, only family and a few friends present.

  Shea had worn a beautiful sky-blue dress that had swirled gracefully around her ankles. Bryan had dressed…well…like a prince. In his navy blue dress uniform, complete with gold braid and the royal insignia, he’d been so handsome he’d taken her breath away. Even with his face full of sutures, as Bryan stood next to her to say their vows, it was like a fairy tale for Shea. She was happy that they’d been able to skip the royal ceremony, because all that had mattered to her was that they were finally man and wife.

  Even though it had been way past her bedtime, Hayden had stood at her Uncle Xander’s side while she watched her mother and father say their vows. Moira had discretely hustled her off to bed as soon as the wedding was over.

  Very little had been discussed about Moira’s outburst and earlier disclosure. Bryan had been taken for x-rays and treatment almost immediately after her arrival, and the others had appeared stunned …all except for Bryan’s father and Reanna. Obviously Prince Francis knew the truth, and apparently Reanna had already suspected.

  I should have realized that Bryan and Moira were related. Reanna was probably trying to hint to me about Bryan’s possible heritage when she pointed out the similarities in their appearance.

  She twisted the enormous diamond ring on her finger, a ring that Bryan had requested be designed before they had left for the summer castle. Clearly, he’d been pretty certain even then that she’d marry him. Really, she needed to talk to him about his arrogant assumptions later, but for now she simply smiled blissfully

  After the wedding, they’d all gathered in the great hall for an informal reception. Personally, Shea thought the enormous room looked anything but informal. The food spread looked like they were hosting hundreds, and the wedding cake that she and Bryan had cut was several tiers high. Everything had been delicious, and Xander and Christopher had both given toasts for a happy marriage for her and Bryan. However, once everything had settled down, a tension started to form in the room when everyone was finally idle and all of the wedding customs had been performed.

  Continuing to finger her ring, Shea looked at the man sitting next to her wearing a matching wedding band. Both of them were still in their wedding attire, as were the remaining guests: Xander, Reanna, Prince Francis, Christopher and Simon. They were down to family only except for Simon, though the advisor might as well be family. He certainly was privy to every detail about the royal family.

  “How is it that I never knew?” Bryan asked gruffly, stroking the back of Shea’s hand that he was holding on his thigh.

  The question had been directed at his father, who was sitting in a chair next to the couch on which Shea and Bryan were seated.

  “We never intended for you to know the truth,” his father admitted soberly. “You’re my son and that was all that mattered.”

  “Bullshit,” Bryan exploded. “How did you ever manage to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes all these years?” He hesitated before adding, “Am I the reason Mother threw herself off that cliff?”

  “Of course not,” Francis sputtered. “Stephanie agreed to take you in as her own child. She didn’t want the scandal. Then we had Christopher.”

  “Then can I assume that Queen Stephanie was my natural mother?” Christopher asked quietly from his chair next to the sofa.

  “And me?” Xander queried stoically as Reanna reached for his hand in support from her position on the loveseat beside him.

  “Yes.” Prince Francis looked at Xander and then at Chris. “You’re both Stephanie’s boys.”

  “But not me,” Bryan stated flatly. “How did this happen?”

  Their father sighed. “It happened because I fell in love with Moira. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be with her. I was a married man and a king. But I fell so hard for her that I couldn’t stay away from her.”

  “Couldn’t or wouldn’t?” Bryan asked angrily. “It was obvious that Stephanie cared nothing for any of us, but she hated me most of all. Now I know why.”

  “Do you think she cared any more about your brothers? No, not at all, though they were her natural children.” The older man sighed. “Stephanie had issues. She was clinically depressed and the disorder became even more prominent after Xander was born. She was treated by several physicians, but she refused therapy and often wouldn’t take her medication. She stayed secluded for weeks at a time at the summer castle, not speaking to anyone or caring about anything. If anyone was to blame for her throwing herself off that cliff, it was me. She never forgot for even a moment that she wasn’t my first choice for a bride, that I didn’t love her, and she hated me for it. What happened with Moira was wrong. I shouldn’t have ever let anything happen. She was an employee — ”

  “I wanted it, too, Francis. Stop making it sound like I had no choice,” Moira said flatly as she moved into the room and approached the chair where the former king was seated. “I fell just as hard for you as you did for me. I knew it was wrong, too, but we both were younger and wilder at the time.”

  “Why hide this from me?” Bryan grumbled. “Why not just tell me the truth?”

  Moira lowered her head as she gripped the back of Prince Francis’s chair. “We’d hidden the truth for so long; we didn’t want it to get out in public. We thought it better that only Francis and I knew about your parentage. We didn’t want you boys hurt by our indiscretion. We didn’t want it to change the way you felt about each other.”

  Shea squeezed Bryan’s hand. Her heart ached at the thought that he must have felt unwanted as a child. Really, maybe all of the brothers had felt that way if their father was telling the truth and Stephanie had cared for none of them.

  “That would never happen,” Xander rasped. “We’re brothers first and always. It doesn’t matter how much blood we share. We made that decision after what happened on the cliff the day Mother died, and it’s always been so. It won’t change just because Bryan doesn’t have the same mother we did.”

  “No…it won’t,” Chris declared forcefully.

  Bryan’s father frowned. “Did something happen on the cliff that I don’t know about?”

  “We witnessed Mother’s swan dive off the cliff,” Xander admitted readily, looking his father in the eyes. “Bryan tried to rescue her; he saw her getting ready to jump and he ran forward and grabbed her skirt. He
nearly fell because he wasn’t willing to give up even though he couldn’t hold onto her. I pulled him back up just in time, forced him to let go of her.” Xander’s brows narrowed as his intense gaze clashed with his father’s. “Your son was willing to die in a futile attempt to save a woman who had been nothing but cruel to him. I refused to watch that happen.”

  Shea gasped at the thought of Bryan as a young child clinging to the woman he thought was his natural mother as she threw herself off a cliff. He could have died. He would have died to save a woman who despised him. “Oh, Bryan,” she whispered huskily, her heart pounding with fear, even though the incident had occurred so many years ago.

  “Is this true?” Their father asked incredulously.

  Bryan simply shrugged.

  “I was too young to remember much about that day, but I remember our pledge,” Chris muttered quietly. “Brothers first.”

  “Brothers first,” Xander repeated.

  Bryan nodded. “Brothers first.”

  Xander addressed their father in a low, emphatic tone. “I couldn’t save Mother, but I saved Bryan. We decided that day that we would always be brothers first, royalty second. And we have always abided by that oath.”

  “Oh, my boys!” Moira fretted as she wrung her hands. “We could have lost both Xander and Bryan that day.” She choked back a sob. “Please tell me that you boys don’t hate me for what I’ve done. I love every one of you like you’re my blood. I have since the moment you were born.”

  Shea’s breath hitched and she silently hoped none of the Demande brothers would spurn Moira. Shea knew how unconditional a mother’s love was, and she could see that love, the same love she had for her own daughter, shining from Moira’s eyes for every one of the Demande siblings.

  Xander stood. “None of us hate you, Moira. And we don’t hate Father. We might dislike the way things were handled, but we wouldn’t have Bryan if you and Father had never fallen in love. However much Bryan might irritate me at times, I wouldn’t want to know what my life would be like without him.” He hesitated before adding, “I can’t entirely fault father for grabbing at some happiness for himself. Life with our mother was…difficult. I don’t think she was capable of loving anyone or anything except her position as a queen.”