Castiglione's Pregnant Princess

By: Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE

‘COME ON,’ ZAC DA ROCHA chided his brother. ‘There’s got to be some room for manoeuvre here, something that you want more than that car. Sell it to me and I’ll buy you anything you want.’

Fierce hostility roared through Prince Vitale Castiglione because his Brazilian half-brother irritated the hell out of him. The fact that they were both luxury-car collectors had to be the only thing they had in common. But no didn’t ever mean no to Zac; no only made Zac raise the price. He couldn’t seem to grasp the reality that Vitale couldn’t be bribed. But then, Zacarias Da Rocha, heir to the fabled Quintel Da Rocha diamond mines and fabulously wealthy even by his brothers’ standards, was unaccustomed to refusal or disappointment and constitutionally incapable of respecting polite boundaries. His lean, strong face grim, Vitale shot a glance at the younger man, his brilliant dark eyes impassive with years of hard self-discipline.

‘No,’ Vitale repeated quietly, wishing his older brother, Angel Valtinos, would return and shut Zac up because being rude didn’t come naturally to Vitale, who had been raised in the stifling traditions and formality of a European royal family. A lifetime of rigid conditioning invariably stepped in to prevent Vitale from losing his temper and revealing his true feelings.

Of course, it had already been a most unsettling morning. Vitale had been disconcerted when his father, Charles Russell, had asked both him and his two brothers to meet him at his office. It had been an unusual request because Charles usually made the effort to meet his sons separately and Vitale had wondered if some sort of family emergency had occurred until Charles had appeared and swept his eldest son, Angel, off into his office alone, leaving Vitale with only Zac for company. Not a fun development that, Vitale reflected before studiously telling himself off for that negative outlook.

After all, it wasn’t Zac’s fault that he had only met his father the year before and was still very much a stranger to his half-brothers, who, in spite of their respective parents’ divorces, had known each other since early childhood. Unhappily, Zac with his untamed black hair, tattoos and aggressive attitude simply didn’t fit in. He was too unconventional, too competitive, too much in every way. Nor did it help that he was only a couple of months younger than Vitale, which underlined the reality that Zac had been conceived while Charles Russell had still been married to Vitale’s mother. Yet Vitale could understand how that adulterous affair had come about. His mother was cold while his father was emotional and caring. He suspected that while caught up in the divorce that had devastated him Charles had sought comfort from a warmer woman.

‘Then let’s make a bet,’ Zac suggested irrepressibly.

Vitale was tempted to roll his eyes in comic disbelief but he said nothing.

‘I heard you and Angel talking earlier about the big palace ball being held in Lerovia at the end of next month,’ Zac admitted softly. ‘I understand that it’s a very formal, upmarket occasion and that your mother is expecting you to pick a wife from her selection of carefully handpicked female guests...’

Faint colour illuminated Vitale’s rigid high cheekbones and he ground his even white teeth. ‘Queen Sofia enjoys trying to organise my life but I have no current plans to marry.’

‘But it would be a hell of a lot easier to keep all those women at bay if you turned up with a partner of your own,’ Zac pointed out without skipping a beat, as if he knew by some mysterious osmosis how much pressure Vitale’s royal parent invariably put on her only child’s shoulders. ‘So, this is the bet... I bet you that you couldn’t transform an ordinary woman into a convincing socialite for the evening and pass her off as the real thing. If you manage that feat, I’ll give you my rarest vehicle but naturally I’ll expect an invitation to the ball. If your lady fails the test, you hand over your most precious car.’

Vitale almost rolled his eyes at that outrageously juvenile challenge. Obviously he didn’t do bets. He raked his black glossy hair back from his brow in a gesture of impatience. ‘I’m not Pygmalion and I don’t know any ordinary women,’ he admitted truthfully.