Prince's Son of Scandal

By: Dani Collins

* * *

“Ms. Sauveterre, the Crown Prince of Elazar, Xavier Deunoro.”

Xavier had known exactly what he was doing when Clair Dmitriev had cornered him into making an appearance at her charity event. He was buying a future favor from her powerful husband, a man who was notoriously difficult to influence.

He had also known it would be an evening rife with what he had before him: Women in daring gowns, swishing their hips in enticement, sweeping lashes in false shyness while they twisted their hair in invitation.

As Europe’s most eligible bachelor, he was used to having his pick from such an array. He only needed to drop a claw and let it pick up one of the brightly colored toys before him. It didn’t matter which one fell into his hands. They were all the same, providing brief entertainment and something soft to embrace for a night, before forgetting them in the hotel room when he left the next morning.

Given the news he had received this morning, tonight’s plaything would be his last before his royal duty took precedence. It was another reason he had agreed to this ridiculousness. At least he had a decent selection for his final visit to the amusement park.

He was taking his time singling out his companion. They all had their charms. Was he in the mood for voluptuous or fair? Should he be practical and choose the one wearing enough gold not to covet his own? Or go with the one who promised some spark as she set her chin and glared at the rest?

Then his hostess presented a newcomer like a gift, one who made the rest of the women take sharp little breaths and step back.

She was taller than most, with divine features that matched her name. Her skin was soft and flushed, too warm to be called cream yet not dark enough to be olive. Golden as a sunrise glancing off a snowy peak.

A muse, clearly, since he felt poetic stirrings just by gazing at her. How could he not admire her? Her figure was goddess-perfect, her mouth sinful, her eyes fey and mysterious, colored somewhere between gray and green. If he pulled her from the cloud of perfume surrounding them, he bet she would smell like mossy forest and clean cold streams.

That was what she presented on the surface, at least. In a blink, she had shifted ever so slightly and it was as if she’d hit exactly the right angle to catch and reflect the sun. Something less tangible than external beauty seemed to concentrate and strike out in a sharp white light that pierced his eyes, like a star being born.

She was the diamond in a bowl of imitations, a woman of facets and contrasts, infinitely fascinating and priceless. If recognizing that caused him a stab of regret because he didn’t have time to fully explore her depths and contradictions, he ignored it. Such was his life. He took what he could, when he could.

Tonight, he would take her, grazie mille.

“Good evening.” He bowed over her hand, letting his breath warm her knuckles and feeling the tiny flex of her reaction. “It’s an honor to meet you.”

“A rare treat indeed.” The tilt of her lips suggested an inside joke. “The honor is mine.”

“I’ve seated you at the VIP table,” Clair said. “Please find your way when you’re ready. Has everyone seen the silent auction items?” Clair broke up the knot of disgruntled women, most of whom drifted off.

A few opportunists remained, one being the redhead with the determined chin. He sighed inwardly as the redhead flashed a too sweet smile before asking, “Angelique, how is your sister? Still keeping to herself?”

Ah yes. That’s why the name had struck him as familiar. The family had a tragic history. One of the twin girls had been kidnapped as a child. She was rumored to be batty, so they kept her out of sight. As someone who had been reported as everything from born of an alien to outright dead, he put little store in such gossip, but did wonder how she would respond to such a blatant intrusion. It was clearly meant to disconcert.

She swung a scythe-sharp glance at the redhead, revealing the compressed carbon beneath her sparkle.

“She’s excellent.” Her tone struck him as ironic. “What’s your name? I’ll tell her you were asking about her.”

“Oh.” The redhead was startled, but flicked him a glance and decided to take a final stab at snaring his interest. “Lady Wanda Graves.”

“I’ll be sure you’re added to our list.” She smiled distantly and turned to him. “Shall we find our seats?”

She didn’t see the redhead brighten briefly before a darker thought struck, one that tightened her mouth. The other women who’d been standing by widened their eyes then averted their gazes before they scurried off.

He offered his arm and dipped his mouth to her ear. “You have a blacklist?”

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