Expecting His Royal BabyBy: Susan Stephens
AS HE WATCHED the tiny dot appear through the clouds the ambassador of Niroli’s throat dried. What if this precious heir to the throne should perish? And with Nico Fierezza’s addiction to extreme sports that seemed extremely likely; if not today, then some day soon. The ambassador’s nerves refused to steady even when the dot turned into six feet four of solid muscle and Nico hit the ground on target. Only Nico didn’t hit the ground, he landed like a cat.
As someone took away his parachute Nico lifted off his helmet and stared straight at the ambassador. He had detected the distinguished visitor in the same instant he had located the cross hairs on his jumping target and was relieved to see that duty rather than disaster had brought him to the field.
He maintained a distance between himself and the bickering and power play surrounding his grandfather, King Giorgio of Niroli. The Fierezza family had ruled Niroli since the Middle Ages, but Nico was a self-made man. Niroli, a tiny island set like a jewel in the Mediterranean, was prosperous and beautiful enough to attract the glitterati from every part of the world, which was enough in itself to keep him away. He had built up his own architectural practice in London free from royal privilege or favour and could state categorically that everything he owned he had earned.
He had been drunk on adrenalin when he’d landed, feeling invincible because he’d survived against the odds the highest jump without oxygen ever recorded, but calm reason had kicked in reminding him that, like any emotion, euphoria was a dangerous deception; it clouded the mind.
Tucking his helmet under his arm, he started forward with his usual purposeful stride. He couldn’t account for the insatiable force driving him. He’d had a happy childhood, idyllic compared to most, with a mother who adored him and poured all her love into the family. Perhaps that was it, Nico thought, halting at a point where he and the ambassador could have some privacy, perhaps men like him came with an inborn gene that insisted they must break away from everything that was feminine and soft and loving and drive themselves to the limit just to know they were alive. His father had done this, taking his yacht to the limit of its capabilities, killing himself along with his brother and sister-in-law. It was a miracle his mother had survived and was a lesson he would never forget.
As the ambassador approached Nico ordered himself to go easy on the man, but there could be no compromise. He might be the grandson of the king, but he neither asked for nor expected any favours. ‘Ambassador?’ he said curtly as the portly man arrived.
‘You recognised me…’ The ambassador gave a nervous laugh.
‘Of course.’ Nico’s voice was clipped and controlled. As always he was polite, toning down his need to know in deference to the other man’s advanced age. ‘My mother?’
‘Is quite well, sir. Your grandfather too….’
Nico’s brow furrowed. Why the hesitation? As if he didn’t know. ‘His Majesty wishes to see me.’ It was a statement rather than a question. Nico never wasted his breath on unnecessary questions.
‘That is correct, sir.’
The ambassador was distracted briefly by the whoops of celebration from other skydivers in the competition. Nico’s had been a landslide victory, but he remained unmoved, his thoughts hidden behind his slate-blue gaze.
As he stroked one hand across the sun-bleached hair he kept aggressively short, Nico had no idea how intimidating he appeared to the older man. Lean and tanned from working outside in all weather, Nico Fierezza towered a good six inches over the ambassador. It didn’t matter that an architectural scheme had been conceived in the clinical surroundings of his high-tech office—Nico liked to see his cutting-edge designs up close. So while the ambassador’s hands were soft and white, Nico’s were weather-beaten and rough, and the ambassador hardly seemed to have a beard in contrast to Nico’s black, piratical stubble. But the ambassador worked for a wily monarch and was used to handling every type of situation. He had recovered from his trot across the airfield and his shrewd grey eyes missed nothing. He rested super alert like a pulsing brain as Nico began to speak.