Secret Child, Royal Scandal

By: Cat Schield

One

 Prince Christian Alessandro, third in line to the Sherdana throne, stood behind the current and future kings of Sherdana and glowered into the camera. No doubt he was ruining Nic and Brooke’s fairy-tale wedding photos, but he didn’t care. His last hope to remain a carefree bachelor for the rest of his life had been reduced to ashes the second his brother had gazed deep into his bride’s starry eyes and pledged to love and honor her until the day he died.

 Christian growled.

 “Smiles everyone,” the photographer cried, casting an anxious glance Christian’s way. “This is our last photo of the complete wedding party. Let’s make it count.”

 Despite his black mood, Christian shifted his features into less grim lines. He wasn’t about to smile, but he could at least give his brother one decent photo. No matter how badly this marriage had disrupted his life, in the days to come he really would make an effort to be happy for Nic and Brooke. For today he’d simply don a mask.

 “Let’s set up over there.” The photographer pointed to a small stone bridge that crossed a decorative creek.

 The path beyond meandered toward the stables. Christian preferred his horsepower under the hood of a fast car, but he’d gladly take his twin nieces to visit their ponies just to get away. Bethany and Karina were old hands at being flower girls, this being their second royal wedding in four months, but being two-year-olds, they had a short attention span and were growing impatient with having to stand still for photos. Christian sympathized with them.

 Since his accident five years earlier, he’d avoided cameras as much as possible. The burn scars that covered his right side—shoulder, neck and half of his cheek—had made him the least attractive Alessandro triplet. Not that it mattered much how he looked. His title, wealth and confirmed bachelor status made him a magnet for women.

 Most women.

 His gaze roamed over the multitude of assistants and palace staff required to keep the bridal party looking flawless and the photo shoot moving forward. Trailing the bride was a petite, slender woman with mink-brown hair and dual-toned brown eyes. Internationally renowned wedding dress designer Noelle Dubone had designed Brooke’s dress as well as the one worn by Christian’s sister-in-law, Princess Olivia Alessandro.

 Born in Sherdana, Noelle had moved to Paris at twenty-two to follow her dream of becoming a fashion designer. She’d done moderately well until three years ago when she’d designed the wedding gown for the bride of Italian prince Paolo Gizzi. There’d been so much media coverage surrounding the nuptials that Noelle became an overnight success. Movie stars, European nobility and the very wealthy became eager for a Noelle Dubone original.

 “Imagining your own wedding?” taunted a female voice from behind him.

 Christian turned and shot his sister a sour look. Ariana was looking too smugly amused for Christian’s taste.

 “No.” But the slim figure in blue-gray caught his eye again.

 Noelle Dubone. The one woman in the world who’d come closest to taming the wildest Alessandro prince. He hadn’t been worthy of her. She hadn’t deserved to be treated badly by him. That he’d done it for her own good was what let him sleep at night.

 “You should be,” Ariana countered, looking stylish and carefree in a knee-length, full-skirted dress with puffy long sleeves. A fashion trendsetter, her wedding attire shimmered with gold embroidery and straddled the line between daring and demure with strategically placed sheer panels that showed off her delicate shoulders and hinted at more thigh than the formal occasion called for. “The future of the kingdom rests in your hands.”

 Christian grimaced. “Father’s health has never been better and I don’t see Gabriel dropping dead any time soon, so I suspect I will have time to choose a wife and get her pregnant.”

 Just the thought of it made him long for a drink. But as his mother had pointed out numerous times in the months since Nic had abdicated his responsibility to Sherdana by choosing to marry an American, Christian was no longer free to overindulge in liquor and women. The idea that he had to start walking the straight and narrow path after being the party prince all his life was daunting. He’d misstepped all his life. As youngest in the birth order, it was what he did.

 Gabriel, as eldest, was the responsible one. The future king.

 Nic, as middle son, was the forgotten one. He’d gone off to America in his early twenties to become a rocket scientist.

 Christian was the indulged youngest son. His antics had provided the paparazzi tabloid fodder since he was fourteen and got caught with one of the maids.

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