A Royal Temptation(10)

By: Charlene Sands



 They’d been talking about how to bring new enterprise to Alma and how the rise of the monarchy would bring in tourism. They needed to brand themselves as a free country and show the world that democracy reigned, that new visitors and new businesses were welcome to their stunning Atlantic shores.

 “Actually, I have an idea as to how to draw more tourists,” Juan Carlos said.

 “Really?”

 Alex Ramon’s ears perked up. As the deputy prime minister of commerce, he was fully immersed in the issue. “Tell us your thoughts.”

 “It’s been rumored in our family for years that our ancestors had stashed a considerable amount of artwork, sculptures and paintings on land that had fallen to ruin. Land that Tantaberra overlooked. Right before the family was deposed, they’d thought to hide the art so it wouldn’t fall into the dictator’s greedy hands.”

 Juan Carlos’s mind was clicking fast. He didn’t know how true those rumors were. He’d only heard the tales while growing up; Uncle Rafael had spoken of hidden treasures the way a master storyteller would about a pirate’s bounty. It had all been exciting, the sort of thing that captured a little boy’s imagination. But the rumors had held fast and true during his adulthood, and only recently, his cousin Bella had found a hidden cache of letters at one of the family’s abandoned farms, letters that proved that he, a Salazar and not a Montoro, was the rightful heir to the throne.

 “I have plans to visit the area myself and see what I can find. If it’s true, and artwork is indeed on the property, think of the story. The art could be restored, and we could have a special showing or a series of showings to bring awareness to Alma.”

 “It’s genius, Your Highness,” Prime Minister Rivera said.

 Others around the board table agreed.

 The meeting ran long and Juan Carlos didn’t get back to the palace until six. He had just enough time to shower and dress for dinner. His pulse sped up as he thought of Portia again, of her sweetly exotic scent and the way she’d filled his body with pleasure when he was near her. She caused him to gasp and sweat and breathe hard. It wasn’t ideal. She was a hard case. She didn’t seem interested in him. And that worried him, because as far as he was concerned, she was The One.

 He came down at precisely six forty-five and bumped into his new secretary at the base of the winding staircase, nearly knocking the clipboard out of her hands. “Oh, sorry, Your Highness.” She was out of breath, as if she’d been running a marathon.

 “My apologies,” he said. “I’ve been preoccupied and didn’t see you.”

 Alicia was redheaded, shapely and quite efficient. She wore glasses, but under those glasses were pretty, light green eyes. She’d taken on a lot, being a first hire, as there was much ground to cover. “Your seven o’clock appointment is here.”

 Warmth spread through his body at the mention of his dinner date. “Princess Portia?”

 “Oh, uh. No, Your Highness. I’m sorry. I don’t see Princess Portia on the books.” She studied her clipboard, going over the names. “No, you have appointments every half hour for the next few hours. I penciled in a dinner break for you at nine.”

 “I thought those were on tomorrow night’s schedule.” Surely, he hadn’t been mistaken, had he? Yet he had to take Alicia at her word. He’d already come to find that she rarely if ever made mistakes. He, on the other hand, had been hypnotized by a pair of deep ocean-blue eyes and was more than distracted.

 “I can’t possibly make all of those appointments.” High-ranking officials and the heads of businesses along with their wives or husbands wanted to meet the new king. It was as simple as that. It was good for commerce to know the pillars of trade in Alma, so he’d agreed to a few evening appointments. Under normal circumstances, he’d rather cut off his right arm than cancel them, but he couldn’t break a date with Portia. “See what you can do about cancelling them. Who was first on the schedule?”

 “Mr. and Mrs. Rubino. The Rubinos are in the royal study. And your next appointment after that is already here, I’m afraid. They are notoriously early for every occasion, I’m told. They are waiting in the throne room.”

 He ran his hands through his hair. “Fine. I’ll see them. But see what you can do about cancelling the rest.”

 “Yes, Your Highness. I’ll do my best.” She bit her lower lip, her eyes downcast. “Sorry for the confusion.”

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