Prince of Secrets

By: Lucy Monroe
PROLOGUE



“WHAT AM I looking at?” Demyan asked his uncle, the King of Volyarus.

Spread before him on the behemoth antique executive desk, brought over with the first Hetman to be made Volyarussian king, was a series of photos. All were of a rather ordinary woman with untamed, curly, red hair. Her one arresting feature was storm-cloud gray eyes that revealed more emotion in each picture than he would allow himself to show in an entire year.

Fedir frowned at the pictures for several seconds before meeting Demyan’s matching espresso-dark gaze.

Those who mistook Demyan for Fedir’s biological son could be forgiven—the resemblance was that strong. But Demyan was the king’s nephew and while he’d been raised in the palace as the “spare heir to the throne,” three years older than his future king, he’d never once gotten it confused in his own mind.

Fedir cleared his throat as if the words he needed to utter were unpalatable to him. “That is Chanel Tanner.”

“Tanner?” Demyan asked, the coincidence not lost on him.

“Yes.”

The name was common enough, in the United States, anyway. There was no immediate reason for Demyan to assume she was related to Bartholomew Tanner, one of the original partners in Tanner Yurkovich.

Except the portrait of the Texas wildcatter hanging in the west hall of the palace bore a striking resemblance to the woman in the pictures. They shared the same curly red hair (though Bartholomew had worn it shorter), high forehead and angular jaw (though hers was more pleasingly feminine).

Her lips, unadorned by color or gloss, were a soft pink and bow-shaped. Bartholomew’s were lost beneath the handlebar mustache he sported in the painting. While his eyes sparkled with life, hers were filled with seriousness and unexpected shadows.

Bartholomew Tanner had helped to found the company on which the current wealth of both Volyarus and the Yurkovich family empire had been built. At one time, he had owned a significant share in it as well.

“She looks like Baron Tanner.” The oilman had been bequeathed a title by King Fedir’s grandfather for his help in locating oil reserves and other mineral deposits on Volyarus.

Fedir nodded. “She’s his great-great-granddaughter and the last of his bloodline.”

Relaxing back in his chair, Demyan cocked his brow in interest but waited for the king to continue rather than ask any questions.

“Her stepfather, Perry Saltzman, approached our office in Seattle about a job for his son.” Another frown, which was unusual for the king, who was no more prone to emotional displays than Demyan. “Apparently, the boy is close to graduating university with honors in business.”

“Why tell me? Maks is the glad-hander on stuff like this.” His cousin was also adroit at turning down requests without causing diplomatic upset.

Demyan was not so patient. There were benefits to not being raised a Crown Prince.

“He is on his honeymoon.” Fedir’s words were true, but Demyan sensed there was more to it.

Otherwise, this could have waited. “He’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

And if Mr. Saltzman was looking for a job for his son, why were there pictures of his stepdaughter all over the conference table?

“I don’t want Maks to know about this.”

“Why?”

“He will not agree to what needs to be done.” Fedir ran his fingers through hair every bit as dark as Demyan’s, no strands of gray in sight. “You know my son. He can be unexpectedly...recalcitrant.”

For the first time in a very long while, Demyan had to admit, “You’ve lost me.”

There was very little his cousin would not do for the country of his birth. He’d given up the woman he wanted rather than marry with little hope for an heir.

Fedir stacked the pictures together, leaving a candid shot on top that showed Chanel smiling. “In 1952, when Bart Tanner agreed to help my grandfather find oil on or around the Volyarussian islands, he accepted a twenty-percent share in the company in exchange for his efforts and provision of expertise, a fully trained crew and all the drilling equipment.”

“I am aware.” All Volyarussian children were taught their history.

How Volyarus had been founded by one of Ukraine’s last Hetmans, who had purchased the chain of uninhabited and, most believed, uninhabitable islands with his own personal wealth from Canada. He and a group of peasants and nobles had founded Volyarus, literally meaning free from Russia, because they’d believed it was only a matter of time before Ukraine fell under Russian rule completely.

They had been right. Ukraine was its own country again, but more people spoke Russian there than their native tongue. They had spent too many years under the thumb of the USSR.

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