The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain

By: Lucy Monroe
CHAPTER ONE


“SOME days, being a princess is right up there with long-term incarceration on Alcatraz.” Therese muttered the words as she pulled up the zip on her favorite mint-green sheath dress while preparing for yet another formal dinner in the Palazzo di Scorsolini.

It wasn’t the prospect of one more dinner eaten with King Vincente and the dignitaries who had come to visit him that made her cranky, though. It was frustration with a day spent in her own version of purgatory. She loved the king of Isole dei Re and was closer to him than her own father.

But there were still times she wished she and Claudio had their own home, not just a set of apartments in the royal palace of Lo Paradiso. No matter how beautiful, the suite afforded little privacy when she and Claudio were expected to eat most meals in the formal dining room. The fact that her duties as princess ruled even her personal time could be a major drawback. Especially tonight, when she was jittery with the need to share the news she’d received from her doctor in Miami. She’d gone to the States for this particular examination in order to guarantee absolute discretion.

She almost wished she hadn’t now. Because if the press had gotten hold of the story, at least she would be saved from having to impart the news to Claudio.

It was a craven thought and she was no coward.

But even she, with years of training as a diplomat’s daughter, could not look on the end of her marriage with equanimity. Unlike her parents, she did not see life as a series of political and social moves and countermoves. For her…real life hurt.

Claudio finished putting on his second cuff link and pulled both sleeves straight with precise, familiar movements that made her heart ache at the prospect of losing that familiarity. His lips twisted, giving his gorgeous face a cynical cast. “I will be sure and tell your mother you think so.”

Therese stopped on her way to the table where she had left the jewelry she planned to wear tonight. “Don’t you dare.”

Claudio found her mother’s social climbing tendencies a source of amusement, but Therese was not so sanguine. She, after all, was the ladder her mother expected to climb up on.

“I have no desire to listen to Lecture 101 from Mother on how lucky I am to be a princess, or how privileged my life is.” Not to mention the bit about how amazing it was that Claudio had chosen Therese from amongst all of the eligible women in the world. She really didn’t want to hear that particular treatise, right now.

“Perhaps she will be able to understand your apparent disenchantment with your lot in life better than I can.” The edge in Claudio’s voice said he was only partially kidding and his dark gaze was serious and probing.

“I’m not disenchanted with my lot.” Merely devastated by it, but now was not the time to tell him so.

And she couldn’t help feeling her charmed life had been cursed…probably from the beginning, but she’d been too blind to see it. She’d bought into the fairy tale only to discover that love on one side brought pain, not pleasure. The happily-ever-after was only for princesses in storybook land…or those who were loved for themselves, like the two women married to the other Scorsolini princes.

“Then what is this comparing being my wife to that of a convict incarcerated in prison?” Claudio towered over her with his six-foot-four-inch frame, his scent surrounding her and reminding her just how much she would miss the physical reality of his presence when it was gone.

He was every woman’s dream, the kind of prince that fairy tales really were made of. She had woven enough fantasies around him to know. He had black hair, rich brown eyes and the dark skin tone of his Sicilian forefathers, but the height of a professional athlete. His body was muscular, without an ounce of fat anywhere and his face could have been that of an American film star…perhaps of a different era, though. No pretty boy looks, but rugged angles and a cleft chin that bespoke a strength of character that she had come to rely on completely.

She had to swallow twice before speaking. “I did not say being your wife was like that.”

“You said the life of a princess, which you would not be if you were not married to me.”

“True.” She sighed. “But I didn’t mean to offend you.”

He cupped her cheek in a move guaranteed to send her nerve endings rioting. He so rarely touched her when they were not in bed that when he did so, she didn’t know how to handle it.

“I am not offended, merely concerned.” She could hear that concern in his voice and it made her feel guilty.

He had done nothing wrong…except choose the incorrect woman to be his princess. “It has been a rough day, that’s all.”

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