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Castiglione's Pregnant Princess

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«Castiglione's Pregnant Princess» - Линн Грэхем

Expecting royal twins can only mean one thing…She must wear the Castiglione crown!Royal responsibility has been drummed into Prince Vitale since childhood—but his hunger for Jazmine crushes all sense of restraint. Her unexpected pregnancy revelation leaves Vitale no choice—he knows what he must do. A temporary marriage will legitimise their twins, but when the fire between them fails to burn out he has to wonder…could Jazz be his permanent princess?
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Expecting royal twins can only mean one thing...

She must wear the Castiglione crown!

Royal responsibility has been drummed into Prince Vitale since childhood—but his hunger for Jazmine crushes all sense of restraint. Her unexpected pregnancy revelation leaves Vitale no choice—he knows what he must do. A temporary marriage will legitimize their twins, but when the fire between them fails to burn out, he has to wonder...could Jazz be his permanent princess?

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen romance reader since her teens. She is very happily married to an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog who knocks everything over, a very small terrier who barks a lot and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Also by Lynne Graham

Claimed for the Leonelli LegacyHis Queen by Desert Decree

Brides for the Taking miniseries

The Desert King’s Blackmailed BrideThe Italian’s One-Night BabySold for the Greek’s Heir

Vows for Billionaires miniseries

The Secret Valtinos BabyCastiglione’s Pregnant Princess

Discover more at

Castiglione’s Pregnant Princess

Lynne Graham

ISBN: 978-1-474-07191-8


© 2018 Lynne Graham

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

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Back Cover Text

About the Author


Title Page






html#litres_trial_promo"> CHAPTER FIVE








About the Publisher


‘COME ON,’ ZAC DA ROCHA chided his brother. ‘There’s got to be some room for manoeuvre here, something that you want more than that car. Sell it to me and I’ll buy you anything you want.’

Fierce hostility roared through Prince Vitale Castiglione because his Brazilian half-brother irritated the hell out of him. The fact that they were both luxury-car collectors had to be the only thing they had in common. But no didn’t ever mean no to Zac; no only made Zac raise the price. He couldn’t seem to grasp the reality that Vitale couldn’t be bribed. But then, Zacarias Da Rocha, heir to the fabled Quintel Da Rocha diamond mines and fabulously wealthy even by his brothers’ standards, was unaccustomed to refusal or disappointment and constitutionally incapable of respecting polite boundaries. His lean, strong face grim, Vitale shot a glance at the younger man, his brilliant dark eyes impassive with years of hard self-discipline.

‘No,’ Vitale repeated quietly, wishing his older brother, Angel Valtinos, would return and shut Zac up because being rude didn’t come naturally to Vitale, who had been raised in the stifling traditions and formality of a European royal family. A lifetime of rigid conditioning invariably stepped in to prevent Vitale from losing his temper and revealing his true feelings.

Of course, it had already been a most unsettling morning. Vitale had been disconcerted when his father, Charles Russell, had asked both him and his two brothers to meet him at his office. It had been an unusual request because Charles usually made the effort to meet his sons separately and Vitale had wondered if some sort of family emergency had occurred until Charles had appeared and swept his eldest son, Angel, off into his office alone, leaving Vitale with only Zac for company. Not a fun development that, Vitale reflected before studiously telling himself off for that negative outlook.

After all, it wasn’t Zac’s fault that he had only met his father the year before and was still very much a stranger to his half-brothers, who, in spite of their respective parents’ divorces, had known each other since early childhood. Unhappily, Zac with his untamed black hair, tattoos and aggressive attitude simply didn’t fit in. He was too unconventional, too competitive, too much in every way. Nor did it help that he was only a couple of months younger than Vitale, which underlined the reality that Zac had been conceived while Charles Russell had still been married to Vitale’s mother. Yet Vitale could understand how that adulterous affair had come about. His mother was cold while his father was emotional and caring. He suspected that while caught up in the divorce that had devastated him Charles had sought comfort from a warmer woman.

‘Then let’s make a bet,’ Zac suggested irrepressibly.

Vitale was tempted to roll his eyes in comic disbelief but he said nothing.

‘I heard you and Angel talking earlier about the big palace ball being held in Lerovia at the end of next month,’ Zac admitted softly. ‘I understand that it’s a very formal, upmarket occasion and that your mother is expecting you to pick a wife from her selection of carefully handpicked female guests...’

Faint colour illuminated Vitale’s rigid high cheekbones and he ground his even white teeth. ‘Queen Sofia enjoys trying to organise my life but I have no current plans to marry.’

‘But it would be a hell of a lot easier to keep all those women at bay if you turned up with a partner of your own,’ Zac pointed out without skipping a beat, as if he knew by some mysterious osmosis how much pressure Vitale’s royal parent invariably put on her only child’s shoulders. ‘So, this is the bet... I bet you that you couldn’t transform an ordinary woman into a convincing socialite for the evening and pass her off as the real thing. If you manage that feat, I’ll give you my rarest vehicle but naturally I’ll expect an invitation to the ball. If your lady fails the test, you hand over your most precious car.’

Vitale almost rolled his eyes at that outrageously juvenile challenge. Obviously he didn’t do bets. He raked his black glossy hair back from his brow in a gesture of impatience. ‘I’m not Pygmalion and I don’t know any ordinary women,’ he admitted truthfully.

‘Who’s Pygmalion?’ Zac asked with a genuine frown. ‘And how can you not know any ordinary women? You live in the same world I do.’

‘Not quite.’ Vitale’s affairs were always very discreet and he avoided the sort of tacky, celebrity-chasing women likely to boast of him as a conquest, while Zac seemed to view any attractive woman as fair game. Vitale, however, didn’t want to run the risk of any tabloid exposés containing the kind of sexual revelations that would dishonour the Lerovian throne.

In addition, he was an investment banker and CEO of the very conservative and respectable Bank of Lerovia, thus expected to live a very staid life: bankers who led rackety lives made investors unprofitably nervous. Lerovia was, after all, a tax shelter of international repute. It was a small country, hemmed in by much larger, more powerful countries, and Vitale’s grandfather had built Lerovia’s wealth and stability on a secure financial base. Vitale had had few career options open to him. His mother had wanted him to simply be the Crown Prince, her heir in waiting, but Vitale had needed a greater purpose, not to mention the freedom to become a man in his own right, something his autocratic mother would never have willingly given him.

He had fought for his right to have a career just as he now fought for his continuing freedom of choice as a single man. At only twenty-eight, he wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a wife or, even more depressingly, the demands of a baby. His stomach sank at the prospect of a crying, clinging child looking to him for support. He also knew better than anyone how difficult it would be for any woman to enter the Lerovian royal family and be forced to deal with his domineering mother, the current Queen. His unfortunate bride would need balls of steel to hold her own.

At that point in Vitale’s brooding reflections, Angel reappeared, looking abnormally subdued, and Vitale sprang upright with a question in his eyes.

‘Your turn,’ his older brother told him very drily without making any attempt to respond to Vitale’s unspoken question for greater clarification.

Angel was visibly on edge, Vitale acknowledged in surprise, wondering what sensitive subject Charles Russell had broached with his eldest son. And then Vitale made a very good guess and he winced for his brother, because possibly their father had discovered that Angel had an illegitimate daughter he had yet to meet. That was Angel’s biggest darkest secret, one he had shared only with Vitale, and it was likely to be an inflammatory topic for a man as family-orientated as their parent. It wasn’t, however, a mistake that Vitale would ever make, Vitale thought with blazing confidence, because he never ever took risks in the birth-control department. He knew too well how narrow his options would be in that scenario if anything went wrong. Either he would have to face up to a colossal scandal or he would have to marry the woman concerned. Since the prospect of either option chilled him to the bone, he always played safe.

A still-handsome middle-aged man with greying hair, Charles Russell strode forward to give his taller son an enthusiastic hug. ‘Sorry to have kept you waiting so long.’

‘Not a problem,’ Vitale said smoothly, refusing to admit that he had enraged his mother with his insistence on travelling to London rather than attending yet another court ceremonial function. Even so, his lean muscular length still stiffened in the circle of the older man’s arms because while he was warmed by that open affection he was challenged to respond to it. Deep down somewhere inside him he was still the shrinking little boy whose mother had pushed him away with distaste at the age of two, telling him firmly that it was babyish and bad to still seek such attention.

‘I need a favour and I thought you could deal with this thorny issue better than I could,’ Charles admitted stiffly. ‘Do you remember the housekeeper I employed at Chimneys?’

Vitale’s eloquent dark eyes widened a little in disconcertion, lush black gold-tipped lashes framing his shrewd questioning gaze. He and Angel had spent countless school vacations at their father’s country house on the Welsh border and Vitale had cherished every one of those holidays liberated from the stuffy traditions and formality of the Lerovian court. At Chimneys, an Elizabethan manor house, Vitale had been free as a bird, free to be a grubby little boy, a moody difficult adolescent, free to be whatever he wanted to be without the stress of constantly striving to meet arbitrary expectations.

‘Not particularly. I don’t really remember the staff.’

His father frowned, seemingly disappointed by that response. ‘Her name was Peggy. She worked for me for years. She was married to the gardener, Robert Dickens.’

A sliver of recollection pierced Vitale’s bemused gaze, a bubble of memory about an old scandal finally rising to the surface. ‘Red-haired woman, ran off with a toy boy,’ he slotted in sardonically.

His tone made his father frown. ‘Yes, that’s the one. He was one of the trainee gardeners, shifty sort with a silver tongue,’ he supplied. ‘I always felt responsible for that mess.’

Vitale, who could not imagine getting involved or even being interested in an employee’s private life, looked at the older man in frank astonishment. ‘Why?’

‘I saw bruises on Peggy on several occasions,’ Charles admitted uncomfortably. ‘I suspected Dickens of domestic abuse but I did nothing. I asked her several times if she was all right and she always assured me that she was. I should’ve done more.’

‘I don’t see what you could have done if she wasn’t willing to make a complaint on her own behalf,’ Vitale said dismissively, wondering where on earth this strange conversation could be leading while marvelling that his father could show visible distress when discussing the past life of a former servant. ‘You weren’t responsible.’

‘Right and wrong isn’t always that black and white,’ Charles Russell replied grimly. ‘If I’d been more supportive, more encouraging, possibly she might have given me her trust and told me the truth and I could have got her the help she and her daughter needed. Instead I was polite and distant and then she ran off with that smarmy little bastard.’

‘I don’t see what else you could have done. One should respect boundaries, particularly with staff,’ Vitale declared, stiffening at the reference to Peggy’s daughter but striving to conceal that reality. He had only the dimmest memory of Peggy Dickens but he remembered her daughter, Jazmine, well but probably only because Jazz figured in one of his own most embarrassing youthful recollections. He had little taste for looking back to the days before he had learned tact and discretion.

‘No, you have to take a more human approach, Vitale. Staff are people too and sometimes they need help and understanding,’ Charles argued.

Vitale didn’t want to help or understand what motivated his staff at the bank or the palace; he simply wanted them to do their jobs to the best of their ability. He didn’t get involved with employees on a personal level but, out of respect for his father, he resisted the urge to put his own point of view and instead tried to put the dialogue back on track. ‘You said you needed a favour,’ he reminded the older man.

Charles studied his son’s lean, forbidding face in frustration, hating the fact that he recognised shades of his ex-wife’s icy reserve and heartless detachment in Vitale. If there was one person Charles could be said to hate it would have to be the Queen of Lerovia, Sofia Castiglione. Yet he had loved her once, loved her to the edge of madness until he’d discovered that he was merely her dupe, her sperm donor for the heir she had needed for the Lerovian throne. Sofia’s true love had been another woman, her closest friend, Cinzia, and from the moment Sofia had successfully conceived, Charles and their marriage as such had been very much surplus to requirements. But that was a secret the older man had promised to take to the grave with him. In the divorce settlement he had agreed to keep quiet in return for liberal access arrangements to his son and he had only ever regretted that silence afterwards when he had been forced to watch his ex-wife trying to suck the life out of Vitale with her constant carping and interference.

‘Yes...the favour,’ Charles recalled, forced back into the present. ‘I’ve received a letter from Peggy’s daughter, Jazmine, asking for my help. I want you to assess the situation and deal with it. I would do it myself but I’m going to be working abroad for the next few months and I don’t have the time. I also thought you would handle it better because you knew each other well as children.’

Vitale’s lean, strong, darkly good-looking face had tensed. In truth he had frozen where he stood at the threat of being forced to meet Jazz again. ‘The situation?’ he queried, playing for time.

The older man lifted a letter off the desk and passed it to him. ‘The toy boy ripped Peggy off, forged her name on a stack of loans, plunged them into debt and ruined their financial standing!’ he emphasised in ringing disgust. ‘Now they’re poor and struggling to survive. They’ve tried legal channels and got nowhere. Peggy’s ill now and no longer able to work.’

Vitale’s brow furrowed and he raised a silencing hand. ‘But how is this trail of misfortune your business?’ he asked without hesitation.

‘Peggy Dickens has been on my conscience for years,’ Charles confided grudgingly. ‘I could have done something to help but I was too wary of causing offence so... I did nothing. All of this mess is on me and I don’t want that poor woman suffering any more because I failed to act.’

‘So, send her a cheque,’ Vitale suggested, reeling from the display of guilt his father was revealing while he himself was struggling to see any connection or indeed any debt owed.

‘Read the letter,’ his father advised. ‘Jazmine is asking for a job, somewhere to live and a loan, not a cheque. She’s proud. She’s not asking for a free handout but she’s willing to do anything she can to help her mother.’

Vitale studied the envelope of what was obviously a begging letter with unconcealed distaste. More than ever he wanted to argue with his father’s attitude. In Vitale’s opinion, Charles owed his former employee and her daughter absolutely nothing. By the sound of it, Peggy Dickens had screwed up her life; however that was scarcely his father’s fault.

‘What do you want me to do?’ Vitale asked finally, recognising that how he felt about the situation meant nothing in the face of his father’s feelings.

Yet it amazed Vitale that his father could still be so incredibly emotional and sentimental and he often marvelled that two people as ridiculously dissimilar in character as his parents could ever have married.

‘I want you to be compassionate and kind, not judgemental, not cynical, not cold,’ Charles framed with anxious warning emphasis. ‘And I know that will be a huge challenge for you but I also know that acknowledging that side of your nature will make you a better and stronger man in the process. Don’t let your mother remake you in her image—never forget that you are my son too.’

Vitale almost flinched from the idea of being compassionate and kind. He didn’t do stuff like that. He supported leading charities and always contributed to good causes but he had never done anything hands-on in that area, nor had he ever felt the need to do so. He was what he was: a bred-in-the-bone royal, cocooned from the real world by incredible privilege, an exclusive education and great wealth.

‘I don’t care what it costs to buy Peggy and her daughter out of trouble either,’ his father added expansively. ‘With you in charge of my investments, I can well afford the gesture. You don’t need to save me money.’

‘I’m a banker. Saving money and making a profit comes naturally,’ Vitale said drily. ‘And by the way, my mother is not remaking me in her image.’

Charles vented a roughened laugh. ‘It may be graveyard humour but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you find yourself engaged by the end of that ball next month! Sofia is a hell of a wheeler dealer. You should’ve refused to attend.’

‘I may still do that. I’m no pushover,’ his son stated coldly. ‘So you want me to stage a rescue mission in your name?’

‘With tact and generosity,’ the older man added.

Exasperation leapt through Vitale, who used tact every day of his life because he could never be less than courteous in the face of the royal demands made of him. But no matter how onerous the demand Charles had made struck him, there was, nevertheless, a certain pride and satisfaction to the awareness that his father was trusting him to deal with a sensitive situation. He realised that he was also surprisingly eager to read Jazz’s letter.

Jazz, a skinny-as-a-rail redhead, who had developed a massive crush on him when she was fourteen and he was eighteen. He had been wildly disconcerted that he rather than the friendlier, flirtier Angel had become the object of her admiration and he had screwed up badly, he acknowledged reluctantly, cracking a wounding joke about her that she had sadly overheard. But then Vitale had never been the sensitive sort and back then he had also essentially known very little about women because he had stayed a virgin for many years longer than Angel. But, not surprisingly, Jazz had hated him after that episode and in many ways it had been a relief to no longer be the centre of her attention and the awful tongue-tied silences that had afflicted her in his presence. In the space of one awkward summer, the three of them had travelled from casual pseudo friendship to stroppy, strained discomfiture and then she and her mother had mercifully disappeared out of their lives.

Compassionate... Kind, Vitale reminded himself as he stood outside his father’s office reading Jazz’s letter, automatically rating it for use of English, spelling and conciseness. Of course it had been written on the computer because Jazz was severely dyslexic. Dyslexic and clumsy, he recalled helplessly, always tripping and bumping into things. The letter told a tale of woe that could have featured as a Greek tragedy and his sculpted mouth tightened, his momentary amusement dying away. She wanted help for her mother but only on her own terms. She wanted a job but only had experience of working as a checkout operator and a cleaner.

Per carita...for pity’s sake, what did she think his father was going to find for her to do on the back of such slender talents? Even so, the letter was pure Jazz, feisty and gauche and crackling with brick-wall obstinacy. An ordinary woman, he thought abstractedly, an ordinary woman with extraordinarily beautiful green eyes. Her eyes wouldn’t have changed, he reasoned. And you couldn’t get more ordinary than Jazz, who thought a soup spoon or a fish fork or a napkin was pure unnecessary aristocratic affectation. And she was, evidently, badly in need of money...

A faint smile tilted Vitale’s often grim mouth. He didn’t need a stunning beauty to act as his partner at the palace ball and he was quite sure that if he hired the right experts Jazz could be transformed into something reasonably presentable. Having a partner for the ball to fend off other women would make sense, he acknowledged reluctantly. But shooting Zac down in flames would undeniably be the most satisfying aspect of the whole affair. Jazz might be ordinary and dyslexic but she was also clever and a quick study.

Vitale strolled back to his younger brother’s side with a rare smile on his wide sensual mouth. ‘You’re up next but before you go...the bet,’ he specified in an undertone. ‘Remember that blonde waitress who wanted nothing to do with you last week and accused you of harassment?’

Zac frowned, disconcerted colour highlighting his high cheekbones at that reminder of his rare failure to impress a woman.

‘Bring her to the ball acting all lovelorn and clingy and suitably polished up and you have a deal on the bet,’ Vitale completed, throwing down the gauntlet of challenge with pleasure while recalling the very real hatred he had seen in that woman’s eyes. For once, Zac, the smooth-talking seducer, would have his work cut out for him...

* * *

Jazz straightened her aching back at the checkout because she had worked a very long day. Her schedule had kicked off at dawn with a cleaning shift at a nearby hotel and then she had got a call to step in for a sick workmate at the till in the supermarket where she earned extra cash on a casual basis. Both her jobs were casual, poorly paid and unreliable. But some work was better than no work, she reminded herself doggedly, better than living on welfare, which would have distressed her mother more even though that choice would have left mother and daughter somewhat better off.

But while Peggy Dickens had raised her daughter to be a worker rather than a whinger or a freeloader, Jazz still occasionally let her thoughts drift into a dream world where she had got to complete the education that would have equipped her with a degree that enabled her to chase better-paid jobs and climb an actual career ladder. Unfortunately, the chaos of her private life had prevented her from, what was that phrase...achieving her full potential? Her full pink mouth curled at the corners with easy amusement for who was to say that she was worth any more than the work she was currently doing? No point getting too big for her boots and imagining she might have been more, not when she came from such humble roots.

Her mother had been a housekeeper, who married a gardener and lived in accommodation provided by their employer. Nobody in Jazz’s family tree had ever owned a house or earned a university degree and Peggy had been bemused when her daughter had chosen to continue her education and aim so much higher than any of her ancestors, but her mother had been proud as well.

And then their lives had gone down the tubes again and Jazz had had to put practicality first yet again. Unfortunately, it was virtually impossible to regain lost ground. Jazz had almost had a nervous breakdown studying to overcome the drawbacks of changing schools three times over during her teen years. She had not wept when her parents’ unhappy marriage had finally broken down because her father had often beaten up her mother and had hurt Jazz as well when she had been foolish enough to try and intervene. She had grieved, though, when her father had died unexpectedly only a couple of years afterwards without having once tried to see her again. Evidently her father had never much cared for his only child and that knowledge had hurt. She had been sincerely aghast, however, when her mother, Peggy fell in love with Jeff Starling, a much younger man.

Love could be the biggest risk out there for a woman, Jazz reflected with an inner shiver of repulsion, most especially the kind of love that could persuade an otherwise sensible woman into jumping straight out of the frying pan into the fire.

But there were other kinds of love as well, she reminded herself comfortingly, life-enriching family connections that soothed and warmed, no matter how bad life got. When Jeff’s bad debts had ensured that Peggy and her daughter couldn’t even get a lease on a rental property, Peggy’s kid sister, Clodagh, had given them a home in her tiny apartment. When Peggy had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Clodagh had stepped back from her little jewellery business to shepherd her sister to her appointments and treatments and nurse her tenderly while Jazz tried to keep on earning what little money she could.

Bolstered by those more positive thoughts, Jazz finished her shift and walked home in the dusk. Her phone pinged and she dug it out, green eyes widening when she read the text with difficulty. It was short and sweet, beginning, re: letter to Charles Russell.

Holy Moses, she thought in shock, Charles Russell was actually willing to meet her to discuss her mother’s plight! Ten o’clock tomorrow morning, not much notice, she conceded ruefully, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, could they be?

In desperation, she had written to her mother’s former employer pleading for help. Charles was a kind man and generous to a fault but almost ten years down the road from Peggy’s employment, Jazz had not even expected to receive a reply. That letter had been a long shot, the product of a particularly sleepless night when she was stressing about how she could best help her mother with the stable, stress-free existence she needed to recover from what had proved to be a gruelling treatment schedule. After all, they couldn’t live with Clodagh for ever. Clodagh had sacrificed a lot to take them in off the street, not least a boyfriend, who had vanished once the realities of Clodagh’s new caring role had sunk in. Ironically, Jazz had not thought that there was the remotest possibility that her letter to Charles Russell would even be acknowledged...

A hot feeling of shame crept up inside her, burning her pale porcelain skin with mortified heat because the instant she had posted that letter, she had squirmed with regret over the sacrifice of her pride. Hadn’t she been raised to stand on her own feet? Yet sometimes, no matter what you did and no matter how hard you worked, you needed a helping hand to climb up out of a ditch. And evidently, Charles Russell had taken pity on their plight and maybe, just maybe, he had recognised that he could offer his assistance in some way. With somewhere to live? With employment? Hope sprang high, dousing the shame of having written and posted a begging letter. Any help, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, would be welcome, she told herself sternly.

Stuffing her phone back in her pocket, Jazz unlocked the door of the apartment, suppressing a sigh when she saw the mess in the living and kitchen area. Clodagh wasn’t tidy and she wasn’t much for cleaning or doing dishes or laundry but Jazz did what she could to pick up the slack, always conscious that she lived in Clodagh’s home while remaining equally aware that her neat freak of a mother found it depressing to live in such messy surroundings. But there wasn’t much that could be done to make a one-bedroom apartment stretch to the occupation of three adults, one of whom was still struggling to regain her strength. The treatments might have concluded but Peggy was still in the recovery phase. Clodagh shared the bedroom with her sister but when Peggy had a restless night, Clodagh took the couch and Jazz slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.

‘I had a good day,’ Peggy announced chirpily from in front of the television, a thin-faced, pale and still-frail-looking woman in her forties. ‘I went for a walk in the park after mass.’

‘That’s brilliant,’ Jazz said, bending down to kiss the older woman’s cheek, the baby fine fuzz of her mother’s regrown hair brushing her brow and bringing tears to her tired eyes. The hair had grown again in white, rather then red, and Peggy had refused to consider dying it as Clodagh had suggested, confessing that as far as she was concerned any hair was better than no hair.

Jazz was intensely relieved that her mother was regaining her energy and had an excellent prognosis. Having initially faced the terrifying prospect that she might lose her mother, she was merely grateful to still have her and was keen to improve the older woman’s life as much as possible.

‘Hungry?’ Jazz prompted.

‘Not really,’ Peggy confessed guiltily.

‘I’ll make a lovely salad and you can do your best with it,’ Jazz declared, knowing it was imperative to encourage her mother to regain some of the weight she had lost.

‘Clodagh’s visiting her friend, Rose,’ Peggy told her. ‘She asked me to join them but I was too tired and I like to see you when you come in from work.’

Suppressing her exhaustion, Jazz began to clean up the kitchen, neatly stowing away her aunt’s jewellery-making supplies in their designated clear boxes and then embarking on the dishes before preparing the salad that was presently the only option that awakened her mother’s appetite. While she worked, she chattered, sharing a little gossip about co-workers, bringing her working day home with her to brighten her mother’s more restricted lifestyle and enjoy the sound of her occasional chuckle.

They sat down at the table to eat. Jazz was mentally running through her tiny wardrobe to select a suitable outfit for her morning appointment with Charles Russell. Giving up the luxury of their own home had entailed selling off almost all their belongings because there had been no money to spare to rent a storage facility and little room for anything extra in Clodagh’s home. Jazz had a worn black pencil skirt and jeans and shorts and a few tops and that was literally all. She had learned to be grateful for the uniform she wore at both her jobs because it meant that she could get by with very few garments. Formality insisted on her wearing the skirt, she conceded ruefully, and her only pair of high heels.

She had not mentioned her letter to either her mother or her aunt because she hadn’t expected anything to come of it and, in the same way, she could not quite accept that she had been given an appointment. Indeed, several times before she finally dropped off to sleep on the couch that evening, she had to dig out her phone and anxiously reread that text to persuade herself that it wasn’t a figment of her imagination.

Early the next morning, fearful of arriving late, Jazz crossed London by public transport and finally arrived outside a tall town house. She had been surprised not to be invited to the older man’s office where she had sent the letter, but perhaps he preferred a less formal and more discreet setting for their meeting. She was even more surprised by the size and exclusive location of the house. Charles Russell had once been married to a reigning queen, she reminded herself wryly. A queen who, on her only fleeting visit to her former husband’s country home, had treated Jazz’s mother like the dirt beneath her expensively shod feet.

But Charles had been infinitely kinder and more gracious with his staff, she recalled fondly, remembering the older man’s warm smiles and easy conversation with her even though she was only his housekeeper’s daughter. Unlike his royal ex-wife and second son, he was not a snob and had never rated people in importance solely according to their social or financial status. A kind man, she repeated doggedly to herself to quell her leaping nervous tension as she rang the doorbell.

A woman who spoke little English, and what she did speak was with an impenetrable accent, ushered her into an imposing hall furnished with gleaming antiques and mirrors. Scanning her intimidating surroundings and feeling very much like an interloper, Jazz began to revise up her estimate of Charles Russell’s wealth.

Another door was cast open into what looked like a home office and a man sprang up from behind the solid wooden desk.

Jazz was so aghast by the recognition that roared through her slender frame that she froze on the threshold of the room and stared in dismay, all her natural buoyance draining away as though someone very cruel had stabbed a pin into her tender flesh and deflated her like a balloon. It was Vitale, not his father, and that had to be... Her. Worst. Nightmare. Ever...


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