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RENZOIWASOFTENreferred to as a jewel, and it was rare for those enjoying their first glimpse of the island kingdom from the air to disagree.

There was one airport on the island, and the coastal route from the international airport hub to the walled city capital of Fort St Boniface was considered by many to be one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world, beloved by film crews over the years, and by those with a head for heights, the nerves for hairpin bends, and a love of dramatic seascapes.

Many travellers who arrived on the island took the less dizzying option of a transfer on one of the water taxis that ferried their passengers across the glittering waters of the grand harbour.

You could no longer gawp at the luxury yachts moored in the deep water as they were now floating, with their billionaire occupants, in a brand-new purpose-built marina on the opposite side of the island, contributing to the island’s thriving economy and reputation as a haunt for the rich and famous.

These days the only obstacles to negotiate on the short crossing were a few sailing and fishing boats. Part of the charm of St Boniface was that it remained a working harbour.

The short crossing offered the best view of the walled capital with its towers and domes. Dramatic though the capital’s architecture was, it was the royal palace centrepiece, rising like the top tier of a wedding cake above the medieval sprawl of picturesque narrow streets and cobbled squares, that everyone wanted to be snapped outside.

In daylight hours the sparkling stretch of water swarmed with brightly painted speedboats. Even as the sun was replaced by stars and a full moon, several continued to work the stretch, ferrying groups of eager tourists staring with wonder at the illuminated fairy-tale castle with its dramatic dome and myriad towers.

One such vessel held no tourists, it was not draped with colourful bunting, instead, it carried a solitary passenger and, for the observant, a discreet royal logo illuminated by the strings of twinkling fairy lights reflecting off the water as it reversed towards a pontoon that was set a little away from the main landing area where the tourist fleet was moored.

Seemingly not having the patience to wait for the final manoeuvre, the passenger leapt casually out over the several feet of water and landed with athletic jungle-cat grace on the gently swaying pontoon.

A figure who had been standing on the dock lifted a hand in greeting, pausing as the tall, loose-limbed, suited figure negotiated his way over the pontoon towards him.

‘I wasn’t expecting a reception party—’ the arrival began, only to pause as the phone in his pocket began to vibrate. He raised an apologetic hand. ‘One moment, Rafe.’

The waiting figure, who might have been considered tall himself had he not been standing beside the Prince, who stood six four in his bare feet, watched as a spasm of irritated comprehension moved like a slow ripple across the contours of the handsome carved features of the heir to the throne of Renzoi, before the silver-grey eyes lifted to make contact with his.

‘I was about to ask if there was a problem, but...’ Marco glanced at the screen of his phone one last time before he slid it back into his pocket. ‘The airport is closed...?’

The other man gave a rueful nod. ‘Everything is grounded. This storm is heading straight for us.’

‘You’re heading out there now?’

‘It kind of comes with the job description.’

‘There is a job description for Minister for Transport and Tourism?’ Marco drawled, his darkly delineated brows lifting.

The other man gave a self-conscious shrug. ‘When someone says “Minister” I keep looking over my shoulder.’

‘Not such a bad idea, palace politics being what they are,’ Marco observed sardonically. ‘Though luckily the knives aremostlymetaphorical these days. So, how many times have you been told you have big shoes to fill so far?’

‘Everyone seems shocked. The minister’s death was—’

‘Shocked? The man was ninety,’ Marco cut in. ‘Drank like a fish and thebigshoes he died in were golf shoes. As his assistant you’ve already been doing his job for the last five years while he took the accolades.’

Rafe permitted himself a grin, which faded as he added earnestly, ‘You putting your neck on the line for meant a lot to me.’

‘Neck?’ Marco rotated the part of his anatomy under discussion, releasing some of the tension that he hadn’t been aware was there. ‘Hardly that. You have nothing to prove to me, Rafe.’

His neck was safe but when he had used his veto to override the Council of Ministers’ choice to fill the senior vacancy, Marco had known that any mistakes on Rafe’s part would be eagerly pounced on as evidence of Marco’s meddling in matters he did not understand by the palace mandarins, who preferred he should emulate his much more compliant father.

Nepotism in the palace was an accepted route of promotion. Just five families held virtually every position of power on the island, and they had no intention of ceding that power without a struggle. This was fine, Marco could be patient, and he had his father’s backing, even though the King was too easy-going and, yes, it was true,lazy, Marco acknowledged, one corner of his mouth lifting in an affectionate grin as he thought of his father, who, as the courtiers pointed out, was much loved by his people.

The hardly subtle shorthand being that if Marco took up golf or beekeeping or taking afternoon tea with his long-term mistress, and left the mandarins to run the country, he too would one day be loved by his people.

Marco, whose marriage had ended with the death of his wife, did not have a long-term mistress, nor a short-term one. He wasn’t a monk. One-night or occasionally discreet two-night stands seemed a much less demanding way to satisfy his natural physical needs. Also the old adage that there was safety in numbers held true.

One day he would marry again, but he intended to delay that day for as long as possible.

‘At least you made it home before the closures, Highness...’

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