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He remembered when Belle was in her early teens, her own parents had divorced. Both had been members of one ofthefamilies in Renzoi. It had created a stir in the general populace, and misery for all involved. His own parents had been together but they had fallen out of love and he and Belle had bonded as unhappy teens over the shared experience of parental mess-ups!

She’d been the first to say it...‘When we grow up let’s never fall in love, Marco.’

If you’d never fallen in love, you couldn’t fall out of it. The logic of the plan had stayed with him, but Belle had grown up and she had fallen in love—with him. She’d hoped that he would learn to love her, and it had killed her.

It had always been there, the elephant in the room that he had dealt with by ignoring. But that had become impossible when he had found her weeping. Her tearful, ‘It’s a girl,’ had left him bewildered. His awkward attempt to soothe her had resulted in the truth spilling out of her, the hopes she had kept hidden.

She had believed that giving him a male heir would make him love her back. He had told her in all honesty that he didn’t care what sex the child was, and that he would always love her as his dearest friend and the mother of his child.

‘But you’ll never be in love with me, will you, Marco?’

It was the moment that the truth killed something inside her...Why the hell couldn’t he have lied?

Experiencing an ice-water rush of the toxic shame the memories brought with them, Marco claimed the present, letting his father’s voice drag him back to the moment.

‘Rosa has been telling me about the new nanny.’

The changes were micro—Marco’s lashes veiled his eyes, his shoulders tensed—subtle, but they were there.

Lady Rosa. Her official title was Master of the Royal Household, but her unofficial title was the King’s mistress.

The widow of a minor royal, she was responsible for overseeing the domestic and social calendars across the royal residences, a job she carried out with unflappable calm and efficiency. Marco had hated her very existence once, back when he had thought his parents were a happy couple. Now his attitude was far more pragmatic.

‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll sort it,’ he cut in, only too easily able to imagine what Rosa had said about the would-be red-headed usurper to the old favourite Nanny Maeve’s role.

‘Sort...?’ The King looked confused. ‘Rosa said you have chosen well. That the woman is a breath of fresh air who knows her mind—those were her words, and coming from Rosa that is quite a compliment.’

Marco compressed his lips over a biting retort. Easy-going to a fault, his father wasnoteasy when it came to defending his mistress from criticism.

Marco’s restraint did not come easily. It had been years in the making. For a large part of his life the mention of his father’s mistress had been enough to trigger one of the monumental arguments he’d had with his father during his teens.

The way he had discovered the affair had not helped. Walking in on his father in bed with his mistress, or in this instance on a sofa with her, was one image he really wished even now that he could un-see. Almost more infuriating was the fact his mother tolerated the situation, which she said made her husbandhappy.

The entire set-up encapsulated for him the utter hypocrisy of marriage, the damage that people did in the name of true love and the fact that if he had never been born three people would have been happier.

Nowadays there was a truce. Marco accepted that it was their life. They had found themselves in an imperfect situation and they had made the best of it. If it hadn’t been for his unexpected appearance after years of trying for a child, his parents would have quietly divorced with the blessing of the council, who were anti-divorce but could get very flexible when it came to maintaining the continuity of the throne.

It would be small wonder if Rosa resented him. Without him she’d probably be Queen now. Trying to conceive him had put his parents’ marriage under strain.Well, that’s life for you, he thought with an internal shrug as he gathered up the printouts he’d brought for his father knowing the King would not look at them. Glancing at the wafer-thin metallic watch on his wrist, Marco made his excuses, pretending not to notice that his father looked relieved.

After depositing the papers in his own office and responding to a couple of emails, he looked around for Luca and remembered he’d given him the day off in a moment of uncharacteristic generosity.

His movements around the room woke the dog in his basket but he went back to sleep after Marco had found the magic spot behind his ears. He was not as young as he once had been, but then who was? Marco mused, stretching, his expression growing thoughtful as he recalled thelookhe’d noticed from Luca the previous night when the nanny situation had come up. There were two explanations for that: either his assistant didn’t want to be the messenger that got shot or he had a thing about the newest employee.

It seemed about time he took charge of the nanny situation personally because so far delegation had gone so well...not!

Was he theonlyperson in the place who could see the stark staring obviousness? An image of the flame-haired woman drifted across his vision. The woman, despite her impeccable qualifications, was totally unsuitable.

Because you can’t stop thinking about howverysuitable she would feel under you, Marco mocked the voice in his head.

Reviewing the previous night, Kate filed her part in it underCould have handled things better.

She might well have already lost her job before it had started. Not a good look on a CV, but if she was ready to pretend last night had never happened maybe her employer might be also. In her opinion he hadn’t come out of it very well either.

Whatever the reality was, she was going to do what she was being paid for, which was not to become obsessed with her boss. Sure, he was good to look at, but didn’t he just know it? The uncharitable thought was immediately followed by a slug of shame as she realised she was making this nasty assessment purely on his spectacular looks and the debilitating effect he had on her nervous system.

He might be vain, he might be humble—abigif there—but she had no intention of allowing herself to be sucked into the entire tragic past situation, or the length of his crazy eyelashes, or his mouth.Do not even go there, Kate.Though in her defence there was no harm in looking, was there?

Good to establish that just in case it turned out she couldn’tnotlook.

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