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Home > The Once And Future Prince (Castaldini Crown #1)

The Once And Future Prince (Castaldini Crown #1)
Author: Olivia Gates

Prologue

Eight years ago

“C ome closer, Phoebe. I won’t bite. Not too hard.”

Leandro’s rumble reverberated in Phoebe’s bones.

She choked on the surge of response, on the breath that was trapped inside her lungs. The breath she’d been holding waiting for him to contact her. The one she always held until he did.

She still couldn’t breathe. He stood as if carved from rock, staring out of his penthouse’s floor-to-ceiling windows at the Manhattan skyline, which glittered like clusters of stars set in arcane patterns. Her starved senses registered only him.

The power of his physique, the silken layers crowning his head, dimmed spotlights overhead caressing copper overtones from the hairs’ deepest mahogany. Her hands stung with the memory of convulsing in that hair as he’d exposed her to the mercilessness of his pleasuring.

His scent invaded her with a maleness and a potency that were only his, an aphrodisiac even from the distance he bade her to eliminate. He’d already gotten her to travel four thousand miles to “come closer.”

Eight hours ago, she’d received a message from Ernesto—Leandro’s right-hand man, and their secret go-between—during Julia’s daily physiotherapy session. She’d thought he was inviting her to yet another clandestine rendezvous, one even more secret because Leandro’s situation in Castaldini was more delicate than ever after his resignation from his ambassador post. But she hadn’t found Leandro. Just his jet. There’d been no word from him all through the seven-hour flight to New York.

There hadn’t been one in four months. She’d feared silence had been his way of informing her it was over. But it wasn’t….

“I turned thirty, two months ago.”

She lurched at his rasp, a twist of longing in her gut. She’d known that. On October 26th. The urge to call him that day had frayed what had remained intact of her nerves. But his rules had been clear. He contacted her. It had seemed he wouldn’t anymore.

“Happy birthday.” She winced as the lame response left her lips.

His huff abraded her. “Indeed. The happiest birthday ever.”

He turned to her then. She would have staggered if she hadn’t been incapable of moving a muscle, even involuntarily.

“Nothing more to say, bella malaki?” My beautiful angel. The endearment shuddered through her, that mix of Italian and Moorish only he used. He prowled toward her, his shirt phosphorescent in the dimness, unbuttoned to his waist, revealing chiseled power that bunched and gleamed with every step. “Shall I make it easier? Give you a lead?” He stopped half a breath away, his emerald eyes flaring and subsiding like pulsars. “Miss me?”

She’d thought so. She’d been wrong. She’d starved for him.

He reached out to her, warm, large hands singeing her, steadying her body, shaking everything else. “Shall I find out?”

Yes, her every cell shrieked.

But he did nothing, stilled. She started to shake.

The moment her tremors hit him, his pupils obliterated his irises, black holes that sucked coherence from her mind, wrenched hunger from her depths. She pitched forward, a helpless satellite yanked to an inexorable planet, hurtled into his containment.

It was like a dam had burst. Violent. Deluging. Their mouths collided, merged, flooding her with what she’d never thought to find until him. Oneness. Need that sliced her open.

Her world churned, with the delight of reconnection, with his savagery and what it betrayed of a hunger as searing as hers as his power bore them deeper into passion.

“Next time, bellezza helwa…next time I’ll take hours…days to worship you…but this time…this time…”

He threw her down, and she could only moan as she sank into the luxury of silk sheets and his scent, anticipation becoming agony as their clothes disappeared under the force of his impatience. Her arms shook, begged for his possession. He obeyed, impacted her with the force she was gasping for, thrust inside her, no preliminaries, no way to withstand any, fierce and full and beyond her endurance, razing her with pleasure, ripping an orgasm from the core that clenched around his invasion. He snatched her scream of release into his ravaging mouth, roared his own, jetting into her depths to the rhythm of her convulsions until she lay beneath him, boneless. Devoured. Replete. Leandro. Her lion man. Back in her life. No longer in secret…?

He drove deeper inside her, ending questions. She arched beneath him, taking, offering all. He growled into her neck, the darkness of it shaking through her with the reverberation of satiation, the accumulation of renewed need.

Until the words it carried lodged in her brain.

“I will never return to Castaldini.”

Everything stilled. She knew the situation had been tense for him in Castaldini. But not to return there, ever? Nothing could be that bad. That final. Could it?

She squirmed beneath his suddenly crushing weight. “What d-do you mean you w-won’t return? You have to…”

He pulled back, stared down at her for a long, incredulous moment, before he made an explosive sound deep in his gut, then jerked away, separated from her body, left it aching. Bereft.

“You don’t know?”

She winced at his rage. “Know what?”

“Dio, could it be? They’ve kept their decree a secret in Castaldini? This is much worse than I thought. They’re not only culturally and economically isolating Castaldini, they’re keeping it behind their own brand of iron curtain.”

“Please, Leandro…I don’t understand.”

“You want to know what spread like wildfire through the world news before the media found something else to exploit? The trivial news that I, Prince Leandro D’Agostino, whom the world was certain would be named Castaldini’s crown prince and next king, through merit and lifelong achievement—the moment I defied the current king and his men, I was declared a renegade and stripped of all my titles.”

“Oh, no…”

He barked a harsh laugh. “Don’t ‘oh, no’ yet. There’s more. I was stripped of my Castaldinian nationality, too.”

She went still, as if under the weight of a collapsing wall. She struggled for breath. “That c-can’t be true.”

“Oh, it can. I’ve been offered American citizenship and I’ve accepted it. I’m never setting foot on Castaldini again.” Suddenly he hauled her to him, stabbed his fingers into the tumble of her locks, plundered her lips in a kiss that branded her. His urgency chased everything away, had her clinging until he rasped against her lips, “And you’re never going back, either.”

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