Home > The Illegitimate King (Castaldini Crown #3)

The Illegitimate King (Castaldini Crown #3)
Author: Olivia Gates


Six years ago

“S o gods do walk the earth!”

Clarissa D’Agostino frowned at her friend’s breathless exclamation as she dabbed at the stain on the décolleté of her lavender chiffon gown.

She cursed herself for biting into that overripe plum. Way to go, making a fool of herself when she was supposed to be Castaldini’s princess, all grown up and fit for court appearances at last. It seemed that four years in the States and graduating at the top of her class from Harvard Business School hadn’t done a thing to improve her ability to handle public appearances.

She grimaced at the visible stain. “What are you going on about?”

“I’m all about that…god over there!”

Clarissa swung around. Not to search out the proclaimed deity, but to check her best friend for signs of intoxication.

She found Luci fanning herself. “And I thought his profile was hard-hitting. His full-frontal assault is devastating.”

Clarissa gaped at her. Luciana Montgomery, whose feminist outlook and American side dominated her Castaldinian roots, was the last woman she knew who’d drool over a man. She’d never seen Luci react like this to anyone—not in the States, where they’d gone to college together and where hunks had regularly pursued the vivacious redhead, and not in Castaldini, which was crawling with gorgeous men. The only men Luci had ever even said were drool-worthy were Clarissa’s brothers and a few of her cousins. And she hadn’t reacted this way to any of them. It was weird, seeing her tongue almost lolling out.

The weirdness took a turn into the absurd when Luci grabbed her arm and squeaked in excitement, “He’s looking our way!”

“I could have sworn you had only one glass of champagne, Luci.” Clarissa turned to investigate the phenomenon who had made the most poised twenty-two-year-old woman she knew flutter like a giddy schoolgirl. “I’ll have to see if someone’s spiking the…”

The words backed up in her throat.

There were so many men in the ballroom whom Clarissa didn’t recognize. She’d been away for so long and had never been active in court life, and she was the one member of the king’s family who everyone almost forgot existed, just the way she wanted them to. But there could be only one man who warranted Luci’s overreaction.

There was only one man who Clarissa could see.

He wasn’t a god. He surpassed all depictions of gods she’d ever seen, with all the perfections worshippers’ imaginations had lavished on them. No one could have imagined him. She certainly hadn’t. She could barely believe he was real.

He was. And he was looking their way. Her way.

Her heart plunged into the pit of her stomach. Time ceased. Reality fell away. Existence converged onto one thing. His eyes. Stormy skies illuminated by lightning, all their focus and power targeting her. But what started tremors arcing through her was what she saw in them; a reflection of her own state, stunned free fall into the awareness that crackled between them.

Suddenly he blinked, turned his face away. Through the fugue encompassing her, she realized why he had severed their connection. Her father.

King Benedetto had appeared beside the man, a wide smile—one she couldn’t remember seeing since she was a small child—spreading across his lips.

The man gazed at her father as if he didn’t recognize him. Her father spoke, the man listened. She found herself moving, unaware of anything or anyone, just needing to be closer, to find out what had just happened. Suddenly the man turned back, snared her again in the bull’s eye of his focus.

She stopped. Moving. Breathing. Her heart quivered inside her to a standstill. Shock splashed through her like ice water.

It was unmistakable, what she saw in his eyes now. Coldness. Hostility. Which meant one thing. She’d been wrong. It hadn’t been a blast of attraction she’d seen in his eyes, felt radiating from him. That had all been on her side.

Before she could recoil from the rush of mortification and letdown, he turned and walked away from her father.

She stood there, feeling as if a knife had been thrust between her ribs, heard Luci’s voice as if it were seeping in from another realm.

“Lord, what was that?”

Clarissa couldn’t produce a thought, let alone an answer.

“That was the Savage Iron Man.”

Clarissa swung around unsteadily toward the purring voice.

Stella. She’d been making Clarissa’s skin crawl ever since they were children. Thankfully, they were only third cousins, so she’d seen as little of Stella as possible. She would have liked to see far less. None.

Stella’s words made as much sense now.

It was Luci who summed up Clarissa’s thoughts: “Huh?”

“Ferruccio Selvaggio, shipping magnate extraordinaire, who, at thirty-two, is one of the richest men in the world. He’s like a wrecking ball, rising so high so young, over the smashed remains of anyone who’s dared stand in his way. Hence the nickname, which also happens to be the meaning of his aptly given names.”

“That’s according to you, of course.” Luci smirked.

“That’s according to common knowledge. He’s a terror. But judging by our king’s enthusiasm, it seems he’s willing to overlook that fact—along with the other fact, that Ferruccio is a bastard, literally—if he’ll only invest heavily enough in Castaldini.”

“My, Stella, I hope nobody thinks you’re the example of what royal blood does for a person,” Luci said. “It would be so unfair if you gave us all a reputation for being stuck-up bitches.”

Stella pouted. The perfect beauty was always putting on an act, oozing class and subtle sexuality, showing her true self only to other women, knowing men would think them jealous harpies if they criticized her. “Being a mongrel yourself, Luciana, you don’t have to worry about that. But then, that makes you the perfect merchandise he’s here to shop for. You have enough diluted blue blood that you might fit the bill in his bid to buy legitimacy. With what he has to offer in return, I say go for it.”

As Luci continued to argue with Stella, Clarissa turned and walked away. Stella’s vile words were like acid poured over the rawness of that incendiary moment. It didn’t matter that it had all been in her mind. The damage was real.

She’d moved a good way through the crowd when something made her turn around.

He was heading toward where she’d been standing. Coming back for her? Had she been wrong about that second look? She began walking back.

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