Stepping into the Prince's World

Marion Lennox | Harlequin | 2016

Falling for the secret prince

Claire Tremaine accepted the post as sole caretaker of a gorgeous island after a professional betrayal left her life in tatters. It's the perfect place to heal, until her solitude is interrupted by a gorgeous solider who's shipwrecked on her shores!

Raoul breaks down Claire's barriers with his kindness and kisses, but she's stunned when he's revealed as Prince of Marétal. She believes they can't be together…until Raoul whisks Claire to his palace! She's stepped into the prince's world—but can Claire capture this prince's heart?

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Stepping into the Prince's World

by Marion Lennox

You’re to take your place as heir to the throne and find yourself a bride.

If Crown Prince Raoul Marcus Louis Ferdinand could cut that last order from his grandmother’s letter he would, but he needed to show his commanding officer the letter in its entirety.

He laid the impressive parchment of his grandmother’s letter before his commanding officer. Franz noted the grim lines on Raoul’s face, picked up the letter and read.

Then he nodded. ‘You have no choice,’ he told him.

‘I don’t.’ Raoul turned and stared out of the window at the massive mountain overshadowing Tasmania’s capital. It was a mere shadow of the mountains of Marétal’s alpine region.

He needed to be home.

‘I’ve known my grandfather’s health is failing,’ he told his commanding officer. ‘But I’ve always thought of the Queen as invincible. This letter might sound commanding, but it’s a plea for help.’

‘It is.’ Franz glanced at the letter again. It was headed by the royal crest of Marétal and it wasn’t a letter to be ignored. A royal summons… ‘But at least it’s timely,’ he told Raoul.

Marétal’s army had been engaged as part of an international exercise in Tasmania’s wilderness for the last couple of months. Raoul’s battalion had performed brilliantly, but operations were winding down.

‘We can manage without you,’ he told him. He hesitated. ‘Raoul, you do know…?’

‘That it’s time I left the army.’ Raoul sighed. ‘I do know it. But my grandmother effectively runs the kingdom.’

‘The Queen’s seventy-six.’

‘Tell her that.’ He shook his head at the thought of his indomitable grandmother. His grandfather, King Marcus, even though officially ruler, hardly emerged from his library. Queen Alicia had more or less run the country since the day she’d married, and she suffered no interference. But she was asking for help now.

‘Of course you’re right,’ he continued. ‘My grandparents’ chief aide, Henri, has written privately that he’s worried about the decisions my grandmother’s taking. Or not taking. Our health and legal systems need dragging into this century. More immediately, national security seems to be an issue. Henri tells me of threats which she refuses to take seriously. He suggests increasing the security service, making it a force to be reckoned with, but the Queen sees no need.’

‘You’re just the man to do it.’

‘I’ve never been permitted to change anything,’ Raoul said flatly. ‘And now…’ He turned back to Franz’s desk and stared morosely at the letter. ‘This. She wants me home for the ball to celebrate her fifty years on the throne.’

‘It’ll be a splendid occasion,’ Franz told him. He, too, glanced back at the letter—particularly at the last paragraph—and try as he might he couldn’t suppress a grin. ‘You think it’s funny?’ Commanding officer or not, Franz copped a glare from Raoul. ‘That the Queen decrees I bring a suitable partner or she’ll provide me with one herself?’

‘She wants to see you married, with an heir to the throne. She fears for you and the monarchy otherwise.’

‘She wants me under her thumb, with a nice aristocratic bride to match.’

‘You’ve never been under her thumb before.’

Franz had known Prince Raoul ever since he’d joined the army. Raoul presented to the world as the perfect Prince, the perfect grandson, but Franz knew that underneath his mild exterior Raoul did exactly what he wanted. If the Queen had known half of what her grandson had been doing in the army she’d have called him home long since.

But therein lay the success of their relationship. To his grandmother, Raoul was a young man who smiled sweetly and seemed to agree with whatever she decreed. ‘Yes, Grandmama, I’m sure you’re right.’ Raoul never made promises he couldn’t keep, but he certainly knew the way to get what he wanted.

‘Our people will approve of me in military uniform,’ he’d told the Queen when he’d announced his decision to join the army. ‘It’s a good look, Grandmama—the Crown Prince working for the country rather than playing a purely ceremonial role. With your approval I’ll join the Special Forces. Have you seen their berets? It can do the royal image nothing but good.’

His grandmother had had to agree that his military uniform suited him. So had the country’s media. At thirty five, with his height, his jet-black hair, his tanned skin and the hooded grey eyes that seemed almost hawk-like, the added ‘toughness’ of his uniform made the tabloids go wild every time they had the opportunity to photograph him.

‘His uniform makes him look larger,’ the Queen had told a journalist when Raoul had completed his first overseas posting.

Franz had read the article and thought of the years of gruelling physical training turning Raoul into a honed Special Forces soldier. His admiration for his royal charge had increased with every year he knew him.

Now he came round and gripped his shoulder. Franz had been Raoul’s first commanding officer when he’d joined the army fifteen years ago. As Raoul had risen up the ranks so had Franz, and over the years they’d become friends.

‘If you were a normal officer you’d be taking my place when I retire next year,’ Franz told him. ‘The army wouldn’t give you a choice and that’d mean desk work. You know you hate desk work. There’s so much more you can do working as heir to the throne—and you’ll wear a much prettier uniform.’

Raoul told him where he could put his uniform and the older man chuckled. ‘Yes, but you’ll be wearing tassels, lad, and maybe even a sabre. There’s a lot to be said for tassels and sabres. When do you need to leave?’

‘The ball’s in a month.’

‘But you need to leave before that.’ Franz glanced at the letter and his lips twitched again. ‘According to this you have a spot of courting to do before you get there. First find your bride…’

Raoul rolled his eyes. ‘I may have to go home,’ he said carefully. ‘I may even have to take up the duties of Crown Prince. But there’s no way my grandmother can make me marry.’

‘Well,’ Franz said, and grinned again, ‘I know Her Majesty. Good luck.’ Raoul said nothing. Some comments weren’t worth wasting breath on.

Franz saw it and moved on to practicalities. ‘Let’s consider you on leave from now,’ he told him. ‘We’ll work out discharge plans later. You can fly out tonight if you want.’

‘I don’t want to fly out tonight.’

‘What do you want?’

‘Space,’ Raoul told him. ‘Space to get my head around what I’m facing. But you’re right. I need to go home. My grandparents are failing. I know my country needs me. I will go home—but not to find a bride.’

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