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He’s lived the good life…
Cut off from his finances and ordered get his life together, George Dagmar registers for university in New York. College life, as it turns out, isn’t so bad. He can party, meet lots of girls, and hang out—at least according to professional student and artist, Penny Novak. When they tangle in the sheets, George quickly realizes she is more than an affair…
She lives life on her terms…
Penny enjoys a bohemian lifestyle and plans to live as a poor artist for the rest of her life, answering to no one but her muse. Spoiled George doesn’t impress her, but when her sister asks her to keep an eye on the brat prince, Penny can’t help but tweak his royal nose. When he rises to the occasion and proves he can be funny and charming, they hit the sheets. Reveling in their carefree affair, Penny has no complaints until George slips and declares his love. Galvanized by fear of a set in stone future, this commitment-phobe bolts…
Changing the rules…
He’s never wanted anyone the way he wants her. George will go to any length to prove they were meant to be together. Even grow up…
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Embedded amid a fantastic alpine landscape, Chateau Michel looked like a fairytale castle. All around the massive stone construction—once the winter palace for some forgotten German prince—mountaintops rose majestically toward the sky. A blanket of ice and snow lay at the feet of the chateau—pristine, untouched, and elegant. Catering to a very exclusive clientele, the property layout and the building itself were easily secured, making it a sought after, exclusive getaway for the elite.
Once upon a time, the view inspired George with thoughts of skiing, snowboarding, and the possibility of play with heiresses, gentry, or rich Americans who made the town their winter retreat. Sadly, his happily for now days were behind him and his brother’s plans for his ‘future’ loomed like a forbidding cloud over the valley.
George Dagmar, third son of the Andraste royal house and so far beyond spare heir, preferred his honorific as prince to Grand Duke. Arriving in the back of a stretch limousine with nothing more to do than gaze at the picturesque landscape, all he could think about was how the location served as a well-ornamented prison. His crime was birth and his sentence was a week with family.
All of them. From princes to paupers, lawyers to farmers—hell, even the military would be represented if one counted his uncle or one of Armand’s brothers-in-law. His invitation and travel arrangements appeared on his itinerary, along with the exclusive guest list, and a note from Armand ordering his appearance. Unfortunately, Armand would accept no excuses to avoid the gathering—the first of its type since Alyx had rejoined their family and made even more special by the additions of Anna, Armand’s wife; Meredith, Sebastian’s fiancée, and Robert Alexander Voldakov, Alyx’s son.
For better or worse, familial responsibility and duty required his attendance. He’d rather be in Monaco or perhaps somewhere in the south Pacific, sunning on an island. Instead, he’d been consigned to a frozen postcard with family.
Life is hell.
George used the excuse of end of the semester exams to avoid flying with the rest of the Los Angeles based group when they’d left four days prior. In addition to avoiding the crowded plane, he also garnered a few days of personal freedom.
Before the week was out, George suspected his eldest brother would gift the youngest member of the family with a title. They didn’t have much, but they certainly had their pomp, circumstance, and nobility. The boy might be eighth in line and even more spare than George, but he was still the son of a princess, a Grand Duchess of the Andraste family.
The limousine pulled into the portico and a footman opened his door. In addition to the footman, a doorman stood ready to admit him to the chateau. Two fully uniformed and armed guards framed the entrance, and George’s own security team fanned out as he exited the car—proof the security was tight.
Layers upon layers had been the general rule for the last year. He’d matured under the mantle of high security, but even George found all of the extra safety measures suffocating. Once the last of the family arrived, the chateau wouldn’t open its gates or doors for anyone. Security would remain thick, but at a distance. Safe, but boring—especially as a ‘secure family gathering’ would prevent him from seeking his normal entertainments.
Too bad the only women attending were related to him somehow. Sliding out, he nodded politely to each of the help before climbing the stairs to the entrance. Someone would see to his luggage and another someone would unpack for him. He didn’t have a personal valet anymore, having dismissed his last one, but at such a formal gathering? Chances were good that one of the footman would serve the purpose.
Schooling his features to something careless and playful, he strode past the doorman and entered the nearly two-hundred-year-old chateau. He found his brother, Sebastian, and their cousin, Alyx in the doorway to the sitting room. Their backs were to him.
“Daniel Voldakov, you promised no work.” The man facing her ire was her husband, the founder and head of Spherecast Technologies. Across from him sat Dr. Meredith Blake, a professor and PhD in—of all subjects—mathematics. Her guilty expression dissolved into laughter.
“I’m afraid that’s my fault,” she said as she thumbed off the tablet in her lap.
“Oh, we’re very aware.” Sebastian sounded more amused than annoyed, but he crossed over to his fiancée and held out his hand for her tablet. “However, no work. No studies. No formulas that need to be solved. You two can change the world next week.”
Alyx followed Sebastian into the room and slid onto her husband’s lap, effectively blocking his view of his laptop. “Exactly. Robert is with his Tetya Marie, and we are free for hours until dinner. Sebastian offered to teach me how to ski. You two have to join us, so I’m not falling down alone.”
Meredith laughed. “I love skiing, and I’ve had plenty of lessons. Bastian is an excellent teacher.”
“I prefer surfing, but if we’re going to ski, I think I’ll use a snowboard.” Daniel’s expression gentled for his wife.
“Brilliant.” Sebastian tugged his fiancée from the chair. “Let’s change and meet down here in, say, thirty minutes?”
“Make it forty-five,” Daniel said. “Especially if Robert is with his Tetya Marie.”
Agreed, the two couples turned. George didn’t know whether to laugh or scowl at the surprise on their faces. Sebastian recovered the swiftest, greeting him with both a handshake and a quick hug. “We’re going to take a run down Betina. Care to join us?”
“I’ve only just arrived. Tomorrow, perhaps.” He’d rather take a shower, followed by a nap, and put off family interrogations for as long as he could.
“Excellent. Armand wants to see you. He and Richard are in the billiards gallery.” Sebastian gave his shoulder a squeeze and leaned close. His voice lowered, and he switched to Norwegian. “He’s in a mood. Don’t let someone else tell him you’ve arrived before you’ve presented yourself.”
“Thank you.” George nodded, grateful for the warning. For over a decade, Armand ruled as titular head of their family. He’d assumed the position when their father died of a heart attack. George had been much younger than either of his brothers when all the changes took place. They’d both already attended University while he’d been shipped to a private school much closer to home.
Since then, Armand oversaw everything, including George’s education. His eldest brother’s most recent directive trapped him in Los Angeles for the past year, attending UCLA while he lived in an apartment at the Tower. It was all quite boring, but when the Grand Duke ordered him to attend college, he’d had no choice in the matter.
Hardly presentable by formal standards, he decided to gamble on the ‘family’ aspect of the holiday vacation. Parting company with his brother, cousin, and their significant others, he took the stairs to the second floor. Only Grady accompanied him. With the heavier security, they needed only their most personal bodyguards rather than their full detail inside the building.
Privacy was a wonderful thing.
Having visited the chateau on previous occasions, he didn’t need a guide. The billiards gallery was one of Armand’s favorite rooms, particularly when Richard joined him. The two men on the door inclined their heads in tacit acknowledgment before knocking once and opening the door for him to enter at Armand’s casual greeting.
Richard leaned over the table, lining up his shot, and he gave George a friendly nod. Armand waved him inside. “Ah, you made it. Well done.” His smile disappeared with a curse as Richard managed a bank shot, which sank two balls in rapid succession.
“Your Highness—Armand,” George said by way of greeting. He paused long enough to incline his head and offer the slightest of bows. Prince or not, third in line or not, protocol demanded his obeisance to his brother’s title. Once observed, he straightened. Letting the two friends continue their play, he crossed to the bar and poured himself a brandy from one of the crystal decanters. In addition to the fine billiards table, the room also offered darts and a table for cards, which comfortably sat eight.
A headache pulsed behind his eyes, but he refused to acknowledge the dull throb. Instead, he self-medicated with a mouthful of smooth brandy and studied the landscape that stretched beyond the bulletproof glass windows. Although treated to prevent long-distance photographers from capturing any money shots, he could still contemplate the valley below.
Postcard perfection offered a dangerous promise of solitude. The problem with seclusion was, for all its impractical charm, it wasn’t safer than immersion in society’s collective dance. His thought didn’t quite match Emerson’s quote on the topic, but Emerson hadn’t been born into the Andraste family.
“How was your flight?” Armand circled the deep burgundy, felt-covered table, his attention seemingly on the spread of solid to stripe-colored balls. George wasn’t fooled. His brother missed very little.
“Comfortable. Thank you for sending the plane back for me.” For not forcing me to fly with everyone else, though he kept the last thought to himself.
“How did your finals go?” Lining up his shot, Armand concentrated on sinking a ball placed so close to the eight as to be risky. Of course, he pulled it off.
“Fine.” More interested in Armand’s successful aim than the question, George shrugged it off.
“Really?” Straightening, his brother chalked the tip of his pool cue.
Glancing at the brandy in his glass, George considered how many he could drink before Armand would comment. Two perhaps, no more than three. “Yes. They were fine.”
Not that he could even recall which classes he’d taken the last term. He’d had every intention of taking his finals, but he’d overslept one and arrived after the doors locked to the last. Neither were that important, so why did he need to give a report?
“Well, I must say, I am intrigued.” The clipped formality in his brother’s tone wasn’t lost on George.
Dare he ask? “By?”
“How one can describe their finals as fine when one did not take them. Do you recall taking your finals, Richard?” Including his oldest friend and the family attorney in the discussion didn’t bode well for George. He finished his drink and set the tumbler down.
Pouring another might inflame Armand’s temper further.
“Very well. Exhausting. Aggravating. Usually time-consuming.” Of course Richard agreed with his best friend. Holding his silence, however, remained George’s best course of action. “Though, I understand if you don’t actually show up, you wouldn’t know.”
Fantastic. He’d been summoned to a lecture. Schooling his features to bury his resentment, he waited for Armand’s temper to ignite. Chances were, he’d been on a slow burn since someone informed him of George’s actions. Not his security force, they wouldn’t, but the professors? The teaching assistants? The coffee cart lady? Yeah, they would all sell him out in a heartbeat.
“There are three folders on the table. Take a look at them.” Armand turned his attention back to the billiards table.
Obeying was easier than arguing. George crossed over to the card table. Sure enough, three navy colored folders awaited him. Each bore the gold insignia of a different college. “I’m already enrolled in university, per your instructions.” His eldest brother had been adamant about restricting his social schedule, enrolling in university and settling down. He’d done exactly as instructed.
“Performing to the exact letter of the agreement while failing to honor the spirit of it is not good business.”
Richard’s reply only incensed George. “If you want me to make an appointment with your lawyer, Armand, I will do so. But I won’t stand here and let you both disparage me for sport.”
“For sport?” He had his brother’s attention now. Armand set his pool cue aside and favored him with a cool glare. “If you believe failing spectacularly through utter disinterest provides entertainment, your education is far more lacking than I feared.” Before George could utter a response, Armand raised his hand. “No, you do not need to say another word. Your behavior speaks for you. It speaks of your disregard for responsibility and disrespect for your family. With your failure to appear at your finals, you have managed to complete your semester with two incomplete classes and one failing. Your grade point average is 1.75 and, since you were already on academic probation, you will not be allowed to enroll next semester.”
Shame flushed through him—not at the grades, but at Armand’s knowledge of them and the university’s decision. Why didn’t they tell him? Of course, he had a number of unopened correspondences on his desk at the Tower. Perhaps they’d tried.
Armand, however, was not done. “Those folders contain information about the only three schools willing to take you with your current GPA and academic record in addition to a sizeable donation from the Dagmar Foundation. You may read their materials and make your decision. Make no mistake, you will choose one or I will. You will be relocating to the chosen school on January tenth. You will maintain a full course load and you will excel in each class. You will have an apartment and your security force—”
“And if I don’t want to do these things?” Interrupting his brother breached every type of protocol, but George was not a child. He did not deserve to be spoken to in such a manner, especially in front of Richard. Best friend or not, the man was not family.
“I don’t care what you want.” Well, at least Armand answered honestly. “You do not care about your life or your choices, which you have made abundantly clear. However, I care about our image as well as our successes, both personally and professionally. I also care about your future—one you will not have, beyond being gossip fodder, if you do not grow up. To that end, you will have an apartment and the family will continue to supply your personal security. Your access to your trust fund, your credit cards and your bank accounts has been revoked.”
What…? The world bottomed out beneath him.
“You will have a five hundred dollar allowance each week to cover your meal expenses…”
“You can’t do this.” He tried to argue.
“I can, and I will. Now you have four hundred dollars a week.”
“This is insane. I have no interest in going to school.”
Unflinchingly, Armand met his anger with cool impartiality. “Three hundred per week. Continue at this rate, and you will need to find a part time job in order to eat.”
“You can’t force me to do this.”
“Two hundred.” No. Armand refused to bend and, from the look on Richard’s face, all of the earlier threats had already come to fruition. George would check his accounts, but he already knew what he would find.
“As you wish, Your Highness.” Bile burned in his throat, and fury curdled his stomach. Humiliated didn’t begin to cover his emotional state.
“Excellent. Read, review, choose.” Unforgiving and unyielding, Armand motioned to the folders. “Alert me to your decision before supper is served tomorrow evening or I will make it for you. When you leave after the holiday, you will be flown to your selected destination. Security will make the necessary arrangements. We’re finished. You may leave.”
Not trusting himself to speak, George nodded and left, folders in hand. What little pride he still possessed demanded he keep his temper in check until he reached the privacy of his suite.
His pride, apparently, was all he had left.
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