Authors: Danielle Bourdon
Tags: #Spy, #Contemporary Romance, #Murder, #Love, #Romantic Suspense, #Romance, #Royal, #Intrigue, #Excitement, #Passion, #Adventure, #Action, #Suspense, #Prince, #Espionage
The Royal Elite:
Published by Wildbloom Press
Copyright © 2013
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
For Judy Bird
One of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met
Our Mission Statement:
Actually, we don't have a mission statement.
But you better watch your back.
Mattias Ahtissari stared at the contents of the safe, underwhelmed and a little suspicious. Three, four inch stacks of one-hundred dollar bills sat next to a gold watch and an elaborate brooch, hardly what he'd expected to find in a billionaire’s stash. Diamonds glittered in the platinum design of the pin when his flashlight aimed directly at it and, working on impulse, he fished the item out with gloved fingers. Slipping the brooch into an inner pocket of his tuxedo jacket, Mattias closed the safe door, gave the combination wheel a spin, and shut the flashlight off. A sleight of hand move made the pen-light disappear into a different pocket along with the leather gloves he peeled from his fingers.
Exiting the suite, he closed the door quietly behind him. Glancing along the hallway, finding it empty, he strode away from the room like a man about business. The hour was late enough that he did not expect to come across any straggling revelers. Brisk steps took him past expensive vases, ancient oil paintings, and artifacts worth millions encased in crystal.
At the juncture of an adjoining hallway, Mattias turned right, following the long corridor to a suite halfway down. Opening the door with a key, he closed it once he was inside and engaged the deadbolt. Allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he began peeling away layers of clothes: tuxedo coat, tie, silk shirt, shoes, trousers. A cursory scan of the room assured him there were no lurking bodies in the shadowy corners. The only body he could see was the one stretched out beneath the covers on the king-sized bed. A shapely silhouette, with the rise of a hip and a sharp indent at the waist. Over the pillows, a swath of blonde hair tempted Mattias to run his fingers through the strands. Wearing nothing but skin, the Latvala Prince crawled atop the covers and let nips of his teeth wake the proverbial sleeping beauty.
The first mewl of sound was the only one she had time to make. Mattias hovered near, whispering against her lips. “Wake up and tell me how much you missed me.”
Six o'clock the following evening, Mattias paused along a banister on the second level to examine the gathering below. The ballroom in
Casa de la Luz
was large enough that he couldn't see the entire length from his vantage point, nor all of the elite guests attending the party. Most of the men wore tuxedos while the women provided a splash of glitter and color in gowns ranging from slinky mermaid styles to those with skirts full enough to take up the space of four people. Sparkling chandeliers dangled from long chains on a high ceiling, throwing an ambient glow over the Spanish styled room. Heavy beams, iron scrollwork, and a tiled floor added flair to the immense ballroom. Authentic paintings of Spanish landscapes alternated between portraits of those who came before, depicting a family line that went back centuries.
House of Light,
surrounded by hundreds of acres of prime vineyards, was a sprawling mansion in the tens of thousands of square feet. Currently, it was
gathering place for Royalty and the elite of the world, with two week long festivities that ranged from the tame to the downright illicit. Some of the rich and famous included offspring of wealthy banking empires, moguls from film and television, along with a smattering of those from the most illustrious families from countries spanning the globe. The elite of the elite.
Bringing up his tumbler, Mattias pulled down a long swallow of cognac. Representing his home country of Latvala, he was here to initiate talks that might, some day in the near future, become lucrative deals that would benefit his people.
Casa de la Luz
provided the backdrop for business
pleasure, the latter being the focus of many. Newly single himself, Mattias had indulged his whims as he saw fit, amenable to the activities that House Morano offered its illustrious guests. Illicit shows and parties separate from the main gala lured the rich from far and wide, secure in the knowledge that what happened behind Morano's mansion walls would stay there.
“You're looking pensive,” a masculine voice said.
Mattias turned a look over his shoulder, mouth quirking at a corner. Leander, a genius in the art of spying and undercover work, was one of Mattias's most trusted friends.
“That tuxedo went out in the eighties.” Mattias wasn't paying a bit of attention to Leander's perfectly respectable tuxedo. Instead he regarded the crowd, bringing the drink to his lips, waiting for the inevitable reply.
“I got it out of
closet,” Leander retorted.
Mattias muffled a laugh against the rim of the glass. “I should have known you wouldn't bring your own suit.”
“You know I loathe 'fine' clothes.”
“Well, you can't wear jeans and a tee shirt to an event like this,” Mattias pointed out.
Leander, with a bit of scruff on his jaw and his shoulder length brown hair half pulled back into a tail, exhaled loudly. “I
, but everyone else here likes dressing up as much as you do, so anything casual is out.”
“And proud of it.” Leander's pompous act faded a moment later. He took a step closer to Mattias, switched languages and lowered his voice when he said, “Rumor has it that there might be an event here at Morano's gala.”
Mattias perked with interest and switched to the Latvala tongue as well. “Details?”
“It appears there
be someone gunning for Miss Alannah Astbury. Details are sketchy and vague. So far, it's just a rumor, though my man said he heard it from more than one source, which, in my opinion, gives it more credibility.” Leander surveyed the crowd below, posture casual and unassuming, while he pulled a cell phone from his pocket.
Intrigued and curious, Mattias finished off his drink and set the glass aside on a small table close to the banister. Like Leander, he remained aloof and easy-going. If there
a hit man loose on the premises, Mattias didn't want to draw attention to himself and Leander by acting suspicious or edgy.
“Astbury. The name is familiar.” Mattias couldn't quite place it. He glanced over to the cell phone screen as several photos scrolled by. Tawny haired, with delicate features and a slim build, the woman Leander showed him appeared ultra-confident and worldly. At the height of fashion, her clothing looked straight from a runway.
“Australian banking mogul. This is his daughter, the apparent target. I've got people scouting for more information and confirmation, though it might take a few days to come up with anything really useful.” Leander slipped the phone back into his pocket.
“Is she here yet?” Mattias asked. They were three days into the fourteen day gala. Not everyone arrived at the beginning; some of the attendees cruised onto the scene a full week after the events were under way. Others preferred to spend every second possible under Morano's roof, making the most of having so many elite in one place at one time.
“Yes. I went searching as soon as my contact informed me what was going on. She's down there somewhere,” Leander replied, using his chin to gesture at the immense ball room and all the people milling around.
“Is anyone watching her?”
“Chayton's keeping an eye for now.”
“We'll have to take shifts until you confirm whether or not she's really at risk here.” Mattias understood that sometimes, rumors were just that—rumors. Disgruntled members of high society often threw around false threats, which inadvertently spread from mouth to ear through the ranks, until it reached Mattias and Leander's group. Chayton Black, also a member, wouldn't allow anything to happen to the woman on his watch. Adept at all things stealth, Chayton was known in their circles as Smoke for his stunning ability to get in and out of tight situations unseen.
“I'm on it. In fact, I'm about to go have another conversation with my lead contact. I'll let you know.” Leander clapped Mattias on the shoulder and disappeared down the hallway. Like Chayton, Leander had an uncanny ability to blend into the background.
Mattias tracked Leander until he was gone, then glanced down at the gala. This time, when he regarded the throng, he watched with different intent. There among the tuxedos and expensive dresses might lurk someone with plans for murder. As always in these situations, Mattias experienced a spike in adrenaline. It was what had drawn him to the Royal Elite to begin with, the challenge and the thrill of unraveling a mystery. He felt more alive when he worked on these cases than at any other time, an addiction in and of itself.
As a member of a royal family, every move he made was monitored, photographed and taken note of. He had a reputation to consider, as well as public perception of his decisions and actions. The spotlight never ceased. Here, he could still mingle with people of his standing while slipping behind the scenes to protect the unwary from unexpected attack. He craved the rush of escape, of stalking, of the occasional brawl to make up for the hours and hours of careful behavior required of his status.
Aware of a presence hovering at his back, Mattias jerked a look over his shoulder, muscles tensing for confrontation.
“Always the lone wolf, watching the herd from afar,” an exotic, feminine voice said.
Mattias relaxed as the familiar timbre of Antonia Morano hit his ears. He shifted his stance, leaning a hip against the banister, and curved a smile for his hostess. One of five daughters of the House Morano, Antonia was a sassy, hot-blooded woman who never failed to bluntly assess any situation. Silky hair as black as sin framed a face as beautiful as any Mattias had ever seen. She had dark eyes like his own, eyes that could peel back the layers of a man and expose things even he didn't know about himself.
“Interesting that you're up here with me, then, instead of down there with the herd. What, I wonder, does that say about you,” he countered, sliding his hands into his pockets.
“It suggests that I know how to identify predators better than the rest, that's what,” she said. Antonia's accent lilted pleasantly, her voice a fine rasp.
are a predator as well.” Mattias rolled a quiet laugh at the indignant expression that crossed Antonia's face.
“What's that child's saying? It takes one to know one?” Antonia quipped of predators, drawing another laugh from Mattias.
He indicated the mansion and the party in general with a tilt of his head. “Your father has outdone himself.”
She flippantly waved a hand over the banister toward the swirling, milling mass of guests. “Is it different than any other year? The same people show up, with the same mistresses, all desperate to talk about their latest business conquest or their newest island or their eighty foot yacht.”
“Among other things,” he said when she left out the private gatherings where unmentionable shows and acts often occurred. Not every member of the gala was invited, only those who showed an interest beforehand. Although he had engaged in regular gala activities, he had not yet attended one of those more illicit parties. Mattias didn't mistake the look of exasperation that flickered across Antonia's features.
“Yes, yes, among
things. I notice you have yet to enjoy any of those
activities, Prince Mattias.” Her expression shifted from exasperated to coy.
“Why would I, when I find the company outside those gatherings more appealing than what I would find within?”
“Are you flirting with me, Mattias Ahtissari?” she demanded, propping a hand on her hip.
“Me? Absolutely not.” He laid a hand over his heart, withstanding her scalpel sharp scrutiny. In all truth, Mattias avoided romantic interest with the Morano women and had for years. It had nothing to do with their beauty, but their upbringing. For all the illicit endeavors in which their father engaged, the one solid function in their family was unity. Mattias had never witnessed a tighter knit group of people. They genuinely enjoyed each other's company, loved one another without fault, and gathered together for no better reason than to just sit and talk, dance and be merry or cook elaborate meals in their expansive kitchen. He wouldn't expose their warmth and sense of family to the harsher climes of his own. Mattias's father Aksel, until his death, acted the complete opposite of Ruben Morano. Rare were the times Aksel greeted anyone with genuine friendliness or invited them to Latvala without some other agenda. Family gatherings were always about training, manipulation or meetings about better ways to expand their empire. As the ruling King of Latvala, Aksel had always made it clear business came before family.