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Prince's Son of Scandal

By:Dani Collins

CHAPTER ONE

Six months ago...

WHEN THE GREETER at the ballroom entrance asked Trella Sauveterre for her name, she nearly gave an arrogant “you know who I am.”

She bit it back. Her sister was never acerbic. Not with strangers, and definitely not with underlings. Her twin was perfectly capable of terse words and might even hurl some blue ones at Trella when she learned what she was doing right now, but Angelique’s personality was one of sensitivity and empathy. Gentleness and kindness.

Trella? Not so much.

“Angelique Sauveterre,” Trella lied, wearing her sister’s polite yet reserved smile. She ought to feel more guilty. She ought to feel like an overused cliché from a children’s movie, but she didn’t.

She felt alive.

And apprehensive. Terror could overcome her if she let herself dig deep enough. This was like swimming toward the middle of a lake, where the bottom was too deep to imagine. Who knew what dangers lurked in those dark watery depths? Monsters. They existed. She had met them. Had nearly been consumed by them.

But she wouldn’t think about that.

Nothing in her outward appearance revealed the way her heart bounced and jostled in her chest, fighting internal battles. She moved gracefully, even though her muscles felt stiff and petrified, twitching to run.

Because, along with the trickles of fear, a tumbling waterfall of joy rang through her. It was all she could do to keep tears from her eyes or laughter from escaping her throat.

I’m doing it! she wanted to call her family and cry. Look. I’m in public. By myself. I’m not shriveling like a vampire in the sun.

But they didn’t know where she was and it was best to keep it that way. This was the sort of sneaking out a window she should have done years ago, when she’d been an adolescent. Instead, she’d been a grieving survivor with an eating disorder and more baggage than a passenger jet.

Still was, if these people only knew.

She quashed the negative self-talk and moved like a normal person through the crowd. Gazes lingered, noting Angelique Sauveterre had arrived. Her bodyguard kept anyone from approaching, though. Maybe that wasn’t normal for everyone, but it was for the Sauveterre twins, even the eldest set of brothers.

With her sister’s aloof nod, she returned a few greetings to people she imagined she was supposed to know.

In a few weeks, she would come out as Trella and have nothing left to hide behind. No more walls, literal or technical. No broad-shouldered brothers. No playing her sister to avoid being herself. She had determined, had sworn on the blood she had shed when she nicked her ear cutting her own hair before Christmas, that this was the year she would free herself from the prison she had created.

For now, she was still hiding behind Angelique. She had impersonated her sister a few times recently, with her sister’s permission, escorted by their brother Henri to watch his twin, Ramon, race. They’d also taken in a fellow designer’s latest collection during fashion week. It had been spectator stuff where they didn’t interact with anyone and kept to places her sister had been seen with their brothers before.

Trella had never walked out in public alone. In her entire life, she had rarely done anything alone. As a child, Angelique—Gili to her family—had been the needy one and Trella, the protector. She had held Gili’s hand so her sister wouldn’t tremble and cry at the attention they had received. Their brothers had barely given them breathing space even before Trella’s kidnapping at age nine, always ready to catch a tumble from a swing or to keep them from wandering too far from the group.

Then she’d been stolen and had wished that her captors had left her alone.

She swallowed and veered her mind away from those memories. They were guaranteed to bring on an attack and she was doing far too well. It was coming up to two years without one.

The attacks had manifested years after her rescue, when she should have been finding her feet and moving on with her life. Instead, she had become a horrible burden. Her siblings would never say so, but they had to be sick of being on call for her. She was certainly tired of being the weakest link. She had to change.

Tonight was another step toward that. The press would go mad when she finally came out of seclusion at a friend’s wedding in a few weeks. She had to be ready, but she had to know she was ready.

So she was testing herself, if somewhat impulsively, because this charity dinner hadn’t been on her agenda at all when she had arrived in Paris.

She had been beside herself with pride when she’d landed, high on travelling from the family home in Spain—by private jet with trusted guards, always—but without her mother or siblings. It had taken her newfound independence to the next level.

So, when Gili tentatively had asked if she could run to London for a hot secret weekend with her new paramour, of course Trella had told her to go. Her sister had looked incandescent when she’d spoken about Prince Kasim. He was clearly something special.

Trella wanted her sister to be happy, wanted to quit holding her back. Spending a night alone at their tightly secured living space above their design house, Maison des Jumeaux, had seemed a perfect cherry on top of Trella’s already sweet split from old fears.

As the evening stretched on, however, she had restlessly poked around the flat, picking up after her sister and teetering on feeling sorry for herself. Wistfulness had closed around her.

Would she ever have a romantic liaison? Her feelings about men were so ambivalent. At fourteen, she’d had the usual rush of hormonal interest, even shared an embrace with the gardener’s son behind a rosebush. Then their father had died and the most terrifying predators had emerged online, threatening her in vile ways. Her fear of men, of everything, had compounded a hundredfold. As her panic attacks escalated, the deepest fear of all had crept into her very soul—that she was so damaged and broken, no one would ever want her.

For years, she had barely allowed men near her, interesting or otherwise. She slipped from one secured location to another through shielded walkways, accompanied by a mostly female guard detail. Occasionally, her brothers introduced her to a friend, but even if she had wanted any of those bankers or race-car drivers to make a pass, Ramon and Henri wouldn’t have allowed it.

Their dearest family friend, Sadiq, was the only man she’d spent real time with and theirs had never been a romantic relationship. He was the shy, heart-of-gold computer nerd who had helped the police locate her, returning her to her family. She loved him, but as her savior, not as a man.

Which was why his engagement had shaken her out of her ivory tower. She would do anything for Sadiq. If he wanted her at his wedding, of course she would attend, even though it meant overcoming her demons and returning to the public eye.

It had been a struggle to come this far, but now, as she stood on the cusp of achieving something like a normal life, she found herself resetting the goalposts.

She wanted her sister’s anticipation for a weekend with a man. She wanted to be the person she would have been if she hadn’t been stolen and assaulted, stalked and bullied, but it would never happen if she kept living behind these damned walls!

A disgusted toss of the latest fashion magazines onto the coffee table had sent a pile of paperwork sliding to the floor, revealing an invitation to this ball.

The fundraiser benefited orphaned children, something that would go straight to Gili’s tender heart. Even if Gili had sent regrets, the Sauveterre checkbook was always welcome.

Not letting herself overthink it, Trella had briefed a security team and slipped on one of her sister’s creations.

Where Trella loved powerful touches like strong shoulders and A-lines, along with eye-catching beadwork and bold colors, her sister’s style was gentler. The champagne gown had a waifish quality in the way the sleeves fell off her shoulders. The bodice and torso were fitted to her figure, but the ruched skirt across her hips created a sensual impression of gathered satin sheets around a nude form.

She added her sister’s earrings and a locket with a panic button, but kept the look simple, arranging her hair into a fall of dark locks and painting her lips a soft pink.

Now she was here, breathless and petrified, yet filled with more optimism than she’d experienced in years. She moved to speak to the aloof Russian host and his much warmer British wife, Aleksy and Clair Dmitriev.

“I’m so glad you came,” Clair said, drawing her aside in a confiding way that revealed Clair had no idea she was talking to Gili’s twin. “You’re not my only supporter who comes without a date, but you’re the only one who won’t be silly about my guest of honor. Don’t even ask how I got him here. I was hideously shameless, interrupting their trade talks and putting him on the spot in front of everyone. I talked him into auctioning himself for the first dance.”

Trella scanned for a glimpse of this exalted personality. Clair continued her confession as she wound them through the crowd.

“Aleksy said at least I use my power for good instead of evil, but I feel a little evil because the ravens surrounded him the minute he arrived. They’ll back off if you’re there, though. I know you’ll put him at ease. Everyone loves you. Do you mind?”

Trella could see how Clair got what she wanted, sounding sincere in her flattery as she took agreement for granted. Still, she was curious enough to murmur, “Bien sûr,” in her sister’s preferred French.

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