The Man Behind the Scars

By: Caitlin Crews

CHAPTER ONE

IT WAS one thing to boldly decide that you were going to capture a rich husband to save you from your life, and more to the point from the desperate financial situation you’d discovered you were in through no fault of your own, Angel Tilson thought a bit wildly as she stared around the glittering ballroom, but quite another thing to do it.

She didn’t know what her problem was. She was standing knee-deep in a sea of wealthy, titled people. Everywhere she looked she saw money, nobility and actual royalty, filling the sparkling ballroom of the Palazzo Santina and threatening to outshine the massive chandeliers that hung dramatically overhead. She could feel the wealth saturating the very air, like an exclusive scent.

The whole island seemed to be bursting at the seams with this prince, that sheikh and any number of flash European nobles, their ancient titles and inherited ranks hanging from their elegant limbs like the kind of fine accessories Angel herself could never afford. It was the first time in Angel’s twenty-eight years that she’d ever found herself in a room—a palace ballroom, to be sure, but it was still, technically, a room—with a selection of princes. As in, princes plural.

She should have been overjoyed. She told herself she was. She’d come all the way from her questionable neighborhood in London to beautiful Santina, this little jewel of an island kingdom in the Mediterranean, in order to personally celebrate her favorite stepsister’s surprising engagement to a real, live prince. And she was happy for Allegra and her lovely Prince Alessandro—of course she was. Thrilled, in fact. But if sweet, sensible Allegra could bag herself the Crown Prince of Santina, Angel didn’t see why she couldn’t find herself a wealthy husband of her own here in this prosperous, red-roofed little island paradise, where rich men seemed to be as thick on the ground as Mediterranean weeds.

He didn’t even have to be royal, she thought generously, eyeing the assorted male plumage before her from her position near one of the grand pillars that lined the great room—all Angel needed was a nice, big, healthy bank account.

She wanted to pretend it was all a game—but it wasn’t. Not to put too fine a point on it, but she was desperate.

She felt herself frown then, and made a conscious effort to smooth her expression away into something more enticing. Or at least something vaguely pleasant. Scowling was hardly likely to appeal to anyone, much less inspire sudden marriage proposals from the sort of men who could buy all the smiles they liked, the way common folk like Angel bought milk and eggs.

“You can just as easily smile as frown, love,” her mother had always said in that low, purring way of hers, usually punctuated with one of Chantelle’s trademark sexy smirks or bawdy laughs. That and “why not marry a rich one if you must marry one at all” constituted the bulk of the maternal advice Chantelle—never Mum, always Chantelle, no age ever mentioned in public, thank you—had offered. But thinking about her conniving, thoughtless mother did not help. Not now, while she was standing knee-deep in another one of Chantelle’s messes.

Hurt and fury and incomprehension boiled inside of her all over again as she thought of the fifty thousand quid her mother had run up on a credit card she’d “accidentally” taken out in Angel’s name. Angel had discovered the horrifying bill on her doormat one day, so seemingly innocuous at a casual glance that she’d almost thrown it in the bin. She’d had to sit down, she’d been so dizzy, staring at the statement in her hand until it made, if not sense in the usual meaning of the term, a certain sickening kind of Chantelle sense.

Once she’d got past the initial shock, she’d known at once that her mother was the culprit—that it wasn’t some kind of mistake. She’d hated that she’d known, and she’d hated the nausea that went with that knowing, but she’d known even so. It was not the first time Chantelle had “borrowed” money from Angel, nor even the first “accident”, but it was the first time she’d let herself get this carried away.

“I’ve just received a shocking bill from a credit card account I never opened,” she’d snapped down the phone when her mother had answered in her usual breezy, careless manner, as if all was right with her world. Which, at fifty thousand pounds the richer, perhaps it was.

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