Excerpt: Chapter One
Other books in the Kalliakis Crown series.
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Prince's scandalous night with the innocent
Talos Kalliakis, the youngest Prince of Agon, has found the perfect gift for King Astraeus's jubilee gala—the talents of exquisite violinist Amalie Cartwright. The warrior prince crossed Europe to find his perfect candidate, and he won't take no for an answer!
But rumor has it that Amalie won't perform, and now Talos has her hidden away in his villa, where sources suggest he's claimed the most private of performances. With tensions running high, surely it can't be long before they start changing their tune…to the royal wedding march!
"With an original and enchanting storyline, Michelle Smart weaves pure magic with this one. Adorable characters, an intense and emotional romance, witty dialogues—whats not to like? Recommended for every romance lover." Harlequin Junkie
A Romantic Times Top Pick!
"Smart’s story is nicely written, well paced and her characterization is excellent. Amalie’s phobia and Talos’ painful past are both perfectly depicted. The sexual tension between the two sparkles." Romantic Times
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Talos Kalliakis dipped his head and rubbed the nape of his neck. The consultant's words had cut through to his marrow.
Looking back up to stare at his two brothers, he read the sorrow on their faces.
Astraeus Kalliakis—the King of Agon, their grandfather—was dying.
Helios, the eldest of the three brothers and heir to the throne, folded his arms and took a visible deep breath before breaking the silence. 'We need to bring the Jubilee celebrations forward.'
The whole of Agon was gearing up to celebrate As-traeus's fifty years on the throne. Everything was planned for the end of summer, six months away. The consultant oncologist had said in no uncertain terms he wouldn't last that long.
Talos cleared his throat before speaking. His vocal cords had never felt so raw. 'I suggest we concentrate on the Jubilee Gala and cancel the rest of the celebrations—they're all superfluous. Let's make the gala a true celebration of his life.'
'Agreed,' said Theseus, the middle brother, nodding. 'We should set the date for April—three months from now. It will be a push, but between us and the courtiers we can do it and do it well.'
Any later and there was every possibility their grandfather would not be there for it. Two months of intense chemotherapy would buy him time and shrink the tumours riddling his organs. But they would not cure him. It was too late for that.
Two months later
Talos Kalliakis headed through the back of the theatre that housed the Orchestre National de Paris, noting the faded, peeling wallpaper, the threadbare carpet that had to be older than his thirty-three years, the water-stained ceiling… No wonder the building was on the verge of being condemned. Of all the orchestral homes he'd visited in the past two months, the facilities here were by far the worst.
But he wasn't here for the facilities. He'd come here on a whim, when he'd been left disappointed by the violinists from all of France's other major orchestras, as he'd been left underwhelmed by those from the major orchestras of Greece, Italy, Spain and England.
Time was running out.
What he had assumed would be a simple task had turned into a marathon of endurance.
All he wanted to find was that one special musician, someone who could stroke a bow over the bridge of their violin and make his heart soar the way his grandmother had when she'd been alive. He would never claim to have a musical ear, but he was certain that when he heard it he would know.
The chosen violinist would be rewarded with the honour of playing his grandmother's final composition, accompanied by his or her own orchestra, at his grandfather's Jubilee Gala.
At that moment approximately a dozen Orchestre National de Paris violinists were lining up, ready to audition for him.
He just wanted it to be over.
The weak, impatient part of himself told him to settle on anyone. Everyone who had auditioned for him thus far had been professional, note-perfect, the sounds coming from their wooden instruments a delight to anyone's ear. But they hadn't been a delight to his heart, and for once in his life he knew he had to select the right person based on his heart, not his head.
For his grandfather's Jubilee Gala he wouldn't—couldn't—accept anything or anyone but the best. His grandfather deserved no less. His grandmother's memory deserved no less.
Flanked by the orchestra directors, an assistant and his own translator, they turned single file down a particularly narrow corridor. It was like being in an indoor, dank version of the glorious maze in the Agon palace gardens.
The violinists were lined up backstage; the rest of the musicians sat in the auditorium. He would already be seated at the front of the auditorium himself if roadworks hadn't forced his driver to detour to the back of the theatre rather than drop him at the front.
His mind filled with the dozen other things he needed to be getting on with that he'd had to let slip these past two months. A qualified lawyer, he oversaw all sales, mergers and buyouts with regard to the business empire he'd forged with his two brothers. He didn't always use his legal skills to get his own way.
Theseus, the middle Kalliakis brother, had identified an internet start-up seeking investment. If projections were correct, they would quadruple their investment in less than two months. Talos, though, had suspicions about the owners.
His thoughts about unscrupulous techies were cut away when a faint sound drifted out of a door to his left. He paused, raising a hand in a request for silence. His ears strained and he rested his head against the door. There it was.
The only piece of classical music he knew by name.
A lump formed in his throat—a lump that grew with each passing beat.
Wanting to hear more clearly, but not wanting to disturb the violinist, he turned the handle carefully and pressed the door open.
An inch was enough to bring the solemn yet haunting music to life.
His chest filled, bittersweet memories engulfing him.
He'd been seven years old when his parents had died. The nights that had followed, before his brothers had been flown back from their English boarding school—he'd been only a year away from joining them there—had left him inconsolable.
Queen Rhea Kalliakis, the grandmother he'd adored, had soothed him the only way she knew how. She'd come into his room, sat on the edge of his bed and played the 'Méditation' from Jules Massenet's Thaïs.
He hadn't thought about this particular piece of music for over twenty-five years.
The tempo was different from the way his grandmother had played it, slower, but the effect was the same. Painful and yet soothing, like balm on a wound, seeping through his skin to heal him from the inside out.
This one had it—the special, elusive it.
'That is the one,' he said, addressing the orchestra directors collectively. His translator made the translation in French for them.
The sharp-faced woman to his left looked at him with a searching expression, as if judging whether he was serious, until her eyes lit up and, in her excitement, she flung the door open.
There, in the corner of the room, her violin still under her chin but her bow flailing in her right hand, stood a tall, lithe girl—woman. She had the distinct look of a rabbit caught in the headlights of a speeding car.
It was those eyes.
She had never seen anything like them before, nor such intensity.
The way they had fixed on her… Like lasers. Trapping her.
Amalie shivered to think of them.
She shivered again when she stepped out of the theatre exit and into the slushy car park. Keeping a firm grip on her violin case—she really needed to get the strap fixed—she tugged her red-and-grey striped beanie hat over her ears.
A long black car with darkened windows entered the car park and crunched its way through the snow to pull up beside her.
The back door opened and a giant got out.
It took a beat before her brain comprehended that it wasn't a giant but Talos Kalliakis.
Intense, striking eyes—were they brown?—fixed on her for the second time in an hour. The effect was as terrifying and giddying the second time around. More so.
When the door of the practice room had swung open and she'd seen all those faces staring at her she'd wanted to shrink into a corner. She hadn't signed up for the audition, but had been told to attend in case the orchestra as a whole was needed. She'd happily hidden away from the action in the room behind the auditorium; there, but not actually present.
They had rested on her for so long she'd felt as if she'd been stuck in a time capsule. Then they had moved from her face and, without a bonjour or au revoir, he'd disappeared.
There hadn't been time for her to appreciate the sheer size of the man.
She was tall for a woman—five foot eight. But Talos towered over her, a mass of height and muscle that not even his winter attire could hide.
Her mouth ran dry.
He wore his thick ebony hair slightly too long, messy at the front and curling over the collar of his long black trench coat. Dark stubble, also thick, abounded over his square jawline.
Despite the expensive cut of his clothing, right down to what were clearly handmade shoes, he had a feral air about him, as if he should be swinging through vines in a jungle whilst simultaneously banging his chest.
He looked dangerous. Wildly dangerous. The scar on his right eyebrow, which seemed to divide it into two, only added to this sense.
He also looked full of purpose.
He took the few steps towards her with long strides, an outstretched hand and an unsmiling face. 'Amalie Cart-wright, it is a pleasure to meet you,' he said in perfect English.
How did he know she was bilingual?
God but the man was enormous. He had to be a good six and a half feet. Easily.
Swallowing frantically to moisten her mouth, Amalie switched her violin case to her left hand and extended her right to him. It was immediately engulfed in his strong, darkly bronzed hand. It was like being consumed by a giant paw. Even through the wool of her gloves she could feel the heat from his uncovered hand.
'Monsieur Kalliakis,' she murmured in response. She tugged her hand free and hugged it around her violin case.
'I require your attention. Please, get in the car,' he said.
I require your attention? If she hadn't been so unsettled by him and the deepness of his voice—a low bass both throaty and rich that matched his appearance perfectly—she would have been tempted to laugh at his formality.
With a start she remembered he was a prince. Royalty. Should she curtsey or something? He'd disappeared from the practice room before they could be formally introduced.
She cleared her throat and took a tiny step back. 'My apologies, monsieur, but I don't believe there is anything for us to discuss.'
'I assure you there is. Get in the car. It is too cold to have this discussion out here.'
He spoke as only a man used to throwing his weight around could.
'Is this about the solo? I did explain to your assistant earlier that I have a prior engagement for the gala weekend and won't be able to attend. My apologies if the message never reached you.'
The assistant, a middle-aged man with an air of implacability about him, had been unable to hide his shock when she'd said she couldn't do it. The orchestra directors had simply stared at her with pleading eyes.
'The message did reach me—which is why I turned back from the airport and returned here, so I could discuss the matter with you directly.'
His displeasure was obvious, as if it were her fault his plans had been ruined.
'You will need to cancel your engagement. I wish for you to play at my grandfather's gala.'
'I wish I could as well,' she lied. A lifetime of dealing with forceful personalities had prepared her well for this moment. No personality came more forceful than her mother's. 'But, no. It is not something I can get out of.'
His brow furrowed in the manner of someone who had never had the word no uttered within his earshot. 'You do realise who my grandfather is and what a huge opportunity this is for your career?'
'Yes, he is the King of Agon—and I do understand what a great honour it is to be selected to play for him—'
''And the majority of the world's great statesmen who will be there—'
'But there are many other violinists in this orchestra,' she continued, speaking over him as if he had not just interrupted. 'If you audition them, as you had planned, you will find most are far more talented than me.'
Of course she knew what a huge event the gala was going to be. Her fellow musicians had spoken about little else for weeks. Every orchestra in Europe had been alerted to the fact that Prince Talos Kalliakis was searching for a solo violinist. When it had been confirmed yesterday that he was coming to audition the violinists at the Orchestre National de Paris there had been an immediate mass exodus as every female musician in the orchestra had headed to Paris's beauty parlours for highlights and waxing and all other manner of preening.
The three Princes of Agon were considered Europe's most eligible bachelors. And the most handsome.
Amalie had known she wouldn't audition, so hadn't bothered to join the exodus.
If she'd known for a second that Talos had been listening at the door to her practice she would have hit as many bum notes as she could without sounding like a screeching cat.
There was no way—no way in the world—she could stand on the stage at the Jubilee Gala and play for the world. No way. She couldn't. The mere thought of it was enough to bring her out in a cold sweat.
The chill of the wind was picking up. She scrunched her toes inside her cold boots, which were getting wetter by the second as the icy snow seeped through the tiny seams and spread to her socks. The back of Talos's car looked very snug and warm. Not that she would find out for herself. The chill in his eyes perfectly matched the weather whipping around them.
'Excuse me, monsieur, but I need to go home. We have a concert tonight and I have to be back here in a few hours. Good luck finding your soloist.'
The hardness of his features softened by the slightest of margins, but his eyes—she'd been right, they were brown: a light, almost transparent brown, with the blackest of rims—remained hard.
'We will talk again on Monday, despinis. Until then I suggest you think hard about what you are giving up by refusing to take the solo.'
'Monday is our day off. I will be in on Tuesday, if you wish to speak to me then, but there will be nothing for us to talk about.'
He inclined his head. 'We shall see. Oh—and when we next meet you may address me by my formal title: Your Highness.'
This time her lips tugged into a smile—one she had no control over. 'But, monsieur, this is France. A republic. Even when we had a royal family, male heirs to the throne were addressed by the title of "Monsieur", so I am addressing you correctly. And I feel I should remind you of what happened to those who boasted of having royal blood—they had their heads chopped off.'
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