Castle in the Sand
Josie DeMarco moved to Mimosa Key three years ago to escape the scandalous heartbreak that destroyed her life. She has a job and friends she loves on the idyllic island off the coast of Florida, but her world is turned upside down when Tony Granville, the man responsible for her broken heart, seeks her help to escape the relentless paparazzi stalking him.
As Prince Anton Edward, heir to the throne of a small European nation, Tony can’t lead a normal life with the responsibilities of his title, and the constant scrutiny of his father, King Edward, hanging over him. But when Tony is back with Josie, the only woman he’s ever loved, he realizes he’s willing to give up his crown to be with her. What he doesn’t know is if she would give up the life she’s made for herself to be with him.
Castle in the Sand
“I can’t believe she got a million dollars for a picture of your ass.”
Tony Granville had been explaining to his friend, Nick DeMarco, how his old friend Astrid had turned his life into a shitshow. Since the story broke and photos of him in the shower had gone public, he hadn’t slept, he’d barely eaten, and his head was pounding. Tony wished he had an appetite so he could enjoy the stack of diner pancakes sitting in front of him, but the fifty phone calls he’d received from the palace over the past twelve hours had pretty much killed it.
It always amazed him how much outrage could fester in such a tiny country.
His father, King Edward, was livid. His mother was distraught. The Prime Minister had made a statement in the press that the situation was an embarrassment to the family and the country.
There was no doubt it was embarrassing. But it wasn’t the minister’s bare ass plastered on the front page of every tabloid in the western world. Only Tony could claim that dubious honor.
As Crown Prince Anton Edward of Marinbourg, he’d been forced to live his life in a fishbowl, and he’d gone to great lengths to manage the circus of being royal with the need for a normal existence. Tony had done pretty well for himself over his thirty-six years, serving his country in the military and building a successful career for himself as a trade representative.
Naturally, he’d been the target of the European paparazzi more than once. But this wasn’t paparazzi, this was someone he knew. And the fact that she’d betrayed his trust made it even harder to swallow.
The headlines—such as ROYAL BOOTY, CROWN JEWELS, and HIS ROYAL HOTNESS—were almost as bad as the photos themselves, even if they weren’t very original. However, his wet, soaped-up body under the shower spray was heating up to be a fairly big scandal. The photos were garnering a lot of interest in Europe, and—for the first time—the United States.
That was probably because the lucky photographer was an old family friend who had a lot of contacts in American media. He’d thought he could trust her, which was stupid. Tony should have realized by now that his status made trust a dangerous indulgence. The woman in question, Lady Astrid, had been in his family circle for years, and at one point she had been on the short list for his potential bride. Neither he, nor Astrid, was receptive to the idea, but he’d still considered her a friend. After she moved to the States, he’d see her when he was in town, and a few days ago he’d welcomed her invitation for an afternoon run in Central Park and then dinner. What he hadn’t known was that it was a setup; she’d been disowned by her very wealthy parents, and needed money.
That made him, and his ass, a target.
He had no idea pictures of him naked were worth so much on the tabloid market.
“She had a number of different shots,” Tony finally replied. “Quick, that one. Her phone was in her purse and she was out the door before I could get a towel wrapped around my waist. There were five photos. She received a million for each one.”
Nick let out a long, low whistle. “Damn. That’s a lot of money. Should keep her in champagne for a few months.”
“I’m sure she’s having a grand time on the Italian coast. I hear she’s celebrating with friends.”
“Didn’t waste any time, did she?” Nick was laughing. His best friend was the only one who would be allowed to find the humor in the situation. “I had no idea your royal tush was worth that kind of cash. Haven’t you always said your family is minor in the royal hierarchy?”
“As families go, we certainly don’t have the clout, or the fortune, of some,” Tony explained. “I hate the idea of hiding, but right now my father and his advisors think the best thing for me to do is lay low until this all blows over.”
“Are you heading home?”
The thought made him shudder. “Hell no. I’ll figure something out, but the last thing I need is my father and his pompous I-told-you-sos.”
“I don’t think you should let that stop you, but whatever. Maybe you should remind His Majesty that he considered Astrid a suitable wife until a couple of days ago.”
Tony knew his friend was right. He shouldn’t let his father intimidate him, even if he was the King. But knowing that didn’t mean laying low for a few weeks was a bad idea. Going back to court wouldn’t solve anything until he had a clear plan. If he went back now, there’d just be a lot of finger-pointing and anger, and that solved nothing.
Focusing on the pancakes, Tony pondered his options. Normally he’d relish this time with an old friend; a man who was as close as a brother, without all the baggage.
But his situation made enjoying anything except breathing or a stiff drink almost impossible. All his life, he’d done everything possible to keep his nose clean and avoid embarrassing his family, and the people of his country. He respected his position, even if he didn’t always like it.
He respected it so much that a few years ago, he made a decision that hurt someone very special, and broke his own heart as well. It was the worst mistake of his life, and he’d never forgive himself for it.
Moving the maple syrup around his plate with the last piece of pancake, Tony Granville did revel in the quiet, though. The middle of the night was his favorite time, whether he was home, in a bustling city like New York, or in the middle of a war zone. The hours between midnight and four in the morning were the hours when he could think.
He loved that he spent so much time in the United States because he was anonymous here. For the most part, he could go to work, shows, clubs, or sports contests and no one would blink. Every once in a while he’d land on some socialite’s radar, but even then, he could go about his business without constant questions, without worrying that the gossip rags would cause a scandal.
Now he had a target on his ass, and his family had stepped up their crowing about his need to find a wife and settle down into a life of royal obligations and a loveless marriage.
Official duties and getting married were at the top of Tony’s “Over My Dead Body List”. Of course, now that he was more than a minor government attaché in the eyes of the American press, he’d have to face both; unless he could stay out of sight until the gossip mongers moved on to their next victim.
He never imagined that an old family friend would betray him, especially Astrid, who’d had her own run-ins with the press and ought to be sympathetic. But he’d been wrong, and now he wanted to string her up. Not that it would do any good. The damage was done, and his bum had gotten worldwide attention.
The question hanging before him was, what did he do now? “Maybe I could head to an island. Someplace isolated.”
Nick raised an eyebrow and grinned, which meant he was about to say something Tony didn’t want to hear.
“You know, that’s not a bad idea. But I don’t think isolated is the answer. “
“I already don’t like the sound of this, mate.”
Waving him off, Nick continued. “My family has a little house in Florida. It’s on a small island near Naples, and to be honest, it’s a throwback. Same families have been there for generations, everyone knows everyone.”
“How will that solve my problem? If everyone knows everyone, I’m fairly sure I’ll stand out.” He figured the press would descend on him the minute they were tipped off to his presence, and from the sound of it, there was nowhere to hide.
“No, not really. I mean, there are plenty of nosy-bodies, but for the most part, you’d just be laying low at the beach. The back door of the house opens right onto the Gulf of Mexico. There are neighbors, but no one who’s going to bother you. Nice people.”
It did sound appealing, and his friend was an expert in hiding in plain sight. He wasn’t sure why exactly, but thinking about a little bungalow, a sandy beach, and some solitude, Tony found himself agreeing with the idea.
“All right then. Florida it is. Some time by myself certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“Probably not,” Nick said. “But you won’t be alone. My sister lives there.”
Tony’s stomach lurched. “Your sister? Josephine?”
“Yeah. She works at the high school. I know she had a bit of a crush on you at one point, but Josie’s different now, serious. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you.”
‘Happy’ wasn’t a word he’d use to describe how Josie would feel toward him. No, Tony was fairly sure that after the last time they’d seen each other, Nick’s younger sister would not be too keen on having him around at all.
Especially since Josie was the girl he’d left broken hearted three years ago.
End of Excerpt
Castle in the Sand