Heiress’s Royal Baby Bombshell
Series: The Cattaneo’s Christmas Miracles, book 2
Available at (Print/Digital):
Publisher: Harlequin Romance / Mills & Boon True Love
First Published: November 1, 2018
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Hardcover, e-Book, Large Print
Pages: 256 (large print)
For the Crown Prince!
In this The Cattaneos’ Christmas Miracles story, rebel royal Max believes his infertility has cost him the throne — until heiress Noemi reveals she’s carrying his baby! And with his country’s future at stake, Max must claim his heir! Noemi is hesitant and fiercely protective of their unborn baby, but at his snow-covered palace can Max offer her the most precious Christmas gift ever — the chance to become a family…
PROLOGUE / Mid-August, Milan, Italy
A casual party full of joy and hope for the future was just what she needed.
It was her chance to forget that her opinions were unwanted and disregarded. That acknowledgment sliced deep into her heart. But she refused to become a silent shadow in her own family.
Noemi Cattaneo, heiress to the Cattaneo Jewels dynasty, welcomed the loud music and the sound of laughter. After yet another argument with her older brother, Sebastian, she needed space. She took a drink from her second glass of pink champagne. When was he ever going to treat her like an adult instead of his kid sister and realize that her opinions had merit?
She took another sip of bubbly, hoping to cool off her rising temper. Every time she recalled her brother saying that being a silent partner suited her, frustration bubbled within her. How dare he tell her to stick to modeling! There was more to her than her looks—a lot more. And she refused to spend the evening worrying about her brother.
Someone bumped into her. The champagne sloshed over the edge of the glass and onto Noemi’s new white dress. She glanced down at the pink stain starting at her chest and streaking down to her midsection.
She might need to cool off, but this wasn’t how she’d intended to do it. Noemi’s gaze lifted as she looked around for the klutz who’d bumped into her, but she couldn’t pinpoint the culprit. They hadn’t hung around to express their regret. Maybe coming to this engagement party hadn’t been such a good idea.
She searched the crowd for Stephania, her friend who’d convinced her to come to the party. As Noemi’s gaze scanned the room, it strayed across a man with mysterious hazel eyes. He was standing across the room surrounded by a half dozen eager, smiling women. Even though each woman appeared to be vying for his attention, he was staring at Noemi. Her pulse quickened. This wasn’t the first time that she’d noticed him staring her way.
“Hey, Noemi,” Stephania said. “What are you doing standing over here all alone?”
“Apparently getting champagne spilled on me.”
Stephania gasped when she saw the stain. “I’m sure they have some club soda around here.”
Noemi shook her head. “I’ll just go home.”
“But you can’t leave yet. We just got here. Besides, if you go home, you’ll just mope around.”
And think about how her brother refused to give her any respect. Noemi hated to admit it but Stephania was right. Her gaze strayed to the tall sexy stranger. His eyes caught and held hers. Her pulse quickened. Perhaps there was a reason to stay.
Twenty or so minutes later, with the help of club soda, paper towels and a hair dryer, Noemi’s dress was once again presentable. By then, she’d talked some sense into herself about the attractive man whose gaze seemed to follow her around the room. He was probably the type who enjoyed the chase—not the capture.
However, there was something slightly familiar about him. Not one to keep up with gossip or who to know, Noemi couldn’t place him. But if he was at this exclusive gathering, he must be someone important.
Noemi glanced around the room but didn’t see any sign of him. Disappointment assailed her. This wasn’t like her. She could take guys or leave them. She thought of asking Stephania if she knew the man’s name but shrugged off the idea. Her life had enough complications. She didn’t need more.
But just the same, her mood had dimmed. Her problems once again started to crowd in around the edges of her mind. Needing some fresh air, she stepped out onto the terrace. There was just enough of the evening sun for her to admire the distant mountain range as a gentle breeze caressed her skin.
The deep rich voice had her turning her head. And there stood the intriguing stranger with the mesmerizing eyes. His voice held a slight accent. She couldn’t place it, but it was extremely sexy—just like the rest of him.
“I’m sorry. Am I disturbing you?” She glanced around for his harem of women, but he appeared to at last be alone—with her.
“Not at all. Please join me.” He motioned for her to join him at the edge of the terrace.
She stepped closer but not quite the whole way. “You were admiring the mountains, too?”
He sent her a puzzled look.
“When I stepped out here, you said beautiful. I assumed you were referring to the view.”
He smiled and shook his head. “No. I was talking about you. You are beautiful.”
She’d been complimented many times over the years. Being the face of Cattaneo Jewels, compliments came with the job. But the man looked at her as though he wanted to take her in his very capable arms and devour her with hungry kisses. The heat of a blush engulfed her cheeks.
The warm August evening was no help in cooling her down. Noemi knew it was polite to make small conversation, but for once, her mind was a blank. This man didn’t seem to know who she was, and for the moment, she found that to be a welcome relief. She didn’t want him to treat her differently. For tonight, she wanted to be just a face in the crowd.
But when she turned her head and gazed into this man’s eyes, her heart began to race. For a moment, she glanced at his mouth. If she were someone else tonight, would it be wrong to give in to her desires—to live in the moment?
But then she realized if she wanted people to take her seriously, she couldn’t give in to her whims. No matter how delicious they may be.
“We should probably get back inside before people start to wonder where we’ve gone,” she said, though there wasn’t any part of her that wanted to return to the party. She was quite content to stay right here with him.
He leaned in close. “Let them wonder. I like it much better out here, especially now that you are here.”
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him. “I’m starting to understand.”
His brows drew together. “Understand?”
“Yes. I understand why all the women surround you. If you flatter them like this, they simply can’t help themselves.”
The worry lines on his face smoothed and a devastatingly sexy smile lifted his lips. “Trust me. I have done nothing to encourage those women. But when it comes to you, it’s different. What brings you to such an exclusive party alone?”
She wanted to believe him when he said she was different. His words were like a soothing balm on her bruised ego. Her parents and her brother might think she should remain nothing more than a silent partner, but this man wanted to hear what she had to say. A smile lifted her lips.
“I’m not alone.” The smile immediately slipped from his face. Then realizing how her response must have sounded, she was quick to supply, “I came here with a friend.”
“And your friend doesn’t mind that you’re out here instead of inside with them celebrating the engagement?”
Noemi couldn’t help but notice his strange wording. “Do you even know the engaged couple?”
“As a matter of fact, I don’t.”
Noemi’s mouth gaped. Only the very famous or the very rich who knew the couple had been invited. The newly engaged couple didn’t want the paparazzi to know the details. They wanted a chance to celebrate and enjoy the moment. And he was a party crasher.
She tilted her chin upward, taking in the man’s handsome face. He didn’t strike her as the type to intrude upon a stranger’s good time. His chiseled jawline gave his face a distinctive look. But it was his mesmerizing eyes that held her gaze captive. The breath caught in her throat.
And then the urge once again came over her to kiss this stranger. But she didn’t even know him. She glanced away. She was letting his good looks and sexy smile get to her.
Maybe if she got to know him a little better. There was something about him that made her curious to know more about him. “So if you don’t know the engaged couple, why are you here?”
He shrugged. “The host of the party invited me.”
She took in the man’s straight nose and fresh-shaven jaw. “Do you live in Milan?”
He shook his head. “I’m just passing through.”
“On your way to where?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet.”
The fact he didn’t live in Milan—that he was moving on—appealed to her. The last thing she wanted at this juncture in her life was a relationship. She had her modeling career to focus on—even though it was rapidly losing its appeal.
But an evening of fun—an evening with no strings—what would be the harm? Tomorrow she could decide if she wanted to continue to fight for a more significant place in the family business or look elsewhere. Just then, the French doors burst open and a couple wrapped in each other’s arms stumbled onto the veranda. When they bumped into Mr. Tall and Sexy, they straightened up.
“Sorry about that,” Matteo DeLuca, an award-winning actor, said. “We didn’t know anyone was out here.”
The young woman in his arms burst out in a giggle. Her eyes were glazed and as Matteo led her away, she tripped over her own feet. Upon their exit, they forgot to close the doors. The loud music and cacophony of voices came spilling forth.
Noemi’s companion closed the doors and then turned back to her. “How would you feel about going someplace quieter?”
“But I don’t even know your name.”
His brows rose ever so briefly. She couldn’t help wondering if his reaction was due to the fact that he expected her to know him. Or whether he was surprised that she’d resisted jumping at his offer. Because right at that moment, she couldn’t think of anything she’d like better than spending the evening with this intriguing man.
Noemi took a moment to study him. His dark designer suit definitely didn’t come off a rack. As he took a drink of what appeared to be bourbon, she noticed his watch. A Rolex no less. This man looked right at home at this party.
He smiled and his eyes lit up. This man, he was... Well, he was confident. It was in the way he stood with his broad shoulders pulled back and his chin held high. But he wasn’t unapproachable either. He seemed to have a sense of humor. But most of all, he came across as the type to go after what he wanted. And right now, he appeared to want her.
“My name is Max.”
“Max, huh?” She tried the name on for size. It wasn’t as imposing as Zeus or Hercules but it’d do—it’d do just fine.
“You don’t like my name?”
“It’s not that.” It’s that it was such a simple name for such a complicated man. And yes, she sensed there were many facets to this man in the ten or so minutes that they’d been talking.
“Then what is it?”
She shrugged. “I just wasn’t expecting such a common name.”
He smiled and it made her stomach shiver with nerves. “I won’t tell my mother you said that.”
“Please don’t.” They were acting like one day soon she would meet the woman. That was never going to happen. But it was fun to play along with him.
“And what’s yours?” His voice interrupted her troubled thoughts.
Amusement twinkled in his eyes. “Your name?”
“Oh.” Heat rushed up from her chest and settled in her cheeks. “It’s Noemi.”
“Noemi. That’s a beautiful name for a very beautiful woman.” He took a step closer to her, leaving little distance between them. She searched his face for any sign of recognition of who she was. There was nothing in his expression to suggest that he recognized her as an heiress to the infamous Cattaneo Jewels worn by the rich and famous worldwide. But there was something else reflected in his eyes.
Their gazes locked. This gorgeous hunk of a man, who could have his pick of the eligible women and some not quite so eligible at this party, desired her. Her heart raced. It’d been such a long time since a man had turned her head. But there was something special about Max.
The thump thump of her heart was so loud that she could barely hear her own thoughts. And then he reached out to her. His thumb ever so gently traced down her jaw before his finger brushed over her bottom lip. It was such a simple gesture but it sent a bolt of heat ricocheting from her mouth down to her very core.
Before she could figure out how to react to these unexpected sensations, his gaze lowered to her lips. He was going to kiss her?
Her heart lodged in her throat. She should... She should do something. But her body betrayed her. Her feet refused to move and her chin lifted ever so slightly.
As though that was all the invitation he needed, Max lowered his head. Her eyes fluttered closed. She shouldn’t want this—want him. But she did, more than she thought possible.
His lips were smooth and warm. And a kiss had never felt so good. She didn’t make a habit of going around kissing strangers, but in the short time she’d spent with Max, she had this uncanny feeling that she could trust him.
She slipped her arms up over his muscled shoulders. As the kiss deepened, her hands wrapped around the back of his neck. She’d never been kissed quite so intently and with such unrestrained passion. She wasn’t even sure her feet were still on the ground.
Suddenly Max pulled back. It happened so quickly she had to wonder if she’d imagined it. But her lips still tingled where his mouth had touched hers. And he sent her a dazzling smile that promised more of the same.
If she were wise, she would end things right here, but her body hummed with unquenched desire. For once, she wanted to throw caution to the wind and enjoy herself. After all, her brother accused her of being impulsive. Why not live up to the accusation...just this once?
Max pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket.
“What are you doing?” The words slipped from her lips.
“I’m calling my driver.” And then he spoke into his phone. Seconds later, the conversation ended. He turned back to her. “The car will be waiting for us downstairs in a couple of minutes. Shall we?”
But she’d never said she would go anywhere with him. Was it that obvious in the way she looked at him? More than likely he was taking his cues from that kiss they’d shared. That short but arousing kiss.
“What are you thinking?” His eyes searched hers.
“I was thinking...um...that it would be nice to go somewhere a little quieter.”
He smiled again. “My thoughts exactly.”
He held his arm out to her. It took her a moment to figure out what he was doing. Did men even do that anymore? Wasn’t it just something she saw in the old black-and-white movies that her mother collected?
But Noemi found the gentlemanly gesture endearing, even if it was a little dated. There was something about this man that was so different from anyone she’d ever known and that appealed to her. She had a feeling this evening was going to be totally unforgettable.