As he watched the tiny dot appear through the clouds the ambassador of Niroli’s
throat dried. What if this precious heir to the throne should perish? And with
Nico Fierezza’s addiction to extreme sports that seemed extremely likely;
if not today, then some day soon. The ambassador’s nerves refused to steady
even when the dot turned into six foot four of solid muscle and Nico hit the ground
on target. Only Nico didn’t hit the ground, he landed like a cat.
As someone took away his parachute Nico lifted off his helmet and stared straight
at the ambassador. He had detected the distinguished visitor in the same instant
he had located the cross hairs on his jumping target and was relieved to see that
duty rather than disaster had brought him to the field.
He maintained a distance between himself and the bickering and power play surrounding
his grandfather, King Giorgio of Niroli. The Fierezza family had ruled Niroli
since the Middle Ages, but Nico was a self-made man. Niroli, a tiny island set
like a jewel in the Mediterranean, was prosperous, and beautiful enough to attract
the glitterati from every part of the world, which was enough in itself to keep
him away. He had built up his own architectural practice in London free from royal
privilege or favour, and could state categorically that everything he owned he
He had been drunk on adrenalin when he landed, feeling invincible because he’d
survived against the odds the highest jump without oxygen ever recorded, but calm
reason had kicked in, reminding him that like any emotion euphoria was a dangerous
deception; it clouded the mind.
Tucking his helmet under his arm, he started forward with his usual purposeful
stride. He couldn’t account for the insatiable force driving him. He’d
had a happy childhood, idyllic compared to most, with a mother who adored him
and poured all her love into the family. Perhaps that was it, Nico thought, halting
at point where he and the ambassador could have some privacy, perhaps men like
him came with an inborn gene that insisted they must break away from everything
that was feminine and soft and loving, and drive themselves to the limit just
to know they were alive. His father had done this, taking his yacht to the limit
of its capabilities, killing himself along with his brother and sister-in-law.
It was a miracle his mother had survived and was a lesson he would never forget.
As the ambassador approached he ordered himself to go easy on the man, but
he there could be no compromise. He might be the grandson of the king, but he
neither asked for, nor expected any favours. ‘Ambassador?’ he said
curtly as the portly man arrived.
‘You recognised me…’ The ambassador, gave a nervous laugh.
‘Of course.’ Nico’s voice was clipped and controlled. As
always he was polite, toning down his need to know in deference to the other man
advanced age. ‘My mother?’
‘Is quite well, sir. Your grandfather too…’
Nico’s brow furrowed. Why the hesitation? As if he didn’t know.
‘His Majesty wishes to see me.’ It was a statement rather than a question.
Nico never wasted his breath on unnecessary questions.
‘That is correct, sir…’
The ambassador was distracted briefly by the whoops of celebration from other
skydivers in the competition. Nico’s had been a landslide victory, but he
remained unmoved, his thoughts hidden behind his slate-blue gaze.
As he stroked one hand across the sun-bleached hair he kept aggressively short,
Nico had no idea how intimidating he appeared to the older man. Lean, and tan
from working outside in all weathers, Nico Fierezza towered a good six inches
over the ambassador. It didn’t matter that an architectural scheme had been
conceived in the clinical surroundings of his high-tech office- Nico liked to
see his cutting edge designs up close. So while the ambassador’s hands were
soft and white, Nico’s were weather-beaten and rough, and the ambassador
hardly seemed to have a beard in contrast to Nico’s black, piratical stubble.
But the ambassador worked for a wily monarch and was used to handling every type
of situation. He had recovered from his trot across the airfield and his shrewd
grey eyes missed nothing. He rested super alert like a pulsing brain as Nico began
‘Please tell his majesty that I will attend him the moment my business
As a cheer went up and calls rang out for Nico to join the other men on the
podium he made a holding gesture with the flat of his hand.
The ambassador weighed the facts. Nico Fierezza was easily the best of all
the men there. Surely he must be feeling the same charge they did, the same adrenalin
rush? And yet he appeared to be in no hurry to join the celebrations and there
was no hint of self-congratulation in his expression. He’d heard this grandson
to the king was a stranger to emotion, and it seemed the rumours were true. Nothing
could have suited his purpose better. King Giorgio was eager to put an heir in
place before his health deteriorated further, and this man had all the qualities
they looked for a monarch. He put duty first and chose to reveal nothing to the
outside world. There wasn’t a woman alive who could cause Nico Fierezza
embarrassment. The ambassador maintained his impassive expression, but inwardly
he was already celebrating.
‘Please apologise to his Majesty,’ Nico continued, ‘and tell
him that I will attend him in Niroli at the earliest opportunity.’
The ambassador dipped his head. Compromise was an easy thing with victory in
sight. ‘His Majesty will understand. He has empowered me to ask you to attend
him at a time convenient to yourself.’
The hint of a smile fed into Nico’s stern gaze. Since when had King Giorgio
been any more accommodating than he was? His grandfather had to be desperate to
see him if he was prepared to wait. ‘It may be one week, or two,’
he said, ‘but no longer than that…’
‘That’s excellent news,’ the ambassador said, ‘I’m
sure his Majesty will be delighted.’ A flicker in Nico’s eyes warned
him not to overstate the case. ‘Perhaps if we could settle on a date,’
‘I’ll let you know.’ Nico’s voice had turned hard.
His message was clear: one concession was enough for today. ‘If you’ll
excuse me, Ambassador…’
As he strode away Nico didn’t see the ambassador dip into the type of
bow he normally reserved for the king.