Prince Diego Navarro is the “spare” to his brother's "heir". While Raoul performs his crown prince duties with the appropriate sense of nobility and poise, Diego’s garnered a bit of a reputation as a playboy - despite the good he does behind the scenes with his favorite charities.
But when tragedy strikes and his sister-in-law is killed in a car accident, Diego knows it's time for the playboy to step up. If not for his brother, then for his niece and nephew, who now find themselves without a mother.
Which is where Rose Walters comes in.
Rose isn't intimidated by money or glitz. The veteran nanny has worked for the rich and minimally famous, but a manor house is no comparison to a castle… or the handsome princes who live there. However, the worst thing she could possibly do is fall for the gorgeous playboy with a surprising heart of gold. He’s a prince; she’s the help. He lives in the tabloids; she loves her privacy. But when her two darling charges start to play matchmaker, Diego and Rose don’t stand a chance.
The Playboy Prince and the Nanny is the first book in Donna Alward's royal duology.
The noise and hubbub in the West Sussex pub was so deafening that Diego nearly missed the silent flash of the Breaking News banner across the TV behind the bar.
But he saw it out of the corner of his eye. Frowned. Turned his head away for a moment, then felt a queer lift in his gut, like something was very, very wrong.
“Diego. Hey, Diego.” His pal Ryan elbowed him in the arm. “Shite. You’d better look at this, mate.”
He turned back to the screen and the lift in his stomach dropped to his feet.
The headline scrolled along the bottom of the screen. White words against a blue background, innocuous compared to the aerial view of the scene. He didn’t need to read the banner to recognize the mangled car, one of the black limousines his father insisted they ride in when home in Marazur. If there was any doubt, it was banished by an up-close shot of a small red and yellow flag with the green coat of arms hanging limply from the front corner of the crushed vehicle.
“Diego.” Ryan’s voice was gentler now, his hand resting on Diego’s arm rather than elbowing him roughly. “It’s not your da. Or your brother.”
Diego dragged his gaze to the flash along the bottom of the screen. No, it wasn’t his father or his brother. There was no need for Diego to worry about them, or who was next in line for the throne. But tears stung his eyes as he read the names: Cecilia Navarro. Mariana Cortez.
His sister-in-law, and the nanny to his niece and nephew.
His phone buzzed. It had been doing that all night and he’d chosen to ignore it, wanting to avoid another argument with his father and spend the evening kicking back with his friends to celebrate the start of the UK polo season. Now he felt unbearably guilty as he pulled his mobile out of his pocket and looked at the screen.
Lucy, or rather, Princess Luciana. His half-sister, who he knew was visiting Marazur right now on one of her biannual trips. He took a deep breath, then hit the talk button. “Give me two seconds to go outside where it’s quiet,” he said loudly.
Leaving the gruesome news report behind, he pushed himself away from the bar and weaved his way through people until he reached the door. Outside, the English spring evening was gentle and mild. He closed his eyes and let out a breath.
“How bad is it, Luce?”
“Bad.” In that one word he could tell she’d been crying. Oh God . . .
“Gone, Diego.” Her voice caught on a sob. “Mariana too.”
For once the news had it right. His sister-in-law and Mariana—the nanny to his niece and nephew. His heart stuttered. He’d hoped there’d been a mistake. The paparazzi couldn’t be trusted with the truth, as he well knew. What a time for them to be right.
“The children?” he asked as he said a silent prayer that they hadn’t been in the car. He couldn’t think about Max and Emilia too much; he kept them at the edge of his mind and heart right now. The thought of losing them was terrifying and he steeled himself against the emotion.
“Bruised. Scared. But alive.”
He let out his breath, felt a sob escape, and gulped it back. He couldn’t lose his grip.
“We tried calling you for the last hour,” she said. “Your brother . . .”
His brother would be a wreck and expectedly so. His wife had just died. Perhaps a lot of royal marriages weren’t based on love, but Raoul’s had been. He’d doted on Ceci and the kids. Mariana, too, had been like part of the family. Hell, she’d been with the palace since . . .
Since Diego and Raoul had lost their own mother nearly twenty-five years ago. Mariana had raised them. She treated Raoul and Ceci’s children like grandkids. Grief struck him, sharp and sure, a painful ache around his heart. Mariana had been family.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, pressing the fingers of his left hand to his temple. Those were two words he said often when it came to his family. Now, though, he really meant them. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“I know you will,” she said gently. Of the whole family, Lucy was the one who was easiest on him, who understood him best. Maybe because she hadn’t been raised in Marazur. It afforded her a clarity that others didn’t have. “I’m so glad I’m here right now. Papa . . .” Her voice broke again.
“Is Brody there with you?” Lucy and her family made their home in Canada, on Brody’s ranch, but visited often. Right now Diego found himself beyond thankful that she was there now to help his father and brother navigate the next few days. Papa would know what to do . . . he’d been here before.
A man shouldn’t have to face this kind of tragedy more than once in a lifetime.
“Brody’s here. He’s looking after Alex now so I can be there for Raoul and Papa.”
Lucy would be keeping everyone cared for and fed and nurtured, because that’s what she did. Diego rested his shoulders against the brick wall of the pub and sighed. Raoul, the crown prince, the responsible ruler-to-be, fair and just. Lucy, the mothering figure who cared for the family’s simpler but no less important needs. And then there was Diego. Where did he fit? In the stables. At parties. In fast cars.
In other countries. With firm admonishment to not be an embarrassment to the family.
“I’m here. I’m going to go, though, Lucy. I need to make travel plans. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“What should I tell Papa and Raoul?”
“Nothing. I mean, just tell them you were able to reach me. I’ll look after the rest.”
There was a pause and Diego wondered if his sister was making that terrible disapproving face he hated or if she was simply emotional.
“I love you, Diego. Please fly safe.”
Emotional, thank God. He wasn’t sure he could take criticism right now. He nodded even though she couldn’t see him. “I will. I promise. See you soon.”
“E-mail your plans and I’ll have a car waiting for you.”
“You worry about yourself, and not me,” he ordered. “Love you.”
He hit the button on the phone, ending the call, and when he looked up he saw Ryan standing by the back door of the pub, watching him sadly.
“It’s bad, eh?” he asked, his brown eyes wide and too knowing.
“Cecilia,” Diego admitted. “And the nanny. The kids though . . .” Emotion swamped him and he drew in a shaky breath. “Thank God the kids are okay.”
Ryan came forward and clamped a hand on Diego’s shoulder. “Looks like you have to go back to your castle then, doesn’t it?”
Diego smiled grimly. “I can’t stay away forever. And they need me. Of course I’m going back.” It had nothing to do with duty and everything to do with family. Of course, many believed that Diego didn’t value the idea of family as much as he should.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
He looked over at Ryan. The two of them had been best friends since he’d gone to Cambridge for his postgrad and joined the polo club. Diego, in a moment of hubris, had made an offhand remark about an Irishman playing polo, and the next thing he knew he’d been dusting the dirt off his perfectly creased trousers. Then Ryan O’Toole had held out his hand, pulled Diego to his feet, and said, “Come on, Your Highness. Let’s go get a pint.”
It had been many years since then, but the offer had been made several times, particularly when Diego needed it most. Tonight, though, it wouldn’t help.
“Anything I can do for you?” Ryan asked.
Diego smiled grimly. “The blonde at the bar. Go buy her a drink. I’m going to duck out early.”
Ryan nodded with a crooked smile. “Call if you need anything.”
Ryan went back inside, while Diego lifted his phone again and scrolled through until he found the number of his assistant. Not that he gave her much work when he was away from home, but tonight everyone on the staff would be up and alert.
And Diego would be going home.
One Month Later
Rosalie tried to focus on the words on the page, but they were all a blur. With a sigh, she closed the book and rested her hands on the cover, then turned to look out the airplane window. She wasn’t usually nervous before meeting a new family, or the children she’d be caring for. This was different, though. When the agency had called about her new placement, she hadn’t expected the job to be for the Royal Family of Marazur. She’d worked for minor nobility and rich families, traveling with them when the occasion warranted, but she’d never been to Marazur and she’d definitely never worked for a prince.
She knew of the island principality, of course. And she’d even had an encounter with the younger of the princes once, though he wouldn’t remember. Diego, she recalled, and shook her head. It wasn’t Diego she was going to work for. It was Raoul. She had been hired as a nanny to the crown prince’s children. The heirs.
“Ms. Walters? Make sure your seatbelt is on. We’re going to begin our approach soon. Can I get you anything before we land?”
Rosalie looked up at the sharply dressed attendant. Raoul hadn’t sent a royal jet or anything, but he had chartered a private flight. It was beyond anything Rose had ever experienced. “No, thank you,” she said with a smile. “I’m fine.”
“Very well. We should be on the ground shortly.”
Rose sat back in the comfortable leather and looked out over the Mediterranean. It had been nearly a month since televisions, newspapers, and magazines had been abuzz with the death of Princess Cecilia. They’d shown pictures of the funeral at the cathedral in the capital, a week after the accident. It had nearly broken her heart to see the crown prince, looking harrowed and drawn, holding the hand of his daughter while his son rested on his arm. King Alexander had looked tired, and Prince Diego had been uncharacteristically solemn as he sat with Princess Luciana and her family.
Once the funeral ended, though, so did the news story, and very little was heard of the family, left to heal their wounds in relative private. The media had moved on, but Rose knew the royal family were people like anyone else. Children who, when it came down to it, had lost their mother. All the wealth and privilege in the world couldn’t make up for that, and Rose knew she had her work cut out for her.
The plane landed smoothly at the relatively small airport. When she unbuckled her seatbelt, the flight attendant was at her side once more to collect her carry-on. Rose only had to grab her purse before she exited the plane, holding on to the railing as she descended the stairs to the tarmac.
A liveried man waited at the bottom of the stairs, and touched his hat as he greeted her. “I’m Marco. I’ll see you through customs and on to the palace.”
Good heavens. This was a tad surreal, wasn’t it?
She smiled politely at him. “That would be lovely, thank you, Marco.” The warm, moist air was perfumed with the scent of salt and flora that she knew must be present but couldn’t be seen here in the secure, paved area of the airport. The aroma clung to the warm rays of sun that were somehow far more penetrating than any in England.
It reminded her of the school trip she’d taken when she was twelve. It had been four days in Rome and she’d loved every colorful, rich, vibrant moment of it. It had been a long time since she’d visited the Mediterranean, and she was more than ready to leave the damp and fog of England for time in the sun.
She was here to work, but couldn’t escape the thought that this was also a bit of a fairy tale, really. Her assignments through the agency had been posh indeed, but nothing on this scale.
“Miss? If you’re ready.”
Marco had both of her cases and waited for her to make her way through the doors. To her continued surprise, she was escorted through customs without any wait or trouble, and in mere minutes found herself ensconced in the back of a limousine.
She was starting to get nervous now, and twisted her fingers together. Drew them apart again and wiped them on her black trousers, then regretted that too. She had to keep calm, cool, professional. This was her job. It wouldn’t do to be flustered and nervous.
The airport was on the outskirts of the city, and she peered out the window at the narrow streets and charming houses stacked on the hillside. Oh, on one of her days off she’d have to come down here and discover all the nooks and crannies. Have coffee or a glass of wine at a little cantina along a cobbled street. She was still thinking about it when the car began to climb and wind its way out of the urban area and along some of the most beautiful landscape she had ever seen.
Marco slowed and stopped at a huge set of gates, which swung open at their arrival. They crept at a sedate pace along a paved lane flanked with what looked like some sort of oak. Then she caught sight of it. The castle—home of King Alexander of Marazur. Turrets rose up, pinky-beige against the blue of the sky and the green of the manicured grounds. A hedge formed a kind of maze in the U-shaped drive, carefully trimmed and pruned. It was smaller than some of the manor houses she’d visited in England, but there was a grandeur to it just the same. And a hominess that she hadn’t expected. Perhaps it was due to the color of the stone, warmer and more welcoming than the cold, gray-white granite she was used to.
She ran through names in her head, desperate to make sure she adhered to the proper forms of address. King Alexander—clearly Your Highness. And how often would she see him anyway? Hardly ever. She’d be with the other household staff. She’d have to communicate with Raoul, she supposed. She would be required to curtsy. He was the crown prince and would be addressed as “Your Highness” as well. If the press was to be believed, Diego wouldn’t be home much and was unlikely to be around. The Sun had just posted pictures of him somewhere in South America.
After Marco pulled to a stop, Rosalie’s door was opened by another liveried staff. “Good afternoon, Miss Walters. Welcome to Marazur.”
She pasted on a smile and let out what she hoped was a centering breath. “Thank you.”
“His Highness is looking forward to meeting you at four o’clock in the blue salon.” Perhaps he’d noticed her shaky exhale, because the man dropped his stiff formality for a moment and smiled. “Don’t worry, Miss.” He held out his hand and gallantly helped her out of the car. “The prince is really very nice. And we’re all so glad you’re here.”
Before she could ask what exactly that meant, he dropped her hand and moved to collect her bags. She looked around, marveling at the calm beauty of the grounds. It was like a beautiful oasis, more lush than the surrounding countryside, with shrubs, graceful trees, and gardens of rioting blossoms. She gawked around her as they made their way down a neat path leading to the far side of the castle. And when the man opened the door to the north wing, Rose was relatively sure she’d just arrived in Paradise.
Copyright © 2017 by Donna Alward and reprinted by permission of Swerve.
The Inspiration behind the Princes of Marazur…
When it came to really sitting down and planning out the Princes of Marazur duet, I had to do some serious thinking about my princes. I’d already established them a bit in The Rancher’s Runaway Princess, but this was different. They had more of a walk-on role in that book, and now they were going to be center stage.
I knew that:
Raoul is the Crown Prince, and takes it seriously. That he’s married with a girl and a boy. That he and Diego lost their mother when they were very young, and that Lucy (their half-sister) is born of an affair.
Diego is the “Spare” heir, and he’s the one who rebelled as he grew older, establishing a reputation as a palace bad boy and playboy. Sure, he went to university, but he was more interested in the polo ponies and fillies of other sorts than really studying. I also knew that when the story started, he would need to be trying to shed that reputation, build some credibility, and be an asset to the family.
Sound like anyone else you can think of? #willandharry
I also found myself thinking about the remake of Sabrina that was out years ago, featuring Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear. Now granted, this heroine isn’t going to fall for Diego and then really realize she’s in love with Raoul. But it does represent a bit of the dynamic between the brothers, much like Linus and David in the movie. Linus doesn’t think David will ever settle down, doesn’t think he takes things seriously, and David’s used to being underestimated. In the end, Linus learns to loosen his stranglehold on his responsibilities and trust David, who is ready to grow up and show there’s more to him than his past reputation.
Of course, once I started writing, the characters took on a life of their own and simply became Diego and Raoul, with their own issues and struggles and triumphs.
A busy wife and mother of three (two daughters plus the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist. Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly twelve years in Alberta where her romance career began, writing about cowboys and the west. She is the author of Somebody Like You, Somebody's Baby, and Someone to Love.