Read More Blazing Bedtime Stories: Once Upon a Mattress Online

Authors: Julie Leto,Leslie Kelly

Tags: #Fairy godmothers, #Paranormal, #General, #Romance, #Werewolves, #Princesses, #Fiction, #Contemporary

More Blazing Bedtime Stories: Once Upon a Mattress

BOOK: More Blazing Bedtime Stories: Once Upon a Mattress
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About Leslie Kelly

“Once again, Leslie Kelly provides readers with a sexy, witty, romantic and all-around fun story to read.”


Romance Reviews Today
on
Heated Rush


Don’t Open Till Christmas
is a present in itself where the humor and the sizzling sex never stop. Top Pick!”


Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“Oh, this one is definitely wild, but even better, it also aims for the heart.”


Mrs. Giggles
on
One Wild Wedding Night

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Leslie Kelly
is an award-winning author of more than thirty Harlequin novels. A three-time nominee for the highest award in romantic fiction, the RWA RITA
®
Award, she is also a National Reader’s Choice Award winner and has received a
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Award. Leslie lives in Maryland with her husband and three daughters. To learn more about her writing, please visit www.lesliekelly.com or her blog site, www.plotmonkeys.com.

New York Times
Bestselling Author

Leslie Kelly
ONCE UPON A MATTRESS
ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

Leslie Kelly

 

To Julie…one of the bravest people I know.
Working with you has always been
one of my favorite parts of this job.

Prologue

O
NCE UPON A TIME
,
in a land not so far away as you might imagine, there lived a rather persnickety prince who refused to choose a bride. Though all the fairest princesses in the land were presented to him, the prince simply couldn’t find one to meet his most exacting standards. Nor could he ever fully explain why none of them were to his taste.

So one day his mother, the powerful queen, took matters into her own hands. Determined to see her son married to a proper princess, she hired an expert tracker to go out into the world, find a suitable young lady and bring her back to the castle to be married to the prince immediately
.

But you know what they say…you should never send a wolf to watch over the flock
.

And the queen did, indeed, send a wolf
.

1

O
N ANY
other
night when the moon waxed on its inexorable journey toward full, Lucas Wolf would be outside, roaming lush valleys, fierce and untamed like his ancestors. As he ran free beneath the midnight sky, the moon’s white-gold glow would bathe him in warmth and visceral pleasure. Every animal instinct clawed into his genetic code would fill with primal need to give himself over to his wildest impulses. And he’d do it, wholeheartedly.

That was, on any
other
night.

Tonight, Lucas was trapped inside a hot throne room, ready to howl with frustration. Instead of reveling in the warm glow of moonlight, he was pierced by the heated stare of a raging queen. And the only thing he might bathe in were the flecks of spit flying out of her mouth during her rant.

“Unacceptable, that’s what it is. Simply unacceptable!”

“Mother, please…”

“Shut
up
, Ruprecht!” Queen Verona thrust a long, sharp-nailed finger toward her adult son. “If you’d been less picky, none of us would be in this situation.”

This situation? As far as Lucas knew, the only one in a situation was Prince Ruprecht, who was known as the Charming—if not very bright.

A single man himself, Lucas didn’t blame the prince for wanting to stay that way. Then again, lawmen like Lucas Wolf had the luxury of remaining single. At least until he found his one true mate—if such a person existed.

Lucas liked women. But never had he seen one he simply
couldn’t do without…and he’d been keeping his eyes open for her. Until he found her, he was reserving judgment about his clan’s one-perfect-mate-for-life concept.

Princes like Ruprecht did not have the luxury of waiting. Not as far as his mother was concerned, anyway.

“I’m not picky,” the prince said with a sigh that verged on petulant. “I just haven’t met the right person yet.” He draped himself across his mother’s throne.

“You’ve rejected every princess in all of Elatyria.”

“Not quite,” Ruprecht protested. “You were the one who sent that chit from the northlands away before I set eyes on her.”

The queen’s scowl deepened, highlighting the lines gouged into her forehead. For someone once called “the fairest of them all”, she looked as appealing as a crone. “She was no princess.”

“How do you know?”

“Her hair was lank, her skin pocked and she smelled of cabbage.”

“I like cabbage.” Amusement danced in the prince’s eyes as he egged his mother on. “You didn’t even put her to the test.”

Princess tests? How bloody archaic.

“I wish I had! Because even a false princess-bride would be better than none at all. How many times have I told you, Ruprecht?” The queen crossed the throne room and put her heavily beringed hands on either side of the prince’s face. “You must wed if we’re to keep our grip on Riverdale.”

Ahh. Lucas began to understand. Riverdale, a tiny kingdom to the west, boasted some of the richest lands in all the world. Queen Verona and her husband had taken control of it many years ago, absorbing it into their kingdom when the last surviving member of Riverdale’s own royal family had died. Why, he wondered, would the queen be worrying about losing it now?

The prince rolled his eyes. “Who cares about stupid old Riverdale?” Charming he might be, but he was also spoiled and self-indulgent, Lucas thought. Not to mention lacking in common sense if he could so easily discount such a vital part of his future kingdom.

How like a petty prince to sneer at good land. For all commoners, fertile fields provided nourishment and security. But for those like Lucas, it was even more important. His own kind would be miserable trapped within thick castles built of stone. They much preferred simple sod houses. Some managed to run tiny wood-walled shops in the towns. But at heart, what the Wolf clan most longed for was land. Streams flush with trout, fields to cultivate when the moon was hiding, woods in which to hunt when it was full.

Lucas Wolf might be a lawman. He might track down evildoers and bring them to justice here in Elatyria or even in the other world that bordered his own—the one natives there called Earth. He might even be only one-quarter Wolf. But deep down, he understood why his father and brothers wanted a homestead of their own. He knew why they craved the chance to escape the towns and villages and live in peace in the country. In the wild.

Of course, that was next to impossible nowadays. The queen kept her sticky fingers wrapped around as much property as she could grab.

“I don’t see why you’re getting so upset about this, Mummy.”

Mummy? This was the future king?
Terrifying
.

Queen Verona had obviously tired of her son’s attitude. She smacked him in the head, sending his crown tumbling. “Marrying and providing the country with an heir is the only way to keep the people of Riverdale from demanding that the throne go back to the Mayfair family.”

Ruprecht grabbed his crown and thrust it back on his head, realizing, at last, that his mother was truly worried. His brow scrunched in confusion. “I thought the line had died out.”

The queen cast a quick glance toward Lucas, then admitted, “Not exactly. There is one heir left. The daughter of the late Queen Lenore. The queen’s consort was a commoner from…over
there
.”

Ahh.

“So where is she?” asked Ruprecht.

“Shortly after her mother died, the young Princess Penelope fell from a turret and was badly injured.” She tsked. “I hear she lost so much blood they thought she was already dead when they found her.”

The queen didn’t sound particularly sympathetic.

“Her father decided he wanted to raise her over
there
. Better medicine or something.” She shrugged in disinterest. “In any case, Ruprecht, he asked your late father—whom he had befriended—to look after Riverdale, with the understanding that the girl would return on her twenty-first birthday to take her rightful place.”

Curious, Lucas asked, “When is her twenty-first birthday?”

The queen shifted her gaze. “It was a few years ago. The child didn’t return. I doubt she ever will.”

“Then why do we have to worry about it?” Ruprecht asked.

The queen’s face appeared harder than the statues of her that, by law, stood in every town square. “Because she
might
. Solidifying our hold on Riverdale is your responsibility. You must give the people a prince to claim and fawn over. Winning their hearts will ensure they aren’t swayed by the Mayfair name, should the princess ever come back.”

It made sense, Lucas supposed. He had grown up a day’s ride from Riverdale, and he’d never heard stories of a long-lost princess. So he didn’t imagine the locals were pining for her return.

Or had Queen Verona let the rumor get out that the girl had died? He wouldn’t put it past her.

“You’ve made a fine mess of things,” the queen continued. “No heir. No wife. No girl in all the lands good enough for you.” Queen Verona wrung her hands together and stalked around the room again. “What are we to do? There’s not one single princess left that you haven’t refused or insulted. Not one.”

The rumors about the prince’s pickiness? Now those Lucas
had
heard. Ruprecht had reportedly told the exquisite, sung-about Princess Aurelia of the Glades that he would sooner
kiss one of the frogs from the castle moat than touch his lips to hers.

Huh. Sounded as though the prince had been reading some of his own family history.

Queen Verona finally stopped her pacing and stood directly in front of Lucas. “This is why I brought you here. They say you’ve never failed to complete a mission. Is that true?”

“It’s true.”

“Good. I want you to scour the kingdoms and find out if there are any princesses my brilliant son hasn’t mortally offended. Perhaps we can cajole one into reconsidering his suit.”

Royalty. They intermarried too much and it obviously did a little brain-draining with every subsequent generation. Because there was another answer. It was so obvious, Lucas couldn’t help rolling his eyes, surprised that she hadn’t seen it.

“Are you looking to leave your head behind when you depart, lawman?” the queen asked, her face growing as red as the rubies that studded her crown.

Lucas continued to lean indolently against a column made of the finest dwarf-mined marble. He wasn’t one of her subjects and didn’t give a damn for royal manners. He’d come here because he’d been told she had a well-paying job for him.

Money was all that mattered these days. He’d achieved his quest for vengeance over the death of his little sister, an innocent who’d seen something she shouldn’t have and had paid with her life. Having caught the last of the men responsible, it was now time for Lucas to get back to some kind of normalcy.

Only one force drove him these days, and it required a lot of coin. He wanted land. Wanted it for his father. His people.

“Well? Speak up or I’ll have you skinned.”

He sneered. The royal family didn’t rule any Wolf.

“There is another answer,” he said, trying to force a note of respect into his voice, though he felt none for the vain woman. But she had deep pockets and his were unfortunately shallow.

Queen Verona simply stared, waiting.

“The prince has to marry a princess, and there are none
who will have him. And you must solidify your hold on Riverdale.”

“Yes, yes?”

How on Elatyria did these people manage to find their way across the castle without someone drawing them a map?

“It’s obvious,” he explained. “You simply have to send someone out to find Princess Penelope, bring her back here, and marry her to Prince Ruprecht.”

 

“D
ON’T LOOK NOW
, Princess, but that sexy, dangerous-looking drink of water in the corner is eyeing you like you’re a rare burger and he’s a reluctant vegetarian dying for some meat.”

Penny Mayfair cringed as her friend and boss, Callie, used the nickname her late father had given her as a kid.
Princess
.

Pretending she hadn’t heard, she loaded two ham-and-egg specials and a dozen side orders onto a serving tray. Idly hoping the cook hadn’t left any eggshells in this order, she turned away from the heated, pass-through window of the diner’s kitchen.

“He didn’t want me to wait on him,” added Callie, who owned this place. Having been Penny’s late father’s girlfriend for many years, Callie was the closest thing Penny had ever had to a mother. The woman, a romantic at heart, was never happier than when she was matchmaking. “Asked for you twice!”

Penny frowned, glancing across the packed diner. Every table was full and she was doing double duty today. Gina, the other full-time waitress at Kallie’s Kuntry Kitchen, had called in sick. As usual. Gina was a wild child who always hooked up with a guy named Jack Daniel’s or his buddy Johnny Walker on Saturday nights. So she was never in the mood to serve Jimmy Dean on a subsequent Sunday morning.

Callie was an angel, but her arthritis made waitressing a real chore for her. Meanwhile, Glen, the cook, was in a rotten mood because somebody had sent back a too-runny omelet, so he was intentionally ass-dragging on every order.

Not the type of day when Penny Mayfair felt like dealing with demanding customers.

“He’s at table eighteen.”

“Can’t he see I’m busy?” she said with a weary sigh.

Not waiting for an answer, Penny snaked her way to table twelve. She slung the plates full of food at the two oilfield roughnecks who’d ordered enough breakfast for a family of five.

“Thank ya,
Princess
.”

“Shut up, Eddie.”

“Aww, that any way to talk to your best tipper?”

“Here’s a clue for you,” she said with an amused eye-roll. “Leaving me a note on a napkin saying, ‘Here’s a tip, bet on horse number two,’ doesn’t earn you a lot of points.”

Eddie, a good-natured good-old-boy who parked himself at the same table every time he came in, snorted and slapped a hand on his knee. He and many of the other guys who worked out at the oilfields came into LeBeaux a couple of weekends a month, looking for the closest town that boasted a bar.

LeBeaux had three. Which was two more than the number of banks and one more than the number of restaurants.

On Saturday nights, guys like these tried to hook up with girls like Gina. On Sunday mornings, bleary-eyed and obnoxious, they showed up here.

“I got a tip for ya, baby,” said Eddie’s dining companion. “Say yes and you won’t regret it.”

He grinned, but good humor didn’t light up in his eyes the way it did Eddie’s. This guy was a stranger. His reddened nose and bloodshot eyes, plus the reek of whiskey that surrounded him like Pigpen’s cloud, told her he was a hard partier. She’d been on her guard the minute he’d sat down.

“So, what time do you…
get off?

Oh, great. Like she hadn’t heard sleazy come-ons like that a million times since she’d turned sixteen and started slinging hash at this place. Considering the lack of women in the area, it was almost expected. Penny rolled her eyes and turned to attend to the next table.

Then she felt a hand on her butt.

Son of a
…. She whirled around and jabbed an index finger in his face. “The next time you put a finger on me, you’re gonna have to start pulling off your shoes to count to ten.”

“Oooh, feisty! I like it.”

Eddie frowned at his friend. “Hey, no need for that, Frank.”

“Oh, miss? My coffee?”

Glaring at the perv, Penny hurried over to grab the coffeepot. Seeing the way her hand shook, she fought to stay cool.

What was it with men who thought they had the right to manhandle any woman they wanted to? And why her? Everything about her—from her aloof demeanor to her short hair, her multiple piercings, her clothes and her tattoos—screamed that she wasn’t a bimbo looking for action. So why did everyone want to give it to her?

According to Callie, it was because no matter what she did to herself, Penny could never hide the fact that she was beautiful. And beneath her gruff surface, she was sweet-natured and vulnerable.

Penny told her that was bullshit. Even if, deep down, she feared Callie was right.

BOOK: More Blazing Bedtime Stories: Once Upon a Mattress
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