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Authors: Beth Pattillo

Princess Charming

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Table of Contents
Princess Charming
 

by

Beth Pattillo

 

Bell Bridge Books

Copyright
 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

Bell Bridge Books
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-308-5
Print ISBN: ISBN- 978-1-61194-284-2

Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 by Beth Pattillo

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

A mass market edition of this book was published by Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. in 2003

We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers.
Visit our websites – www.BelleBooks.com and www.BellBridgeBooks.com.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Photo credits:
Woman (manipulated) © Vasiliy Koval | Dreamstime.com
Filigree element © Jaguarwoman Designs

:Mcpq:01:

Dedication
 

For Randy, with love

and

For Jenny Bent, with thanks

Prologue
 

Once upon a time
 . . .

Santadorra, 1803

NICK ST. GERMAIN dug his fingers into a crevice in the rocky ledge. Beside him, his mother and sister huddled against the cold stone. He refused to give in to the tears that threatened as he searched for his mother’s face in the darkness. The thick black night of the Pyrenees shadowed all but the outline of her form. His little sister, Josephine, sniffled in the crook of his mother’s arm. Jo was only four, eight years younger than he, and still a baby. Too young to understand why they had fled the palace and now clung to an unforgiving wall of slate beneath the mountain’s towering pines.

In the midst of the darkness, he felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder. Her fingers trembled where they rested against his coat. “Your father thinks us headed for the northern coast of Spain. He cannot help if he does not know we’ve turned westward.” Nick could hear the indecision in her whispered words. He had pleaded with her for the last hour to let him return to the palace for help, but his mother had wavered, unsure of the safest course.

“I can bring the guards, Maman. They will have defeated the rebels by now. I will fly, fast as the wind.” The sounds of pursuit grew louder, the rustlings giving way to the clop of horses’ hooves against the hard-packed earthen trail below. Nick shivered. “You and Jo must hide in the caves until I return.”

His mother’s hand left his shoulder and moved upward to cup his chin. Tears stung his eyes as he fought for control. At that moment, the clouds parted, and a moonbeam penetrated the gloom. He could see her now, Her Serene Highness, Queen Eleanor, her blond hair gleaming almost silver in the moonlight, her expression fierce.

“Without the royal family, Nicholas, our people have no hope. They will fall into the hands of that tyrant, Napoleon. Santadorra is merely a stepping stone to Spain.”

Bile rose in Nick’s throat. “‘Twas the peasants, not Napoleon, who revolted. Let the rabble suffer the consequences.”

“Nay!” His mother lifted his chin higher. “This was no people’s rebellion. This night’s work can be laid at the doorstep of the French
provocateurs.
Santadorrans will come to know that soon enough. They will need their king.”

Nick choked back a sob at the mention of his father and shook his head, freeing himself from her touch. “The people have chosen their fate, just as Father chose to stay and fight. I care only for you and Jo.”

Pinpoints of light appeared below, and sabres rattled mere yards away. Nick could hear the methodical
thwack, thwack
as the men began to search the undergrowth below the ledge. Jo whimpered again. Fear coursed through him; the hairs of his neck stood on end.

The look in his mother’s eyes frightened him further, a look of love and longing and despair that scared him more than the soldiers below. “Oh, Nicholas.” Her words were thick with grief. “You are indeed our only hope.”

A cry rose from their pursuers, as if the men were hounds who had caught the scent of the fox. “Jo and I will find a hiding place in the caves. Run, Nicholas. By all that is holy, run.”

His mother’s hands were pushing him, and he found himself on his feet. His legs must have had some will of their own. Without stopping to kiss his mother or sister, he shot off as fast as
he could. The ground was a carpet of slick, wet leaves, but still he ran, stumbling to stay upright and grasping tree limbs and thick gorse bushes as he scrambled up the side of the mountain. His heart pounded in his chest. He would cross the ridge and then race down the valley on the other side. From there, he could follow the road, if he was careful and the other French patrols had made camp. How long? An hour? Perhaps two? He could do it, if he tried very, very hard.

And then he heard the screams. A high-pitched one: his sister. The other a low moan. His foot slipped, and he went down in the thick loam of the forest floor.

Oh, God, he must go back. He scrambled to his feet and began to slide downward on the slick covering of decaying leaves and loose stone.

A shot rang out. And then another, followed by shouts of triumph. Nick felt his blood turn to ice.

The cold, unforgiving darkness of the mountain closed around him like a thick, wet cape, and the Crown Prince of Santadorra knew he had failed, and that he was alone—except for the marauding French soldiers not a hundred yards below.

Chapter One
 

London, 1819

NICHOLAS ST. GERMAIN paused from his labors, leaned against the handle of the gardening hoe, and eyed the obese blond pug stalking him as a lion would an antelope.

“If you’re going to savage me, Wellington, do it now. It will save me having to weed the rhododendrons.”

Wellington, who more resembled a wrinkled, overstuffed pillow than the famous general, sniffed with disdain.

Nick raised his eyebrows. “You took the idiotic notion to dart into the middle of Bond Street. Crispin wagered I could not go twenty-four hours without playing the hero, and, traitor that you are, you proved him right in less than twelve.”

Wellington growled in umbrage. Nick snorted and lifted the hoe to attack a weed. At least he thought it was a weed. “I should have let you be trampled by Coverley’s grays.” He whacked at the offending stalk, and it broke off just above the ground.

Wellington barked in indignation.

“Don’t look innocent, you mongrel.” Nick glanced down at his stained smock and rough wool trousers. “Crispin is no doubt peering down on us right now, enjoying the sight of me mucking about in his grandmother’s garden.” He grimaced. “And talking to her dog.”

Nick looked toward the house and, as
expected, caught sight of his friend waving heartily from the drawing room window. When the urge to throw down the hoe and throttle Crispin had passed, Nick wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.

“I’m done with wagers, Wellington. And no more heroism. Ever. It’s devilishly hard on my boots.” He surveyed his ruined hessians with dismay. The cards had not been falling in his favor of late, and his credit was stretched beyond hope of repayment. His father had said he would see him barefoot before he sent him another farthing, and the King of Santadorra’s prediction might soon come to pass.

Wellington responded to Nick’s declarations by sidling closer, lifting one leg, and relieving himself on the scuffed brown leather.

“The devil!” Nick cried.

Wellington shot off down the gravel path, and Nick sprinted after him. The dog veered around a statue of Diana, skirted a small fountain, then leaped through a bed of irises. Nick crashed after him, cringing at the destruction his hessians left in their wake, but he was determined to corner the blasted pug at any cost. Wellington reached the rear wall and skidded to a halt.

“You’re trapped now, you overbred cur.” Nick stooped to grab the dog, intent on retribution. At that precise moment, the door in the garden wall swung open, and with a thwack, the weathered wood knocked the Crown Prince of Santadorra unconscious.

“AHH.” NICK winced at the light touch of a hand at his temple, and his stomach lurched. Stars danced behind his closed lids.

A female voice, light and airy, penetrated the haze of pain enveloping his head. “Drat! I’ve murdered a gardener.”

Nick wanted to object that he was in too much pain to be dead. The owner of the breathless voice, whoever she was, ran soft fingers through his hair—soft, that is, until they brushed the spot where his skull felt as if it might explode.

“Ow!” His eyes flew open. His vision was still a bit fuzzy, but his sight was clear enough to register the blue-eyed, blond goddess biting her lip and looking at him as if he were in need of last rites.

“Who the devil are you?”

The goddess bristled. “I might ask you the same thing, although I suppose you were hired by Lady Belmont to replace young Whitley, who ran off to sea. What an idiotic notion, putting your head in the way of the door. I could have killed you.”

Nick groaned. Self-righteous and dangerous. A complication he didn’t need, even if the package included skin like Devonshire cream and pink, bowed lips. Wellington barked in agreement with the chit’s scolding, and Nick winced. “Pipe down, both of you. My head feels as if it’s been run over by a carriage wheel.”

“And well it should, if you intend to go about colliding it with doors.”

BOOK: Princess Charming
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